From the Pulpit
Our Journey Inward and Our Coming Out
The Rev. Mel White
Keynote address, 1995 Affirmation Conference
By Dr. Mel White
Have you read Leonard Bernstein's latest biography? There is a moment in it I thought was classic. Two women (picture it), sitting in New York Symphony Hall, looking down from the balcony just as Leonard has finished conducting something wonderful. And with the applause all going one woman whispers to the other: "have you heard Lenny's a queer?" And the other woman, without missing a beat, says: "Isn't there anything that man can't do?!" Don't you love that? Is there anything gay, lesbian, bisexual Mormons can't do? I'm so proud of you. I've heard your stories.
My first Mormon gay (encounter) was a man named Boise Bear. I don't know if you met Boise at your last conference, Robert Shaffer [note: Boise Bear was his online nickname]. We went on a tour of Idaho when that terrible amendment was before the public. We went from city to city in this trailer, and so Robert regaled me with stories of what it means to be a Mormon gay, and to be excommunicated. I think you are treated more harshly than any Protestant or Catholic denomination in terms of the public ceremony. And to survive it and to look so cute, as you do this morning. So healthy! I am proud of you!
Did you all go on the cruise last night? I hear Mormons really cruise well! What time did you get in? (11:30) We're going to have a little game this morning, anybody falls to sleep pays a fine to me! Five bucks. And so you're all suppose to report on each other. Raise your hand when somebody's asleep next to you!
My personal history is available to you at eleven dollars [in reference to his book which was on sale at the conference]. It would keep you awake. By the way, the story in Hawaii [in his book] was the most erotic story to me that I've encountered with a young Mormon missionary. Every place I've gone I've met wonderful gay and lesbian Mormons.
It was really awful . . . I don't know if you saw the Sixty Minute piece that Morley Safer did on my life and on Gary. But it was a great piece, and then the last sentence was Mel [Barber] saying "Choose it?! Who would choose it!?! I don't know anybody who would choose it!" End of piece. And from then on the gay and lesbian activists have been killing me where ever I go across the country. They say to me "You still wouldn't choose it?" The story is that Morley Safer spent about three months following us to different places across the country, constantly asking questions.
One afternoon I spent with all our files to monitor the radical right. Have you read all of Jerry Falwell's stuff: "We Declare War Against Homosexuals"? Do you know Pat Robertson's stuff: "California has Earthquakes Because They Tolerate Homosexuality"? Jim Kennedy's stuff: "Your Grandsons in the Military Will Not Only Have to Face the Enemies Coming At Them From The Front, But The Enemies Coming Up From Behind"? I went through all of this stuff [with] Morely Safer, and then he says to me, kind of casually, and the cameras are rolling, "they say you choose this." So I said "Choose This?! Who would choose this!?! I don't know anybody who would choose this, but, once you know your sexual orientation is a gift from God, once you know your Creator has given that as a kind of trust to you, you can embrace it and celebrate it, and live it with integrity." They cut that part off.
Knowing that a lot of people are defensive about my being in the room, especially because of my history . . . I mean Olley North, come on! And then, with having said this on Sixty Minutes, "choose this?," they say "would you choose it?" And I say "no. I wouldn't. I'd rather be a lesbian." And it's true . . . the fact is, women are leading all of our groups across the country now.
I just did Pride Festival in Hyannis, in Cape Cod. Nine out of ten people present were women. Nine out of ten on the board were women. We have women in charge of Human Rights Campaign Fund. We have women in charge of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We have women in charge of GLAD. We have women at every point, [and] do you know why? A [few] reasons: one, they do it so much better than men. True! Secondly, men leaders are dying, or have died across the country. It's a terrible tragedy what this plague has done. Three, there's a certain kind of mood around right now that says: we'll party till we die, because we're going to die anyway. Men are pulling out of the front ranks, and young men are saying we'd rather fuck than live. Women, bless their hearts, are coming along and saying: "okay we'll stand in the gap for you, even though you've been patriarchal and sexist to us, just like straight men have been." So when I say stand up and applaud these women . . . next year at Affirmation [Conference], I want to be here, my spirit wants to be here and I want to see half women [in attendance], at least. Because there's something wrong, there's as many lesbian Mormons out there as there are gay men. That's not suppose to be a scolding. I just realise that women are saving our lives across the country. They don't just change our bed pans and turn us over to keep from getting bed sores, they're leading the movement against oppression! And I'm proud of you. Don't give up, even when we're sexist. You know what to do with your kneecap!
I had an interesting experience this morning. I got up about six. I love getting up early, and going to bed early. I was sitting in this room alone. (Gary would like to be here, but Gary was at home this weekend. I spent three days with my son. He flew up from Los Angeles. We went to the islands . . . ) How many of you have kids? My gosh! (The damage we have done!) Congratulations. I was sitting on the floor this morning and I was thinking "how can I get inside the Creator's heart about you?" How can I feel what She feels about you? You know? See, we're representatives, we're speaking for Her, you're listening for Her voice, I'm listening for Her voice, we're trying to hear it, and be molded by Her presence this morning, and not by each others, right? That's what spirit folks do, we think that this room is filled with Her Spirit, trying to inform and inspire and love us. So I said, "Spirit, how do you feel, God how do you feel, Creator, how do you feel about these Mormon gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender folk?" And someone had sent me a bunch of your stories in the mail, and I had read them, and I began to focus on those stories, and then I began to focus on the faces I met last night down at the dock [before the evening cruise to the island], and heard just briefly some of the stories you told me. Then I began to remember the Mormon gays and lesbians I met across the country. And I began to feel what She must feel for you. And I want you to know there's a whole lot of love going on, from God the Creator to you, Her Mormon creation. I feel it this morning.
