Saturday, December 13, 2008

Getting ready for yuletide Prop 8 fallout

My boyfriend, my son and I will be spending the entire Christmas week with my sister and her family in Utah. My sister holds orthodox LDS views on (as far as I can tell) all subjects. On politics and religion she and I agree on virtually nothing. She likes me but would rather that the whole gay thing just go away.

I have not talked to her about Prop 8, but I feel confident that she is completely behind the Church's recent involvement in rolling back gay rights. I think that this comment from one of the LDS blogs might sum up the way she thinks:

I’m a Californian. I know not one or two but many people who identify themselves as gay. Yet like most in the LDS community and most in the Christian community I voted Yes on proposition 8.

I’m not ashamed of my vote because I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ nor of his prophets President Monson or Elder Ballard who specifically addressed this issue to Californian members. I knew it would potentially be hurtful to gays. Yet I also know the commitment required by my faith.

I'm sure that my sister (and my brother-in-law and my nieces and nephews who are in their 20s) will be kind to Tobi. They have met him before and think he's cute and nice.

I'm sure that my son will have a great time with his cousins. He's spent most of the Christmases of his life with his cousins, who are math and science geeks just like him. (We go to my sister's every year.)

I'm not so sure how I will do. My feelings about the Church's involvement in anti-gay ballot measures are still running high. I am feeling under siege because of Tobi's uncertain visa situation that is directly impacted by the unequal treatment of gay relationships under civil law. I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to hold my tongue if the topic comes up at the dinner table.

I am resolved to leave the room if the subject of gay rights or gay anything comes up. I just hope I can keep my resolution. I'm leaking at the seams and ready to blow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book review: Swish

At the recommendation of Edgy I read Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever.

Joel Derfner's book is a collection of humorous essays about his immersion in "the lifestyle." He's a smart guy and is sometimes very, very funny. You can think of him as a cross between Dan Savage, David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. If you like any or all of these authors, you'll probably like Derfner.

Derfner was a bookish, studious child who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. When he was about 12, he started to realize that the might be gay. He confided in a adult gay friend:
I waited and waited and waited to get up the courage to say what I wanted to say and I finally did but I was so scared I couldn't do it in English so I used French. "J'ai peur que je suis gay" I said, failing in my nervousness to use the subjunctive. I'm scared that I'm gay.

His confidant was kind and, after a brief conversation, said "Yes, you're gay." It was one of those conversations that made all the difference.

In other parts of the book, Derfner goes undercover at an ex-gay conference run by Exodus International, joins a gay cheerleading squad and becomes a go-go dancer for a summer. And he knits.

I found the book to be amusing and at times touching and even wise. I don't think it matches the best of Savage, Sedaris or Burroughs, but if you're looking for a quick amusing (and very gay) read, check it out.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Milk review

I saw Gus van Sant's movie, Milk, a mostly factual dramatization of the last years of the life of Harvey Milk. Van Sant's treatment of the subject follows Randy Shilt's biography The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (St. Martin's Press, 1982). Walking into the theater, I was a bit skeptical, since I am a fan of the 1984 documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk.

I needn't have worried. Milk is an impressive, unsentimental retelling of the story of California's first openly gay elected official. Sean Penn does an amazing job of channeling Milk. The movie is going to win awards. (I'm going to predict Best Picture and Best Actor at the 2009 Academy Awards.)

The only reason not to watch the movie would be if you were a Prop 8 supporter and don't want to leave the theater thoroughly ashamed of yourself. (The movie portrays the fight over the anti-gay 1978 Briggs Initiative, with some historical footage. Anti-gay campaigns, like all attempts a rolling back civil rights, don't pass the test of time.)

Milk is a well-made film with compelling current relevance. Two thumbs up. (That is, both of my thumbs.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What is the Church's stand?

Recently France has been putting together a proposal for a United Nations resolution that would call for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. Homosexuality is punishable in 83 countries (out of 180 or so in the UN) and by death states such as Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Decriminalizing homosexuality is a basic humanitarian step.

Unbelievably, the Catholic Church has come out against this resolution. Its reasoning is that eliminating jail sentences and capital punishment for homosexuals would threaten traditional marriage. In other words, if you don't persecute homosexuals using all means in your arsenal, this "would create new and implacable discriminations" against Catholics who disagree with gay marriage.

A mainstream newspaper in Italy, La Stampa, called this reasoning grotesque.

I wonder, given the LDS Church's general concordance with Catholic thinking on the issue of homosexuality, whether the Mormon Church would also oppose this proposed U.N. resolution.

Via AmericaBlog and ThinkProgress

See also Time

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Keep those cards and letters coming

Scot recently expressed disappointment that the LDS Church reneged on its initial words of support for gay domestic partnership benefits. When I first read those words I didn’t interpret the Church’s profession of support of some DP rights as being sincere. It seemed to me that they were simply trying to avoid being labeled as anti-gay in the context of a particular political campaign. I saw it as "strategic communication" in the finest tradition of Karl Rove.

It's a bad feeling when one's suspicion of another's motives is later borne out by the course of events.

The fact is that the LDS Church is profoundly hostile to same-sex couples and their children and is willing to use the political process to enforce its views. I don’t see this changing in the near future, although I do see many rank-and-file Mormons becoming less and less comfortable about it. If anything the success of their Prop 8 efforts may embolden rather than moderate the LDS leadership's political activity. I would not hold my breath for the Church to allow any action by the Utah legislature that would help our cause.

It’s time to appeal to the Feds.

I’m a believer in Federally recognized civil unions as an intermediate step along the road to full marriage equality. The Obama transition team has recently updated their website to include LGBT issues. See here for more. The support for our rights is unlike any we've seen from a previous administration, including those headed by Democrats. One of their agenda items is this:
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

I encourage people to write a letter to Vice President-elect Biden and remind him of "Biden’s promise" from the VP debate. (Including a family photo can’t hurt, especially if you have a partner and/or kids.) NOW is the time to get these letters out. They should be personal, to-the-point and clear about the practical need for legal protections for same-sex couples and their children. Briefly describe your personal situation and ask for the administration's support.

The mailing address is

Office of Vice President-elect Joe Biden
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

P.S. Letters of support from straight allies or folks in mixed-orientation marriages are also extremely helpful. This is for everyone who believes in marriage equality.

If you are an Internet-only kind of person, you can send your letter via Web form at

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Seeking forgiveness

I ran across a new Web site with letters from Mormons asking forgiveness for Prop 8. It's called Seeking Forgiveness. Check it out.

I looked through some of the posts and found myself touched. It really matters to me that some Mormons, even if a minority, opposed the Church's rollback of gay rights.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why does the LDS Church care about gay marriage?

Slate magazine has an interesting spin on why Americans are so positive about some gay rights but overwhelmingly reject gay marriage. Could it be anxiety over sex roles?

After all, traditional marriage isn't just analogous to sex discrimination—it is sex discrimination: Only men may marry women, and only women may marry men. Same-sex marriage would transform an institution that currently defines two distinctive sex roles—husband and wife—by replacing those different halves with one sex-neutral role—spouse. Sure, we could call two married men "husbands" and two married women "wives," but the specific role for each sex that now defines marriage would be lost. Widespread opposition to same-sex marriage might reflect a desire to hang on to these distinctive sex roles rather than vicious anti-gay bigotry.

Mormons are invested in gender. In fact, gender is eternal. The priesthood applies only to males. Women are excluded from almost all leadership positions in the Church. Men preside in the home or do so at least ceremonially. If 'husband' and 'wife' are not necessarily distinct roles then why should women put up with the current system? Hmm... maybe gay marriage does upset the apple cart, after all.

I'm for federally recognized civil unions as an intermediate step along the way toward full marriage equality. For now, let's just avoid the quagmire of unresolved gender-role issues that seems to have the rest of America knee deep in muck. Federally recognized civil unions would give us desperately needed rights (like not having your non-US boyfriend deported). Maybe it's true that a civil union is 3/5ths of a marriage, but right now excuse me for not being so picky.

Civil unions that are recognized only at the state level are probably 1/5th of a marriage, if that. Also, marriages that are not recognized by the Federal government are of significantly protective value than other marriages. If forced to choose, I'd take a federally recognized civil union over a marriage recognized only at the state level.


 Tobi and I attended a gay rights rally today. Originally the rally had been organized to protest Prop 8, but I think it moved away from being a protest and toward being a rally for gay marriage. I gave some thought as to what sign I wanted to carry and finally settled on a positive message. (Believe me, I am angry enough about Prop 8 to have come up with a number of other signs.) The front of my sign said "Keep Biden's promise" and the back said "Federally recognized civil unions now." Biden's promise refers to what Vice President Elect Joe Biden said during the VP debate:
Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

This language is pretty clear. I think we should hold the Obama-Biden administration to it.

