Friday, October 29, 2010

A Message of Love for the LGBT Community

Since moving to Metro Vancouver in April 2009, I've criticized the community for what it doesn't have in relation to most other cities, municipalities, and districts in Metro Vancouver.  But what it does have is a progressive-thinking minister of the United Church, whose message of inclusion, acceptance, and love is both an inspiration and an example.

(Please note, I have no formal religious affiliation whatsoever.  I just appreciate Minister Bott's open mind and position.)

The following is from __________, published Wednesday, October 27, 2010.

St. Andrew’s United OK with gay

A message of love can have a powerful impact, and perhaps few know this better than Richard Bott.

He’s the minister of St. Andrew’s Haney United Church, and after hearing the news of yet another gay teen committing suicide after being relentlessly bullied, he says he felt he needed to send a clear message about where his church stands.

“Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Bi or Transgendered? You are loved by God, and … you are welcome here,” the LED sign at the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and 222nd Street reads.

It is a different message than is being sent by many right-wing Christian groups, but one Bott believes is more consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“I believe in a God of love,” he says.

“And the guy who said, ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ would welcome these people.

“To be loving is to recognize the humanity in each and every person.”

Bott put the sign up prior to National Coming Out Day on Oct.11, and decided to leave the sign up for the Oct. 20 Spirit Day, which encouraged people to wear the colour purple to honour children who have committed suicide in recent months due to homophobic abuse in their homes and schools.

“The sign was put up because we want people to know that if they are being bullied, this is a safe place,” says Bott.

“We will listen, we will support, and we will care.”

His congregation, which includes members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, has been supportive of the message, says Bott.

The reaction from the community outside the church, however, has been mixed.

While Bott has received phone calls of support, there have also been some who take offence to the sign and its welcoming message.

“I asked them which part of the message do they find so upsetting,” says Bott. “That God loves all people, or is it that we would welcome these people here?”

This isn’t the first time St. Andrews Haney United Church has taken a stance in support of the LGBT community.

Following the legalization of same-sex marriages in B.C. in 2003, the board of St. Andrew’s wrote its own marriage policy, removing sexual orientation from the question of whether two people can get married in the church. The policy, the first of its kind in B.C., has since inspired other churches to do the same.

St. Andrew’s belongs to the United Church of Canada, which is the single largest Protestant denomination in Canada, and the second-largest Christian church in Canada. The United Church was formed in 1925 through the unification of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches, and has been progressive from the outset. The United Church began ordaining women in the 1930s, and in 1988 removed homosexuality as a barrier to joining the church and its clergy.

In 2003, delegates from the United Church of Canada lobbied in favour of same-sex marriage, and even presented before the House of Commons Justice Committee.

The persistence of who use the word of God to justify hatred and fear-mongering saddens and angers Bott.
“Unfortunately, the more traditional way of reading scripture has had a much louder voice, for much longer,” he says.

The bible was written by many different men, over thousands of years, and features stories, poetry, and songs, notes Bott.

Some sections are rather legalistic in nature, such as the book of Leviticus, which states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” in verse 18:22 of the King James translation of the Old Testament. The verse has been used by many right-wing Christians to justify hate against the LGBT community, but scripture must be considered within the context in which it was written, says Bott.

Leviticus also states that if a man cheats on his wife, or vise versa, both the man and the woman must die (Leviticus 20:10). Anyone who curses their mother or father, must be killed (Leviticus 20:9), as must anyone who curses God (Leviticus 24:16), or anyone of a different religion. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).

But the common theme throughout the bible, specifically the new testament, is love, says Bott, and that should be held paramount over every other lesson.

“My hope is that in time we move away from fear and hate of the other,” Bott says.

“I think faith can be part of that understanding.

“We were called to do more than just tolerate.”

Looking Back

Lately, I've thought about the many gay men I came to know over the years.  As we moved on to other locations, other stages of our lives, we lost touch, but I wonder what happened to them, if they ever found the long-term, committed relationships they so wanted.  

I believe the natural state for human beings is to be together with someone else. We are meant to be coupled.  We are meant to share our lives with someone we love dearly.  We are meant to partner with someone who will teach us what we need to learn about ourselves.  We are not meant to be alone and lonely.  

Some of the gay men I knew had an odd way of looking for relationships.  They headed straight for sex.  I suspect, gay or straight, most men have an easier time engaging in sex than committing themselves emotionally to another human being, which I don't understand and find unfortunate.

My hope for the gay men I knew, both in Kelowna and Vancouver, is they settled down, grew up, realized what they did wouldn't put them in the place they wanted to be.  I hope they learned to love themselves along the way, because I didn't see much of that when we were friends.  Goodness knows, I wasn't much of an example myself.

