Posts tagged ‘lgbt’

One Year Later

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Photos from various Pulse tributes in Orlando, including Pulse itself

A year ago today, I woke up, groggy. It was a Sunday morning and some friends and I had gone out for my birthday, ending the festivities at a local gay club. I leaned over and grabbed my phone to check things. That’s when I saw it. There had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. Pulse. I immediately thought of friends in Orlando and reached out to make sure they were OK. I had only been to Pulse a couple of times while I lived in Orlando, but it was a lot of fun and I knew it was pretty popular. No one I knew was there that night. But as we would learn, so many others would forever be changed.

By many accounts, people in Central Florida came together since then in wonderful ways. The nation came together in some ways, too, though in other ways, certain divisions were only made clearer.

Other mass shootings were horrific to me, but none had hit this close to home. It could’ve been me or many of my friends. We were all OK, and yet I still felt so intimately devastated, so I can’t imagine what those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, or those who were there but managed to make it out physically unharmed have gone through. 

After Pulse, countless people realized they didn’t know much about our communities and they pledged to learn more. They offered “thoughts and prayers” and maybe helped in person or donated to the victims and their families. These are are wonderful things. But for lasting, tangible, positive change, there must be more.

Many of these people were conservative Christians. As I heard one Orlando-area pastor of an Evangelical megachurch put it, he didn’t really think much about the LGBTQ community before Pulse. He certainly wasn’t the only one. As a gay Christian who grew up in a conservative Evangelical environment, I’ve seen firsthand the actions and rhetoric that push LGBTQ people away and often lead them to become depressed and even to suicide.

So while I’m thankful for “thoughts and prayers,” even from those with whom I disagree, there’s a larger problem and I don’t think it’s being addressed nearly enough in the places that actually need to address it among the people who need to address it.

Transformation tends to begin from within. So for those folks who were offering “thoughts and prayers” and perhaps even pledged to learn more about us, I want you to ask yourself some questions:

What were my exact Pulse-related prayers like? From what perspective were they being offered? 

Were your prayers genuinely just about God providing comfort and peace to grieving people, all children of God created in God’s image? Or were they more about “sinners” turning away from their sin and toward God? Were you genuinely grieving along with us? Or were you just praying to change us?

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to better understand the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Many people pledged to get to know communities they did not know or understand. Did you? If so, have you followed through? I’m not saying you have to magically transform your theological understanding as it relates to the LGBTQ community (as much as I’d love that). I’m just saying you should get to know people who are not like you. Put faces to the “issues” you see in the world. Start there.

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to help the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Have you worked within your church to be more welcoming to these communities, particularly the LGBTQ community? Have you volunteered? Have you had conversations with people within these communities? Have you had conversations with your friends and family who don’t understand these communities and refuse to even try? Have you spoken up when someone uses a slur? Have you contemplated how you can better serve the marginalized?

Does your church and its members contribute to a narrative that demonizes LGBTQ people? 

Has your churched discussed this possibility? Has your congregation given thought to becoming more welcoming and affirming? Are LGBTQ people, even those who disagree with you, included in these conversations? Are you willing to do the hard work and operate within the questions and the tension instead of defaulting to what’s comfortable for you? Do you understand that it’s not the job of LGBTQ people to educate you, so when one of us is willing to walk with you on this journey, you should feel thankful and blessed?

Pulse was tragic. For many, it was life-changing. For some, it was life-ending. But we have a choice. We can choose to examine why events like Pulse happen and how we may, even indirectly, be contributing to a narrative that allows things like this to happen.

Moreover, the LGBTQ community, like other marginalized communities, faces a constant barrage of discrimination. And I know for a fact that many of the same people who said they were thinking of me and praying for me and people like me after Pulse were the same people that helped put Donald Trump in office. I struggle with that.

Actions speak louder than words.

So if you truly want to remember and pray for the people who were injured or died at Pulse, and their family and friends, great. Pray away. And then get to work. Honor them with action. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone. Re-examine your beliefs and your preconceived notions. Do the hard work. Because that’s what we need.