 The rally was larger than expected. I don't have a count of the number of people, but I would estimate 10,000 or so. There was a rally in a park that included the mayor declaring today to be "Marriage Equality Day" and promised to help fight for gay marriage in our state. There were a number of other speeches.
 Only a few of the signs being carried by the marchers referenced the LDS Church. There were also a few signs carried by Mormon supporters such as "Mormons for Queers" that I saw carried by an opposite-sex couple in their early twenties. I live in a very liberal city with lots of gay people. I think many of the members of the church who live here may not hold the more conservative LDS view. I didn't get a chance to talk to any of these people. Also, I think a fair number of straight people were marching.
 After the rally in the park we marched to a square downtown along a two-mile route. The police blocked traffic so that the marchers could use the street. The march was extremely peaceful. One of the speakers mentioned at the final rally that 300 marches had taken place simultaneously worldwide and that approximately 1,000,000 people participated.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gay spirituality

Connell O'Donovan has an account of Sunday's protest at the Oakland Temple.

There were no epithets being yelled, no "hate speech," no wall climbing, etc. I was also very happy to note that on this very busy street that the temple lies on, easily three-quarters of the vehicles that passed by honked, waved, and thumbs-upped in support! From where I was, I could easily see four LDS security officers in the temple parking lot watching us, oddly all dressed exactly like Mr. Smith of "The Matrix" fame, right down to stylish sunglasses. They were visibly disturbed by the amount of supportive honking from passing traffic. I had made a sign to hold that proclaimed myself an "Adult Survivor of Mormon Homophobia". I held it up so that the security officers could easily see it. They shook their heads in disapproval. It makes me laugh that I used to be a security guard on Temple Square. One of my duties was to let the Tabernacle Choir into the Tabernacle on Thursday nights for rehearsal. Oh the webs we weave!!

When the crowd dwindled to less than about 60, the 40 or so police officers that were there decided they could leave as well. I asked who was the officer in charge and I then asked that him how it had gone. He said he had no complaints whatsoever - that we had all been completely law-abiding, peaceful, compliant, etc. I did stay until the end - about 3:30. And our clean up crew looked around and there was not a single bit of trash for any of us to clean up.

Read the whole thing here, especially if you're skeptical of spirituality outside of LDS orthodoxy. He'll change your mind.

Via: Emily Pearson

Where do we go from here?

The defeat in California was a big setback for gay rights. Where do we go from here?

The immediate aftermath has been emotional. This is why we've seen protests. Such protests are useful in venting frustration and building up momentum, but in and of themselves they don't accomplish the needed change.

My opinion is that the next steps need to come at the Federal level. There are seven items on the standard gay-rights agenda: 1) Federal hate crimes legislation, 2) ENDA (employment nondiscrimination act), 3) Repeal of DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell) so that gays can serve in the military, 4)Repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), 5) Federally recognized civil unions, 6) UAFA (Uniting American Families Act) to give equalize immigration rights for gay and straight couples and 7) same-sex domestic partner benefits for Federal employees.

Although Candidate Obama supported all of these items during his campaign, only two days after the election it is becoming clear that President-elect Obama is interested in acting only on items 1) and 2) on this list. The story behind this can be found here.

I don't agree with the naysayers. I think that the defeat of Prop 8 gives us a window of opportunity. Supporters of Prop 8 including the LDS Church insisted that they were not anti-gay and that they did not want to take away rights. Let them make good on that assertion by supporting civil unions at the Federal level. An argument for this point of view can be found here.

Civil unions are not marriage. They are less than marriage. But they are not without benefit. They can solve a number of practical problems that harm gay families by providing the many benefits that the US Government gives straight couples, including spousal rights to Social Security survivor benefits, the ability to file joint tax returns and spousal immigration rights. We need these protections right now.

I am not proposing that we settle for second-class status. Instead, I see the practicality of finding a middle ground where we can bring on board many of the people who voted for Prop 8. Civil unions will not be the last word and the do not preclude an eventual move toward marriage at the time when there is sufficient political support for that. I, in my own personal situation, can't afford to wait until marriage equality is politically feasible nationwide.

If you agree with me on this, start acting. Write President-elect Obama (web site: and ask that federally recognized civil unions for gay couples be put on the agenda. You might mention that Vice President-elect Biden promised this during the VP debate. Another thing you can do is just have the discussion about civil unions with people you know, including friends and family members who may have supported the LDS Church's position on Prop 8.

I don't want to let the Democrats off the hook as the gay community has in the past. We need to be on the agenda.

Also, by the way, there will be a nationwide protest on Saturday against Prop 8. This protest is not directed specifically at the LDS Church. I encourage all of you to attend. Information is at the Join the Impact web site.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Local protest

Protesters picketed an LDS ward about a mile from my house today. See here and here for pictures and text.

Another protest is planned for next Saturday outside the temple grounds. For those who may question the fairness of such actions, be sure to read Chanson's analysis at Main Street Plaza:
If you open up a grocery store in the middle of your chapel, you can hardly complain that people are disrespecting your “sacred places of worship” by shopping there.

I love some of the signs carried by protesters here and at Temple Square. Three of my favorites:

  • Would you rather I marry your daughter? (carried by a gay man)

  • Keep your DOCTRINE out of my COVENANTS!

  • Can I vote on your marriage?

  • I believe credit for the D&C reference goes to Craig.

    If you were to protest the passage of Prop. 8, what would your poster say?

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    LDS newsroom meme

    Here's a new meme. You start with the text of the LDS Church's newsroom release about a protest march on Temple Square, and you insert a few paragraphs of your choice after each of theirs.

    Thanks to Scot, Craig and Abelard for tagging me. Everyone else, consider yourself tagged!

    Here goes:

    It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election.

    Anyone who has kids recognizes this opening gambit instantly. Translation: "I was just being so good and minding my business and those meanies came up and started pointing at me." The kids have been fighting and the instigator of the fight knows that consequences are on the way. The instigator therefore puts up a smoke screen to preemptively establish victimhood. This always has two parts: a profession of one's own virtue plus an accusation of unfair treatment. It would be funnier if we were talking about eight year olds instead of an esteemed religious organization.

    In other words, the first paragraph of this press release warms things up with a massive denial of responsibility. It also gets bonus points for two extremely slippery uses of the passive voice in the first sentence. Do you think this press release might be trying to-- I don't know-- evade something?

    The next paragraph does not disappoint:

    Members of the Church in California and millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States — that of free expression and voting.

    Whoa!!! This is an amazing sleight of hand. "Voting" is a straw man. No one is complaining about voting or free speech.

    I'm sorry to have to spell this out. What happened is that the LDS Church exercised powerful religious authority over its members to produce over 50% of all funds and the lion's share (nearly all) of the labor hours used to campaign against marriage equality in California. The Church owns Proposition 8. It was bought and paid for with cash and thousands upon thousands of hours of its members, who were "volunteers" only in the same sense as home teachers and payers of tithing.

    Let me repeat. For better or for worse, now and forever, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bears primary responsibility for providing the majority of funds and the overwhelming majority of labor hours used in the Yes on 8 campaign. Period. This is the Mormon Church's amendment.

    Voting or free speech on the part of individual Mormons is a red herring. The issue is about the nature of and the consequences of the LDS Church's political exercise of ecclesiastical power. Reports from California tell us that specific quotas were given to individual wards and stakes for money and volunteer hours. This is a case of the pulpit being used for political ends, not a grass-roots political movement. The Church used "priesthood keys" to run a full-blown political campaign and is now trying to say that it didn't.

    While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process.

    Translation, "we're sacred and that means we are off limits."


    If you exercise your right to participate in the political process, you can't claim that you are above it all whenever it's convenient. You can't suddenly hide behind sanctity. You are a political actor and will be held accountable for what you say and do in the public sphere.

    "Target" is one of the magic words that establish victim status. I can't decide if this is offensive or pathetic or both.

    Once again, we call on those involved in the debate over same-sex marriage to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other. No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information.

    This final paragraph shows chutzpah or possibly a complete lack of self-knowledge. The Yes on 8 campaign used dishonorable tactics-- outright lies, bizarre speculation of potential future religious persecution, "save our children " appeals, etc. It was disgraceful by even the low standards of modern political discourse. Now is not the time to feign innocence.

    This paragraph, by the way, implies an accusation that the Temple Square protesters were being uncivil or worse. This accusation is false. From the reports I've read, the protest was extremely civil and entirely proper.