Do all of us arrive at that destination eventually, that place of love for oneself? Does it happen automatically as a matter of course, just by growing older, being a part of life's many experiences?  Or do we need to make the conscious choice to love ourselves despite the things we've always hated about who we are, including being gay?      

Do all of us find that special person?  Do all of us get to experience the fullness and the beauty and the wonder of love?  Do all of us get to be so much more with someone else in our lives than we could ever be if we remained alone throughout it?

I picture so many of the gay men I used to know, their faces now lined, their hair greying, arriving home to empty houses.  I imagine them never having learned how to open their hearts wide enough for themselves, let alone partners, finding just enough space for a pet of some sort.  I see them amongst a lot of friends, but, at the end of the day, they remain solitary figures, sad and pitiable, missing out on the single greatest blessing of the human experience.

I hope I'm wrong.  I pray I'm wrong.  All of us have so much love to give.  That's why we're here, after all.  If we can just find it for ourselves first.  If we can just believe in our own self-worth, in how extraordinarily amazing we are, in our entitlement to love and to be loved.

I don't want one person who's truly serious about finding the right person and being in a long-term, committed relationship to go without.  I pray every last one of us gets exactly what he wants, including all those young men who made me feel so much better about myself because, in their own way, they loved me as I loved them.  No one should ever have to be alone, if that is not his choice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Make It Better Project"

I could not be happier to share with you a couple of websites that came to my attention only today, and that directly address the concerns I had regarding the "It Gets Better" project, which I expressed in the posts 'Skepticism of the "It Gets Better" Project' and '"It Gets Better," Part Three--Have We Missed the Point?'.

While I was initially thrilled with Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" efforts to prevent questioning, LGBT, and bullied youth from committing suicide, then subsequently disappointed, I don't think we can underestimate the impact Savage's efforts, and those who contributed their own videos, have had on creating an awareness around this issue in ways I'm not sure anyone has previously.  But now that we've gotten over the initial excitement of someone giving us a voice and finding our own voices through videos, blog posts, etc., it's time to take things to the next level.

The "Make It Better Project" does just that.  What I love about this project is it doesn't ignore where LGBTQ youth are right now--namely, in public school systems around North America, and the world for that matter, dealing with daily bullying related to their sexual orientation.  It doesn't address the issue of bullying by telling youngsters things will get better when they graduate from high school, or when they grow up, or when they move on to their adult lives.

Rather, it looks at providing specific steps youngsters, parents, teachers, and other interested parties can take right now to create a better quality of life in our public schools.  It gives hope bullied children can take back control, stop looking at themselves as victims, and create a greater awareness around how they are different so their classmates no longer fear what they don't understand.

Like Isaiah says in the introductory video on the website:

We're not helpless.
We're not ruled by adults.
We're not just waiting to grow up.
We have lives right now.
And we have power right now.
And we can use that to make it better...
Right now.

Here's what I see:  I see a world in which bullying is stopped, no matter the cause of it, but especially that targeted at LGBTQ youth.  I see a world where young adults don't graduate from high schools hating themselves because they're gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.  I see a world where young adults don't waste the better part of their 20s, 30s, or even longer to attempt to overcome the damage done to their self-esteem because of their grade school experience.  I see a world where young LGBT adults do not feel hindered in any way because of their sexual orientation--to be the people they were meant to be, and to live the full and productive lives they were meant to live.

So the two websites I referred to at the opening of this post are:

Please be sure to visit these sites, subscribe to them, and support them in whatever ways you can.

It's up to us to make it better right now, and we can do it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Living Consciously

So here's a conversation I had with myself yesterday as I got ready to go out to Save-On Foods with Chris.  

"It's cold out there.  Maybe I should wear the scarf I bought when we were in Paris.  I haven't worn it much."

"You mean the one that makes you look gay?"

"It does not make me look gay.  Yeah, you're right.  It makes me look gay.  Maybe I shouldn't wear it.  Wait a minute.  I am gay."

"True.  But do you want to go out of your way to make sure everyone knows it?"

"If they don't already know by looking at me, what harm will a scarf do?"

"This is __________, not Paris.  Everyone gets away with wearing scarves in Paris, including men, but are you sure you want to attract that kind of attention to yourself?"

"Maybe you're right.  What am I talking about?  I'm 51.  I'm gay.  So what?  When will I take responsibility for who I am and stop holding myself back because I'm scared someone might find out I'm gay?  Whatever."  

 (Me wearing the same scarf in Paris, with Notre Dame de Paris behind me, September 2008.)

Nigger Versus Faggot

How is the use of the label "faggot" to describe men who are gay any more tolerable than the use of the label "nigger" to describe people who are Black? Why doesn't the f-word disgust people as much as the n-word does?  I don't understand that.

