Gay weddings made up 17 percent of marriages in Washington this past year, the first year gay marriages were legal in the state, state officials reported Wednesday.
British pop icon Elton John at his Moscow concert on Friday called on Russia to end discrimination against gays and lesbians, the Interfax news agency reported.
The openly gay singer said he was "sad to learn" about a Russian "anti-gay law" which bans what it calls homosexual propaganda to minors, Interfax reported.
"He called for renouncing all discrimination, including that based on non-traditional sexual orientation," the agency said, using an expression in Russia for describing homosexuality.
According to Interfax and several messages on social networks, John dedicated his concert to Vladislav Tornovoi, a 23-year-old man tortured to death in May in Volgograd, in southwest Russia, apparently for being gay.
That sordid crime raised an outcry from the gay community and gay rights activists.
John was the first major Western star known for strong support of gay rights to play in Russia since President Vladimir Putin in June signed a national law banning "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors.
The loosely-worded law, aggressively lobbied by conservative lawmakers, can be used to ban any gay rights event, critics say.
John, 66, publicly announced his homosexuality in 1988 and is in a civil partnership. He and his partner, David Furnish, have two children born to a surrogate mother. The singer is a major backer of programmes to help those with AIDS. In 2009, Ukraine refused to let him adopt an HIV-positive toddler.
Before Russia's national law was signed, US pop stars Madonna and Lady Gaga last year used concerts in Saint Petersburg to speak out on stage against local legislation that went in the same direction.
The promoters of Lady Gaga's concert were fined last month by a Saint Petersburg court under a child protection law which includes a ban on gay propaganda.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, but its medical institutions continued to class homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1999.
Russian society remains deeply homophobic, with a survey by the Levada independent polling centre in March finding that 34 percent thought homosexuality was an illness that should be treated.
IHI: The Beginnings
The Institute for Human Identity (IHI) was founded by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Bernice Goodman in June 1973. These trained psychotherapists were emboldened to create professional, LGBT-affirmative mental health services at a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. At that time, the only available psychotherapy that viewed queer people through the lens of empathy -- as opposed to sickness -- was non-professional peer counseling.
A few months before opening, Silverstein and Goodman made a presentation before the American Psychiatric Association (APA) demanding that homosexuality be deleted from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Silverstein spent months tirelessly politicking for this, and on Dec. 15, 1973, the APA announced that homosexuality was no longer a disorder. As Silverstein put it at the time, "On December 14th we were all perverts, but [the next day] we were healthy and normal."
IHI's first office was a seven-room suite on New York's Upper West Side. Silverstein recalls that the furniture was old and beat-up, but this paled in comparison to the psychological help that queer people received, without their sexuality becoming the focus of treatment. They were finally treated as people with full lives. From these humble beginnings, IHI became a professional training ground that helped therapists of all types develop cultural competence -- not only for gay and lesbian clients but for a multitude of people whose ethnicity, race, or expressions of gender or sexuality were not commonly understood. Internationally known sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, aka Dr. Ruth, is among the many clinicians who trained at IHI.
The clinic's current offices in Chelsea are welcoming, confident, and professional, a testament to the enduring vision and passion of its founding. In addition to psychotherapy services for individuals, couples, and families, the clinic provides internships for therapists in training, educational seminars on various facets of queer lives, and Family Q, a groundbreaking support program of free workshops and counseling for LGBTQ parents and prospective parents.
What I find most riveting of all about IHI is the diversity of clients that the clinic attracts. In 1973, gay people were largely assumed to be white and male. But Silverstein and Goodman did not embark on this voyage to serve that population alone. Forty years later the deep empathy underlying their efforts provides refuge for a host of people with identity conflicts.
When I interned at IHI in 2007, I was moved by the variety of clients who found their way there: the young man from Mexico suffering from trauma, having been raised to believe that he was attracted to men only because he was inhabited by evil spirits; the woman who had suddenly lost her wife of 20 years and had been cut off from her family years before that; the client in transition from female to male, struggling to preserve the relationship that he had with his girlfriend; the straight man of Puerto Rican descent who found that his family's culturally based gender norms were causing him great anxiety and depression. Throughout my internship I received quality supervision in a variety of disciplines. The training challenged me to consider and empathize with numerous perspectives, identities, and lives; to listen; to learn; to be prepared to be unprepared in my work as a psychotherapist; to not make assumptions about who a person is before they tell me who and how they are.
