Wednesday, November 30, 2011
My coming out days were lived out in Chicago, Illinois (1965-1982). I also came out prior to HIV/AIDS being part of our everyday lives.
During my time in Chicago, the gay community was party central but also a close-knit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered fifteen.
We all hung out together, spent time at the clubs together and I guess by today’s standards could have had a reality TV show made about us.
We compared notes on our boyfriends, went to parties, gossiped about straight people, got jobs, participated in the community and marched for our rights. We were always there for one another no matter what the circumstance.
I didn’t think about it at the time but now I know we had something special-we had a group of people who had become VERY close friends and became a support system to one another that I don’t suppose will ever be repeated.
Starting in 1981 through 1982 the group started to drift apart. Some got jobs that took them out of Chicago and into other parts of the state, some got involved in long term relationships and moved to the suburbs, others found themselves struggling to find the love of their life or way through life as a gay man and; lacking direction or support turned to heavy amounts of alcohol and drugs.
In June of 1982, needing a fresh start I moved to Cincinnati where, within a month of arriving I would meet the man I am still with today. The choice to move probably saved my life.
For you see, the crushing and deadly wave that we would come to know as AIDS arrived in Chicago in the latter part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for twelve years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of fifteen. None of them had reached the age of forty.
Today, as I write this at the age of fifty-six and in the thirtieth year of marriage (Yes, despite what the world says I am married), I am the only one left who is alive and HIV negative. My best friend died at the age of forty-seven after getting the disease because of cheating and an abusive boyfriend.
I was no angel in those days and I guess every year at this time when I think of my friends who died much too soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt.
I have also been ordained since 1986, so I have twenty-five plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of fifty than most pastors do in an entire career.
What is really heart breaking is that HIV/AIDS is not done yet, despite media spin “that this is now a manageable disease”. That is a lie and severe distortion of the truth. AIDS still kills at an alarming rate and the rate of infection is on the rise.
According to UNAIDS (2010) 'UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic' “Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.”
Every month I still counsel people who are newly infected. Every month I am there with someone who has died or in support of a partner, family and friends who have lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.
A friend in Atlanta is HIV positive and while he is healthy and living a productive life…the meds that he has to take are anything but pleasant. The side effects require he not get too much sun, eat the correct foods and not get too stressed, as the reaction is more then a pain in the ass, it is debilitating.
So, I guess I am writing this today to remind folks that the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educate, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).
We must remember God’s people are dying…
I am asking the readers of this blog to get involved in harm reduction, to recognize this pandemic knows no boundaries.
Mark Harrington From Treatment Action Group offered 17 radical steps to end the “AIDS Epidemic” http://www.thebody.com/content/art49274.html
I offer some of the more important steps to the readers as a point of education, meditation and action:
We must strive to continue to lower the numbers newly infected. There are several ways we could dramatically reduce infections rapidly if we are willing to take some radical steps around the world.
1) Universal treatment for women equals universal prevention for infants
We must ensure that every pregnant HIV-positive woman has access to full antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the time her pregnancy is known to when she completes breastfeeding, and then for life if indicated by her CD4 and health status. And we must ensure that every HIV infected baby is diagnosed at birth and treated for life.
2) End gender-based violence and strengthen the legal and health rights of women and sexual minorities
We must demand and achieve equal status for women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people and end the violence against them everywhere.
3) End the war against sex workers
We must insist on decoupling efforts to stop human trafficking from the current stigmatization and exclusion of sex workers from their full human, health, and economic rights to live and work in dignity, legally and safely.
4) End the war against drug users
We must end the punitive, expensive, and wasteful global war on drug users. We must work in countries around the world to decriminalize possession of drugs; provide universal access to drug substitution therapy, clean syringe exchange, and safe injecting rooms and equipment; and provide services for people reentering society after being unjustly incarcerated for nonviolent drug use.
5) End health disparities everywhere
HIV rates among black Americans are eight times higher than those of white Americans; 600,000 black Americans are living with HIV and 30,000 new infections occur among them each year. The epidemic among black Americans is the same size as that in Côte d'Ivoire, and bigger than that of seven priority PEPFAR countries put together.
The U.S. government and its people are obliged to address this epidemic with the same urgency with which they are now addressing the global pandemic.
The United States must develop and implement a national AIDS strategy with specific targets, timelines, and the goal of reversing the epidemic, with special attention and resources targeted toward black Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, women, and men who have sex with men.
6) Scale up HIV testing and improve HIV epidemiology
We must massively scale up HIV testing globally. New York City has belatedly introduced a policy to test -- voluntarily and with opt-out -- any resident of the Bronx who presents to the health system. If HIV testing can be massively scaled up in Lesotho, it certainly can and should be massively scaled up in New York City, still the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic.
