Category: UK

Coming Out: AGAIN! It never ends

Last week we celebration Coming Out Day. I have been out gay for a long, long time. Still there are subsequent coming out experiences all the time.

Coming Out has its risks; people do not always respond well when they learn something new about us. When I came out gay, I witnessed a variety of strong reactions: Surprise, Delight, Admiration, Distain, Disgust, but perhaps most difficult of all–Silence. Some people said nothing. They just moved on.

It’s been almost seven years since I had my second major coming out experience, one that perhaps shocked and surprised people more than even the gay one. I came out as someone desperately concerned about climate change and enthusiastically pursuing solutions. People had strong reactions and they misrepresented me. “So now you are an environmentalist?” Uh, no. You do not have to be an environmentalist to be concerned about climate change. Sure polar bears, but I am in it for human rights and as part of the queer liberation movement.

On Coming Out Day, a UK based group, Hope for the Future, hosted a climate symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland, and they invited me to give a presentation. I accepted and gave my short talk even though at the very same time I was in the wilds of Pennsylvania enjoying the raucous Milton Fringe Festival (It was like a fringe fringe!) Through the wonders of technology, I appeared via video in a pre-recorded message.

In this short video I reveal how to talk about climate change with humor, hope, and humanity. Enjoy.

Photo by Florentine Pautet on Unsplash

Going To Greenbelt 2018!

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.

The Greenbelt Festival 2015 where Peterson performed, Does This Apocalypse Make me Look Fat?

An English City Enthusiastically Welcomes Syrian Refugees

Reading in the New Yorker Magazine about a Syrian refugee family recently settled in New Haven, CT, I see the stark changes in attitudes towards Syrian asylum seekers since the Paris attacks. There is much fear and uncertainty among some people in the public, and as a result there is a strong, and I believe irrational reaction. While I understand the fear, it can be addressed by taking in some of the basic facts about the asylum process and from hearing directly people engaged in the process of refugee resettlement.

IMG_1671

Wakefield District City of Sanctuary rally Sept 2015

I was in Europe this past summer when the refugee crisis in Calais, France boiled up to the public consciousness. Leaders flounded for awhile as the public came together with a strong message–open the doors. With explicit media coverage, on-line activism, and lobbying efforts by the public, politicians in Germany, the UK, and beyond adjusted their proposed intake numbers and threw open the doors to a multitude of refugees.

In the USA where we are not on the front lines of the Syrian/African refugee crisis, ours was a much more conservative response. We agreed to take in far fewer refugees than European countries. We also maintain a rigorous intake process, one that some lawmakers insist is still not good enough. The 15 year old son in the New Yorker piece (it’s not on-line yet, but will post when it is) remarked that he was glad for the arduous trial of multiple intake interviews and background checks. He said he also didn’t want the people causing destruction in Syria to get into the America.

IMG_1666Finding the balance between welcome and security is the challenge. Most refugees are fleeing horrific conditions as they seek a safe place. They are not coming to make trouble but to build new lives. Still I understand the need to make sure that we do not bring in people who are intent on causing harm. In the USA it is highly unlikely that “bad guys” will slip through the cracks. The US vetting system is lengthy and thorough. Nothing is perfect, but refugees, particularly Syrians, are closely scrutinized. You can read about the process in a Reuters piece published in the Philly Voice, Coming to America: The Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees.

In September while in Yorkshire, England, I attended a rally organized by the Wakefield District City of Sanctuary. About a dozen speakers including union representatives, members of parliament, clergy, and asylum seeker workers each expressed the moral imperative to welcome refugees into the community. In Wakefield they have a resettlement processing center where refugees spend about three weeks when they first arrive in the country. From there they go to various parts of the United Kingdom.

I stood in the light drizzle with the nearby church bells chiming listening to the various speakers and recording what they had to say. I also spoke with Linda Fielding from Wakefield District City of Sanctuary and with Mohamed, a 27 year-old Syrian man who had been in the UK for eight months. Here is a compilation of excerpts from the rally and the interviews.