Put your feet flat on the floor, just for a minute. Put your hands right on your knee caps, and let your neck go. (I'm taking a real risk here, there'll be snoring any minute now.) And now I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think [about] how much your Creator loves you. Feel.
All those words you have been told that She doesn't love you are false. She hates that misinformation and wants you to feel Her love.
Now love her back. Amen.
Gary gave me a card at Halloween that is one of my favorite cards of all times. It has a picture of a great crowd of people carrying signs Rush Limbaugh for President. You could see them stretching on ad infinitum. When you open the card it says "This is the scariest card I could find, Happy Halloween!"
I want to enter into dialogue with you about two things this morning, one the inward journey, inward back to the Creator, inward back to Spirit, inward back to soul force, inward back to revive all that stuff that the church has been trying to crush in all of us, and the outward journey. We're in a war zone. Gay and lesbian people, we're in a war zone. We live in a war zone . . . our people are being killed every day out there. We're the number one victims of hate crimes in cities and counties across the nation. Last night they announced that Cal Anderson, the first openly gay state legislator died in this city. MCC Church has been fielding the phone calls from people across the city who were saying "you brought AIDS to our community," "he should have died," "somebody should have killed him first." Everywhere I go people are saying " you should be killed." The first radio talk show I was on when my book came out was in Seattle, fifty thousand watt station, and a minister from a Presbyterian church was sitting there, a very august looking man, and he said "have you ever read Leviticus 20?" (I particularly hate it when they say "have you ever read it?") There's a gesture that isn't appropriate, but I always feel it . . . [I responded] "No, I haven't read it, what does it say?" And he said "it says you should be killed." This is on a fifty thousand watt station, and I had never heard it said that way before. "You're an abomination . . ." But they always leave the ending off. He went right to the ending and said "you should be killed." And I said "Oh! Who should do the killing? You church folks?" And he said "No, that's the civil authorities job. That's why we need to get more men of God elected into government." It was so overt, and it was so unconscionably frank, that I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to say! And even the radio talk show host, who was a real, you know . . . we both [were] sitting there looking . . . And this man saw our pause and said "Well, it hurts me to say it too, but remember God said it first." At that moment She started pulling Her hair out, saying "Don't you bring me into this!" Then I said, rather na´vely, to the radio land, "You folks listening in, call in and tell this man how you feel about this." They did. Every caller believed him right. For the last three hundred and some radio shows I've been on, including Larry King twice, the callers light up the screens with "you should be killed, you should be put on an island, you should be driven into the sea, you are an abomination to God and to this country."
We live in a war zone, and if we're going to have an outward journey, we'd better be prepared to survive in a war zone. We've gotta see our lives, and hunker down, and not be afraid of it, but at the same time not be naive about it, just because we're "gay white man and can pass." Once your name is on a list, once you've been to a seminar like this, once you're out there, you can't pass anymore. What happened in the Third Reich, just the people who had gone to anything like this were the ones who became victims of the purge.
To live in a war zone, first of all, is to convince each other that we are oppressed. Now Mormons, do you need any convincing? No? Okay. I'm going to talk to you from the point of these, who have been my clients, the radical right as I know them. What is their theological world view? Because to survive in a war zone you have to know where they're coming from. What they're fighting with. How they feel. How they think. What they do.
The first thing [we need to discuss] about their theological world view is to describe their God. What are some of the descriptions you would give to the radical rights God? Vindictive. Angry. Wrathful. Male. (How would they have felt if I had been doing the She thing? "I don't care if he's queer, but he called God a She!") There are seventy different Old Testament and New Testament allusions to God as female. God is neither male nor female, but I think we should start seeing that female side, but that's not important, to the radical right God is a male. What color? White, of course. Is there any other? He's a white male. How old is he? Do you realise the more you describe Him, the more he looks like me? Does he wear a collar? More hair? That's the Michelangelo's God, hanging out of heaven. The fact is he is white, he is male, he came over from Europe, and he's not been back, even for a visit. He speaks English, not even with an accent. Pure American. Now they would look away, and we're kind of caricaturing, but the fact is that's the way God looks. He is a white, middle class man who speaks English.
Truth comes directly from God by way of the scriptures to the radical right, and who is most likely to get it first? People who look most like God. White men who speak English and [who are] American. So the fact is, under this paradigm, man, as described get it first. It's very interesting, until God comes back to rule forever, this is the only thing we have to deal with, so the radical right [leadership] really see themselves as God's Prophets, come to save this nation from its sins. America is the only real nation, and the only real nation is the one that will provide redemption to the world. Fundamentalist America sees these white male men as, really, God's agents to save the universe, by way of saving America. When the radical right talks about gay and lesbian people, they're not doing it phony. They're not doing it just to raise money, or the mobilize volunteers. That would be so easy, if we could believe that. The Mormons who are persecuting you really believe it, for the most part. They are sincere believers. If they weren't, it would be so much easier to handle. Right? If your moms and dads didn't really believe this stuff: "dad's been on People magazine and on CBS saying 'I don't want a gay son, but I don't find anything wrong with him . . ." He doesn't have the PFLAG line quite yet. [Pat Robertson] said my parents bailed me out of jail, [they] did it because [they] were grieving over my lifestyle. That's what he said, and it made the headlines. And my mom called up Seven Hundred Club and said "I want to talk to Pat Robertson. It's not true, I'm not grieving over his lifestyle. He's a gentle loving Christian human being. I don't know why [he's] queer, but that's what he says he is, and I've been to their house, and I love him . . . I'm confused about it." These people are sincere, just like our parents.
