Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:
I am a native Montanan (4th generation).
I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.
I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.
I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.
Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.
And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.
As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.
I think we forget how sensitive kids are.
But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.
Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?
I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.
I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.
They did nothing.
And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.
Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.
We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.
WE HAVE TO.
That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.
This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.
Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.
It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.
If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.
Please pass this ordinance.
The Human Rights Campaign wants to know- and I want Montana to be clearly and substantially represented. It took me 10 minutes. And you don’t have to be from Montana to take it- it’s nationwide.
Take the survey HERE.
My sermon to the UUFB today:
There are a lot of words we use every day,
that we don’t really pause to consider.
“Hope” is one of those words.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Hope”?
For most of us, “hope” will conjure up images of fantastical satisfaction and happiness- or maybe the iconic images of a certain presidential campaign.
Maybe almost trite images.
And yet, there’s an allure to the word “Hope”
In that presidential campaign, the opponents made fun of the word, made light of it- and I would submit- that may be why they lost.
They underestimate the human gift of optimism.
And I do think it’s a gift.
It’s very easy to look around and see the evidence of malignancy and evil around us- and far away from us- thanks to the miracle of instantaneous global communication. It’s not hard to find stories of death and destruction, exploitation and pain, suffering and greed, disease and addiction.
It’s not hard at all.
In fact, it’s so easy that our society suffers from all sorts of ills because of it- depression being ubiquitous in this day and age.
I think hope and optimism have a bad rap. It’s easy to make fun of the word “hope”. Realists say that it’s fantasy.
I think it’s completely and perfectly human.
Take Winter. It’s no accident that the early Christians of the Northern Hemisphere chose the solstice for the celebration of the Savior’s birth.
The Advent wreath, the greenery, the Christmas tree- none of them originated with Christianity. Some maintain that Germanic tribes placed candles in a sacred circle of greens to symbolize hope in the return of the sun and the promise of Spring. We know Scandinavian people placed candles on a wheel to honor the cycle of the seasons. We know that midwinter- again in the Northern Hemisphere- is around December 21- when days are at their shortest and night is at its longest.
I can imagine that for primitive people whose lives depended on the return of warmth it was good to remind themselves that winter won’t last forever. And I can imagine that it was very hard centuries ago- without antibiotics and polar fleece and refrigerators and Costco- in a harsh climate when those who were weak would often die- I can imagine that some would find it hard to believe that the winter would ever end- especially during the time that night became longer and longer and colder and colder.
But those who knew- those who had lived through the winters before- they were the strength of those who weren’t so sure.
They held out hope.
They knew that in the midst of the longest night- it was important to tell stories of the approaching spring. To hold out hope- to remember optimism when it was at its most elusive.
As always, our lives our shaped by those who have gone before us.
Hope is in our genes- if we care to think about it.
The basic instinct of survival is a mechanism of hope, isn’t it?
Even the limbic system that shuts down our reason in the face of danger and makes us flee, fight or freeze to enable our survival- even that is a sign of hope. It’s in our biology.
That’s probably why the pessimists never win in the long term. Hope isn’t just a trite term for people who can’t handle reality. It’s an attitude for living.
I like to tell my clients that the only difference between excitement and fear is the projected outcome.
The energy is the same- it’s just the projected outcome that’s different. And that projected outcome starts with us.
In our minds, in our hearts, in the way we choose to interpret the world around us. Excitement and curiosity- or fear and dread? It’s our choice- at least more than we think.
One of my favorite stories is this one:
Two boys who were twins, one an incurable optimist, one a pessimist.
The parents were worried about the extremes of behavior and attitude and finally took the boys in to see a psychologist.
The psychologist observed them a while and then said that they could be easily helped. He felt they just needed to adjust to the world by encountering things that would counteract their strong tendencies of optimism and pessimism.
He said that they had a room filled with all the toys a boy could want. They would put the pessimist in that room and allow him to enjoy life.
They also had another room that they filled with horse manure. They put the optimist in that room. They observed both boys through one way mirrors.
The pessimist continued to be a pessimist, stating that he had no one to play with.
They went to look in on the optimist, and were astounded to find him digging through the manure.
The psychologist ran into the room and asked “What on earth are you doing?”
The boy replied “With all this manure, there HAS to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I love that story.
But I know that sometimes i’m not looking though the manure for the pony. Sometimes I’m just sitting in the manure, disgusted. Because, well, you know, it’s manure.
That’s when I forget myself. It’s when I forget my biology.
It’s when I forget that the energy I feel in my body is often harnessed by the projected outcome I hold.
So, yeah, I can sit in the manure, or I can haul the manure back to the garden where it’ll do some good.
Our ancestors have chosen to celebrate the return of the light for millennia- it’s why the early Christians chose the bleak midwinter- to link the returning light to the birth of Jesus. Smart, eh?
They’ve chosen to believe that the dawn follows the darkness, that life will continue.
And so do we.
I’m betting that it’s why you’re here today.
And I’m also betting that you’re interested in learning to become skillful at living life with hope.
