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A step backward at Calvin?

equalityrideeast_smallIn the spring of 2007, I was blessed to be among 25 of my peers on the Soulforce Equality Ride. We visited over a dozen schools, and while the overwhelming majority were hostile to the message of the Gospel’s inclusive love, there were bright spots along the way. One of the few great school visits was our stop at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The school, its faculty and staff were kind, open-minded, and exhibited true Christian love and charity. Of the many worship experiences we had on the Ride, the evening service at Calvin felt true, honest and open — as any church or gathering in Christ should be. My experience at Calvin was in stark opposition to the treatment we received at nearby Cornerstone.

Although the school had affirmed its position that homosexuality was sinful, they had also stated explicitly that orientation is not. It is a distinction many anti-LGBT Christians fail to make, often leaving youth feeling as though they are condemned simply for who they are long before they ever (if they ever) have a same-sex relationship.

That’s why I was surprised to read of Calvin College’s board of trustees statement on LGBT advocacy. In a memo to faculty and staff, the school’s governing board says it is “unacceptable” for faculty to advocate on issues of LGBT equality, marriage or other such issues.

Continue reading this post…

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‘EqualityU’ premieres on Logo

equalityuFor those of you who haven’t seen it yet (that includes me), the groundbreaking documentary on the 2006 Soulforce Equality will debut on Logo this weekend.

The televised premiere of “EqualityU” will tonight, Saturday, Jan. 17. If you don’t have Logo (umm, that would include me) or if you miss it, it’ll repeat at sometime or you can watch it online.

Back in march 2006, I participated as a non-Rider in the group’s first stop. I was arrested with the group as we attempted to speak with our Christian brothers and sisters on the campus of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. A year later, I found myself stuck on a bus with almost 30 other young folks traveling up and down the entire Eastern half of the continental U.S. The Ride took its 2008 journey last fall.

I followed the 2006 Equality Ride here at my blog and then later posted updates from the more than two-month journey in 2007. Catch it all here. Oh, and there was video, too.

Soulforce Q, in partnership with SoulforceNYC, PlanetOut/Gay.com and Young People For, presents an exclusive benefit concert for the 2008 Equality Ride, which will take 20-some young adults to Southern Christian colleges and universities that discriminate against LGBT students and faculty.

Award-winning recording artist Ari Gold will perform with special guests including Anthony Rapp from the original Broadway cast and the motion picture Rent, fashion designer Jack Mackenroth from the Bravo series Project Runway, and Emmy award-winning comedienne Judy Gold, creator of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at www.soulforce.org/concert.

arigoldconcert

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Uncovering the Truth, Undoing the Damage

Matt and I met during the Soulforce Equality Ride this past spring and have been involved in other Soulforce actions and events. In June, Soulforce teamed up with Beyond Ex-Gay and the LGBT Resource Center of UC-Irvine to host the first ever Ex-Gay Survivor Conference.

As you may be aware, ex-gay ministries such as Exodus International promote the message that being gay or transgender is sick and sinful and that you can and should work to change yourself. Unfortunately, change is ill-defined. Contrary to what one might expect, “change” does not mean “gay to straight” but rather “gay identified to non-gay identified and celibate” or “gay to married to a woman but still attracted to men.” Even Exodus International’s president Alan Chambers acknowledges that he still “struggles” with “temptations.” Change isn’t as pretty as you might be led to believe.

Peterson Tuscano and Christine Bakke–founders of Beyond Ex-Gay–have been very vocal in talking about their experience, the good along with the bad, and being accessible to others who have had similar experiences. Recently, Peterson created a space on his blog where readers could chronicle the ways in which they were harmed by ex-gay experiences. Equality Rider Vince Cervantes has been recounting his own experiences and YouTuber Daniel Gonzalez has a collection of personal stories from many former ex-gay participants.

While at the conference, I was able to document the day’s events and sit down with a handful of the conference participants to capture their own stories. It was a moving day. I’ve put together a short preview of the 15-minute film:

The full-length video is featured on Soulforce’s resource page for ex-gay ministries (or available directly here).

I am hopeful that anti-gay Christian leaders will begin to listen to these accounts. We know they mean well, but unfortunately the results can be disastrous. If you’ve gone through ex-gay programs, or even tried to change your orientation or identity on your own, I’d encourage to start speaking out and sharing your stories, I know Christine et al would love to hear from you!

