Light A Candle

My address at the AIDS Outreach Candlelight Vigil 2012:

You may have heard the saying, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”

For more than 30 years we have been struggling to support people with HIV. We have struggled with shame, anger, deep grief and injustice.

We have lost many good men, women and children.

Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Friends.

It was easy back then to just curse the darkness- blame it for not being light.

But there were people who refused to do that.

They raised their voices, they publicly shared their grief, their outrage, their compassion.

They refused to sit helplessly in the dark- they searched for light. And because they found it, we have come a long way from the darkness of 30 years ago.

In some ways, the story of AIDS is something of a human triumph.

In moving from shame to dignity, people began to live longer with medication breakthroughs. People acted out of love, not fear.

People lit candles.

We are just learning that treatment is prevention- HIV+ people on medication are much less likely to pass on the virus.

That means getting everyone at risk tested. And if they are positive, to get them on meds as soon as possible. If we did this, we could stem the tide.

But we know the people most at risk are not being tested. We also know why: Denial, fear and shame are holding that testing room door shut. Cursing the darkness rises once again.

It’s time once again to search for candles to light.

I know we have a difficult job to do. We have to push testing without stigmatizing those infected. We have to ask people to care for their health- and the health of their community, without creating a too-rosy picture of life with HIV.

How do you say “Don’t get HIV. But, if you do get it, it’s not the disaster your worst fears whisper to you”?

It’s hard. But we believe we’re making progress.

Because the most important thing we have learned in 30 years is compassion. It’s the common denominator in all that we do.

It’s what we bring tonight to remember the loved ones we have lost to HIV- what we use to dignify their memory.

I believe that we are witnessing the beginnings of the triumph of compassion over the fear and stigma and shame and ignorance of our past. We are witnessing the beginnings of the inevitable triumph of light over darkness- but only if everyone lights that candle….

People at risk are people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect.

People with disease are still people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect. 

It’s what I believe. I also think it’s what you believe- because you’re here.

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

As a symbol of that optimism, tonight we light candles.

We represent our hope, our loss, our pain, our shame, our dignity and our resolve with the light of some flickering candles.

Because we refuse to sit in darkness.

Because dignity is worthy of light.

Presidential Proclamation for World AIDS Day 2012

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2012

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

On World AIDS Day, more than 30 years after the first cases of this tragic illness were reported, we join the global community once more in standing with the millions of people who live with HIV/AIDS worldwide. We also recommit to preventing the spread of this disease, fighting the stigma associated with infection, and ending this pandemic once and for all.

In 2010, my Administration released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, our Nation’s first comprehensive plan to fight the domestic epidemic. The Strategy aims to reduce new infections, increase access to care, reduce health disparities, and achieve a more coordinated national response to HIV/AIDS here in the United States. To meet these goals, we are advancing HIV/AIDS education; connecting stakeholders throughout the public, private, and non-profit sectors; and investing in promising research that can improve clinical outcomes and reduce the risk of transmission. Moving forward, we must continue to focus on populations with the highest HIV disparities — including gay men, and African American and Latino communities — and scale up effective, evidence-based interventions to prevent and treat HIV. We are also implementing the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded access to HIV testing and will ensure that all Americans, including those living with HIV/AIDS, have access to health insurance beginning in 2014.

These actions are bringing us closer to an AIDS-free generation at home and abroad — a goal that, while ambitious, is within sight. Through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we are on track to meet the HIV prevention and treatment targets I set last year. We are working with partners at home and abroad to reduce new infections in adults, help people with HIV/AIDS live longer, prevent mother-to-child transmission, and support the global effort to eliminate new infections in children by 2015. And thanks to bipartisan action to lift the entry ban on persons living with HIV, we were proud to welcome leaders from around the world to the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

Creating an AIDS-free generation is a shared responsibility. It requires commitment from partner countries, coupled with support from donors, civil society, people living with HIV, faith-based organizations, the private sector, foundations, and multilateral institutions. We stand at a tipping point in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and working together, we can realize our historic opportunity to bring that fight to an end.

