Category: soulforce

Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Black Gay Quaker

I blogged last week about how deeply moved I felt when I heard the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1958 address to the FGC gathering of Quakers. Today over lunch with Lynn, a Friend from Hartford Meeting, I shared my notes from the talk and felt inspired even more. Something else stirred; the reminder that King had as a mentor in his life a man named Bayard Rustin. In fact, Rustin wrote many of King’s speeches in the late 1950’s. I spent the afternoon in the garden re-reading two books I have about Rustin.

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures of the 20th century. A Quaker, an African-American and openly gay, he served as an architect and inspiration for the direction of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In fact, he was already writing about racial equality and non-violence as early as 1942 in his article The Negro and Non-Violence. He stated,

Nonviolence as a method has within it the demand for terrible sacrifice and long suffering, but, as Gandhi has said, “freedom does not drop from the sky.” One has to struggle and be willing to die for it. J. Holmes Smith has indicated that he looks to the American Negro to assist in developing, along with the people of India, a new dynamic force for the solution of conflict that not merely will free these oppressed people but will set an example that may be the first step in freeing the world. (page nine of Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.)

Rustin went on to practice what he preached by resisting the draft during World War II, thus enduring a prison sentence of nearly two years (and used his time in prison to address inequities towards the non-white inmates.)

Starting in the mid-1930’s Rustin used non-violent strategies to protest war and nuclear weapons. He learned directly from Gandhi’s people in India and soon applied his training and experience to addressing racial inequality and the oppression of African-Americans.

In 1947 a federal ruling struck down segregated interstate travel. Rustin and others wanted to test the ruling, so they organized an interracial group of men to travel by public buses and trains in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They challenged the segregation laws still practiced in those areas. Arrests took place on six different occasions with a total of 12 of the riders arrested. Rustin wrote about the experience,

Without exception those arrested behaved in a nonviolent fashion. They acted without fear, spoke quietly and firmly, showing great consideration for the police and bus drivers, and repeatedly pointed to the fact that they expected the police to do their duty as they saw it. We cannot overemphasize the necessity for this courteous and intelligent conduct while breaking with the caste system. (page 15)

Rustin first met Dr. King during the bus boycotts of Montgomery, AL in 1955, shortly after King’s house had been bombed. In his well-written biography, Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, John D’Emilio reveals the importance of Rustin’s input into Dr. King’s non-violent work.

From the start, Rustin communicated to King not only the efficacy and moral value of nonviolence, but the special responsibility of leaders to model it fully (page 231).

According to D’Emilio, King had only a “passing acquaintance with the philosophy and career of Gandhi…Rustin initiated the process that transformed King into the most illustrious American proponent of nonviolence in the twentieth century.” (page 231)

King had to learn non-violence from somewhere. He was in his late 20’s when he arrived in Montgomery. He was on his own for the first time, which poignantly comes through in his 1958 FGC address. His father was not going to be able to help him all the way from Atlanta. King needed to learn a lot and quickly. Rustin came to him seasoned in non-violence theory and practice.

To Rustin, efforts by King’s followers or by historians to present King as a fully developed Gandhian at the start of the boycott were a disservice to the man. “He had not been prepared for [the job] either tactically, strategically, or in his understanding of nonviolence,” Rustin emphatically told an interviewer. “The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussion which he had in the process of carrying on the protest, not that, in some way, college professors who had read Gandhi had prepared him in advance. This is just a hoax.” Arriving in Montgomery a week after Rustin, Glenn Smiley, (another long-time peace activist from NYC), confirmed Rustin’s evaluation. About Gandhian nonviolence, Smiley insisted, King “knew nothing.” (pages 230, 231)

Not only did Rustin help King to understand the principles of non-violence and the application to the current situation, he began to ghostwrite speeches and articles for King starting in 1955. (see Rustin standing behind King during the March on Washington, which Rustin organized) The first article written by Rustin and ascribed to King appeared in April of that year. According to D’Emilio:

(Rustin) highlighted the messages that he believed had the most strategic value: that the boycott signaled the birth of a “new Negro” and a “revolutionary change in the Negro’s evaluation of himself”; that “economics is part of our struggle”; that that the boycotters had discovered “a new and powerful weapon—non-violent resistance.” (page 239)

20 years older than King, Rustin spoke like a teacher to a pupil in his letters to the young civil rights’ leader (page 241) and also helped King see connections to international politics and economics affecting all poor people.

So here comes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the annual gathering of Quakers in summer 1958. He gives an amazing, profound, and crystal clear message about the struggle for racial equality and the need to use non-violent methods along with connections to international post-colonial struggles and the economy. The passion with which King speaks tells me the message comes from his heart, but I believe much of it came from Rustin’s pen like many of King’s other speeches during this time period–especially because in this case King spoke to Rustin’s own people, the Quakers.

