27 October 2009

Answering The Question I'm Sure To Get

This Saturday is Halloween. Since I'm cheap, I'm not going to invest in some bizarro costume like a nun wearing a rainbow flag habit. Instead, I will wear my distinguished full formal kilt suit to Scott's party. Spare me the jokes about everyone else there being jealous that I'm wearing a skirt. Because it's not a skirt, it's a kilt, and kilt is what happened to the last guy who called it a skirt, okay?

It is of course an eternal law that whenever I or any other guy with the confidence to wear a kilt goes out in public, we get questions about what's underneath. So all of you who see me on Saturday, save yourself the effort. Here's my answer.

24 October 2009

Your Chance To Talk To My Dad

As many of you know, I recently came out to my father. He was kind and charitable in many ways, for which I am grateful.

He has also said some things and asked some questions that confirm (1) he still has some serious reservations, and (2) he knows very little about the whole subject.

He's a retired Army officer and has always been very big on taking personal responsibility and initiative. So somehow, even though I never mentioned it, he's gotten stuck on the issue of what he calls "a genetic connection." That ought to be fairly easy to answer, the scientific literature about potential genetic connections is widely available.

He said the last news story he paid any attention to about this whole issue was when "the gay community" tried to have a law passed in California that would have prohibited therapists from talking to clients about "returning to a straight life style because about 80% return." He said if there really were a genetic connection, there would have been no need for any law to stop anyone from talking about that option.

Obviously I need to update him on this issue, and that should be fairly easy. But does anyone recall anything about such legislative efforts by the California "gay community"? I've never heard of this before and am not finding anything about it. If anyone knows what he's talking about, please tell me!

In our correspondence over the last week he has also repeatedly used the phrase "chosen the gay life style." He encouraged me not to "demonize the Brethren and their counsel with regard to this choice you have made." To which I responded "please clarify what you mean by choice and by lifestyle, because being gay is not a choice."

Here's his clarification: " One, the people who I know who have declared themselves to be gay have a significant other of the same sex, they live together, their social life is predominately with people with the same sexual orientation, when they live together they have intimate sexual relations with each other, some in abnormal ways; Two, they spend time with their extended families, however, unlike you, they have not been married in the heterosexual relationship and do not have children. I am sure that some have been married and have kids, but  I would think that most have not; Three, those who have made that choice to come out live the balance of their lives in a pretty typical and normal way as most of the rest of us."

I'm basically going to tell him that there are as many ways to be gay as there are people, but if he took the sexual orientation aspect out of his description he would find that it is exactly the same as what straight people tend to want and seek out in order to have fulfilling lives. So why should any of that disturb him?

And lastly, he asked a crucial question, on which I would welcome any input before I respond, because my answer has to be rock solid and so self-evident that there is no quarreling with it:

"If this life-style is not what you intend, or having a significant other for a companion is not part of what you intend to do, then why did you decide to come out?"

So, everyone, here's your chance to talk to my dad. Feel free to post comments or even send me a direct e-mail, if your thoughts are too long for a comment, and reply to his comments and questions. He is intellectually honest and will respect good faith, solidly grounded input and opinions from others, as well as new information to learn from. How would you respond to him if you were me?

21 October 2009

19 October 2009

Law School for Non-Lawyers 101: Today's Topic, Alleged Civil Rights

In his recent speech at BYU Idaho, senior Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks, a former law school dean and Utah Supreme Court justice, identified marriage equality as an "alleged civil right" which he then pooh-poohed as fiction.

I dissent. Here's why. And more to the point, here's why Elder Oaks should know he's wrong too.

In order to determine whether marriage equality is a real or an "alleged" civil right, first we have to define "civil right."

A "civil right" is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as "personal, natural rights guaranteed and protected by Constitution: e.g. freedom of speech, press, freedom from discrimination, etc. Body of law dealing with natural liberties, shorn of excesses which invade equal rights of others."

In 1803, the United States Supreme Court stated the principle that "It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department [the judicial branch] to say what the law is." (Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803)). This is a fundamental premise of all American law. A state or Federal supreme court's interpretation of the state or Federal Constitution is final; the court's decision is itself law as to the particular question at issue. Dallin Oaks knows this.

In 1967, the United States Supreme Court stated by unanimous decision that laws against mixed race marriages were unconstitutional and that marriage was a "basic civil right" (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)). As a decision of the United States Supreme Court, this principle applies to all fifty states. Dallin Oaks knows this.

In 2008, the California Supreme Court, which has ultimate authority to interpret the California Constitution, stated that marriage was a "fundamental right" under Article 1 of that Constitution (In Re Marriage Cases (43 Cal.4th 757 (2008)). It held that any law treating persons differently because of their sexual orientation should be subjected to the highest level of strict scrutiny and that the existing "California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying." Dallin Oaks knows this. I have no doubt he's read the Court's opinion.

