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“One Liberation Under God: LGBT Life in the Bible Belt South”

Hello, everyone! I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about a project I’m extremely excited about… a project I’d love for you to be a part of. As you know, everyone has a story. When you’re gay and Christian, you have a lot of insight to offer others who may be going through the same things. Many of your stories have been shared on this blog, and a lot of people have been encouraged by hearing them.  So, I’m taking things a step further, and making a documentary.

I will be contacting some of you personally within the next several days. But I’d like to get as many people involved as possible. Below, you will find the form letter I’m currently sending out to potential participants. Please contact me if you think you may be interested. For those of you who live long distances from me, don’t let that stop you. I plan to launch a fundraiser (via Kickstarter) in a few weeks to cover travel expenses. If the goal is reached, then I’ll have the means to travel anywhere within the continental US.

Read on and contact me if interested. And thank you in advance!

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Hello! I hope this finds you doing well. I’m contacting you because I believe you and I share a passion for building bridges between the Church and the LGBT community. I also believe you have a lot to offer in the way of conversation, theology, and unique perspective. That’s why I would like to personally invite you to be a part of my new project: “One Liberation Under God: LGBT Life in the Bible Belt South”. This project will be in the form of a documentary film. My vision is to open the lines of communication on both sides of the “Great Gay Debate”, and explore the things that inspire certain beliefs in people.

Specifically, I hope for the film to do the following:

•Outline the arguments held by both LGBT advocates and religious conservatives, and interview individuals on every point of the spectrum.

•Give a greater understanding of exactly what it means to be gay.

•Showcase testimonies from LGBT Christians, and from conservative Christians.

•Be a catalyst for conversation… because no matter what you believe about LGBT issues, we should all learn that it’s okay to talk about it.

•Give an overview of statistics for a number of things, including:

•Christians who are for or against LGBT rights

•LGBT youth suicide

•History of acceptance vs. disapproval of LGBT individuals in the South

•LGBT youth and homelessness

I understand and anticipate that you—as a potential participant in this project—may not have the same views I hold. However, I fully intend on showcasing all individuals, opinions, and thoughts in a positive manner. The goal of this film is to unite and build bridges. Therefore, I do not believe it to be fruitful or beneficial to negatively represent views that differ from my own. If you should choose to participate in this project, you may choose to disclose your full identity, or you may choose to remain completely anonymous.

If you’re up for the challenge, please respond via my email (wilson.mandy@gmail.com) by Monday, March 17th, 2014. This is to ensure that I have time to make travel plans and schedule interviews. This isn’t a large scale production; in fact, I’m planning to film with my iPhone, and edit with Final Cut Pro—things I already have available to me. However, I will launch a Kickstarter profile once things are geared up, in order to cover my travel expenses. And of course, if you participate, you will receive a digital copy of the project, absolutely free.

I’m really interested in telling our stories: gay, straight, liberal, and conservative. I want to do this project because I believe it’s important to have these conversations. By telling our stories and listening to the stories of others, we will gain a greater understanding of what it means to “love your neighbor”. We can achieve the impossible by rebuilding bridges that have previously been destroyed. Ultimately, I think we’ll find we don’t have to agree on everything in order to love one another. In my own life, I’ve experienced such immense joy in these conversations, and I’d like to take the world on a journey. Won’t you join me?

Warmest regards,

Mandy

My Christian life with AIS – An Intersex condition

We’ve discussed the issues faced by intersexed individuals before on this blog. A reader—and fellow blogger—shared her story in the comment section of a post entitled “The Intersexion of Christianity and Genitalia”. It was too touching to simply leave in the comment section, so I’m re-blogging it here, with her permission. -Mandy

LGBTQ Advocacy In the Bible Belt

It’s so good to be back in community with all of you; I’ve missed you. During my time away, I worked on a few projects: one of which was posted here on the Believe Out Loud blog this past Friday. It was a joy to write about one of my dearest friends and allies. Join the conversation: Is Christian LGBTQ advocacy awakening in your city?

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Bisexuality in a Heterosexual Marriage: Thoughts From the Inside

bisexual flagAdvocacy is vital to the LGBT community. Allies are the single most important factor when it comes to the overall education of society. Of course, one of the most effective ways to change hearts and minds is to share personal experiences. I had the chance to speak with two dear friends about the issue of LGBT advocacy. What makes this couple unique? They are in a heterosexual marriage, yet both of them are bisexual. They could choose to obscure their orientation—to hide behind their marriage license. No one would be the wiser. But they choose advocacy. They choose to openly support the rights of LGBT folks. I thought their point of view was well worth hearing. Without further ado, meet my wonderfully bisexual friends, Fred and Carrie.

