MSU Lavender Graduation Ceremony

I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the first ever MSU Lavender Graduation- an honor and privilege. This was my introduction (which I loved), followed by the address I gave today.

Fr. Greg Smith, a native Montanan and a licensed mental health counselor has been called the “Gay Godfather of Montana” for his work in advancing LGBTQ rights in the state- especially among faith groups and with spiritual leaders. He has worked for over 25 years in HIV prevention and was an original member of the Montana Governor’s AIDS Advisory Board. Originally a Catholic priest, he now works as an Episcopal priest and therapist in Bozeman where he lives with his husband, Ken and their two dogs, Bandit and Phyllis.


When Ariel told me that the graduating LGBTQ and allied students had chosen me to be the keynote speaker for this celebration, I asked the question that every gay man asks himself in this situation, “What am I going to wear?”

It wasn’t that hard. I decided to wear my clerical collar.

Mostly because we have been subjected to a lot of hateful and ignorant and vicious attacks from people dressed like me. I’m hoping to correct some of that. I’m hoping that you’ll realize that not all Christians hate you. This gay Christian loves you.

It’s weird, but I remember the keynote speaker at my graduation from Twin Bridges High School very clearly because he was SO boring. I think he was an executive at Montana Power. I also remember the speaker when I graduated from Carroll- also because she was VERY boring.

So I vow to you today- I will NOT be boring….


Achieving a degree is an amazing thing in our society. Achieving it when you have extra baggage (placed on you by society) is Extraordinary. Many of you have struggles that I personally know of- and many of you have struggles that I will never imagine. But the great thing about struggling with things- wrestling with things- it makes us stronger. But only if we learn from them- and that also means, sometimes, letting go. It is easy to cling to our pain- that’s called suffering by the way- but it’s much more beneficial to take our pain and use it to change ourselves- make ourselves stronger. More on that in a minute.

When I was a kid growing up in Twin Bridges, Montana, there were very few options for a geeky kid like me. I was too awkward and asthmatic for sports. I was allergic to everything in the summer, which meant I spent a lot of time indoors trying not to mucus myself to death. The one thing I always had were books. Because it was a small town, I had read everything I was interested in at the Library by the time I was in 6th grade. But one thing kept me going, and they arrived every month at McAlear’s drug store. Comic books.

I still love comics- not the lame Archie or Little Lulu, but the superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Captain America, Thor. They usually involved some lame secret identity that covered up the fact that they were fantastic. I call them lame because they were the people I identified with- and I thought of myself as lame because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids my age- and secret because I, too, had a secret.

I liked boys. A lot. And I knew the world wouldn’t approve. Especially my church. So I maintained this secret identity as Greg Smith, but in my heart, I knew I was really Superman. Someday, when all would be revealed, the kids who teased me and bullied me would learn the truth and cower before my magnificence…. It kept me going. Because sometimes, revealing a secret too soon is an unsafe thing to do- so many of us hold on- even after it really is safe to let go.

So, back to pain. Many of us in this room have experienced pain associated with our sexuality, gender, gender expression or just because we’re unusual. Pain is an important part of our lives- without pain, we might quickly die from an injury of which we are unaware. It’s essential for our survival. The only problem is that many of us live in our past pain- and that keeps us from moving forward. The trick here is to take your pain and make it work for you. Take that pain and use it to jumpstart compassion for others in this world- because that’s what we’re made for. Use that past pain to make a better future for yourselves and others. It’s exactly what your predecessors did- what my predecessors did.

I also need to tell you, as a religious leader, please don’t buy into hatred perpetuated by ignorant religious people.

I need to tell you that however or whatever you believe, God loves you very much. Just the way you are. No matter what Higher Power you believe in.

God loves you very much- just as you are. I believe it, because I feel it. And I feel it because it was ingrained in me from an early age- I see evidence all around me.

So the next time you hear some stupid argument about sexuality or gender from ignorant people, I hope you hear my voice in your head. God loves you- just as you are.

Because you are beautiful.

A few months ago, I had the very difficult task of eulogizing a young trans person at their funeral. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Because I know what that pain is like. I know what it’s like to believe that the world will be better off without you.