Now where are women under this [pointing to chalkboard]? Way down. There is no blackboard in history that will make the line before the women receive the truth, unless you're Beverly LaHaye or Phyllis Schlafly. They're still way down, but they can lead groups, but they have to be all women's groups. Right now remember, Beverly LaHaye's group is larger than all the other organized women's groups in America. I talked to Patricia Ireland, we were arrested and in jail in Washington DC and we were talking about the women's groups, and she said "now is just a tiny little flick, in comparison to what Concerned Women for America are."
Now where do black, or African American, or people of color fit on this? Way down below the women. And they're men. And then way down below them are women of color.
Where do gays fit? Way down there and lesbians way down below gays, because men are, blah, blah, blah. And where does a crippled or differently abled lesbian mother person of color fit? She's not in this world. Read Audrey Lord, and see what that's about. Audrey Lord has transformed my thinking about women. Read Audry Lord. She had all those qualifications, and she died of breast cancer, she got it all, but she writes with more eloquence than all the gay men that I've ever met together. Her eloquence is unbelievable. Even Monet, although he's really good, and I hate him for what he wrote, because he wrote so much better than I write (but it's okay, you know). And when he died I felt so sad because the fact is Monet was writing about issues, and terms and feeling that [I felt were important].
[Returning to the chalk board] Now, if this is their world view, what is their theological world view? Let's just say the theological view is "God has said to me: I want you to rule until I return." Why did Pat Robertson name his university Regent University? What is regent? A Regent is someone the King appoints to rule until the King returns. So he is training Regents to rule the nation. Right now he has 1.7 million trained activists in the Christian Coalition, working in 175,000 precincts, in cadres of ten, with a budget of just under a hundred million dollars and over a hundred thousand churches in support. Now that's just the Christian Coalition. 1.7 million trained activists. They buy in at a thousand bucks, and that makes them a Regent. So they see themselves as a Regent in your school board, Regent in your city council, Regent in your county commissioner's supervisors office, Regent in the state legislator, Regent in the Nation. They are Regents! And they're going to rule. They want to rule. So, think of their political world view. They don't believe in a democracy. They say they do, but they don't. I know them, I wrote their autobiographies. I had to sit and listen, and listen and listen, they believe in a theocracy. They think that God must rule, and that means their vote should count more than your vote, a lot more than your vote.
What do they think about separation of church and state? Jerry Falwell, I have him on tape, saying " the Supreme Courts of this land have raped the Constitution, have raped the country by trying to bring in the separation of church and state. We all know that Madison said, 'unless you are a Christian you can't possibly vote.'" A Christian man, of course. So you see, separation of church and state is not their thing either.
What about the First Amendment, do they believe in it? Absolutely, for them. So when you say "freedom of assembly," what do they mean? That's what this new Contract With America, for the American families is about, "we want to be able to assemble freely anywhere we want, and testify to anybody we want, and have our way with anybody we want, but we don't want you to gather publicly." Already Oregon, Washington, the Amendment in Idaho, all of them say "no public facilities for gatherings like this." You couldn't meet in this University campus. It's a private school right? So you might be able to meet here . . . It's a Catholic school right? So you couldn't meet here . . . Start finding your own campground folks!
So [when] you see their religious perspective, and then you see their political and moral perspective, then you get down to . . . gay and lesbian issues . . . It began in 1989, they have been anti-gay from the beginning. But when I was working for them they did bash gays, "there goes one who walks a little light in his sandals. Cha-cha-cha." You know? These little asides, "gays are a danger, blah, blah, blah..." Because they still had the evil empire to focus on. When you have the evil empire, you're okay. Because Communism, Godless materialist, . . . when that went down in 1989 they were really up a creek. Do you remember the top radical five? Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and these guys, have a bigger cash flow than the Vatican. Pat Robertson has to bring in three million dollars a week through the mails. How do you open that many envelopes and put those checks in the bank? How do you take care of that big an institution? Jim Dobson has to bring in two million, two and a half million dollars a week, to get it to go. These enterprises are huge and have great power.