Mandy: Is your bisexuality an important part of your identity? Why or why not?

Fred: I would say, in a private, personal sense, yes, as it relates to my wife and I. Publicly  not as much. I don’t publicly identify as bisexual (such as on Facebook or the like), not out of any sort of fear of reprisal or shame, but because I feel it would be somewhat disingenuous. I have never had a romantic relationship with another man, although prior to meeting my wife, it wasn’t something I would have considered completely out of the question. I suppose the best way to put it is that I am emotionally relatively straight, but physically relatively bisexual. I do find myself occasionally attracted to men, as my wife does towards women. We are romantically and emotionally attracted to one another, but appreciate the physical attraction that we are capable of harboring towards people of our respective genders.

In that respect, I don’t believe my capacity/tendency for physical attraction to other men terribly important to my self-image (when compared to the things that more definitively make me “Me”, such as my love of music, the films, movies, and books which I love, my hobbies, my history and accomplishments, et cetera). On the other hand, though, my cognizance of my own internal compass of physical attraction highlights and puts into greater relief the struggle that (I suppose what I would casually call) “true” bisexual, gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered people endure. I could not possibly recognize the potential for same-sex desire within myself and simultaneously call homosexuality or any non-hetero sexual identity “wrong” or shameful. Adding to this, seeing the many varied expressions of homosexual behavior in thousands of other animals throughout nature, the entire moniker of “unnatural” proves laughably false. It is no more “unnatural” than the rarer-than-average expression of a recessive gene, or red hair, or predilection for a specific type of food or music.

I suppose it could be said that my own personal attractions inform my beliefs and opinions, but as they distill into a sort of “straight with exceptions” rather than a true “bisexual” (meaning, romantically and physically interested in both genders equally), I do not publically identify as one, except while having these sorts of conversations with friends who ask.

Carrie: My sexuality is an important part of my private life. Although I’m physically attracted to other women, I’ve only experienced romantic inclinations with men. I embrace my sexuality and don’t consider it a source of shame; in fact, I frequently discuss it with close friends.

Mandy: Why do you choose to identify as bisexual, even though you happen to be married to someone of the opposite gender?

Fred: Well, see above for part of this answer. I married Carrie primarily because we are best friends who happen to share a physical attraction to one another. We emotionally innervate one another, and function as one whole. We enjoy many of the same things, and share many of the same views (though we still argue like anyone else, haha). The emotional component is much more important to me than the simple, primal one of  “am I solely and wholly sexually attracted to her?” I doubt anyone could say that about their spouse. While we are faithful to one another completely, we are still human, gladly so, and still experience attraction towards others of both genders. The most important thing to me is that we love one another for who we are, that we weather the storms and springtimes together, and that we HAVE these kinds of conversations in order to best understand one another.

Carrie: My husband and I understand and support one another’s sexuality. I don’t feel insecure because of who he might be attracted to, because these feelings of attraction are normal and natural.

Mandy: When did you first discover your sexual orientation?

Fred: I experienced the physical attraction to both genders from a very young age. Through years and years of conditioning, I suppose, I grew into being “straight” for the most part. However, as I grew older, and especially as I discovered the many and sundry nooks and crannies of the more adult corners of the Internet, I realized that I had never truly dealt with my internal attraction to males or accepted it as a part of myself. Now, of course, I know it’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of, and it has done me a world of good to move on as a more “whole” person, one that can acknowledge who I am without issue.

Carrie: When I was a teenager, I never seriously considered the possibility of being anything but straight, as my entire social circle constantly reinforced that “straight” was normal and moral. It wasn’t until I was in college and studied the psychological aspects of human sexuality that I realized there are many varieties of sexual orientation beyond simply “gay” or “straight.” I then began to accept my feelings of attraction to both genders.

Mandy: You take advocacy very seriously. According to most people, your lifestyle would be considered “heterosexual”. Could you tell other straight people why it’s so important to advocate for full-inclusion of LGBT’s?

