Yeah, I forgot to post it. With all this Equality Ride stuff, I’ve just been way too busy. Here it is, as published on Tuesday, March 13, 2007:

Showing our strength
HRC Carolinas dinner shines bright

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
Issue date: 3/13/07 Section: Opinions

No amount of protest could stop it. No amount of outcry against it could prevent it. On Saturday, February 24, 2007, over 1500 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight allied people from North and South Carolina converged on Charlotte, NC, for the twelfth annual Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Carolinas Gala.

Hosted at the Charlotte Convention Center, the dinner included an outstanding performance from Jennifer Holliday, the original Broadway star in Dream Girls and a stunning keynote address which served to be more like stand-up comedy night from the acclaimed comedian and actor Leslie Jordan (Sordid Lives, Will & Grace). The dinner attendees were also privy to what can be described as nothing but a brilliantly empowering and exciting political address from Joe Solmonese, the president of HRC and a special, surprise performance by pop/dance singer Amber, who sang her wonderful renditions of “If You Could Read My Mind” and “This is Your Night.”

North and South Carolina hardly seem to be the places in the nation where a top-level, star-studded, gay extravaganza could be held. You also would not think that our two little “red states” would play host to the largest HRC-affiliated evening dinner & fundraiser in the entire United States. Indeed, the HRC Carolinas Gala was so large that it beat out the national HRC dinner held in Washington, DC, every year.

I’ve been privileged to attend the HRC Carolinas Gala three times, first in 2004, then last year and again this year. Each time I have the chance to attend the dinner (something I hope to make a yearly tradition), I come back to Greensboro and Winston-Salem feeling empowered and refreshed. It is an absolutely wonderful feeling to be surrounded by like-minded people who believe in the struggle for full equality for LGBT people as much as I do.

The HRC Gala is much more than a simple dinner. In attending, I have the chance to meet and spend time with friends and colleagues from across the state. We get to chat it up with the leaders of our social justice movement, shoot around ideas for new activities, events and activism projects and catch up on all the latest, on-the-ground news of the current state and strength of the fight we know is right, the fight we know we will win.

While 1500 committed activists and supporters for equality enjoyed their evening safely inside the convention center, controversy expounded outside. A radical, right-wing Christian activist group known as Operation Save America and led by the Reverend Flip Benham, based out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg metro area, held huge signs printed with Bible verses which, supposedly, condemn homosexuality and blasted their hate-filled and bigoted rhetoric through loud speakers. They even had the gall to get their protest permit for the corner of Stonewall and South College Street, the very corner in downtown Charlotte which Gala attendees would have to pass in order to get from the Westin Hotel to the entrance of the convention center.

Walking through the throng of wild-eyed crazies was tough enough, but then came the best part. The “fearless leader” of the band of radicals stood right in front of the entrance to the convention center. He looked right at me and said that I needed Jesus and needed to be saved.

“I’m already saved, sir, and Jesus is my Saviour,” I responded.

“Oh, no he isn’t son!” He exclaimed.

“Shut up!” I heard an elderly women scream toward Benham as I walked away.

All I could do was laugh and I did so, almost uncontrollably.

Echoing the statements of Leslie Jordan, I must say that it is refreshing to see the Irreligious Wrong so upset over the victories we know we will be making in this struggle for equality in years to come. They know we are winning and we are winning because we are right!

Empowering and refreshing, that the dinner was. The time spent having fun with friends and eating the fantastic dinner, meeting the other youth active and committed to the struggle for equality and going out afterward for a night on the town was definitely a great way to spend my weekend.

If you ever get the chance to attend the HRC Carolinas Gala, I hope that you will and I’m sure you’ll find the experience as invigorating as I did. It isn’t too expensive to go, especially if you apply for the youth “scholarship” award, which pays for youth ages 18-24 to attend the dinner (that is definitely the only reason I got to go).

You’ll come back feeling empowered and ready to continue our common goal to finally realize a day when all are equal, regardless of sexual orientation and gender-identity.

See the original online edition at CarolinianOnline.com

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Column: Looking for our candidate

My column from this week’s Carolinian at UNCG:

Looking for our candidate
2008 stances on LGBT issues not yet clear

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
Issue date: 2/13/07 Section: Opinions

The 2008 presidential election is certainly starting up. By the time the election rolls around in November of that year, we are all going to be so sick and tired of the political drama we’ll thank [insert deity here] as if we were just saved from a near-death experience.