In 1989 they switched from bashing the evil empire to two issues: Abortion and us, right? They would have loved to have combined those two issues and simply aborted us. But the fact is we're here, and we're queer, and they can't get used to it. They started with rhetoric. I don't know if you've studied the rhetoric of the right, but you really need to hear it. Most of you don't listen to the 700 Club, you can't stand it. You put little heave bags by your television set. When Jesse Helms comes on, woof! When Dornan comes on, woof! When Clinton comes on, sometimes you want to . . . but, you need to listen. If the Jews had listened more carefully, the Jews might not have become such terrible victims of the Third Reich. To hear what they're [saying about] you, is to understand what is going to be done to you. Demeaning, demonizing, marginalizing, putting to the edge . . . I've even heard the data now that you get more mileage points, than straights. "Because they travel more, they have more discretionary funds, they don't have children, so they're free to use their money anyway [they want]." How many of you have children? (Jerry Falwell, where are you?) We don't have children so we can just waste our . . . discretionary funds. This rhetoric is getting really scary out there, and I feel like one of my tasks, and I'm hoping some of you will see it as your tasks in the Mormon church, is wherever there is a pool of anti-gay, false and inflammatory rhetoric, you should be there to simply confront it. You shouldn't let it pour out of any center of the Mormon church, any local group of the Mormon church, and religious leader [of] the Mormon church, you shouldn't let it go unchecked. You must stand up and say "You can misuse the Bible, any way you want. You can misuse the Book of Mormon any way you want. But you can't say that lesbians recruit women who are straight, because lesbians hate motherhood." (That's one of the biggies out right now.) Lesbians hate motherhood. I hate that kind of comment. I went to Atlanta the other day and I was picked up by a lesmobile at the airport. In Texas, the best pickup trucks you've ever seen . . . Gary always says "how do they get the best pickup trucks?!" But in Atlanta it's a Jeep, and there were three baby seats in the back in the Jeep. I sat in the front with the driver. And we stopped by the nursery on the way and three three-year-olds came toddling to grab their mother around the leg and she sat them in the chairs, and I'm sitting there thinking "where am I? I'm being picked up because I'm going to speak tonight, and I need to get to my motel room, and I've got all this stuff going on around me, and I need to get back to my hotel room . . ." [She said] "You're going to stay with us tonight." Oh boy! We get there and have dinner, we feed these three beautiful girls, they hug their other mother, these two lesbians, and I say, "okay, tell me the story."
They said "well, we had such a lovely relationship, we've been together ten years, we love each other, we want[ed] to be moms, so we decided to train for these babies that are unwanted and left in hospitals in Atlanta. So we went through a six month training period, and [after] the graduation night, the next night, we got a call for the first one. 'We have a child down here. She has HIV, she is chemically addicted to cocaine, and she has five venereal diseases including Syphilis and Gonorrhea. Do you want her?' And [we] said 'of course we want her!' . . . Within three weeks we had three, all three coke addicted, HIV positive, and had venereal diseases. We have gotten them through the venereal diseases, they're clean. We've got them through the cocaine addiction by holding their arms while they cried through the night. Now they have HIV, but they are our daughters."
When that poisonous rhetoric comes out of the mouths of these fundamentalist gurus that say "lesbians hate motherhood," you must be there to say "that is an untruth!"
What they say about gay men, the promiscuous sex . . . You know, "the studies are very clear that gay men are promiscuous," (as promiscuous as straight men.) That "we need to control our lives for the sake of God and for our own selves." The fact is that we are no more promiscuous than the average straight person, according to most of the data.
When they say that "we are a danger to children, that we abuse and recruit and molest children, that gay men are responsible for 95% of the child molestations in the country, and that if your child has a gay fifth grade teacher he is 98% more likely to be mugged, raped and abused by that teacher, than if it's a straight teacher," (that was coming up out of Colorado for Family Values the year that a fifth grade gay teacher was appointed by the Governor as "Teacher of the Year") . . . You see, gay men don't stand there and let them say these things! We need to confront that, but that's another story. I don't know where you are on your own journey, I spent thirty years in the closet. For me to lecture you is an abomination. But the fact is, I've had more fun standing up against this rhetoric. The rhetoric is killing us, it's creating a hostile climate in which we are being killed.
The rhetoric then led to political organization and political acts. The followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the others said "if they're so bad, why aren't we doing anything?" It makes sense, doesn't it? "Why aren't we doing something to stop them?" And so they began to organize. Folks, do you know how well organized they are? Do you? They have taken over now twelve state Republican parties, including Texas, they took over 12,000 precincts, precincts by precinct. They are literally taking over the Republican party. Watch Ralph Reed. Watch the Christian Coalition. Watch Jim Dobson and that other force. Watch the Colorado for Family Values, Oregon for Family Values, Idaho for Family Values, Utah for Family Values, watch these organizations. These people are out to legislate morality. To superimpose their own moral agenda on the rest of us and to put us out of business. To disenfranchise us, to put us back into the closets, to send us away. Colorado's Amendment 2 is pending, do you know about Colorado's Amendment 2? How many of you are from Colorado? Okay, you need to talk to these guys about Amendment 2, so that they really understand. The Supreme Court in Colorado said it was illegal and immoral, we can't possibly . . . no matter what the state . . . voted it in . . . They said it's no good, and they based their decision on the US Constitution. So suddenly the Supreme Court, just months ago said "but we're the final arbiters of the US Constitution. If you had made the decision on the state constitution it wouldn't have been our business, but you made it on the US Constitution, so we're going to take Colorado's Amendment 2 and decide for ourselves whether the state voters can superimpose that indignity on all their gay and lesbian citizens.
There ought to be a Mormon vigil on the steps of the Supreme Court . . . until the final decision is made, to warn the country, "what ever you think about gay and lesbian people, this will be the beginning of a landslide to simply take away all . . . human rights." If Amendment 2 is [approved], and given back to Colorado and put in place, you know what that would do to [those of] you from Colorado.