A wider variety of people -- of all ages, skin colors, and identities -- are bravely seeking assistance in discovering their truths than ever before. We owe much of this progress to the founders of IHI.
The freedom to perform our lives with fearlessness, versatility, and truth is my idea of optimal mental health. When we make use of this freedom, we expand concepts of identity for ourselves and other people, inspiring each other to create lives that are more livable. Such a performance will take place at IHI's "Love, Yourself" gala on Dec. 9, 2013, with the participation of IHI founder Charles Silverstein, Zachary Booth (Damages, Keep the Lights On), Halley Feiffer (Bored to Death), Alysia Reiner (Orange Is the New Black), three-time Tony Award winner Brian Murray, and Justin Sayre (The Meeting), in addition to the aforementioned actors. If you're curious about expanding your own sense of identity, check it out.
Or you might check out more about IHI here.
Years ago, women would be in the passenger seat or at home as the men drove to work. In 1963, 40 million motorists in the U.S. were women, accounting for 43 percent of drivers. Today, more than 88 million women are licensed drivers, almost half of all motorists in the U.S.
So, hey, I guess we can capitalize on sexism just a little bit, eh?
I do love this little passage from the Esurance webpage: "If you're a guy, all this really means is that a female clone of yourself would likely pay less for car insurance." I can confidently confirm this statement as 100-percent true, because it happened to me when I changed my gender. Also, I have a written email to prove it.
Back in 2012 I legally changed my name from a traditionally male name to a traditionally female name. No andro labels for me, sorry. I followed up with my various accounts -- bank, school, work, and, of course, auto insurance -- to get them to change their files. I won't say which car insurance company I'm with, to protect my agent, myself, and the company, but anyway, I communicate with my agent via email, so I sent him my account number, my old name, my new name, and an attached name-change form. He went ahead and updated the account, including my listed gender. I received the following email:
Thanks for your email and update. I have processed the change on the auto policy in our office. If the company asks for any information I will let you know but I don't think we will need anything at this point.
By the way...the auto policy rates went down $52.40 per 6 months for the same coverage. The system gave me a projected prorated refund of $9.38 from now till the renewal on 9-2-2012. Those funds would be deposited back into your bank account that is on file in about a week or so.
It had been a few months since I'd looked at my policy, and my boyfriend had had an accident in my car, so I was honestly surprised that my rate was lower than before. I replied that I'd forgotten to mention that my driver's license also says "F" now instead of "M," so I wanted to know if my policy should reflect that as well. I even added, "Don't girls pay less, haha?" His reply:
Yes...I changed that record on both policies and that is why the auto was $52.40 lower for 6 months. You're all set now!
I was dumbfounded. I'd never expected this to happen, and I just started laughing and bragging to my parents about how I'd saved money by changing genders (something like "HA HA! Joke's on you, CIS PEOPLE! Hahahaha!"). I guess you could say that this was the first of several new privileges associated with being a woman.
Exposing the Sexism
I am a unique trans woman. Most trans women will say that they were always a girl in their heart and/or mind, and that they were just born in the wrong body. I don't necessarily believe that about myself. I feel that my soul is definitely feminine, but I never felt like I was trapped in the wrong body. I felt like I was living the wrong life. Basically, just as someone can hate their job or career and change it to something that fits them better, I hated my gender and changed it to something that fits me better. However, the fact that I do feel like I used to be a man and am now a woman is enlightening, because I had a male perspective, and now I have a female perspective. Unlike many trans women, I didn't always have a female perspective, so I feel like I can analyze sexism pretty well.
This insurance adjustment was just the first of many changes in how people treat me. Now I open doors for myself maybe two thirds of the time as opposed to three thirds of the time. People sort of assume that I'm fragile and don't touch me nearly as much. As a guy, I had girls hugging me or cuddling on me, and guys would punch me playfully or pat my back. Now nothing. I think people are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment (which is not something I'd do, so touch away). Also, I honestly lost the strength to open jars! Recently I had to get my guy roommate to open a jar for me. Professionally, I get to wear more comfortable clothes and have men trying to impress me in professional settings, and I usually get favors from bankers, clerks, etc., because I am seen as less threatening. I am basing this on personal experience with the people in my city, as well as on generalized stereotypes and standardized statistics. In any case, I heard on the radio that white women are the most privileged class in my city, and I would agree. So there's that.