Among the many issues that Democratic candidates are talking about are, of course, those relating to the war in Iraq, foreign policy, Social Security and other welfare programs, budgetary issues and, my favorite, social justice issues.

Although some of the candidates are offering words of support on issues important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, many of their positions and statements just do not go as far as they should in offering equality and justice for all Americans.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has noted that she supports civil unions, but not full marriage equality. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., said on a recent Meet the Press episode that while he is “just not there yet” on the issue of full marriage equality, he does support civil unions. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said that the federal Defense of Marriage Act should be amended to allow for civil unions, but he has not yet supported full marriage equality.

We all know that politicians walk an extremely fine line between standing up for what they believe and pleasing the public. Perhaps Clinton, Edwards and Dodd really do feel as though there should be marriage equality, but feel as though they can’t say that out of a fear of losing public support. It is certainly a tough spot to be in and it takes a truly courageous politician to stand up and state exactly what he or she believes without fear of repercussions.

On the military’s discriminatory, anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, things are looking brighter. On the same Meet the Press episode, Edwards said, without any of the added pre-emptive, damage-control fluff, that openly gay and lesbian people should be allowed to serve our nation. When asked if he would be one to make that change if elected, Edwards responded with one word: “Absolutely.”

Edwards isn’t alone. Clinton also supports repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In my opinion, her words now are just “too little, too late.” It is a shame that Clinton didn’t speak out against this policy the way she is now back during her husband’s administration. Perhaps she could have convinced him out of making that horribly misguided compromise with Congress in 1993.

For the shining new star of the Democratic Party, Sen. Barack Obama’s, D-Ill., record on LGBT equality is questionable. He hasn’t spoken on it much, but we do know a few things. He does support expanding possibilities for civil unions and he voted against a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

As for employment non-discrimination and hate crimes legislation, Clinton and Edwards are totally on-board. Obama’s position isn’t clear.

As far as political rankings go for the leading contenders, Clinton and Obama are your best bets. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT advocacy group in the nation, gave both Clinton and Obama a ranking of 89 out of 100 points in their “Congressional Scorecard” for the 109th Congress. When Edwards served during the 106th Congress, HRC gave him a ranking of 66 out of 100.

Skipping over to the other side of the aisle, there is only one possible Republican candidate who measures up to the Democrats on LGBT issues. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani supports civil unions, wants to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and stands against any “marriage amendment.” Consistently during his administration in New York, Giuliani made it clear that LGBT persons deserved equality in his government.

Although there are plenty of good things going on for LGBT people in the upcoming presidential elections, things could be better. It is a shame that politicians feel as though they can’t “come out” and say exactly what they feel. If they could, we might just be seeing more pro-active positions on these issues.

All this talk and guessing about our candidates’ positions is, however, nothing more than conjecture. It is astonishing that we are talking about an election almost two years before it takes place, but here we are doing it anyway. As time goes by and as the election draws closer, we’ll certainly come to learn more than enough to make our decisions on who can best ensure equality for the LGBT community. Until that time, we keep waiting and watching.

See the original Carolinian column on their site.

My column from this week’s issue of The Carolinian at UNCG (their site hasn’t been updated yet, so I can’t give you the link to the published version online, although from what I’ve read in the paper version nothing was changed and no edits were made to what I submitted).

A lot of talk about this issue has gone on around the “blogosphere” and in political circles across the state. In the North Carolina “blogosphere” those persons who attended the NC Democratic Party’s Progressive Bloggers Conference back on January 27th are again talking about a similar suggestion made by BlueNC.com’s Anglico. More info on that discussion in “A meeting of minds, Part II: Marriage Equality”.

Got children? You’d better if you want to marry.
by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask, I’m Telling
February 6, 2007, The Carolinian, p. 7

In July 2006, the State of Washington’s Supreme Court ruled that there was a “legitimate state interest” in preserving and protecting marriage for the procreation of children. Because of this “legitimate state interest” the court ruled that the Washington State Legislature could restrict civil marriage to heterosexual couples, effectively prohibiting same-sex couples from entering into this civil and legal contract.

The lawsuit, Anderson v. King County, in which the court made its ruling was originally a suit challenging Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages both from within and from outside the state.

In response to the court’s ruling, a very unusual initiative from LGBT advocates has popped up. Dubbed the “Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance,” the group of LGBT advocates is pushing to place a new initiative on the state’s election ballots. Initiative 957 (I-957) would take the court’s ruling and apply it to the already existing DOMA legislation.

