Leland Garrett, a really great and close friend of mine from college, shared these thoughts below on Facebook on Wednesday. He’s graciously given me permission to repost here. Leland’s words are thought-provoking and deeply personal — his story a cautionary tale for people who still insist upon using religion-based prejudice to deny the humanity of LGBT people. Thanks for sharing, Leland.

Leland Garrett

Your prejudice is chosen; my sexual orientation is not
by Leland Garrett, Feb. 8, 2012

You know, I was raised as a Christian. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. I participated in children’s choir, youth group, mission trips, etc. I was more immersed in my church then most people my age I knew.

Then, towards the end of high school, I began to realize that my interests did not lie in women, and I was scared shitless about it. I mean, a guy having feeling for another guy wasn’t what “good Christians” do, right? So, as I was taught all my life, I began to pray. Every night: “God, I don’t want to be gay. Why do I have these thoughts and feeling? Help me not be gay.”

Every. Single. Night.  Continue reading this post…

A break from the politics and religion. A venture into sexual sociology (or, Matt got bored and started over-analyzing things). Note to parents, kiddies and folks who work for employers-masquerading-as-censors-and-big-brother: A somewhat mature conversation and questions, as well, though it’s almost purely academic.

Source: Wikipedia

Each of the following are headlines or bio lines from Grindr profiles I’ve seen in the past few days (obviously, I’m not sharing names, photos or locations of users; that would just be tacky, wouldn’t it?):

  • “no hook ups, send me a face picture if you don’t have on ur profile”
  • “Please have convo instead of ‘sup’ and expect me to carry the convo…friends only…sports lover here!”
  • “chilled laid back guy loves to have fun .. not into hookups at all”

They all seem innocent enough. Good guys looking for friends and chat. The ironic thing is that each of the guys’ Grindr profile photos are shirtless. And, even without the ubiquitous shirtless photo, the last bio just seems ironic in and of itself, given “fun” is usually hookup-site lingo for “sex.”

Seriously, how many times have you had someone walk up to you on the streets without a shirt or other piece of clothing on and say hello? How is that any different than your bare-chested photo being a person’s first impression of you online?

Your profile bios and profile pics are sending mixed messages, dudes.

(By the way, if you don’t know what Grindr is… research…)

Two important caveats: (1) I’m certainly not passing judgment. I’m in absolutely no position to do such a thing. Do your own thing, peeps. Your life, your body, your decision. (2) There’s no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of people who use online dating or hookup sites for chatting and friend-making. I’ve used them for finding friends and new acquaintances, too, especially when new to Charlotte or when I’m traveling.

I’m just confused over what seems to me to be a disconnect between the way people present themselves in their profile bios and photos. So, I’m posing questions. I’m sure sociologists and other researchers into LGBT life might have already asked some of these and, if not, might find them interesting:

  • Given the nature of gay male hookup sites and apps (e.g. Adam4Adam or Grindr), what’s behind the few guys who use it for “friends” and chat?
  • Of those who say such things, why does there seem to be such a high number that use shirtless or other provocative profile photos?
  • Again, of those, how many are really only looking for friends?
  • Is the anti-gay prejudice that teaches us to hate ourselves and our own desires so strong that, even in what should be a safe space for sexual expression, some gay men find themselves too uncomfortable to admit what they’re really after?
  • To what extent do differences in slang and lingo (e.g. “hookup” as seemingly innocent, flirtatious playfulness or “hookup” as casual sex, and “fun” as in amusement or “fun” as in sex) play into the  intentions of online dating and hookup site or app users?
  • To what extent do issues of self-esteem or self-image (50% of us would give up one year of our life for the “perfect” body, and one study found eating disorders disproportionately higher among men who have sex with men) play into how gay, bi or queer men present themselves online? (On a slightly related note this body image question and to the immediately preceding question, are there significant differences in how men who have sex with men define body-type descriptors like “slim,” “average,” “athletic,” “fat,” “height-weight proportionate” and so on?)
  • How many true, sex-free and lasting friendships have been initiated on hookup sites or apps?
  • How many long-term, or even slightly long-term, relationships have begun through a sex-free, friendly chat?