We must have access to much better, more accurate, and timelier information about where the epidemic is and where it is moving to. Recent revisions downward by UNAIDS on the global pandemic and upward by the CDC on the U.S. epidemic have left the impression that we are still far from having a clear enough picture of the size, scope, distribution, and movement of the epidemic in its 28th year.
7) Prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure TB
Everyone has a responsibility to do a much better job of reducing the impact of TB among people with HIV. HIV clinics around the world must implement infection control procedures, intensified TB case finding, and earlier TB diagnosis and treatment so that no one contracts TB while accessing HIV care.
Routine screening for TB at every clinic visit should also allow healthy HIV-positive persons in pre-ART care to receive cotrimoxazole and isoniazid preventive therapies, which despite overwhelming evidence of efficacy are not routinely used in most sites due to overblown fears about resistance, toxicity, and adherence.
8) Diagnose, prevent, and treat viral hepatitis and common opportunistic infections
We should strive to obtain serology and, when possible, treatment for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections among HIV coinfected persons. Because of the overlapping activity of certain ARV drugs, we are already treating many people who are coinfected with HBV and HIV without knowing their HBV status. As HBV and HCV treatments mature and oral combination therapy becomes possible, we must be ready to scale up hepatitis treatment globally.
Better opportunistic infection prophylaxis and treatment are also needed. Key drugs must be added to the essential medicines formulary and their prices brought down: amphotericin-B for cryptococcosis, azithromycin for MAC and a host of other infections, rifabutin for tuberculosis, and valganciclovir for CMV retinitis.
9) Develop better first-, second-, and third-line antiretroviral (ARV) regimens
We still need cheaper, safer, and more durable first- and second-line ART regimens to guarantee the longest possible duration of viral suppression free of side effects. Though the ART treatment space is maturing, there is still room for better combinations with greater durability, less toxicity, higher barriers to resistance, and cheaper manufacturing costs.
10) Intensify investment in biomedical research, including AIDS research
The last five years have seen stagnation in U.S. investment in research at the National Institutes of Health. The AIDS research budget, nominally $2.9 billion, has lost about 20% of its purchasing power due to inflation during this time. We must demand that the next U.S. president and Congress increase support for all NIH research -- including AIDS research -- by 15% in each of the next five years.
Other rich countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development must double or triple the amount they invest in biomedical research, including research for AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, and other diseases. Emerging and developing countries need to increase investment in biomedical research five- to tenfold to help address persistent gaps in health research.
11) Show solidarity with activists, health workers, policy makers, and scientists working on global health issues
We cannot afford a divisive debate that pits advocates for different diseases against each other.
12) We need greater unity
We must become more united if we are to become an even more powerful force for global public health, human rights, and social justice, with our goal of universal access evolving into comprehensive and universal primary care for all. To those who say it cannot be done we must reply, "¡Si se puede! Yes, we can!"
So today I remember, honor and place in memorial all those who have died.
Today, I pray and proclaim the hope and healing for all those who live and are affected by this virus. For you, I will not be silent. I will speak out persistently, loudly and with a clear voice for justice.
Today, I once again say to my friends who have been received in the loving arms of God:
Timothy, Gerald, Brandon, Billy the nerd, William, Paddy, Tyrone, Tom, Chuck, Thomas, Sammy, Joey, Philip and John…I love you. You did not die in vain and I will never forget you.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Sunday is a day of mourning. It is not a day that is on the national calendar. In fact, with the exception of a small percentage of people in this country, this day of mourning will pass completely unnoticed.
If these words I write look familiar, they are because nothing has changed since I last wrote them, except some people are more aware.
Again this year those who take a moment and remember on this day will find themselves swinging between tears of grief and deep waves of anger not to mention a certain amount of fear of further attacks.
The devastating images of those viciously killed in 2011 for simply trying to be themselves is something we should remember, something that should burn in our souls.
The people we mourn for this day are a part of the community most would just as soon not deal with. Oh we go to watch the drag shows and tell our jokes and we have added a “T” to the GLB_Q but still don’t take seriously enough that folks in the transgender community live in a very dangerous and un-supportive world. This year’s danger and lethal transphobia is no different from any of the last twenty years.
In fact, in almost (not all) but damn near every community meeting, the plight of the Trans community is brought up as an afterthought, kind of “oh yeah, let’s not forget the T’s”.
While progress has been made, while things have gotten better, there is still a long way to go and this community is still too often just an afterthought.
We still do not take it seriously enough that these children of God find it extremely difficult to get jobs, get health care or any kind of support and dignity. In fact, many in our community, never mind the straight community, think if they would just dress correctly and be happy with how they were born there would be less trouble.
In our fair city of Atlanta, the shelters are still not required to accept those who are in transition unless they are willing to accept being forcible moved backwards in that transition. Again, we arrive at this time of the year and nothing has changed.