I-957, if successful, would amend Washington’s DOMA by limiting recognition of marriage to only those heterosexual couples who have children. In order to have the marriage recognized, the couple would have to file proof of procreation within three years of signing the civil marriage contract. If the couple failed to procreate, the marriage would be annulled by the state.

Sound absolutely ridiculous? Yes, it does, but the tactic just might work to prove the idiocy, hypocrisy and insanity of those who argue on behalf of keeping civil marriage out of the hands of same-sex couples.

The “procreation” argument is one oft-used (or, perhaps, over-used) by the “defenders of traditional marriage.” Opponents of marriage equality claim that one of the main functions of marriage is the procreation of children and since same-sex couples cannot procreate (as a couple) they should not be afforded recognition of their marriage.

Yes, the tactic might just be over-the-top, but it proves a point. Advocates of “traditional marriage” use many arguments to uphold their views but they have never taken their arguments to their logical conclusions when it comes time to actually sit down and write out initiatives placing “marriage amendments” on election ballots. They always fail to uphold their own principles of the “definition of marriage” because they know that their arguments are built upon structures that even the lamest, most ignorant and ineffective of city building inspectors could never approve. They know that if their total picture of marriage were to be placed on a ballot, it would not pass.

Defenders of “traditional marriage” say that same-sex couples are a threat to the institution. By far, I think the greatest threat to marriage has already come. Who is responsible for the fifty percent divorce rate? The blame certainly can’t be put on same-sex couples because full marriage equality is only recognized in one state.

If advocates of “traditional marriage” really wanted to protect the institution, they’d be pushing to amend state constitutions to include prohibitions against divorce, adultery and provisions requiring procreation. These are, after all, their primary arguments against same-sex couples.

They say that same-sex couples will destroy marriage because homosexuals are not able to live fully faithful and committed lives and that we cannot procreate. Why two sets of rules? Shouldn’t all citizens be treated the same? If advocates of “traditional marriage” aren’t afraid of sticking their faces in the bedrooms of same-sex couples, why can’t they do the same to heterosexual couples?

I applaud the pseudo-initiative in Washington. Of course, it will fail, but it will also prompt a major discussion on why these two sets of rules exist. The initiative will prompt a discussion about the aims of “traditional marriage” advocates and why they feel the need to go around using arguments and principles they aren’t willing to uphold for themselves.

Regarding marriage equality, Judy Shepard, the mother of the slain Matthew Shepard, said that if she ever heard a politician or other public official say that he or she was “defending traditional marriage” she would respond by asking, “Would that be your first marriage, your second or your third?”

If marriage is as sacred as defenders of “traditional marriage” would have you believe, then why aren’t they fighting to uphold their own incongruous principles? Why aren’t they protecting the institution from heterosexuals, the only ones who currently have the ability to and currently in the act of destroying it?

“Defending traditional marriage” is not about protecting the sanctity of the institution. It is about controlling private citizens, limiting their freedoms under civil, contractual law and pushing the government into your bedroom. Heterosexual couples wouldn’t appreciate such things and neither do same-sex couples.

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Updates: “The Matt Hill Comer problem”

Quick updates on “The Matt Hill Comer problem” and what has seemed to become an internet, campus and community controversy…

Good friend and fellow blogger Pam Spaulding saw fit to post about the column on her site, along with her always wonderful, never lacking commentary. Thanks to the commenters there.

My friend and fellow Equality Rider, Cylest, is upset over the Mr. Crawford’s words.

Apparently, I’m a rock-star and a good Southern Gentleman. Thanks ExHack.

I’m also going to be the first openly gay President. Thanks Alan.

Commenter Regan DuCasse has some things to say to Mr. Crawford in this post’s comment thread.

According to “the rules” (The Carolinian‘s Code of Ethics) I’m not allowed to directly respond to any published letter to the editor or guest column. I made the mistake of doing that in the first post on this issue, and quickly corrected it when chastised by my editors. I thank Mr. Crawford for taking the time to comment directly to me on my site. I’ve enjoyed the very calm, polite and very Biblically-based, intellectually-stimulating conversation. If, at first, I doubted my ability to have a very calm, polite and Biblically-based discussion with another person with views on homosexuality so different from my own, I am now convinced that I’m adequately prepared to do it (although it wouldn’t hurt to study more).