I think these are phenomenal questions for a study or survey of some kind, especially considering the number of couples today who are meeting online (23% according to one 2010 study from Stanford). If couples are using dating or hookup sites to meet, could it be that people are using them for “just friends,” as well? And how do individual users’ profile descriptions or bios and how they present themselves via profile photos match up with their true intentions?

If anyone knows of a study or a survey (even a survey of its own users by Grindr or another hookup or online dating site or app), I’d love to see it.

Mitchell Gold

Michael Brown

Frank Turek

Update (Jan. 31, 2012, 2:08 p.m.): As promised yesterday and this morn, my reflections on the Brown/Turek/Gold debate below.

Regular readers of InterstateQ.com, followers of my work at my prior gig at QNotes and those involved in LGBT advocacy and community work in Charlotte know all too well who Michael Brown is. The leading anti-gay activist in the Charlotte area, Brown has taken on several LGBT groups in the Queen City and LGBT equality initiatives across the country. I’ve interacted with him from time to time, and in 2009 compiled a lengthy special report on his use of  militant religious rhetoric.

Last Wednesday, Faith in America founder and North Carolina furniture entrepreneur Mitchell Gold engaged both Brown and his associate Frank Turek in a conversation on religion and LGBT equality on Brown’s “Line of Fire” radio show.

I’m just now catching up on the show, as I was in Baltimore last week for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference.

So far, I’m not surprised. The same usual rhetoric, straw-man arguments and generalizations. Turek and Brown set the tone for the two hours from the get-go. Gold appears in the second hour to rebut some of their outlandish claims.

The nearly two-hour exchange on Wednesday can be listened to at Faith in America’s site.

Today, Michael Brown will host a question-and-answer show, partly discussing last week’s show. Gold’s Faith in America is encouraging people to call in and share their own views, offering affirming and compelling voices for equality.

From Faith in America:

You can help us speak to Brown’s audience. On Monday, January 31st, Michael Brown will continue the segment with calls from the audience. Since they were unable to execute that part of the show, given the heavy dialogue that occurred, they have decided to extend the segment. We encourage you to listen to the segment from yesterday and take a minute to call in on Monday … and be the voice of equality for their audience who otherwise does not hear our side on a daily basis. If you are unable to do so, you can also email the radio show at info@askdrbrown.org and share your thoughts. As always, we encourage you to visit our website for ways to be effective in your messaging.

You can listen to today’s Q&A show live, 2-4 p.m. Easter, online here. You can call into the show at 866-348 7884.

Be sure to stop back in on Tuesday morning for an update and some of my own takeaways from last week’s exchange and today’s Q&A show.

= = =

Update (Jan. 31, 2012, 2:08 p.m.): As I said yesterday, I had begun listening yesterday to Brown’s Jan. 25 show last week. I wasn’t surprised to hear Brown and Turek launch right into scare tactics. Why must LGBT people always be linked to HIV and AIDS?

Turek recounted:

I grew up next to a family and one of the young sons from this family got involved with homosexuality. He was the older brother of my best friend and he got involved in it and went into New York City and immersed himself in that lifestyle and we buried him at the age of 35, dead from AIDS. That was back in 1993 and I started seminary in 1993. I saw so many people seemed to just be misinformed on this issue. Christians who couldn’t articulate why homosexuality was a problem for people who engage in it, much less society.

I have no reason to doubt Turek’s personal story is true. The 1980s and early 1990s were a horrible time for LGBT people and, in particular, gay men. Many lost loved ones and friends. It’s telling, though, that Turek has somehow managed to take his one, personal experience with a gay man and generalize it to the entire gay community. What kind of leap in logic is that? One man dead = they must all be saved?

I don’t think so.

We all have personal experiences that shape our lives and our worldview, but, usually, people form more rational ideas as they explore and come to know others. Turek, it seems, has approached every LGBT person as sinful and sick, based entirely on his one life experience. It’s a shame he’s never gotten to know the many, many LGBT people who are living happy, healthy lives — people I’m sure could break his misinformed outlook if he’d give them a chance, approaching people with an open mind and open heart.