Just Be You.

I was watching House of Cards, casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, minding my own gay business, when I see this:

Vicky Beeching tweet

Great. There goes freaking Vicky Beeching, making my mind work. After my initial internal, “Aaaaaaamen, girl, YES! Mmmhmm! #preach 🙌 🙌🙌” moment, my mind immediately went to the last few days, specifically the story of my fiancé and the airport.

He returned from a work trip yesterday and I had the distinct honor and privilege of picking him up from the airport. It was a lovely, studly birthday present!

As I waited for him inside the airport, I thought about what I would do when I saw him.

Would I hug him? Kiss him? Hold his hand? Just smile and start walking along with him? What reaction would any of these things get from people around us? Would someone call us “faggots”? Would someone say it was disgusting? Would people start giggling? Shaking their heads? Would someone get physical?

And if any of this negative stuff happened, what would my reaction be? Would I say what first came to my mind? Would I respond with kindness? Would I act at all?

In the days and minutes leading up to him returning home, I spent far too much time (meaning any amount of time) focused on this hypothetical stuff and not on how exciting it was going to be to see him. Now I know this was silly, but it’s reality. It happens.

I was talking with a new (but already wonderful) friend of mine the day before the fiancé’s return home and we were laughing about how much we worry about things that may not even come to pass. We talked about how part of it is societal and part of it is personality, but we both agreed to what I already knew by that point, and really knew the whole time: I should, and will, greet the love of my life in whatever way I want and let the potentially bigoted chips fall where they may.

So, what happened?

I saw him walking toward me. I smiled and waited. When he got close, I took the photo I knew I had to take of my “birthday present,” and I couldn’t help but hug him and kiss him and put my arm around him.

And you know what?

The world didn’t end. The sky didn’t fall. No one said a single damn thing, at least to us.

So fast-forward to me seeing Vicky Beeching’s tweet this morning. I think it’s essentially the main lesson from yesterday’s airport adventure and it’s what I knew all along. I think, deep down, most of us understand her point, although it’s sometimes difficult to put into action.

And for anyone thinking, “Well, it’s your own fault for caring about what others think of you,” chances are you’ve either never been part of a hated, marginalized group and/or you’re just lying to yourself in thinking that you’ve never cared what anyone else thinks of you. Whether we should or not, most people, at one point or another, care about what others think. And the people who shout, “I don’t care what others think!” from the rooftops are usually folks who really care about what others think.

Beyond that, though, for many of us, it’s not actually so much about what others think of us as it’s about navigating our lives peacefully and happily. My primary concern wasn’t feeling bad or shamed by someone’s words. My primary concern was that some jerk would try to start a fight. My primary concern wasn’t our feelings — it was our safety.

So if you’ve never really had to do your best not to worry about potential hatred for simply existing and living and loving, be thankful. Because even for those of us who are able to just let those worries roll right off our backs, they’re still worries that we have that others simply don’t. To know this is true, one only needs to look around in public and see how straight white couples tend to interact with each other, then look at how LGBT couples tend to interact with each other, especially in a setting that may not definitely be a welcoming space. I fully understand I’m generalizing, but I’ve seen it enough to know there’s truth to it. And certainly everyone has worries, but not everyone has this worry this often.

I’m thankful for this reminder to focus on our peace of mind and to not let anyone else’s crap get us down. Because it’s just that: crap. And it’s their issue to deal with, not yours.

Happy Pride, by the way! Let’s go be proud of who we are and who we love! Always.

Part 2: Worlds Collide

NOTE: This is part two of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first part here.

I mentioned fear yesterday.

Turns out, I tend to feel like I need to have everything figured out before discussing my faith, but I don’t and I never will. I need to feel confident, but I sometimes doubt. I need to be perfect and discuss it perfectly, but I’m not and I won’t. In other words, in typical Kyle fashion, I hold myself to an impossible standard.