Some choice comments regarding the column:

Hunter at The Carolinian‘s site
History has also shown that ‘seismic changes’ are almost always initiated by forward thinking, progressive individuals, not those who yearn to move backwards. We have come a long way in reaching greater equality for individuals suffering under oppression because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. – an oppression that was and is often enforced by the teachings of Christianity and other religions – however we still live in a world of injustice and inequality based upon unchosen traits. If you choose to follow the strict language of the Bible (a book you must acknowledge has been printed by mortal humans for centuries) you cannot pick and choose your morals. To follow this word of God directly, then you must agree that human slaves are acceptable, women are subordinate to men, and so on, enforcing many specifically-mentioned ethical obligations that much of our society has come to view as highly objectionable. Hopefully, through the hard work of people like Matt and PRIDE!, those that identify with a variety of sexual orientations will someday become accepted as they are.

Fellow Equality Rider, Bram (a straight ally) in the first post’s comment thread
Mr. Crawford,
You must be careful with the words you use because it is important to choose ones that accurately describe a given situation. Considering the context and reality of Genesis 19, the drive of gang rape is one of power, domination, and humiliation and has nothing to do with homosexuality as we are discussing it, here and now in the 21st century. No gay Christian would advocate gang rape.

Also, we could play the “pick and choose” verse game all day. This was how slavery, racism, sexism, etc. have been justified in our recent past. We’ll take our prejudices and justify them with Bible verses. All you need is to be well-read, analytical, intellectual and to possess an extreme desire to be “right” no matter what. There are many mysteries about God and the faith and it is wise to remember that. So I could retaliate back with a comment about suggesting that you continue reading Romans past verse 1:18 and see what Paul says about judgment. But I’m sure you’ll fire back with something else. And on and on we go.

But what is the point? While you may be very convinced that you are correct, can you not see that Matt and I could continue this conversation endlessly defending our position as well? I am a straight Christian who grew up hearing EVERYTHING you are putting forth…it is not a “herald” who eloquently summarizes the status quo as you have done. True prophetic voices are those who speak truth when very few believe it to be true or understand it. It takes little intelligence and bravery to regurgitate beliefs that have been ingrained in church-members and society for generations. The traditional views of homosexuality are pretty well known. We’ve heard them. Listen for a new voice of truth…every great change in human history was radical at first.

Many friends, community members, UNCG faculty members and at least one person in the media has approached me to discuss the column (I never really discussed it with the media… I can’t directly respond, remember?). From what I’m told, many of my friends and colleagues have opted to write letters to the editor. UNCG PRIDE!, our campus LGBT student group, also drafted an official, organizational, Executive Board-endorsed and General Body-notified statement regarding the column (more details on that when and/or if it becomes public).

This community discussion and dialogue is only a test… a test to see if UNCG is as open and as accepting and as welcoming of the LGBT community as it says it is.

This week has unofficially been announced as “Let’s All Bash Matt Hill Comer Week,” but I still got to insert my two cents…

My column from this week’s issue of The Carolinian (UNCG):

It’s like puberty all over again

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
Issue date: 1/23/07 Section: Opinions

Nonviolence: I have written about this topic in my past two columns and at least once before in the past six months. I’m pretty sure that unless I quickly move on to some other issue, lest I bore you with my constant droning, I will surely lose some readers.

For now, however, it is just too important an issue in my life for me to just simply pass up the opportunities I have in which to speak on it.

My lessons on nonviolence have sparked so many other discussions and lessons which have, in return, added only more questions and uncertainty to my already hectic and unstable life of 20-hour days and sleepless nights.

I think I’ve hit puberty again; or at least it feels that way. The growth this time isn’t physical. It is fully intellectual and spiritual. I find myself questioning not only my past stances and positions on political and social issues, but also my faith and my purpose in life.

If you asked me only six months ago, I would have told you that while I didn’t appreciate the obvious fact that our inept president lied to us to get us there, I supported the outcome of the war in Iraq, mainly that we now had Saddam out of power and that America was safer for it.

Ask me now and my opinion isn’t so clear. I find myself drifting more and more to the point of believing war in any circumstance whatsoever is wrong, immoral and, due to my personal faith system, un-Godly and certainly not Christ-like.

I don’t think I’ve ever hidden from the fact that I am, without question, a white man from the South. It is an inarguable fact. I’ve also never been one na’ve enough to think that, as a white man, I can fully understand or comprehend what it is like to live as a racial minority within this country. While it is true I am a part of a minority as a gay man in America, I am also fully aware that what I have been able to achieve is not only a product of my own hard work, but also an inherited benefit from a society built upon legalized and institutionalized prejudice and discrimination against those who do not fit into the “white” category.

