Thanks to the expert driving skill of Auntie Doris I arrived safely at Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. Fortunately (or not) I have wi-fi in my dorm room on campus here at the University of Kent so I can blog some.
On the way to Canterbury we listened to LBC Radio (a talk radio station for the greater London area) and the show hosted Jeni Barnett. She offer topic after topic in a frenetic random order, but the one issue that caught my ear had to do with English people trying to change their accents to sound more like the Queen. She asked for callers who had also tried to change their accents.
I turned to Auntie, “Should I?” and with little more than a nod from her, I called. (Joe Gee, that fabulous podcaster, will be simultaneously proud of me and appalled by me). I explained that in the US I get much better customer service when I speak with a posh British accent. This accent is a perceived by many in the US to carry class and sophistication (and it may possibly be a bow to our former colonial masters :-p ). In fact, when I was quite young, I tried to emulate some of the British accents from films in order to alter what I considered my “gay accent.” I thought I might get people off the gay scent.
I then talked about the Ex-Gay Movement and how much of it has to do with gender including getting one’s voice to adhere to gender norms. Some ex-gay leaders taught me that proper men speak with a downward inflection and use less words than women. They also instructed me to drop to my lower register when I spoke. I wrapped up the brief radio segment by letting Jeni know that I was off to Lambeth (pointing towards Canterbury as I spoke on the phone in the car) to do a talk/performance/cabaret act about my time as an ex-gay and the process to integrate my sexuality and spirituality.
Joe Gee will no doubt call me a media whore. I often remind him that I am simply a press magnet. Auntie Doris wants to have a goal that every time I travel with her by car in England, I need to find a reason to call into one of these programs.
After this encounter with Jeni, Auntie and I arrived at Lambeth. I had been invited by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). Richard Kirker of LGCM met me, sorted out my room at Darwin Hall and then pointed me towards the exhibitors hall.
Auntie Doris and I walked into the hall then froze with our mouths wide open. No, it was not a display of fine dark chocolates from around the world. What greeted us proved to be much richer and appealing. The most gorgeous, colorful, artful robes and stoles captured our attention. They hung draped on racks and hangers calling to us to wrap ourselves up in ecclesiastical prêt-à-porter. As a Quaker, I suddenly felt envy for these Anglicans and their brilliant plumage. As a gay man with a penchant for auspicious and flamboyant clothing, I felt right at home.
We walked around the stalls, and just like Auntie Doris’ uncle (an Anglican vicar) told us, several exhibitors expressed a strong pro-LGBT message. In fact, I counted at least four stalls set up with colorful posters and lots of literature all about the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The Zacchaeus Fellowship, a Canadian Anglican ex-gay type group, had a small stall set up with some literature, but they had no staff present when we passed by. They provided booklets with stories of four ex-gays and a hand-out with suggested books and links for “those struggling with homosexuality.” These included books by Andrew Comiskey, Joe Dallas, Leanne Payne, Mario Bergner and Joseph Nicolosi (A Parent’s Guide to Presenting Homosexuality). In their list of “Websites of Interest” they mention several groups including PFOX and NARTH, and Ex0dus Global Alliance. At the bottom of their list of resources they provide this disclaimer:
Please note: The above information is provided as a courtesy. The reader must determine the suitability of the contents found under these links for his or her purposes, interests and beliefs.
Speaking with two women at the Integrity/Changing Attitude stall we agreed that ex-gay promoters and providers would also offer warnings similar to those found on cigarette boxes here in the UK.
WARNING: Immersion in ex-gay theories and practices may harm you and those around you.
In offering ex-gay treatment (in whatever form they suggest) as an option, I do not often hear the fact that most people come to the conclusion that they do not need alter their orientation or submerge it or cut it out of themselves. In fact, in trying to do so many of us have actually experienced harm. Sure a handful of people say that such a change is possible and that they are happy no longer identifying as gay or lesbian, but from my experience of 25 years in and around around the ex-gay world, these folks represent a tiny majority of the many people who attempted it before them.
The good news is that I heard mostly positive messages today about LGBT people, especially in with the screening of a new film, Voice of Witness: Africa. Filmmakers Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod traveled from the US to Africa to film LGBT people in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. They state:
It is an awesome responsibility, for just by talking to us these folks are risking more than any of us privileged people can begin to understand.
Among those we talked to is
* a transgendered [F to M] Nigerian
* a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda
* a transgendered [M to F] Ugandan
* one of a pair of gay 20-something twins in Kenya
* a gay Ugandan farmer whose dream is to own two acres of land to grow his sugarcane
* gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed
* a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay
I felt especially moved by the stories of the trans people in this 20 minute film. Apparently traans people face even more risks and dangers than lesbian, gay and bisexual people. All the stories moved me especially when they spoke of their faith. Then seeing the retired Ugandan bishop, Christopher Ssenyonjo, speak passionately about LGBT issues and even starting a Bible study for gay men floored me.
Afterwards I got to meet many LGBT and affirming people in the Anglican/Episcopal Church including:
- Susan Russell, president of Integrity
- The bishop of the diocese Connecticut (and my neighbor in nearby West Hartford, CT), James E. Curry
- Cameron Partridge, minster at St Luke’s & St. Margaret’s in Boston
- Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude Nigeria and a gay man who just received asylum status
- Christina (Tina) Beardsley, who I previously met at the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christians (and who will bring me back to the UK to perform Transfigurations next May)
I also got to meet Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church (WATCH) I’ll put a link but their site was down tonight. We had a great chat about gender and sexism in the Church and about how so much of the gay issue comes down to gender and an anti-fem attitude. (which goes back to the point above about how I changed my voice to sound more “masculine” as part of my de-gayification process). After Christina mentioned to me that about 70% of the Anglican Church attenders/members are women, I suggested she change her organization’s name to Women and Their Church.
So I guess this is the part of the blog entry when I share my first impressions and my current feelings. I feel happy to be here, honored in many ways. It also feels less of a big deal than I had imagined. I mean reading the press reports for the past few months, seeing the photos and such, I came with this big notion of LAMBETH. Having arrived, now I see people. Sure some dress in exquisite tailored frocks, but under their finery, I see people. People can connect. They can listen to each other. They can affect each other emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The concept of LAMBETH intimated me. But people? I like people.
(Wed and Thur at 8:00 PM I will present here at Lambeth–The 70% Show, a talk/performance/whatever about my own spiritual journey as a Christian who happens to be gay and my nearly 20 years as an ex-gay. For more info see: LGCM site)