It all began when Fernando Lopez called me from San Diego Pride to tell me that St. Paul’s Foundation had been awarded $2,000 to begin an online international training program for parents and friends counseling and support.
Using Skype and the Internet, we wanted to adapt the best of the PFLAG model of creative listening and share it with parents and friends in countries where their loved one might be LGBT … and a criminal! During the course of the training, we connected with some of our partners in Jamaica to see what might be culturally appropriate in this new venture. Anything with a FLAG in the name was TABOO so the adaptive trainers and trainees (led by Patti Bowman of PFLAG San Diego and Lindy Miles from St. Paul’s board) created a new program called “Global Allies.”
In the course of the conversations, Angeline Jackson shared a shopping list of items she needed to launch here new lesbian-focused organization, “Quality of Citizenship Jamaica.” She got this idea from being with the Spirit of 76 delegates attending the International AIDS Conference last summer in Washington, D.C. and at a meeting of World Bank executives, the name popped up for her!
“We need money to register our organization. We need videos where a more progressive faith dimension is shared and we need to hear voices from African American clergy who although they are straight, they moved from a place of negatively towards LGBT people to one of affirmation,” she said.
Angeline is one of those shining twentysomethings who will make history by making sure that the decriminalization of homosexuality will happen within the next decade across the world. Our job is simply to support what she needs. I wrote about her last March in this column and boy … we have all come a long way!
San Diego reaches out
So Lindy and Patti sent packets of videos like “For the Bible Tells Me So,” and we are about to send her money to incorporate her new organization and the third request has just been completed.
From a little grant in San Diego, the Spirit reached across the country and around the world and came up with a 32-minute video “Love Heals Homophobia.” Lindy encouraged documentary film producer and director Ed Breeding from New Mexico to take on this project, and since April Ed had made this his labor of love. He has captured the voices of some of the leading African-American clergy in the USA and the finished product is a new witness to the power of love to heal homophobia.
Lindy basically fronted the $6,000 needed to pay for the expenses to bring Ed to Washington, D.C. where he filmed the five leading clergy and cover editing and other expenses. As the film was being made, Ed said he felt a new sound … a new contribution was being made to the discussion on LGBT rights. This new sound talked about the Bible (once used as a weapon against us) and was now the most powerful tool that the faith community could use to affirm the presence and contribution of LGBT people in society and in congregations.
Voices from the trenches
The Rev. Denis Wiley and his wife The Rev. Christine Wiley are well-known in the D.C. community for their leadership in the successful marriage-equality battles. As inclusive Baptists, they argue from a Scriptural position that LGBT people should not be “tolerated” but celebrated from the wonderful people we are and their experience of LGBT leaders in their congregations have convinced them that this part of God’s plan for creation.
The Rev. Paul Abernathy speaks from his historic St. Mark’s church on Capitol Hill and shares intimate details about his own journey of love and acceptance of LGBT people through his brother Wayne, who died of AIDS. He poses the question: What might have happened had Wayne known the unconditional love of his parents and family and not had to face rejection and hostility?
The Rev. Gil Caldwell, a retired United Methodist minister, remains one of the most important iconic figures in the civil-rights movement, and he recalls several stories about how white religious leaders became active in the civil-rights movement. This in turn inspired him, as a straight ally, to work for justice for LGBT people globally. When he learned Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd was gay, he had to face the deeper question about should he be reading his books and associating with someone he knew from the struggles of the 1960s, and he came to the conclusion that they were brothers on the same road to human liberation. There are very poignant moments in the film where the truth and reality of these four pillars in the African American religious Hall of Fame just jump out from the screen and grabs your beating heart!
The global conversation
Ed also filmed me while I was visiting Washington National Cathedral this spring when we presented a forum and panel of African leaders at the Cathedral and the World Bank. He used my contribution to punctuate the different themes and sections covered by the four pastors – i.e., how do you move from a place of non-affirmation to have an inclusive congregation?
We explored the role played by colonization in places like the Caribbean and Africa, and the impact of exclusion not only on the soul of LGBT people but our exclusion from HIV prevention and care. Ed weaves all of these issues and perspectives together to give a springboard for provocative response FROM THE VIEWER.
The film is designed for intimate gatherings like congregations who may be struggling with this issue and may be open to asking more questions and seeing how similar pastors moved through their understanding and experience of Scriptures to come to a place of welcome. The next step will be for us all to create four focus groups in willing congregations to shape a future study guide. We hope pastors and congregations who are struggling with this issue will see the study guide creative process as another way for their concerns and issues to be framed.
Full circle: Back to Pasadena
I paid a pilgrimage visit to the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena, Calif. this week where half the program budget is now focused on the prevention of HIV in the San Gabriel Valley. This is a huge shift for the agency I helped to create from a research document in 1987. Last year only 30% of one staff member was actually engaged in HIV prevention work!
The Center in Pasadena serves one-eighth of L.A. County and has come a long way from the 1980s when we struggled to give out condoms and make a safe place to take care of the infected and affected.
“There are only two places in Pasadena where people can get free condoms,” executive director Anthony Guthmiller told me in a kind of horrified state of disbelief. “We need to increase these places where people can get basic information and protection. But my biggest obstacle to talking about these issues in the African-American community is coming from the pastors and elders. They just cannot get past talking about the gay issue.”
I sympathized and shared the film with him. Perhaps it has more use than in Jamaica, or even Africa … maybe it can help right here in Pasadena? Let’s see. It is clear from the initial request for these resources from our partners in Jamaica that the misinformation and homophobia is first packaged from the American churches. which is then shipped to Africa and then ends up in the Caribbean. Any significant response and dialogue has to engage all parties.
Inspiration: The power of one to create the whole
How this film came about is itself a remarkable story because it is about the dynamic and inter-related effects of a simple gesture of support from San Diego Pride and how this seed planted in the hearts of REMARKABLE people who have never met and have done something life-giving and affirming.
Without the resources we really needed, what we had to offer was actually enough and may be transformative in a very understated medium. This is not some well-funded film like “God Loves Uganda” or “Call Me Kuchu” but it has a different audience and function. We hope to show the film in Washington at St. Mark’s on Sept. 27 and in Pasadena and San Diego in October. Good job everyone! We look forward to the feedback.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.