Brown and Turek spent the next good bit of the first hour discussing Turek’s dust up with Bank of America and Cisco. Turek had been a leadership coaching consultant with the Charlotte-based bank — that is, until a gay employee noticed Turek’s voluminous anti-LGBT advocacy and his book opposing same-sex marriage, “Correct, Not Politically Correct; How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone.”

Brown and Turek chat:

Brown: It’s not even a book based on the bible says this, the bible says that…You write this book, the book gets out. You could write a book on Labrador retrievers mating school. You could write a book on how to play better cricket. People write books on everything. What does that have to do with Bank of America leadership talks?

Turek: It should having nothing to do with it. Others will say, “He’s a bigot. He’s a bigot because he doesn’t agree with us.” I always ask people who say you’re a bigot because you’re against homosexuality or same-sex marriage to define what you mean by bigotry. One guy said fear and intolerance. That isn’t bigotry. Bigotry is prejudging an issue having no evidence for it and even when you get new evidence you don’t change your mind, evidence that counters your views. That’s bigotry. It’s not bigotry to say a certain behavior is good or bad for society. That’s not bigotry; that’s commonsense wisdom if you’re right about the issue.

Turek should take his own advice and look at all the evidence around him. Sexual orientation isn’t a choice, isn’t unhealthy and isn’t sick or sinful. And, neither are LGBT people. What is unhealthy, sick and sinful are the ways in which LGBT people are treated each and every day by Turek, Brown and other people in their corner. Upholding discrimination against already-marginalized people is about as un-Christian as you can get.

Throughout the show, Turek and Brown ridicule LGBT people and their experiences with anti-LGBT discrimination.

At one point, Turek completely denies the existence and humanity of LGBT parents and families:

There’s no such thing. There’s no gay couple with a child. There may be two people, one of whom is the biological parent of the child. Let’s cut through all this and say what it is, okay? A gay couple who are looking after the child; one of them might be the biological parent, but they’re both not. I’m sorry. I had to say that.

Perhaps, Frank, this is just a perfect example of why Bank of America and Cisco wanted nothing to do with you. They didn’t discriminate against you because of your religious or political views, they wanted to cancel your contract because you’re disrespectful and dehumanizing. I’m guessing families with step-parents aren’t families in your eyes, either?

Later, Turek and Brown talk about the supposed long-term ill-effects of same-sex marriage, comparing them to the effects of no-fault divorce. Obviously, no-fault divorce mustn’t be that big of a deal. I’ve seen no mass effort to stop it. Instead, Turek, Brown and others are all foaming at the mouth to take away human and civil rights away from LGBT people. These issues aren’t about family; if they were, the religious right would be focusing on divorce, the one single family problem that causes more damage than almost any other internal family dynamic, save abuse or abandonment. Nope… they’d rather focus on the queers. Misguided much?

About the only bit of common sense I heard in the first hour came from Brown. Responding to a caller you said Christians should “love the sinner and hate the sin,” Brown said:

The thing that’s really important to be sensitized to is this: If we use the line, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and we say that to someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, what they hear is, “You hate me.” What they’d say is this is not what I do, this is who I am.

Unfortunately, as much as Brown is willing to acknowledge the reality of LGBT people’s experiences, he isn’t willing to accept them as truth. Brown talks so much about reaching out to LGBT people “with love and respect,” but the very manner in which Brown approaches LGBT people is offensive and hostile to open conversation and understanding. You can’t be understanding, loving, respectful or come to reconciliation when you, to your core, view your conversation partner as sick and sinful.

In the second hour of the Jan. 25 program, Brown and Turek welcomed on Faith in America’s Mitchell Gold. The group’s executive director, Brent Childers, was also present in the studio. Brown introduced Gold and spoke briefly about the book he edited, “Youth in Crisis: 40 Stories on Why Religion-Based Bigotry Against Gay People Must End Now,” and to which I contributed an essay on my upbringing as a gay teen in a conservative, fundamentalist, independent Baptist church in the south.