It is because, as a culture, we've come to our senses and realized using the n-word is unacceptable?  Perhaps.  So when, as a culture, do we come to our senses and realize using the f-word is as insulting to gay men as using the n-word is to Black people?


Skepticism of the "It Gets Better" Project

Three days after I wrote the post '"It Gets Better," Part Three--Have We Missed the Point?' comes the following from "YouTube channel offers comfort to gay youth," by Amy Minsky, an article in The Vancouver Sun dated Saturday, October 16, 2010:

'"I think there will always be challenges, because we're a minority in society," [British Columbia New Democratic Party MP Bill] Siksay said.  "And sometimes I worry that a campaign like this makes it sound like it's easy."

'Some Canadian advocates working with LGBT communities are more skeptical of Dan Savage's ["It Gets Better"] campaign.

'"Who knows what the impact of a viral message will be on someone's level of hope.  There isn't a lot or research out there," said Jude Tate, a director with the University of Toronto's sexual and gender diversity office.

'The bigger problem with It Gets Better, Tate said, is that is doesn't address the real issue: that homophobia continues to be tolerated--far more so than racist behaviors and sexist behaviors.

'Without support, LGBT youth in Canada will continue to be thrown out of their homes, drop out of school, be victims of abuse or suicide, said Helen Kennedy, executive director at Egale Canada, a national gay-rights advocacy organization.

'Only eradicating homophobic attitudes--not simply telling youth it will get better and more tolerable--will ensure kids who are bullied make it through, she said.

'"It shouldn't be 'it gets better,' it should be 'make it better [p. B3].'"'

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Three -- Have We Missed the Point?

I just read on Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" channel is full. Altogether, the channel's received over 1,000 videos as of October 7; it can accommodate only about 650.  Savage is working "with a social media site to host the videos" still pouring in.  I believe it's safe to say the half dozen or so recent suicides of LGBTQ youth in the United States will not be in vain.  Like nothing else, they've created an awareness around the issue of bullying in our school systems we can no longer ignore.

I've viewed a number of the videos, and, while hopeful and inspirational, they are heartbreaking, too.  The long-term legacy of bullying and the resulting pain are so apparent.  When I was growing up, I thought I was the only one who was teased about being gay (even though, as I've written before, I didn't know I was gay, I only knew I was different from other boys).  I see now I wasn't alone, but no social network existed then (in fact, personal computers didn't exist then).  I wish I could have turned on my laptop and watched the "It Gets Better" videos.  What a support, a lifeline, they would have been.

I fear we're missing the point, though.  Sure, the immediate danger is youth at risk.  Absolutely, we must stop the bleeding, figuratively speaking, by creating the videos and by reaching out to young people in a time of desperate need.  In other words, we must do what's within our span of control to stop young people from killing themselves, just because they're confused about their sexuality, or because they've come to the realization they're lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered.

But this is only a band-aid, and we have to acknowledge that.  Unfortunately, watching one after another of the "It Gets Better" videos not only shows how widespread and severe the problem has been for generations, but also how little has been done over the years to address the root cause.  I think the videos send the message to at-risk youth that bullying is going to happen, we know that, and little can be done about it, so live with it the best you can, and, once you graduate from high school, it will get better.  Does anyone else think something's wrong with that?

I think as LGBTQ people, we collectively see ourselves as victims.  So many of us were victimized by bullies as we grew up that we've taken it for granted bullying is, has always been, and will always be, a part of our collective grade school experience, and we have no choice but to deal with it on an individual level potentially from as early as kindergarten through to grade 12.  In other words, we've passively accepted bullying as a part of our lives, and all the hope we can offer our youth today through our videos is "it gets better."

That feels lame to me.  It isn't enough.  I believe as long as we see ourselves as victims, we'll continue to be victims.  I believe, even if we say we're "out" of the closet, as many of us do, we're not completely out, or we're selectively out, primarily to those who are closest to us, and who we're mostly confident will accept us and love us just the same, despite our truth.  But just how many of us are courageous enough to get involved in LGBTQ issues in our own towns and cities, to put ourselves and our sexuality out there, in an effort to tackle the problems we face at their source?

I'm not political in any way, and I fear what I'm coming across as saying is, we need to become politically involved where we live to bring about some of the systemic changes we must see before circumstances get better not only for ourselves but for our youth.  Sure, things are far better now than they were thirty, twenty, even ten years ago, but how much of that was due to our own efforts, and how much by the considerable efforts of straight people sympathetic to our cause?  In other words, how many of us can stand up and say something we did improved circumstances for gay people in general?  Probably not many.  I believe we're still too scared and too passive that way.

