Posts tagged ‘politics’

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.

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.

About Meryl

As I’m sure most of you can predict, I LOVED Meryl Streep’s speech last night. It was honest, emotional, and classy. As usual, she articulated her informed perspective wonderfully.

However, I know there are many people who did not like her speech or that she gave a speech of this nature in that venue. I’m seeing two dominant thoughts from these folks:

  • Meryl Streep is just a rich actress, so that makes her out of touch with the common man. She’s ignorant to our needs, and/or generally ignorant to all things aside from acting, so she has no right to speak her mind on issues like politics.
  • If Meryl Streep wants to say stuff like this, she should pick another venue. It’s completely inappropriate for her to make such statements like this during a ceremony like that.

Regarding the first point, perhaps there’s some truth to Streep and other actors being “out of touch” with certain things in the lives of “common” people. Does she worry about making rent or paying her mortgage, for example? Probably not. That said, if she’s so out of touch with us, why do so many of us love what she had to say? Why are so many people agreeing with it? Why are so many people thankful that she said it? Plus, her primary theme seemed to be about not normalizing bullying. Since when is that controversial?

Also, don’t assume that just because she’s an actor, she’s dumb to all other things. First of all, she’s a human, shaped by the entirety of her life experience, much of which probably occurred before she became famous. She has degrees from Vassar College and Yale. Yale, y’all. I don’t care if it’s a degree in drama from Yale. It’s. A. Degree. From. Yale.

She’s also an international role model for women and girls and regularly helps with charities. Do you know what that does? It helps people, yes, but it also likely keeps her at least somewhat in touch with the needs of “common” people – or better yet, marginalized people. She’s been involved with arts-related charities, LGBT-related charities, environment-related charities, international charities, general equality-related charities, health-related charities, and women-related charities. I’m exhausted just looking at the list.

Regarding the second point, I first want to point out the irony that people are using their platform (social media, mostly) to say what they think, which is apparently that they don’t think someone else should be allowed to use their platform to say what they think. Regardless of where we are in life, we all use the methods we have at our disposal to share our perspectives with others. Just because someone has a broader platform than you doesn’t mean they suddenly aren’t humans or citizens or that they don’t have a perspective or aren’t allowed to articulate it. Everyone does this. Everyone.

Meryl Streep WORKED to have the platform she has. Let me repeat that: She worked for it. It was not handed to her. She did not just trip and fall into fame. She worked for it. She is just using the platforms she has to advocate for what she believes is true. Just. Like. You. And what about an acceptance speech for an award is NOT the right time for it? She’s not at a funeral. She’s not at someone else’s wedding. The time for her to speak at that ceremony was precisely so that she could speak. Too many celebrities get up there and just gush about themselves, maybe finding some time to thank a few people, and people get mad at their selfishness. So now we’re mad at someone for using this time to talk about the world she envisions where people aren’t bullied? Seriously?

And if you’re OK with celebrities using their platform to bully people, to call people names, to marginalize people — or at least if you stay silent during those times — why are you choosing to speak out now when someone is suggesting we shouldn’t let bullying become normalized? I have to say: it seems a lot like something more is at play here, whether or not people even realize it.

Finally, this is part of a bigger trend I’m seeing in which people who normally stay publicly silent on things that they consider controversial (like equality) choose to speak out about people speaking out. I know that’s a complicated sentence, so let me offer examples:

They stay silent about Donald Trump using his platform as a presidential candidate to mock a reporter or call people names, but they choose to speak up when they disagree with someone commenting about it themselves. Perhaps they say they remain silent because they want to appear neutral — they say they want unity. And yet they comment on someone else commenting. The issue itself? Stay silent. Someone else speaking out about the issue? Time to speak out.

Another example of this is the whole Chip and Joanna Gaines thing. Let me preface this by saying I think BuzzFeed tried a little too hard to target them based on their pastor’s beliefs. And while I think it’s reasonable to assume they probably believe similar things, an assumption is not worth a whole article about them when they haven’t spoken out about it. I should also add that I was generally a fan of the points Chip Gaines made in his response, given how bad it could’ve been.

But again – people who say they love all people, including LGBT people, and support us being treated kindly – have stayed silent on things that would mean good, equal treatment of our community. They’ve neglected to mention us when things happened in our community. When the Pulse tragedy happened, they didn’t comment about how terrible it was specifically for the Latinx or LGBT community. If they commented at all publicly, they just said it was bad for America. When a trans person gets murdered, nothing. When laws are created that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people simply for being LGBT, they’re silent. But privately, they’ll tell you that they love and support you. They’re just staying away from controversy publicly. They want unity.