And Cincinnati's decision . . . Anybody here from Ohio? The decision in Cincinnati that simply says you have no legal recourse if your job is taken away, you have no legal recourse if your children are taken away, you have no legal recourse for your own domestic partnership, you have no legal recourse . . . Cincinnati's and Colorado's Amendments are being considered together by the Supreme Court. So you have the general, and the very specific, and [it will] come right down from the Supreme Court within the next year, year and a half. Okay, that's political action.
When I went to Texas I had come from California where I was really surrounded by freedom. I lived in Laguna Beach, gay Mayor, gay city council, gay police, you know. The tourists all came by and were very good. They walked very carefully, because they knew they were outnumbered by gays in Laguna. I moved to Texas and I said "where have I gone? What is this? This is another world!" The first thing I [encountered] was one of our own, Nicholas West, twenty three year old Southern Baptist choir boy was murdered. He was taken out and shot so many times that they couldn't tell the entry [from the] exit wounds. And then they executed him in the back of the head. They had just done another murder, and I was just reading about it, and the Judge had given the murderers 10 months probation because he had "just murdered a fag." This is a state court Judge.
So I went to the trial. They moved it from Tyler to Curville, which is, you go to hell and take a right . . . it's so far from everywhere that no one would go there, no media would go in. So I said "I've got to go there." We have 14,000 gay and lesbian people in our church in Dallas, and I said "we can't let this happen in Texas." So I went into a little Motel, and I sat down there, all alone in the court house, where the Judge and the Jury were going though their thing. I just sat there as a gay man, "you are not going to let this murder go by unnoticed. Nicholas West was a young twenty three year old Southern Baptist singer. He was murdered simply because he was gay. You're not going to let this go unnoticed. We're not going to acquest to oppression and to terror and to murder." Two weeks the trial went on. I saw the pictures of his body. I heard the killer say how he laughed when he said how "he defecated in his underwear after we stripped him and began to terrorize him, and how much fun that was, and one of our goals was to make the gay people cringe, the lesbians cringe with fear, that's our goal. And then just when they think they're free, then when we start to shoot them, and then we kill them slowly. We shoot through appendages and then we . . ." You know, this kind of stuff.
Two weeks later in San Antonio Michael Benechek was found with his throat cut, struck in the head with a blunt instrument until he was dead. Four weeks later, in Irving, Larry Leggit was found stabbed multiple times until he died. February of '94, Midland Texas, Tom Mussack was shot four times in the back of the head as he was walking down past a library. March 1994, three weeks later, in El Paso, Joe Trevino was strangled and bludgeoned to death and left under a bridge till they found his decomposed body. Four weeks later in April, John Anthony Burrow was shot to death by a sixteen year old with a rifle from his truck and then dumped forty feet into a stream, where they found his body three weeks later. In June, four weeks later in 1994, in Dallas, from my town, my little town, little teeny town called Emmis, Paul Cantonia went into Dallas [where] somebody kidnapped him from in front of a gay bar. He was found stabbed more than a dozen times through his throat and his genitals slashed.
The Council for Disease Control says that anti-gay crimes are ten times more violent than any other hate crime. So it's not just that we are the leading victims of hate crimes, we're being victimized with such ferocity. The rhetoric has created this hostile climate in which one week later, in Houston, Michael Bershinski was abducted from a parking lot, beaten until he revealed his ATM pin number, executed with one shot from a 380 to the back of the head, and his executioners said to the Judge, (front page headlines all across the state) "I felt like his Judge." Where's that coming from? That's coming up out of the false rhetoric that God wants us dead. And therefore, kids with baseball bats stuck with nails, can kill us and feel like they're doing the nation good. That's the war zone.
Now, before you start getting really depressed . . . That's the kind of area, that's the kind of countryside I stumbled into, and I suddenly became an Activist. The book came out in Sixty Minutes, came out Larry King Live, and all of a sudden I was in the front lines of this war, and I'm pissed. I feeling the anger that comes up out of watching innocent women having their children taken away from them, innocent men having their domestic partnerships laughed at, and their jobs gone, and their apartments gone. I was seeing them killed and I got angry. And after trying to get through to the religious right, I kept sending letters to Pat Robertson, and letters to Falwell, and letters to Graham, "I want to talk to you . . ." So finally I started to march. And I chased them around the country, just trying to get them to talk to me. All of a sudden I send a letter, Christmas last year to two hundred friends, and I said "I'm tired of chasing these guys, I'm not going to even try to talk to them anymore." And I got a letter back from King's office, from the King Center in Atlanta, from her Executive Assistant, Lynn Toutheran, who said "we've been following your career as an activist with a great deal of interest. You've done well so far, but this letter says you've gone violent on us." And I looked back over the letter, and I said "what is violent about saying I don't want to talk to these people anymore? Now I'm going to go out and talk to gay and lesbian people. And I'm going to talk to straight people . . ." She said "at the heart of soul force . . ." And I said "soul force? What's soul force?" [She responded] "When was the last time you read King?" [I answered] "College." You know, back before electricity. She said, "read Where to from Here?"
