Monday, May 13, 2013

Hope in Faiths

From my Q Notes column:

My “Religions and the World” class at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) — an historically black/college university (HBCU) — has drawn to another close at semester’s end. Like the previous semesters that I’ve taught the class, I am the richer in terms of life experiences and a deeper understanding of many of the world’s faiths and philosophies. Much of this learning does not take place solely through the book we read together as a class or through the various clips of music, rituals and prayers found on other computer links, generated in other parts of the world, those that assist in learning the key points of the religions of the world. What makes this class more than your average, normal, usual campus class is the field trips we make to the various temples, retreat centers, synagogues, churches and mosques in the area. It is the one-on-one meetings and discussions between the religious leaders and representatives of the major world faiths with the students that has made all the difference. For a few hours, the students immerse themselves into the ritual practices, prayers, language and music that may seem, at first, alien, but after a while it all grows upon one’s very being: heart, mind and body.
Unlike other years, this year I asked more the various religious leaders and faith representatives about the place and presence of LGBTQ people in their respective faith communities. I was greatly heartened by the response. At Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Cary, N.C., one of the religious leaders said that there would never be an objection of an LGBTQ person coming to worship and pray to one of the gods. At the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., LGBTQ people are welcome to come and contemplate and participate in the life of the community, with no sense of discrimination. At Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., the religious educator for this Conservative Jewish community said there would be no objections to an LGBTQ person joining in and being a significant part of the community. One of the associate pastors of First Presbyterian Church, Durham, N.C., knows that many of the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA) not only welcome LGBTQ people as members, but as ordained leaders. And the Imam of Duke University’s Muslim Life Center said that where he struggles most with Islam and the teaching of the Koran is in how women and LGBTQ people are perceived, acknowledging that this must change.
In other words, among all the world’s faiths, represented in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, there is a new great openness to LGBTQ individuals, couples, families and allies. While many of these religious communities and their respective leaders would have balked at welcoming LGBTQ people only a few years ago, a new breeze — or dare I call it Spirit — is blowing in the hearts, minds and bodies of these gatherings of the faithful. There is, indeed, hope in the faiths of the world. : :

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

My Homage to Jason Collins and Brittney Griner


When I was in my gay closet and on the cusp of leaving it, one of the things I did constantly was take a “temperature” of where my family, friends, neighborhood, larger community, the Church, and the state was in terms of accepting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ). If I sensed people were “cold” towards gay people, I recalibrated what and when I would come out of the closet. In other words, I put it off, and slowly sank back into the shadowy corners of the closet.

Once I got a sense of the temperature warming up, and could sense that I would be welcomed as an out gay man, I then tried to do a kind of calculus in my head of what I would gain — and lose — in coming out of the closet. What I was doing the entire time was looking, listening, and trying to get a sense of what life would be like were I out of my closet.
As a young dad who was married and secretly gay, I surreptitiously read many books by out lesbian and gay writers, but many of them were just out of the closet or struggling with a lifelong illness or unrequited love. Movies and television shows were my other recourse, but in the 1970s and ’80s everyone in the movies who was gay was dying of HIV/AIDS or also just coming out. In music, I knew Leonard Bernstein and Elton John were gay … and I neither wanted to be Leonard or Elton. Professional athletes? Billy Jean King was kind of out but claimed to be bisexual, and Greg Louganis was not out. Indeed, the field of professional athletes was void of people I could relate to in my coming out journey.
In the last few days, weeks, months, and years, things have changed dramatically, and for the better, for LGBTQ people, especially those who are in the closet, be they same-sex couples or individuals of any age. Recently, NBA center Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards came out in Sports Illustrated, owning his story: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”

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