So, I look back at so many things in my past. Not only things I have said, but also things I have thought. I realize that growing up in a racist environment left so many scars on me. Can I say I have not, in the past, spoken or acted in racist ways – even if I didn’t consciously realize that was what I was doing? Absolutely not. Can I say that I must offer no excuse in pushing myself to the limit in order to start understanding racism in America, correcting myself when those scars want to turn into open sores again and then doing my part to work hand-in-hand with my human brothers and sisters to address this plague on our society? Absolutely yes.

If you asked me six months ago what I believed in regard to personal Salvation through Christ, I could tell you in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t have had to think about it. While I’m confident in knowing what the Gospel is and while I have no doubts as to the principles Christ sought to teach humanity, I find myself asking, “What the hell was I thinking?” Who am I to put God in this little box and say that it is big enough to hold Him? My puny, mortal human mind and “intellect” are nothing in comparison to my omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God. Do I believe that Christ was divine? Sure. Do I believe that Christ is my Saviour and that God sent Him to save humanity? Sure. Can I say with absolute certainty that God has never placed divinity in another person or revealed His truth and glory through other means? Nope. Can I say that God hasn’t used other people in “saving” humanity? Nope.

Although I don’t have all the detailed answers, I do know this: God is too big, too complex and too unimaginable for me to think I could ever pin down the “true path” and put up a “one way” sign on Salvation Lane. After all, I’m only human.

I never imagined that I would one day find myself questioning almost everything that I was taught growing up or almost everything which fit together to create view on the world. I’m sure some of you have thought the same and found yourself to be wrong. Welcome to Human Nature 101.

Out of all of my unanswered questions I can at least say this: We are all human and in being so we are all born with an inherit dignity and worth which no man or woman has a right to ever take away or deny. We are all one family sharing life together.

I guess, in my long-winded nature, I’m just trying to say (and I’m stealing it from my pastor) that if you ever find yourself thinking you know exactly what you believe, then it is time to start asking questions again.

See the original online posting of the column at CarolinianOnline.com

All in one issue… all in one fell swoop. Two guest columns this week in The Carolinian, one focused on the evil of homosexuality, the other in response to one of my previous columns.

The first, written by a former member of the UNCG College Republicans states that I am a person “prostituted to a cause which wrecks the lives of other human beings.” Later in the column, the writer states, “In the wink of an eye, God can frown into hell all those rebels like Matt Hill Comer, the members of PRIDE!, and all those administrators and students that have foolishly desecrated what the King calls sacred.” Check out “The Matt Hill Comer problem: Where is God when smart people go bad?

The other, written by a member of the UNCG International Socialists Organization is in response to my column last week. Check out “No tears need to be shed for Greensboro.”

P.S. & Clarification – I am no longer affiliated with UNCG’s LGBT student group, PRIDE!. To be honest, I believe I’ve missed enough meetings, technically, to not be counted as a member anymore. Yup, according to the president of the group, I’m no longer an “active member,” in accordance with the group’s attendance regulations and constitution.

[Editor’s Note: Post edited on Thursday, 1/25/2007, 10:15am; Originally posted Wednesday, 1/24/2007, 12:36am ~Matt]

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This week’s column: Tears for Greensboro

Here’s my opinions column from this week’s Carolinian (UNCG):

Tears for Greensboro
Have we lost the vision of nonviolent change?

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)

Issue date: 1/16/07 Section: Opinions

“Nonviolent resistance … avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.”

That is just one of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence. It is an important principle to know and to understand. It is something that cannot be turned on or off like the pressing of an on and off switch of a television. It is a state of mind and a complete state of being.

In my recent involvement with Soulforce, a national organization that confronts both the religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people through the practice of relentless, nonviolent resistance as taught by King and Gandhi, I have learned quite a bit about civil disobedience and the principles of nonviolence.

Admittedly my knowledge is no where near as complete or full as the knowledge held by past leaders like King, Gandhi and others, but my current knowledge is a culmination of months of study and practice. Hopefully one day my knowledge will encompass years of study and practice. I’m still learning, but I think I’m confident in knowing at least the basics.

Last week, nine people were arrested in downtown Greensboro during a rally against the president’s decision to send more troops to Iraq. The rally started out peacefully and looked like any other anti-war demonstration might look, but something went wrong.