Gold spoke passionately about North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, correctly describing it as the radical, over-reaching piece of legislation it is. But, Gold hit on a stronger, more salient and human element of the upcoming amendment debate and vote.

Gold said:

What bothers me most about the amendment, and I believe it was County Commissioner [Bill James] in Charlotte who said that this amendment really says gay people aren’t welcome. For a 14-year-old kid trying to understand their sexuality, to have an amendment in the public discourse in this big public discussion to have people saying gays are sinners and an abomination, that they are not entitled, that it’s not God’s plan to have it this way. I know from doing this book that these are devastating things. This is why kids jump off bridges. This is why kids hang themselves.

Despite Gold’s sincere attempt at honest, heartfelt conversation, Brown and Turek quickly pounced, throwing out straw-man arguments and red herrings meant to distract from rather than contribute to healthy dialogue. And, though Gold was attempting to discuss the health and well-being of LGBT young people, care to guess which issues Brown preferred come to the fore? Yup, you got it: Polygamy, pederasty and the supposed “sick” nature of LGBT people and the insinuation that being gay itself was causing youth to kill themselves — not that anti-LGBT hostility and societal prejudice was the root cause of such tragedies.

Brown’s inaccuracies on suicide quickly led into a discussion on the American Psychiatric Association (APA), its removal of homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973 and Brown’s far-right conspiracy theory that posits the belief that the APA is nothing more than a gay activist front group.

Brown and Turek attempted to use a 2001 study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, a retired psychologist who helped lead the 1973 push to de-list homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, as proof of the APA’s “agenda,” saying that Spitzer’s work had proven that LGBT people can change their sexual orientation.

Of course, that’s all lies. Spitzer himself said such change is rare, and admonished anti-LGBT advocates for using his research to support discrimination.

In the last half-hour of the show, Brown once again threw in the polygamy red herring, then accusing Gold of being selfish and bigoted because he didn’t want to recognize marriages between multiple partners. It’s something far-right religious folks never seem to get: The issue isn’t about polygamy. The amendment won’t affect polygamists in mass. It will make LGBT people de jure second-class citizens.

In the last quarter of the show, I think I was nearly astonished as I’ve ever been listening to Brown. It’s no secret that I abhor his use of violent and militant religious rhetoric, but I was absolutely floored at the arrogance Brown displayed toward Gold:

Brown: I don’t know much about furniture business and it would be quite arrogant for me to come and lecture you about the furniture business…

Gold: Are you suggesting it is arrogant for me to come and talk to you about scripture?

Brown: I’m suggesting that you have as little basis for your viewpoint in terms of being a student of the scripture to lecture me about it or to tell me to keep my heart open as opposed to saying to me, “Hey, 40 years walking with the Lord…you have a right to your convictions.” No, ultimately you’re telling me my convictions are harmful to other people and therefore there’s something wrong with my views.”

Wow. Here I thought humility was supposed to be a Christian virtue?And, yes, Brown, you are wrong and your convictions and statements are causing harm.

As the show closed, it came full circle and right back to painting LGBT people as sick and unhealthy: Suicides, higher STD and HIV rates, higher cancer rates and so on and so on in LGBT people. Folks like Brown and Turek, so blinded by their own bigotry and prejudice, will never see their own role in the continued plight of LGBT youth and adults. Just as other marginalized communities have faced health inequities, so to do LGBT people. Societal prejudice and institutionalized discrimination, which Brown and Turek advocate, make such matters worse, not better.

The show wrapped with some of the silliest arguments the right has ever come up with for opposing same-sex marriage. Turek sounded almost child-like, reminiscent of a school-yard bully. Shame.

As for the Jan. 30 Q&A show, I don’t think I’ll write much. There isn’t much to say. Why argue with nonsense, right? You can listen to the Q&A show yourself here. Call-in shows always get off-the-wall, off-topic and crazy. I’ve about reached capacity in my ability to handle and digest pure ridiculousness in one day.