But as a person of faith I have to tell you outright- that thought is a lie. You were created to be exactly your real selves- the person you are right now.

This world is not better off without you. It needs you. YOU. I believe God made you for a beautiful reason. That’s yours to discover, that’s the adventure of life. It’s yours to create. Believe in your own power.


Because- even if you have to have a secret identity sometimes- you are heroes.

You know this.

Somewhere deep inside you, you see it. And when you have a hard time seeing it, find those confidants who will remind you. Every Superman needs a Jimmy Olsen, every Batman needs an Alfred. And if you can’t find anyone, call me. I’m happy to remind you.

So, today, as you receive your lavender cords to wear at the official MSU graduation this weekend, know that in my heart I’m officially giving you your capes and golden lassoes and utility belts to go out and change the world.

Please be the heroes our suffering world needs. Be the heroes the next generation needs- and maybe someday somebody will ask you to speak at their graduation!

I believe in you- and so do thousands of others.


Congratulations, Lavender Graduates!

Joseph W Laythe, PhD

When I first met Joey Laythe, At Carroll College Freshman orientation in the fall of 1983, I didn’t like him.

He was loud, he was brazen, he was funny and he had more energy than I did.


Because I, too, am loud and brazen and funny.

Later, we became pretty good friends. I would say, that we learned- as all friends do- to join forces.

We had some pretty good times at Carroll College. In particular, was the time Joey almost got us arrested. Another was when he threw a paper airplane in Fr People’s class when Sr Mary Sarah Fasenmeyer fell asleep during Fr People’s tenure check. Behind her head. Right at me.

While she was sleeping.

But I digress.

Joey annoyed me. And I’m pretty sure I annoyed him. Because we were a lot alike.

And I think we really only realized it a few years ago.

Through Facebook.

Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

Joe supported me through a really weird time in my life, so I figured it was the least I can do to be here, when he asked me in October.

We saw the world in much the same way. We saw the world as a place in need of education, in need of healing- in need of love. In need of kindness and understanding. That is the pinnacle of my faith- and we connected there.

Neither of us would happily put up with willful ignorance. Neither of us could put up with injustice.

Neither of us could stand idly by when people were being injured, manipulated or exploited.

We mutually liked every Facebook post the other made.

These are the human ties that aren’t maybe created through birth, or circumstance, but by common purpose.

We had some of the same mentors at Carroll- some of the most formative years of my life- John Downs, Fr. Gene Peoples, and although I never took a class from him Dr Robert Swartout- a man who inspired generations of historians. And someone who especially inspired Dr Joseph Laythe- to be a teacher, an academic, and a good human being. They all did. That was the magic of Carroll for me. We were surrounded by exceptional human beings with great hearts- who inspired us to be exceptionsal human beings-stretch ourselves beyond the obvious into eternity.

All I ever wanted was to be a priest. All Joe ever wanted was to be a teacher. A funny, irrepressible academic with the heart to change the manner in which his students would perceive the world around them. And the brilliant brain to teach them the facts that motivated his heart. Along the way, he added some additional wants- being a husband to Chris and a father to Lydia and Izzy.

This was his world.

And now, it’s ours.

“We all have a story. If you’re not friends with your mailman, you’re missing something”- John Downs.

“Jesus was the ultimate example of powerless love”- Fr. Gene Peoples.

I hold these things close in my life today. For me, it’s what Christianity boils down to.

Jesus rejected the love of power for the power of love. He spent time with the small people of society- those estranged and downtrodden and misunderstood. He ate with sinners- prostitutes and tax collectors and Pharisees and common people- they were all the same to him. People who needed to be seen as people.

Today, we make people into things. Murderers, terrorists, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, North Dakotans, poor, diseased, addicts, transgender, prostitutes, anything but human.

Jesus makes us see the human.

Joey asked us to please see the human beings beyond the labels. And today, I beg you- please, never forget, we are not things. We are people. It may be the best way to honor our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend.

It’s how I will remember him. Last week at Mass, I came across the following from Bridges of Contemplation- Lent and Holy Week with Thomas Merton, where the author said

“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?

Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.

How do we live kindly in an unkind world?

Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.

Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.

Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.

Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed carefully or suffer soul-death alone.”

I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life.

I will treat them with respect and dignity and kindness and humor and understanding.

I will treat them with love.

Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

I used to think that really enlightened people took their pain and changed the world; Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Vaclav Havel. Peter Abelard. Victor Hugo. Joan of Arc. Francis of Assisi. Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Oscar Romero, Stephen Bieko. Father Damien of Molokai. Dorothy Day. Raymond Hunthausen.

Like I said, I used to think these people took their pain and changed the world. But now, I’ve changed my mind.

I think these people took their pain and changed themselves.

And that changed the world.

That’s what our Joey did.

That’s what we are to do.

We are here to take our pain- a very ordinary part of our human lives- an unpleasant part of our ordinary lives- and change the world.

We are here to take our pain and change the world.

Into something extraordinary.

That’s building the Kingdom of God.

That’s honoring our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend. Because that’s what he did.

We take our pain, and we change the world- by being kind to one another.

Please be kind.

Above all things.

Even- and especially- when people can’t pay you back.

Or even, when they almost get you arrested- especially then- they might become your dear, dear friend.

Be open to surprises.

That’s life.


Debunking the Trans* Bathroom Myth



Today, GLAAD released a media guide for journalists covering stories related to LGBT nondiscrimination, in collaboration with a coalition of state and national LGBT advocacy organizations. Debunking the “Bathroom Bill” Myth – Accurate Reporting on LGBT Nondiscrimination: A Guide for Journalists comes after the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in late 2015, as well as bills in both Georgia and South Dakota which threaten to harm transgender people. The guide will be useful for media outlets following the 85 nondiscrimination and anti-LGBT bills that are on the horizon across the country.

“Anti-LGBT activists are viciously putting a target on our children’s backs by using fearmongering and misinformation in a desperate attempt to legalize discrimination,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO. “Accurate reporting is crucial to provide voters with the realities of these bills. This guide will help media tell the real story of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.”

“It’s imperative that the media fairly and accurately report on the discrimination faced by transgender people and the importance of laws which provide protections for them in housing, employment, and public spaces. Alarmist attempts to frighten voters into rejecting fair treatment for trans people must be challenged by journalists well armed with the facts,” said Nick Adams, Director of Programs for Transgender Media at GLAAD.

Nondiscrimination ordinances were recently in the national spotlight surrounding the late 2015 repeal of HERO, which outlawed discrimination against many communities, including the transgender community. In the successful campaign to repeal the ordinance, opponents used misinformation and exploited outdated stereotypes and fears about transgender people, falsely suggesting that the law would put women and children at risk. Making matters worse, many local news outlets repeated these messages, often without questioning the validity of the claims, thereby providing free airtime and a veneer of legitimacy to claims that were easily proved false.

Debunking the “Bathroom Bills” Myth – Accurate Reporting on LGBT Nondiscrimination: A Guide for Journalists provides background on these ordinances, highlights the importance of fair and accurate reporting, points out the fallacies of so-called “Bathroom Bills,” and details the impact of media-amplified myths and misinformation during the HERO campaign. Other helpful resources include best practices for media coverage in addition to terms, definitions, and pitfalls to avoid. The guide was developed in collaboration with Equality California, Freedom for All Americans, the Gill Foundation, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and the Transgender Law Center (TLC).



#BozemanNDO update- new time announced


Take action! 

Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance Vote


Now taking place Monday, May 12th at 5pm

Bozeman City Hall
121 N. Rouse Street
Bozeman, MT 59715

It’s still very important that we show support, so

grab friends, family, coworkers and we’ll see you there…

Yes. I am. Positively Speaking.

By Timber

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:

MT World AIDS Day Award Acceptance Speech

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.

For him.

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.

ALL 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.


2013 World AIDS Day honorees Stephanie Cole, Chris Gehring, Chantz Thilmony, Greg Smith Lisa Fairman with Gov Bullock and DPHHS Director Opper


Me and a really cool Governor