Thursday, December 27, 2012

Porn Does Not Make Straight People Allies for Marriage Equaltity

Dr. Mark Regenerus is promoting another crazy theory: after poor research showing same sex parents as poor parents, he is now promoting the idea that porn watched by straight couples make them allies for marriage equality. I cannot make this stuff up:;/



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Who's Who in the Nativity Scene

From my blog:
In my family of origin, there was one rule we followed when purchasing Christmas cards: they had to include a picture, symbol, or message of the Holy Family. No cards with reindeers, Santa Claus, elves, mistletoe, kittens, dogs, Christmas trees with snow in a wintry meadow, or Elvis singing a Christmas carol in blue suede shoes were allowed. Instead, only a chorus of angels, an image of a stable scene with a star over the setting, shepherds in a field, animals gathering around a mange, perhaps Wise Men on camels, or a scene of the Holy Family gathered around a baby Jesus in his cradle were allowed.
Being a traditionalist, my children grew up surrounded by Nativity scenes, with their mom and I only purchasing cards with the image of the Holy Family. The Nativity scene was set in a crude stable, with the same pile of straw we used from year to year. Carved wooden characters portrayed Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, a donkey, a horse, a cow, and a sheep. Now and then one of my daughter’s dolls or son’s Matchbox trucks ended up in the Nativity scene too, and no one seemed to mind. Along with the carved set of the Nativity scene, we also had a Nativity scene with characters made from corn husks from Appalachian artists, along with a Holly Hobby doll set; and there was a beautifully carved black wood Nativity scene I brought back from a trip to Kenya.
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Monday, December 24, 2012

Why Abortion, Marriage Equality, and the Absence of Prayer Did Not Cause the Sandy Hook Massacre

From my column on
The aftermath of any mass shooting in the United States seems to follow a certain pattern of now-expected reactions and calls for actions. There is the waiting for the names of the ones who were shot and the name of the shooter, which is soon followed by the photos of all the victims and the assailant. There is the national spotlight thrust onto the community in which the crime took place. If the shooting of people is large enough, the president usually quickly puts out a statement of solidarity with those who weep, and attends a public gathering of those in deep mourning. Flowers and candles are placed on wooden crosses or other markers that stand as solitary reminders of the loss of life in this season of grieving. Funeral and memorial services become the main event of the week as our busy lives come to a halt in these extraordinary moments of shock.
Sadly, political and religious leaders who are not in sync with what is going on within the heart of a community, a state, or a nation, quickly run to microphones and say things that are not helpful, but destructive. While words can provide solace in fierce times, words can also tear down and cause great heartache.
In recent days, after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some political and religious spokespersons have chosen to add words of hate amid heart-felt verses of those more in tune with the national mood. They are delivering cheap shots at political targets they constantly aim at rather than staying respectfully silent in these days of grieving.
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Primer on DOMA And Why It Is Important to Same Sex Parents

The first of two series, with another one on Prop 8, from blog:
On Friday, December 9, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) agreed to hear two cases that will affect the lives of same-sex couples and parents for the next generation.
One of the cases is simply known as DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for both federal and interstate implications in the United States.
The other case is known simply as “Prop 8.” “Prop 8” is short for Proposition 8, a California ballot measure and constitutional amendment that was passed in November 2008 after a season of marriages between same-sex couples. The measure added to the California constitution provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” In this blog entry, I want to highlight what DOMA does to same-sex parents, and what will happen if it is overturned as a law.
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Happy Holiday to All Our Families: From Traditional Marriages, Same Sex Parents, Straight Parents, And Altnerative Families

From Q Notes: 
Whether one is celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas in the United States, there is one image that is front and center: the family. On Facebook, friends who celebrate Hanukkah downloaded several images of their children with their respective grandparents around a lighted menorah. Meanwhile, the Christmas celebrants download images of their children around Christmas trees large and small, multi-colored or in thematic splendor. In the holiday season, across the faiths, we become a nation that celebrates mom, a dad and a child or children, with or without dogs and cats included in the folderol.
What is unique in this years assault of “traditional American family” tableaus is this breaking news of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hearing cases regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Both DOMA and Prop 8 attempted to limit marriage as being between one man and one woman, with no chance of any two parents who were of the same-sex, questioning, bisexual or transgender allowed to obtain a marriage license. In this bleak wintry season, hope springs anew for LGBTQ parents. Along with SCOTUS, marriages between LGBTQ people are taking place in Washington state, Maryland and Maine, with rumblings from other states where state leaders are interested in marriage equality.
In this new day and age, lesbian and gays are coming to the realization that they can now partake in what has been off-limits to them prior to this: a fuller embrace of the American dream. The dawning awareness was captured in the LOGO-TV show, “The Baby Wait,” in which one soon-to-be gay dad uttered (with a sense of awe) these words: “When I came out to my parents, I never thought I would be able to marry or be able to raise my own child. Now, I can do both in my lifetime!” In other words, LGBTQ people are now entering the realm of marrying and parenting that was solely the domain of straight people. And, this is being done so no longer as an open act of protest outside the bounds of the law, but being done legitimately and legally. Living in the dawning of this new day and age, there are cautionary notes: what do we, as LGBTQ people, bring to a traditional understanding of marriage and raising children? Likewise, what traditional ways of being “family” in the American narrative do we want to borrow? Do we want to live “for better or for worse, richer or poorer” with one steady other or is there room for an open relationship? Or, for a steady third person in a relationship? These, and other questions, will need to be explored, negotiated, agreed upon, and open for more study in the days, months and years to come.
Nevertheless, as many of us go forward in other states to get our marriage licenses, get married, adopt children, we do so because of those who fought and died to make this day a reality. It is simply amazing to be part of a social movement that is moving forward with great alacrity. Along the way, many of us will receive the blessings of a religious community in the presence of family, friends, wedding planners…soon followed by baby showers, purchase of minivans, dogs, cats, lighting of the menorah and tableaus of the family around Christmas trees. Happy holidays to us all. : :

Monday, December 17, 2012

Three New Lessons Learned from Newtown, CT:

From my blog on
When I went to school as a child, I worried about a host of things: how well I finished my homework; what my new topics will I be surprised by today; whether or not there could be a pop quiz in a class; tolerating a bully’s asinine behavior; sitting through one more boring slideshow or movie in a science class; going to choir practice and accompanying them on piano; and getting excited about the next upcoming vacation. Never in my wildest imagination did I think about a person coming into school with a gun with the sole intention of wreaking havoc upon innocent lives.
That all changed when my son and daughter were in school. At my son’s elementary school, strangers were caught trying to lure young unsuspecting children into their cars. My daughter’s high school went to “shut down” status when a gunman was founding lurking in the forest around the school. My partner works at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where there are drills and advance preparations in place in case there is a repeat of the mass killings at Virginia Tech. He has said that there is a daily fear that one of the young students who are fragile emotionally may bring harm upon themselves or others. Young women at my university carry a concealed taser guns in case they feel threatened.
While my children, partner, and I have been spared personal experience of violence upon our lives, the same cannot be said of a growing number of people in our country.
In the last few weeks — during which 20 young children and six adults were killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT — there was also a young man who killed people at a shopping mall in Clackamas, Oregon; a young man shot a gun into the air in an elementary school in California; and an older gentleman with guns threatened to kill his wife and children at a nearby elementary school in Indiana.
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why My Family Does Not Give a Cent to the Salvation Army