I had a phenomenal time in Minneapolis last week. My trip to Netroots Nation served as unique opportunity to meet with like-minded progressive activists, bloggers, journalists and others from across the nation. In particular, I enjoyed another chance to sit down face-to-face with so many of my fellow LGBT bloggers and journalists I usually only see as thumbnail pics on Twitter or Facebook.

But there was another just as exciting opportunity this weekend. At the same time that thousands of progressive activists flocked to Netroots Nations, hundreds of activists, writers, journalists and others from the other side of the political spectrum were gathering at the host hotel for for their own conference, RightOnline.

I spoke to a dozen or more RightOnline attendees during my few days in Minneapolis. Our conversations were civil and friendly. We shared some laughs, exchanged some personal stories about ourselves or hometowns and had some great conversations about real political and ideological differences. I was surprised to find, however, that the overwhelming majority of those I spoke with felt relatively little opposition to issues of LGBT equality. The majority agreed that LGBT people shouldn’t be discriminated against in employment. They agreed that schools should be safe for LGBT students. They agreed that some form of relationship recognition — though not marriage — should be offered to same-sex couples. One nice lady from Ohio, who said she had a lesbian sister, seemed to have no problem with same-sex parenting and care giving.

My interactions surprised me. I wasn’t expecting that sort of support from conservatives attending RightOnline. Though not as supportive as I’d like them to be, these people were certainly not the anti-gay fringe that has had such a control on Republican Party politics these past few decades.

There are some Republicans, including my own Sen. Richard Burr, who have recognized a generational shift on these issues. But where is the disconnect elsewhere? Why does the right’s grassroots and netroots base support some LGBT issues while the majority of the Republican establishment continues to push right-wing, hate-group propagated talking points?

I asked my RightOnline friends that question. They proposed that the answer might very well be that Republican electeds and party officials perceive their constituencies as far more conservative on these issues than they actually are. While that’s a testament to the (seems to be waning) power of the religious right, it’s also a sign of political homophobia. Such non-personal bigotry upheld by elected officials is also a problem on the left; plenty of Democratic electeds aren’t as supportive as they might otherwise be because they feel their constituencies aren’t.

There’s a clear mission here for right and left LGBT people and our allies. Political homophobia should be easy to overcome, especially as more and more evidence shows that the average citizen cares very little about anti-LGBT causes and, in fact, outright supports equality for LGBT people.

There are many problems in the LGBT media world, not least of which being the constant strain and pull of operating traditional print news in a marketplace so rapidly transforming from “old media” to “new media.”

But, there’s a bigger social dilemma faced by LGBT editors, publishers and reporters: Our media, both local and national, isn’t as inclusive of our entire LGBT culture as they could be. I don’t debate it and I don’t think anyone else would either. However, broad generalizations and criticisms of established gay media won’t fix that problem, and that’s exactly what happened at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis this morning.

A panel discussion entitled “Queer Media and the Alternative Revolution” included Zack Rosen of TheNewGay.net, transgender musician Heidi Stink, Katrina Casino of Autostraddle.com and David Castillo, a Bilerico.com contributor. Each threw out what could be perfectly valid criticisms of LGBT media, except for the fact that they were overly broad and lacked any sort of understanding of what might actually be happening behind the scenes at an LGBT news outlet.

Among some of the panelists’ concerns was that “mainstream” LGBT media is not fully representative of people of color, women and the transgender community. I agree. We aren’t. But that lack of fair representation does not automatically mean that it’s made out of hate, bigotry, malice or for lack of trying. Such assumptions built into less-than-constructive criticisms build walls during a conversation and do nothing to help solve the problems at hand.

Blogger Scott Woolidge noted during the panel via Twitter: “18 years in Mass Media machine, I often see people presume bigotry or hate in exclusion; ignorance or simple human error suffice #nn11lgbt.”

I’d add to Woolidge’s statements and assert that there are other causes to these problems, primarily a lack of resources and community involvement from the very groups complaining about their lack of representation.