    So there you have it, a press release that probably reveals more than its author intended. It's a transparent example of trying to avoid accountability for one's actions.

    Friday, November 7, 2008

    Second thoughts

    One of the things that gives me hope is the fact that many LDS people do not agree with the Church's involvement in eliminating marriage for same-sex couples. For example, see this thread on one of the Mormon blogs.

    Here are a few quotes by LDS folks:

    I’m a single straight LDS guy with no close homosexual friends or family. I’m more hurt and angry about this than I thought I ever would be. Right now I can only pray and hope that I can somehow do a small part to seek forgiveness for the sin we have committed.

    * * *

    A woman writes:
    For me there is such bitterness in the concept of my rights being put to a vote. Let me be clear, my partner is a man, but I speak of my rights in this because they are.

    * * *

    I take great comfort in knowing that our children will be better than us. Just as we look at the ignorance of our grandparents and their attitudes towards race and wonder, “Why?”, so too will our children and grandchildren look with disgust at our attitudes towards homosexuality.

    * * *

    For the record, I donated neither time nor money to Prop 8.

    * * *

    [S]ome of us ... don’t like being lumped into the group of those that wanted it to pass. in the same group that donated money. some of us are ashamed, mad, and downright disgusted with the direction our beloved church has taken.

    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    The morning after the morning after

    What a difference a day can make.

    Yesterday, the immediate aftermath of the election was a rollercoater of emotions for me. Today I feel resolute.

    I'm reconciled to the fact that the loss on Prop. 8 is a one step backward in what will be a decades-long struggle for civil rights. Our cause is just, and we will eventually prevail. There is a one point of tremendous hope coming out of the exit polls. Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted overwhelming in favor of marriage equality. The vote for Prop. 8 was strongly correlated to the age of the voter.

    I think it's important that we hold the Church accountable for its leadership role in the fight against civil rights for homosexuals. I don't mean boycotts or protests, but being clear about the role of the Church in the campaign is entirely within reason. I'd like to see some real investigative journalism applied here. In particular, inquiry into the way the money was raised and used would be of interest as well as how the infrastructure of the Church was used to support the campaign. It's a story that needs to be told. Sunlight is, after all, the best disinfectant. The Church should have no objection, since it should be willing to stand behind its actions and claims of fact and have them examined openly.

    I also think there's a need for ongoing public relations. We need a documentary film about gay families in the aftermath of Prop. 8's success. The human face of this issue was lost in the campaign.

    I don't think it's time to disengage or 'heal'. It's time to redouble our efforts, retain our sense of purpose and start working for a better future. We can do this with a sense of respect for differing opinions and without demonizing those, including the Church, who may disagree.

    I like President-Elect Obama's take on this. He says that it is up to us to do the hard work of convincing people of the justness of our cause. This happens at a personal level as we interact with those around us. It's not just a matter of donating money to a political cause. Step one is coming out to our families and friends. We cannot afford to hide in the shadows.

    Our day will come.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    The morning after

    It's been an emotional twenty-four hours.

    It started yesterday when I was walking out of the polling place, having just cast my vote for Barack Obama. I started crying. It felt like a release of frustration. What came to my mind in that moment was the issue of torture. All of a sudden I felt a sense of overwhelming relief that I had been able to cast my vote against the current administration's horrifying and illegal techniques of "interrogation." Why that particular issue of all the many things that need to be changed in this country came to mind at that particular moment I can't say. But that's what happened.

    I went through election day with a sense of cautious excitement. When the race was over I watched President-Elect Obama address the nation. Again, I just lost it. I cried through all of his very eloquent speech. It's unbelievable to me that we have come to this point. For eight long years we have watched our country suffer the results of catastrophic leadership. Seeing Obama win felt like catharsis, at once humbling, sobering and joyful. There is hope now. We now have a chance to begin to dig ourselves out of the mess we've created. It's only the first step, but it's a step I couldn't have imagined two years ago.

    Then, I started following the results of the four anti-gay ballot measures. All four passed. The defeat in California was particularly gut wrenching. Tears have been running down my face all morning. The loss feels so personal. I know this feeling will pass, but right now that's where I am. It doesn't help that my boyfriend has been laid off from his job and may not be able to stay in the U.S all because, unlike straight people, the person I love and I are legal strangers no matter what kind of life we build together.

    The loss in California also feels personal because of the heavy involvement of the LDS Church. When Mormons use the phrase "enemy of the Church" they mean someone who attacks the Church. What phrase do we use when the Church attacks, when it's the Church that does the destroying and the defaming? I feel like the Church has set its sights on me and calmly pulled the trigger. They made the kill, but who wins? Certainly not the Church-- the PR fallout from this is going to be awful. In the meantime, civil rights have been set back a decade.

    So it's up and down right now. Tears of joy and sorrow. Fear that Tobi and I may be forcibly separated by the government. Hope that our country may have adult supervision again. Appreciation for what I have this moment because I know it may be taken from me. I'm going to resolve to keep going, keep fighting and know that history is on our side. I just have to stop crying first.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Mormon moms speak out

    Here is one of the best Mormon responses to Proposition 8 that I've read.

    As a Mormon, I affirm the sanctity of Mormon temple marriage. I stand unapologetically for the right of the Mormon Church to set its own doctrines, to hold its own standards, and to conduct its own sacred rituals on its own terms. As an American citizen and a person of faith, I stand unequivocally for the First Amendment guarantees to freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all.

    But I reject the tactics of the “Yes on 8” campaign as untrue, misleading, divisive, and destructive.

    Strictly, soberly, and truthfully considered, there is nothing in Proposition 8 that protects heterosexual marriages, nor the Mormon Church, or the free exercise of religion in any other church, synagogue, mosque, or temple in California.

    Strictly, soberly, truthfully considered, Proposition 8 only eliminates or takes away civil rights and protections now enjoyed by our neighbors, fellow citizens, and brothers and sisters who happen to be gay.

    This is why, as a Mormon, a California citizen, a person of faith, a community activist, a scholar, and a mother, I am voting no on Proposition 8.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Hat tip: Serendipity

    Saturday, November 1, 2008

    A PR disaster

    This No on 8 ad is a public relations disaster for the LDS Church.

    Does the church really want to align its public image so strongly with this single issue?

    Movie: The Times of Harvey Milk

    Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician to be elected in California. He was assassinated in 1978.

    You may have heard about the Hollywood biopic Milk that has recently been released. You may not be aware that Harvey Milk was the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk that was made in 1984.

    The documentary tells a story that needs to be heard today. What I liked about it is the perspective it gives on the history of gay rights. Milk was a pioneer in this area and helped defeat a California ballot measure called the Briggs Initiative that would have made it illegal for gay people to teach school. The arguments presented on behalf of this initiative are eerily familiar, since they are currently being repeated in support of banning gay marriage.

    Make yourself some popcorn and rent the DVD. Netflix has it.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Yes on 8 ads I would like to see

    My problem with the LDS Church's involvement in Proposition 8 is not that its stand on the issue doesn't agree with mine, or even that it has decided to become involved. What I find disturbing are the dishonest, pseudo-factual messages and scare tactics. In the spirit of constructive suggestion, here are a few Yes on 8 ads I would like to see. (And I mean absolutely no disrespect, BTW.)

    A white, middle-class family in their living room. Pictures of Jesus and the Washington Temple are visible on the wall behind the sofa.

    Hello, we are Adam and Carol Henderson, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. We're here today because the president of our church, the man we accept as the Lord's spokesman on earth, has asked us to do all we can in support of Proposition 8. We honor and sustain our prophet and that's why we urge you to support Proposition 8. We have a testimony that this amendment is what our Heavenly Father wants.

    A single man, about thirty-five years old, placing hymnals in the pews of an empty LDS chapel. The camera follows.

    My name is Clark. I'm a Mormon and also a homosexual. I'm going cast my vote for Proposition 8 this November. That's right, for. My church has asked its members to do this, and I try to do what the Brethren ask of me. You should know that I am celibate. I attend church and perform my callings to best of my ability. In my church homosexuals like me are treated like anyone else as long as we remain chaste. My church says that acting on same-gender attraction is a sin next to murder. I do not know why the Lord has made me this way, and yes, sometimes it's very lonely. I look forward to the next life when this struggle will be taken from me.

    Elder M. Russell Ballard, speaking from a lectern. The background is dark.