From and my blog posting there:
In this holiday season, along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, there was Giving Tuesday. On Giving Tuesday, area charities took time to remind people that the holiday season is more than simply being materialistic, or falling for the smart merchandising campaign of Madison Avenue. Giving Tuesday is meant to strike a different note of simply giving to those in want and need. This is a day to raise awareness of the non-profits who are doing good work in this world.
In this season of gift giving, and amid the various non-profit and religious groups who are asking for donations, not all groups or organizations are the same in terms of charity to all, and with malice toward none. Sadly, one of the groups that my family, friends, and straight allies avoid is the conservative evangelical Christian church known as the Salvation Army. We do not give to the Salvation Army. We avoid their red kettles and ignore the people ringing the bell for the Salvation Army because they do not support nor believe in the possibility of people living together as same sex parents. According to the Salvation Army:
Scripture opposes homosexual practices by direct command, and also by clearly implied disapproval. The Bible treats such practices as self-evidently abnormal. Attempts to establish or promote such relationships as viable alternatives to heterosexually based family life do not conform to God’s will for society.
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Friday, December 14, 2012 Nominated for the Beacon of Equality Award from Ring of Equality! Please vote!

This blog has been nominated for a Beacon of Equality from Ring of Equality!  Please read below!  Thanks to all of you who have read and followed this blog.  More to come...but today, please vote!  Thanks!  Brett

Good morning Brett-

My name is Nathan David and I am the founder of Rings of Equality, an online resource for LGBT marriage stories. At the end of each year, we evaluate hundreds of websites and select 15 finalists for our Beacons of Equality Awards. Beacons of Equality Finalists are sites that have made significant contributions to education, engagement, and advocacy for LGBT rights.

I am excited to let you know that your website,, has been chosen as a finalist for our 2012 Beacons of Equality Awards! We were especially impressed with your willingness to share your experiences as a parent and provide resources with others. This recognition is our way to thank you for everything that you have done to help advance LGBT rights in society.

In addition, 3 of the 15 finalists will receive free internet marketing consulting sessions (top award valued at $980) to help them expand their impact. Since we do not have the budget to provide consulting services to all finalists, we need to determine the top 3 sites by popular vote. Below I provide all the voting details.
Feel free to use this HTML code to place the attached recognition badge in your sidebar or in a post and encourage people to vote for your site however you would like." target="_blank">
"  title="Vote For My LGBT Advocacy Site" alt="ROE - Gay Marriage & Relationship Stories" height="150" width="150">

Additional voting and award details can be found here. Please let me know if you have any questions. Congratulations again on being named a finalist and thank you again for everything that you do for the LGBT community.

All the best,--
Nathan David
Founder Rings of Equality
Gay Relationship and Marriage Stories

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Signs Matter: From Amendment Bumpstickers to Political Buttons.

From my blog on

In the height of the election season, it seemed liked there were signs everywhere along the roadside, with two or three political parties pushing their candidates and issues upon the electorate, whether we liked it or not. Phone calls were made to various houses (usually more than once). Car and truck bumpers and fenders communicated who was the driver’s personal favorite candidate. People’s lapels, baseball caps, hats, pockets, and backpacks were full of opinions. No one was shy about publicizing a preference on a smattering of people and issues. T-shirts and sweatshirts were no longer advertising a favorite university, college, or seaside resort, but expressed someone’s choice for president. Everywhere I turned, I saw signs that screamed for me to read them, pay attention, and decide! I wore a small pin with the rainbow colors that says “All Families Matter.”
This is nothing new. Plastering signs on roadsides, bumpers, lapels, t-shirts, and sweatshirts in order to sell a product is a favorite activity of Madison Avenue publicity firms. They are ingenuous enough to have people actually buy the name of a company and wear it. Gap, Old Navy, Aeropostale, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, Polo, Gucci, Chanel, etc., are emblazoned on everything that is wearable, from earrings and bracelets, to purses and shirts, and proudly worn by consumers. On the one hand, we are telling the world where we buy clothes, proud of our middle-class lifestyle. On the other hand, we become free human billboards and signs for these companies, paying anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars to advertise their name. What is fascinating is that few people seem to be “in” on the business trick.
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ding, Dong the Bells Are Chiming for Equal Marriage in WA State

From my post on

I am writing this blog entry on Thursday, December 6, 2012, which is marrying day in Washington state. My mouth is agape as I look at the series of photographs from the Seattle Post Intelligencer, taken outside of the King County offices in Seattle, Washington, where couples are lined up before 12 midnight, waiting to get a marriage license.
I’ve driven pass the county offices where marriage licenses are obtained near my house in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and there is never a waiting line for this piece of paper. But the marriage licenses in Washington are unique to that state and eight other states, because they allow same-sex couples the right to marry, just like straight couples. A new day is dawning in one more state!
I was in Washington the day that the state approved the legislation paving the way forward for marriage equality after 41 years of people struggling for this right, LGBTQ and straight alike. Soon after, there was a petition drive, led by those against marriage equality, to put this new law on the ballot as a referendum, giving the people the right to vote whether they approved of it or not. Signatures were collected around the state, and within no time, it became a ballot initiative, to be voted on by the people on Nov. 6, 2012. It was given the designation of “Referendum 74,” known far and wide as the marriage equality bill. Online, the fight in Washington state against marriage equality echoed the struggle we went through in North Carolina as we dedicated ourselves to defeat the amendment to our state constitution that would forbid it. Many of the same groups who worked hard to pass the amendment were in Washington state, using the same argument and tactics they used in NC. This time, the outcome was different, which gave all of us great sense of joy with a tinge of forlornness, for I live in a state that is going backwards on matters of civil rights.
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Complicated Role of Being a Same-Sex Stepparent

From my blog on
I still remember my partner’s tentative steps around my children when our relationship moved from a brief flirtation to becoming significant in both our lives. Not wanting to have children of his own initially, he suddenly found himself in relationship, complete with home ownership and two children. Within a few years, we were joined by a dog. Then another dog.  Welcome to a modern version of the American family.
Dean assumed the role and function of a stepparent, whether he wanted to admit it or not. Being with me meant that he had to be with my children, since my former wife and I shared joint physical custody. With feet dragging at times, always quick to clarify that any hard decisions over the children’s lives were to be decided by the children’s mom and me with no input from him, and quick to let me discipline them rather than stepping in and doing that work, he reluctantly has become and is now a significant parent figure in their lives as well.
Since he didn’t want to be “Uncle Dean” or “Dad 2” or “Pops,” the children went through a long list of names of what to call him, almost relegating him to being their “gay nanny,” a name said with tongue-in-cheek. Finally, he has simply come to be called “Dean.” And they love him with the affection shown to a parent, and he loves them as if they were his own children.
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Thank you for voting! My Thanksgiving Note!

From my blogsite on
This year I’ve thrown myself into two political campaigns, with a kind of intensity I usually reserve for my own writing, religious non-profit, family, ministry, teaching, and consulting.
The first political campaign was the Amendment One campaign in North Carolina. This ended with the side I was supporting losing our campaign. (Amendment One was against marriage equality.) In the second campaign — the presidential campaign — the side I was supporting won the campaign. (Though NC voted for a Republican governor and General Assembly.)
The difference between losing and winning a campaign is breathtakingly huge. Regardless of the results, I invested a lot of time, talent, and energy into the campaigns because I knew what I was campaigning for: the rights of individuals to marry or be in a domestic partnership if they wanted to, whether they were in a same-sex or straight relationship, with or without children.
In each campaign, I did whatever the campaign managers asked me to do.  Some felt the draw of canvassing and enjoyed going door to door, meeting people with campaign literature, and others participated in registering voters. I opted to make cold phone calls to complete strangers, asking them who or what issue they were voting for, and when had they decided to vote. Early voting is allowed in NC, and the way early voters go helps a campaign determine how it is faring in the state before election day.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Penguins R Us!