I read Martin Luther King. And after King I began to read Ghandi. And after Ghandi I began to read Audrey Lord, and Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. I began to read the Womenists. I began to read the African American poets, and activists. I began to get filled with Bishop Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the rest . . . And I began to change. Then one day Human Rights Campaign Fund said "will you come to Washington and address all of the activists?" I said, "what am I going to tell them? I don't know anything about activism." So I went for a walk and during that walk, in the country where we live, I said to the Creator, "God, what do I say to these activists?" And suddenly the road was filled with these folks. Bonhoeffer was there. Audrey Lord was there. Jesus was there. They were there, my heroes were there. And they were all looking at me with this funny, quizzical look, like "you need to ask us?" And as one voice they said, "what we've gotta do is outlove our enemies." And I said, "you tell them that!" (You know what gay activists think of religion, let alone to talk about love!)
I went back and I sat up in front of them and I said, "what we've gotta do is we've gotta learn to outlove our enemies." And there was this moment of [silence], and then everybody around the room started to cry. You know what I discovered? Gay activists are ex-Mormons. Gay activists are ex-Southern Baptist children, Pastors sons and daughters. Gay activists learned about activism in the churches of this country. But then when they were told that God doesn't love them, they said to God, "well then, I'm off to fight the right!"
I don't know where you are about this, but that got me on this whole spiritual journey again. Look at us! The inward and outward journey, we can't go anywhere outward to face them, until we have recaptured our [inward] spiritual journeys. What happened to you when you got kicked out of the Mormon church? Did you just kind of let the soul dry up like I did? . . .
I love what happened the other day. The European economic community said, "we're going to give gays and lesbians equal rights in these membership countries. And their domestic partnerships must be made legal." Pope John Paul almost fell out of his window, he was so angry and aroused by that. Then he made this tremendous speech about "even the orientation is evil." Not the acting on it, the orientation is evil. And then he went down to celebrate the reconditioning of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, to the music of Leonard Bernstein's Mass! Hello?!!!
The fact is, we have been at the heart . . . What would happen in America if all the gay organists quit playing one Sunday morning? There would be silence in Christendom. In the Catholic church there would be no one left to serve the Mass.
You know the joke that "we're here . . . and we're everywhere," it's not a joke. The fact is, if somebody would just lift this curtain and one day all the straight people would turn blue (I used to say all the gay people and lesbian people turn blue, [but] now I want to see the straight people turn blue), they are going to be stunned at how active we are spiritually!
Did you go to see the Native Americans last night? Who were the Spirit people of the Indians? The Berdache. Why? Because they were male souled and female souled people, they brought those two worlds together. That's why we can never be sexist, we can never find something to disagree with each other about. We must see each other as part of the whole, because we incorporate each other in each other. We have been Berdache. We have been the Kahunas in Hawaii, we have been the Priests and Rabbis, and Mormon leaders. We are everywhere. We are spirit folks. But what happen was, we give up our spirit journeys too often. In giving up our spirit journeys, our souls begin to shrivel. If we can't find a real home, where they've kicked us out of our wards and our places of worship, then we don't know where to go. We've got to re-find Jesus again. If it's being a part of Mormonism, that's your task. If it's not being a part of Mormonism . . .
I used to be an Evangelistic type. I used to think the soul of everybody I met was in my hands. As a ten year old boy, I'd get on a bus and think "this bus is lost unless I can preach to 'em." Did any of you ever go on a mission? We are conditioned to care about peoples souls. Now I don't care about what manifestation your journey takes, I am going to be with you until we both find spiritual health. But my only agenda for you is spiritual health. Not to see God as I see Her. Not to join the faith of the MCC or the non-MCC, but to see you on your spiritual journeys again. [As] Mormons, you've inherited so much . . . will you continue on your spirit journey?
We had a wonderful thing happen at the MCC church in North Hollywood. The World Council of Churches heard that this MCC group (they were in Geneva, and we were in Los Angeles), practiced communion with people who are transubstantiation, and consubstantiation, and fruit and cookies, and all these different views of the communion. And we didn't have wars. You see, all these denominations [World Council of Churches] are made up out of wars over that, pretty much. So they said, "we want to come and see how you do it." So our Pastor, Ken Martin, three lesbians and two gay men, gathered in a little circle and we put ten chairs in a row and waited. They were having their World Council Executive Session in Los Angeles and they were going to come at two o'clock on Thursday afternoon, so we all waited. All of a sudden the parking lot began to fill up with limousines, and police cars and police motorcycles, and 240 people filed into the church in the full garb of orthodoxy . . . and their interpreters, and they filled this little American Legion Hall (standing room only). Ken and his group moved up to the front of the stage as an august person, from whatever faith, said, "how do you do it?" Ken was a seminary professor, and was trying to frame the perfect answer when a lesbian stood up. She was about four feet two, he said. And she had about 17 ear rings, and she was wearing jeans and boots, and she was bright (I loved her, but I just didn't know what they were thinking. I was just looking out there wondering "what are they thinking?"), and she stood up and said, "well, we believe it's our job to get everybody to the table. We believe it's God's job to handle the juice." There was sudden silence, and those walls that had separated us for all those years looked "stupider." This tall august man who had been waiting for the theological answer put his two hands together and began to clap. And the whole crowd stood up and began to applaud. And they filed out. And it didn't make a hill of beans of difference why, because we're stuck behind those walls!