But then, something happens like that article about Chip and Joanna and there they are – publicly commenting. Making sure all their friends know that it’s just not fair. Making sure everyone knows they #StandWithChipAndJoanna or whatever the hashtag was (I’m assuming there was a hashtag).

You know what that says to me? Your words about supporting me are hollow. You will not back them up publicly, much less with action. Perhaps you’re all about unity and loving everyone, as long as you and people who think like you remain on top. You don’t actually love us. You never did. At best, you want to “love on us,” because we’re clearly people in special need of your love. Yeah, you may love on us, but who are you going to support? Not us. That would be controversial and you maybe don’t even believe in equality for us anyway. You’re going to toe the line, at best. Just like Chip did with his statement. People are literally dying on one side, but you’re going to be quiet until someone messes with someone you like. Then, and only then, it’s time to #StandWith them.

It’s the same type of thing with this Meryl Streep issue — people coming out of the woodwork to bash her in one way or another. People who stay silent on matters of consequence.

So here’s what I want, from myself and from others: Stop pretending. Have a backbone. Do some soul-searching. Think about how often you comment about how hard Chip and Joanna have it or how all these celebrities speaking out about bullying, equality, etc. just need to sit down and shut up, etc. Think about how often you comment about that, compared to how often you publicly advocate for the marginalized, whether it’s LGBT people, people of color, the poor, etc.

If you’re the person who comments more about the Chips and Joannas of the world, and you don’t find anything wrong with that, fine. But own it. Don’t pretend to actually support my community, the black community, etc. Just don’t.

But regardless of where you find yourself on this spectrum, I need you to do a few other things: Be open to dialogue. Be open to learning. Be open to changing. Be open to love from all sides. But not that fake love stuff — true, actual, honest, “I fully support you and will advocate on your behalf” love. Because regardless of where you find yourself on this spectrum, we’re all existing in this world together and we’re all considered “beloved.” So have some compassion toward everyone.

I really do try to see the perspectives of people I disagree with, and I hope you do, too. For me, I choose to do my best to spend my time where it counts most — supporting people who need support, whether I know them or not. Not fake need it, but really need it. Because the Chips and Joannas of the world – what’s going to happen to them? Worst case, maybe they get fired. But LGBT people are dying. People of color are dying. Refugees are dying. And you’re up in arms about Meryl. Think about that.

So thank you, Meryl, for speaking up for what you feel is right. I happen to agree that bullying is bad and normalizing such behavior is even worse. And thank you to everyone else who speaks up for those who could really use support from everywhere — from those within their communities and those outside of them.

The “Better Angels”

We may disagree. In fact, I may vehemently disagree with your perspective on life and politics and, yes, even the candidate you support. In the same way that I feel obligated to occasionally share things I find important or interesting or relevant, I understand that people I disagree with will, too. If I am “entitled” to do this, so are they. And who knows? I may learn something!

That said, I always do my very best to argue my points or post things to social media that represent my perspective in a respectful way. I do my absolute best to avoid even the hint of personal attacks against those who disagree with me. I try to at least consider the other person’s perspective. Even if I don’t understand it, I don’t resort to name-calling and insults.

Also, I do my best to fact check things before I post. I use judgment. And while I admittedly have more training and more of a mindset to do this than the average person, I expect everyone — especially the 100% convinced-their-way-is-the-only-way folks — to at least take ten seconds to Google or look it up on Snopes. Now, have I always done these things? Likely not. I am, after all, human.

But over the last few weeks, I have consistently read that I am “evil” for being a Democrat. I have read that I am “un-American” or unpatriotic. I have consistently read and seen things shared that are so untrue, even spin can’t make them remotely true. In fact, I’m beginning to think it’s easier for me to identify as gay in some circles than to identify as a Democrat or as someone who appreciates facts over (or even as much as) feelings.

Why is that? My best guess is that someone has humanized the ” gay issue” for these people. They understand there is an actual human being involved.

So, how about this? I am a person. I have a heart and a brain and am worthy of respect. So are you.

