Monday, June 16, 2008

Committed Couples Both Gay and Straight

After the close of business today, it will now be legal for same-sex couples to marry in California. The tides are shifting and opinions are changing and hopefully by the time the November election rolls around, the majority of Californians will choose not to take away what the State Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional to deny in the first place - the right to marry.

This is significant. Unlike many other states who did amend their constitution, Californians won't simply be voting on how we should define marriage. Rather, they'll be voting on whether or not we should take back civil rights that have already been given. No doubt, by November there will have been thousands of gay and straight couples legally married in the state. Voting for an amendment to specifically define marriage as only between a man and a woman is in essence saying "these" Californians can continue to marry but "those" Californians cannot.

Separate but equal. It's supposed to be unconstitutional. Unless of course, we just change the constitution. Now that's justice.

There will be a day when I will publicly declare my commitment to the man I love and I will claim my rights and privileges as a citizen and resident by having our relationship acknowledged by the state. No one should tell us that we should be happy with a second-class classification like domestic partnership with "similar" but not all the rights of marriage that straight citizens enjoy.

I agree that not everyone should marry (especially after today). But we should all have the right to make that choice.

As I step down from my soap box, I wanted to share with you an article from the New York Times that talks about studies comparing the relationships of both same-sex couples and also heterosexual couples. The studies reveal very interesting things about gender and marriage and relationships.

"A growing body of evidence shows that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Most studies show surprisingly few differences between committed gay couples and committed straight couples, but the differences that do emerge have shed light on the kinds of conflicts that can endanger heterosexual relationships . . . ."

Click here to read the article: "Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage" (You may need to click the button to skip the Ad.)

Imagine that. Straight people can learn something from gay people.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The American Family Outing

This Father's Day weekend, several LGBT families will be visiting Saddleback Church, a local SoCal mega-church with Pastor Rick Warren, for fellowship and dialogue. It's part of "The American Family Outing" sponsored by Soulforce, the National Black Justice Coalition, COLAGE and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. The goal was to have LGBT families visit six influential mega-churches across the nation to help build understanding for people they may have heard or talked about but have never personally met before.

Many of you know that I'm a contributing writer for a local LGBT newsmagazine called the Blade. I recently wrote an article in this month's issue talking about "The American Family Outing". I also interviewed participant Kimrey Kotchick (pictured here with his partner Jeanie Moore). Check out my article here:

Blade - June 2008 Issue

Sure this is a controversial issue within the Church. This is what I've referred to before as "The Hot Zone" - that place where conversation about homosexuality and faith and God are no longer the unspeakable topic. The Church may disagree with itself about the issue but we should be able to have civil conversation about these things "in the light" so that being gay in the Church is no longer a taboo subject. The reality is that we are part of the Church and that we are in the congregations. We are not second-class Christians. For the sake of our friends and loved ones within our congregations that are suffering in the closet, we've got to create a safe atmosphere within our spiritual communities where people on a journey can process their thoughts with trusted friends (instead of turning to unhealthy outlets in secret). We cannot develop a healthy sexuality in secret. I believe that we need the input of our spiritual families.

While we may disagree, I think the key is being able to show hospitality towards one another. Hospitality is the tangible expression of love. Hospitality doesn't affirm or condemn the theology of those giving or receiving it. It simply expresses the love of God. As brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church, we are all called and known by our love.

That's why I'm inspired by what these families are doing through "The American Family Outing". They are simply asking these churches to allow them to worship the Lord with them and fellowship. It's an opportunity for these influential churches to extend and express hospitality. I'm taking a similar approach with the new Catalyst in that I'll be helping to connect people and families with one another to get to know each other personally. I believe that we are mutually changed through relationship.

Many LGBT families recently visited Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church near Chicago. You can read about that visit here. While some churches have welcomed these families, other mega-churches haven't been so warm and friendly. But it's a start! The more we can help people actually meet those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, then we can help eliminate stereotypes, false assumptions, and we can stop the demonizing.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hearts on Fire Conference

So i'm actually looking forward to going to the Hearts on Fire conference in San Francisco on July 3-6th. That's significant (for me) because I've pretty much been conferenced out the past several years. That's not to say that I haven't gone to any in recent years - just that I've gone to so many conferences - different types of conferences over the past 15 years.