So here we are: The boyfriend who had me thinking about my faith again called himself a Christian, but wasn’t what I knew a Christian to be. He believed in education and science and logic and reason. And he believed in Jesus and God. I know what you’re thinking – what a freakin’ weirdo, right?!

He didn’t demand I believe certain things or anything like that. He just wanted to help me figure things out. He wanted me to explore the world in a new and different way. He wanted me to know there was a Christian perspective that didn’t exclude things like equality, logic, reason, doubt, or difference of opinion. He told me about writers and thinkers whose work he appreciated, but I explored others beyond them, too.

We also started regularly attending a church service at one of those warehouse-style places with rock bands for worship music and trendy pastors who try really hard to ooze “authenticity.” Let’s just say it didn’t work out. Turns out, they were basically the same thing from my past, just repackaged to look and feel better.

But we also went to another church on Christmas Eve each year. The boyfriend told me about a priest that his best friend had told him about. A female, Episcopalian priest. Yep. Two good ol’ Southern Baptist-raised boys found a lady priest they liked! Then, one of them realized he was gay, got into a relationship, and then told his confused boyfriend about the cool lady priest, too. You know, your average coming-of-age conservative Evangelical story…

As a control freak and a recovering Southern Baptist, walking into an Episcopal cathedral wasn’t the most comfortable thing, no matter how hard anyone tried. But I know there’s a God because it turns out they give you a bulletin that tells you what to say and what to do for the entire service! #blessed

It was more formal than what I was used to, but I was drawn to it. At first, it was primarily the sermons. They were short, but powerful. So I started listening online, specifically to any sermon from this priest. For months, nothing more happened, mostly because I was just beginning to ask what the Bible really said about LGBTQ folks, if anything. Before, I hadn’t cared. Now, I did.

I discovered LGBTQ Christians like Matthew Vines, who wrote a great book debunking the “bible-based” arguments Evangelicals like to make when condemning LGBTQ people, or at least not affirming them. Not only did it open my eyes to what the Bible doesn’t say about this “issue,” it confirmed for me that I really could – and should – challenge what I’d been taught about what a “Christian” was, who Jesus was, and what the Bible is.

I also found one of Rachel Held Evans’ books, Searching for Sunday, and found myself nodding along the entire time. I really loved how she described her faith journey and the sacraments. When she began to talk about how she found herself enjoying an Episcopal church, I really identified with it. For example, in one Washington Post article, she wrote:

“I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.”

As time passed, I developed a desire to share with other people that the Bible really doesn’t condemn homosexuality or people in loving, committed, same-sex relationships. I participated in The Coming Out Monologues for a second year, in hopes of changing conservative Christian minds, but also to show LGBTQ folks that millions of Christians affirm and welcome them. I wanted people to hear this message, which I never heard growing up.

A few weeks later, I was representing COM at a local Pride event when a man with his adorable family walked up and introduced himself. He had attended (and loved) the show and wanted to get more involved with the LGBTQ community. I kept thinking, “He looks familiar and his name sounds familiar, too…” It hit me. He was also a priest at the cathedral where we attended Christmas Eve services!

This priest and I had casual chats at occasional coffee meet-ups, where I could toss out whatever issue or question I had. It was probably the first time I had so quickly felt at ease with a minister of any sort, much less seeking out one’s company and input.

I began more intentionally researching the Episcopal Church and really identified with it. So what did I like? And where am I at now in my journey? Stay tuned.

Part 1: Deep Dinner Chat

So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I don’t know how it comes up, but it does. 

“I don’t know what I’d consider myself…I don’t really know what I believe,” I say.

Silence. 

I felt bad, but it was true. And he’s an awesome boyfriend, now fiancé, so there were no ultimatums given or anything. We were both just kind of surprised by the conversation, unsure of exactly where to go from there. I think I explained that, though it had crossed my mind at times over the last few years, there hadn’t really been a need for me to think about my faith at length.

I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it was time to think about what I believed, particularly regarding faith.