    With utmost solemnity I ask you, the citizens of California, to heed the Lord's designs for eternal marriage and vote Yes on Proposition 8. We know that banning gay marriage is not without controversy, yet let me be clear that at the heart of this issue is the central doctrine of eternal marriage and its place in our Father's plan. You see, gender plays an eternal role. Men hold the Priesthood and preside in the home. Women honor their roles as mothers and act as companions and helpmeets to their husbands. In mortality and in eternity this is the order of things.

    * * *

    I would have no trouble at all with honest, straightforward messages of a religious nature. If you believe that a prophet has spoken, by all means be up front about it. There is no need to hide this and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. However, don't make up bogey men ("sex ed for kindergartners!", "churches taxed!", "our kids recruited by gays!"). If the argument is a religous one, so be it. However, when you actually state the covert religious argument openly using plain language, it sounds horribly out of place in a public debate over a civil matter.

    And in fact, it is out of place.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    No on 8 ad

    I like this ad's directness. It doesn't omit the fact that we are talking about gay marriage.

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    No More Goodbyes, Please - Part 2

    For those who read my previous post about my boyfriend's immigration crisis, here's an update.

    We met with an immigration attorney last week and figured out all of the possible options that are open to us. The bottom line is that Tobi has about six to nine months to find another job in his field. If he is unable to do that, then he will have to leave the U.S. As of today Tobi has not yet been laid off from his current job. We're crossing our fingers that this will drag out so that he has extra time to look for a new position. The job market is unbelievably tight right now.

    So we're glad that the time frame can be stretched out. I want to say thank you to all of you who have expressed your good wishes.

    This crisis has been very stressful for us. We are threatened in a way that no opposite-sex couple would ever have to worry about in the U.S. I have to say it makes the Prop. 8 insanity seem very personal.

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Tim Gunn on gay marriage

    Fashion legend Tim Gunn snaps his fingers three times on the subject of Proposition 8:

    Click here for video

    P.S. Tim is never wrong.

    Via Afterelton

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    No More Goodbyes, Please

    Those who read this blog know that my boyfriend Tobi is a Japanese national. He is in the U.S. on a working visa that eventually can be converted into permanent immigration. The recent Wall Street meltdown and banking crisis has had an effect on the industry in which Tobi works, and as a result many jobs are being lost. Last week Tobi's boss told him that he will likely be laid off from his job in a matter of weeks.

    Under the terms of his visa, Tobi will have 10 days to leave the U.S. if he becomes unemployed.

    As you can imagine, we are now in crisis mode. Tobi is frantically trying to find a new job in the worst job market in recent memory. We are desperate-- sending resumes, talking to immigration lawyers, calling in favors to everyone we know and clinging tearfully to each other at night knowing that our life together may soon explode.

    The bitter part of this for me is that if Tobi had slightly different anatomy, this whole crisis would be a non-issue. As a U.S. citizen I have the right to sponsor a female for immigration. We would not have to lose a single night's sleep... if we were an opposite-sex couple. However, as it stands, there is a law called DOMA that specifically prohibits the Federal Government from recognizing our relationship, even if we were to marry in any of the states where this is legal.

    In two weeks there will be votes in three states on the topic of gay marriage. None of these votes will directly change the law that prevents Tobi and me from being recognized as a couple for visa purposes. However, their outcome will have a large political effect one way or the other.

    Governor Palin recently restated her support for a Federal Marriage Amendment that would encode anti-gay discrimination into the foundational charter of our country. Her position is not surprising, since the Republican party's 2008 platform is the most gay-hostile ever. The McCain-Palin ticket is against the repeal of DOMA. On the other hand, the Obama-Biden ticket has pledged to give support to gay couples, including the full repeal of DOMA. (I can live without the word 'marriage' if the visa problems get fixed.)

    Anyway, that's the situation. I am not asking for your pity. However, I do ask that you understand the stakes of this election. The lives of real people are at stake.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Gay summer camp

    Tobi and I spent five days in southern California last week attending gay summer camp.

    Tobi channels his inner hula boy
    What is gay summer camp you ask?

    Well, it's an event where several hundred gay men get together for a week of outdoor recreation, socializing and learning new skills. Tobi and I had a great time.

    Every evening there was a social hour with a special theme. Most people dressed up in costumes reflecting the theme. On Hawaiian night, Tobi went all out. (He actually won the prize for best costume. :-))

    I especially liked the au naturel time in the camp's Olympic-sized swimming pool (no swimsuits needed!). It was also great to go hiking in the surrounding hills. We had some truly beautiful sunsets.

    Throughout the entire week it felt really good to be in a group of men and to be accepted as a male couple in that group. This is understandable. Most of us with LDS backgrounds had a rough time growing up gay. It takes a bit of extra work to smooth out the rough edges and find our place in the world.

    I don't know what the point of this post is, except to say that sometimes life can be really good. You can be loved; you can be accepted; you can feel whole. Oh, and I recommend going to gay summer camp.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Black Mormons

    Tobi and I went to a screening of the new movie Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons tonight.

    One thing that you may not know is that African Americans have been members of the Church since its founding, and that in the 1830's some black men were given the priesthood. The movie included the story of Elijah Abel, a black member of the Church who was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith in 1836. Apparently, there is good documentation that at least seven black men were given the priesthood in the 1830's. The first branch president of Boston was black. The ban against blacks holding the priesthood was only later instituted in Utah by Brigham Young.

    The movie is very much targeted at a faithful LDS audience. (It's faith promoting on the whole.) I thought it soft-pedaled the Church's history of racism, but maybe that's what you have to do to keep the movie from being rejected by an LDS audience.

    One of the things I liked about the movie was the amount of interview footage of black Mormons who had experienced the ban.

    The filmmakers, Margaret Young and Darius Gray, answered questions after the screening. They mentioned that the film will be available on DVD in mid-November. The DVD has 100 extra minutes of historical material, which sounded very interesting.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008


    I attended a friend's Anglican church this summer, and it was good to compare his religious experience to my own. (I described an earlier visit to this church here.)

    One point impressed me so much that I actually saved the program because I wanted to remember this text:

    [The consecrated bread and wine are] the gifts of God for the people of God. Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey, you are welcome at God's table to share in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    In my friend's church there is no concept of being 'worthy' enough to take the sacrament. To a Mormon, this concept is revolutionary. How much of our lives have we spent as Mormons agonizing over our worthiness, usually beginning with our first innocent steps of sexual awakening as young adolescents? Answer honestly! In Mormonism worthiness is for the most part the edifice of our sexual guilt and shame. (There are occasional exceptions where worthiness is judged in nonsexual terms.)

    In essence, there are two ways to think about this:

    View 1: We all fall short of perfect love and righteousness, but where we are in our journey is not as important as what feelings or hope we bring for a more godly life.

    View 2: Some of us are worthy [to take the sacrament, speak in church, etc.]. Others of us are not. Leaders of the church judge who are worthy. We talk of God's love and yet we fear his disapproval, the withdrawal of the spirit.

    I'm not very religious, but I am increasingly attracted to a view of the world where people are given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to be doing the best they can. I don't think the spirit withdraws. The LDS concept of 'worthiness' is a form of spiritual abuse. I don't think I understood it in those terms until I saw a more compassionate alternative in action at my friend's church.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008

    Telling the truth matters

    I'm going to resist the temptation to make this blog too political, but, hey, it's the season.

    I've been thinking about ethical standards of truthfulness lately. I've noticed that the Democrats (Obama in particular) do a much, much better job of this than the Republicans.

    I ran across this article that captures it perfectly. I recommend the entire article, but this is the gist:
    For Republicans, there is no longer any moral taboo whatsoever against lying outright. The only relevant question is whether the lie is effective -- not whether it should have been done in the first place. Karl Rove can rail against the inexperienced nature of one vice presidential candidate -- a Democrat -- and without the slightest bit of explanation (or shame), but happily pipe up with praise for an unequivocally, plainly less experienced Republican pick. It is not expected that he be self-consistent in the slightest. Everyone understands from the outset that his role is to say bad things about Democrats, and good things about Republicans, and if the two things conflict spectacularly it is not considered a symbol of his dishonesty or evidence of a histrionic maliciousness towards factual discourse. It is merely spin. He can make a farce of his own prior arguments -- what does it matter? If he is comfortable with it, and the people who look to him for guidance rally behind it, then we can Newspeak our way into and out of any argument as neat as you please.

    So what of it, if offshore drilling will not reduce gas prices. It's fine to say it anyway -- it doesn't matter. So what if the President of the United States says "we do not torture", and then we discover that the White House itself authorized acts that are torture under any rational definition of the word. He's the President, he can lie about anything he likes, as long as it has nothing to do with sex. And honestly, even if it does.