Today, we reflect on the strides we have taken toward overcoming HIV/AIDS, honor those who have made our progress possible, and keep in our thoughts all those who have known the devastating consequences of this illness. The road toward an AIDS-free generation is long — but as we mark this important observance, let us also remember that if we move forward every day with the same passion, persistence, and drive that has brought us this far, we can reach our goal. We can beat this disease. On World AIDS Day, in memory of those no longer with us and in solidarity with all who carry on the fight, let us pledge to make that vision a reality.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States do hereby proclaim December 1, 2012, as World AIDS Day. I urge the Governors of the States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and the American people to join me in appropriate activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support and comfort to those living with this disease.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

BARACK OBAMA

Compassion For The Boy Who Cried “Wolf!”

So, I want to take a moment to respond to the faux gay-bashing incident that swept me (and the gay media) by storm yesterday.

Yeah, I’m angry.

I think this may have set things back a bit as far as people taking the threat to LGBTQ people seriously in the state of Montana. When someone needs the help of the police because they have been a victim of  gay assault, will it be met with deep suspicion and possibly a sneer?

I’m also really worried about the kid who reported the whole thing.

I’m worried that this will ruin his life. I’m worried that this decision to report- however it was made- was possibly made under the influence. Bad decisions are made every day under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Montana is populated with an extraordinary amount of repeat DUI offenders. Our stats are not pretty. When Montana police respond to fights, domestic violence or robbery, they’re mostly alcohol related. Ask any cop. In a 2010 survey of  Montana State Prison inmates, 93% had alcohol related to their crime. 93 percent. So I’m worried that an all-too-common clouded decision-making process will become a reason for retribution.

Yeah, I’m worried that the community that so quickly rallied around him will turn just as quickly against him.

I want to argue for some understanding. We don’t know the circumstances. We don’t know the reasons. We don’t know the situation. We don’t know anything- except what the police reports and press releases have told us.

I think that the concern we all had for him can be turned in a new direction- toward trying to understand- and trying to forgive. Youthful indiscretion aside, mistakes are made- and so are apologies.

When his is made, I’m going to do my damnedest to accept it.

Because I’ve made mistakes of my own.

I also know that we’re going to need to remember the response that galvanized a bunch of people around the country into action. Because, someday, we’re going to need to rally around a victim of hate, a victim of injustice, a victim of violence- and I don’t want to have suspicion be the first voice that enters my head. I want compassion to be the first voice.

And I don’t want the memory of this or any incident to overcome compassion’s voice in my heart.

Ever.

That’s my prayer.

Catholics and Gays: Joel Connelly Calls Out The Church

The Seattle PI’s Joel Connelly has an illustrious history of commentary in Seattle. I’ve enjoyed him for years. But in Monday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he makes one of the best cases for the Catholic Church to give up the paranoid same-sex marriage rhetoric- and his seasoned, well-reasoned thoughts beg to be shared. Excerpt:

English: Schwörstadt: Catholic Church Deutsch:...

The bishops see themselves as shepherds, but American Catholics are not sheep.  They think and act independently.  A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly three quarters of Catholics favor letting gays and lesbians marry (43 percent) or form civil unions (31 percent).

“Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall,” the survey concluded.

The church is also hurting itself:  Its social activism, defense of human dignity and witness to peace should make it a beacon for all who seek justice.  Instead, the church is pilloried as an instrument of reaction.

Its wounds are self inflicted, a classic case of clerical error.  As the National Catholic Reporter put it, editorializing after New York legislators approved marriage equality last spring:

“Even if the bishops had a persuasive case to make and the legislative tools at their disposal, their public conduct in recent years — wholesale excommunications, railing at politicians, denial of honorary degrees and speaking platforms at Catholic institutions, using the Eucharist as a political bludgeon, refusing to entertain any questions or dissenting opinions, and engaging in open warfare with the community’s thinkers as well as those, especially women, who have loyally served the church — has resulted in a kind of episcopal caricature, the common scolds of the religion world, the caustic party of ‘no’.”