You've been thrown over the wall. Those walls are no longer walls to you. Join me. I don't know anything about Mormonism, and you don't know anything about me. Who cares?! We're spirit folk, and we're on a journey together. Let's go arm in arm.
The other day I was wearing my cross with a pink triangle, and I was speaking to AT&T gay, lesbian, bisexual folks, at the Palace hotel in San Francisco, this marvelous room. And I looked down and I saw this cross and the pink triangle and I thought, "Oh, dear." And I said it out loud, "I wish I had a Star of David to go along with this, to start representing all of our great traditions on my coat." I went on with my speech and in the middle of the room a woman stood up and began walking toward the platform, taking off her Star of David with a pink triangle. I saw her coming, and I leaned down and I took off my cross, and handed her my cross, and she handed me her Star of David. And that audience began to clap, and cry, and feel. All these years, we who celebrate the Creator, God, distance across the walls, distant, no longer distant. We are spirit folk, we are queer for god's sake! No, we are queer for God's sake!
Spirit journey, the inward journey. I challenge you to the inward journey and I challenge you to the outward journey. Once your spirit is informed and enthused and moving towards the light, then you can go out and face these guys. (They're mainly guys.)
I've been trying to reach Pat Robertson because Pat Robertson's Seven Hundred Club is such a storehouse of misinformation. He hadn't seen me . . . [and] they asked me to speak at Gay Pride in the Tidewater area, last February. I said, "okay, I'll come, but I want to do something to confront Pat Robertson while I'm there." Just to show him the case that we've made against him, not against his Biblical views, but against all his untruth, the false inflammatory rhetoric that kills us. And they said, "we're not ready for that. But we'll appoint a committee to meet with you while you're here. And then you can come back when you're ready." I said, "that's perfectly okay. It took me thirty years, why should it take you 30 days?" So I sent one more fax to Pat Robertson, from my desk, saying, "Pat, I want to see you. I'm coming to speak to these gay people, but I want to see you. I've gotta see you. You're saying things that are getting people killed, my brothers and sister are dying because of your irresponsible rhetoric, directly and indirectly." He never answered. The day before I left, a fax came in. I can see my fax from my desk, and it was from the desk of Pat Robertson. I couldn't wait, and I said, "oh fax, don't fail me now!" I read the fax and he said, "you know, you are the last sign of the decline of this civilization. I will not meet with you . . ." Well, I thought, "he answered! He answered! That's dialogue. "I'll never meet with you," he said. That's dialogue! He had to speak to me to say "no." So, out of love in my heart I sent my letter to him and his letter back to the Virginia Pilot, the biggest paper in Virginia. I thought they maybe they would put a little editorial in the back, or something. This was not a trick.
I got on the plane, and went to Virginia the next day, and when Pat Hecht from Virginian's for Justice picked me up from the airport, he didn't look happy. I said, "I thought you were going to wait." I said, "wait? What?" He said, "I thought you were not going to confront Pat until we were ready?" I said, "I'm not. I just sent him a letter." He opened the Virginia Pilot to the front page, in color, my picture and my letter. And, in color, Pat's picture and letter back. The whole city was talking about it. It was weird. Ghandi and King both said you've gotta have energy and you've gotta have focus. Oh, did we have energy! We turned on the radio going in and every talk show was saying, "why won't he meet with a queer? What ever you think about queers, he should be meeting with him!" And I said "energy, focus, oh my!" He took me right to the committee. I'll never forget it. They were in an Integrity Campus chapel, kind of area, and all these people were sitting there looking at me like their mothers had all died. And I said, "Hi!" And they said, "what are we going to do?" And I said, "we don't have to do anything." And they said, "you know we have to do something! Everyone's talking about what we are going to do!" I talked to them about soul force (I wish we had a half day together) . . . and they said, "let's just go back and sleep on it and ask God to guide us." The next morning I woke up and I knew that Tuesday was Valentine's Day, February 14th. So I went to the early morning Committee breakfast, and I said "Tuesday is Valentine's Day. Let's just all go together, twelve clergy, and we'll go over and bring flowers and candy to Pat. And we'll bring along a note that says "please see us about the following case." And then we'll give him our case, twelve pages of quotes that we think are really destructive, with the dates that he made those quotes. So we got to planning, and they got enthused. They said, "okay, let's do it! We'll loose our jobs. We'll loose our lives, but let's do it!"
On Sunday, we've gone through Gay Pride, everything was great, but we got a call from the Fourth Precinct, the police department, and a lieutenant said, "you'd better come down, we've heard about your riot." And I said, "riot?" "Your demonstration." "Demonstration?" "You know, your march onto the campus." And I said, "we're not marching, this is twelve clergy and I from various communions, going to go over and try to see Pat on Valentine's Day." And he said, "well, he's called out the swat teams, he's asked for extra security, he's asked deputies and police not to have days off, he's ringing the campus so that where ever you try to sneak on he will stop you." And I said, "we're just going under the big sign that says 'Welcome Public to CBN." He said, "you better come down and talk." So I went down on Monday and we talked to Lieutenant Ray Boswell. At the end of this long conversation where he was very sympathetic, and very glad to be a part of all this, I said, "you know, one of my dear friends, John Boswell just died in Yale. Do you know John Boswell?" And he said, with tears in his eyes, "he was my brother. And I wanted so much to do something in his name. And when they asked who would arrest you, I volunteered." I said, "what?! We're just walking across the street!" He said, "Mel, they're going to arrest you if you even get near that campus." And I said, "no they won't, Pat is too smart for that. He could meet with me for five minutes and we'd all go away." Boswell said, "he's smart, but he's arrogant. He's going to have you arrested."