    So what of it, if Sarah Palin says crooked things with a straight face? Name me one Republican who will object. Name me one -- just ONE -- diehard conservative who will be angry at the lie, instead of praising her for it. To hell with facts, there is another election to be won.

    This is why I consider the Republican Party to be, at this point, a wrecked party. There is no self-consistent philosophy other than the acquisition and protection of their own power: there are certainly no moral or ethical boundaries that the party will internally enforce. John Edwards, a Democrat, had his political career effectively terminated when news of an affair came to light; a Republican can visit a prostitute wearing a diaper, and find himself easily forgiven. You can lie, you can staff your government with morons and ideologues, you can give a speech saying one thing while doing the exact opposite (a Bush specialty, in his State of the Union speeches. We bemoan constantly the Democrats' failure to keep a unified front, in order to pass a more meaningful agenda -- but you would be hard pressed to find even a single, lone Republican in Washington willing to buck the moral collapse of their own party. Such people once existed: they were voted out of office. All that remain are "mavericks" like McCain, figures who will countermand every previous belief in order to regain the support of his own party.

    Sunday, September 7, 2008

    Vote your hopes not your fears

    Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain's presidential bid,
    recently said
    , "This election is not about issues." This statement certainly seems consistent with the recent Republican convention. Issues, such as the dire state of the economy, were simply not mentioned.

    So what has happened? The GOP, if you are to believe its convention, is now primarily centered around religion and cultural identity. Vice-presidential candidate Governor Palin of Alaska, more than John McCain, and perhaps even more than George W. Bush, is the candidate of religion and cultural identity. Palin is said to be the future of the party. If that's true, then it's snowmobiles versus arugula from here on out.

    There's a lot of similarity between Palin and Bush. Like Bush was in 2000, she's a charismatic, evangelical Christian governor with no record, and this becomes a campaign asset. The choice becomes one based on personality and cultural identity instead of the specifics of public policy.

    What would a Palin presidency look like? There's a 30% percent chance McCain would not survive two terms in office. We've already seen this presidency in outline. It's the Bush administration. From what we can piece together from Palin's record, she and President Bush share three main traits: 1) an authoritarian impulse that leads to the abuse of executive power, 2) weak impulses for fiscal restraint and 3) absolute certainty in a simple, black-and-white world view.

    In the case of Bush this has led to catastrophic leadership in foreign relations, fiscal irresponsibility on a criminal scale and serious erosion of the U.S. Constitution. For starters.

    What would a Palin presidency look like? I'm terrified even to think. It's clear that she

    • Wants creationism to be taught as a science in schools

    • Wants no factual sex education taught in schools

    • Thinks banning controversial library books is a good practice

    • Doesn't think global warming is caused by humans

    • Wants to make abortion illegal in all cases from the moment of conception, including cases of rape or incest

    • Is hostile to all forms of gay rights. Her position mirrors that of the Republican platform, namely no to military service in any capacity (including non-combat jobs such as translators and researchers); no to hate crime legislation; no to anti-discrimination protection in employment and housing; no recognition of domestic partnerships in any form; no possibility of adoption rights by gays; no possibility of foster parenting by gay people.

    To quote Andrew Sullivan:
    [The Bush/Rove Republicans] can do anything and defend it - invade a country on false pretenses, grind the military into extreme danger, trash the Geneva Conventions, expand government at a record pace, threaten war with Iran and Russia - and still say with a straight face that they are the party of national security, fiscal restraint, foreign policy wisdom and military pride. It doesn't matter what they do; these people believe in this cause because it is about God and America and their own identity. And when you have a major political party constructed like that, they can do anything. And they have.

    I'm sure conservatism will one day recover - because it is right about the main issues: government needs to be kept in its place, taxes should be low and budgets balanced, individuals should be able to pursue their dreams as free of government control as possible, families do matter and need to be free from government interference, free markets and enterprise are the only guarantees of prosperity, moral choices - and their consequences - should be faced by the individual responsibly, and we have to be strong in our defense and prudent in foreign policy. This is the conservatism I still believe in.... But it will only come from the ashes of this fundamentalist, mean-spirited, parochial, arrogant, big-spending, irresponsible shambles of a party. We have to repudiate the party of Rove and Abramoff and Romney and Dobson and Cheney and Bush II.

    Burn it down and start over.

    Palin is dangerous and unqualified to assume the presidency. McCain's choice of VP may have been politically expedient but it was also reckless and has not put "country first." In fact, it has made the McCain/Palin ticket the risky vote.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008

    History in the making

    ME: You know, France might have a gay president in 2012. The mayor of Paris is a gay man, and he's thinking of running for president. If he won, he would be the first gay head of state.

    TOBI: (pause) Wow. Is he cute?

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    The Closet

    This is a beautiful, heartbreaking short film.

    Via Good As You

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    Romney as VP?

    There's quite a bit of speculation going around that Mitt Romney may be the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee.

    If McCain puts Romney on the ticket, it would be an act of political suicide. Bottom line: the base of the Republican party will not support a Mormon candidate. It's purely a matter of bigotry. As unfair as it is, Romney is a nonstarter for this crowd.

    Here's the twist. If Romney is to be the VP nominee, then the over-the-top actions of the LDS Church in California make a lot more sense. By working with evangelical churches on the anti-gay Proposition 8, the LDS leadership may hope to build legitimacy with evangelicals and thereby gain political power on the coattails of a McCain/Romney victory.

    Personally, I don't see how this can possibly be a winning strategy. I have some understanding (having grown up in the deep South) of the mindset of evangelical Christians. They would sooner vote for a Muslim than for a Mormon. The Church is not being realistic if it thinks that cooperating with evangelical churches in California will make an ounce of difference in the opinions that conservative evangelicals have toward Mormons.

    Just a thought.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Preventing suicide

    There's a thread on one of the Mormon blogs about how to prevent suicide in gay youth.

    Here's what I added to that thread:

    I am a gay Mormon, so I read this thread with interest. I have a few comments. I know my perspective isn’t exactly the same as yours, but I hope you’ll be interested in the view from my side of the fence.

    In #8 Katie said:
    Homosexuality carries a stigma that other sins do not. After all, we do not feel that awkward fellowshipping a pregnant teenager, or a couple that has to postpone their temple marriage.

    This is true. The Church, like it or not, is a tremendously hostile place for gay people. All you have to do is say you are same-sex attracted and you will be marginalized, even if you are sexually abstinent. For example, you are likely to be barred forever from working with youth. I’m sorry, but this is the reality. The stigma is not so much against homosexuality as it is against homosexuals.

    In #19, Clay Whipkey said:
    You know, I do feel some sympathy for faithful LDS who find themselves in this position between the rock and the hard place.

    I feel this, too. The official stance of the church is that any expression of same-sex love is a sin just one notch down in severity from murder. Yet, people who have any real-life contact with gay folks don’t smell the stench of evil. Gay people seem pretty wholesome and decent up close. And this is not the case with other “near-murderers” like rapists, child abusers, wife beaters, etc. Something just doesn’t click. It’s easy and fun to share laughs and gardening tips over dinner with your friendly and outgoing gay neighbors. It’s not as much fun doing this with embezzlers, drug runners and pimps. Too bad we’re morally equivalent. :- )

    In a number of comments people mentioned that a better way to think of homosexuals is as disabled. The problem is... the people you're calling disabled don’t feel disabled. Trust me, I am just as capable of love, commitment and intimacy with an appropriate member of my own sex as you are with the opposite sex.

    When you think of me, does it really come down to a choice between pity and contempt? Are these honestly the only options?

    In #24, Russell Stevenson writes:
    If they are TRULY converted to the gospel of Christ and don’t just view that church as a powerful, teetotaling community with a compelling story, then they believe that in the afterlife, all will be made up to them. They will NOT be eunuchs for the Lord forever…these feelings have nothing to do with their spirit.

    With respect, I have to disagree in the strongest possible terms. Homosexuality is a fundamental part of me. If you were to slice it away with a scalpel, the remaining bits of personality would be unrecognizable. My sense of humor, my creativity, my intelligence and my passion are completely intertwined. The recent (one year old) doctrine being floated by Elder Holland that homosexuality will be “healed” in life hereafter is deeply offensive to me. I guess sometimes you have to destroy a village in order to save it.

    In #27 Ray said:
    In fact, the current stance essentially is not different for homosexual members as it is for ALL single adults: don’t act on your natural sexual inclinations outside of marriage.

    Hmmm… Homosexuals will be kicked out of BYU (or Sacrament Meeting) with dispatch simply for holding hands. (!) Exactly how is this the same standard as is used for heterosexuals?