Connelly is taking a fair and balanced approach, using the Catholic tradition of social justice and charity to argue for the reality of human experience- in this case the reality of same-sex relationships. The very reality of them flies in the face of the “Natural Law‘ argument:

“Jesus befriended those who were marginalized because He knew it was only in the security of loving, unconditional relationships that hearts and lives are healed,” argues writer Justin Cannon, reflecting the Christian faith as taught to us by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only healed, but enriched.  I’ve witnessed a warm, very traditional moment over the years.  A goofy, dreamy smile crosses the face of a friend, who after years of playing the field announces  “Well, I met this woman (or guy)!”  It signals a readiness to settle down.  My natural reaction is to say,   “You lucky dog!” and to be there, in affection and support, when the knot is tied.

Life together is a natural passage in life.  Yet, according to “natural law” the Catholic church frowns on my friends who fall in love with somebody of their own gender.  It violates nature, according to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement, because such “inherently non-procreative” relationships “cannot be given the status of marriage.”

The church’s positions are, as state Sen. Ed Murray put it Friday night, “hurtful” as well as contradictory.

Out of one side of its mouth, the church condemns “all forms of unjust discrimination, harrassment and abuse” against gays and lesbians. At the same time, the Cathechism of the Catholic Church describes “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”

As my critical thinking professor at Carroll College taught me, the Church’s argument is flawed. It can’t have it both ways. It either acknowledges the reality of same-sex relationships- the reality of the complexity  of human love as a gift from God- or it becomes the ubiquitous symbol of fantasy, its credibility falling off the edge of its own absurdly flattened earth.

Connelly’s brave, full essay is here.

My Mother’s Son

First, I want to thank everyone for the marvelous messages of support during the last week. Losing my mom was/is pretty rough. If you knew her at all, you knew she was a survivor, a character who didn’t like to be bored, wouldn’t take any shit- but dished it out beautifully- and loved to eat, to laugh and tell stories with the best of them. She and my Dad loved it when we were all home, or all together somewhere. We all like being around each other- and that says a lot.  You probably know that the apples didn’t fall far from the tree- her children are all like that in one way or another….

Dad and Mom

I loved my mother in ways that are complicated and extremely simple at the same time.

She was my best friend- and the biggest gadfly I endured. She cheered me on when I needed it, cheered me up when I felt like shit and told me exactly what she thought if she felt I was making a mistake- well, she told me what she thought no matter what I did, said or thought myself. And as she got older, she did it so much more gracefully. She didn’t intrude as much as she simply reminded- and after 45 years of knowing her style, I really came to depend on her perspective in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible 20 years ago.

She was a gentle woman with babies and old people. She simply loved them, and they loved her. I’m not sure why. But there were a few times I was at my wits’ end with my mother and then I saw her interact with Sars or a baby- and it reminded me that deep inside, she had an immense capacity for love that her manner sometimes became a smokescreen to protect. She endured pain in a way that I was amazed by. That smokescreen also helped shield us from the hurt and the painful physical issues she navigated daily.

I never doubted her love for me. I don’t think any of us did-even when it was not so easy. We mostly saw through the smokescreen- as did all those close to her. She loved fiercely- she was often deeply offended at injustice in the world- and she did what she could to help out. If you were a friend, or family, or a stranger in need, she always did what she could- it was her at her best.

I like to think I got some of that.

As I bless her presence in my life- now changed a bit- I am so grateful for the many things I have been given by my family. My brother, sister, father and mother have all left indelible marks on my heart and in my life- good ones, fantastic ones. And I will always be grateful. As I grow older, those marks become lines that intertwine with my own loves and ways of seeing the world- being there for others and letting them be there for me. That’s just the way it works. For you, too, I imagine.