Anyway, all I really hope to get across here is this:  The hundreds and hundreds of "It Gets Better" videos prove to me, once and for all, that not only was I not alone in my misery when I was growing up, but that bullying is a common denominator in the LGBTQ experience.  And if how I felt about myself after all that bullying--dealing with low self-esteem issues decades later--is representative of how most LGBTQ felt about themselves, then I know we all relate to feeling like victims.  Unfortunately, I think that even if we now feel circumstances are better for us, we still have some of that victim mentality that allows us to go only so far in trying to make things better, both for us and for those young people who will follow in our footsteps but desperately need our help now.

With an increasing number of LGBTQ people in positions of power and authority now making themselves publicly known--from celebrities with platforms, to government figures (at all levels)--is now the time to release the victim personae once and for all?  Is now the time to unite and show just how impressive our numbers are to the population at large?  Is now the time to be more personally accountable for affecting positive changes, for LGBTQ people in general, and for our distressed youth in particular?  

I don't have all the answers.  I'm just here to pose the questions.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Two -- How It Gets Better

If you've taken a look at any of the "It Gets Better" videos, you know everyone says it gets better, but few provide details on how.  I've taken a moment to put together how it got better for me after I graduated from high school.  This list is not exhaustive, but it is indicative of just how much better going from being bullied in school to making my way in the adult world got for me.  And that's how it can be for you, too.

1.  It got better the second my high school graduation ceremony was over (the ceremony itself wasn't so good because someone called out the word faggot as I returned to my seat with my diploma).  In many ways, I'd looked forward to graduation day for a very long time.  I knew I would never again be in the vicinity of my tormenters at the same time.  What a relief that was.  It'll be the same for you too, you just watch.

2.  It got better when I attended college the following September.  Believe it or not, some of the people who bullied me in school attended the same college I did.  I encountered them in the hallways and classrooms, but, curiously, they left me alone.  I don't recall anyone hurling an epithet at me in college.  Remarkably, they'd somehow grown up during the two months between graduation and college, or they no longer got the same kick out of making me feel badly about myself as they had before.  And, on the subject of college, the other great thing was I met a lot of different people, some of whom I suspect were gay.  We may not have come out to each other (this was the late-1970s, after all), but we felt kinship and supported nonetheless.

3.  It got better when I finally accepted myself as a gay man.  Okay, this part wasn't easy, I admit, because, culturally, at the time, homosexuality was deplored and not spoken about.  So I suppressed who I was and denied it.  Not until eight years after I graduated from high school did I accept I was gay.  But I did, that's the point to keep in mind, and you will too, if you haven't already.  The little world of the school you attend now may not seem accepting of gay people, but parts of the big world, especially many areas of North America, are accepting in ways you can't imagine.  I suspect accepting yourself will be easier for you than it was for me, but it's key to making your life better.  Otherwise, you'll forever live a lie, which can only lead to misery. You don't want to do that.      

4.  It got better when I finally came out to family and friends.  Okay, this part wasn't easy either, not at the time I came out, but there's no substitute for it.  I don't believe life will get better for you until you come out.  The relief you'll feel will set you free, despite the initial reactions you might get.  My experience has been most people who learn you're gay will accept you, perhaps in their own time, but they will.  You'll be surprised.  I never ever thought my father would accept me as a gay man, but he did.  (And here's a little secret between you and me:  Some family members may not accept you, ever, and that's okay.  Other people will appear in your life who will take their place.  With your circle of friends, you'll create your own family, and they may be much more supportive than your birth family.  That's how it is sometimes.  Too bad, but you can't take responsibility for the choices other people make, even if that choice is to withdraw love from, and reject, you).  

5.  It got better when I met other gay people.  Man, did it get better then.  Because I learned I wasn't alone.  I learned other people just like me were all over the place.  I learned, for perhaps the first time in my life, I could be myself in the company of others, and they wouldn't judge me, they wouldn't laugh at me, they wouldn't make me feel badly about myself.  Of all the pain I suffered growing up, the worst was the isolation and the resulting loneliness--believing I was the only one, no one else in this whole world was like me, would understand me, would befriend and support me.  When I realized this wasn't the case, that other men had some of the same characteristics and mannerisms and experiences I had, the relief I felt was incredible.  I knew I would never be alone again, not in the way I was when I was younger and still in school.      

6.  It got better when I wasn't so focused on being gay anymore, when being gay was just a part of me, like anything else, but not all of me.  I assure you, when you're in school, and you keep being reminded on a daily basis you're gay and unacceptable, you focus on it.  How can you not?  But without that continuous reminder, you will move on to become a multi-dimensional human being.  You'll never be able to forget you're gay, but it won't consume your life anymore.  You'll be able to put it into perspective, to give it the regard it needs when you have to, and to move on.  After all, other things are just as important in your life, right, like education, work, relationships, fulfilling your purpose, etc.?  