People in transition walking down the street at the wrong time or in the wrong neighborhood stand a good chance of being stopped by the police and questioned about drugs, prostitution or both.
I am well aware there are some in the neighborhoods who think the Trans folks working the streets are responsible for the crime in the neighborhood and with vicious language have launched a crusade to rid the streets of this so called epidemic.
Let us get real here; if these sisters and brothers could get a job or be protected in the job they have maybe, just maybe they would not have to turn to the streets.
The fact is, most political leaders of the community still see the trans community as nothing more then a “political calculation”. In fact, far too often these people are something to be added or subtracted from the political equation. The political leadership has not and does not have the courage to stand up and say, “Enough!”
Instead, it’s “let’s study the issue, let’s explore what we can do”. News flash: One’s gender identity has zero to do with the administration of equal rights, just do the right thing!
I still see far too often in community meetings the eyes roll or heads shake when the needs of the Trans community are brought up.
I am so sick of hearing that bringing justice, being fair and honorable and less phobic is so complicated when it come to the Trans community. News flash: Gender, just like sexuality, is a very fluid thing and to attempt to fit everyone into the same narrowly defined box is the height of ignorance.
So here we are this year and it is still open season on those who would dare to transition from one gender to another.
Let us not forget that it was these folks who started the whole “gay rights” movement we know today when they stood toe to high heel with the New York City police department at Stonewall.
Let us today acknowledge they have been with us every step of this bloody fight for our rights, our self worth and our very souls.
Let us recognize and have more than a passing thought that each day when they get out of bed and step into the world it may in fact be their last day.
So on this day I implore you to remember the transgender community…to pay attention to the day that has become known as “Transgender Day of Remembrance”
May we who mourn and remember today, take some comfort in these words:
"God is King, despite the chaos that may be roaring around us." (Ps 93)
“If one member suffers, the whole body suffers…” (I Cor 12)
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8)
"Be still and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10
"The Lord takes care of me as his sheep; I will not be without any good thing. He makes a resting-place for me in the green fields: he is my guide by the quiet waters. He gives new life to my soul: he is my guide in the ways of righteousness because of his name. Yes, though I go through the valley of deep shade, I will have no fear of evil; for you are with me, your rod and your support are my comfort. You make ready a table for me in front of my haters: you put oil on my head; my cup is overflowing. Truly, blessing and mercy will be with me all the days of my life; and I will have a place in the house of the Lord all my days." Psalm 23
Sunday evening, here and all around the country, may we find ourselves moved to pray.
May these prayers be for all of the victims, their family and friends.
May we pray for our government to have the wisdom, the courage and a compassionate response to this insanity. Let us pray for God's protection and a calming of theirs and our fears.
And may our prayers be accompanied by expressions of our faith – in which we are not conformed to the ways of the world and how they will respond to children of God, but to the way the Christ would respond. May we be in our speech and actions, the love of God.
Once again let us ponder the words of Gwendolyn Ann Smith,
We have lost so many people in our community to the hand of hatred and prejudice, yet we still are not seemingly willing to fight back. Meanwhile, we die at the hands of a lover, of police, of medical practitioners, and even parents, while the news media calls us “freaks” — and worse.
In fact, the media’s reluctance to cover our deaths lies near the heart of this project. It can be all-but-impossible to find honest, reliable media on the death of a transgender person: It either does not exist (which is how one can cover thirty years of cases and still only have as many as I have to present), or it uses names that the deceased did not own, and pronouns that did not fit their reality.”
In the world we live in today there is no “safe way” to be transgender: Some are living very out lives, and some are living fully “stealth” lives. Some are identifying as male, some as female and some as both and neither. Some live in small towns, and some in major metropolitan areas.
There are things we can do and must do, if the killing is to stop. I would encourage our community and friends to:
• Let us educate ourselves about transgender issues.
• Let us be aware of our attitudes concerning people with gender-atypical appearance or behavior.
• Let us make more than a good faith effort to use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity.
• Let us not make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for surgical or hormonal treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans.
• Let us keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person (s) in our lives.
• Let us become more aware of the things which would make life easier and the transition smoother, i.e. markers on drivers licenses, applications and forms.
• Let us not just sit on our lack of knowledge and understanding. Let us seek out support in dealing with our feelings. This is the 21st century and there are plenty of resources for us to get help.
Finally, but not least, let us turn out en masse this Sunday evening at the State Capital to show the “T” really is apart of LGBTQ and it does not stand-alone. I know it is Sunday night and I know you want to quit reading this every year. So here is the deal:
I will stop repeating this blog when we as a whole community are as enraged as when they raided our bar, as enraged as when Matthew Shepherd was beaten to death or when the fight to pass protective legislation for our community includes the “T” as something other then an afterthought or a political piece to be thrown under the bus.
