Monday, April 6, 2015

More Than Wedding Cake and Pizza: Religious Freedom Laws in Perspective

     The past couple of weeks, I have been intrigued by the polarization fueled by Indiana's recent law and the subsequent backlash of business and individuals against such a policy.

     Friends and family have texted, emailed or called asking for perspective,  and some had a very valid concern. One questions has repeated itself: Does this mean Christians who have a moral issue with homosexuality will be forced to accept it against their conscience?

     Yes, and no. The Supreme Court has decided on numerous occasions that it is not in our country's best interest for business to deny access to a group of people based on an identifying trait. The days of "NO JEWS," "NO JAPS," and "NO BLACKS" are thankfully behind us, largely because our legal system circumvented hypothetical state laws that would allow for such prejudice under the guise of religious preference.

     It was not that long ago that the Bible was used as a justification FOR segregation. And, a church in the United States can still, as a tenet of faith, believe such segregation to be God ordained. We have allowed a freedom of religious expression in our country unprecedented in most of history, and just like we allow churches to still exist that preach against the mingling of the races, our country will allow churches to exist that preach against homosexuals.

     Churches, but not businesses, should be allowed that freedom.

     Any business that puts up its shingles and opens it doors in this country is inherently tied to our federal government. The foundation of our country was to help establish not only freedom of religion but freedom FROM religion, particular in matters affecting the entire country.

     It is not in the interest of the citizenry, a citizenry living in a capitalist and consumer culture, to be denied access to the goods and services of that culture. It is counterproductive, and would continue, in this case, to propel homosexuals as a disenfranchised class in our nation.

     Why has the Indiana law been such a "bid deal?" I believe it is because of an awareness of the United States' history and fear of history repeating itself. After the Civil War, after a conflict that should have decided a hopeful future for all black Americans, the Jim Crow laws were established. Neither our government or its people were able to "get ahead" of these laws, and what resulted was decades of oppression and inequality.

     The fear and the passion you are seeing from those of us that are gay is not because of cakes and pizza. Indiana's law was hastened as a response to our legal system determining Indiana had to recognize gay marriage. As this ruling and others like it will ultimately be upheld by the Supreme Court this summer, some Indiana legislators were trying to get a law on the books that would allow the capability of a wide range of discriminatory practices in business.

     The backlash against this law is not God hating liberals wanting to persecute Christians.

     On the contrary, the reaction of disdain has been because of the historical precedent of Christians in the U.S. using faith as a tool for veiled bigotry. In a nation that stands for the respect of multiple religions and standpoints, Christianity has had more sway than any other, even to the point of Christians trying to apply a sense of superiority to the country as a whole.

     However, we are still a country where Christianity is ONE of the worldviews of our people, and not the SOLE worldview. If Christians are going to participate in and benefit from commerce, it needs to be for the benefit and availability of all of the people, and not just those deemed to be acceptable through the narrow lens of a singular faith.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Transitional friendships: A life reality that stings

     For years in my Interpersonal Communication class, I have taught students about transitional friendships. These are friends that come into our life, the friendship flourishes, but because of a change of circumstance, the friendship wanes.
     I have my students share examples from their own experience. Some say they lost a friend because of moving apart. Others say they lost a friend because their lives were headed in different directions. Some has said they lost friends when they got married. The list goes on and on.
     The saddest part of the reality of transitional friendships is rather than both parties working to make transitions as realities shift, one or both decide it just isn't worth it.
     During my time at John Brown University, I invested my time, energy and a significant part of my life into developing and mentoring students who became my friends.
     One I sat with for countless hours at odd times as he bounced his thoughts and ideas about everyday life off of me and I him.
     One I spent hours directing and training to help her become the actress she was destined to be.
     One I coached rigorously, turning her from a timid spokesperson to a formidable debater.
     One I worked side-by-side, the two of us accomplishing together more than we could separately.
     One I encouraged to be the opinionated, strong woman she was becoming even though it was not encouraged in the school culture.
     One I always defended, even though her many "sins" would make her a pariah if people had known her truth.
     While in relationship with each of these men and women, as we developed deeper friendships, I would have never imagined each would become a transitory friendship.
     What changed? I admitted I had been living a lie as a closeted gay man, divorced and decided to live a different truth.
     As a result, the first barred me from attending his wedding, and cut off ties with me because I divorced my wife.
     As a result, the second cut off communication, even as she now has openly gay friends.
     As a result, the third refused to even hear my side of the story and ended our friendship.
     As a result, the fourth severed ties because I was a much "different" person.
     As a result, the fifth opted to not be assertive and simply "unfriended" me on Facebook.
     As a result, the sixth, after moving to the same city as I in California and I asking her to get dinner      responded, "We were friends then, but this is now. Let's just leave it at that."
     These were all loving, intelligent, caring people who were my friends.
     These were all loving, intelligent, caring people I still want to be friends.
     These are all loving, intelligent, caring people who have used their faith to justify marginalizing me, our friendships and rationalize their own bigotry.
     This will ultimately be where evangelicalism in America will have a "black eye" in history. Each of these former friends have used Christianity to defend ending a friendship simply because they disagree with my choices. 
     The irony is that I loved the first in spite of his nagging porn problem.
     The irony is that I loved the second in spite of her not quite being the virginal epitome of womanhood to which she showed her public.
     The irony is that I loved the third in spite of her being a flat out bitch to her peers.
     The irony is that I loved the fourth in spite of his less than conventional sexual tastes.
     The irony is that I loved the fifth in spite of her abusive past.
     The irony is that I loved the sixth to the point of shielding her from repercussions she probably well deserved.
     I have not been a perfect friend, but those in this post have motivated me to be more loving, flexible, understanding and willing to adapt to changes in friends' lives when they happen.
     I miss these friends...I still love these friends...and if they ever seek me out, I will start our friendship anew.
     Until then, it stings. Something will happen to remind me of the relationships I had and my heart aches.
     I tell my students the reality of transitional friendships makes it difficult to form new friendships the older one gets. To be honest, those mentioned in this post have made me cautious about investing in new friendships.
     However, I still make an effort, for I know not when a new friend will become a lifelong pal, or will be important for a time then vanish. 
     For my lifelong pals out there: thank you for making life's transitions with me. It helps take the sting away from those that cast me aside.
     To my readers: your friendship is important to your friends. Love them, grow with them, and adapt with them...even when you disagree.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Job, My Ministry

