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Good news from my newsletter. If you want to receive it in your email, click here.
My partner in love and art, Glen Retief, reminds me I need to help my audiences understand where I am going when I present one of my performance lectures. I make connections between things that are not apparent even after a short explanation. For instant, I see climate change as a queer issue. I told Glen I was sitting with the question: What is a Queer Response to Climate Change?
“Queer as in odd, out of the ordinary?” he asked. “Well, yes,” I replied,”but also lesbian, transgender gay, bisexual, and gender non-binary. I think climate change affects us differently, and we have unique perspectives and skills to offer in addressing it.” I took a year off to study climate change and the connections to LGBTQ people and history. Four years ago I wrote this piece which includes some my initial musings on the topic of climate change as a global LGBTQ human rights issue.
The word intersectionality is very big right now. Since my work has always been interdisciplinary as it has looked at LGBTQ oppression/liberation, faith, and society, it has been intersectional for a long time. I also benefited from reading Audre Lorde and Doris Lessing after I came out.
I couldn’t help looking at gay conversion therapies (pray-away-the-gay, etc) without seeing how it was tied to white Protestant male power and privilege in the USA. Many of us white guys in this program were not just trying to be straight for Jesus; we were desperately trying to regain lost power and privilege in Evangelical churches that saw us as feminized men and therefore blocked to serve very much like the women were treated, except we were not encouraged to watch the children.
If you want to hear how my brain processes this sort of stuff, check out this short radio interview conducted by Lori Walsh as South Dakota Public Radio. We cover a lot of ground! Conversion therapy, LGBTQ friendly Bible stories, extreme weather, and much more.
I am obsessed with queer responses to climate change. If someone faces threats and challenges when it a beautiful day out, things only get worse with the weather. Climate change is a threat multiplier. We have always had storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves, but climate change magnifies these making them bigger and badder. Similarly, threats people face because of their identity, mobility, health, etc also increases with the more extreme weather events.
Homeless LGBTQ youth face many risks and dangers on sunny days. These explode with extreme weather, especially when they don’t seek shelter. Up to 40% of homeless youth avoid shelters.
According to LiveAbout.com
If at all possible, LGBT teens who are facing homelessness, or who are already homeless, should try to locate LGBT-friendly services.
When dealing with a crisis like homelessness, the last thing you need is a hostile or homophobic service provider.
Fortunately there are some of these LGBTQ-friendly shelters.
The Ali Forney Center in New York, has complied a list of such resources in 16 states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
I see addressing homeless LGBTQ youth needs (in nice weather and nasty weather) as a queer family values issue.
Fellow queer Quaker, Brian Blackmore told me about the work of The Night Ministry in Chicago. “They have a mobile bus that offers temporary shelter, counseling, Health care and testing, and sometimes food. The people who work there are some of the most valiant and compassionate people I have ever met. Tikkun Olam realized.”
I would love to hear of your own experiences, insights, and ideas of how we can build stronger communities before disasters come.
So thrilled to be headed back to Greenbelt. I first presented at Greenbelt in 2006. I love the thought-provoking conversations and the artful presentations of justice issues that happen at this annual Arts Festival in England. While I go as a presenter, I attend as many talks and performances as possible. Some of the most memorable and moving performances I ever witnessed took place at Greenbelt. I also always meet beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting people there.
I am thrilled to return to Greenbelt for the fifth time. My hope is to deepen conversations around LGBTQ issues, faith, and climate change. I will mix scholarship with personal narrative, storytelling, and performance art. As a Quaker, I will contribute to the conversations about Quakerism, peace, and meditative worship.
See some of the amazing acts that will also appear at Greenbelt. Learn more here.
After Greenbelt I will lead a workshop at Woodbrooke Quaker Centre and then tour with Ruth Wilde. I would love to come to your community to present my work and engage in the conversations you are having there.
I was constantly surprised by Shirley-Anne McMillan’s new book, The Unknowns. She takes the familiar story of a girl who is a little different and who is finding her way in the world as she comes of age, and adds fresh, original elements to the personality of Tilly and the narrative. The risks feel very real. The discovery of the world similarly feels authentic and exhilarating. Seeing a character encounter her own specialness and strength even when she is initially unable to see it in herself, got me deeply invested in what happens to her and the unconventional friends she meets late at night.