Rally participants began to gather in the middle of the intersection at Elm and Market streets, blocking rush-hour traffic. When asked to leave the street by law enforcement personnel, the participants refused.

One participant, Kristopher Michael Hilbert, 19, of Raleigh, even resisted an officer. He was later charged with resisting, delaying and obstructing a law enforcement officer. He and the others were also charged with impeding traffic. Hilbert was also stunned with a Taser, something that could be argued was wrong on the police officer’s part.

This demonstration in downtown Greensboro was everything that a civil disobedience and non-violent resistance and protest should not be.

Of civil disobedience, Gandhi said, “Disobedience to be civil implies discipline, thought, care, attention,” and “Disobedience that is wholly civil should never provoke retaliation.”

The actions of the protesters in downtown Greensboro showed neither discipline nor thought, and neither care nor attention. Those who enter into nonviolent, civil disobedience do so, of course, with some risk – sometimes great risk – to themselves, but the actions are also designed to respect life and to keep away from any sort of reckless and dangerous behavior that could harm others.

The rally in the intersection of Elm and Market was, without a doubt, an act that in its very nature provoked retaliation. Unfortunately, it was, in my opinion, the wrong decision made at the wrong time, without thought and without attention or care as to what effect the action could have on both rally participants and its onlookers.

Nonviolent, civil disobedience is comprised of love and compassion, not anger or malice. The love and compassion must be seen in all things, both physically and spiritually (mentally); all thoughts, words and actions must be rooted in this principle of love and nonviolence in order for any nonviolent, civil disobedience to be successful in making its message or point.

Violence comes in many forms and one can make a statement with violence, for sure, but how does that help anything? What does that change? Nonviolent, civil disobedience is just as much about changing and reconciling with others as it is about changing and reconciling with yourself.

Surely, King and Gandhi would be ashamed. Surely, the visionaries and dreamers who led Greensboro in nonviolence 40 years ago would be ashamed.

I cry for Greensboro. Have we lost the vision of nonviolence? If so, how can we get it back? What must we do to stop reckless and dangerous behavior, and replace it with a movement that will truly change hearts and minds while making progress?

Getting angry and pissed off is easy. Showing love, compassion and entering into a movement of pure nonviolence is not, but it is this type of movement that truly shows the real possibility of change, reconciliation and peace.

Catch the original column at CarolinianOnline.com

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Column: A Mind Stayed on Equality

This week’s column, the first issue of Spring 2007, from The Carolinian (UNCG):

A mind stayed on equality
A journey into God’s boundless love and grace

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask, (I’m Telling)
Issue date: 1/9/07 Section: Opinions

Who knew spending six days pent up with 60 gay (and straight allied) college students in a small Austin, Texas hotel would be so much fun… and so much work?

At the end of the semester in December, I finally committed myself to a social justice movement I had been well aware of for some time. Last week, I gathered with some of the brightest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied (LGBT/A) youth activists in the nation for the first training in the Soulforce Equality Ride.

I first learned of Soulforce and the Equality Ride in March 2006, when two of my good friends took me to the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. There I participated in my first civil disobedience and was arrested for the very first time. We tried to do nothing more than simply enter the campus and start a dialogue with students, faculty and administration.

Liberty University, and more than 200 religious colleges and universities like it across the nation, openly discriminate against LGBT students, or those students who “advocate for” the “homosexual lifestyle.” The mission of the Equality Ride is a simple one: Spread the message of God’s love for all His children and the radical, all-inclusive Gospel of Christ, learn from the history of oppression in the name of God and help stop religion-based and inspired prejudice and discrimination.

The work that goes into creating a community which not only has the knowledge to confront these monolithic institutions and the prejudice and discrimination they impose with great suffering, but also one with a deep, passionate and true heart of non-violence, love, acceptance and understanding is some of the hardest work that a person might face.

From 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day we gathered in the conference room of the hotel in order to delve into such weighty topics as the nature of God and His will for humanity, the all-inclusive “good news” of Christ, the nature of sin, the power, as well as purpose and definition of “love,” progressive and liberation theologies and Christologies and fundamentalist/evangelistic beliefs such as “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

You’d think being gathered with a group of extremely liberal gays, some of whom aren’t even Christian, might be an experience which could weaken one’s strong faith, but this couldn’t be further from reality.

My faith has been challenged and I have asked questions, but it has also been strengthened and reaffirmed. For me, the Gospel is not a punitive one, although it used to be.