You can purchase a printed version of the speech or an audio tape here, but I want to share from the notes I took as I listened to the speech at FGC a week ago. In the work that I do around the Ex-Gay Movement and the full liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US and elsewhere, I can hear critical messages for us in King’s (and Rustin’s) message. (King used the term Negro throughout. I will just use “people” in my notes)

  • The Bible has not been properly interpreted. There is a problem with a literal reading, and as a result people were taught they were inferior. They believed this and lost faith in themselves. It has left scars on the soul. People need to take a fresh look at themselves. God loves all his children; each one is made in his image. A new person has come to being which creates the present crisis. Humans with dignity struggle for freedom and human dignity, but privileged people won’t easily give it up.
  • How will the Struggle be Waged? Non-violence. Physical violence and hatred (the twins of Western materialism) only achieve victory, not peace.
  • Non-violence is not for cowards.
  • It does not seek to defeat and humiliate opponents. Instead it seeks to make friends and awaken a sense of shame over injustice.
  • We do not go after individuals, rather the evil systems that victimizes both the oppressed and the oppressor.
  • The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliation. Meet physical violence with what Gandhi called Soulforce. We still love you.
  • We avoid internal violence of spirit. We refuse to hate our opponent. An e”ye for an eye” leaves everyone blind.
  • This is not sentimental love, but agape, a love that offers creative understanding and seeks nothing in return. We love them because God loves them. Love your enemies—this transforms the soul of your opponent.
  • We have faith in the future believing the universe is on the side of justice. No lie can live forever.

I stepped out of the talk stirred, shaken, challenged, convicted, and moved deeply in regards to the work that I seek to do. What thrills me is that not only did King moved me, but also the Black gay Quaker, Bayard Rustin, who shaped those words in King’s life and for all of us to hear.

Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin
Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
To see VIDEO of Bayard in action go here.
William D. Lindsey, a Quaker who writes for the blog Bilgrimage, also has a rich post about Rustin with lots of detailed info outlining various influences in Rustin’s life including Methodism.

Equality Ride Documentary

Speaking wtih Ally on the phone today, she directed me to a trailer Vince Cervantes put up on his blog (we bloggers are so incestuously connected). The trailer gives a glimpse of a new film about the 2007 Soulforce Equality Rides. Vince and his partner were both riders (and appear in footage in the trailer and I imagine even more in the film). When I met the riders in April to take part in their training, I felt so moved by them, their faith, their commitment and their love. Even in this short trailer it shines through.

And speaking of video…if you have not done so yet, please watch my holiday greeting, A Homo No Mo Christmas!
And look out, a video will be released (maybe later today, by a cantankerous friend of this blog (no not Joe Gee–someone sweeter and more Christian)

Survivor Initiative at Love in Action

This morning in Memphis, TN two ex-gay survivors, David Christie and Brandon Tidwell, shared some of their experiences as ex-gays and now as former ex-gays. They then presented collages of their journey to the Love in Action (LIA) staff. The event was organized by Soulforce as part of their Survivor Initiative. (You can view David’s collage here. Brandon’s is here. See ALL the collages here. Video of their statements and the presentation of the collages is here and here.)

Seems LIA staff were confused as to the nature of the event and the organizers . I was not there myself (I’m doin’ time in Hartford–aka home), but I heard that right before the press conference began, an LIA staff member came out to group that was gathering and asked repeatedly, “Where is Peterson Toscano?”

Here’s their official statement: Actually during the press conference in Memphis, I was home in Connecticut on the phone having actual dialog with an ex-gay leader (It was a private, confidential conversation, so I will reveal no further details).

I find LIA’s statement, and particularly my inclusion in it, to be very curious, especially since I am still waiting to hear back from John Smid after a recent e-mail exchange we had. I am not one to print private e-mails, but if Love in Action is going to accuse me of being closed to dialog all the while stringing me along with promises of dialog, I may need to set the record straight.

While focusing on current (paying) clients, John Smid has not found time to connect with former clients like me after expressing a desire to do so. Perhaps LIA staff and board will launch a last minute initiative to make some calls to former clients to check in on how we are doing. If so, it is a good first step, but cannot be considered a serious, thoughtful approach to organized aftercare and follow-up.

I did not organize today’s press conference or contact any of the media, Soulforce did that. My role as an ex-gay survivor was to assist the people who could go, (and I am glad to hear that fellow Quakers showed up to voice their support.) In the past week I did connect with Brandon and David about their individual stories, which you can view along with other narratives over at Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg).

As with the recent press conference in front of New Life Church, this one serves as a witness and a warning. It is not simply about dialog. I write some about the Ex-Gay Survivor movement here and what it is all about.