But for me, it mostly started with Mom. The love I felt as a child didn’t diminish over time- it just changed a bit. She always did the best she could in my best interest. And it was important to her that I knew she was interested in my life. And accepting- even of the things she didn’t quite understand. She loved Ken like she loved the people my siblings married- they were family and that was that. She trusted me because she raised me to be a conscientious person- someone who acted out of compassion, not spite. We fought sometimes, because she taught me not to give up, ever- even with her, especially if I felt I needed to make my case. She gave me more gifts that I’m sure I’ll notice as life goes on. Thet’s what I’m looking forward to.

This firstborn son had a unique relationship with his mother. It’s like that with almost every mother and child, but no two are ever alike. That woman, my mother, will be forever intertwined in every relationship I have- just as she always has been.

I’ll just notice it more now.

Be F*<#!^g Nice To Each Other

One man’s campaign to conquer the frigid Danish psyche is being heralded by the Copenhagen Post:

Danes have a harder time opening up to others, according to Lars AP, who has started a nationwide niceness campaign

Lars Pedersen’s has a message for Danes: be nice

Only in Denmark can you get away with using the F-word in your book’s title and cause absolutely no uproar over it.

But the title of the new book from Lars Andreas Pedersen – who goes by the moniker Lars AP – isn’t meant to offend. ‘F**king Flink’ is aimed at giving Pedersen’s fellow countrymen tips on how to be more open and polite to strangers.

‘Flink’ is the Danish word for ‘nice’, and as the son of an American father and Danish mother, Pedersen thinks he understands what the concept is all about.

‘Year after year Danes are rated as the happiest people in the world,’ he writes in the book. ‘But try standing in the supermarket queue on a Monday afternoon or driving during rush hour traffic. Danes can be some of the least tolerant people around.’

As part of promoting the book and what he calls ‘a movement’, Pedersen dressed up as a traffic warden and issued ‘tickets’ to people who were extra nice.

And Pedersen points out that Danes are generally nice – to each other. A survey in the book indicated that 42 out of 100 Danes said the reason they were not more open to others was out of respect for the person’s private life.

I like it when human beings work for understanding, compassion and civility. We’re all in this together, after all.

Some good advice from Lars on how to accomplish the niceness project:

1) Be atypical – don’t act cool. Be nice with a ‘twist’.

2) Use the ‘cracks’ – finding the right places and situations in which to be nice. Take advantage of social fissures – or try to create them yourselves.

3) Complain nicely – it’s okay to carry on the Danish national sport of complaining – as long as you do it in a ‘f**cking flink’ way.

4) Be an individual. Don’t be afraid to leave yourself vulnerable – expose yourself.

5) Give more – try to give more than people would expect. Take an extra umbrella with you when you go out. Then when it rains you can offer a place of refuge to a stranger.

Full story here.

Presbyterian Pastor Stops Preaching Against Gays

Excellent Story from Salon.com:

A recent poll shows a huge shift in American attitudes toward gay marriage, from a 32 percent approval in 2004 to 53 percent today.

I am one of those people who changed their minds.

In 1989 when I was ordained as a minister to serve a small church in North Carolina, homosexuality was an invisible issue. Gay rights were barely on the radar of mainstream churches. The idea of an openly gay pastor was beyond the pale. 
 I knew there were “gay churches,” of course, but I did not believe one could be a practicing homosexual and a Christian. The Bible was straightforward on this issue. It all seemed incredibly obvious to me.

But over the next five years, homosexuality not only became an issue — it became The Issue. Sides were drawn, and those of us in the middle were pulled to either end. I was a biblical Christian, of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crowd. And so it seemed clear that I could not fully accept, ordain and marry gays. If I was going to be forced to choose a side, that was mine.

The truth is, I was put out that this was an issue. Feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel, comforting the afflicted, standing up to racial intolerance — these were the struggles I signed up for, not determining the morality of what adults did in their bedrooms.

Interesting, especially since the Coastal Carolina Presbytery voted to refuse to ordain homosexuals just two days ago. Read the rest of Pastor Murray Richmond’s essay here.