The Soulforce Equality Ride visited Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this past April. The group was completely welcomed on the campus with invitationst o eat and dine with students, attend student forums and other official discussions… a scene quite contrary to the unwelcoming experience felt at Grand Rapid’s Cornerstone University, a school that is, literally, just down the street.

Now, the gay-straight student organization at Calvin – originally discussed when the Equality Ride visited – is moving forward on the campus.

According to the group’s online Facebook group, the administration has approved the request for the new student organization with some compromise between the students and college, including a name change from Gay-Straight Alliance to Spectrum.

Spectrum officer Miranda Brouwer gives us an update:

Mike [Sottong]and I met with Dan Vandersteen this past week and we talked about our goals with Spectrum. He said that if we follow through with what we have planned, that we will be able to be administratively sponsored. Here is a summary of what we went over:

  1. The name of the group is Spectrum
  2. Our mission statement is to form this group with the intention of educating ourselves on the topics of sexual orientation and spirituality
  3. We are going to be administratively sponsored. We are going to have an educational focus rather than an advocacy focus and we want to act as mediation between students of potentially opposing sides and act as a safe forum for debate
  4. We want to focus on the topics of reconciliation between sexuality and spirituality. The ways that we want to go about this are as follows:
    • students’ stories (like panel but on a more specified basis, as well as hearing stories from straight students)
    • pastors visiting (to present the traditional CRC stance as well as other options)
    • people from the community with potentially differing views that have to do with what we want to talk about
    • alumni (potentially alumni who came out after college to reflect on calvin and how life is different outside of calvin)
  5. Events. The one that we want to do for the first event is to go as a group to see 7 Passages. We could possibly show movies as well as having other outings.

The group was approved for creation and will begin its work in this current school year.

Congrats to all the students and their hard work at Calvin, a school that was very welcoming and very tolerable to all people despite their stance that “homosexual behavior” is still a sin.

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Back in April, news came about that Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, had changed its anti-gay student conduct code, contributing the force for the change, in part, with the Soulforce Equality Ride visits to the university.

A second Christian university visited by the Equality Ride in March 2007 has amended its student conduct code, offering more parity between straight and gay students.

Previously in its student conduct code, Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, punished “homosexual acts,” although the term was never specifically defined and could have included anything from one saying he or she was LGBT to holding hands, kissing, hugging or sexual intercourse.

The revised student conduct code places gay and straight students under the same code of no sex before marriage, which the University still defines as “one man-one woman.” The new wording specifically prohibits “pre-marital sex and homosexual intercourse.”

LGBT students at Samford University are now free to be openly honest about themselves and their lives and date and have a significant other in much the same way, and under almost the same rules, as heterosexual students.

The policy isn’t as good as we would like it, of course, but it is a major step forward for this very Southern Baptist school.

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Another article in the News & Record

Had another article published in the Greensboro News & Record today. My friend John told me it was published…

Gay rights activists endure tough road
By Tom Steadman, Staff Writer
July 16, 2007

He was arrested in Grand Rapids, Mich., and barred from a dozen college campuses, and he wondered if he’d ever get out of Clinton, Miss.

But UNCG sophomore Matt Hill Comer says the two-month bus trip he took this year as part of the 2007 Equality Ride for gay rights was worth the trouble. That’s why he left Friday for New York and another lobbying effort — this time in support of a gay-marriage bill in that state.

The Equality Ride, like the New York event, was sponsored by Soulforce, a national nonprofit group with an aim of ending political and religious persecution through nonviolent means. The Equality Ride was modeled after the Freedom Riders of the 1960s.

“I think we made some difference,” said Comer, 21, a Winston-Salem native who joined 51 other activists riding two buses traveling different routes during the protest.

“I know we made a difference in the lives of students at those colleges who are gay and lesbian and can’t be open about it,” Comer said.

“I think we made some progress with straight students. And I’d like to think that in some way the administrators of those colleges now have a different attitude on the issues.”

Not that it was easy for the activists to get their point across, Comer said. At most of the stops made by his bus on the eastern route, the Soulforce volunteers found themselves unable to legally walk onto campus.

“We went to 19 schools, and 12 of the 19 barred us from campus,” Comer said. That’s why riders on the two routes racked up about 100 arrests for trespassing, he said.

“We were told to expect things to be frazzled,” Comer said. “Quick decisions had to be made on the ground.”