Yet in his speech at BYU Idaho, he ignored this settled legal precedent and persisted in dismissing marriage equality as an "alleged" civil right. This was dishonest. It was not and is not an "alleged" right. It is an actual right. In California, marriage equality met every recognized qualification for a bona fide civil right. Dallin Oaks knows this. As a lawyer and an officer of the court, he has a professional obligation to acknowledge as much. Yet, knowing he was speaking to an international audience, he said the opposite. I understand that he and many others believe that marriage is by definition man/woman and that anything else is simply not "marriage" per se. But Elder Oaks has a professional obligation to uphold and state the law accurately regardless of his religious persuasion. And marriage equality has met all legal tests for a bona fide civil right. Elder Oaks knows this. Yet he still derides it as "alleged."

Bad form, counselor. You know better. I am very disappointed. And I dissent.

14 October 2009

Bullseye Series, Chapter Two

If God Had Wanted Me To Be Accepting Of Gays, He Would Have Given Me The Warmth And Compassion To Do So
By Jane Kendricks
The Onion
October 13, 2009

I don't question God. The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall put none above Him. Which is why I know that if it were part of God's plan for me to stop viciously condemning others based solely on their sexual preference, He would have seen fit—in His infinite wisdom and all—to have given me the tiniest bit of human empathy necessary to do so.

It's a simple matter of logic, really. God made me who I am, and who I am is a cold, anti-gay zealot. Thus, I abhor gay people because God made me that way. Why is that so hard to understand?

Here, let's start with the basic facts: I hate and fear gay people. The way they feel is different from how I feel, and that causes me a lot of confusion and anger. Everyone knows God is all-powerful. He could easily have given me the capacity to investigate what's behind those feelings rather than tell strangers in the park they're going to hell for holding hands. But God clearly has another path for me. And who am I to question His divine will?

Compassion, tolerance, understanding, basic decency, the ability to put myself in another person's position: God could have endowed me with any of those traits and yet—here is the crucial part—He didn't. Why? Because the Creator of the Universe wants me to demonize homosexuals in an effort to strip them of their fundamental human rights.

I'm sorry, but you can't possibly ask me to explain everything God does. He works in mysterious ways, remember?

Try to understand. If I were capable of thinking and acting any other way, then I'm sure I would, but God seems to be quite adamant about this one. He's just not budging at all. So unless our almighty Lord and Savior decides to change His mind about my ability to empathize on even the most basic level—which I find highly unlikely—then everyone is just going to have to accept the fact that I'm going to keep on hating homosexuals. And I know that He will fill me with the strength to remain mindless and hurtful in the face of adversity.

Which isn't to say that my faith hasn't been tested. Believe me, there have been times when I've drifted from the bitter and terrified life God has chosen for me. When my younger brother told me he was gay, it shook my faith to its very core. But here I am, 27 years later, still refusing to take his calls. Just the way God intended.

It's actually pretty astonishing how many complaints to the school board you can make regarding the new band teacher you've never met when you are filled with the Light of Christ and devoid of any real kindness or mercy toward His other children.

At the end of the day, I'm just trying to lead a good Christian life. That means going to church on Sunday, following the Ten Commandments, and fighting what I believe to be a sexual abomination through a series of petty actions and bitter comments made under my breath. Sure, I sometimes wish God would just reach into my heart and give me the ability to treat all people with, at the very least, the decency and respect they deserve as human beings. But unfortunately for that new couple who moved in three houses down, He hasn't yet.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have God's work to do.

11 October 2009

Where I Am

Once again, and for the last time for a while, stone arches soar above my head. Jeweled tapestries of stained glass shimmer all around me, the waning autumn sunlight making them glow with a cool serenity, the arches, columns, crossbeams and vaults of the cathedral walls & ceiling slowly slipping into shadows of pale and darker greys as the outside light gradually fades. The huge sanctuary is reverent, quiet, with only a handful of worshipers sitting silently in the pews here and there, reflecting, meditating, seeking their Creator. People just like me.

It is my last Sunday at Grace Cathedral. It's also National Coming Out Day, and a good time to reflect on the question "Where am I?"

Coming out just a little over a year ago was one of the most momentous events of my life. It changed everything: my sense of self, my every waking mood, my circle of friends, my relationship with my kids, my faith, my hopes and desires and goals for the rest of my life. It gave me courage and confidence I didn't know I had, since it was something that for a long time I never dared do.