Next time you decide to post about how evil or anti-America or anti-freedom or lazy or weak or insert-insult-here liberals or Democrats are, stop and think. You don’t want people saying insulting things about you, right? You don’t want people generalizing about you, right? Maybe reconsider your point or wording. Also ask yourself this: “If I were sitting in a coffee shop, face-to-face with this person, would I articulate my point or make this statement in the same way?” If the answer is “no,” maybe reconsider. These are the things I do for you, people I disagree with. I don’t automatically assume you’re any of these things based on mass generalizations and I certainly don’t post that you are. Life is full of nuances. So are we.

You can make a point or share your perspective without being insulting or making sweeping negative generalizations about other Americans. You don’t have to call people names. People simply disagreeing with you or having another outlook on life and how America should operate aren’t automatically stupid or evil or unpatriotic or anything else. Making generalizations and being disrespectful or downright hateful are generally bad ideas, regardless of your political party.

If you want to respectfully disagree with me, fine. If you want to post things that you think support your argument or perspective, by all means do so. If you want to engage in a meaningful dialogue about something, awesome. But don’t call me names. Don’t insult me. And please don’t just blindly share stuff and then draw hurtful, stereotypical conclusions based on things that are entirely false or misconstrued.

As I thought through this post, I was reminded of President Lincoln’s words during his first inaugural address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

“For The Love of Christ”

For the second consecutive year, I participated in the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community-created, community-inspired and community-led theatrical production dedicated to transformation through storytelling.

Last year, we had the pleasure of opening the show on the same night national marriage equality became a reality. It was one of the best nights of my life.

This year, we opened our show in the shadow of the tragedy in Orlando. It was quite a different feeling, but opening night ended up being one of the best nights of my life yet again. The audience’s love, acceptance and understanding was entirely unexpected by me when it came to my monologue in particular. It was humbling. And awesome.

My latest monologue focused on Christianity and its relationship with the LGBTQ community. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian” as a wonderful resource in both the writing process and in my personal life. For those of you interested, I’d also recommend Rachel Held Evans’ “Searching for Sunday.” She’s great to follow on social media, too, as are John Pavlovitz and Benjamin L. Corey.

One of the performances was recorded, but I’m not sure when the final video will be available, so I made my own! Additionally, I was asked to provide the text of my monologue, so I hope you find it valuable.

I…am…tired. I’m tired of defending myself and having to go on the offensive. I’m tired of defending my faith to people supposedly of my faith. I’m tired of willful ignorance. I’m tired of fear-mongering…especially from people whose God told them three things repeatedly – don’t fear, love God and love your neighbor.

I’m tired of the First Baptists of the world claiming authority over the Bible and over what’s right and wrong. I’m tired of hearing things like, “Well I’m just preaching the word of God” and “I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear…I’m going to tell you what the Bible says.” Ok, no. You’re going to tell me what you think the Bible says. You’re going to choose to take a few verses completely out of context while ignoring the fact that you add context to so many others.

And I’m probably even more tired of churches that mask the same old, uninformed conservative evangelical rhetoric with flashy graphics, fancy rock concerts, a marketing department and tatted-up pastors with drug-addicted pasts. Places like this pretend you’re welcome…right up until you even suggest that same-sex relationships are OK with God. Then it’s time to find another church. At least First Baptist doesn’t try to hide that I’m not welcome.

The fact is gay Christians exist. And there are MILLIONS of Christians out there – straight, gay, whatever – who do not believe that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful. So here’s what we think the Bible really says – or doesn’t say – about “homosexuality.” I want to set the record straight. Wait…uh…anyway…

First of all, the Bible never discusses sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships and neither does Jesus. But there are six verses people refer to when claiming the Bible is against homosexuality. The first is in Genesis. The claim is that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the people did gay things. But as Ezekiel explains, the story is really about not showing hospitality. It’s about the people being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. It’s about people not helping the poor and needy. Also, the only form of same-sex behavior mentioned in the Sodom and Gomorrah story is gang rape, a far cry from a committed, same-sex relationship.

The two verses in Leviticus that people love to reference about the issue are part of what’s known as the “old law,” which the New Testament says no longer applies, thanks to Jesus. Leviticus also says that eating pork or shellfish is worthy of death. Combining fabrics is wrong, too. Don’t me wrong – as a gay man, I realize you have to be really careful about which fabrics you mix, but we don’t think it’s worthy of death. Well, most of us.