Beyond the engaging plot, I love the atmosphere of the book, these late night gatherings and meetings that appear sinister at first but then surprised me by the warmth and friendliness within. Much like those misconceptions I can have of a person on first encounter, McMillan’s book invites the reader to look with clearer vision that overturns negative judgements. She presents an edgy Belfast filled with grit and decay that contain surprising nooks and crannies for community to pop up like flowers growing in the cracks of abandoned parking lots.
I was also surprised by the ways she helped readers consider perspective. Who gets to tell a story affects the story and how people respond to it. Reading about the events in the book as they happen and then reading the flattened out, misleading, and negative commentary about these same events as reported in the newspaper, got me thinking about the injustices that happen from misreporting events and slandering people in public and private forums.
As with all of her novels, McMillan does not shy away from real life and hard topics–the loss of a parent, sectarian violence, and issues related to sexuality, gender, and orientation.
She is never preachy. Instead she provides visions of what acceptance and understanding look like next to the harsh realities of what ignorance and fear inspire. It is in the sudden unexpected beauty of the communities she envisions and the love and art these communities foster, that McMillan provides an antidote to negative forces in the world.
Weeks after reading the book the images remain and the characters feel like real friends I met who are still living their lives and standing up for their friends. I highly recommend, The Unknowns by Shirley Ann McMillan. Available in the UK and USA from booksellers and on Kindle.
For too long, climate change communication has been framed as a wildlife conservation issue concerning polar bears and ice caps. But what about its impact on people, particularly on communities that are socially isolated but on the front lines of climate change? When it comes to extreme weather events, we are all in the same boat together, just not all on the same deck. Some people are disproportionately affected. In addition to saving lives and improving health, what other benefits happen when we shift our focus?
Join us for a workshop on December 7, 2017 3:00-4:30. EDT as Dr. Natasha DeJarnett from the American Public Health Association teams up with theatrical performance activist, Peterson Toscano to present a climate change exposé. The event will take place live at the American Public Health Association. If you cannot attend in person, signup to watch the interactive live streamed. This interactive presentation will explore how extreme weather events intersect with people of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrant populations. Be prepared to walk away with fresh ideas on how you can talk about climate change while building more resilient and just communities. Register today.
Join us for Happy Hour after the presentation!
Watch the presentation YouTube
Natasha DeJarnett, PhD, MPH Policy Analyst, Environmental Health, Center for Public Health Policy, American Public Health Association
Stay involved! Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #ClimateChangesHealth. For more information on how climate change impacts health, please visit www.apha.org/climate. And view other webinars on climate change:
The contents of this webinar are solely the responsibility of the presenters and do not necessarily represent the official views of the American Public Health Association.
Some podcasts are just too weird and wonderful to ignore. With the Inglorious Pasterds podcast, the weird comes so often and easily, it can be easy to miss the wonderful as I laugh at the crazy coming out of the hosts’ mouths. (News item: Eel extracted from anus, man wouldn’t say how it got there.)
Not what you might expect from a group of straight post-Evangelicals. But in the midst of the madness and mayhem, these guys talk about serious issues–faith, justice, and now even climate change.
Meet the hosts (and follow them on Twitter)
They recently had me on their show to talk about climate change as a faith issue and a queer issue. What does the Bible say about it and how can/should/might we respond? The conversation is a delightful mix of silliness, seriousness, and serious weirdness. Just my style.
And yes, there was an eel stuck up some guy’s butt. Oh, and I talk about my placenta! (I’m running a sale now–perfect Sunday School gift or for your favorite gender and sexuality professor with a sordid Evangelical Christian past.)
You can find their show on iTunes and a bunch of other places that distribute podcast magic.
— Inglorious Pasterds (@PasterdsPodcast) November 22, 2017
Or take a listen right here:
I recently sat down with a student journalist over at NYU. Amelia Henry was interested in how I use comedy to talk about LGBTQ issues and climate change.
