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.

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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….

Congratulations!

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.

Why?

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!

Eulogy

“Life is difficult.”

With these three words begin a book called The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. It is a book that literally has helped me change my life- and the lives of countless others.

Today, especially, these words ring true.

Life is difficult for us- who have to try and make sense out of the pain and frustration and difficulties that he faced almost constantly.

Life is difficult for parents, teachers, family members and friends who may feel as powerless as I have felt this past week.

Life is difficult when pain overcomes all the loving words and gestures of family, of friends of therapist, of rabbis and priests- life is especially difficult then.

But how does this happen? How can we address it?

I wish I knew.

My faith tells me that we are all- all of us doing the best we can from our particular point of consciousness. My heart knows this to be true, but my brain often needs more evidence. It keeps telling me that I failed. Some of your brains may be saying the same thing.

He struggled with depression, gender identity and, quite frankly, with being an adolescent- a difficult enough endeavor without adding on the extra baggage. And I thought things were going okay- not perfectly, but there are wonderful parents here offering support and encouragement, supportive professionals taking an interest in helping, friends who do what friends do- remind us that no matter what it seems like, we are not alone. I hoped- I prayed- that he would be okay. Would come through this process with the perspective of a champion- a champion who addressed each struggle as skillfully as possible and never (or seldom) gave in to fear.

Here’s the problem- I’m always underestimating fear. I’m always underestimating the power that potential futures have of paralyzing, shutting down, creating a reaction instead of inviting a thoughtful response. Fear drives us out of our minds and out of our hearts. It’s a powerful thing. It can take the truth and twist it. It can take love and make it insufficient. Fear can make us question the unquestionable- knowing that there is never a satisfying answer- but still, trying to do SOMETHING.

And for a kid who kept things tightly held, who was a perfectionist, whose beauty was seen by everyone else- but not by the one who most needed it- fear was the final distortion.

He knew it- we talked about it- but there was still a desire to be more than just “good enough”- he wanted to be stunning. And those of us who love him saw that stunning quality. We can still see it.

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know life is difficult- once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer as difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. It’s something everyone has to deal with. It’s not just me. Or you. Or them. It’s us.

Peck ends his book with this:

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us. But we ourselves must step across it, one by one. Through grace we are helped, and through grace we know we are being welcomed. What more can we ask?”

I believe he is being helped, he is being welcomed- and yet most importantly for us today- he is being dearly missed. Because that’s the only way to respond to the loss of beauty in our world.

And how have we failed?

We can’t if we loved.

Bullock On Bozeman’s NDO Passage: “I urge other MT communities to follow suit”

Governor Bullock released the following statement on the City of Bozeman passing an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations:

“Tonight, Bozeman has shown important leadership in protecting their residents and visitors from discrimination. Discrimination is bad for the state’s economy and businesses, as well as contrary to the freedoms we expect as Montanans. I encourage other Montana communities to follow suit in the near future.”

The NDO passed unanimously with all commissioners and Mayor Krauss voting- Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor was absent, but since he introduced the measure, I’m calling it unanimous.

It was a bit anticlimactic. No one spoke during public comment time, and no visible opponents could be identified in the crowd. However, there were at least 40 members of the community visibly wearing “Support Fairness Dignity Security” stickers. I sat with some veteran activists- and there were a few tears- but mostly this was as expected. Bozeman is a welcoming community and recognizes that fairness and dignity are vital components of community structure.

So. Billings.

Are you willing to put the economic future of your city at the mercy of fundamentalist hysteria?

If so, just watch Bozeman take over as the leading economic force in the state….

 

Making A Difference In Montana: Interchange Kickstarter Campaign is Here!

 

Interchange Kickstarter is now live. Show your support now!
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Whether you’re able to financially support Interchange or are still considering, know that our festival moves forward each year, evolving with the changing issues of human rights and equality.

But when you take that extra step with tangible support, you help Interchange set new standards for creativity and continue to share progressive ideas by standing up- and standing proud.

Supporting Interchange shows you care about the important challenges we champion- ending social trauma and creating human equality.
Starting right here.
Right now.
Inner change + Outer change = Interchange

PLEDGE NOW AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

#BozemanNDO update- new time announced

 

Take action! 

Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance Vote

NEW TIME!

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…

BZN NDO 2NITE!

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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.

 

Thank you.

3rd Annual Red Ribbon Ball

Yep- it’s that time again! Every entry gets 1 free raffle and drink ticket!

Raffle items include a 2 night stay and ski package from Big Sky Resort; VIP tickets to Spruce Moose, Avalaunch and Interchange; an opal pendant from the Gem Gallery; a $50 gift card to Se7en Sushi; two beautiful works of art by Jonathan Raney- and the opportunity to see and buy tickets for the quilt made by the Gallatin Quilt Guild.

Live Jazz, food and fun for the whole family!

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