Comer’s own arrest came at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich., when he entered the campus after police told him he could not.

“We had made contact with the school months in advance, and they had pretty much said we couldn’t come on campus,” Comer said. So the Equality Riders decided to make an issue of it, creating a cement stone that they said symbolized Christ as a cornerstone of the church.

Comer and another rider were carrying it onto campus to present it to the student body when they were arrested.

“We were in the county jail there for about five hours,” Comer said. They were released on $100 bail, paid by Soulforce.

But it was in Clinton, Miss., where the riders visited Mississippi College, that he feared real trouble, Comer said. “We had had threats of violence leading up to the day we left for there, through e-mail and the Facebook Web site,” he said.

“There were between 300 and 400 students who had gathered at the edge of campus to see us,” Comer said. “Luckily, there wasn’t any violence.”

But later that day, as the riders’ bus cruised around campus picking up the activists, local police stopped the bus three times in five minutes, Comer said.

“At one point they told us to leave, then told us the bus would be impounded if it moved,” Comer said.

“Then they finally told us to get out of town and escorted us away from the college.”

Contact Tom Steadman at 373-7351 or tsteadman@news-record.com

A community member in Mankato, Minnesota, writes a letter to the editor on the Soulforce Equality Ride visit to Bethany Lutheran College.

He makes the argument that Soulforce “should be more open to change,” for our “viewpoints” and our “lifestyle:”

Was SoulForce just as willing to become less liberal and more conservative, to change not only their viewpoint but also their lifestyle? I doubt it.

Okay. Okay.

You hear that minorities? You should be more open to changing who you are to fit everyone else!

A quick guide for minorities wanting to take the letter writer’s wise advice:

  • All people of color… You should be more open to being “more white.”
  • Hispanics… You should be more open to totally forgetting your heritage and adopting a European one.
  • Native Americans… Oh, totally, forget the red man thing, drop your religion and forget your language.
  • Women… You need to butch it up! Change your feminine “lifestyle” and be more like real humans (read: men).
  • And all us gay people… Yes, we so totally need to straighten up.

Conclusion of the letter? Writer’s definition of “conservative” = Everyone must look, act and think the exact same way and that is: Straight, White, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon Male.

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Seth Crawford, a junior at Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, NC, wrote a great student journalism article and profile on me and my activism as a part of a multicultural journalism workshop with the Greensboro News & Record.

His article appears in today’s paper:

UNCG student fights for gay rights
June 26, 2007
Seth Crawford, Northwest Guilford

This article was written as part of a Multicultural Journalism Workshop at the News & Record.

The numbing cold handcuffs constrict his wrists.

A firm hand tightly grasps his arm.

An attentive man guides him to the sporadic blinking lights of a police car.

As he is placed in the back seat, confidence builds up inside him.

Unlike most college students, 21-year-old Matt Hill Comer has been battling adversity his entire life.

Comer, a UNCG junior, realized he was gay when he was 12. But he grew up in a strictly conservative Baptist home, where he struggled with a decision to make his sexual orientation known. He would sit in church on Sundays, listening to his pastor — who seemed to point him out — condemning gays as despicable, vile creatures that would inevitably burn in hell.

Comer struggled with his sexual orientation. Maybe he didn’t feel the way he thought he did, or maybe it would pass. After two years of wrestling with himself, he finally came out to his parents at 14.

“My dad just sat on the couch. He didn’t really say anything,” Comer said. “My mom gave me the typical conservative Christian reaction saying, ‘You’re going to hell.’

“I cried myself to sleep.”

After he told his parents, he built up enough courage to confide to a friend in his Boy Scout troop and another friend from school, who told everyone else. It wasn’t the way he had planned. But there wasn’t much he could do about it, except grit his teeth and take the verbal abuse that followed.

Comer remembers being teased by the kids in his Boy Scout troop. That eventually turned to violence.

“They tied me to a tree and threw rocks and sticks at me and hit me with wet towels,” he said.

His father confronted the Scout master, who simply replied: “Boys will be boys.”

Read the full article by Seth

I emailed Seth this morning, told him he did a great job and gave him just one correction in his article. Besides that… I think his little bio at the bottom of the article – “Seth, a junior, wants to write for Sports Illustrated.” – might be right on cue with his talent for writing.