I feel like this whole insurance situation is just one aspect of a huge system of gender differences. I could go into a huge rant about categorization, but I will save that for another day. All I can say is that since I changed my gender from male to female, I've felt spoiled. It's hard to really explain why I feel this way with hard evidence and examples, but I remember life being harder when I was male. I think there's a good reason that my life feels easier now. Maybe it's because I feel realer in my new life, or maybe it's because women are treated better (or at least like delicate flowers), but it's likely a very intriguing combination of both.
The moral of the story: I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching my gender.
To read the original blog post on Blogspot, click here.
I talked with Jonathan about his music and his spin on LGBT issues. When asked about his personal commitment to LGBT civil rights, he stated:
My personal commitment isn't so much to LGBT rights as much as everyone. I just want everyone to be equal and everyone to have a purpose in life. I'll be working with The Trevor Project soon, and I'm launching an organization called The Personal Stories Project, which I'm very excited about. It's the power of sharing stories and how that impacts people's lives and how that kind of gives people hope, hearing about other people's stories and what they're going through. I think it's going to be a great organization, and I'm really excited.
On the advancement of LGBT equality in America, Jonathan added:
We kind of live in a country where the advancement of LGBT equality has evolved over time. This past year I'm really excited; it seems like it's definitely moving forward. ... I really hope we can become a country where equality is what we're known for, and I really think we can become that.
A Tennessee native, Jonathan has been singing for as long as he can remember. He often used music as a refuge from the daily troubles of his childhood, and he grew up with a love for classical music, especially the performances of Pavarotti. Frequently compared to Josh Groban because of his operatic pipes, Jonathan has now set out to pursue a career in music and is working on an album that infuses classical music with pop and dance music. His L.A. debut at Rockwell Table and Stage on Wednesday, Dec. 18, will include many genres of music, including classical, pop and holiday favorites.
For more information, visit jonathanallenmusic.com.
Listen to more interviews with LGBTQ leaders, allies, and celebrities at OUTTAKE VOICESâ„˘.
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This week, 19-year-old British diver and Olympic bronze medalist Tom Daley joined a small group of professional sportsmen, publicly announcing (via a self-recorded video that he posted on YouTube) that he is happily in a relationship with a man. Despite the impromptu nature of the recording, he chose his words carefully, stating that he is happy and that something had "clicked" in the relationship, but avoiding any label about his sexuality and noting that he has dated and still fancies girls.
Though a sport's star's sex life is hardly as newsworthy as Syria, the recession, global warming and all the other "important" stories that we're meant to be focused on as informed citizens of a developed-world democracy, Daley's news has gripped the public consciousness. Within hours Daley's story became the top story on the Guardian and Times of London websites, and it has literally flooded Facebook and Twitter. (By midday Monday I considered turning off Facebook on my work computer, for fear that IT surveillance would pick up on the multiple photos in my News Feed of near-naked Tom in his sparingly cut diving briefs.)
I'm not sure whether Daley is well-known outside the UK, though his orange permatan is surely vivid enough to be seen from space. Here in Britain he's a poster boy for a bewildering cross-section of the British public, for whom he's somewhere between a boy band crush, the object of dark sexual fantasies of men and women alike, and more benign sympathies for his youthful vulnerability and his very publicly reported grief over his coach-father's death from cancer. With millions of followers on Twitter and a bronze medal at last year's Olympics, and now as the star of a popular reality TV show, Splash, Daley is an athlete who, like David Beckham before him, has successfully straddled the austere, highly disciplined world of professional athleticism and the razzle and showbiz of modern celebrity. Given Daley's popularity, this kind of reaction to a major shift in his public persona was in some ways inevitable.
Modern Anglo-American culture has moved along in leaps and bounds in recent years in its approach to homosexuality. The campaign for gay marriage, once very much a marginalized "special rights" movement, has now become a fashionable badge of modern liberalism, and the widespread horror over Vladimir Putin's homophobic laws in Russia suggests that homophobia, while it hasn't disappeared, has become as unacceptable in the developed world as racism or sexism. With that in mind, I was suspecting, perhaps too optimistically, that Daley would get an easier ride than his predecessors in professional sports who've placed an athletically toned foot outside the closet.
Most responses in the UK press have been fairly positive. While the tabloid reportage has been typically sensationalist, panting breathlessly like an elderly flasher at a playground, there's been a bit less prurience and much less of an exposĂ© or witch-hunt feel. And as media-enflamed sex stories go, this one is relatively innocent. Daley chose to make a statement himself rather than being caught pants down in a public toilet like George Michael. He isn't leaving a wife or children devastated in his wake like Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas did, and he wasn't weighed down with the added anxiety of revealing his HIV status like American diver Greg Louganis. As Daley's video shows, he seems delighted rather than suicidal about his new relationship status, giving the news something of a Richard Curtis-scripted rom-com ambience.