7.  It got better when I became aware of my value as a human being--not for what I did, as I believed for many years, but for who I am.  This is difficult and potentially painful work--hey, the name of the project is "it gets better," not "it gets easy"--because, when you leave school, your ego will be battered.  How can it not be after you've taken so much bullying, after you've been told time and again, in so many ways, being gay is (insert a negative word here.)  My guess is your self-esteem will be low.  My guess is you'll probably be filled with self-loathing. But, you know what?  In time, you'll come to realize your self-worth.  You really will, especially if you do some of the hard work to understand yourself and your life better (see #9 below).  Few people, gay or straight, get through the world of school feeling good about themselves, remember that. You're not alone. Everyone is on a journey to loving himself, arguably the most important journey of your life.  You wouldn't want to pass on that, would you?

8.  It got better when I found the right person to spend the rest of my life with. Okay, I won't pretend this wasn't a challenge, but it's a challenge for plenty of straight folks, too.  To find that magic with another human being is not an easy thing, but, let me tell you, is it worth it.  As the saying goes, "you'll kiss a lot of frogs along the way," but each frog you encounter will teach you things about yourself.  Every person you meet does.  They may not work out, either as friends or as partners, but, make no mistake, each is a gift, a blessing, and you'll be a better person for each of them.  And, when you find your betrothed, well, you'll be ready in a way you wouldn't be otherwise.

9.  And, lastly, it got better when I began the hard work of unraveling everything I'd been through in my life that today makes me who I am.  Some people never do this work.  Some people get through life without any apparent introspection.  I don't know how they do it.  I consider it critical to understanding myself better, to putting the events of my life into some perspective.  Why did that happen?  What were the life lessons?  What can I take from that to improve my present and my future?  You'll also be able to decide what's riffraff--that is, what you can let go of because it doesn't matter--and what's really important.  And, believe me, the bullying you're going through right now isn't important, not in the least.  In the grand scheme of things, it's meaningless (unless you're one of those people who come out of bullying feeling it made him stronger and more resilient.  I didn't).  At the right time, you'll let it go, because you should let it go.  It's no longer a part of you.  You've moved beyond it.  Life is much too short to hang on to this stuff. Years later, your bullies won't remember you.  So why should you continue to give them power over your life by flagellating yourself with what they used to say and do to you?  It's over now.  Move on.  

It really, really does get better.  Believe me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Five -- Taking Action in Our Schools

So after all the time I spent writing four posts related to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, I was fired up, and I decided I should take action.  Enough writing about it, how about doing something about it.  But what could I do?

I thought for a few moments.  Then it came to me.  A few blocks from where I live is a secondary school, grades 8 thru 12, about 1,000 students in total according to current information on school's website.  What if I contacted the principal of the school, asked him if he was aware of the recent crisis involving numerous LGBTQ teens in the United States killing themselves because of all the bullying they were subjected to?

What if I made him aware I'm a gay man who lives in the area, and I want to help.  I want to be a part of the solution and not passively allow myself to remain part of the problem?  I'm willing to put myself out there, to get involved.  It's not someone else's problem, it's my problem, it's our problem, and I don't know what I can do but, if he has any suggestions, I'm willing to do them.  What if...?

I was all ready to do it.  Then I read this, from Dan Savage's column on the recent suicide death of Billy Lucas:

"But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

(Taken from YouTube, "It Gets Better," by Dan Savage.)

Well.  There went my excitement.  Silly me.  I thought perhaps I knew a thing or two about being gay--I've been gay all my life--and about bullying--went through seven or more years of it in public schools--that I could be helpful to kids questioning their own sexuality and dealing with their own instances of bullying.  But how could I forget, it wouldn't be like I was going into the schools to teach English or Wood Work or Math.

I'm gay, for heaven's sake.  There's no value placed on that, even if I could say something that would be helpful to youth at risk of killing themselves.

My imagination went a little crazy.  I thought about fifteen-year-old Johnny, a grade 9 student, telling his parents at the dinner table about the 51-year-old man who talked to his class about what it's like to be gay, and the damage bullying does, and how being gay is all right, and it's just another way people are different from each other, and we need to support rather than put each other down because we're all different in one way or another.  

Do you have a picture yet of how Johnny's parents would react?  Can you imagine the phone calls the school would receive the next day, after all the children in Johnny's class told their parents what the gay man said.

"What were you thinking?" the angry parents would yell into the phone, or in the principal's face, the line-up outside his office extending down the hallway.  "Where the hell was your head?  How could you think I'd want my son [or daughter] exposed to that?  I don't need anyone telling Johnny it's okay to be gay.  It's not okay to be gay.  He knows that.  I've already told him.  And the last thing I need is someone coming in here and contradicting what I've said.  He's my son, and I'm responsible for raising him, and filling his head with what should be there.  If you pull an asinine stunt like this again, I'll pull him out of this school and enrol him elsewhere, even if it means I have to drive out of my way to get him there.  Exposing young impressionable children to gay people--  I should have your job for that."