    Does anyone besides me see the irony here? Homosexuals are promiscuous fornicators! That’s why we must do everything in our power to prevent them from forming stable, committed and loving partnerships! Get out your pitchforks... oops, I mean checkbooks and yard signs!

    You know, I would have less of a persecution complex if everyone wasn’t out to burn down my house and break up my family. :- )

    In #27, Ray mentions a number of concrete steps that might be taken. These make sense to me. If we simply tone down the rhetoric (and stop the excommunications), I think things would be a lot better, and you would see a lot fewer suicides. Sometimes people in the Church think that we homosexuals are asking for more than we really are. Here’s the agenda: 1) don’t encourage our families to disown us and 2) treat us like anybody else in the civil sphere.

    When I was a young missionary in the MTC I remember being devastated by the story told by a visiting General Authority about the Church leader who told his son that he would rather see the son return in a coffin than come home from his mission having lost his virtue. Can you imagine the effect that stories like these have on deeply conflicted gay youth?

    What can you do to prevent suicide? Stop telling faith-promoting stories like this. Instead, you can tell gay youth that their lives are more important than meeting a heterosexual standard. Tell them that it is better to leave the Church and live with love and integrity if it comes to that than to die by their own hand.

    Thanks to all of you who are making an effort to improve the situation for gay people in the Church. It matters. Trust me, there are people in your own ward (and more than just a handful) who are silently trying to deal with this issue.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    The latest from 50 E N Temple St

    The latest from Church headquarters has me sputtering. It's a justification for the Church's involvement in the proposed California constitutional amendment that would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state.

    There's some good news and bad news here.

    I guess the good news, as mentioned in the bloggernacle, is that the Church seems open to domestic partnership laws that give gay couples similar legal rights as heterosexual couples. That's real progress.

    It's also interesting to note that the Church now uses phrases like "homosexual men and women" and "homosexual family member or friend." It's easy to forget that just a few short years ago, the Church went to great lengths to insist that while there might be homosexual acts there are no homosexual persons. That little rhetorical gambit has been quietly dropped. (Apology accepted.)

    That's pretty much the good news. Well, maybe not. In a way, it's good thing that the Church now gives specific (secular) arguments to bolster its case, as these may be judged on their merits by members of the Church and others. Judge for yourself.

    One thing to note is how important gender is in the Church's argument. It makes me wonder if the point is more about shoring up against further erosion of the gender divide than it is about erasing gay families. (Note to Church: you need to read the literature on intersexuality, the phenomenon of people born with ambiguous gender who cannot be classified as either male or female. This phenomenon pretty much refutes the gender-is-eternal argument.)

    There is some new material in the Church's latest bulletin, such as language that indicates that the Church does not expect all members to line up on the same side as the Church on this issue. I'll leave it to the bloggernacle's busy Kremlinologists to dissect the fine points.

    Monday, July 14, 2008


    The following was posted on the bloggernacle:

    Yesterday in Priesthood a member of our Bishopric said the area presidency had asked our Stake to go to each of the Wards and take an anonymous poll about the California Marriage Initiative. They wanted to gauge the feelings of the local membership. They assume the First Presidency asked the Area Authorities to do this poll. Each ward was asked to create this informal poll their own way, it was not provided. So they passed out a slip of paper that asked, “What are your feelings about the Marriage Initiative?”, and then you checked marked next to these options, Strongly Support, Support, Somewhat Support, Do not Support. We then folded it and placed it into a paper bag.

    This is extremely interesting. I have heard anecdotes that there has been fallout from the First Presidency's letter in some California wards (I'll post more details when I have them). Why would the Church want to get the feedback of members, if in fact the prophet had spoken and the debate was over? There really can only be one reason: there was unexpected pushback from members.

    Maybe I'm grasping at straws here, but I'm having a hard time believing that rank-and-file members of the church have closed their hearts on gay issues.

    Actions and reactions

    Spain, with its cultural strains of machismo, is an unlikely candidate as an early adopter of gay marriage, yet in 2005 it became the third country to provide full marriage equality to homosexuals. In 2005 I was at an international scientific conference and happened to have dinner with a colleague from Spain. I asked him what was going on.

    He told me that even though Spain was largely a Catholic country, most Spaniards supported gay marriage. He said that the Catholic church had lost a lot of credibility with people after they supported the brutally repressive political regime of Francisco Franco. The Catholic church made a big noise on this issue, but no one listened.

    A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times by a Republican political strategist predicts hard times for California's Proposition 8 that would outlaw gay marriage by amending the state's constitution. The speculators on the political prediction market Intrade place the odds that the amendment will pass at 30%.

    I wonder if something is going on here similar to the case of Spain. When I was in California a few weeks ago for a short vacation, I got the sense from talking to people that there is overwhelming dissatisfaction with the way the country has been governed by the Republicans. The religious organizations (including the LDS Church, the Roman Catholics and the envangelicals) that are arguing against gay marriage have also been closely allied with the Bush administration. As with Spain, political tides raise or lower more than one boat.

    It's way too early to say what will happen in California (as well as unbelievably jinxy), but let's suppose for a moment that gay marriage stays legal in California. The divisiveness over the campaign may push some political centrists out of the Church. Unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of people that the Church needs to maintain its balance and vitality for the next generation. If the Church moves too far rightward politically, it is going to become a fringe group.

    I sometimes say fairly critical things about the Church, but at heart I wish it well. I love my Mormon family and friends, and I am completely a product of the LDS environment. I don't want the Church to purge its more mainstream members. I don't want to see the Church, my church, my ancestor's church, become a right-wing fringe group.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    Signing for something

    There's a great new website up called Signing for Something where people can post their letters to the brethren expressing their disagreement with the LDS Church's involvement in California. The organizers will deliver printed copies of all these letters this fall.

    So, here's a rallying cry to all MoHoHawaii readers. If this is an issue that speaks to you, get your out your word processors and write a letter! I will be doing this myself soon.

    P.S. Tell your friends.

    Tuesday, July 8, 2008

    The ages of man

    I've always liked classical music, even as a pre-teen. However, my tastes have evolved as I have aged.

    • Before age 14 my favorite era was Baroque. Bach was my favorite composer (for example, the Brandenburg Concertos). The patterns and dissonant tension were thrilling to my precocious ears.

    • When I was in high school and college my favorite composer was Mozart. Mozart embodied a kind of genius that captivated me. Mozart is the ultimate smarty pants (but in a good way). I also found some of his music profoundly moving (for example, the Horn Concertos). I got into opera at this time of my life, and the Mozart operas (The Magic Flute and the incomparable Marriage of Figaro) led the way.
    • (Yes, I was a 16-year-old opera fan. Once on a school trip to Paris, I was able to sneak away by myself to the old Paris Opera and hear Jon Vickers sing Otello.)

    • I came out in my late twenties, at age 27 or 28. At about this time my musical tastes began to change again. Although I had always loved Beethoven (especially the symphonies and his chamber music), at this time of my life I became taken over by the passion and emotion of the Romantic era of music. I was unable to concentrate on anything else if Beethoven happened to be playing in the background. Not surprisigly it was during this period that I fell in love for the first time.

    • In my late thirties and early forties, I developed a new passion: Wagner. This appeal of this composer is hard to characterize. He's transcendent. The music of Wagner is a replacement for a belief in God (okay, not really, but you get what I mean). My favorite opera of all time is his Tristan und Isolde. This is definitely a work that you don't understand until you reach midlife. It has passions and tensions that go beyond description.

    I don't know why I was thinking about this today. No reason really. It's a funny observation, though, that the evolution of my taste in music follows the chronology of music history pretty well. (Of course, I'm leaving a lot out. There are many, many composers whose work I love, and even now Bach is one of my favorites.)

    I do think, and this may sound weird, that I would never have been able to open myself up to Beethoven (and Wagner) if I had not had the experience of sexual maturation that occurred only after I came out. When I was in a mixed-orientation married I was frozen in sexual immaturity. It was only after I opened myself up to the possibility of non-Platonic love that I began to understand the dynamics of our most passionate composers.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    The letter from Salt Lake

    About a month ago I predicted that the church would be a bit lower key when it came to opposing marriage equality than it was in 2000. I was wrong. This prompted me to rethink the situation. Here's what I came up with.

    Over the past century and a half the LDS Church has evolved from its freewheeling, charismatic 19th century roots into an authoritarian bureaucracy. Like all authoritarian bureaucracies, its primary motivator is self-preservation. For bureaucracies self-preservation will typically trump all other goals, including the organization's stated mission.