Interestingly, most of the commentary has focused less on the fact of Daley's same-sex attraction and more on his decision not to identify himself as gay. In particular, his proviso in the video that he still fancies girls seems to have raised heckles on all sides of the rainbow coalition. As a child of the sexually ambiguous, queer theory-infused 1990s, I have some sympathy for Daley's position. After he tried so carefully in his video not to label himself as "gay" or "bisexual," the media and onlookers have ignored this and labeled him themselves, declaring, "Daley comes out as gay," reporting that he's in "a gay relationship" or nicknaming him (the rather ghastly) "Tom Gayley." There's a cruel irony in all this, as one of Daley's stated intentions for making the video was to dispel a recent "misquotation" of him in the press. Though Daley didn't name the story in question, it's likely to have been the article that ran in the Sunday Mirror in September, in which Daley is quoted as saying that he isn't gay. The article has Daley going on to say, "But even if I was, I wouldn't be ashamed. It wouldn't bother me in the slightest what people thought." Given that Daley must have been in his current relationship when the interview was published, he's clearly had an interesting three months of soul-searching since, which has hopefully now found resolution in this week's statement.
It's a sad truth that even in our post-Bowie, post-Gaga culture, bisexuality is still viewed with suspicion and confusion. Even within lesbian and gay communities, bisexuality is often dismissed as a temporary pose rather than a permanent status, a form of sexual fence sitting before the neophyte subject acquires sufficient courage to settle into their permanent, essentialist sexual identity. For better or for worse, Daley's youth seems to be on his side. At 19 he's still young enough to be seen as "experimenting" with his sexuality, so he can be "forgiven" for some wavering on the subject -- that is, if you still think there's anything to forgive about liking boys as well as girls.
Apart from a smattering of homophobic trolling, the majority of Twitter commentary has followed a live-and-let-live argument, noting that it doesn't really matter how Daley chooses to define himself as long as he's happy. Amid the pre-Christmassy goodwill, there's been a fair amount of sniping from commentators who should know better, all falling over themselves to tell us how Daley's announcement "isn't important" or "shouldn't be news." Others have echoed something Daley said in his video, that in "the ideal world" he wouldn't have to have this conversation, playing up a sense of distaste at even having to consider or discuss the story.
Maybe I've been a homo for too long, but something in the back of my fillings aches at this kind of sentiment, which I'm not sure is a self-congratulatory kind of liberalism or just good old-fashioned homophobia hiding behind a polite veneer of old-school politeness. In my experience over the years, I've found it's usually the latter. While my fellow middle-class liberals might consider a conversation about a 19-year-old's sexuality beneath them, very few would question a gay person's right to speak their own truth. The people who'd rather not talk about celebrities coming out are much more likely to be speaking from a deep-seated dislike and disapproval of homosexuality, so when I hear these kinds of protestations toward good taste, I tend to ignore them and plow on regardless.
What this kind of "why do we need to talk about it?" naysaying misses is that we still do need to talk about Tom. Daley's own reluctance to announce his news until now demonstrates that the decision to go public with his sexuality was a difficult one and came with risks of criticism, rejection and abuse. Such is the lot of most people who identify as LGBTQ (that's "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer," for the un-acronymed) and don't have Daley's legions or supporters or celebrity status. While gay-friendly folk might imagine that we're living in an enlightened age where sexuality is no longer "an issue," this seems an incredibly naĂŻve and dangerous position to take. Identifying as LGBTQ is still incredibly difficult, especially for young people, and the risks of negative fallout are huge, hence why stories like Daley's become so important for the LGBTQ community, and why his declaration will almost certainly provide a glimmer of encouragement for other young people in a similar situation.