I've been to Christian conferences, business conferences, amway conventions, ex-gay conferences, ex-ex-gay conferences, gay christian conferences, toastmasters conferences, work conferences, community development conferences, yadda yadda yadda. Many of them have been very good and they definitely weren't a waste of my time. Some were. Many times, I get the most out of the non-conference times - meeting people during the breaks and having refreshing conversations. It's just that I'm not the spectator type. I like to be engaged and I like to interact and I like to participate - those are the kinds of conferences I get the most out of.

There are some things, however, that I'm looking forward to for the Hearts on Fire conference . . . .

It'll be interesting for me to see a glimpse into the Lutheran culture. That kinda sounds weird but this is a Lutherans Concerned conference which means the majority of people there will be Lutherans. But ever since meeting Ross at the last GCN conference in January, I've been interested to know more about their inner workings. That's significant too because i'm pretty much an "un-structure" guy - especially when it comes to church governance. But Ross has a way of making it all sound interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing him too because I've always found him refreshing.

I'm also interested in hearing and hopefully meeting and talking with Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Now, i'm NOT one to be impressed and in awe of celebrity christians or conference speakers (Lord knows, I've seen enough of that at Christian conferences), it's just that I'd like to hear what he has to say and possibly talk to him about some of the Hot Zone things happening here in Long Beach. We're approaching the time when we'll start gathering pastors here to talk about the very controversial issue of gays in the Church. I wonder what it would take to get him here in Long Beach to talk with some folks? Ooh, that would flare things up in the Hot Zone all right!

I'm curious to see what kind of buzz there is in San Francisco regarding marriage equality. By then, it will have been officially legal in California and SF is a major hub for this. Hmm, I just had a thought - perhaps I can arrange to meet and video tape stories of some who got married.

I'm also looking forward to making some new friends that I can stay connected with. It looks like we're in the dorms at San Francisco University so I'm sure I'll get to meet some interesting people. It'll be good to see and hear from Kelly Fryer (of A Renewal Enterprise) again who I first saw at the GCN conference then met in Chicago this past March as she facilitated a vision-development process for GCN's leaders. I'm learning much from her for our work with the new Catalyst.

I'm particularly approaching this conference with the hope of speaking with and hearing from the Lord regarding our own relationship with each other. I'm looking forward to a refreshing time!

If anyone is at all interested in the conference, they may be able to squeeze a few more people in to register. You might be able to inquire about day-passes or if they had cancellations.

So anyway, i'm sure it'll be a good time.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Team Global Lifeworks at AIDS Walk LB

I'll admit that I get kinda worried every time my friend tells me he can't go out because his new HIV meds is making him feel like crap. He says that the old stuff he took before was fine but these new meds has terrible side effects. He's lived with HIV for well over 15 years so a part of me figures I shouldn't worry. But he's my friend and I hate that he has to feel this way.

While representing Catalyst, I've been part of an HIV/AIDS Collaborative for the past 10 months with my friends at Global Lifeworks and Kingdom Causes (my 1st baby, the org I co-founded in 2002), along with some friends from churches and also the Long Beach Public Health Department. We've articulated our collaborative vision and purpose here:

"We are a mutually supportive community that cultivates authentic relationships while meeting the needs of individuals."

It's very exciting because we spent months building trust with one another, then strategizing and organizing together. Our approach is unique because rather than duplicating existing programs, we are equalizing the community by creating a context where everyone helps everyone as part of the same collaborative community. Plans are still in the works so stay tuned!

So right now, it's still premature for either of the projects I'm working on - Catalyst Community (my 2nd baby) or the HIV/AIDS Collaborative - to do anything formally and publicly. Catalyst will launch in July (stay tuned!) and the Collaborative is still in the planning phases. But in the mean time, the AIDS Walk Long Beach is coming up on June 21st and we all wanted to make sure that we were involved in some way. According to their Web site, "over 50% of all new HIV infection occur with our youth ages 15 to 24. 25% of those don't even know they are infected with HIV. Long Beach ranks #2 in the entire state of California."