Friday, November 4, 2011
If you live in Georgia the story of Shorter College and the faith statement one is required to sign is about a week old. There has been no shortage of opinions concerning this “goodie-two shoes” approach to controlling people’s lives.
I guess as a private institution they can have any rule they want. With that said, the college has absolutely no business in people’s bedrooms. They choose to quote the Old Testament for the reasoning for this rule...I believe that in the Old Testament polygamy seemed to be acceptable, stoning wives for adultery was the law of the day and marriages for the most part were arranged. Shorter University is certainly on a power trip of the worst kind.
Yet there is a deeper and far more dangerous issue which is occurring in regards to this faith statement that people are being forced to sign.
In fact, it is just not Shorter College and their homophobia; it is a “Church Universal” problem from almost every main-line traditional church to the most conservative, evangelical church. This dangerous issue happens to one degree or another in each and every organized congregation.
The “Church” does not want you and me to own our faith. The “Church” requires you and me to either rent or lease our faith. Sadly, that has been the situation for a very long time.
Remember when Jesus chastises the Jewish leadership in his day:
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. "The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God's Law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer.
"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'
"Don't let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of 'Father'; you have only one Father, and he's in heaven. And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
"Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
I would encourage the reader to read the rest of the chapter as Jesus has hit the nail right on the head.
Think about when one signs a rental agreement. There are always lists of things that can you evicted from the property. If there are problems with the property the owner may listen and respond or they may not…if you are not happy, too bad…move out.
Sound familiar? Think really hard, isn’t that what belonging to a church is all about? What is really sad and dangerous is what this does to the individual person of faith.
The “Church” has a list of those things that keep us in good standing as far a renting your faith from God. Screw up enough of them on the list and we are told our relationship with God is no longer valid. Think I am kidding? Consider:
My partner’s father was a hard working man with twelve children. The family was Episcopalian. With twelve children to support and a stay-at-home wife, it required him to work an extra job. The extra job kept him from coming to church very often.
When he suddenly died at the age of fifty-seven from a massive heart attack (probably from working much too hard) the church refused to conduct the funeral or give him a proper burial because he was not in good standing.
What about if we don’t confess prior to participating in “Holy Communion”? We can be refused the host and drink. Don’t take Communion for long enough and we are considered outside the faith.
Are we baptized? If not, then our relationship with Jesus is not valid with God.
Be outside the proscribed norm for the understanding of sexual orientation, the proper participation of sexual activities or not follow the proper definition of gender identity and we are told our relationship with God is not valid.
Another problem with renting instead of owning is there is no reason to invest, grow or improve what is being rented. Why? Because it is not ours, it can all be taken away in an instant…so why bother? How many empty pews are there on Sunday morning these days? People have given up, walked away or found all these rental agreements set forth by the “Church” to be irrelevant to their everyday lives.
Not to be outdone, “The Church” has taken to a marketing campaign to fill it’s quota of rentals not because it cares about our spiritual needs and relationship with God but because… well, please just read Matthew 23. The methodology is even more heinous then in Jesus’ time… PowerPoint presentations, full orchestras, only the best of the best singers, grand buildings, and huge congregations complete with pastors who are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen convincing you if you buy their product you will be saved and if you don’t buy it there is a place reserved for you in the fiery pit of hell.
Shorter College is a perfect example.
The “Church” has had it backwards for a very long time. Jesus taught and lived in such a way that it was clear it was about owning our faith with God and not renting it.
People who own something invest in it. They make an effort to improve it, place value and priority in it. People, who own it, protect it with their lives. Ownership does not allow for one to just walk away and replace it on a whim. When Jesus said the greatest love we can show is by laying down our lives for another…that doesn’t happen with a rental faith…that only can happen when we own our faith.
I have come to understand our job as persons of faith is not about the conversion of souls…it is about the protection of souls. Our job is not to figure out why one has a need and how bad they were to get to this needed place but rather simply meet the need.
Not once did Jesus ever tell someone how screwed up they were but rather treated them as owners of their faith and met the need in measure with their faith.
In today’s world, if we dare to take ownership of our faith, we will be told we are crazy, misfits or rebels. If we dare to claim that our relationship with God is ours and we will no longer allow for guilt trips to be laid upon us or told how and when to practice our faith, we will be called heretics, scandalous or worse, perverts.
When we own our relationship with God rather than rent or lease it, this gives us the ability to understand that maybe by accident or maybe with intentionality, the “Apple” company had it exactly right theological-speaking when they wrote:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
When we own our faith we can then live out the meaning of these words found recently on the internet: http://queen7d.deviantart.com/art/The-Choice-is-Mine-135928929
“I choose…to live by choice, not by chance;
to make changes, not excuses;
to be motivated, not manipulated;
to be useful, not be used;
to excel, not compete;
I choose self-esteem, not self pity;
I choose to listen to my inner voice(God), not the random opinion of others.”