For that reason alone, it seems to me that we need more statements like Daley's. People who argue that we don't need to talk about sexuality clearly have very little understanding of the pernicious effects of homophobia, the isolation and trauma of existing in the closet, and the unacceptably high levels of suicide, depression and substance abuse among LGBTQ people -- and, by extension, how important and necessary coming =-out narratives are to encourage others to live openly and honestly. As a young gay man living in a small, conservative town in the pre-Internet era, I scoured the library and newspapers thoroughly for any inkling that other people were or might have been gay. Even today, my ear is still fine-tuned to pick up on same-sex pronouns when someone refers to their partner in conversation or on the news, and I react with surprise as well as delight when someone in the public realm opts to out himself or herself. The world has indeed changed since the un-sepia-tinted days of my youth. Though social media can sometimes seem like an irritating skin condition, persistent, painful and impossible to treat, today they have the magical ability to broadcast Tom's video to LGBTQ people around the world. For some of Tom's audience, his news will be fortifying and inspiring rather than evidence of the decline and fall of civilization or another nail in the coffin of middle-class ennui.
The co-opting of Daley's story and the smoothing down of the edges around his narrative, in an attempt to make him "gay," are unfortunate, but it seems inevitable in a society where so few LGBTQ people of any profession are out and proud. The number of professional sportsmen who have identified as gay or admitted to same-sex attraction is still worryingly small, a testament to the cult of compulsory heterosexuality in sports culture. Personally I don't see that there's anything very much the matter with the LGBTQ community wanting to claim Daley for their own. It doesn't seem terribly different from the way straight society "claims" every bride and groom or every pregnant woman who waddles by as public property and yet another affirmation of the dominant social order. With that in mind, I'm cautiously happy for the LGBTQ community to celebrate Daley's news as a victory for their team. Daley can, hopefully, choose his own level of involvement with the LGBTQers, if any, at a later date.
I've also been disappointed to read so many comments along the lines of "we knew Tom was gay," which once again underscores the tired old clichĂ©s existing in our culture about what behavior constitutes "masculine" and "heterosexual" identity. These gay stereotypes are now so well-worn that it feels as painful as a shin splint to retread them: Daley's boyishly sweet face, his lack of alpha-male aggression, his tendency to soap himself under a shower in his speedos with the cameras rolling, and his hours of time spent sculpting his physique and working on his diving technique are all seen as just a big cultural shorthand for his homosexuality. This week the thousands of gay men, straight women and slightly lascivious grandmas who lusted over Tom in various states of undress had their fantasies come true or get destroyed, depending on their perspective. The clichĂ©s were true! Let's disco!
This all seems harmless enough, but as Mark Simpson pointed out in his excellent Guardian piece about Daley in the wake of the Mirror interview, this kind of thinking "reinforces straight-and-narrow and increasingly obsolete ideas about what boys should and shouldn't be -- if they don't conform to that, then they 'must' be gay." I'm with Mark. A stereotype is still a stereotype and just as limiting and damaging, even if it's "positive" or kindly intentioned. No one says "blacks have great rhythm" or "Asians are good at math" anymore, so why are we allowing ourselves the same kind of lazy stereotyping about sex and sexuality?
Any kind of public declaration about the truth of one's sexuality, whether made via YouTube to millions of followers or made quietly in a room to one or two people, is a blow for truth and honesty and a counterattack against the suffocating and damaging effects of homophobia. This week Daley has joined that club of truth tellers, making a statement that's personal and meaningful for him and, because of his celebrity, also has the potential to be meaningful to other people. It's a decision that I (and everyone else who's made a similar decision) can assure him will change his life for the better. Whether he is gay and just fence sitting, bisexual and sure to end up with a woman, or secretly trans and at the start of his journey toward becoming a lady weightlifter named Thomasina is anyone's guess and almost seems beside the point. For today, anyway, he faced his fears, took on the capricious and frequently cruel tide of public opinion, and spoke his truth. And for that I congratulate him.
Nelson Mandela's life and legacy are being celebrated by nearly everyone in American politics, from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to President Barack Obama. But the U.S. government aggressively opposed Mandela's political goals for decades. While President Ronald Reagan's support for the apartheid state is well documented, Clinton's work to undermine the economic foundation of the nascent Mandela-led South African republic is sometimes overlooked.
After Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, then-President Clinton pressured the nation to adopt trade policies that benefitted U.S. corporations while restricting South African access to drugs treating HIV and AIDS. In the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies were charging roughly $12,000 a year for lifesaving AIDS drugs in Mandela's country. For a nation with an average income of $2,600 a year, where roughly one-fifth of the population was HIV-positive, the drug prices were untenable.
Mandela signed a law in 1997 authorizing his administration to shop the globe for cheaper drugs. If the same medication was available at a lower price in another country, Mandela's government would simply buy the drug abroad and import it. In the years since, some U.S. states -- including Kansas under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- have experimented with similar policies to obtain prescription drugs from Canada in order to lower prescription drug prices for American seniors.