So for the last few years, I’ve been on this journey, but it’s not one I’ve talked much about publicly. Naturally, my increasingly introspective nature leads me to think about why that is. I don’t think I have the complete answer, but I think I can summarize it: Fear.

I can confidently and comprehensively discuss LGBTQ issues with pretty much anybody now. For more than a decade, these issues have dominated my life. And while many conservative Evangelical Christians love to talk about how my sexuality is only one small part of the complete “me,” they’re also the ones who force many of us to focus on it because we’re constantly defending our love and our livelihoods. Fighting to be equal. Fighting just to live in peace. So while I certainly don’t claim to know everything when it comes to the LGBTQ community, or even myself within it, I can definitely discuss it. 

When I was a child and into my teenage years, before I knew for sure I was gay, there was something else I could discuss at length, something else that dominated my thinking and world: my faith. And I loved it. It helped me understand the world. It gave me guidance. Friends. A family of sorts. It gave me hope and love and fun. It gave me a chance to perform, write, and speak to groups. I realized I could be influential in others’ lives. It gave me a sense of mission.

But I also had questions and doubts. Big ones. Even before my sexuality became an issue, I learned that doubts and questions were not welcome at church. Disagreement was not welcome.

I’ve always been one to value education, logic and reason. More and more, I felt these were also not welcome, so I, in turn, was not welcome. As I got older, I started to notice other things, like misogyny and racism. Things just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like the Christ I had read about, whose love, compassion, grace and peace I thought I had at least occasionally felt. I realized I needed to leave. As you can imagine, once I realized I was gay, I knew that was it. 

All I knew about “other” non-Evangelical Christians back then was that they were few in number, were all wrong, and were giving into “the world” to make people more comfortable. That’s what I had been taught. Fortunately, I was going off to college and didn’t have to deal with any of it, so I didn’t.

While away at college, I was able to really come into my own. The big, bad, liberal university I spent my entire childhood hearing about turned out to be an awesome, caring community that allowed me to meet other people, learn new things, and gather valuable new perspectives on the world and the people living in it. It solidified what I already instinctively knew: Higher education and interaction with people who were different from me were good things, not bad things. My biggest regret about college is that I rushed through it. 

My drifting away wasn’t entirely my childhood church’s fault. It was inevitable. So-called “Christians” have repeatedly been the most hypocritical, hate-filled, fear-filled people I’ve encountered. And some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve met have been people of other faiths or of no faith. Plenty of “Christians” pushed me farther away. I have to say, though, that I never doubted my childhood church’s love for me. There are certainly reasons to be thankful to them, though I have to wonder what would’ve happened had I known I was gay back then and been open about it.

So there I was, at that table with that adorable man. For years, I hadn’t had to think about my faith, so I didn’t. But it was time. What did I believe? And if I did really still ultimately think I was a Christian, there really wasn’t any welcoming place for me, an openly gay man, right? Turns out, there was, but it would take time to figure that out.

Equality Won!

Last night, the Jacksonville City Council voted 12-6 to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its existing human rights ordinance. And while there is certainly more work to do, it was, and still is, a moment to celebrate. It’s a moment that offers hope. It was historic. I’m proud to have been there.

Before, during, and after the meeting at City Hall, supporters gathered in Hemming Park to be together, show support, and celebrate. Love and happiness and equality were the themes. I felt them all. The positive, love-filled, fearless energy was amazing. Meanwhile, opponents, many (if not most of them) self-proclaimed Christians, repeatedly marched around City Hall. I can tell you where I most felt God’s love last night — and it was most certainly not with those angry, fear-filled marchers.

I’m still feeling a lot of things right now, mostly good. But I’m also aware that last night won’t magically change the hearts and minds of people who say they love the LGBT community and wouldn’t discriminate against us, but also don’t support our legal equality. For now, though, I want to tell you a story that I hope you’ll find as inspiring as I did.