Fred: Well, I tend to liken it to what our nation went through around 60-70 years ago. Why should white people care what happens to other races/ethnicities when it doesn’t concern them? My answer is the same to both: because the folks concerned are human beings with worth and value who deserve dignity and respect. Today, like then, I think we who are not exclusively gay, bi, lesbian, or trans have to ask ourselves- “What side of history do we want to be on, here?” 
As for myself, I want to always be on the side of the oppressed, on the side of the underdog, on the side of those who are fighting for truth and fairness and egalitarian equality. Sexual preference should not determine our treatment of other human beings.

Carrie: Sometimes people struggle to empathize with others whose lifestyle differs from their own. However, they need to stop measuring people’s worth by their sexuality, just as we shouldn’t measure someone’s worth by their race or gender.

Mandy: Do you think we will see full marriage equality in your lifetime?

Fred: I sure as hell hope so. Like the prior question, I believe this shift should occur as soon as possible. Every day that we don’t institute full, open-armed inclusion and respect of others is a day that we allow more Matthew Shepards to occur. It’s another day that hospitals may not allow partners to say their final goodbyes due to angry, unaccepting families and lack of Power of Attorney. It’s another day that full insurance benefits may not be available to who would otherwise be a spouse. It’s another day that children in foster care go without loving parents because agencies won’t recognize the legitimacy and love present in a same-sex home, as if it would be different than a heterosexual household. Both my father and my wife’s father walked out on our families, and I and my sister are adopted. Now, while the plural of anecdote is not data, that still (to me) says something about the purported strength of hetero families over same-sex ones (it’s nonsense).

Carrie: I certainly hope so. The tide is shifting in that direction. While ultimately the decision lies in the hands of lawmakers, there is much that citizens can do in terms of advocacy.

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Marriage Equality Vigil in Nashville

It’s been an eventful two days for the LGBT community. What an encouragement it has been to be in community and fellowship during the Supreme Court hearings, and to watch social media turn “red” with overwhelming support. Although we most likely won’t hear any rulings until June, this week has been proof that intolerance and discrimination of LGBT’s is a dying trend in this country. (Can I get an AMEN?) All across the country, organizations have held events to educate the public on these hearings. Last night, I attended a candlelight vigil here in Nashville. I thought you guys might enjoy a few photos. If you attended an event in your hometown, please send the pics my way so I can share them on the blog!

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In the end, I had to choose between the sign or a candle. ;) I couldn’t hold both.

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Nashville’s Out Central, an LGBT Resource Center

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The sidewalk was packed!

nashville lgbt vigil 1

There were more people in attendance than expected. We couldn’t all fit in the room to hear the speaker.

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Just before we lit the candles…

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The TEP puts in countless hours to fight discriminatory legislation within the state of Tennessee.

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Let your light shine!

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You need a microscope to see us, but we made the front page of the Tennessean! :)

 

 

The Era of Marriage Equality

As I sit here on the eve of the Supreme Court hearings of Prop 8 and DOMA, a lot of things are running through my mind. First and foremost, my thoughts are with all of my fellow LGBT Americans who would be affected by the outcome of these hearings. My mind can easily run away with hypothetical questions: What kind of dress would I wear to my wedding? Where would my partner and I go on our honeymoon? What would equality feel like and look like as a daily part of our lives?

But we know it won’t be as easy as that. Unless you live in one of the nine states that already recognizes same-sex marriage, then you will still have to wait on individual state government to make a ruling regarding same-sex unions. So, this won’t be an all or nothing thing. Nonetheless, I am in good spirits. If DOMA is overturned, then it means that the federal government is taking a monumental step in the right direction.

Although sometimes it’s difficult to see it, things are changing all around us. We made history in the last election, and the momentum is not stopping! Even in the small, conservative towns… LGBT advocates are everywhere, fighting the good fight for equality. It is an exciting time to be alive right now! Marriage equality is inevitable. It will happen. It’s just a matter of how long it will take.

Be sure to check your local calendars this week for a listing of equality events. (I’ll be attending a candlelight vigil tomorrow evening.) HRC is encouraging everyone to wear red in support of marriage equality. Also consider changing your social media profile pictures to red. If you haven’t already done so, you can use this one from HRC:

HRC red

So, how will you be spending Tuesday and Wednesday? Feel free to share information about the events that will be happening in your area. Have a great week, everyone!

Rediscover Faith. Rediscover Love. Rediscover Yourself.