Being raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist, independent Baptist church in the South, my faith has changed greatly over the years, but it has remained true to one principle: Christ was a messenger of peace, love, acceptance, freedom and comfort for the oppressed and a Savior for the meek, lowly and outcast.

Above all, I believe I have taken from this week of training in Austin a strong belief in a sense of intentionally inclusive, non-judgmental and loving community where all are free to be, just as they are.

One must remember, however, building community is not something that just happens by itself; it must be created with a firm and reliable foundation of understanding, love and grace.

In the coming months, the college students and youth entering into this journey will attempt to bring this sense of community to colleges and universities across the nation. As we board our buses and head across the nation, we will take a very strong and intentional message of love and acceptance for all.

While we hope religion-based oppression and discrimination will one day end, we realize the creation of this new reality is one we may not see for a very long time; indeed, we may not live long enough to see it for ourselves. One day, however, our dream and hope in the boundless and unconditional love of God will win. Truth always wins.

See the original article at CarolinianOnline.com

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I must say that I thought this was probably not my best column. Being so busy in Austin, I just thought I couldn’t go deep enough into what I wanted to say (and I kind of finished it up to get it in on time in like the 15 minutes before an activity we had to go to). Some of those feelings went away yesterday when a friend of mine came up to me while I was on campus and complimented me on the column. She talked about how it could be something that she might show her parents. It really meant a lot to know that what I thought was border-line, complete crap was something that actually held something meaningful for someone else.

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Column: Close Encounters of the Ex-Gay Kind

Here’s this week’s column from The Carolinian (UNCG). Click here for past posts on Ignite Student Outreach.

Close encounters of the ex-gay kind
Ex-gay group targets youth & student ministry leaders

Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
Posted: 12/5/06

Not long ago, I opened my email inbox to find a promotional invitation from a group called Ignite Student Outreach. The promotional invite was advertising a series of summer camps, entitled “Close Encounters,” taking place in four states across the South, including North Carolina. Looking at the invite, my eyes almost immediately focused on the list of the camps’ guest speakers.

Ignite Student Outreach will be welcoming Alan Chambers of Exodus International and Scott Davis of Exodus Youth to speak to teens and Christian youth leaders. Exodus International is the “ex-gay” group which promotes the message of “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” Exodus Youth is its youth-outreach program.

Both groups believe that “reorientation of same-sex attraction is possible” and that reconciliation with Christ will enable “growth toward Godly heterosexuality.” The groups teach that homosexuality is “outside of God’s will” and describes the “homosexual lifestyle” as sinful, destructive, distorted and disordered.

In the past, ministries connected to Exodus and Exodus Youth have been known to condone and allow forcing gay adolescents into weeks-long residential or day-camp programs (some of which have been investigated and sued for child and sexual abuse). Even the Reverend Jerry Falwell, at Exodus’ 2005 conference in Asheville, N.C., said that it is perfectly acceptable to force gay adolescents into “reparative therapies” for their sexual orientation.

Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that “reorientation” and “reparative therapy” is effective. Every leading medical, social and psychological association in America has said that conversion and reparative therapies offer no evidence of efficacy, are based on no valid scientific theory and are psychologically dangerous and harmful to patients, especially adolescents.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the potential risks of reparative therapies include “depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

More than the medical and psychological evidence weighing so heavily against them, the ex-gay movement also has a history full of scandal, lies and failure. From at least the early 1970s one can find a litany of ex-gay problems with sexual abuse, exploitation and “ex-ex-gays.” In the early years of Exodus, members kept sleeping with each other when they were, supposedly, living an ex-gay life. Even the two original founders of Exodus fell in love with each other, divorced their wives and started living together.

The facts against ex-gay therapies are so clear, yet groups like Ignite continue to associate themselves with ex-gay organizations. According to Ignite’s website, Exodus Youth was the group’s only affiliate organization. However, this changed after a few blog posts by me (and later by Wayne Besen, a nationally known and respected author) when Ignite quickly revamped its website. They changed the name of their “Affiliates” page to “ISO Friends” and added other groups to their affiliate listings.

The promotional invite and the group’s website make it clear that the summer camp series is designed, in part, to provide training and development for Christian youth and student ministry leaders. Both Chambers and Davis’ speakers’ profiles give credence to the exact purpose of their visit, their speaking and training and the camp programming itself.

Chambers’ profile states that he “offers unique insight into how homosexuality personally affects individuals and the broader culture” and that he will “share advice and training with youth workers at camp to teach them how to address this epidemic issue.”