Last night, in the Council chamber, I was sitting with friends, including a transgender woman (a smart, bold, beautiful transgender woman, I might add — but I digress). As we all sat there, a man with multiple stickers from the so-called “opposition” began to walk toward us. To be honest, I got kind of nervous. This man walked right up to the transgender woman — who, if I recall, had made known in previous public comment that she was a runner — and asked how her running was going and if she was accomplishing what she wanted to accomplish. He sounded genuinely kind and curious. And, from my perspective at least, they had an actual conversation on a human-to-human level. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was inspired. I saw love and light in that moment, completely initiated by someone with multiple anti-HRO stickers on. Someone who I had labeled because of it.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “Well that’s great and all, but that was clearly a stunt. He was clearly trying to prove some political point.” If I’m honest, the thought definitely crossed my mind. But I asked myself — and now I ask you — isn’t what he did exactly what we need to do if we’re ever going to make progress? Regardless of his motives, he made a real effort to connect with someone he disagrees with and get to know that person. And this awesome, inspiring trans woman had the courage and grace to listen and talk and share a part of her life with him. Interactions like this are exactly how we make progress. They’re exactly how we change hearts and minds. They’re exactly how we move forward.

When I walked out of City Hall right after the vote, I walked into a gigantic wave of love. Music playing, people cheering, people dancing, people hugging and kissing and holding. People loving. I am so thankful for them. I’m thankful for the core group of people at the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality who worked so, so hard to make this a reality. I’m thankful to all of the volunteers and supporters. I’m thankful to all the businesses and their leaders, of companies large and small, who publicly supported my equality. I’m thankful for everyone who publicly supported and who wrote and called and met with the members of our City Council to explain why this needed to (finally) get done. I’m thankful to the hundreds of faith leaders who did publicly support our equality, particularly St. John’s Cathedral’s Rev. David Erickson and his wife, also a priest, for being so publicly supportive, even bringing the whole family out to the vote last night (side note: OMG his kids are so adorable). I’m also thankful to him and Dean Kate Moorehead for keeping me going and grounded, whether they knew it or not, throughout this whole thing and in life in general. I’m thankful for their leadership on this and other issues in the community. I’m thankful to my boyfriend for not only putting up with me, but for being right there with me — using his voice, too. I’m thankful that we can help each other find our voices and use them. I’m just thankful. And proud.

But while we won this one, the broader fight for equality continues. And we never know what lies ahead. As I think about this, I’m reminded of something Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, recently said in a forum about radicalization and extremism:

“What I know about Jesus of Nazareth is that he treated every human being that he ever met as a child of God. He showed them the respect, the honor, the dignity that befits a child of God. He did that with Pontius Pilate, who ordered his execution. He did that with lepers whom nobody else would touch. He did that with the poor and the rich. [He] treated everyone equally as a child of God. Jesus of Nazareth is my model for life and I believe that everyone is a child of God equally, by virtue of our creation.”

“As I navigate, like everyone else, a kind of complex cultural terrain and political terrain that we’re in, I’ll stand there. Because it means that we must work to create a society and a global community where every man, woman and child [is] equal and respected and honored and loved. Everyone. Including the people I disagree with. And that sometimes is a difficult walk to walk. But, my brother, I’ll walk it because I believe it’s the right walk.”

As I walk that walk, I know that I might get angry. I have before. Maybe you will, too. And anger can be good. But as Rev. Erickson said in last week’s sermon, anger can become soul-crushing when we begin to live in it — to cultivate it:

“If we’re honest, because it’s so pervasive in our society, we probably find ourselves sometimes … embodying anger, contempt and insults. Maybe not out loud, but probably in our hearts. And the issue is that you and I as followers of Jesus, we need to be the radical practitioners of Jesus’ blessing, hope and grace. We are the ones who know we are blessed. We are the ones who understand ourselves as salt and light. So we must be the ones who are willing to do the hard work — to when it comes down to it, in that moment of crisis and judgment, we will choose light and life versus darkness and insult and anger. Because if we’re not going to do it, then who is?”