To make a long story short, I was wrong. He arrested me, and they carried me off to jail. Now I've been reading Soul Force, and one of the things that Martin Luther King said, over and over, was the worst mistake he ever made was "to let them bail me out of the Birmingham jail. I need to stay in there and say to the world, 'what's happening here?'" So they said, "fifty dollars please." And I said "I can't pay it." And they said, "what about your bail?" And I said, "what's the conditions for bail?" And they said, "you can't go by Pat Robertson's ever again." And I said, "well, I can't do that." So he said, "then you're going to jail." And I thought, a lot of my clients are in jail, they'll give me a cell like Jimmy Bakers, or something, and I'll be outta here in no time." And the next thing I knew I was in punitive isolation. It's a tiny little cell, and it took me nine days to get a tooth brush, and it was a fascinating story, because although it was only 23 days, it was a sample of what my heroes have gone through. It wasn't heroic, it was a sample of what they've gone through: the isolation of being alone from 4:30 in the morning until night. Then I decided not to eat because I wanted to put some kind of spiritual pressure on myself to stay focused, and on them. So after 22 days I had lost 21 pounds and I was looking wonderfully gaunt. I hadn't shaved because they had one community razor in this little Styrofoam cup, and at 3:30 in the morning (that was my shower time, they'd wake me up and take me to the shower), and I'd look at that razor . . . so I was bearded and gaunt and looking heroic. I felt so good, because I had been able to get away from all this crap that we do to fill up our lives, and it was such a wonderful time.
On the 21st day I said to my lover (he got a chance to visit), and I said I'm coming out on the 30th day. I can't stand it any more than 30 days, that's enough, they'll think we're serious then. They won't think we're just doing it for publicity." He said, "okay." And I went back to my cell on that night and opened the Gideon's Bible that they had finally provided me . . . and I pointed to Isaiah 58, which I swear I never read in my life before, and it said, "what kind of fast does God want from you?" I read on and it was perfectly clear, . . . I couldn't stop because I was hungry. I couldn't stop. All of Soul Forces say you start and you finish. So I started feeling "he's never going to come, and I'm going to get stuck here, backed into this corner, and I'm going to die here." And I started crying and feeling lonely. It was really bizarre. And all of a sudden, again, all of those folks, it was the second time I had seen them after that road, were there in the cell with me. It's true, I do not have visions. But this . . . all of my heroes were in that cell and they were looking at me like [they were] saying "what is your problem? Don't you know that from the beginning, you've been taught from your mother's knee, that eternity is the celebration, that eternity is being together with the people of spirit from all of time. Don't you know that you will be with us if you die here? So get over it!" I felt really transformed.
The next morning I went down, I told Gary. Gary had a little fit, "you are not! You're coming out now! You dirty . . ." It sounded like love to me. That day Deb Price from Detroit (I don't know if you've read Deb Price's column, she's a lesbian journalist), she came from Detroit to interview me, and she said, "what? You're going to stay until he comes? You're crazy, he'll never come, this is a death sentence." (You should read her column about what happened next.) She left and the sheriff from Virginia Beach, the highest elected official in the state, came to me and said "we're so embarrassed that Pat hasn't come to see you, that if he doesn't come to see you today, we're going to bring him down here tonight in hand cuffs." So I thought, "he's joking." But he was serious. So I went back to my room, my cell, they took me back and locked me in. And about nine o'clock I heard all this noise in the corridor and they said you have a visitor and I said "nine o'clock? Who is it?" "We can't tell you." And we walked down through this old jail and Pat came in. And I said, "do you want to lead us in prayer, or would you like me to?" And he said "I will." And he led us in a lovely prayer. Then I said "Pat I only want you to do two things. I want you to acknowledge the hate crimes against gay and lesbian people across the country. And I want you to condemn anybody who would incite or commit such crimes, specifically against us. Just once speak of us positively." He said, "I'm going to Europe, blah, blah, blah." And he was gone.
The Sheriff had me out on the front porch, and the next thing I was holding Gary and saying "I'm out." "How did you get out? Did you escape?!" "No." "How did you get out?" "I just saw Pat." "You saw Pat? He came?!" We had a wonderful reunion. The next morning I was . . . looking at the Chesapeake Bay, you know this morning thing that I do, looking at the bay, feeling all this mystery. And there they were on the beach again, the spirit folks that had changed my life. And they had their arms around each other, and they were waving, and they were smiling and they were looking whimsical. And I turned around and I said "Gary, they're here." And he came running up and he put his arm around me and I put my arm around him, and I said "when our inward journey and our outward journey get together to do justice, to stand against oppression, we're standing in the front lines with God, and Her most courageous people." It's not a risk to face these guys, it's a calling.
I give you this new mission: go inward until you find your soul again, and then come bursting out upon the scene to say "no more lesbians will have their children taken away without my protest. No more queers will be beaten to death and executed without me saying 'it is unjust.'"
Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. We are weak, but He is strong. Amen.