I think part of the process is being vulnerable. I need to first find the humor in myself. Take my conversion therapy experience for example. It is traumatic, but it’s also ridiculous. While it’s easy to make fun of the people who are running these programs, I had to look at myself and find what was ridiculous in myself. The other part of it is the commitment to be non violent. Humor can be violent, right? You can really attack people with humor. So I tried to create characters that I like, that I have an affection for, and I never try to hurt someone with my humor. Humor can be dismissive, and I’m not trying to make light of issues; I’m trying to shed light on them. Also, humor is one of those things where everyone has their own tastes. That’s something else I have to be aware of — it doesn’t work for everybody.
Amelia asked about my comic influences.
I have been very influenced in my comedy by Mad Magazine, by Joan Rivers, who was fearless in taking on really serious issues through comedy, by the marginalized people who’ve done comedy through the years like John Leguizamo, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. They all did one-person shows where they took on multiple characters because I think as a marginalized person, you’re often alone so you have to move in and out of all sorts of worlds and speak in different languages. That definitely has inspired me.
There is lots more in the interview about bing LGBTQ and finding our way in a world that often puts us in boxes.
You can get it out over on Washington Square News
Like most Americans, I have been transfixed and horrified by the size and scope of Hurricane Harvey, this mega storm that hit Texas and Louisiana with so much water and destruction. It has become obvious that everyone in the path of the storm and the flooding have been affected and will be for some time. They are talking about recovery efforts taking years. Everyone who survives will have a Harvey story to tell for the rest of their lives.
I imagine that anyone with family in the Houston area, America’s fourth largest city, watched and waited with dread hoping their loved ones make it through ok. Family and friends around the country have already begun to provide practical help: housing, food, clothing, and well needed dollars. While the storm has moved on, and the waters recede, life still must go on. Bills need to be paid. Students have their studies. People have jobs. Yet many are displaced. Homes are uninhabitable. The support of family and friends is essential.
This got me thinking about my own kin in the Houston area and those places affected by this storm. My people. LGBTQ folks. It’s not that I don’t care about other folks, but part of human nature is to be particularly aware of the needs of those in our own family and affinity groups. It is what helps us survive. We need stick with the pack.
As a gay man, I wonder about the ways LGBTQ people have to struggle in a storm that is similar and different from non-LGBTQ people. Of course a lot of it has to do with the other factors in an LGBTQ person’s life that on a sunny day make life challenging.
Yes, we are all in the same boat together; just not all on the same deck. Some people suffer more than others.
If you are LGBTQ and without a home before the storm, you may find it threatening to go to a homeless shelter. Transgender women of color are particularly at risk from violence in public and have historically been unemployed or under employed because of prejudice and discrimination. As a result, they represent a large percentage of the LGBTQ homeless population. Many homeless shelters are often run by Christian groups who traditionally have been hostile to us. They are also highly gendered spaces. This creates special challenges for transgender and gender non-binary people. Who gets to decide where you belong? Many avoid these shelters. As a result, they become that much more vulnerable during a storm.
I think of the LGBTQ person who is an undocumented immigrant. What happens when you try to get the help you need in the midst of a storm? Will this action trip a whole series of legal repercussions that lead to detainment and deportation to a place where it is even more unsafe to be LGBTQ?
What about our seniors. LGBTQ seniors experience a lack of equality with non-LGBTQ seniors in part because of the lifelong homophobia and transphobia they experienced from their families, society, and the government. I think of Marion, a fictional 84 year old lesbian based on many real life people like her. She is living alone and estranged from her family for many years. Perhaps earlier in life she had married a man and had children. I know of many LGBTQ folks who did, and even today their family want nothing to do with them. They have never seen their grandchildren. No one checks in on them. Perhaps Marion had a long term partner, Susan, who died in 2010. They were together for 43 years. Yet when Susan died, Marion received no social security or benefits. In fact, Susan’s family suddenly showed up and demanded personal objects and money that was shared by Susan and Marion. Perhaps Marion has been able to build a social structure that supports her, but also at that age, she has begun to lose her friends and may feel very alone. What happens when a storm like Harvey comes along? Where does she go? Who checks in on her?