So as we move forward, together, on issues still to be solved and issues yet to come, let us do our best to understand each other, see our shared humanity, and lead in love.

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Image created by Karen Kurycki 

My Latest HRO Comments

 

The City of Jacksonville is (still) debating a more inclusive human rights ordinance that would provide the same legal protections to the LGBT community already provided to many other groups, including religious groups. Here are my comments from the City Council’s public hearing on Jan. 24, 2017. The text below is the same as the video above. My apologies in advance for the grainy video, but it’s the best I could do for now and I felt it was an important message to share.

Members of the City Council, friends and neighbors, good evening. I’m Kyle Sieg. I first want to thank you for this opportunity to speak tonight. Frankly, I don’t know what more any of us can really say on this issue that might actually change hearts and minds. So I’m going to spend a few moments talking about what I do know.

As Maya Angelou said, “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” It may be difficult to see that right now, but it’s true.

Here’s something else I know: Everyone in this room, yes everyone in this room, is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter who or how you are, or what you believe.

And everyone in this room deserves love and equality. In fact, Christians are called to love one another, as difficult as that is and as messy and imperfect as we all are.

Here’s what else I know: Jesus lived in the margins and championed social justice. Christians are called to follow in his footsteps and reach out — in love — to the marginalized.

Let’s assume we’re all just trying to do the right thing. How do we figure out what that is?

In the Bible, Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. And so our beliefs should be shaped by their outcomes.

Only bad fruit can come from continuing to allow discrimination in our city, especially when multiple groups — including religious groups — already have these same protections.

But if we did pass these protections, maybe LGBT people would be safer in their own community. Maybe more businesses would move to Jacksonville. And — something that should be important to Christians — maybe more people would receive a Christ-like message of love and inclusion. That sounds like good fruit to me.

I want to share with you two quotes from local faith leaders who’ve helped me profoundly, both from St. John’s Cathedral just down the street.

Dean Kate Moorehead offers this advice:

“Look at each other. Do you see each other? Each of us is a human being. Each one of us is so much more than just one issue — more than our political persuasion or ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation. Look at each other. Stop seeing a cause or perspective. See the person!”

Reverend David Erickson tells us that…”We must not live according to fear. We must not remain in darkness…

We are called to be light-bearers — love-spreading difference-makers…

This is our commission. This is our sending forth….And it’s not simply what we’re to do. It is who we are. It is, like Jesus, our true identity — the very pulse of our heart.”

This is why I’m speaking out in favor of an expansion of love and inclusion and equality in our city, which is what an expanded HRO would be.

Thank you.

If you’re wondering what you can do to support fairness and equality in Jacksonville, I wholeheartedly recommend emailing, writing and calling your local City Council representatives. I also suggest following the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality for updates on the measure and how you can help in other ways.

Additionally, I encourage you to speak out, publicly, on this issue within your own friend groups. A lot of people in Jacksonville don’t seem to know this is even going on. They also don’t seem to know that LGBT people face discrimination in their own community. So, please, educate yourself if you need to, and then help us educate others. This is more than an issue and it’s not just about the economy. This is about real people facing real discrimination in their own community. We need your help.

The Art of Conversation

I think a lot about communication. It comes naturally to me. But communication is important to all of us. Our lives revolve around how we communicate, with ourselves and others. Most recently, however, I’ve been focused on what I’ll call compassionate communication: how to effectively communicate in a way that shows compassion for all involved.

I have lots of opinions. We all do. We all have our own life experiences which shape these opinions. And, as if that’s not messy enough, we’re all imperfect. So how do we effectively communicate with each other — not at each other or around each other or past each other, but with each other?

We have to be quiet and listen.

We can’t communicate effectively or compassionately if we don’t make an effort to understand each other, which happens by listening. This is why social media communication sometimes fails so miserably. We are complicated people discussing complicated issues that tend to be far more nuanced than we sometimes like to admit. Many times, we need to be able to actually hear each other. Even better, we need to see each other. We need to remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is a human just like us. In many cases, the people we are communicating with are our friends and family. If we have any chance of communicating effectively, especially via social media, we must be willing to be quiet and listen to each other.