     Recently, students in an education class on my campus had to select a faculty member on campus to observe, interview and study his/her teaching. Several students were clamoring for me, but the instructor only let two observe.
     During the interview portion, each had a similar question: "Do you view your job as more than just a job?"
     After pausing for a second, I said, "Yes." I continued to declare I view my job as more of a ministry than a job.
     Neither student had an evangelical background, so I explained what I meant. I told the students I see my influence and teachings as having life-long ripple effects. Whether it is a skill such as how to design an effective speech, or my modeling of how to be a compassionate and caring professional, I know I can effect the mental, emotional and physical well-being of my students.
     It doesn't stop with the classroom. My peers and colleagues can also be positively influenced by my example in committee meetings, being visionary for our campus and demonstrating a strong work ethic.
     I could die today, and know I have influenced not only members of this generation, but others to come. My hope is that my friends and family will have the type of employment that is not just a paycheck, but an investment in other people.
     It helps to make every day going to "work" a pleasure, and not a chore.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Challenge of Gay Friendships

     If there is one thing I definitively miss about pretending to be straight and being in the closet it was the ease I formed and maintained same-sex relationships.
     I have not found the same to be true making friends now that I am out and part of the gay community. I have plenty of acquaintances, as well as men I call "friends." However, there is something often missing.
     I feel there is much more deceptiveness, hidden agendas and half-truths in my friendships with gay men. If I am noticing it in others, then it leaves me to worry I may be exhibiting those traits as well.
     I have had gay friends bail on hanging out with me, only to find out there was something (or someone) better to do. I have had friends give me a list of excuses why we cannot spend time together, only to discover those excuses were not actually real.
     I shudder to think what happens to my single gay friends in dating. If gay friends have a propensity for avoiding honesty, gay dating must be a barrage of deception.
     It could also be I had a non-normative experience with straight friends. However, I can say my closest straight friends have been more honest and forthright that most of my gay friends.
     Is it bred from a culture of hiding? To some degree, all gay men I know had to hide who they were some period of time.
     Is it the odd dynamic that a gay friend is also someone you can be attracted to? Does this color regular  gay friendship transactions?
     This blog entry is not about any answers, but truly about questions. Please comment on my Facebook or the blog itself if you have insights.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Living Out Loud Meets Living In Silence: The Gay Generational Gap