It made me into more of the Christian that I had always claimed to be but really wasn't. I no longer pretended to be a tolerant, non-judgmental person while still privately condemning those whose choices I would not have made myself. Suddenly I found it was easy to befriend, treat kindly, and learn to love without reservation many whom I might before have avoided and judged harshly. The Savior said "by their fruits ye shall know them," and for this reason alone coming out has been a good thing, because it gave me a greater capacity for the pure love of Christ.

Having always pretended to be straight, and growing up in a traditional secure, conservative, white, upper middle class Mormon home, I had never really known what it was to be part of a minority that was systematically discriminated against, harassed, misunderstood, condemned, targeted by punitive legislation, stereotyped, catcalled, ostracized, bullied, beaten up, and sometimes put at risk of life. Honesty with myself and with my Creator has now put me into that category, where I'll stay for as long as I live. I am now pledged to spend the rest of my life fighting against all such injustice. I would rather live honestly and with integrity as a gay man, facing all of that, than perpetuate the charade, the facade that hid my former cowardice and the furious duel inside myself which has now ended, overtaken with sweeter peace of mind than I ever thought possible. That peace of mind, that honesty and integrity will help see me through any challenges I may face as a result of being truthful.

T. S. Eliot, one of the wisest men of the 20th Century, wrote while sitting in a deserted chapel's pale winter failing light that "history is a pattern of timeless moments". And here I sit too, in the waning, almost-winter light of a vast, almost deserted cathedral, thinking of the timeless moments I've experienced here and during the past year. Because the assignment that brought me to this city began only a few months after I came out, I have spent the majority of my post-coming out life in and near the place where more of God's gay children have gathered than just about anywhere else in the country. I have seen and learned much, lofty and grim, ennobling and unnerving, inspirational and disheartening. It has been a matchless growing experience.

So what have I learned, and where am I now? What have been the timeless moments of learning and realization?

I've learned that my faith and testimony are truly my own responsibility. That I can't trust or depend on any organization or any other person to carry me along to where I need to go. I must actively search for my own path and the inspiration to find what God would have me do and become. I must constantly question everything, even myself and my own beliefs, if I am really willing to accept new truth, light and knowledge from whatever source I may be shown. This is sometimes not comfortable, but it is necessary.

I have learned that I don't know very much, that I am not particularly wise, and that constant examination of my own life and study of the words of great and wise men should never stop.

I have learned that it's better to stand alone with integrity and honesty than to huddle with a group at the cost of truth.

I have learned that the price of such integrity can sometimes be agonizingly high, and that hate, fear, misunderstanding and ignorance can sometimes blind even the most well-intentioned.

I have learned to forgive myself and others more easily, knowing that ultimately I will be in great need of much forgiveness too.

I have learned that there are few joys in life greater than to reach out in love to try to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees, sometimes on the spur of the moment. I am no anchor of strength; I am as fallible as most and more than many, but coming out has made it possible for me to serve in ways more fulfilling than almost anything else I have ever done. I am humbled and almost overwhelmed by the opportunities I've had, by what I've learned from so many, and by the love and acceptance I've received. In the past I've sat up front at church, I've run meetings, I've "presided," and all of that is nothing compared to the depth of satisfaction that comes from touching heart to heart, from the luck of being the one who helps change tears to smiles, who perhaps gives a little hope, trusting and praying that when the tears or the despondency are mine, what I've cast on the water will come back to me somehow. I wish I had an embrace wide enough and words warm enough to express how much I love so many I have come to know this past year.

I have learned that there are as many ways to be gay as there are gay people. That sexual orientation is, in the larger scheme of things, a very small part of who someone is. That it changes nothing about someone's fundamental hopes, aspirations, joys, griefs, desires for happiness or intimacy. That stereotypes may sometimes be partly accurate for some as a group but are fatal as a tool for individual assessment.

I have learned that faithfulness, fidelity, self-respect, self-restraint, charity and tolerance are crucial to lasting happiness. I have walked down Castro Street and been saddened almost to tears as I see the results of other choices in so many hardened, grim, world-weary faces who seem constantly to be searching for they know not what. They are the perfect embodiments of the "hollow men" T.S. Eliot also spoke of. Yet I also know that each is a child of God whom He loves as much as He loves me, and I must try to treat them accordingly.

I have learned that life is a grand adventure, that every day is a gift to be treasured and used to its fullest. I have lost youth's illusion that I am immortal; I have a finite number of days ahead and I want every one of them to be filled with life, laughter, love, learning, work, and service. I want to wear out, not rust out.

I have learned that miracles occur sometimes when we least expect them, and that gratitude for them and for the blessings of daily life is a key to happiness. Knowing this makes me eager for each day to begin since I never know what surprises or even miracles might happen.