I believe that the first step in living a more skillful life
is to become more aware of living an UNskilled life.
And by that, I mean living by habit-
not with awareness, not with wonder, not with hope-
but by automatic pilot- habit. By numbing perhaps- or lying to ourselves.
It’s ultimately unsatisfying.
Habits are things we do without thinking. That’s very unskillful.
Skill means bringing awareness and creativity, attention and intention into our endeavors.
I think it’s only by paying close attention that we live skillfully in this world.
And by paying attention to the possibilities is the way we live hopefully in this world.
During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback.
They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour.
The swollen river had washed the bridge away.
Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents.
The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.
After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.
The president agreed without hesitation.
The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.
As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?”
The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.
“All I know,” he said, “Is that as I thought of asking the question, on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of them was the answer ‘Yes.’
His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
(C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 6.)
That, my friends, is the face of hope.
So, dare we hope?
If biology and the human spiritual history of millennia have anything to say about it, we dare not.
“I love you.”
The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.
It was a watershed moment for me.
You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.
But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.
I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.
The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.
“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”
And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”
Have you been there?
Lots of rules about relationships.
Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.
Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.
Don’t say I love you first….
So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.
“Joy to The World! ….
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….
“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..
“Angels we have heard on high…..
“O Holy Night…..
“Come, they told me….”
Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.
What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.
“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.
It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.
Christmas is a time for Joy.
It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”
Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”
Like I said- tricky.
I was kind of proud of my answer.
“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”
“How so?” he asked.
“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”
Yeah. Still proud of my answer.
Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.
Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.
So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.
It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.
St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-
You don’t remember St Theodore? St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes.
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other it came just the same!
And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons it came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”
And what happened then…?
Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.
And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.
And he- HE HIMSELF…!
The Grinch carved the roast beast.
If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….
Today we are here to celebrate.
We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:
We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here
-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.
Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,
It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.
Today is the day that we gather to see
Just how much our God loves us-
Loves you and loves me!
He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,
He said it real clearly “I love-
love you all!”
But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack
Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.
Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared
But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!
He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby
And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”
It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.
It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!
Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?
Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..
In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.
And all I can say is it still brings me joy.
Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.
Today God says “I love you.” And means it.
Always means it.
Even when we don’t say it back.
I have struggled with writing this blog for some time. I didn’t know when the right time was going to be to do it. There have been many factors influencing my decision. My partner, family, friends, work, theatre, etc. It’s been a bumpy ride and very challenging spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. As I sit here in the middle of a snow storm next to my roaring fire in the comfort of my own home, I am mostly content. It feels safe here. The dogs are relaxing, the birds are quiet and I have the house to myself. I can almost feel like I am strong and nothing is changed. Nothing is different. Everything is going to be okay. But, four innocuous words, put together, could change that in an instant. You see, I have a secret. But I don’t like secrets. They cause way too much stress. No, it’s not that I’m gay. That’s no secret to anyone. I mean, HELLO!!! Do you know me? The secret is even larger than that. It is earth-shattering, in some aspects. It is a heavy burden to bear. And I’m finally at the point where I don’t know if I can, or should, keep it in the closet any longer. This is my secret. And, it is very scary for me to share it with you. I don’t know what it will do to my social standing or my friendships. There are select people in my life that already know. My partner, first and foremost, my family and some of my very close friends. And they have all been overwhelmingly supportive. I am hoping that there are more people like that out there. I’m sure that others already know because of the way that gossip spreads through the “grapevine,” but I want to be sure that people are hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