As the editor of an LGBT newspaper in the South, I can speak with some authority on the level of resources currently provided me and my very part-time associate editors and other writers, which include a straight woman, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The lack of financial resources prohibits us from hiring a bevy of more writers, though I wish we could. Having the opportunity to expand our staff and diversify it would go a long way in creating more opportunities for previously unheard voices to gain wider exposure and representation. As an alternative to hiring more diverse writers, we’ve taken steps to bring in other faces. We have a female voice on our editorial pages (thank you, Leslie Robinson) and a transgender voice on issues of politics and culture (thank you, Robbi Cohn). In the past, we’ve had some moderate success with the freelance employment of an African-American, female columnist.

As with the lack of resources, I’d posit that there also exists a lack of participation from some of the groups issuing complaints about their own lack of representation. How many times must a writer reach out to several minority groups and/or leaders while receiving no response from them before that writer has to assume his or her contacts are just simply not interested in chatting? When there is no coverage of minority groups’ events, one needs to take a moment to self-reflect: Did that group even make the news organization aware of their activities?

These are problems I face on a nearly consistent basis in my work covering the LGBT communities of Charlotte and North Carolina. As a media organization, we can only reflect what currently exists. If there are fractions among our community, it makes sense that such fracturing would be evident in what and how we report.

Woolidge made a phenomenal observation — one I also stood up to address with the panelists and panel attendees. The lack of representation of people of color, women and the transgender community isn’t necessarily a sure sign of a media organization’s or staff person’s unwillingness to reach out; many times we have reached out and many times to no avail.

Conversations like this morning’s panel discussion do nothing to solve these problems if there is not a two-way conversation that includes accompanying solutions. Criticism sucks. Constructive criticism is better.

Info from “Sex in the Park? Investigative Commentary: Police records debunk the media-driven myth of gay sex in public parks” in QNotes’ April 2, 2011 print edition.

Permission is granted to reproduce with the accompanying credit:

Infographic Copyright © 2011 Matt Comer (interstateq.com/archives/4671/)
Data compiled by Matt Comer/QNotes, "Sex in the Park?", April 2, 2011 (goqnotes.com/10621)
Data provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Michael Brown’s ‘Queer’ sideshow

Concord’s Michael Brown, leader of the anti-gay Coalition of Conscience and FIRE Church and School of Ministry, released this week his new book, “A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.”

I haven’t yet had the chance to read the book, though I know Brown cites/references/mentions me and/or some of my writings (unless something’s changed since the last time he and I chatted).

The book’s title and imagery are eye-catching. It’s also a bit deceptive. And, unsurprisingly, devoid of all understanding. I don’t know many trans folks or gay men who wear black socks and pink pumps. All joking aside: I expect Brown’s book, if anything like its cover, to paint a wholly inaccurate and woefully biased and prejudiced picture of LGBT people in this country.

From Brown’s blog, Voice of Revolution, a summary of the book:

Forty years ago, most Americans said they didn’t know anyone who was homosexual and claimed to know little or nothing about homosexuality. Today, there’s hardly a sitcom without a prominent gay character, movies like Milk and Brokeback Mountain have won Oscars, and even People Magazine celebrated the marriage of Ellen Degeneres and Portia DeRossi. Forty years ago, the word “queer” was considered to be an extremely insulting, ugly slur. Today, we have books like Queering Elementary Education and The Queer Bible Commentary, while Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a cable TV sensation and even school children are learning the meaning of “Gender Queer.” Forty years ago, people were fired from their jobs for being gay. Today, college professors have been fired for taking issue with same-sex practice, counselors have been dismissed for refusing to affirm gay and lesbian relationships, and even pastors have been arrested for saying that homosexual behavior was sinful.

A Queer Thing Happened to America chronicles the amazing transformation of America over the last forty years, literally, from Stonewall Inn to the White House, and addresses the question head-on: Is there really a gay agenda, or is it a fiction of the religious right? Written in a lively and compelling style, but backed with massive research and extensive interaction with the GLBT community, this forthright and yet compassionate book looks at the extraordinary impact gay activism has had on American society – from nursery school to college, from the pulpit to Hollywood, and from science to semantics – also analyzing the foundational arguments of the gay civil rights movement and exposing the extreme intolerance of those calling for tolerance. This could easily be the most controversial book of the decade. Read it and find out why the publishing world was afraid to touch it.