Well, you get the idea.  Perhaps the supposed reaction from my hypothetical upset parent is exaggerated, but I can't imagine any school principal or school district would allow a gay man into a school to talk to students without first clearing it with the parents whose children attend the school.  In fact, I'd say probably long before that, someone in authority at the school district would refuse the gay man's offer to help.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Our students's parents would never approve.

The irony here is, perhaps Johnny is among the several dozen kids questioning his sexuality.  Perhaps some of the other kids at school bully him as a result, but he's too scared of his bullies to tell anyone in authority.  And God knows he's too scared to tell his parents because they've already made clear to him what they think about homosexuality and gay people.  So Johnny puts up with the bullying.  What choice does he have?

At fifteen years of age, Johnny is only in grade 9.  Potentially, he'll attend the same school for another three years until he graduates.  The bullying will continue because it never stops over something as sensational as someone being gay.  In fact, as his classmates become older, the bullying will likely intensify.  The epithets will cut deeper, the physical abuse will become more severe.  And all of it will happen when no teacher is around to see it, assuming teachers would do something about it if they saw it anyway.

So instead of school being an inspiring place for Johnny to learn, it becomes a place to fear.  He dreads going to school every morning.  His mind isn't on his studies, it's on how to avoid his bullies walking down the hallway, to get from one classroom to another without getting spit on or tripped or punched.  And how he'll get home safely without being beaten up in the field across from the school.  The bullying could become so intense and so intolerable, he avoids going to school altogether, cutting classes, getting into trouble in the neighborhood, or worse....

All the while, Johnny knows he's different from the other kids.  He doesn't understand all the ways he's different, but he knows he is, and some of the other kids have picked up on it.  He used to have one or two friends, but he doesn't anymore because his friends don't want to get picked on either.  They're scared if they associate with Johnny, people will think they're different, too.  And the last thing they want is anyone to think they're gay, just because they associate with Johnny.    

I'm not saying having a gay man come into the school to talk to kids would solve all of the potential problems.  What I am saying is it would put a face to the daily reality of being gay in the world.  Kids would see someone older, someone respectable from the community.  Kids would see a positive role model for being gay.  Kids would know being gay really is all right.

I know the world's not perfect.  I understand that.  But I imagine how, at Johnny's age, I would have appreciated a gay man coming into my class to talk about what it's like to be gay.  How I would have seen myself in him, in the greater context of the community and the world, and I would have known I wasn't alone after all.  And as I heard that gay man talk about how difficult being gay and bullied was for him, I would have had an example in front of me, showing me I can and will get through this, despite the isolation and the pain and the loneliness.  I would have known I'd survive, and I'd go on to do great things some day.  


Yesterday's episode of "Oprah" was about men living on the down-low, which, in the past, has been shown in the context of African-American men, but which I learned applies to any man, of whatever ethnicity, who marries a woman and simultaneously lives a secret life including sex with other men.    

As I watched, I became increasingly pissed off.  The whole emphasis of the show was, what a scum bag this guy is.  How could he deceive his wife?  How could he enter a relationship with her, purport to love, honor, and cherish her, then betray her in this way?  What the hell's wrong with him?

I can't think of a single reason why men might find themselves in this position. Can you?  Well, let's see....  You think it could be because our culture doesn't make being gay all right (to say the least), so men, who must ultimately be true to themselves--as we all must be at some point--fulfill the obligations their families, friends, churches, coworkers, and cultures expect of them, only to discover the first, and perhaps worst, lie they told was to themselves?

Consistently, to the question why did you do this, the men say things like, "I was scared," or "I didn't want to disappoint my family, friends, everyone who knows me," or "I couldn't accept I was gay."  Hmmm.  Isn't that amazing.  I wonder why.

Look, ultimately, I admit all of us must take responsibility for ourselves.  I get that. You do something wrong, you have to accept and make retribution for it, whatever that looks like.  But, come on, do you think any of these men may have had a little help living lives filled with lies and deception?  Do you think they're entirely to blame?

What I know is you have to be one hell of a strong man (or woman) to buck the pressure of what everyone expects of you with regard to getting married and having a family.  Our entire society is centered on heterosexuality, bombarding us with it from all angles, resulting in anyone who takes a different path, even in this supposed time of greater acceptance and tolerance, being judged and scorned.

You reap what you sow, people, remember that.  You reap what you sow.      

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Four -- This is Our Time

I've often thought if we could all just come together, and focus our energy on a compelling, worthwhile goal, there'd be no stopping us.  We're all out there, doing our own thing, going about our own business.  But we all know so much is left to be done--we're not there yet--and we don't know how to go about doing it.