    A good example of this is the case of the Roman Catholic Church and its abuse scandal. Some Catholic priests sexually abused children. The Catholic Church suppressed the evidence, quietly transferred the offending priests to other parishes (where many repeated their crimes) and engaged in a pattern of character assassination against abuse victims who spoke out. When all of this eventually came to light, many Catholics felt profoundly betrayed by their church. What had happened, in retrospect, isn't hard to understand: the Catholic church placed bureaucratic self-preservation above the needs and best interests of the people it was supposedly serving.

    Despite its outsized, exclusive claims of inspiration, the behavior of the LDS Church can often be explained by the sociology of bureaucracy. I can think of several examples where the LDS Church has acted for self-preservation. One is the fairly widespread practice of secrecy and cover-up when high-ranking LDS men commit crimes such as sexual abuse. The Church would often rather keep up appearances than deal with a scandal, even if that means throwing victims of abuse under the bus. If you study authoritarian bureaucracies you can pretty much predict how this will play out. (It's really no surprise that the LDS Church is as open to self-criticism as the Kremlin.)

    Now back to the marriage issue. I propose that the LDS Church's opposition to gay marriage is defensive, part of its impulse for self-preservation. The insight is that the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with it. You can see this in the lack of coherence of the practical arguments against marriage equality. Pretty much everyone can see that gay marriage will be good for gay people. It will provide stability, comfort, companionship and economic benefits. Most can see that gay marriage won't hurt straight people, since they will be absolutely unaffected by their neighbors' new found ability to marry. The problem is that gay marriage will hurt the abstract idea of "traditional marriage."

    The Church will absolutely be disadvantaged if their view of marriage no longer lines up with that of the mainstream culture. The more these views diverge the more the Church will be labeled as intolerant. Leaders of the Church are well aware that the tide of public opinion, especially among young people, is changing on this issue. They are under pressure similar to what they experienced in the early stages of the civil rights movement and the women's movement. This is bad PR. (Did I mention that authoritarian bureaucracies are very sensitive to bad PR?)

    As they did with civil rights and equality for women, the Church wants to slow things down. Bureaucracies are followers, not leaders. This was certainly the case with the LDS Church and racial equality. It was (and to some extent still is) the case with equality for women. In both of these cases the hard work of moral self-examination and change was done outside of the Church. The Church only adopted these changes when the cost of not doing so became intolerable.

    Thus, it should not surprise us that the that the First Presidency's letter contains no words of reconciliation, no sympathy for the LDS families with gay sons or daughters, no compassion for those who followed the Church's now discontinued advice to enter into mixed-orientation marriages as therapy. The recent letter mentions no compromise measures or ways to mitigate the impact of this issue on the lives of church members. There's a siege mentality going on here, and consequently no room for generosity.

    The saddest part of this is that the Church now seems to be more accepting of gay promiscuity than same-sex committed partnership. You don't see the Church attempting to criminalize gay promiscuity, just committed gay families. Again, the reason is simple: PR. Gay promiscuity is good PR for the Church. It proves the Church's point that homosexuality is sinful and damaging. Stable gay families who take their children to kindergarten are bad PR for the Church. They show that Church's position is a bigoted relic of a bygone era.

    So we are left with the paradox that Church is promoting policies that would destabilize gay relationships and push people back to the gay demimonde of decades past. This affects not only gay people; it affects their LDS family members and friends and children. In essence, the Church is prioritizing its own interests above that of its people. This is a betrayal. The Church is acting as if it values itself, its absolute authority and its institutions above the welfare of its members. No sermonizing about the sanctity of marriage can wipe away this unpleasant fact. The members of the church, and not just the gay ones, have been betrayed.

    As with the clerical abuse scandal of the Catholics, it is cold comfort that the LDS Church's actions are easy to understand. We are still left with a jolting, almost breathtaking sense of betrayal by a trusted institution.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    A horror story for June

    The LDS Church speaks of the immorality of same-sex love. Their arguments are either of an abstract, theological nature ("God is displeased"), self-directed ("You won't be happy") or xenophobic ("Your existence 'threatens the family'").

    This video, on the other hand, shows immorality of a more concrete nature. This is immorality that directly harms a young, vulnerable person. It is the immorality of the LDS Church's own actions-- pushing a young man into medically unethical aversion therapy and providing religious justification for a young man's parents to disown him. If the young person in this film had taken his life, as he nearly did, his blood would have been on the LDS Church's hands.

    I am sick to death of sanctimony when grotesque, flagrant abuse, as witnessed by this young man's testimony, is quietly shoved under the rug.

    We must not be silent. If you are gay, come out to your friends and family. If you are a parent or relative of a gay person, come out to your extended family and community. If you are a straight person who sees this injustice for what it is, don't be silent the next time you hear bigoted remarks. You don't have to be an activist. Just being visible in our own circle is the best tool we have to put the kind of cruelty shown in this video to rest forever.

    Update:This video clip is part of a television program that aired on MTV in 2004. The abuse described in the video took place at BYU in 1995. The young man interviewed in the film, Jayce Cox, is now a suicide prevention coordinator working for a public health department in Helena, MT. We wish him well.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    At church

    Tobi had a sports competition this weekend in Vancouver, BC, so I decided to tag along as a tourist. We stayed with a friend of ours who lives in one of those big glass buildings in downtown Vancouver.

    On Sunday Tobi was off being sportif (eventually winning a bronze trophy) and my friend wanted to go his Anglican church, as he always does on Sundays. So I decided to go to church.

    It's been many years since I have been to church, Anglican, Mormon or otherwise. In fact, I had never been to an Anglican (Episcopalian) service before. I was interested but slightly guarded in my feeling.

    The service was held in a beautiful chapel with stained glass windows. It was 'tasteful' and somewhat traditional. The music was great. (The Anglicans have better hymns than the Mormons. Sorry, guys.)

    Completely out of the blue I found tears rolling down my cheeks. This lasted through most of the service. At the moment of communion (sacrament), they made a point of inviting all to participate "no matter where you are in your journey." In other words, there were no conditions placed on my participation-- they didn't demand that I believe in their church or that I cast away the man I love in order to be 'worthy' of the sacrament. They just said "Come and worship with us, as you are." This little act of kindness made me just lose it. I felt 'the spirit' strongly as the priest blessed the host and wine and distributed it. Tears streamed down my face.

    I don't mean to criticize the church of my youth, but this Anglican service provided quite a contrast. The nagging undercurrent of fear and disapproval that I always felt in my own church just wasn't there. In its place was a feeling of respectful worship that was open to all.

    After the service I shook hands with the priest. I'm sure he had seen my efforts to wipe away the tears without anyone noticing. I told him that I was a refugee of conservative religion and that I felt a sense of brokenness. We talked briefly about my religious background. He offered to meet with me sometime. I didn't have time to take him up on his offer, but I am tempted next time I am in Vancouver to give him a call.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Inlaws and outlaws

    Tobi and I watched a documentary on TV this week called Inlaws and Outlaws. It's a interwoven set of interviews with couples who have been together for a long time. Most of the couples are gay.

    I liked the film because it did not sugarcoat the challenges of having a successful long-term relationship. Tobi and I paused the movie a number of times and discussed some of the issues it brought up. It was very thought-provoking. It was inspiring as well, since many of the couples had built very strong and loving relationships.

    A trailer can be found here. I can really recommend this film.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Coming out documentary

    I watched a good documentary on public television tonight called Anyone and Everyone. It focuses mostly on religious families with gay kids, including one (impressive) LDS family. I found the stories to be believable and very touching.

    The film will be broadcast on public television stations around the US this month. See here for a schedule. Recommended, especially for families and friends.

    (Another documentary is being recorded right now on my DVR.... It looks good, but I haven't seen it yet. It's called Inlaws and Outlaws. It tells the courtship stories of some gay and straight couples.)

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    June brides

    This weekend Tobi and I took the train to Portland, Oregon. The occasion was the Portland Rose Festival, possibly the only summer festival gayer than gay pride. The rose parade was a perfectly preserved slice of 1950s Americana. (Rodeo queens! Marching bands! Elderly 'rosarians' in cream colored suits!)

    Portland is a great city; I could easily imagine living there someday. It's friendly, clean and has great public transportation. I like it a lot. Tobi and I did some of the usual touristy things there, including visiting Portland's beautiful Japanese garden.

    On Saturday night we happened to walk by a drag show and on a lark decided to go in.

    Little did we realize that we had run across a Portland institution that has been going on for more than 40 years. And we also didn't realize at first that we were there on "straight night" when the theater is filled with young women out for bachelorette parties prior to getting married.