 

Going to the Other Side–Peterson Among British Atheists

Peterson and Zack are back to have a conversation about the intersection of faiths. Peterson is getting ready to head to Europe, where he’ll be speaking and performing before the British Humanist Association. (You’ll also find him at the Greenbelt Festival.) Unsure of how a room full of non-believers will receive him, he turns to Zack, who obviously is prepared to speak on behalf of all atheists. We get into a conversation about discussing religion across “interfaith” spaces, and effective ways to keep the event inclusive. Plus, Zack gets one step closer to winning that toaster.

Have a listen to the Queer and Queerer podcast

Do you want more??? Check out previous episodes of Queer and Queerer where Zack & Peterson discuss everything from gay porn to gardening.

Lambeth, Quakers and Ex-Gays on the Radio

It’s my international radio weekend! Although I am in Western Maryland right now taking part in Quaker gathering, I will also be on the radio in Canada and beyond.

Tonight at 10:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time) I will be a once again be a guest on Vancouver’s Queer FM CiTR 101.9fm where I will talk about my recent trip to Lambeth, my upcoming trip to Vancouver, Canada in October and whatever else Heather, the show’s enthusiastic host, gets me to talk about. You can listen live here.

Also, last week while at Lambeth Conference, George Arny of BBC World Service interviewed me for the Reporting Religion program. I talk at length about my ex-gay experiences, Beyond Ex-Gay, my faith journey and being a Quaker today. You can listen to the program here.

UK: Gay Teen Dies After Hate Crime Attack

Dave Rattigan at Ex-Gay Watch has been blogging about a hate crime attack on one of his neighbors. He reports the sad news of Michael Causer’s death and encourages people to visit the Facebook group set up about Michael,

A gay teenager has died, just one week after he was brutally beaten in a homophobic attack.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Causer of Whiston, near Liverpool, England, died in hospital on Saturday August 2 at 12.30pm. He had been attacked by other youths while walking with friends in nearby Huyton, some time before 11am on Friday July 25. It was a busy road and it was broad daylight.

Emergency brain surgery the following day could not save him.

Michael lived just a couple streets away from me. He had many friends and family around here. Many of them are now part of a Facebook group dedicated to his memory. Please drop by and read some of the beautiful messages of support. Join the group and offer your own support if you can.

Lambeth Log Final Day

Yesterday, my final full day at Lambeth, flew by quickly with lots of highlights.

I returned to the Changing Attitude/Integrity Bible study where they continued to looked at John 9. This time we considered how the man born blind grew to understand Jesus through sharing his experience with others.

The night before I had dinner with a friend who is disabled and often uses a wheelchair. She and another friend, a wheelchair user, recently traveled from England to Ireland on a holiday. They took the journey with a personal assistant to help out along the way. On their return to Heathrow, the airline temporarily misplaced both their wheelchairs. They sat in airport issued equipment while attempting to sort things out with a Heathrow employee. My friend said that throughout the entire exchange the employee spoke rudely, but more shocking still, the Heathrow employee never once looked at my friend or the other person also sitting in a wheelchair. He dealt exclusively with the assistant as if the two disabled women did not exist.

We see what appears to be a level of ableism in the John chapter nine story. The religious leaders repeatedly and rudely questioned the formerly blind man, and they treat him like an idiot or like some adults would treat a child as if he doesn’t know what he is talking about. In moment rarely seen in the Gospels, they completely discount his story and instead call on his parents to explain what happened.

18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”

I love how we can look at the scripture with different lenses to consider various perspectives. How often do “able-bodied” people treat disabled people like children as if they did not have a valid opinion or intelligence or feelings or romance or whatever.

Next I sat for an interview for the BBC World Service Reporting Religion. The presenter asked excellent questions. He and the producer prepared better than most journalists I have enounctered, having watched the DVD of Homo No Mo as well as listening to previous interviews. He asked penetrating and at times challenging questions. It was not a fluff interview at all. At one point he pressed in about my need/choice to be part of a church that was so controlling.