But American pharmaceutical companies were livid. The Clinton administration insisted the South African law violated World Trade Organization treaties -- an interpretation later discredited. Clinton's team pressured Mandela in trade talks to drop the new law, and began punishing South Africa by rescinding U.S. trade benefits for goods produced in the country.
AIDS protesters at the activist group ACT UP waded into the fight, focusing on Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign. Gore, as co-chair of the U.S.- South Africa Binational Commission, wielded great power over trade and drug policy. A dozen ACT UP protesters disrupted Gore's 2000 campaign kickoff in his hometown of Carthage, Tenn., unveiling banners reading "Gore's Greed Kills: AIDS Drugs For Africa."
"We were leaked documents indicating that the U.S. government had pressured the South African government to drop plans on compulsory licensing and parallel imports -- shopping around the world for lower prices," said Paul Davis, an ACT UP protester at the time. "So we handed it out to activists, and people went to his campaign announcement in his hometown in Carthage, Tenn. There was a huge amount of media attention."
Davis stayed home in Philadelphia for the Carthage protest, alerting the press about more to come, as Gore's campaign moved to New Hampshire and New York.
"We said we had evidence of Al Gore going against Nelson Mandela on AIDS drugs in Africa, and we planned to release it," Davis said. "People said, 'This is huge! You have to go to New Hampshire in the morning!' So we found a vehicle and a few friends willing to go to New Hampshire, including a friend named Rachel Maddow."
Maddow, who was not available to comment for this story, was a Rhodes scholar at the time. She now hosts a popular political news show for MSNBC.
The media reaction was devastating, and Clinton soon backtracked on his African AIDS policy, issuing an executive order vowing that the U.S. would not use its economic power to pressure sub-Saharan nations over HIV or AIDS treatment.
Clinton would eventually atone as a philanthropist. At Mandela's recommendation, Clinton started a major international AIDS relief program -- the Clinton Health Access Initiative -- that made access to generic drugs a primary component of its platform. The charity has been a smashing success and is credited with saving millions of lives.
But American trade policy has never been the same. Today, Obama continues to push policies in trade deals designed to inflate drug prices by expanding corporate monopolies for medication. The most recent efforts are embodied in the leaked intellectual property chapter of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade pact being negotiated between the Obama administration and 11 Pacific nations. Humanitarian groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have issued strong warnings against the Obama administration's policies, arguing the deal would dramatically raise treatment costs around the globe.
The irony is not lost on Davis.
"The president says his whole career is inspired by Nelson Mandela. Well then he needs to follow through on Mandela's commitment to allowing access to affordable drugs in the developing world," Davis said.
My Letter to the Bishop Who Judged the Methodist Minister Who Officiated His Gay Son’s Wedding — and Her Amazing Response
My parents had been on their own journey toward accepting my sexual orientation, and they had evolved to the point that they felt comfortable approaching the minister of their church, whom they had supported significantly for years. They asked him if he would perform a ceremony for us. He answered that even though he wanted to, that he supported what we were doing, he could not. More specifically, he was afraid to perform the ceremony.
The truth is that it was unlikely that our private ceremony would have been noticed, but he was worried that his church superiors might somehow catch wind of it, and that he would get in to trouble. He was, in truth, not my first choice to conduct the ceremony anyway, but his cowardice lowered him even further in my perception. I was actually relieved to not be married by a man who was so weak in his own convictions. He dodged the bullet of being judged for doing something right, and I dodged the bullet of not having a blessing said over my life that had no moral courage behind it.
One could not say the same thing of another minister, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist clergyman who has laid a very public stake in the ground while standing on his own heroic convictions. He too was asked to officiate a same-gender wedding -- his son's -- in 2007. He did not shrink away. His response: "When he asked me in 2007, 'Dad, would you do my wedding?' I was just honored."
It was a private ceremony, not done defiantly in the faces of Schaefer's Pennsylvania congregation. It was not meant as a protest of the United Methodist Church's policies. It would not have even been an issue had not a lone congregant, Jon Boger, pressed it. Inexplicably, Mr. Boger somehow felt that the baptisms of his children and the funerals of his grandparents had been adversely affected by Schaefer's proceedings over his own son's wedding. Since the events had no relation to each other in any way, I have trouble seeing this as a matter of religious tenet, but rather as pure, unadulterated prejudice, but then, I was not asked my opinion.