We have to start from a place of mutual respect.

Can I just admit this is extraordinarily difficult to do sometimes? And if you’re honest with yourself, I bet you’d agree. I live in a world in which my very equality is regularly questioned in my own community. In fact, I don’t even have the same rights as others in my community and there are still people, most of them who say they’re Christians just like me, actively trying to deny me this equality. It is incredibly difficult to think of these people as anything other than mean, fearful, ignorant people. It’s messy. And even when I do remember that these people are also beloved Children of God (regardless of their faith or lack of it), and that we should strive to love everyone, it’s not something I can permanently sustain. It’s something I must regularly work to do. But if I’m asking them to respect me, I must be willing to offer them the same respect, which leads me to my next point.

We must be willing to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I know — what a cliche. But this one is true. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. It helps stop us from being hypocritical. And let’s be honest: we all love to call someone out for hypocrisy, don’t we? And we’re all hypocrites at times, aren’t we? But beyond it being the right thing to do, you’re never going to get your point across to someone who disagrees with you or doesn’t understand you if you don’t even treat them the way you expect them to treat you.

We must be prepared to show grace.

As a gay man, especially one who now (again) identifies as a Christian — a word that understandably tends to carry a boatload of assumptions, I would get absolutely nowhere with many people if I just shut down a conversation every time someone asked me something that was inappropriate or offensive.

I am not saying that one should endure a continued barrage of angry, fear-filled hate speech and continue to be around the person spewing it. I’m also not saying the marginalized bear the full burden of explaining ourselves to others. What I am saying is that when we’re engaging in thoughtful conversations with folks, we should try our best to extend grace to one another.

I’ve been asked so many uncomfortable, insensitive questions about my sexual orientation. If you’re in a minority group or a group that’s very often misunderstood, chances are you know what I’m talking about. 

Perhaps you’ve even asked someone these sorts of questions. If I’m honest, in my effort to learn more about others and learn how I can advocate on their behalf, I think I have. And anytime anyone has ever patiently pointed it out to me, I’ve been so thankful to them for doing so, so that I can learn from the experience. One’s motives behind the questions make a difference, at least to me. If you’re asking to truly better understand me and people like me, I’m much more likely to patiently answer your questions. Regardless, we need to have more grace in our conversations.

We have to hold each other accountable.

Once we establish that we are willing to listen, respect one another, treat each other as we’d like to be treated, and prepare ourselves to extend grace to one another — once we do all that, we are better equipped to effectively hold each other accountable.

I can’t say this enough: humans are not perfect. Often, we slip up. When we do, we need help from friends who will hold us accountable. But more than that, we also need to call out things like racism, bigotry, and homophobia when we see them. We can do this while still listening, showing respect, following the Golden Rule, and showing grace. It’s a challenge — trust me, I struggle with it regularly — but it’s optimal.

So why don’t we do all of this? Why is it so difficult? Well, that’s a loaded question with many reasons. But let me explain why I think it’s sometimes difficult for me.

I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy.

I can handle stress. Successfully handling stressful situations has always been part of my job, regardless of the industry. I have even frequently enjoyed these moments. But a key to effectively handling stress, for me at least, is minimizing unnecessary stress as much as possible. Sometimes, stress is good and needed. But sometimes, it’s definitely not. It’s all about balance.

So when I’m faced with a decision about whether or not to engage in communication with someone on some issue, I factor in how much stress it may cause and if it’s worth it. That’s a reasonable thing to do, but more often I’m realizing that it’s important to have important conversations, regardless of the stress it may cause.

I want to avoid tension and being in uncomfortable situations.

This is especially true for me in person. But tension can be good. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for the benefits and importance of tension in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

“I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Did you catch that? Tension isn’t only important, it’s necessary for growth. Dang.