Even though the world is filled with people like us, we still feel alone, especially when it comes to making a difference.  We may be out of the closet, but we're still fearful of being too visible, of sticking ourselves out there where no one knows us, where we might not receive the support we're used to.  In other words, fear still influences what we do, in some ways at least.  

If we could all just come together, the strength in our numbers would be undeniable and overwhelming.  Well, maybe we just have, or maybe we're on the verge of it.  Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" video has created a groundswell of support for LGBTQ youth, no question.  But, even more, it's brought us together from our various corners to show our compassion, our willingness to contribute, and our potential as a force.  

I feel it.  I feel this is an exciting occasion in our culture and our history.  I feel so much more can come of this.  The potential is limitless.  Let's not lose this energy. Let's not let this opportunity pass us by.  This is our time.  We are showing ourselves, and the world, what we can do when we come together for a common purpose.  It's up to us to use it.  What's our next step, and how will we take it?          

"It Gets Better," Part One -- Suicide is Not An Option

(This subject is so important to me, I've decided to separate it into several shorter posts. I hope you'll read all of them because each one is on a different but related topic, and I believe each has something important to say.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the "It Gets Better" channel on YouTube, here's a quote from writer Dan Savage, explaining what prompted him to start it:

"Billy Lucas [from Greensburg, Indiana) was just 15 when he hanged himself [early this September] in a barn on his grandmother's property.  He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates--classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself.  His mother found his body....  I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes.  I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better.  I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better."

(Quote borrowed from

First, I want to deal with the issue of suicide.  I want to share with you why I, now a 51-year-old gay man, never committed suicide when I was younger--when I was growing up in a tough, farming community in northeastern British Columbia, Canada, and later in Kelowna; when I was a student in the public school system in the 1960s and early 1970s; and when I was subjected to as much bullying, including verbal and physical abuse, for being a fem, fairy, and faggot, as anyone I know.

I have my mother to thank and, indirectly, the Catholic church.  I was raised Catholic, but I now call myself a recovering Catholic and follow no formalized religion.  We all know how most churches feel about people who are gay.  As long as they maintain that narrow and misguided position, I have no use for them.  But this one point may have saved my life.

When I was growing up, my mother told me, according to the Catholic church, committing suicide is a sin.  She used to say, it's not for us to decide when to end our lives, no matter how bad things get.  Only God can make that decision.  She told me, God put us here for a purpose, and we are here to fulfill that purpose until He calls us back.

That always stayed with me, through my childhood, difficult as it was, into adulthood, through those many times when I felt the most marginalized, the most isolated, and the most alone.  So even though committing suicide may have crossed my mind at various times, however fleetingly, I could never actually plan and follow though with it.

Because of what my mom said, I always believed I was put here for a greater purpose.  Focusing on that greater purpose--even though I had no idea what it was or when I'd know what it was--is what I know got me through some desperate times as a young, gay man.  I always knew I was here for something more than to be the whipping boy of so many of my classmates.  I never believed that's all my life would be about.  And, if you're sexually confused or an LGBT youth, you must not either.    

Perhaps part of my greater purpose is to write this blog, to share with you, dear readers, what being gay and what being in a long-term relationship is like for me--with the goal of writing something that resonates with you and gives you hope.  I believe this is the work God now calls me to do.

So, the lesson here?  Suicide is not an option.  Despite what you're going through right now, despite how isolated and lonely and miserable you feel, you are meant for greater things.  You are meant for greater things.  I promise you that.  You must believe.

To view Dan Savage's video, the one that started it all, please click here:  "It Gets Better"  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

God and Gay

Below, you'll find a large part of the text I recently sent to a good friend in an email.  I believe what I wrote speaks for itself, so no further explanation should be necessary.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but, since the new school year began in the United States, a half dozen or so gay and lesbian youth committed suicide.  From my reading, I know the reason why these young people killed themselves was because of the relentless bullying they endured at school, which I've had some experience with myself.  I can't presume to know what goes on in the minds of people who bully, but I believe at least part of their motivation for doing what they do, in relation to gay and lesbian youth, originates in our culture's overall position that homosexuality is wrong, based on religious beliefs.  Really, where else would it come from?  It’s the moral judgment brought to the issue from people who use the Bible to justify their positions, and to believe in their souls they are right to put down a segment of people they don't understand.  