     When I started at Hartnell College in 2011, I made a conscience decision to be open and out about the fact I am a gay man. My colleagues were okay with it. My administrators were okay with it. Most importantly, the students were okay with it.
     I was soon asked to be the faculty sponsor for the Pride Club on campus. Fellow faculty members began asking me to classes for various lectures on gay culture. Jason and I began speaking with the Rainbow Speakers: a regional group dedicated to educating the broader community about LGBTQ issues.
     Being new to campus, I immediately started trying to find the other gay men on campus. In my naivete, I pictured how great it would be to have gay colleagues as an additional sounding board and support.
     One of the first I noticed was an older faculty member I will call "Joe." It was obvious to me Joe was gay. A couple of colleagues even asked me in passing if I had "met" or "talked to Joe." It was clear to me, as it was obviously clear to the campus, that Joe was a gay man.
     In my typical zest (followed by revelations I am over-eager sometimes), I approached Joe, introduced myself, and asked him if he would be willing to talk to the Pride Club. I told him I want to get a mix of generations on a panel so students could understand some of the history and social changes the gay community has endured.
     He became notably uncomfortable, changing the subject. I though it was odd. Later that day, walking across campus, we crossed paths. He stopped, and informed me that he was not "out" on campus and he would appreciate it if I didn't draw attention to him.
     It took me off-guard. I was dumbfounded. Never mind the fact that colleagues were fully aware he was a gay man, but he also had some stereotypical traits that were like a neon sign above his head. He sachets like he is walking a perpetual runway, and when he talks, any doubts are quickly removed.
     Not sure what to say, I said, "Sure. No problem." With that, he walked away.
     In 2 1/2 years, he has barely spoken to me since. His office is located by one of the administrator's I visit frequently, and I attempt to say hello and ask how he is doing. It is regularly met with as little interaction as possible.
     I have been introduced to the reality that no matter how much society changes, or how accepting communities or the workplace becomes, some of the older generation of gay men has had to protect themselves for so long they simply keep their status quo of dealing with the world.
     Another older gay man that I admire deeply, who has been with his partner for years, is out and active in the community and a notable activist of sorts, but in 20+ years has never come out to his kids and family.
     Again, it's not like they don't know. For both of these men, I vacillate between empathy and frustration. For whatever reason, they do not want to admit to all stakeholders in their lives they are gay men. On the one hand, I rationalize it is because of fear, or consequences of trying before, or not wanting to upset the balance each has found. On the other, the brazen part of me is irritated that these men, in their own realms, could help extend, that much further, the acceptance of gay men in the world and they are choosing not to be transparent.
     I wonder if any of my peers that have been out for some time, those approaching or in their 40s, feel the pressure to lead multiple existences?
     As someone who led half a life being two different people, my honest hope is that the answer would be "no." Society and individual viewpoints of homosexuality are changing quickly, but for some, I have realized it just may never be enough to live life vulnerable.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'll Be Home for Christmas?

     As my readers will know, I have had a very rocky and mostly cut-off relationship from my parents and my brother since coming out in 2009.
     Family events in the past few months have opened the door for me to reconnect with my family. As a matter of fact, I was going to get to celebrate Christmas with my family and my daughters Saturday, December 21. I fly in to see my girls that weekend, and we were going to make the hour and fifteen minute drive from Tulsa to Siloam Springs, Arkansas to be with my family.
     For no good reason, the girls' mother has declared she is not "comfortable" with me taking my daughters out of state.
     Never mind my parents are the only other people in the decree that I am allowed to have my girls be around.
     Never mind that on my last visit, their mother allowed me to take them to Oklahoma City overnight: a further distance away than my parents.
     Never mind, that for the first time five years, I would once again spend a holiday with my family and my daughters.
     Even though the decree, and ultimately the court, will defend my right to spend time with my parents while I have my girls, the order may not come in time. If not, I will have to meet my parents somewhere in the state of Oklahoma, but not "home."
     Mom, Dad, Bryan: I love you, and I miss you. I hope I get to come home.
     If not, my only solace is from the song:

     I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Generational Divide: When Being Gay is Just Not a Big Deal

     Last week, I traveled to New Mexico to be with my grandmother. Her husband of thirteen years, Rob Hampton, my step-grandpa, passed from health complications.
     I thought Jason was going to need to tranquilize me leading up to the trip. This was the first family function I would be attending since coming out in 2009. 
     I didn't know what to expect. My parents have cut me off, one of my aunts sent me a text making sure I wasn't going to parade my "sin" at the funeral (that is, not bring my partner) and I wasn't sure how the extended family would treat me.
     Everything with the older members of my family was completely civil. I was graciously tolerated, and I knew as long as I didn't talk about my sinful lifestyle peace would remain.
     However, multiple members of my extended family, particularly the younger generation, not only welcomed me warmly but WANTED to know more about my life, my fiance, when were getting married, the situation with my daughters, etc.
     What I realized is that for most of the younger members of my family, me being gay just is NOT a big deal. Furthermore, the younger members of the family felt they could relate to me because I wasn't going to judge them for decisions they have made in their own lives that have caused family controversy.
     I was allowed to visit, participate and be included more in the family activities of the weekend because of these young family members. It helped center me, relax me and I had a great time.
     The older generation was on their best behavior, including my parents who actually talked to me. However, I was reminded not all is well as I was literally saying my last goodbye. As I hugged my grandma goodbye, she gave me an article the entire family received and she wanted me to read it. Rather than just allowing me to leave respecting the older generation's opinion and they, mine, this article asserted how damaging and threatening gay marriage is to society. It was, quite frankly, a shitty send-off.
     Thanks to the younger supportive members of my family, I took the article in stride and put it to good use. It served as a great coaster for my beer I sipped upon my return, curled up next to the man I loved, hoping there are no more family funerals any time soon.