From my post on

My first (but not last) tattoo on my right shoulder is a picture of three penguins in a cameo-like pose. The three penguins are at different heights, with the tallest penguin labeled “Dad,” and the other two penguins representing my two children.
I thought long and hard about my first tattoo, and wanted it to represent my family at the time. I could totally relate to the concept of a doting dad penguin since, like the dad penguin (and unlike other dads in the animal kingdom), I was a full-time, hands-on dad. I was enthralled with the doting actions of the dad penguins in the documentary “March of the Penguins,” and came to understand that my paternal feelings were, well, natural. When I explain the meaning of my tattoo, I invariably draw a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” from admirers over the specialness of my penguin tattoo.
Soon after I got my tattoo, the story of the gay male penguins in the Bronx Zoo exploded across the pages of the newspaper. People were captivated by the idea that two male penguins would not only mate for life, but that they would raise a baby penguin from an egg to adolescent life. This story was captured in the children’s story, “And Tango Makes Three,” where two chinstrap penguins caring for an adopted egg.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thank Goodness for Honey Boo Boo's Uncle Poodle!

From my column
The first time I heard the name of the reality television show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” on the TLC cable channel was after this summer’s political conventions, in which “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” received more viewers than either presidential candidate’s address to the nation. Sad, right?
“Honey Boo Boo,” otherwise known as Alana Thompson, received her own television show after being discovered on the other hit TLC television show “Toddlers and Tiaras.” This small, blonde, and curly-haired little girl, with more than her share of attitude, comes from a part of the country that some people affectionately refer to as “redneck,” not that there is anything wrong with that. Her show usually captures Honey Boo Boo making some humorous, and often insightful, comments about daily life in the sleepy town of Milledgeville, Georgia, as she interacts with immediate and extended family members and friends.
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Same Sex Marriage Around the World

From my column on
On Tuesday, October 23, demonstrators gathered throughout France to oppose a bill that would allow same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same-sex couples. The French, like many people here in the United States, are struggling with the issue of same-sex marriage, otherwise known as marriage equality. In front of one crowd who opposed same-sex marriage in France, two women kiss one another, holding each other carefully and with love, in front of the shocked protestors surrounding them. It is a beautiful picture, made even more magnificent as it was two young women who are straight who were kissing, but who wanted to draw attention to the issue with a gesture of solidarity.
We in the United States — especially the citizens of Maryland, Washington State, Maine, and Minnesota lately — struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage. Being given the option of being married in the eyes of our children, our extended families, our neighbors, our friends, our community, our state, and our country, matters. The ritual of a wedding and an actual marriage — for better or for worse — draws lines of demarcation that lets a couple and a family know, officially, who we are, who we interact with daily, and establishes what relationships we hold closest to our hearts, minds, and bodies. In other words, a marriage will have an impact upon not only of those who are wedded, but also upon the children in our families. Marriage helps our children know not only what to call us, but gives them a sense of security of knowing that we are, some how or other, related to one another.
Amid the protests and rallies here and abroad that arise as we slowly move towards marriage equality, it is helpful to see how same-sex marriages have “worked out” in different countries around the world. In a sense, we may get a glimpse of how our country will look once all states allow same-sex marriage.
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Don't Touch the Birth Certificate!

From my column on
I never thought much about birth certificates in life until this year. My earliest memory of needing a birth certificate came when I applied for my first passport. I remember getting my daughter’s birth certificate recorded in myriad places in London, England, where she was born. My son’s birth certificate was issued from Florida where he was born. I need their birth certificates during their teenage years in order for them to get their driver’s licenses in North Carolina. Birth certificates simply verify what all of us already know: that you are born in a certain time and date, by particular parents, at a hospital or home in town, city, state, province, and country.
Birth certificate-as-political-football did not come to my mind until the election of President Barack Obama. President Obama’s birth certificate from Honolulu, Hawaii has created a lot of news and commotion.
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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Perfectly Normal

From my Q Notes/, column "On Being a Gay Parent":
“Gay and Lesbian Parents are Perfectly Average,” screamed the headline on In an article by Katie McDonough, the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (another social scientific study) reported that “’high-risk’ children adopted from foster care do just as well when matched with gay, lesbian, or straight parents.” To summarize, 60 foster children were placed with straight parents, and 22 with gay or lesbian parents. At the second year evaluation, there was little difference between the cognitive growth and any behavior or social problems were stabilized (, Oct. 19). According to this report, what was unusual was that lesbian and gay parents were more prone to adopt children with “heightened risk factors — such as premature birth, prenatal substance abuse or repeat placements in foster care.” The conclusion of this report? Gay and lesbian parents are “ordinary parents.”
Every time I read a report like this, I simply smile. The purpose of social science study is to take something that seems ordinary and common sense and see how common it is, or determine why it is ordinary. Both those who are pro-LGBTQ parenting and those who are anti-LGBTQ parenting use these articles to prove a point or establish social policy. If memory serves me correctly, I believe that most of the studies seem to come the same conclusion: LGBTQ parents are pretty “normal,” just like the “gold standard” of parenting: straight parents. However, having been raised by straight parents in middle-class America, I can point to anecdotal experience, along with enough Lifetime movies, family system theory case studies and other social scientific evidence that makes any impartial observer question such a rating.
Like many other dads and moms who had their children while being in a heterosexual marriage, I would have to say I have been a better dad out of the closet than when I was in the closet. There were some family members along with friends who cautioned me about being out, warning me about what hardship I would put upon my children as an out gay dad in a southern city. Living truthfully means that I can be a more honest, and thus more earnest, parent. Throughout my children’s growing and turbulent teenage years I was free to ask them about what was going on in their life because I was living more honestly and openly. As a former special educator, it is my hunch that the reason some out-LGBTQ parents do so well as parents of foster-care children, or with children living with behavioral or social disabilities, is because these children are in the presence of those who have had their very mettle tested in simply coming and being an out LGBTQ parent. There is something about being in the company of those who have been stigmatized in life, branded as an “outsider,” marginalized, where others who have been ostracized feel comfort and a sense of belonging. I’ve witnessed a unique kind of love among friends who are gay or lesbian foster-parents with their children, or parents who have adopted children with disabilities. While the possible rants and tirades of a child who may not know how to love or accept the love of another person initially would scare many others, I have watched as a gay dad or lesbian mom simply waited until the storm was over, never leaving the side of a child in pain, always there to apply the medicine of a healing touch of love. Such is the care and love of a perfectly normal parent. : :

How a Neighborhood Coffee Shop Became a Safe Zone for Same-Sex Parents and Our Children

From my blog site:

I am writing this from one of my favorite coffee shops, Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I like coming here to write in the afternoons after spending some solitude in my writing studio in the morning hours. The food here is delicious, with wraps and pizzas, soups and salads that are a delight to the palette. The coffee and tea choices, along with wines and beers, are simply divine. And don’t get me going on the desserts, my weakness: chocolate whopper cookies with chunks of chocolate and walnuts, alongside coconut cake and berry pies to die for.
A couple of young women, true entrepreneurs from a nearby town, dole out peanut brittle samples in handfuls. Needless to say, this place satiates my gustatory needs, and then some. The yellow walls and high ceiling, with Martha Stewart kitsch décor, offset by all the Carolina light blue t-shirts and caps, gives Foster’s a homey country feel in a university town. (This is, after all, home to the University of North Carolina.)
As a writer, I’m always watching people, listening in on their conversations (hopefully without their knowing it), looking for fodder for more blog entries and writing projects. I smile as I notice people laughing together over a silly joke across the restaurant, while I watch dramatic news being shared among several generations of family members next to my table. A young child runs loose, with a lesbian mom in hot pursuit, while African American students hover over their laptops, working on term papers with a mocha latte within arms reach. There is an Indian American grandparent carrying a grandchild in her arms, while a young straight college-aged couple look adoringly in each other’s eyes over a pizza.
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Why Don’t Same-Sex Couples Have the Same Work Benefits as Traditional Couples?

From my column in

In North Carolina, I live in land of inequality. Straight couples and their children have advantages that same-sex couples do not. For example, all public or governmental state-funded positions — from the person who works in a secretarial position to a senior university professor, the state police trooper to all elected officials — in which a person works full-time and receives a benefit package (salary, health care, and retirement benefits), there is a difference in terms of who may be covered under the health care and retirement benefits plans. For a straight couple and family, the other family members’ health care — including children — may be covered, and the retirement benefits can be shared between spouses. Such is not the case for same-sex couples and our children.
I know this from personal experience, as my partner and I are both public employees. My partner and I have our own individual paychecks, separate health benefit plans, and individual retirement programs, which cannot be shared between us. And when one of us dies, neither of us will get the other person’s social security benefits (when we reach that proverbial old age), nor can we continue to share in the pension plan we are each on individually. In an ironic twist, my partner — in his role in the university where he works — is responsible for signing off on a health care plan for graduate students who are in same sex relationships. While the state of North Carolina already had its own Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), stipulating that marriage is between a man and a woman, this inequality was further buttressed by the recent amendment of the state constitution of North Carolina that states the same condition: marriage is between a man and a woman. Any other kind of domestic relationship — common law marriage or straight domestic partnership — mean nothing legally in North Carolina.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

For the Love of Grandparents

From my blog on

It was Grandparents’ Day on September 9, and I found myself wistfully reminiscing about life with my grandparents.
I remember distinctly the span of time — about a year — when the home in which I grew up was filled to the brim with grandparents. Along with my mom, dad, and brother, we lived with my dad’s parents, who were declining in health. They moved into our family room. My mom’s mom lived upstairs in a large room. Throw in a cat or two, and our five bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house was full.
I did not necessarily mind the presence of the grandparents. I was not only a momma’s boy, but I was the apple of my grandmothers’ eyes on both sides of the family divide. I could do no wrong in any of their eyes (or that’s what I liked to think.) Unconditional love came into my life in a feminine form, and I cannot say that I minded it at all. I rather enjoyed it, and milked it for all it was worth.
My children are now the recipients of grandmotherly and grandfatherly affection on both their mom and dad’s sides of the family, and they don’t seem to mind it at all either. They have received their share of special gifts given to them “just because” and for no other special reason. My mom has sewed dresses, Harry Potter capes, and knitted Hogwarts scarves, and has created elaborate quilts for both children’s beds … all keepsakes. My dad loved to watch movies with the children. He is well-remembered for watching Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” with them and forgetting to fastforward through the bloodiest scenes. The other set of grandparents are equally guilty for doting on my children, taking them on cruises to Alaska, and showering them with attention. They’ve gone on long hikes in the woods and spent time in the kitchen making the family’s favorite Christmas cookies, an old German recipe passed down generation to generation.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pilgrimage of Coming Out

 From my post in

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. in the well-used Community Center of Bernal, New Mexico, for the first day of my recent pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico. After a quick morning prayer and stretching exercises, and a delicious meal of breakfast burritos, my companions and I set out on the road to Las Vegas, the first leg of our journey to Chimayo, by 5:00 a.m. It was chilly outside because the sun had not risen yet. The sun rose a few minutes after 5:30 and within a half hour started to warm up the earth. Why Chimayo? The sacredness of Chimayo among Christians comes from the very earth itself that is said to have healing powers, whether one comes with physical pain, emotional needs, or spiritual wounds. I, along with a band of 31 other men of all ages, walked over one hundred miles in five and a half days. Even though I went on my first pilgrimage over 13 years ago, and have been on many religious pilgrimages since then, the first day of a pilgrimage is the most nerve racking. I openly wonder if my aging body will be up to the physical challenges, and if my spirit will shun or embrace the mysteries that I will encounter along the way. Each morning, questioning my sanity, I knew that I could only complete it one day at a time, one step at a time, to quote my 12-step friends. Pilgrimage begins simply with the first step forward, followed by another, and nothing is ever the same.

Seventeen years ago I awoke early one morning and began my coming out pilgrimage. Though I had long imagined what it would be like coming out, the very act of coming out of my closet brought both unbridled joy and literally scared me to death. It was these polar opposite feelings that effectively stopped me from leaving the closet's narrow, loathsome confines. I was paralyzed emotionally, wanting to embrace the emotional, relational, intellectual, spiritual, and physical attraction to men, yet could not accept being gay because I believed society's and my church's hateful condemnations against the "homosexual lifestyle." To keep my mind from dwelling on being gay, I busied myself with the academy where I worked, the denomination I served, and the family I loved, to fend off any rumors that I could be gay. But one morning, after a year of counseling and months of strategizing, I simply left the house I shared with my wife and kids, and moved to a small studio apartment, never to return. Even though I was consumed with fear that I would lose my place in the institution of higher education where I worked, be defrocked as a minister, and lose my family, I nonetheless could no longer live the lie I was trying to live. I wanted and needed to live life as fully "me": a dad, professor, writer, pastor, partner, and pilgrim who happened to be gay. As pilgrimage starts with a step forward, so does coming out. And nothing is ever the same.

I live a pilgrim life, both as a Christian pilgrim and as a gay man. I live in the amazing parallels between these two movements of body, mind and spirit. Both pilgrimages start from a beginning point; are more about the journey than the destination sometimes; use stories as a way to navigate the way forward; require taking good care of ourselves; and lean forward toward reaching a destination and a life radically reformed. The close parallel of an actual pilgrimage and coming out is more than mere metaphor: an intentional pilgrimage provides concrete, tangible, markers by which one can discern where one is located on the map of coming out.
The Beginning Point: A pilgrimage is privileged opportunity, because not everyone gets the chance to go on an actual pilgrimage due to a lack of time, money, or other practical impediment. It is also an extreme challenge physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. To walk twenty-miles, day after day, is not part of my normal routine. As a white Presbyterian pastor, I am the loco gringo (that's my pilgrim name), who speaks little Spanish among brothers to whom it is their first language. As the stranger from North Carolina, I am the guest, not the host, and I am honored to be one who goes on pilgrimage with them. From the start I immerse myself in the deep waters of the rich, dark, mysterious Catholic life of northern New Mexico. I am inundated with new sights, prayers, rituals, and songs (in Spanish). While my body is weary my mind is wide-awake, keeping me from getting a good night's rest before I begin an actual pilgrimage. What keeps me awake are "What If?" questions demanding my attention: What if I get a blister on the first day of pilgrimage? What if I stumble and hurt a knee or pull a muscle? What new spiritual insights will I receive that will change my world as I know it? What will be different about me at the end of pilgrimage?