Davis’ profile states that his goal is to “encourage the evangelical church to reach out to youth grappling with their sexual identity with God’s radical grace and unswerving truth” and that he “educates and trains college and youth leaders on this issue.” It also notes that Davis travels extensively for “nationwide training seminars that equip community leaders with a powerful, redemptive response to the growing crisis of pro-gay initiatives in America’s schools.”

I can only hope that there won’t be any gay youth at the camp. I can only pray for the gay youth back home whose church leaders will be trained in the ways of ex-gay deception and psychological abuse.

After first going public with Ignite’s promotional invite, I quickly found out that I wasn’t the only gay North Carolinian to receive it. Pam Spaulding, a nationally respected lesbian blogger who lives in Durham, also received the invite. Ignite’s targeted email campaign toward gay youth and activists is telling of an active attempt to recruit gay youth in the South.

Although I attempted contacting Ignite Student Outreach director Chris Leader, on six different occasions, in order to give him and the group a chance to comment and correct the many claims about them, Mr. Leader either refused to give any comment or ignored it. His cold shoulder tells me only one thing – there is no need for them to comment or issue a rebuttal, for all the claims about their group and camps are true.

Ignite Student Outreach is an ex-gay ministry affiliated with Exodus International and Exodus Youth. Its purpose is to introduce and train teens and Christian youth leaders with the harmful, fake and debunked dogma of the ex-gay movement. Ignite Student Outreach is nothing more than a deceptive trap set by the ex-gay movement bent on accomplishing one thing: the promotion of deception, psychological abuse and debunked theories used to force vulnerable gay adolescents already damaged by a world of hate, prejudice and bigotry into submitting to a sad, shameful, warped and twisted view of life and God.

Click here for the most up-to-date & past posts on Ignite Student Outreach

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As an opinions columnist, I don’t have to be un-biased. I don’t have to present both sides. I don’t even have to seek out the opinion of the other side or even give them a chance to state their position at all. That is the nature of opinions writing. I can be as biased as I want to be. It is, after all, my opinion.

I tried this time, though. I really did. I gave them so many chances to comment and to present their side. I would have presented their side in the column, as well. A simple comment or a press statement would have been all that was needed and they would have had their voice and their side of the issue presented in the column, even though I am under no obligation whatsoever to do such a thing.

However, Ignite Student Outreach and its director, Chris Leader, have chosen to either refuse comment or ignore any contact. I’m guessing now that they wish they hadn’t included me in their targeted email campaign recruiting gay youth.

Six times now I have attempted to either contact them or get some sort of comment. When I was first able to talk to Mr. Leader on Wednesday, he said that they were in the process of putting together a press statement at the time. He asked me to send him an email, (which I did), that he would have the press statement available by Thursday evening or night and that he would be sure to email it to me once it was available.

Since that first phone call and first email, as well as two later emails and two subsequent phone calls (later informing him I needed any comment by 5pm Friday), Mr. Leader is either not checking his email inbox or he’s simply ignoring my requests for a comment.

It does not take two or three days to put together a press statement or know how you are going to respond to media questions. That is something that can be done in less than 30 minutes (and that is a generous time amount right there). Now… if you have to consult with parent organization Exodus International and Exodus Youth… then it might take you a couple days, especially if they are slow to respond to you.

Either way – with comment from Ignite Student Outreach or without comment (and they did have their chance) – my column on the subject, tentatively titled “Close Encounters of the Ex-Gay Kind” with the byline of “Ex-gay group targets youth & student ministry leaders,” will be printed in The Carolinian (UNCG) on Tuesday, December 5, 2006.

The column will be posted on this site. The column will, hopefully, also be posted on at least two other well-visited and nationally respected websites. Through RSS feeds and cross-posting, the column will make it to blog aggregators, both local and national, and to such huge social networking sites as Facebook and MySpace.

Thousands upon thousands of people across North Carolina, the South and the rest of the nation will see it and thousands of people will know the truth about this hidden, deceptive, “we’re not gonna say what we really are,” “we have to look cool for the kiddies and not anti-gay,” ex-gay organization.

When you have the chance to present your side of the story and offer a rebuttal to certain claims against you, to an audience of thousands & thousands of people, I think most people and most groups would want to do so. Unless, of course, the claims about your group are true. In that case, there is no need to offer a rebuttal. We wouldn’t want you to lie now would we?

Click here for the most up-to-date & past posts on Ignite Student Outreach

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