AIDS Walk Long Beach is raising money and awareness to support the efforts of the Long Beach AIDS Foundation as well as a number of other local service and education organizations.

So me and the Catalyst core team decided to join our friends at Global Lifeworks on their AIDS Walk team. I'm signed up for the 5K run and my personal goal is to raise $500 as part of our collective team goal of raising $1,500. You know what that means, right?

Yep, I want you to please support me, Global Lifeworks, and the AIDS Walk Long Beach! Let's do this together!

To make a donation, it's really easy. Just go to my fundraising page here:

You can also check out our Team Global Lifeworks page here:

Thank you so much for partnering with me in this!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stories That Change The World

I feel pregnant. I'm bursting at the seams and I'm ready to give birth - again. I say 'again' because this isn't the first time. When you've got a vision and you're seeing it become a reality, you can't help but feel like it's your baby. And once it's born, you just want to see it grow up. In a month's time, we'll be relaunching my second baby, an organization born-again from it's initial coming out two years ago, with new vision, direction, and look - Catalyst Community.

I think part of our journey of reconciling our faith and sexuality is finding our voice. Because part of living in the tension of colliding worlds is the frustration of feeling silenced. At some point there comes a time to tell our story. I'm not saying it has to be completely public where you start a blog *ahem* or Web site or you write a book or you record your story on YouTube. Some times, it's just telling your story to a trusted friend or a family member - a loved one. But ultimately, the journey leads to becoming known because no one really knew us when we were in the closet. The journey leads to authenticity - of who we are, of who we are to God.

If we are so willing, God can use our authenticity for the sake of His Kingdom and the broader community - people He loves dearly. Sometimes I feel like my journey started off self-focussed. I was always working on "me". But now that I know that God loves me, I realize that it's not about "me". Working on "me" was necessary so that I could get to a point of realizing that it's more about God and others. And for me, that takes the form of a vision for a community sensitive to authenticity and empathy. You'll hear more about the new Catalyst in later posts.

There are people like us who will hear our story and be changed themselves. If enough of us tell our story, I believe the community can be changed . . . .

I think of friends like Peterson Toscano who retired his play "Doin' Time in the Homo Nomo Halfway House" where he creatively shares his experiences in reparative therapy and ex-gay programs and is now pioneering efforts to help others tell their stories through one of his babies Beyond Ex-Gay. "Doin' Time" is now available on DVD (which I've already purchased, go buy it!). Peterson now performs a number of other plays that help educate and inspire diverse audiences.

I think of friends like Justin Lee who came to reconcile his faith and sexuality, then started a Web site called Justin's World to help others who were wrestling with being gay and Christian. He eventually started Gay Christian Network and now has well over 8,000 members nurturing people on their own personal journeys, people growing a vibrant faith, and connecting with churches throughout communities all around the world.

I also think of friends like Andrew Marin who courageously confronted his own prejudices against gay people, moved to Boys Town in Chicago with his new wife, immersed himself in gay culture, and learned to love beyond the "issue". Andrew reconciled his journey of being a straight evangelical who also has friends and loved ones who are gay. Andrew started The Marin Foundation to help build bridges between the mainstream faith communities and the GLBT communities. He's now writing a book that will help catalyze the conversation within the Church.

I think of my mother who finally told her sister that she has a gay son. Remember in this previous post when I asked my mom to tell my aunt? She did it. She came out as a parent of a gay son. I was on the phone with my mom yesterday because she wants me to buy a house and she ended our phone conversation with 'I love you'. That was HUGE to me because that was the first time EVER that she had initiated that statement to me. I never doubted that she loves me. But that was the first time she said it first. I spoke with her today and she told me that she did tell my aunt that I'm gay. My aunt is okay with it. And my mom is okay with her knowing. [On a side note: my mom told me that one of my uncles (her cousin) was gay-bashed and murdered two years ago when he was visiting the Philippines. Omg. My mom also happened to be visiting in a different city and was informed of his death. She was able to attend the funeral. My mom and aunt knew that their cousin was gay. He just stayed in the closet and married a woman. He died not knowing that my mom and aunt already knew and that if he would have came out to them, they would have accepted him.] It's not like my mom is going to start some organization or start a chapter of PFLAG. She doesn't have to. But she's telling her story and it's changing our family.