The day I decided to step over the threshold of my self-imposed closet was simultaneously horrific yet exciting. I was horrified at the prospect of leaving all I had worked for: a happy family with a wonderful wife I loved, and two adorable children. I was working at my dream job at a major university, and was ordained a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Yet I was putting it all in jeopardy because I simply was not completely happy with my life. I felt incomplete, like I was living a lie. In this configuration of being "family" I could not fully give myself to a relationship in which I could be wholly myself. I was excited about the prospect of no longer wasting energy in holding together the closet of gloom, and giving myself over to other life projects (being fully myself) that eluded me. The pilgrimage of coming out meant that I could embrace the person God made me to be whole-heartedly for the very first time. But how would I be different in being unapologetically me? Would I recognize myself? Would my family recognize me?
The Journey: The first day of the pilgrimage is all about the physical for me, with my mind and spirit lagging except to buoy my exhausted body. Bernal to Las Vegas is roughly 20 miles, and fairly flat. The cool morning air gave way to New Mexico's dry heat. Walking over a mountain pass would not come until day three, which is good because by then I was almost fully physically adjusted to the act of walking many miles. I began to adapt my life to the rhythm of the pilgrimage: every morning begins with thirty minutes of silent contemplation, which I throw myself into, listening to the syncopated rhythm of many shoes hitting the soil with a full moon casting an eerie shadow. Later, in English but more often in Spanish, we sang songs of praise to God the Father, "El Senor," Christ the King, "El Christo Rey," and Mary, "Madre Maria." As a Protestant, I fumble through the recitative prayer of the Rosary, learning to keep up with where we are with the bead count by my last day.

Unlike the pilgrimage to Chimayo, I do not remember the day I put myself into a closet. The closet was already fitted and built around me before I was aware of it. From the first day when I was twelve years-old and realized that I was attracted relationally, emotionally, physically, and intellectually to boys my age, I was stuck in not knowing what to do with the new sensations and feelings in me. There were no stories on television, movies, children's stories, or young adult books to help me navigate through this sea of new feelings and thoughts as a young boy who was gay. After years of therapy, struggling with a sense of abandoning my family, fearing reprisal from my denomination, I left one morning after breakfast, never to return back to the house-as-home. That night I moved into a rented one bedroom studio apartment in Chapel Hill, NC, not too far from the children. I was excited yet scared, wondering aloud at times, "My God, what have I just done!" The heavy, complicated lock on my gay closet fell off the closet door. I took the first few steps, and soon miles, away from the shadow existence of a claustrophobic life into the bright sunlight of hope.
Stories: Over the six days of being together on pilgrimage, there was plenty of time on the road and off the road to talk with one another about what we missed about home, gather in small groups to discuss the conditions of the trail, how our bodies were faring, or dreaming about a hot shower (and a cold beer) aloud. While we awoke at 3:00 a.m. and were on the road by 5:00 a.m., we were off the trail and sat down wherever our feet landed, massaging our sore limbs and lancing blistered feet by 1:00 p.m. or a little later each day. "No pain, no gain" made more sense on pilgrimage. On the pilgrimage, in between the first thirty minutes of silent contemplation, and another thirty minutes of praying the rosary or singing songs, there was always time for talking. We share stories of either previous pilgrimages, or gossip about people who had been on pilgrimage before but were not able to be with us this time. While Facebook makes sharing personal stories on a one-to-one basis difficult, pilgrimage provides a precious opportunity to share intimate stories of life. On pilgrimage I find people more willing to share stories of profound vulnerability, to sigh deeply, because they know they will most likely not meet the other pilgrim ever again. We share stories of a love life gone awry; harrowing tales of inclement weather on previous treks; the "good, bad, and ugly" parts of family life back home. I listened intently to stories from those who walked this trail before, wanting to hear which is the longest day for walking, or the height of an upcoming mountain pass we would be crossing. Stories bind us together as a community of brothers.
The stories of other gay dads, married, with children was the only way I could navigate my way out of the closet. I studied carefully how society at large and the Church in particular reacted to out gay men, learning from others how I might be perceived and treated in my community. I devoured David Leavitt's The Lost Language of Cranes, empathizing with the closeted gay father figure who would find solace in the dark confines of adult movie theaters, as he secretly envied the open life of his gay son. I freaked out when viewing the dramatic British movie "Hollow Reed," as the gay dad and his partner try to save the life of his young son who was being physically bullied by his former wife's boyfriend. While there seem to be plenty of stories of single young men, stories of gay dads were rarer. Perhaps I need to create an "It Gets Better" series of gay dad stories for dads who are in the process of coming out as an emotional map.
Taking Care: After a long day -- 3:00 a.m. wake-up call, walking, eating great meals, participating in worship along with morning and evening prayers, and showering--there is always time at night to check feet for blisters and ankle sprains, shin aches, and knee problems. There are people pre-assigned on pilgrimage to carry a medicine bag full of ointments, bandages, moleskin, and Ben-gay cream for sore limbs. I watch the care and healing touch of Roger who gives me a new understanding of brotherly love as he massages a foot, carefully threads a needle and then lances a blister, applies a bandage to keep the wounded site clean. On this pilgrimage, two men unfold a massage table, in which all pilgrims are given the gift of a massage of thigh, shin, calf muscle, and feet with cocoa butter. All we have to do is bring our towel to spread on the bed itself, and the magic begins! By the end of the pilgrimage young men take care of the feet of us "older men," a practice they learned from their elders.

Along the coming out pilgrimage trail it is important to take care of ourselves as we walk along harrowing stretches of darkened roads, the once-comfortable hiding place of the closet falling down around our ears. While counseling is helpful through this crisis of change, it is extraordinarily helpful to have others who have come along a similar pathway to walk with us. Bandaging bruised egos, and reminding ourselves that another person's crisis is not our problem simply because we're "out" is a great help. Lancing a blister, where we keep butting up hard against those who call our "lifestyle" sinful is a gift. Pulling out splinters from the shards of the wooden closet of hate I used to live in makes moving forward easier. And a massage is simply icing on the cake.
Reaching Destination: Throughout the weeklong pilgrimage to Chimayo I depended upon rituals, prayers, and songs to buoy me along the way, helping to redirect my attention from my tiredness to realizing the beauty around me as I walked. I gained insight to the audacious nature of God by simply realizing that Jesus himself was a pilgrim throughout his known ministry, never owning a home but living life on the road, depending upon the goodness of others. The late-Brother Roger of Taize rightly called Jesus the Pilgrim God. There is nothing so magnificent yet disheartening as getting to our destination. The morning of our last day together, walking nine miles is incredibly bittersweet. I know I'll never walk with this exact band of people again. I won't have the opportunity to sing the songs we've been singing all week with my friends. I'll miss someone preparing every meal for me throughout the week. The confraternity of men happens but for a brief moment in life, then disappears. It is illusory the rest of the time. Over one hundred and sixty people walked over one hundred miles over five days, up and over mountain passes, through chapels and churches, in the hot northern New Mexico sun. At El Santuario de Chimayo we enter the small sanctuary itself, half filled with cheering and singing pilgrims from other parts of New Mexico, with the Mariachi-like band playing "Que Viva Christo Rey!" An official of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe places rosaries from the Camino de Santiago de Compostela around our necks. Various crosses, images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and other memorabilia are gathered in central place during our closing Mass together. Go in peace.