The decision on whether to go to trial on this issue was under the auspices of Bishop Peggy Johnson. Bishop Johnson received a petition pleading with her not to move forward, but she replied that even though she "tried really, really hard," she had to move forward anyway.
Just in case a voice of reason might prevail where a petition of thousands did not, I sent this open letter to Bishop Johnson and any others in the Methodist hierarchy who are judging Rev. Schaefer. Below is my letter to her, and her kind and pretty amazing response back.
Dear Bishop Johnson,
I am writing this to you as one who was raised loving God in the United Methodist Church. I am writing to you as a father of two special-needs boys who were adopted through foster care, each having been born to drug-addicted birth parents. I am writing this to you from the vantage point of one who has had the privilege of officiating for and marrying dedicated couples. I am writing this to you as a gay man.
One of the factors that has driven me in my personal spiritual quest is the embrace of Christ, who stood for principles beyond the "rules" of man. While He respected rules, He was the first to confront them when they no longer were serving their intended use. He broke the "rule" regarding work on the Sabbath when doing so meant that He could heal someone in need. He left us with two main principles that override all rules that do not support them: to love God above all else, and to love one's neighbor as oneself.
Certainly, Bishop Johnson, your own position in your church is the result of enlightened thinking that looked at a biblical "rule" and realized that it did not stand up to the scrutiny of holy principle. The first book of Timothy is unequivocal in its "rule" that women be silent, and that they be forbidden to teach or lead men. This biblical statement is far clearer than any of the statements about gang rape, temple orgies, heterosexual divorce or prostitution that some choose to interpret as mandates against gay people. Yet clear minds and hearts of the United Methodist Church rejected this "rule" of the Bible and tradition. John Wesley, in founding the United Methodist Church, stated, "It has long passed for a maxim with many that 'women are only to be seen but not heard.'" While it took some time after that pronouncement, the United Methodist Church finally put the outdated rule to bed in lieu of principle in May 1956.
So now you are up against another "rule." A son looked into the eyes of the father who loves him so much and asked him to officiate and bless his marriage. It is obvious that the Methodist court that judged the father in question did so completely blinded by "rule" and devoid of principle. For me, as someone who has been on all sides of the marriage ceremony, as a father, as a son wanting to marry my life partner, and as one who held the space for those coming together in matrimony, I can tell you that the Method Church's actions are a shame and a travesty against all things loving, good and right.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court stated that "the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition." In that single quotation, the justices summed up the heart of this issue.
In my experience, when a couple sought me out to be an officiate their wedding, they were asking me to put words to their own self-definition as a couple. It is an honor and a holy task that I have undertaken twice now. I strived to know them, their hopes, and their dreams and describe the commitment of the path they were now taking together. There are 1,500 rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, and those were never the subject of either of the ceremonies I wrote. I wrote the ceremonies based on their love, hope and vision.
When I discuss marriage with my sons, even at their young age, I talk about my own vision of marriage, in hopes of imparting upon them the very best experience that life has to offer. If, a few years from now, one of my sons were to ask me to officiate his wedding, that would be a harmonic convergence of my vision for him and his own. I can think of few moments as a parent that would be as beautifully unifying as that and underscore the pure soul of a family to such an extent. If that request came to me, I would move heaven and earth to make it happen. Nothing, nothing, would keep me from showing up for my son and being part of that self-defining moment for him, exactly as he asked me to.
This was what Rev. Frank Schaefer experienced as a parent, and all that you intend to set aside, all for the sake of an archaic "rule." You are dead wrong in every way conceivable.
The Bible's principles do not support your rule. Leaving aside that the Bible makes no prohibition against two people of the same gender making a marriage commitment, you are ignoring the Bible's greatest examples of principles behind parental love. The father of the prodigal son did not turn his back on either of his sons, the rule follower or the rule breaker. The story of King Solomon is probably the most pertinent. Two mothers came to him claiming a single child as her own. The false mother had had a stillbirth, but the king did not know who was telling the truth. He laid out a rule of fairness. The rule would have a baby severed in half to appease both the false mother and the true mother standing before him. The true mother rejected the ruling and was self-sacrificing for the sake of the love of her child.
You have placed Rev. Schaefer in that same position, and he has followed the path of the real parent. He is willing to sacrifice his own career for the love of his son. He stated, "I couldn't pass on the other side of the road like a Levite to preserve a rule. All I saw was love for my son." Rev. Schaefer is exhibiting the best of a father's love. In terms of spiritual principle, his actions can easily be compared to the consecration of the Holy Father's love, and its reflection, with His creations. God loves and has a vision for us, and when we seek Him to solemnize our own vision aligned with His, we have holiness.