And, Voice of Revolution Editor Marcus French touts the book’s number slot in Amazon.com’s Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction list. French writes:

The screenshot below, taken at 12:15 PM ET on March 17th, shows the Amazon Bestsellers Rank for ‘A Queer Thing Happened to America.’ As you can see, it is now #1 on Amazon’s ‘Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction’ chart! (A chart, by the way, I would not recommend navigating to, as it contains all sorts of sexually explicit material.) If you would like to help it stay at that position in the ‘Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction’ chart as a redemptive witness, and climb higher on the overall chart, you can help by purchasing the book on Amazon here.

After running scared from anti-LGBT protesters for five years, Charlotte’s annual LGBT Pride festival will finally move back to Uptown Charlotte and back into the public square.

From a Pride Charlotte press release:

The Queen City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride festival will be held this year on Aug. 27 in Uptown Charlotte, along S. Tryon St. between 3rd St. and the new Levine Center for the Arts. Pride Charlotte, which attracts thousands each year, is the culmination of a week-long slate of events highlighting the social, cultural, ethnic, artistic and political diversity of the metro Charlotte area’s LGBT community.

“We are very excited to move our festival Uptown and to the heart of Charlotte’s artistic and cultural center,” said Jonathan Hill, Co-Chair of the Pride Charlotte organizing committee. “The S. Tryon St. location provides a unique opportunity for our event to grow and to raise more visibility for this city’s diverse gay community.”

I’m lucky enough, again, to serve on the organizing committee for Pride Charlotte. In fact, I should offer a full disclosure and say I wrote the primary draft of the release I just quoted. Regardless, this post (like every other post on InterstateQ.com) is entirely my own opinion; trust me, it doesn’t come even close to representing the official views of anyone.

Anyways… This year we’re not only moving to Tryon St. (exciting and landmark news in and of itself), but we’re also expanding and committing ourselves to greater community-level coalition building and teamwork. Speaking as someone who has seen Pride as both a current and former committee member, as the editor of the local queer paper and as a general community member and Charlottean, I think it all adds up to phenomenal news and a wonderful change in the pace of the last few years’ events.

For far too long, Charlotte’s queer community has been weak and timid in the face of anti-LGBT prejudice, protesting and bigotry. Despite the relatively small number, we’ve allowed anti-LGBT protest groups like Operation Save America and Coalition of Conscience to dictate to us the terms of our own community’s outspokenness, political involvement and civic engagement. No more. Come August, Pride Charlotte will be back in the public square and in the heart of Uptown. LGBT Charlotteans are no less deserving of full participation in the political, social, artistic, cultural, civic and religious lives of this city. This is the year we take back our God-given rights to be who we are, openly and proudly, and as fully-deserving citizens and residents of the Queen City.

Pride Charlotte’s move back into the public spotlight comes after five years of nearly-closeted Pride festivities. After a 2005 Charlotte Pride event in which scores of protesters caused distraction (and later proclaimed to the city council, “Charlotte Pride is back in the closet. And it’s back in the closet because the church of Jesus Christ came out of the closet. And because you, city council, helped us to do that very thing.”), organizers of a new event (“Pride Charlotte”) organized under the umbrella of the Lesbian & Gay Community Center moved the event to Gateway Village. The new, privately-owned Uptown venue left much to be desired; enclosed on three sides, a passer-by would never have known what was happening there. I never could understand why we were “hiding,” though organizers always rejected the accusation they were running from anybody or anything.

Last year, Pride Charlotte organizers took the closeting of Charlotte’s gays a step further. The N.C. Music Factory is a phenomenal building. Great bars and restaurants, and the Center is even located there (that’s an entirely different story, altogether). But, like Gateway Village, the choice to move Pride to the Music Factory felt to many, including me, another instance of closet-ization. How are we supposed to “Stand up, Stand out, Stand Proud” when no one in the city can see or even knows about our community’s premier cultural, political and social event each year?