Where am I going with this?  All I want to say is, I’m upset even one boy or girl would commit suicide because of his or her sexual orientation.  Perhaps some religious people believe death is a rightful end for gays and lesbians, but, I have to ask, how can that be? Is that attitude the least bit Christian-like and acceptable?  Where is God’s love in their hearts for people who are different?  The God I worship defines LOVE.  The God I worship doesn’t judge people.  The God I worship isn’t about our differences.  The God I worship accepts us all as we are.  The God I worship doesn’t support what so many people believe, based on interpretations of the Bible to suit their purposes.  And, above all, the God I worship loves gays and lesbians, the same as he loves all people, because, in my case, He knows the love I have for Chris, my partner, and the life I share with him, isn’t wrong or morally corrupt.  It’s right for me, because that's who I am, and, in the end, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Like I’ve said before, who and what I am will never change.  I don’t believe if I want it badly enough and if I pray hard enough, I can be successfully converted from gay to straight.  Being gay is so ingrained in me, so much in the fabric of who I am, so much a part of every aspect of my life—in how I look at the world, in how I synthesize everything around me—that expecting me to change would be like asking a straight person to become gay.  And because I know I was born this way, and have no control over it, why should I not, then, be as entitled as any straight person to act on it, to find someone to love, to build a life with that person (which I’ve done), to be happy and fulfilled?  If I were like some gay men and had sexual encounters with dozens if not hundreds of other men, with no love involved, only to indulge in sexual release, then I understand moral judgment brought to that.  I don’t condone it either, in gays or in straights; I never have and I never will.  But I just don’t see how what I do, and what so many other gay and lesbian people like Chris and me do, in long-term, committed, and monogamous relationships, could be considered wrong.

Here’s the bottom line for me:  I think human beings judge me far harsher than God does, and, someday, they will be held to account for that.  I think God loves me just the way I am, and I try to live my life in a way that He would approve of.  If I’m wrong, and He doesn’t love gay people, or people who engage in gay behavior, and, when all is said and done, He deems homosexuality morally wrong and thus a sin, then my fate will be to beg for forgiveness, and hopefully to receive it, or to burn in hell for all eternity.  I have no choice but to accept this risk because I don’t see who I am and what I’m doing as wrong.  And I don’t believe I should live a miserable and lonely life, without Chris’s love, without the life we share together, for the possibility I will be in God’s favor on the appointed day and accepted into Heaven.  I don’t believe that’s what life on this earth is about.  I don’t believe it’s about suppressing who and what we are now, especially if I’m not hurting anyone else or jeopardizing anyone else’s soul, for the sake of eternal life.  

Part of the coming out process for me was negotiating my way around formalized religion in order to get to a place of accepting myself.  Raised a Catholic, I knew, according to the church’s teaching, being gay and acting on it was wrong.  I spent twenty-five years tormented by this, praying with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind that I wasn’t gay.  I said to God, if you love me, you will not let me be gay.  You will not allow me to go through this pain, this anguish, this frustration, this self-loathing, because of something I have no control over.  Do I think God failed to answer my prayer because I ended up being gay anyway?  No, not at all. Do I think He loves me any less because I’m gay?  No, not at all.  Do I believe being gay, and everything that goes along with it, is a matter of free will—that is, gay people, like me, have the choice to act on it or not, based on what they and I believe is morally right and wrong? No, not at all, because I know who I am inside.  I know I didn’t consciously decide to be gay.  I also know I have no choice but to be who I am; the alternative wouldn’t be life at all.  So, if being gay is not a matter of choice, how, then, can it be wrong, or immoral, or sinful?  

When I was in the process of accepting myself, which took many years, I believe God helped me to see I’m all right just as I am.  I believe He helped me to arrive at the realization He loves and accepts me regardless of my sexual orientation.  And for the first time in my life, I found a glimmer of love for myself, and a glimmer of hope for my life.  For the first time, I saw I could be like everyone else, live my life like everyone else, experience love and passion, even though I’m gay.  I believe God loving and accepting me for who and what I am came in the form of me starting to love and accept myself. What was truly unacceptable to me was the way I’d been forced to live before this moment, enduring the self-righteous judgment from so many people who believed how they felt was how God felt, based on their corrupted interpretation of the Bible.  What was unacceptable to me was how I judged myself, as a result, to be so much less than everyone else, which led to years and years of self-loathing.  No one should have to live that way.  The pain is so real and so intense because you know you can't change, and because you can't imagine your life being any other way.  No wonder so many gay young people commit suicide.  They can’t see their way beyond what their lives are at that exact moment, and, with no hope, they follow through on the only option they believe is available to them.  What a damn shame the world will be deprived of everything they were.  What we've lost in inestimable.

Anyway, as I’ve said before, I believe with all my heart God doesn’t care a whit that I’m gay.  What He cares about is my soul, and, as far as I’m concerned, my soul is not corrupted because I'm gay.  People take different paths in life, some more unorthodox than others, but nothing says any one path is better than another.  As long as our souls remain in tact—as long as we are good people, live good lives, and keep God in our hearts—I don’t think He cares who we love or who we sleep with.  What does it matter? He has far more important things to concern Himself with than whether or not I’m gay. I don’t see how, under the circumstances, I could think and believe any differently.