In the Solomon story, the king realized that the "rule" was a test, and it demonstrated who the true parent really was. It was also a test of the authority behind the rule. Was that authority one in which a child would be slaughtered all for the sake of a "rule," or was it one in which higher principle would prevail? For the real mother in that story, it was the latter. For you, as a deserving member of the clergy and qualified to serve, it was also the latter.
Now is your time to prove that those who used principle over "rule" on your behalf were right in doing so. History is watching.
Wedding officiant, Methodist, gay man and a dad
Bishop Johnson's reply:
Dear Mr Watson
Thank you for what I consider the best letter yet on this topic. I could not agree with you more on the points you have made. This trial was never my choice but the results of an impasse that could not be resolved and rules in the Book of Discipline that have remained for over 40 years the same. I hope Rev Schaefer decides to stay and continue to work from within. Know that our social issues continue to plague us. Yes, women can be ordained in the UMC but there is not a year that passes that I don't get a letter from a church saying they won't take a woman pastor. One of my churches does not allow me to preach there. The struggle for civil and ecclesiastical rights for the LGBTQ community will also go on for some time. We prayerfully continue the work. Keep shining your light.
In conclusion, I want to thank Bishop Johnson for her consideration. My hope is that the progressive voices in the United Methodist Church also rise to the occasion. It is the opportunity for a church not only to stand by a man who deserves it but to stand on the right side of history.
The Free Speech Coalition oversees the testing of porn performers for sexually transmitted diseases.
â€śWe are taking every precaution while we do research to determine if thereâ€™s been any threat to the performer pool,â€ť Free Speech Coalition CEO Diane Duke said in a press release. â€śWe take the health of our performers very seriously and felt that it was better to err on the side of caution while we determine whether anyone else may have been exposed.â€ť
The next steps will be to perform additional tests, determine a timeline and identify any first-generation partners of the person who tested positive, the Free Speech Coalition said. The group did not name the performer.
In August, Cameron Bay was the first of the four porn performers to recently receive an HIV-positive test result. On Aug. 21, the day Bay found out about her test result, the Free Speech Coalition called a moratorium on adult film shooting. Six days later, the group lifted the moratorium.
A week after filming had resumed, Bay's boyfriend, performer Rod Daily, announced that he had tested positive for HIV. Two days after Daily said he was HIV-positive, another performer, who wasn't identified, tested positive. That prompted the Free Speech Coalition to impose a second moratorium on Sept. 6.
After the first two moratoriums, the group said it would begin requiring STD testing of performers every 14 days, twice as often as before.
The Free Speech Coalition maintains that the first three performers who recently tested HIV-positive -- Bay, Daily and the anonymous man -- did not contract HIV on a film set.
Joanne Cachapero, spokeswoman for the Free Speech Coalition, said the group is not sure yet whether the fourth HIV-positive performer contracted the virus on set or not.
In November 2012, Los Angeles voters passed a measure mandating condom use in porn, despite a large, coordinated campaign against it by the porn industry. The law requires porn producers to pay for a permit to film and to submit to inspections by the LA County Public Health Department. However, industry insiders say there has been no enforcement so far.
Earlier this year, adult film producer Vivid Entertainment and two porn performers filed a lawsuit against the county, arguing that the condom mandate infringed on producers' and performers' freedom of expression.
In August, a U.S. district judge ruled that parts of the law -- relating, among other things, to how it is enforced -- are unconstitutional, but upheld the basic mandate requiring condoms. Vivid Entertainment and the performers appealed the part of the ruling that left the mandate in place.
In October, LA County declined to defend the mandate in court and declined to comment further because of the ongoing litigation.
The condom mandate law was drafted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which maintains that no amount of testing can make adult films safe without condom use.
â€śHow many more performers need to become infected for the industry to comply with existing regulations and laws requiring workplace safety?" Michael Weinstein, president of the foundation, asked in a statement Friday.
"The willful disregard by the County of Los Angeles and the Industry for the health and welfare of people is becoming more and more apparent," he added. "The industry as a whole, and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health should be ashamed.â€ť
As if the message wasn't already clear, the arrival of Kiehl's to the trendy neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen in New York City solidifies the enclave as the new gay mecca.