For years I continued to place myself in abusive churches that did not affirm me but often ruled with tactics of fear and shame. During the interview I got to explain about my current choice to be an active member in the Religious Society of Friends how the Quakers seem the exact opposite for me. It is a faith community where I have to find my own way without a leader telling me what to do or how to do it. (The show is slated to air next weekend. I will provide a link when it is up).

After that Auntie Doris, Tractor Girl and I met up with Davis Maclyalla, a gay man from Nigeria who received asylum from the UK government because of the dangers he faced in his home country. What a sweet and fun guy! He exuded such joy and confidence. His mind and heart sounded clear and at peace.

I took the most delicious nap in the afternoon (yes, we older folks need our afternoon naps) then met up with Auntie Doris for some silent worship before my presentation at Keynes Lecture Hall. Before we did though a producer from the BBC and his cameraman approached me, “You know we are filming you tonight because the Archbishop of Wales will attend your presentation,” he explained as I looked puzzled at all the equipment.

Actually I did not know, but turns out Barry Morgan, the archbishop, who has spoken out in favor of women bishops and the inclusion of LGBT people in the church, agreed to attend my performance and in fact asked all the Welsh bishops to join him. BBC Wales has tracked him with a film crew over the past few weeks for a documentary that will air in December.

My presentation went off well in many ways (with the archbishop prominently seating towards the front and an enthusiastic and attentive audience). I shared in more serious ways than the previous night. Of course I did funny bits from Homo No Mo but also included more about my spiritual journey as I attempted to explain to the audience how my mind looked during those 17 years when I sought to suppress and change my sexuality.

The crew told me that the archbishop would say a few words after the Q&A session. When I finished, the LGCM organizer asked me to stay in the front while the Barry Morgan spoke. I assumed the archbishop would share his views about LGBT people in the church or just give an tepid inspirational message to the audience like bishop types have been known to do. Instead he gave me one of the most affirming public tributes that I ever received. He thanked me and marveled that I still have faith after my trial and expressed admiration that I did not grow bitter because of it. He went on a bit more about my presentation as I sat there opened mouthed and nearly in tears.

After hearing about bishops who don’t listen or don’t care or don’t “get it,” it felt so good to hear something different, something affirming. And in a strange way, it felt healing. I mean after years of not getting affirmed by many different clergymen, to have an archbishop embrace me like that dislodged some of the rejection I had experienced. Ultimately I know that I stand on my own two feet before God and man about my life, and I do not need anyone in the church to approve or affirm me. But it still feels good to hear it.

I also met a wonderful woman from Utah. A recovering Mormon and a straight woman who has found many men to be jerks, she told me how much she appreciated hearing messages from a gay guy that went beyond the gay issues. More and more I have been talking about gender and sexism in my presentations as well as skin privilege. Although they each contain distinct features, many of these oppressions operate in similar ways.

She told me how recently she endured a negative incident with two gay men, who over drinks with her proceeded to pronounce all sorts of awful things about women. This shocked and hurt her; it did not surprise me. I have witnessed a tremendous amount of misogyny, a hatred or contempt of women, dished out by gay men. I cannot think of two groups that could be better allies, but sadly some gay men have not sorted out their own gender issues. They also have not begun to deprogrammed from the sexism and male privilege dumped into us by society. In my own freedom as a white gay man, I need to grow sensitive to the oppression of others–including women, non-whites and the disabled.

Over dinner last night Auntie Doris gave me a Rowan Williams Christmas ornament (the shop at Canterbury Cathedral has the coolest gifts) along with a postcard that contains a quote by Steve Biko,

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

Indeed. I know that during much of the Lambeth Conference and also in many of our faith traditions around the world, we seek to help oppressors and those not yet affirming of LGBT people to better understand the issues, to experience transformation by the renewing of their minds.