I'm now out of my once constrictive closet. The boards, nails, screws, and locks were left in garbage cans along the way. I self-identify as a dad, a pastor, a writer, a professor, a partner, and a pilgrim who is gay. In my daily prayers I quietly voice my gratitude to God for making me who I am. I love who I am today. Still ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I now work at another university, teaching ethics and world religion to new students every semester. My children are grown. My former wife and I are friends, and my partner and I live in the countryside with our dogs. And now I write several blogs on my stories of being a gay dad, my letter to those in the closet to come out and move on. Perhaps take time to swim in the ocean of full acceptance, where the water is just fine. The pilgrimage of coming out is arduous but richly rewarding in the end.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why Marriage Equality is a Matter of Life or Death

 From my post on

Brittney Leon and Terri-Ann Simonelli’s baby died from complications in childbirth. That is not the only tragedy: the other tragedy is that this could have been easily prevented if the baby received the necessary care at the time of the emergency. But because Brittney and Terri-Ann were not legally married, but were in a domestic partner relationship, an admissions office at Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas told Brittney Leon (the patient) that Terri-Ann “could not make medical decisions for her when they checked in with pregnancy complications” (, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2012).
Per “Astounded, both women offered to go home to get their certificate of domestic partnership but the (admissions) office said it wouldn’t make a difference: Gay partners need power of attorney for that. Leon later lost the baby and the couple noted it was a ‘very bad day for us.’”
The Hippocratic oath that physicians and nurses take when they begin their careers includes this invaluable line: “First, do no harm.” Unfortunately, admissions officers at hospitals in Nevada do not take this oath. If they did take this oath, perhaps a baby’s life would have been saved. Instead, because a lesbian couple had only the papers that showed they were domestic partners in the state of Nevada — which are the same rights as the ones given to heterosexual married couples in Nevada in 2009 — Terri-Ann could not make decisions for pregnant Brittney. The time that it took to work everything out legally put the life of the yet-unborn infant in danger, thus bringing about the baby’s death. “First, do no harm” was not applied or practiced by the staff of the hospital that day. Instead, great harm was done.
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The Same Sex Parent Struggles with Anger and Hate

From my post on

Unlike many families with straight parents, same-sex parents live in a culture that exposes them to hate. While we who are same-sex parents are loved by our children — and grandchildren, if we are so fortunate — cherished by our parents, adored, perhaps, by extended families, and surrounded by a beloved community of friends and associates, nonetheless, we live in a society in which some people spout nothing but vitriol and hate. Not only do we, as same-sex parents, hear the words of hate and loathing, but so do our children, our grandchildren, and the children of our friends and associates. While I think my skin is tough enough to take the stones of hate thrown by slingshots of those who are scared of my family, there are days that I simply want to ask those who are constant in their words of hate to shut up.
This is nothing new, but there seems to be a rising volume of hate speech directed toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) people of late. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hear such hateful rhetoric if I were a young child whose parents were lesbian or gay.
GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), reports on statements made by such groups as the national Family Research Council (FRC) and their spokesperson Tony Perkins, along with Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. For example, at the Oak Initiative Summit on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t’ Tell (DADT), Tony Perkins said that gay activists are “intolerant, hateful, vile, spiteful and pawns being used by the Devil” (May 3, 2011). According to GLAAD, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claimed that homosexuality is a form of “domestic terrorism” (June 10, 2010). And Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage encourages parents to attend one of his “ex-gay” conferences as a way to “prevent your child from embracing this destructive way of life” (Feb. 6, 2012).
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Bullies Are Back

 From my blog on

"How faggy!”
“You retard!”
“What a spaz!”
While I would have loved to have been shielded from bullying while I was in school — and wish I could have protected my friends and children from the same — it is probably better that we all faced it head on. After all, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Or that other old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.”
As the school year begins again for kids across the country, children are going back to a controlled view of life — at least, in the classroom. Outside of class, on the playground and after school, is a different story. Summer’s reprieve from bullying is over.
In hindsight, I realize that I was bullied throughout my years in public school, though I didn’t have a name to call it. It was something we kids did when I was young, in public playgrounds and during recess. I probably dished it out as much as I received it. I still don’t know when I first experienced being bullied, or how I first learned about it, or why the practice is perpetuated to this day, even given more classes on multiculturalism, diversity, and anti-bullying programs. I realized, even when I was a kid, how harmful and hate-filled the message was: I knew the words were meant to bring down another person in order to feel better about myself, though that feeling was fleeting at best. Language shapes our perception of others as “lesser than” human beings, “second-class citizens,” not worthy to be our friends.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Baptism and LGBTQ People

From my blog entry on

There are rituals in faith communities that stand out, because of their power to claim us, mark us, and let the world know who and whose we are. It may be a ritual as simple as standing up and singing a national anthem at a minor-league baseball game, hand over heart, realizing we’re collectively citizens of the United States of America. At graduation or a high school athletic event we sing the theme song of our alma mater, with the school mascot leading us in the singing of the song. Or it is a public official taking an oath of office, swearing to protect and defend whatever state or country that they are representing. In a community of faith, rituals define us, enabling participants to know who the community’s members worship or venerate, and reminding us of the borders and boundaries of our beliefs.
As a Presbyterian minister (Presbyterian Church USA), I believe that one of the rituals that first defines us and what we believe is baptism. It is a rite of initiation, a tangible or physical, visible sign of what some theologians call “grace,” that has already been given to the believer, whether the believer is a child or an adult. Along with the pouring of water upon the brow of a child or adult, or the total immersion of a person in a pool of water, there are words uttered that remind the one being baptized who and whose they are. This is preceded or followed by words of the community of faith, in which a community vows to take care of and accept the one being baptized as a vital member of the beloved community.
The power of this ritual was not lost on me recently during a young infant’s baptism. The young boy had no idea of what was being said to him or his parents and grandparents. The minister made the sign of the cross upon his brow with a wet hand while uttering the words, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The words the young minister spoke were equally powerful, about this infant being protected by the congregation, about how he would be raised in the faith of the congregation, and always be accepted as a member of the body of Christ through his dying days. The unconditional love being shared with this infant was breathtaking in its all-around inclusiveness. Nothing could separate this child from the love of God as demonstrated by this and other communities of faith. Nothing.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Are Dads Necessary?

Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously observed that the mother’s role in a family is biologically based, while the father’s role is a biological necessity. Afterward, our role is a social creation at best, and a social accident at worst. While the father serves a vital role in terms of conception, from that point forward the father is, well, regulated to the sidelines of raising a child. Some people in religious communities and of certain political persuasions would like to define the contemporary nuclear family as a mom and dad and child (or two), but historians and cultural anthropologists disagree.
In some ways, I can appreciate and relate to Mead’s dry observation and straightforwardness. Many dads in contemporary modern society witness the way that young infants and toddlers respond to the voice and the mere presence of the biological mom. Those of us who were or are stay-at-home dads are green with envy for such a natural bond. The bond between my children and me was not born of nature per se, but constructed through intentionally spending more time and creating more experiences together. Given that I was a more stay-at-home dad in my children’s early years (the luxury of having a flexible schedule while working in higher education), our parent-child relationship was a bit more unique and stronger than others. But I didn’t have a lot of other stay-at-home narratives that gave me examples of ways I could be a dad who stayed at home. As for stories of being a dad who is gay and in the closet while staying at home, those tales were yet to be written. Those stories fit into a book of “fairy tales,” (tongue firmly in cheek), that would begin with the introduction of “Once upon a time…”
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Scouts and LGBTQ Families

From my blog posting on
During my young childhood, the group that had my nearly undivided attention (besides church) was my Cub Scout troop, hosted by the United Methodist Church we attended.
I happily donned my royal blue uniform, with all its cloth badges and appliqués, and yellow kerchief. But the Cub Scouts was not just a solo experience: it was a family affair. My Mom was a dutiful Pack Mom, hosting our pack when it was her turn to provide activities, freshly baked cookies, and milk. My Mom and Dad proudly watched our Cub Scout pack march in neighborhood parades, and supported our civic projects. My Dad took an active interest in helping me with my balsa-wood airplanes and race cars, and was delighted to lead our group of Webelos in my last year of Cub Scouts.
We learned to tie knots, and picked up other skills that we would find helpful on camping trips. While I was smitten with the world of Scouts early on, when I was thirteen years old I chose to become a Civil Air Patrol cadet instead of a Boy Scout because of my love of flying.
Much has changed since I left the Cub Scouts and became a parent. As a parent, I would have enjoyed participating with my daughter if she were to have become a Girl Scout, and with my son were he to have chosen to become a Boy Scout. While the Girl Scouts are open and accepting of young Scouts who are lesbian and their lesbian moms, the Boy Scouts’ story has been a different one. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America could bar any activity by gay Scouts or LGBTQ parents because the Scouts are a private organization. On July 17, 2012, after a secretive two-year review of their policy toward gay Scouts and LGBTQ parents, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed its policy to exclude gays from joining or being leaders.
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Politics of Food/Parent Society

During my early career as a music therapist, my social consciousness was shaped by discussions about Nestle food products in less economically developed countries in the 1970s. Nestle makes many things children love to eat, especially chocolate, baby foods, cereal, and cookies.
The problem for many of us was Nestle’s encouraging families to wean infants from breastfeeding to infant formula made by Nestle. We know that breast milk has great nutritional value for young infants. The Nestle formula had to be mixed with water — which may be contaminated in some poorer countries — and required fuel to boil the water for the formula itself and sterilization of bottles. In response to Nestle’s infant formula campaign, many socially aware people around the world boycotted all Nestle products, including chocolate milk, in hopes that Nestle would change its ways. That boycott continues to this very day.
Food and politics remain part and parcel of modern family life around the world. We buy food at the farmer’s market, neighborly country store, health food store, or supermarket. The owners of these establishments earn a profit from our purchases, reinvesting that money in their business and community. Sometimes the owner contributes to a social or political cause dear to the heart of the owner. There are those owners who also understand that supporting a candidate or cause is a politically savvy move.
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Friday, July 6, 2012

Fathers' Day

My first blog with on LGBTQIA parenting.  Engjoy!

Fathers’ Day
Brett Webb-Mitchell
            Twenty-four years ago, my family status went from “married, no children,” to “married, with one child.” My daughter’s birth in a hospital in London, England was a gift to her mom and I. We celebrated her birth with enthusiasm, complete with flowers, balloons, and Guinness Stout (it was England, after all). My daughter’s birth was my inauguration into the lesser-celebrated holiday of “Fathers’ Day.”  As best as I can figure it out, husbands and fathers who were envious of Mothers’ Day created Fathers’ Day at the turn of the last century.  Call it father’s envy.
            I remember holding my sweet daughter close to my body, her small arms and legs moving slightly because she was wrapped tightly in large, warmed blankets.  Deep inside me I knew that her life was going to be nothing like my life, and I almost wanted to apologize to her then and there.  I wistfully told her to be ready for the ride of her life. While straight white parents in a middle-class suburb of Portland, Oregon, raised me, my daughter would have a life that was radically different than mine. It all has to do with who I am: at the time of her birth, I lived two lives: one life was as a husband, father, Presbyterian pastor, doctoral student and rising scholar who was trying to live out his parents dreams for his success. The other life was one in the closet as a gay man who lived a life filled with apprehension and an overwhelming sense of self-doubt.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

North Carolina vs. Mississippi

My take on what is happening among the silent majority in the latest issue of Q Notes (

After the vote on Amendment One was held and passed by the citizens of North Carolina, Governor Beverly Perdue spoke out about what we, as a state, looked like to the rest of the nation: “People around the country are watching the state and are confused…North Carolina was a progressive and a forward thinking state that stood up for civil rights…we look like Mississippi” (May 11, 2012).
The comment raised a reaction from both those who voted for and against the Amendment. Those who voted for the Amendment, along with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, took great umbrage at the comment. Those who voted against the Amendment wondered where Gov. Perdue was while some of us were working on phone banks, going door to door and distributing material against Amendment One. To this day Gov. Perdue has not come out in support of marriage equality, having voted for the state Defense of Marriage Act when she was a state legislator.
In light of the passage of Amendment One — now part of North Carolina’s Constitution — it is interesting to note one thing about the population of Mississippi that surpasses that of North Carolina’s citizenry. Although Mississippi ranks 42nd in the nation for the number of same-sex couples per household, it leads the nation in the percentage of same-sex couples raising children, a study by the Williams Institute (a gender orientation and identity public-policy organization based at the University of California, Los Angeles) reported. Nationally, 22 percent of same-sex couples are raising children, but in Mississippi 33 percent are raising children. Mississippi has a total of 6,286 same-sex couples” (Jackson (MS) Free Press, Aug. 26, 2011). Mississippi!? That means there are more same-sex couples with children who feel safe, if not comfortable, living in Mississippi than the once-progressive-but-always-conservative state of North Carolina. Maybe it has to do with the cost of living, the “live and let live” or regardless of your politics, or who you live with, “blood is thicker than water” attitude of some Southerners. Perhaps it is the quieter rural, backwater life some people have chosen to live, being honest and smart about who knows about one’s relationship with a partner and child or children.
This fact about Mississippi reminds me of something I do not want to forget in light of North Carolina’s Amendment One’s passage. While, for some same-sex couples and their children, there are many advantages to living in the thriving metropolitan parts of North Carolina, we live in a state of 100 counties, where there are many same-sex couples and children who live in one of the 6900 small cities, towns, villages and rural hamlets in N.C. Same-sex couples in Robbinsville, Lincolnton and Warrenton, as well as those who live in rural parts on a farm or in the mountains of this state also felt the impact of the Amendment’s passage, but chose to be quiet about expressing resentment, if not downright anger, about how the vote went down.
A story: When I was interim senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Henderson (an hour’s ride north of Raleigh in rural Vance County), I was delighted to meet lesbian and gay couples raising children side by side straight couples with children. They worked in the surrounding county, paid taxes, joined swim-golf clubs and contributed to the community life. Discovering that I was a Presbyterian pastor who is gay, they even started to come to worship to check both the congregation and me out. Granted, there was an unspoken, but firmly held “don’t ask, don’t tell” etiquette that guides all conversations. But, they were there, queer and happy.
Our sisters and brothers who are lesbian and gay are in each and every county of Mississippi and North Carolina, no matter how big or small, liberal or conservative, the county may be. We who are LGBTQ are everywhere and our numbers are growing. We are part of the rich, vibrant life of not only the large cities, but the small farms, county public schools and the small independent coffee shop with the only espresso machine in the county. Along with our children, being smart and honest, we will continue to educate, share our lives, our relationships and slowly, but decisively, change the very fabric of the places where we live. : :