Federal Appeals Court knocks down FCC obscenity rules
A federal appeals court has ruled that FCC policies fining broadcast stations for airing programs containing certain obscenities are out of bounds:

If President Bush and Vice President Cheney can blurt out vulgar language, then the government cannot punish broadcast television stations for broadcasting the same words in similarly fleeting contexts.

That, in essence, was the decision on Monday, when a federal appeals panel struck down the government policy that allows stations and networks to be fined if they broadcast shows containing obscene language.

Although the case was primarily concerned with what is known as “fleeting expletives,” or blurted obscenities, on television, both network executives and top officials at the Federal Communications Commission said the opinion could gut the ability of the commission to regulate any speech on television or radio.

[…]

The decision, by a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, was a sharp rebuke for the F.C.C. and for the Bush administration. For the four television networks that filed the lawsuit — Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC — it was a major victory in a legal and cultural battle that they are waging with the commission and its supporters.

And the FCC’s biggest concern? Oh… this one is easy:

Mr. Martin, the chairman of the commission, attacked the panel’s reasoning.

“I completely disagree with the court’s ruling and am disappointed for American families,” he said. “The court says the commission is ‘divorced from reality.’ It is the New York court, not the commission, that is divorced from reality.”

He said that if the agency was unable to prohibit some vulgarities during prime time, “Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want.”

Awww… How cute. The government is upset they can’t control freedom of speech and expression anymore. Too bad. I guess they’ll have to appeal to the spirit of the Consitution — Oh, that’s right, the Bush Administration doesn’t believe that! Silly me.

Mitt Romney once opposed anti-gay Boy Scout policies
From ScoutPride:

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, Republican Presidential candidate and an Eagle Scout, once opposed Boy Scouts of America membership & leadership policies prohibiting gay and bisexual youth and adults.

[…]

Romney stated, “I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Read more at ScoutPride

D.C. City Council member promises to submit marriage equality legislation
Washington, DC City Council member Jim Graham promised in a Capital Pride Festival town hall meeting to introduce legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia within the next two years. Read More.

Report NYC could gain $142 Million if marriage equality legalized
New York City Comptroller William C Thompson, Jr. today released a report detailing huge economic gains for New York City if marriage for same-sex couples were legalized.

According to the press release:

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today issued a study finding that the legalization of marriage for same-sex partners could yield $142 million in economic benefits to New York City.

The report, Love Counts: The Economic Benefits of Marriage Equality for New York, concluded that the $142 million largely would be generated in the three years immediately following enactment of legislation, and would be derived from the spending of residents and visitors on their weddings, along with the spending of their out-of-town guests.

“Legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in New York would have impacts beyond allowing individuals to make the full legal commitments to their partners that opposite-sex couples take for granted,” Comptroller Thompson said in the report.

The report can be viewed online here (PDF).

Of the report, Robert J. Voorheis, Co-Executive Director of Marriage Equality New York, states, “We, at Marriage Equality New York, would like to thank Comptroller Thompson, and his staff for producing this report to show the positive financial impact that marriage for same-sex couples will have on our city. It will provide another reason why our marriages must be honored and respected in New York State and throughout the country.”

Ex-Ex Transgender speaks out
On TransAdvocate, an “ex-ex-transgender” (i.e. a transgender person who under went so-called “ex-gay” therapy and then realized it was a bunch of b.s.) speaks out and tells her story:

You’ve probably heard of the ex-gay movement. You may have even heard of the ex-ex-gay movement. Odds are slim that you know anyone that is ex-transgender. But have you ever known anyone that is ex-ex-transgender?

[…]

In late 1997 I began to realize that I might not be a crossdresser, but that something deeper was hidden underneath all the shame. My wife, the love of my life, had told me in no uncertain terms that if I was a bisexual or transsexual, our marriage would be over. Those two facts were playing a tug of war in my mind for months that caused me to go into a cycle of depression. In January of 1999 things finally came to a head, this looming thing was something I knew that I couldn’t hide from myself any longer. Crying curled up in a ball in the middle of my bed, I realized I couldn’t rid myself of this. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t keep living this way. In the desperation of the moment, I cried out to God.

For the next two years, I dove head first into the bible. I joined Horizon Christian Fellowship South, led by Pastor Tony Smith. The church was very bible centered, and the services were more educational than they were emotional. My days and nights away from the church, my head was either stuck in a bible, or on the net researching and or debating theology.

Read her whole story

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