My life has been quite a ride over the past few years. From living a miserable double life as a Christian lesbian, to finally facing my fears of rejection and coming out… suffice it to say, a lot has happened. I’ve found out who my friends are. I’ve discovered who I am. And most significantly, I’ve rediscovered my faith in a way that has made it mine. I never knew what that was like. I was always taught to be comfortable in my traditional faith: Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t trust your own reasoning. Don’t change too much. For the first time in my life, my brand of spirituality has been reborn out of my own experiences, my own conversations with God, my own heart-searching, my own soul-seeking. I’ve learned to question the things that others taught as truth. And I’ve learned that something isn’t always so just because someone says it is. I’m still in the midst of this changing and ever-evolving journey… and honestly, I hope that I never grow comfortable in my faith again. This is the most liberated I’ve ever felt! The very act of seeking—of searching, of asking questions—has become a holy practice for me.

Now, time to get real. There are a few more things that I need to improve. Over the past few years, I’ve endured so much stress and emotional turmoil that I’ve tried to cope with it in several ways. My self-esteem took a blow. And to account for my depression, I would eat. (And that’s no one’s fault but my own.) The result is a lot of weight gain, which only perpetuates the cycle: low self-esteem –> depression –> overeating –> weight gain –> low self-esteem, and so on.

So, I’m writing this post for two reasons today. First off, if you are living a double life right now because of your sexuality… I want to assure you that things will improve. (Insert your favorite “It Gets Better” video here. Here’s mine.) If your faith has suffered because of the stress, loneliness, and rejection you endure, you will come out on the other side better for it. Secondly, I’m writing this as accountability for myself. Now that things are getting back on track for me, I need to make sure that is also true for my physical health. To completely obliterate the things that made my life miserable for so long, I need to get healthy again. So, I’m making myself a promise to eat better, to exercise, and to get rid of this extra baggage. Once that is gone, I will truly be able to say I’m a new person.

Rediscover your faith. Rediscover Love. Rediscover yourself.

What are some things you need to do in your own life to make that happen?

Telling My Story On My Own Terms

When you’re a Christian (gay or straight) who advocates for LGBT inclusion, you’re going to gain some critics. And I have a few! (I’ll consider it a compliment.) Since my advocacy involves my own sexuality, people are going to form their own various opinions. A lot of things get back to me through the grapevine, although it’s difficult to say what is fact and what has become exaggerated like something from a giant game of “Telephone”. But one thing that some people apparently wonder, is why I choose to keep my personal blog and this blog separate. They wonder why I’m brave enough to post things here with my first name only, but hesitant to say too much on my personal Facebook page, etc., where my full identity is front and center. I would be lying if I said part of that didn’t come from fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of hate. Fear of losing friends (who wouldn’t have been friends in the first place). You know, all of that normal stuff. However, there is one primary aspect that keeps me from being as vocal as I’d like to be… and that is protecting those that are a part of my past. There are a couple of folks with whom I experimented, had flings, had feelings, had relationships—who are still deep inside the closet. At least one of these individuals told me she’s been healed from her same-sex attraction. (And that is her experience, so I will not patronize that… even though I have my doubts.) These people are also the ones who are generally responsible for outing me to others. (I get it… they think if they out me, then no one will question their sexuality.) But this brings up a question that I often ponder: Can I come out fully, and still protect those individuals?

656339_83604184Lately, I’m finding that I just don’t care as much anymore about who “knows” (as if it’s something to be ashamed of). It feels so good to know who I am, and to know that who I am is a-ok! And the longer I go on with this knowledge, the fire of justice, advocacy, and love inside me grows. Part of carrying out that advocacy is sharing my story. I cannot share my whole story if I leave out certain parts—things that help to explain why I did what I did, felt what I felt, and thought what I thought. While I would never ever reveal someone else’s name or identity, I do sometimes feel the need to share certain things that have happened along the way. First of all, I need to be free to share my story because it may help someone else. Secondly, I need to share my story because it is cathartic. I am learning to do that in ways that are both healing for me, and respectful to others involved.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about what I would say if ever made a Facebook announcement concerning my sexual orientation. I still don’t know if I feel the need to post it. Perhaps a better approach is to stop hiding things on my profile. Maybe I should consider listing the url to this blog as my website, making my relationship status public, etc. I need to work toward having an unedited online presence. This is becoming increasingly important to me. And maybe one day in the near future, I will take that final step of totally and completely outing myself. It’s to the point now where people are either going to hear about my sexuality from someone else, or from me.

I’d rather it be from me.