In the New Testament, Romans 1:26 – 27 basically says people refused to know God and got sexually confused and “abused and defiled each other…all lust, no love.” This, too, has nothing to do with people in loving, committed same-sex relationships.

There are also verses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, which use two really fancy Greek words. Many people translate these words to make sweeping negative generalizations about gay people. But there’s debate over these translations. In fact, others think a closer translation in modern times would be something like “dirty old men.” God knows there are plenty of those in the world today. I mean we all have that uncle, right?

Oh…and the apostle Paul — who wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy – also calls men having long hair “unnatural.” And he says women shouldn’t speak in church. I’m pretty sure most churches let women talk these days. While I’m not a fan of women in the bedroom, I certainly don’t mind them talking. Usually. In Biblical times, same-sex behavior was mainly between men and boys – a master/servant sort of thing. Also, I just want to point out that the word “homosexuality” didn’t even appear in the Bible until 1946.

Really, the Bible says more about accepting others and about so-called “religious” people than it does about sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships. In fact, Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but he did challenge divorce, wealth, spiritual pride and exclusion. 

Besides, no one believes 100% of the Bible literally. No one. Here’s an example: In the book of Matthew, Jesus says his followers need to sell their possessions, give to the poor and follow him. But I don’t see First Baptist’s pastor giving up his 600-thousand-dollar home in Deerwood. I don’t see Celebration’s pastor giving up his 900-thousand-dollar home in Queen’s Harbour. And I don’t see Eleven22’s pastor giving up his 300-thousand-dollar home in Highland Glen.

Now surely, these men and their congregations do great things for the community. But Jesus says to sell all possessions and give to the poor. It’s pretty clear. So if they believe that the few verses on homosexuality should be taken 100% literally, surely they believe this literally. Or don’t they because it directly affects them?

1 Timothy tells women not to wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes and to be “modest” and “discreet,” yet plenty of women wear gold or pearls or costly clothes, especially to church on Sundays.

Then, there’s the elephant in the room…or should I say “sanctuary” – divorce. In multiple scriptures, we’re told it’s wrong. Yet, plenty of Christians get divorced. And you don’t hear these people fighting to outlaw divorce or Christian business owners refusing to serve divorced people like they are with our community.

In the New Testament, Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is. You know what he says? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That’s number one. Do you know what number two is? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 14:1 says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but don’t quarrel over opinions.” There is grace in the non-essentials of the Christian faith. Whether or not being gay is right or wrong is most certainly not essential to being a Christian. But loving God and loving others is.

At best, no one really knows for sure what Jesus thinks about gay stuff because he didn’t say anything about it. But we have a way to tell what’s right and wrong, even if the Bible isn’t clear. It all comes down to fruit. Ironic, right? Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. As gay Christian author Matthew Vines puts it, Christians can use this to test beliefs based on the outcome. So let’s think about this…

Humans are created for love and companionship. But these anti-gay Christians just want us to turn that off. And they speak out against who we are so loudly that they make it even more difficult for our community to receive Christ’s message, which is for all people. They say hateful things and perpetuate fear. Their actions and rhetoric lead people to depression and – in some cases – suicide. They’re too concerned about protecting themselves from some invisible gay boogeyman to realize or care that they are doing harm. This seems like bad fruit to me.

But what if these Christians realized that we don’t know for sure what Jesus thinks about the issue and it’s not essential to being a Christian anyway? What if they focused on what we do know – that Jesus wants us to love each other and share his message? Maybe more people in our community would listen to their message – one that should be of love and inclusion. Maybe fewer people in our community would try to kill themselves. That seems like good fruit to me.

What “good fruit” comes out of forcing a gay person to a life of loneliness? While we’re at it, what “bad fruit” does my same-sex relationship bear? Pastors love to say that gay people feel so burdened because we know we’re sinning. I promise you – my boyfriend and I feel loved by God and do not feel guilt or judgment from him for loving each other and being with each other.

But even if it is a sin – I ask Christians this: What is the ultimate goal of the church? To be right? Or to show people the same love that Jesus showed us? To speak out harshly against the gay community – or to speak out about poverty, economic inequality and a general lack of valuing ALL people as Children of God?

So I’m tired…but I am not giving up. I may not convince everyone that same-sex relationships are OK or even that we deserve the same rights, but I can sure keep trying. The struggle is real…but the struggle is worth it.

Don’t fear. Love God. Love your neighbors.

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