And lastly, I have somehow learned as never before how much God loves me and all of His children. When I finally had the courage to come out to Him in prayer and the answer was "I know what you are, and I approve," I was transformed. I understood the depth of His love for me just as I was, even with this part of me I'd always been told was a fatal flaw. Now I know it is simply part of His design for me and my life. And I am as grateful for it as for anything else I have: my children, my work, my friends and family, my health. Despite what some LDS leaders theorize, I pray that Rob, God's gay son, will always remain that way, because acknowledging that blessing and being true to myself has brought me happiness and fulfillment I never imagined before.

I look up again. The light has faded further and the vaults far above my head are shrouded in semi-darkness. Faint harmonies echo through the cathedral as a choir begins preparation for evening service. The jeweled windows are less vivid now, but they still glow richly against the dark grey of the stone walls as the faintest scent of incense still hangs in the air. This place has become part of my history, my journey. Right now is another in my own pattern of timeless moments as the light fades, the candles flicker, the harmonies echo through the reverence and the soaring stone arches. I have felt the Savior's love here, have been refreshed here, recharged, grounded, inspired, energized to go back out into the world and continue the adventure.

I don't know where it will take me, but I am eager for the journey.

07 October 2009

Service Project

On 25th February 2000 Stuart Matis drove to the Los Altos chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took his own life in despair and frustration over the Mormon Church's treatment of its gay members.

Almost ten years later, remembering Stuart and hoping to do something to prevent any more of such tragedies, I drove to that same chapel and inaugurated its participation in the 1st Annual Nationwide You Are Loved Chalk Message Project. The Project is simple: the week before National Coming Out Day on 11 October, draw messages of love and encouragement on (mostly) school sidewalks, e.g. "You are loved," "You are wonderful." Gay kids can't hear enough of that. Maybe if Stuart had heard more of it he'd still be with us.

Statistically there are thousands of Stuarts growing up all around us. If there is one who attends the LDS Los Altos chapel, then by now he or she will have seen the messages and, one hopes, looked up the URL also drawn on the sidewalk by the chapel entrance where the kids usually go in. And maybe he/she will be a little more confident that somebody out there understands and cares and loves and accepts him/her just the way God made them. And won't leave us the way Stuart did. You're not broken. You don't need fixing.

02 October 2009

I Like . . . Horses?

Despite its predominant theme this blog is not just the home of Johnny One Note. I do have a life outside online advocacy and it is sometimes hysterically funny. Herewith one such thing. I honestly don't remember where I got this, and it is so clever that I do wonder if it's authentic or just a really good fake. As a father of young kids I can assure you this kind of thing does in fact happen, so it may be authentic. Who knows. But regardless, it's hilarious. Enjoy.

01 October 2009

Bullseye Series, Chapter One

With this post I am inaugurating what I'll call The Bullseye Series, in which I will shamelessly borrow and pass along what I consider particularly insightful, prescient, succinct, accurate, and/or wise commentary gleaned from elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Today's first installment in the series comes from a commenter over at the Mormon Matters thread discussing Bruce Hafen's speech to Evergreen. I've edited the comment slightly to correct technicalities and emphasize key points.

Elder Hafen’s remarks have several ethical problems. First, like all Church leaders who speak on the topic he reduces homosexuality to physical acts / attractions. Second he is willing to speak for, and in place of the other. These two are closely related.

It's amazing to me that it needs to be said over and over again that homosexual folks are [simply] seeking to forge the same trusting, interdependent, spiritually and emotionally intimate relationships that heterosexuals are. Homosexuality and heterosexuality will always both be about far more than sexual acts. They are both about being in a relationship.

Hafen won’t allow gay people to describe their own lives and the meaning of their sexuality because he believes he already knows it. For him the institutional discourse of the LDS Church has far more meaning and descriptive power than the lives and experiences of gay folks. This is what makes gay rights exactly the same as other civil rights struggles: it's a clash between [1] an empowered group believing it has the right and authority to define the meaning and nature of another group’s being [and (2) the target group which objects to and disagrees with the empowered group's erroneous and harmful definition and the misuse of that definition to keep the target group in an inferior position.]

During women’s suffrage men continually defined women as irrational and intellectually inferior. Throughout the ugly history of slavery and Jim Crow, whites continually asserted that the nature of blackness was to be violent, dumb and lazy. In both cases religious arguments were brought in to justify prejudice. The same exact structure is found in the remarks of many LDS Church leaders [about homosexuality].

I just don’t see where Christian / Mormon ethics and theology allow us to use difference for the sake of degradation, or allow us to assert that we have the power and authority to definitively speak about the meaning and nature of someone else’s existence.

Compassion, empathy, and love are born out being in genuine relationship with others. They are not [and should not be accepted as simply] a veneer applied to our remarks as we assert our power and redefine the experiences of others to meet our own needs.