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Q Notes Article: Teaching Our Children to Vote

was riding in the back seat of my parents’ white Buick Le Sabre, as my mom pulled into the large fairgrounds in New Jersey, leaving my dad at a rally for Lyndon B. Johnson for president. In 1964 I was nine years old and to this day I remember the tension in the car between my parents riding in the front seat of the car. My mom was and is a “cloth coat Republican” just like Pat Nixon; a regular “Rockefeller Republican,” even though I hasten to share the information that that branch of the modern GOP is, well, a relic of its collective past. She was going to vote for Sen. Goldwater for president and she was furious with my dad because he was going to vote for Johnson. If memory serves me correctly, that was the last time my mom and dad voted against each other. Since then, my brother and I canceled out my parents’ vote, voting solidly the Democratic Party line.
Politics was and is part of my family discussion topics at dinnertime when I was growing up, as was religion and other current events of the day. “The McLoughlin Group” and later “Washington Week” were part of our television viewing habit. While my parents usually lean to the Republican right on talking points — with my mom fixed to Fox newscasts — it nonetheless gave my brother and I something to hone our skills as debaters and intellectuals. If we weren’t going to follow their political thinking, then we (like generations of children before us) would have to think logically about where we either agreed or diverged from what our parents thought. Separately, but around the same time, my brother and I came “out” to my parents and told them that we were Democrats. Frankly, this may have upset my mom more than telling her I was gay.
Habits and interests in our adult lives are formed early in our childhood. Knowing this, I watched carefully and with tenderness as I worked at an early voting election site in early May. I observed a mom pushing an infant in a stroller with one hand, while holding the hand of a slightly older child with the other hand, and a dad precariously balancing a child on their shoulders into the voting booth. What soon turned out to be the hot ticket item at our table was a round blue teal sticker that said “I Voted Against Amendment 1!”
All morning long, children and adults alike began to wear stickers against Amendment One. For anyone reading this outside of N.C., Amendment One will amend our Constitution declaring that the only legally recognized union is only marriage between one man and one woman. One child put the sticker in the middle of the “S” of his Superman T-shirt, while a little girl simply placed the sticker on her arm, complementing the sticker on the other arm that she got from Trader Joe’s. Moms and dads also wore the stickers on their clothes as they walked into the voting area, showing others that they were going to vote against Amendment One. In this classroom of life, parents were teaching their children that politics matter, can be fun and is important enough that a mom or dad would interrupt one’s daily schedule of fun activities to practice a civil right: the right to vote. Parents are teaching children that voting matters in our collective life and is important for the greater good of the diverse community in which we live.
Later in the day, my 19-year-old son texted me, telling me that he voted. My daughter had already voted too. Regardless of the outcome of this election, a lesson has been learned: vote. And, where did they learn to vote? From their parents, who learned in from their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before us. : :

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Voting Gone to the Dogs

My latest in Chapel Hill News:
“Can you bring your dogs up on campus to help bring out the vote?” asked our friend Chris.
My partner and I were confused at first, muttering to ourselves, “Our dogs? The vote?” What would Lil (our queen-like, 12-year old yellow Lab) and Toby (our overly rambunctious, 11 year-old chocolate Lab) do in order to help bring out the vote against Amendment One on the UNC campus? Simply wag a tail, convince students they’d love to be their best friend as they are gently nuzzled, told, “Aren’t you a pretty pup?!” and someone directs them to the voting booth a few yards away.
As so many dog owners know, dogs have a way of making us feel like we are “Number One” in a world regardless of what others say. There’s simply nothing like coming home at the end of the day and being greeted by dogs that seem to say, “Where have you been? We’ve missed you! Now come and play with us, OK?” as their tail wags their bodies in an overly exuberant sign of welcome. There is a certain attraction that is undeniable between humans and these furry bundles of love and drool.
The dogs and I found Chris and her crew of volunteers working against Amendment One, planting signs to “VOTE!” with red, white, and blue balloons tied onto the signs on a lovely Friday in April. They greeted the dogs with warmth and joy, placed a kiss on the wet nose of each dog, a bowl of cold water (ice included!), and a treat or two for each pup (the dogs were in their idea of heaven).
Without needing to say a thing, or advertise with a sign, “Dogs here to pet,” the magic took place: students simply started coming up to the dogs, like iron filings to a magnet. They pet their head with the accompanying, “Ah, aren’t you cute?! What’s your name?” Within minutes, Chris placed a thin scarf of an American flag around each dogs neck with a teal blue button pinned on simply stating: “Vote Against Amendment One!” The dogs didn’t mind the scarves one bit. After all, their attention was on marking out the new surroundings, their respective noses in the air catching aromatic whiffs of food near by.
More students, and then a faculty or staff member, slowed down from their brisk walk between the dining hall and the next appointment or rush to study. There it was again: without a cue they petted a dog, scratched under their chin, rubbed the area behind their ears, and spoke baby talk to them, “Hi sweetie!” Chris and her merry band of volunteers dove in and invited students, faculty, and staff alike to vote against Amendment One inside UNC’s Chase Hall, only a few feet away from dog-petting central.
For six hours the dogs did their best impersonation of being, well, dogs, and the voter numbers grew throughout the day. Needless to say, the dogs were exhausted by the end of the day, heavy panting out of both of them, and from their deep snores I knew they slept well that night.
In hindsight, I get it: voting is stressful work. The right to vote comes with a sense of gravitas. Years ago I was in the Dominican Republic during a tense election day, with police posted outside of voting areas for fear of violence as people put their lives on the line simply to vote. Sadly, many adults here do not take the opportunity to vote. They find it easier to grouse about the poor economy or get angry with a new law passed rather than taking a few minutes to stop, vote, and make a difference.
Elections matter. Who we elect changes the course of our collective history.
With all the seriousness of doing our duty as citizens of this country, it is great to have a dog outside of the voting booth to simply cut down the stress all sides feel during an election. Dogs are a welcoming presence, great stress relievers, reminding us that we did the right thing.
If the person we voted for and our fight against the Amendment wins, we will celebrate with our dogs (extra treats!)
And if we lose? With a dog to accompany us, we move forward, working anew to make a better change for our future.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Crunch time

I signed up today to work the polls for early voting tomorrow, Friday, May 4th, in Hillsborough.  I will work at a phone bank on May 6.  I may work the polls on May 8th.

This is crunch time.

I'm amazed at how swept up I am in the work, but this work is personal and familial.

Friends from the West have written about the "cracker" state of North Carolina. The youtube clip of the wife of one of the co-sponsors that put this Amendment on the ballot, promoting the idea that passage of this Amendment will help Caucasians pro-create did not help those for the Amendment.  Nor did the ravings of the Rev. Sean Harris of Fayettevill, NC (Berean Baptist Church), promoting beating our children into heterosexuality.

The simple question, as I would ask in my Ethics class re: the right moral choice, is based on consequentialism: will passage of this Amendment bring the greatest good for the greater number of people? 

Simply: no.

Pace, Brett