We find similar themes in Christianity, with tension and complexity in the Bible itself and in issues people struggle with. As Christopher L. Webber puts it:

“Uniformity of opinion and vision might be more comfortable to some, but unity is made up of diversity. It is precisely in this clash of opinions and the debating of different visions that the mission of the church is clarified. A church without controversy would be a dead church.”

Dang.

In order to have effective conversations, we must be willing to embrace tension and get out of our comfort zones. Honestly, you and I probably both know some of our most meaningful learning experiences have been in trying, tense, and uncomfortable times, yet we sometimes still fear them. But the more we do it, the easier and more comfortable it becomes.

I fear imperfection.

Yep. The guy who talks about how imperfect we all are is the same guy who has this nagging need to try to be perfect, even though he realizes this is unrealistic. Welcome to my mind.

The reason this sometimes holds me back from conversations is that I worry what I’ll say will hurt more than help. I worry that I won’t have the right words or will have the wrong tone. Also, the idea of people thinking I speak on behalf of an entire group, regardless of the group, adds enormous pressure. And while maybe I tend to thrive under pressure, my mind doesn’t seem to care. But hey — realizing this is the first step to moving past it, right?

I like to be liked.

There. I said it. If you know me, you’re probably all like, “Um, duh. That’s obvious.” But here’s the thing: when I think about why I like to be liked, my mind almost immediately goes back to the things I listed above — I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy and I want to avoid tense, uncomfortable situations.

But I also want to be approachable, especially for friends and family. I want to be a resource — someone who they know will listen to them. While I’m certainly unafraid to take positions and have opinions, I do often try to find common ground. And that’s not a bad thing as long as I’m not denying myself, denying others, and avoiding what’s right in an unrealistic effort to make all people feel comfortable. And I know I do that, especially in person.

For example, if I’m around family or even in public with my boyfriend, I’m less likely to show him any form of overt affection. I’ll tell myself that I’m not a huge fan of PDA and wouldn’t be if I were straight either. But is that true? How do I know that’s true when I’ve been conditioned for literally my entire life to think that being gay and showing any form of romantic affection to someone of the same sex is wrong? Two things drive this thought process: fear and wanting to make others comfortable.

This is also something I’m working on — not just the PDA thing — all of it. While certain times may call for neutrality, in many cases it’s better in the long run to stand firm in who and how you are, letting the chips fall where they may. But I think you must also keep the Golden Rule in mind, as well as the idea that we should strive to show love and kindness to one another. 

So what’s the answer here? How do we communicate effectively while staying true to who we are and not condoning dangerous, damaging rhetoric? How do we have conversations with people who are not playing by the same “rules,” so-to-speak? Why should we have to play by those rules if they aren’t? Should we even try?

As usual, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. And I think it depends on the situation. Like most things in life, it’s complex. And if I had one perfect answer, I think I’d be a much more popular person, probably with a few extra bucks in my bank account, too.

Most of life’s big questions don’t have definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. It’s messier than that. But there can be beauty in  difficult answers. To reference Christopher L. Webber again, a “middle way” can “achieve a comprehensiveness or breadth of approach that could draw wisdom from every side and include the insights of others.”

While Webber is talking about Christianity, particularly Episcopalianism here, I think it holds true in general, as well. For so many issues, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. Why? Well, people are diverse and complex. Many issues are, too.

Certainly, there are issues that are either just right or wrong, and we must not be silent when we hear things like hate speech. That’s when holding each other accountable comes in. But how do we know what’s right and wrong?

Jesus tells us we can judge a tree by the fruit it bears — a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing bad fruit — leading to negative outcomes — it is not good. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing good fruit — leading to positive outcomes — it is good. Using this method, we can better understand when it’s time to speak up. And when we do so, we must be prepared to be bold while also being mindful of the things that make a conversation most productive.

If we want to affect any change, if we want to learn and grow, if we want others to learn and grow, and if we want to fully live life, we must be willing to engage in difficult, messy, conversations. And we must be willing to do so with compassion, understanding, respect and grace. It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.

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