Far too many of us though still need to do that same work in our own minds. We need to detox from the shame that has addled our brains since childhood. We need to deprogram from the oppressive ways of thinking about ourselves and others. We need liberated minds and hearts filled with clarity about who we are and about the world around us. Many of us have begun this journey. Let’s press on and break off the shackles of what others have said about us and others, whoever we are, and let’s seek to see with a sharper vision and a deeper insight.

I head off to London today, then fly home tomorrow where I will get to spend a day with my home meeting before heading off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a week (which I imagine will be a restful time for me).

photo credit goes to Auntie Doris

Blogging from Lambeth

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:

At dinner I ran into William Crawley, who I first met in Belfast in May. He will do his BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence from Lambeth this week. Do check it out. (No Joe Gee, I will not be on it).

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)

Hanging in Hatfield

Ah, I had a stellar week in/on Guernsey. I felt kissed by the warm sun everyday (and smacked in the butt by the icy waters). Perfect weather and a true break. I got to meet many family members of Auntie Doris. She originally hails from Guernsey and her extended family have overrun the island. One could not keep a secret in this place with a cousin, aunt or sibling popping up everywhere one goes.

I learned so much about the WWII Nazi Occupation of the island. I learned much from our visit to the Occupation Museum, but I found that the letters and artifacts from the occupation that Auntie Doris’ grandmother saved made the whole era come alive. So hard to imagine how this quiet tidy island filled up with Nazi troops, with homes and cars commandeered, signs in German everywhere and very little food or other rations.

Auntie Doris introduced me to several family members at their homes over meals and at the beach. Each one belongs to one of the island’s many churches (52 according to Auntie Doris) and many of them serve as leaders of their evangelical/charismatic churches (I really don’t know how to class them as I did not attend but went to the Quakers instead. Some are Elim Churches and others are New Frontiers with probably some independent ones as well.)

During these encounters we spent a great deal of time talking about the scriptures and of course sexuality. I especially appreciated praying with Auntie Doris’ cousin Becky and her husband Pierre. Dinner with her sister Louise and brother-in-law Phillip also served as a highlight with thoughtful and thought provoking discussion.

Now I have returned to London for the evening. Tomorrow I head to Canterbury/Kent for Lambeth. I will stay right there on the campus and will have a pass to go into many of the sessions. Goodness, what shall I wear? All these bishops have these lovely frocks. I can’t compete!

I feel honored to be part of the historic Lambeth Conference, and I look forward to seeing things firsthand. I hope to do some blogging from there, but we shall see what sort of time (and wifi) I have.

Do remember to ask me about the loaves and the fishes. This miracle has seriously challenged me ever since I stayed in Malta and began thinking and meditating on greed (not that the Matlese were greedy mind you. I just read a lot about the current housing loan crisis juxtaposed with the Hebrew prophets.)

Oh, and I just got word from my local public radio station that a program we did last year wow a PRNDI award. Catie Talarski, the segment producer, felt strong that she wanted to include the transgender perspective to the discussion, so invited local trans activist JeriMarie Liesegang to be part of the show. As a result, it came out quite well.

Where We Live has been honored with a first place award from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI), a national organization dedicated to the professional development of public radio journalists.

The national award, announced at PRNDI’s annual awards banquet in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 19, 2008, was presented for a show produced in 2007 about the issues of gender identity.

The program explored some of the realities of sexual identity and gender identity at the root of this issue. We talked with a performance artist who tells the story of an attempt to “cure” his homosexuality – and with someone who changed gender, and we discussed health impacts for the very diverse gay and transgendered community.

On the Radio with Peterson & Christine

I announced yesterday that Christine Bakke will be interviewed live tomorrow (Sat) on Blogtalk Live at 8:00 PM EST. She will talk about the Beyond Ex-Gay and her own story in a program about the Ex-Gay Myth.

On Sunday I will appear on BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland on the Sunday Sequence Show with William Crawley. We taped the segment last week when I was in London and talked about The Re-Education of George W. Bush, living la vida ex-gay, Quakerism and other random topics.

The program runs from 8:30 am- 10:15 am but I don’t know in what portion I will appear. I think they also archive most programs. You can have a listen here.