    It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Tobi and I were just about the only men in the theater when the show started. (Isn't drag a gay thing?) The missing piece of information was that the drag show was to be followed by a male strip show. The women were mostly there for the strippers. Mystery solved.

    I have to say, the enthusiasm of the brides-to-be and their friends was fun to watch. The crowd was extremely boisterous and giggly. The show itself was a slightly naughty Las Vegas-style revue with male performers dressed as glamorous women. Overall the show was quite 'gay' in sensibility. I thought the drag queens were almost tender in interacting with the audience, teasing them gently about getting married and about being straight. There was really a good connection between the performers and the girls in the audience. (My favorite performer was Poison Waters, a warm and funny and glamorous diva if there ever was one.)

    About halfway through the show I had a small revelation: the theater was filled with women in their early and mid twenties watching over-the-top camp and loving it. All of a sudden I thought: These girls would have no trouble at all with legalizing gay marriage. They're on our side. It was one of those moments when you realize you've seen the future.

    Even the strip show was wholesome, in a silly, raunchy kind of way. Tobi and I stayed on afterwards for part of it but left halfway through because it was getting late. (Yes, we needed to sleep more than watch 'firemen' take off their gear. Pathetic, I know.)

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Gin, libraries and me

    This is my 100th post, so I thought a bit of meta-blogging might be appropriate.

    Assertion: Gin is to public libraries as TV sitcoms are to blogging.

    Can you say why? (Think about it for a minute.)

    For the answer, check here. It's a lovely essay on the phenomenon of blogging.

    Saturday, May 31, 2008

    Moms are the best

    Here's a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to the recent action taken by the governor of New York directing the state to honor same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

    God bless Gov. David A. Paterson! I am crying tears of joy as I read this article. We have been waiting so long for a person in a place of power to boldly step forward with courage and love for the gay community.

    So often, politicians lose their passion to do what is right and just when they reach the point where they can make such a huge difference.

    Governor Paterson will have a place in our hearts all of our lives. We have been married for 36 years and are blessed with four children. Our youngest, Jacob, happens to be gay. Three of them were married in the last couple of years. It has been a time of great joy for our family as they wed the love of their lives.

    When our oldest son, Benjamin, got married, he asked Jacob to be his best man. Then our son Joshua got married and again Jacob was his best man. When our daughter, Britta, married her dear Matthew, she didn’t have a maid of honor. She had a man of honor, and it was her brother Jacob.

    At each wedding, as Jacob stood by his siblings and signed the papers to make it legal, he did it knowing he did not have the right to marriage himself.

    As a mom, I find that hard to understand and heartbreaking to know it is true. How can this country treat people in such a way that something as basic as finding love and being married can be denied to a whole segment of society?

    We will do all that it takes to make sure our dear son Jacob can marry the love of his life. But right now, I want to send our love to Governor Paterson. He makes me want to move to New York!

    Randi Reitan
    Eden Prairie, Minn., May 30, 2008

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Why do I do the things that I do?

    When I was a young person I struggled with doubt. You might say that I wasn't born with the "gift of faith." Don't get me wrong. I believed what I was taught; it just took constant effort. I served a mission, married in the temple, had kids, went to church, performed my callings, honored my parents, etc. In retrospect I think my efforts were no less sincere than those who felt they knew with certainty.

    Mormons say that anyone can gain a testimony through prayer, fasting and study. I did all those things and really never had anything to show for it except almost overwhelming cognitive dissonance. When I eventually lost my faith, I felt a sense of relief. It was like putting down a heavy stone.

    You might chalk this up to a moral failing on my part. Like many people, though, I think my behavior improved after I discarded my prior system of belief. I became more generous with others, less judgmental of difference and showed more personal integrity in various areas of my life. (My theory: people tend to behave better when they are under less stress.)

    A question I have is this: why does belief come easier for some people than for others? Is it just a character trait like curiosity, assertiveness, extroversion, etc.? If you can get past the official position that prayer works for everyone (it doesn’t), what are you left with? The usual LDS explanation (faithfulness in the pre-mortal existence, being a "choice spirit," etc.) just deflects the question by pushing it back to a hypothetical earlier phase of existence.

    This is not an easy question.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    Inside the great and spacious building

    Tobi and I took advantage of the three-day Memorial Day weekend for a quick trip to visit my friends in Utah.

    While we were there, Tobi got the bright idea that he wanted to go hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform. (He can be such a Japanese tourist sometimes. I honestly think he was born with palm-sized digital camera in his hand. And, yes, it's one of the reasons I love him.)

    We figured out that the best way to see the famous choir in action was to go to the Sunday morning "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast. In case you don't know, this broadcast moves to the Conference Center on North Temple during the summer. In the winter it takes place in the Tabernacle. (I think it has to do with the summer tourist crowds.)

    I don't know if I'm the only person who's noticed this, but the conference center seems to be the realization of the "great and spacious building" from Lehi's dream in The Book of Mormon. Not only is it gargantuan, it has terraces that overlook the recently uncovered City Creek and hanging gardens on the roof. Go back and read the description in the BoM and compare it. Seriously.

    [While I'm on the topic of architecture, I have to say that Salt Lake has some pretty interesting examples that range from amazing to embarrassing. My personal favorites are the new public library (I want to move in), the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Moran Eye Center and the old library on State Street, next to the Alta Club. The biggest architectural embarrassment is the overtly phallic LDS Church office building, with its two large globes flanking a tipped tower.]

    Anyway, on Sunday Tobi and I walked into the Conference Center. I was wearing sandals because I didn't pack any dress shoes, and of course there's the small issue of my goatee. Tobi was his usual adorable self. No one hassled us exactly, but we did get a little more attention from security than the other folks walking in the front door. It's a Utah thing (or just xenophobia). Mixed-race couples are not very common in Utah.

    The program inside the Conference Center had a Memorial Day theme, and consequently there was a bit of flag waving. The Temple Square Orchestra accompanied the choir. I thought of Peter Danzig and his wife who last year would have been on stage with the orchestra. Too much information. I tried to focus on the music instead of the unfortunate political purge.

    Overall, I felt a sense of contradiction. I was glad to show Tobi a little bit of the culture that produced me, but the experience was bittersweet for me. It was probably the unreasonable scale of the building that caused me to feel this way. You shouldn't put an orchestra in a hall the size of four airplane hangars. :- )

    [BTW, the flowers on stage were hideously arranged, and I'm just being objective here, not critical. Memo to the powers that be: orange and fuschia zinnias are all you get when you're mean to gay people.]

    To make a long story short... the choir did its thing, and we escaped back to our natural habitat: brunch at the Oasis Cafe (151 S 500 E, SLC).


    P.S. Here are a few Japanese restaurant recommendations, which are the result of Tobi's digging around. Takashi (18 W Market St, SLC) is probably the best Japanese restaurant in Salt Lake. A less expensive but still excellent alternative is Kyoto (1080 E 1300 S, SLC), which is also very authentic.

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Hope from the bloggernacle

    Here's a comment posted to a Mormon blog thread about the California marriage decision.

    These debates are so interesting for me, having been on both sides of the fence on this issue. For many years I held a very traditional conservative-LDS view on homosexuality and gay marriage, and would have agreed wholeheartedly with Adam’s [hostile] position. However, about ten years ago my brother revealed to his family that he was gay, after spending his teen years in depression, misery, self-loathing and guilt. It was a terrible blow to our very active LDS family, but as the years have passed we’ve adapted to having a gay family member, and have had our perspectives shift 180 degrees as we’ve watched our brother and son learn to accept his biological make-up, date men, and get married! (We are Canadian.) He has never been promiscuous, He just couldn’t face a lifetime of celibacy and loneliness.

    Nowhere along the line did I have a dramatic moment where I rejected the church’s teachings on homosexuality, but gradually over the years, it just became a non issue. I am fully active in the church and committed to its teachings, but for me and for many others who know and love gay people, the church’s hard-line doctrines on gays create a lot of disconnect for us. Is it really the Lord talking? Or is it just cultural, like the issue of race was in decades past? So California is going to allow gay marriage. Big deal. It is not good for man to be alone. Let them live with dignity. My point is, that those who see this decision as an act of wickedness, and predict mournful consequences and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the state of California maybe don’t see the whole picture. I’m not trying to judge or preach, I’m just saying that if my POV can change, maybe yours could too. Go talk to some gay people. They’re really nice. And often very well dressed. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world.

    The comment was signed Sister Anonymous.

    People like Sister A. keep my faith in the church and its ability to eventually emerge with a more compassionate policy toward its homosexuals.