The vast majority of people who attend programs like Love in Action do not go on to live ex-gay lives. This is a fact shared even by Exodus president Alan Chambers. Also, many of us experienced harm because of the ways we tried to change and suppress our sexuality. Love in Action enabled us in that unhealthy pursuit. People who apply for Love in Action’s programs do not hear this critical information during the intake procedure. (Although they are required to sign a full waiver that says they will not sue the program for any harm that may occur.) These stories need to be heard in hopes that places like Love in Action will consider the harm of ex-gay conversion therapy, but also as a warning to people considering such programs for themselves or a loved one.

Perhaps Love in Action’s staff members believe they put people before politics and that they are genuinely interested in pastoral care. But will they hear David Christie’s story?

While still in my teens, I began seeking help for what I had been led to believe was an abnormal and sinful condition. From ages 15 to 28 – that is, for thirteen years – I was almost constantly involved in some form of counseling or therapy designed to thwart my homosexual orientation. Never accepting that a homosexual identity was an option, and believing I would eventually be able to manage or even overcome my homosexual desires, I got married at the age of 21. When that fell apart two and a half years later because of my sexual indiscretions, I became profoundly committed to ridding myself of homosexuality. So much so, that I remained celibate for the next 4 years, while in my mid-20s.

While still married, I had discovered Exodus, whose like-minded associates and organized programming gave me hope. For 5 years, I attended weekly support-group meetings in one of their affiliated programs through a local church. I attended 4 annual Exodus conferences in various locations across the country, and even lived for one year within an ex-gay residential program known as Love in Action.

All of this required a drastically altered lifestyle. I had to move. I had to change churches. I had to change friends. I dropped out of a promising graduate school career and took on a dead-end office job in order to minimize conflicts with my ceaseless schedule of therapy, support groups, and related events. Hoping to truly purge myself of homosexuality, I threw out old letters and photographs, books, and music, – things I loved, but which I had come to believe were negative influences.

Throughout all of this, I constantly battled feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and guilt. The doctrine of God’s unconditional love was useless to repair the damage done by the doctrine of homosexual sin. This led to a chronic depression for which I had to take costly medications from my late teens until I finally came out, at the age of 28. On a few occasions, in panicked despair, I seriously contemplated suicide.

David goes on to tell about his time in Love in Action, including an incident when he was physically assaulted by a staff member. He has found a place of healing and wholeness, but with the gut-level honesty that I have always known David to display, he confessess,

But I am scarred, and every day I feel the burdens of regret and grief. I grieve for my own years of anguish, but also for the confusion and pain I caused my wife, my family, and my friends. And sure, I spent a lot of money in this process, but what I want back more than anything is the time and energy I put into it.

At school, my peers are a decade younger than me, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder: where would I be now if not for my ex-gay detour? where would I be professionally? how much more financially stable would I be? how much more confident? how much closer to self-actualization?

I realize such questions could poison my progress, but nonetheless, they arise naturally, and I must wrestle with them all the time. I even credit my ex-gay experience with contributing to the self-reflection that lead to where I am today, but I maintain that no one should ever have to go through such hell to get to such a place.

Later this week I want to focus on Brandon’s story and his Christian faith, which is still a major part of his life.

Brandon and David, thank you so much for stepping up and sharing your stories.

Photo credit to BJ Moore.

Doin’ Time in Minnesota

Next weekend I travel to Minneapolis, MN to take part in the Soulforce Equality Ride training and send-off. I will also do a public presentation at a Quaker meeting house. First here is info about the Equality Ride:

Homophobia is globally pervasive, and no community or school escapes its reach. In 2006, during the inaugural Equality Ride, participants traveled to nineteen schools and engaged students, faculty, and administrators in conversation about the damaging effects of homophobic doctrine, the false notion that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities are sick and sinful.

This year, the journey continues with fifty young adults going to thirty-two Christian colleges and universities. Two buses are taking the group on two distinct routes around the country in creative pursuit of social justice. In doing so, they are empowered to change countless lives. Love liberates the oppressed, redeems the lost, and resurrects the spirit.

Saturday, March 3, 2007 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM)
Blessing & Sending Service for Equality Ride
Plymouth Congregational Church
Open to All!
1900 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis
8 blocks west of Park House
Refreshments & Silent Auction to follow at 8:00 PM
Open to All!
(I will perform a short piece for this event)

An Evening with Peterson Toscano
Sunday, March 4, 7:00-9:00 pm
Center for Independent Artists (in the El Colegio building)
4137 Bloomington Avenue South (corner of Bloomington Ave & 42nd Street)
Minneapolis, MN
Off-street parking; use parking lot entrance
I will do excerpts from his various performances, interspersed with time for Q&A.

I feel so honored to have a small part of the Equality Rides. These folks display so much courage. If you are in the MN area, would love to see you at one or both of the events!