Last month I took my first-ever road trip as an adult, speaking at four PFLAG events in Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan. I spoke everywhere on topics related to the intersection of Christianity and LGBT issues. Interest was high. Growing up fundamentalist, graduating from an evangelical college, attending two Baptist seminaries, and being the father of a gay son has made me particularly interested in the turmoil between LGBT communities and faith communities.
PFLAG Ohio State Convention
The main event was the PFLAG Ohio State Conference held in Lima, Ohio on Saturday, March 14th. The Lima PFLAG chapter sponsored the event, and Philip Atkins was the conference organizer. Phil contacted me early this year and asked me to speak about the intersection of the LGBT community and faith communities. Phil works in government mental health in three west central counties in Ohio.
My LGBT and faith presentation followed PFLAG national’s revised emphasis on working with faith communities. PFLAG has published an excellent new online resource for PFLAG chapters, the PFLAG Faith Field Guide, which I highly recommend to PFLAGgers everywhere.
There were almost one hundred people at the Ohio conference, the most they’d ever had. I shared my son’s coming out story, how I got involved in PFLAG, and one of my first experiences after joining PFLAG–carrying a Christian flag as a counter-demonstrator, face-to-face with the organizers of the Christian anti-equality event.
Melissa Goldblatt presented on Gender Identity. I found the discussion of sex reassignment surgery discussion a bit uncomfortable, as usual. Melissa serves as the counselor, adult volunteer and crisis responder with Rainbow Area Youth Group (RAY) and the Ohio Pink Ladies-Ohio Plaid Lads (OPL) in Toledo. She is working with equality organizations to open a GLBT outreach and community center to serve the Northwest Ohio area.
Earlier in the week I shared with the PFLAG chapters in Ohio and Virginia. PFLAG Dayton meets in the Cross Creek Community Church (UCC), and before the meeting Mark Thompson introduced me to most of the folks milling around in the hallway and meeting room, which was very kind. (Some may find it surprising that I am a bit shy!)
Following Mark’s interest, I spoke about Jesus and the four gays and lesbians in Luke 17. After the meeting I had a nice conversation with a lesbian couple. They were tired, and had almost decided not to attend, but after my presentation they called their decision to come “a God thing.”
My next stop was PFLAG in Abingdon, which involved a really neat drive through Cincinnati, Lexington, and a leisurely, winding drive through Kentucky coal country. I’d never seen freight trains filled with coal before, or those dozens of small towns that dot the highways. I visited a cemetery set back on a steep hillside, dotted with gravestones dating as late as the 1850’s.
Jason Willis, an energetic young advertising entrepreneur, is the new president of the Abingdon PFLAG chapter. He has quite a vision for their strategic outpost for equality. We met in St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and before the meeting I had an interesting conversation.
I was talking with the woman who worked as church custodian, and her husband, and we eventually moved to the back porch of the church. At one point I said, “A lot of people say being gay is a choice. Do you remember your first crush?”
The woman nodded yes.
Do you remember the person’s name?
She answered with a masculine name.
“So your first crush was on a boy. My first crush was on a little girl. I was eight years old.” And I described the details of my third grade crush. “There was nothing sexual about it, nothing sordid or wicked. Just an innocent first crush. That’s the way it is for gays and lesbians, except their first crush is on another little girl or another little boy. They don’t go through that Romans path into idolatry and fornication until they reach homosexuality. It’s just an innocent crush. It’s only when they get older that they realize they’re different.”
I saw a spark of recognition in the woman’s face.
Her husband said, “It’s not my place to judge, but I just don’t agree with the lifestyle.” I decided not to argue the point. It came time for them to leave, and before she stepped down to the parking lot she turned to me.
“You learned me somethin’ just then,” she said.
PFLAG Tri-Cities (Saginaw, MI)
My last meeting was Sunday, April 15th in Saginaw, Michigan at the Tri-Cities PFLAG meeting. President Leo Romo shared how their chapter goes back about thirty years, roughly the same as our chapter here in San Diego.
In Our Saviour Lutheran Church I gave a brief history of governmental and legislative anti-gay oppression from Eisenhower to the present. People shared about having to hide their orientation and about watching friends die of AIDS. I also talked about how LGBT students and alumni from fundamentalist campuses are coming out and organizing.
Someone told me they liked how personally the group shared. That was some of the best feedback I’d received all week. The more personally we share, the more we all benefit.