I also think of the many many bloggers out there who are telling their stories. For the third year in a row, numerous people will be "Blogging for LGBT Families".

I believe that stories transcend dogma and stereotypes. Stories make an issue personal. Stories catalyze relationships that eventually change the world.

In a previous post, I mentioned that my approach is to being a catalyst over being an activist. My friend and TWC reader Steve asked in a comment what the difference is between the two. In a nutshell, I'd say that (in my own personal view) a catalyst initiates and inspires others towards a direction or cause. The catalyst sparks movement while eventually handing over the microphone (or keyboard) to those who accept ownership. An activist champions the cause and sees it to fulfillment. I'd say that sometimes a catalyst becomes an activist or even that some activists act catalytically, but in a world changing movement I tend to think that we need both.

One of my favorite books is "The Starfish and the Spider" by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The book resonated with me because it affirmed my own approach towards community development and my preferences for organizational structure by giving terminology and vocabulary that described my unconventional style. The book talks about how decentralized organizations are like an unstoppable movement - giving the power to the people to shape and define and facilitate and enforce their cause. A starfish is an organism that replicates when parts are severed. A spider is an organism that struggles when legs are severed and dies when the head is cut off.

Starfish entities like peer-to-peer networks and music/file-sharing swappers, users of Craigslist and MySpace and Facebook, the collaboration of Apache engineers, the Native American Apache nation, the contributors of Wikipedia, Alcoholics Anonymous, and even al-qaeda are all difficult to contain because there is no specific head. Sub-communities function independently and taking one group out only inspires the creation of two new groups to replace what was lost.

Spider entities like traditional corporations, religious institutions, and governments are massive but instituting change within can be slow. Removing the head can cause confusion (just ask the chicken) and ultimately results in a fall unless the head is replaced.

The book contends that a Spider is ultimately no match for a Starfish unless the Spider becomes more of a hybrid - takes on Starfish-like qualities. In order to take out a cell, you need to attack with a cell. On the other hand, if you want to catalyze change within the State or the Church - then you've got to do it from the ground up and start a movement among the people. You can't stop people from telling their own personal stories.

The book also describes key elements to a Starfish - five legs:

Leg 1: Circles - smaller units of people that are independent and autonomous.
Leg 2: Catalyst - the visionary, the vision holder, the one who inspires.
Leg 3: Ideology - common vision or beliefs or values
Leg 4: The Preexisting Network - various conglomerations of connecting circles
Leg 5: The Champion - the relentless promoter

All five legs working together can lead to world changing movements like the fights for Civil Rights and Womens' Suffrage and Marriage Equality.

I can go on and on about this stuff! I've even led a workshop called "Catalyzing Tangible Community in Your Local Area" using many of these concepts. If you want to continue a dialogue on this, please definitely contact me! (See top left column)

[Another side note: I was honored to have been given an advance copy of Ori Brafman's newest book (co-authored with his brother Rom Brafman), "SWAY: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior", now available today! I've already started reading it and it's awesome! You'll probably see me write more about it as I'll no doubt be processing much of the things they write about.]

So anyway, back on topic - these are the kinds of approaches I take in being a
lifestyle catalyst to hopefully inspire change and growth and progress in my various communities, groups and social circles. These are also my approaches towards developing the new Catalyst as a somewhat hybrid organization - a community that is shaped by its members. Stay tuned!

Catalyst is just my way of telling my story and encouraging others to tell theirs. Find a way to tell your story to help others. As we all find ways of telling our stories, whether publicly and loudly or privately individually, we are all being catalytic. Our stories reshape people's view of who we are because they finally have an opportunity to see who we really are. When we are silent and hidden, people have no other frame of reference except for the voices of those talking about us. If I don't tell my own authentic story, then someone else will tell it and fill in their own blanks. I (almost) can't blame someone for attaching a stereotype or assumptions to their view of who I am.

We need to find ways of living authentically so that our accurate stories can be told. Then people can begin to empathize and relate with us as fellow members of the community.