I believe this year will be unlike any of the past years’ Pride festivities I’ve known. We’re out. We’re proud. We’re visible. We are what an LGBT community should be. With any luck, we’ll see that spirit spill over into other local, LGBT organizations. Perhaps, this is the year Charlotte will start working toward becoming a better, more LGBT-inclusive city. We’ve waited long enough, wouldn’t you say?

Photo Credit: JenelleRW, via Flickr.

On November 5, friends of mine in the Charlotte Business Guild invited me to come to their special monthly social, “Wine and Poetry: In honor of the ‘It Gets Better’ project.” I was able to read an excerpt from my chapter in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Religious and Social Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America,” edited by Mitchell Gold. Other community members also spoke, reading excerpts from other writings and poems. View other videos here.

P.S. — I have an absolute disdain microphones (excluding the handheld types). I never, ever, ever realize the microphone stand is too short for me, and I end up bent and slumped over like Quasimodo. Oh well, lol

A local Charlotte blogger who writes at Cedar Posts and Barbwire Fences on local news and activities relating to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has been keeping up with the news of six chaplains’ resignations. He asserts the resignations have more to do with internal CMPD doings than the the lesbian pastor appointed to the chaplaincy. Perhaps that’s the case, but that’s certainly not what media is reporting and what CMPD brass say. (And, it should be noted, that the chaplains themselves first mentioend the lesbian pastor’s sexual orientation as a reason for their objections.)

After a week or more of writing onthe topic, Cedar added this bit of commentary:

Cedar’s View – I don’t have an argument against Gay people. I know a few men who are openly “Out” gay and while I consider them friends, they live odd drama filed lives. Nothing is easy for them, every set back is a travesty. While they would like to be accepted as who they are, they go to extremes to say who they aren’t.

Do I understand being Gay? No, I just can’t see looking as some guy’s hairy ass and thinking to myself “yum yum”. As far as lesbians, now that I get! As long as they are both hot. Which they never are. And for the transgender crowd, other than the Bird Cage with Robin Williams it is not funny or entertaining its sad. Chaz Bono still looks like a freak.

On the other hand, I have a gay friend of nearly 20 years. A couple of years ago his life long partner died after a long illness. And I have to admit there was no doubt that relationship was based on the strong and deep love they shared.

I’m so wonderfully happy and relieved to know Cedar doesn’t “have an argument against Gay people.” Actually. I’m being quite serious. No kidding. I’d assumed Cedar was like the majority of naysayers I see in and around Charlotte’s blogging and media landscape: racist, homophobic and conservative as hell (that’s not opinion, that’s not stereotype; it’s fact). But, alas, I was wrong. In this case, I’m glad to be proven wrong.

Cedar’s “view” isn’t homophobic or anti-gay, per se, but it is skewed and off-base.

Imagine any person saying, “I know a few Jews, and they are all greedy,” or “I know a few Indians, and they all have dots on their heads and smell.” That kind of logic doesn’t fly. Knowing “a few” of any kind of people doesn’t give you the full picture of an entire population. That’s how stereotypes get started. From there, prejudices develop. Combined, stereotypes and prejudices make discrimination (legal, civil and otherwise) possible.

I like Cedar’s blog. I like hearing him out and reading his opinions, even though I might not agree with many of them. I hope Cedar takes the time to get to know more LGBT people, for his own sake. Having that personal experience will make his blogging and opinion-making stronger. In fact, while I’m thinking about it, I might just ask him how to lunch.

You know, gay folks really are quite nice. We’re fun, mostly easy-going and have a great and unique perspective on life and society. And, by the way, I’d say our drama isn’t necessarily all that much better or worse than straight folks; it’s just different.

As to Cedar’s assertion, “Nothing is easy for them, every set back is a travesty,” it’s unfortunate that oftentimes his friends’ scenarios are true. Try living in a world, Cedar, where you grow up with all corners of society telling you are sick and sinful, condemned for eternity and that your life is valueless. Let’s see how easy of world that is for you to inhabit.