You can imagine these scenarios and more. In addition to seeing and feeling these realities, we can also do something to help. Right now in Houston there are two organizations raising money specifically for LGBTQ people affected by Hurricane Harvey. IF you cannot donate, you can share this post and links to get the word out.
I just published a piece in Liturgy journal. When the editor first contacted me over a year ago, he wanted to know if I could write about Quaker liturgy in a rural setting. It was a strange request. We Quakers are basically the anti-liturgy sect:
Quakers can be defined by what we do not do and what we do not have during our times of worship. In the Quaker meetings I have attended, we do not have a written liturgy. We do not recognize sacraments of the Christian church or the church calendar. We do not have clergy in the traditional sense or a laity; each one of us is considered a minister. We do not have a programmed worship at all but opt for an hour of silence, trusting the members of the gathering to vocalize short messages leaving pauses in between messages. Sometimes we have a complete hour of quiet with no words spoken aloud.
Thinking about the rural setting though got me reflecting on Quakerism and how the worship itself is a way of sliding into the natural world even in meetings in the heart of major cities.
Throughout Quaker history, Friends have pointed to two natural sources to help describe their spiritual quest. The first is the Light. Quakers speak and write regularly about the “Light within” and the process of “holding in the Light” a person who needs prayer or an important issue. Light is natural, emanating from the sun, and it is a natural element present in urban settings as well as in rural. Unlike fresh air, one does not need to slip away from an industrialized city to discover light. One simply needs to open the shutter or curtain and let it in. What we lack in cities, however, is darkness. The urban environment has so much light that the wilderness of natural darkness is obscured.
The other natural object regularly referred to in Quaker writings and vocal ministry is “the Seed.” Tiny and full of potential, the seed is usually something hidden from sight deep underground, waiting to burst forth with new life and growth. Unlike looking to trees and flowers and animals, the seed speaks to the quiet place of waiting, patiently, longingly, while believing in greater things to come.
Quakerism started in England before the Industrial Revolution, but continued to grow as the world grew louder, more mechanized, crowded, dirty, gray, and hectic. Quaker meeting houses and the worship they offered gave Friends in English cities a chance to escape the crush of the streets and the sounds of industry—to enter into a spiritual secret garden of serenity. No wonder Quakers flourished in large industrialized cities like Birmingham and London. People with less and less access to the peace and quiet of nature needed a retreat. The quiet and stillness of Quaker meeting provided this.
Writing about all this though, I continued to return to a theme that has been knocking around my head for the past few years–the complicated relationship many LGBTQ people have had with nature, particularly in rural spaces.
Like many gay men in America I originally come from a rural community that I escaped the first chance I had after high school graduation. Born in the city of Stamford, Connecticut, we moved to the Catskill Mountains in New York State when I was five, in part to help me flee the pollution of the city that routinely sent me to the hospital with asthma attacks. Coming of age in rural New York state during the HIV/AIDS Crisis and a growing organized movement to protect the church and family from what was called “The Gay Lifestyle,” I consumed secular and religious messages that told me I would be more valuable if I were heterosexual and masculine.
It was in a rural independent Bible church that I gave my heart to Jesus and determined to repent from homosexual attractions and possible future gay relationships. I began an odyssey to de-gay myself through Ex-Gay programs and ministries and through pastoral counseling. While many gay men flocked to cities where large lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities formed, I moved to New York City to join a fledgling gay conversion therapy Christian ministry. We were about forty men and women struggling with homosexual desires and also from the homophobia we experienced in our rural communities back home. We believed it was wrong to be gay, and if we prayed enough and got close enough to God, our same-sex attractions would get burned off like fog on a lake in the morning sun. I felt committed to this path and ultimately spent seventeen years and $30,000 on three continents pursuing a cure for being gay so that I could finally be eligible for Christian service in the churches I chose to attend.
If you would like to read the entire piece, check it out at Liturgy: Quaker Liturgy in a Rural Setting (unfortunately there is a paywall that I can’t get around)