You see, the reason I am giving away my secret is because I am an activist (if you hadn’t already noticed. . .tee hee). I want to educate people and I want to make people aware that this still happens. Let me give you just a little bit of background and we will kind of take it from there. I sit here and think of vipers like Dave Agema, the Michigan National Committeeman. “Folks, they (gay people) want free medical because they’re dying (when they’re) between 30 and 44 years old,” the paper quotes Agema saying last week. Funny. . .I’m almost 40 and I’m not dead. And, Dear Mr. Agema, I pay for my own health insurance. I pay all of my co-pays and even the costs that my insurance doesn’t cover. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act has done for me is to ensure that I don’t have to shell out 5 figures per year (yes, that much) because an insurance company might not want to cover my “pre-existing condition.” Perhaps Davey-boy thinks that I got what I deserved because I’m gay. Perhaps, he secretly rejoices with each new diagnosis of HIV because that means there will be one less queer in the world. Think again, Dave. I did not become HIV positive because I was promiscuous or because I was an IV drug user. As a matter of fact, I found out completely by mistake. That story will be told later. But, what I CAN tell you is that I got this disease because I loved and trusted someone. I was in a long term relationship. However, that person did not have the same respect for me and completely and totally betrayed my trust. The person lied to me about his status and there was ample opportunity to tell the truth. It would not have changed the way I felt about him, but it might have changed some of my behavior. That is the thing that I have struggled with the most out of all of this. I loved someone. I became HIV positive. The sense of betrayal is overwhelming at times. A friend of mine said it to me the best: The measure of a man and his heart is not the love he gives simply to feel validated and “loved” in return. Your heart is unconditional. . . But a human being that loves, that really understands being a living breathing man, doesn’t take advantage of that – he protects it and cares for it and nurtures is like the precious thing it is. He stole that and abused it and bent that into something twisted just to steal what he could, out of fear, of other’s love and affection. He put you all in harm’s way to protect himself, and he used love as his weapon to do it. It is the most awful sin a person who claims to be human can commit. (Thank you, Amber Meyer) I found out the results on February 13th, 2012. How’s that for an early Valentine’s Day present? When I talked with my partner (who is negative, thankfully), I asked him how this was going to affect our relationship. He said, “I don’t understand what you mean. This is “For Better or For Worse, In Sickness and In Health.” Isn’t that what we decided? I love you for who you are, not what you have or don’t have.” I cried. But don’t you dare EVER tell anyone that! I will deny it with my last breath! I have an image to maintain, here. . . But, for the record, I am healthy. I have been seeing a doctor since I found out. I am on one pill a day that keeps my viral load undetectable and my T cells have been steadily climbing since I started. I am back to a normal level. I am sick less often and my energy has started to come back. And now, I am ready to fight. I am ready to educate. I am ready for whatever the world has to throw at me. I am here. I am LIVING!! And I am not going to die anytime soon. My doctor told me to expect to live to a ripe old age (80+), that is, if I quit smoking. My thoughts are along the same lines, but that is unless I push an old woman out from in front of a bus and I bite the dust saving her life. Although, it would be my luck that she would sue my estate because she broke a hip. . . If you feel that this blog would help someone, please share it. If it moved you, please share it. And remember, as I have said before, we all know someone who is HIV positive. And now, you know me. And this is what living with HIV looks like:
Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up in a small town- in a time when things were said to be simple- but they were not.
He was unlike the other kids in ways that weren’t always noticeable to the people around him. He felt things a bit more keenly. He noticed things that other kids didn’t. He wasn’t great at sports, he wasn’t big and strong.
But he was smart.
And sometimes that meant he got picked on even more than other kids.
So he used that.
It made him tough. His parents were good, loving people. His church provided comfort. His books helped him escape.
Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance- it doesn’t really matter what made him different. He just was.
The fact remained that this boy- indistinguishable from a million other little boys- just wanted to be loved, even though he was different.
And when he grew up, he still wanted to be loved – sometimes desperately. Sometimes he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy- simply because the promise of love is often enough to make us overlook danger and potential tragedy.
The promise of love.
That’s what brings us here today.
That’s why I got infected. That’s how I got infected.
The promise of love. Not what you think about when you think of AIDS.
But I want you to think about it.
When I moved back to Montana almost seven years ago, I made a promise: that no gay kid would ever be so starved for love and support- would not be so handicapped by shame- that they couldn’t stay here and have a happy, successful, healthy and safe life if they wanted to. I would do everything in my power to make it happen.
So I came out as gay- and HIV positive- just to show that there is no shame in having a disease. It’s a virus, it’s not a judgment.
A microscopic being that happens to live in my body. And I want to keep it from living in any one else’s.
And so do you, I hope.
This disease has been around for over three decades. And yet the state of Montana has never allocated state funds for its prevention. Not a penny.
Which begs the question- why?
Is it because of the shame at how the disease is transmitted?
Is it because we might have to talk about sex, needles, addiction and shame and fear?
Isn’t thirty two years long enough to avoid having this hard conversation?
In the Montana that little boy grew up in- that I grew up in- we prided ourselves on helping out where it was needed. We filled sandbags, we stopped when it looked like people were in trouble on the road, we ran to the fire house when the siren rang.
But not for HIV. Not for AIDS. Well, let me correct that.
A few very brave people did stand up. They braved ridicule and stigma to hold candlelight vigils and to hold the hands of people whose parents were too afraid to touch them. I know. I was there. I held some of those hands. And so did Laurie Kops and probably a few others in this room.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but it’s important that we get back to something very basic here in the state of Montana.
Caring for our people.
It’s time to recognize that all people deserve the promise of love in their lives. Deserve the dignity and respect that I believe God gives everyone simply by being born. Deserves the respect of having information and materials at their disposal provided by the state that is charged with enabling public health and well-being. It’s what I want out of my taxes- I hope it’s what you want from yours.
There are a few legislators here you can tackle on the way out….
My life is good. I have family that love me, a partner who is always there for me and more friends than any man ever deserves.
But it could be better.
Somewhere in the state of Montana there is a kid who doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of love.
And he’s part of our responsibility. Because he does deserve love. And he deserves help to be healthy about it.
Shame is keeping us from health.
Kinda crazy, isn’t it?
It’s time to have those hard conversations.
It’s time to stop shame in its tracks.
It’s time to return the promise of love to all Montanans.
Thank you for listening- and for this awesome award.
- Capitol rotunda ceremony honors AIDS Day award recipients (billingsgazette.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (missoulian.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (ravallirepublic.com)
- 5 Montanans to be honored on World AIDS Day (missoulian.com)