Do any of you edit your lives to protect other people from your past? How did you find a solution that was right for you? 

Kevin, the Gay Llama Farmer, Needs Your Support

Two posts in one day! I don’t think that has ever happened. But, when I found out this happened to someone from my neck of the woods, I knew I had to pass this along.

KevinFrom Buzzfeed:

Kevin worked as a public school teacher for fifteen years before retiring to run his farm full-time. A few years ago, he went back to work as the director of a day care center in Ashland, Kentucky. After being mocked and teased by co-workers and superiors at work, some of whom constantly referred to him as “twinkle toes”, the center forced him to resign in spite of his spotless record.

He sued for wrongful termination and, though the judge agreed that he had been treated unfairly, there is no Kentucky state law regarding anti-gay discrimination at the workplace.

More than a year later, Kevin is still out of work, exhausted, and behind on bills and legal fees. He continues to work on the animal sanctuary he runs on his 18-acre property. LLA-Nanny Farms is home to llamas, cats, dogs, chickens, donkeys and pigs. Many of the animals, especially the 30+ dogs, came to Kevin as strays.

When Kevin spoke to BuzzFeed, he said his main concern was that, due to his financial problems, he wouldn’t be able to feed all of his animals. He has never sold any of them, not even his prize-winning llamas. Now, though, he worries that he may be running out of options.”

 

There is a way you can help! If you feel inclined to donate, you can do it here. If you can’t afford to donate, you can send an encouraging word to Kevin via his Facebook page. Be sure to pass this along to everyone you know. Let’s show Kevin and his llamas some love!

 

Film Fun: Favorite Queer Movies

Hello, everyone! I hope this finds you doing well. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed reading Josha’s posts over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been taking some time away from the blogosphere to write another article for Curve magazine. This time, I did a profile piece on a local organization (and the founder) who is helping LGBTQI youth meet their various needs. (The publish date is still a few months away, so I’ll keep you posted.)

The Truth About JaneYesterday, after I polished up the semi-final draft, I decided it was time for a much-needed movie break! To my excitement, I re-discovered a coming-of-age lesbian movie I hadn’t seen in over a decade: The Truth About Jane. I vaguely recall seeing it on Lifetime years ago. This was—of course—a couple of years before I would finally admit to myself that I was gay (yes, even in the midst of a college lesbian fling). I deeply related to the story, and somehow felt repulsed by it at the same time. It was a case of good old-fashioned denial. (Heck, I was probably wearing my Indigo Girls t-shirt with my flannel button-up and Birkenstocks at that very instant! Ok… I know. Those are just stereotypes. But they became cliché for a reason. Am I right? It wouldn’t be until 5 or 6 years later when my fashion taste made perfect sense.)

I digress.

cinemaSo the point of this post? I’m going to list all of the queer-themed movies and documentaries that I’ve come to know and love. There will probably be quite a few that you guys have seen. But you know as well as I do that good gay and lesbian film is hard to find. So, if there are you’d like to add, post them in the comment section with a link. Maybe I will be able to expand the resource page on the blog so others can find encouragement and support through these films.

For your convenience, I’ve marked all of titles currently playing on Netflix with an (*).

Documentaries:

For The Bible Tells Me So*: a poignant look at several different Christian families who have gay children. This documentary explores the intersection of faith and sexuality, taking a look at the so-called “clobber passages” in the Bible.

One Nation Under God*: this documentary takes a look at “reparative therapy”, said by some fundamentalists to be the cure for homosexuality. Former “ex-gay” leaders make an appearance as they recount their journeys.

Fish Out Of Water*: this film takes an in-depth look at the handful of Bible verses misused to condemn LGBT individuals. It includes countless interviews with numerous ministers, pastors, professors, and theologians.

Mississippi Queen: a lesbian woman returns to her hometown to research faith and sexuality, where she interviews people on both sides of the issue.

This Is What Love In Action Looks Like*: a Memphis teen is forced into reparative therapy by his fundamentalist Christian parents.

Chely Wright: Wish Me Away*: One of my personal favorites, this documentary follows Chely Wright (recording artist) in the days leading up to her public “coming out”. A must-see in my book!

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement*: this film follows a lesbian couple throughout the history of their relationship, all the way back to the early 1960′s. Together for over 40 years, they are finally able to marry.

Fagbug*: When Erin Davies’ car was vandalized for sporting a rainbow sticker, she became the victim of a hate crime. She decided to take her car on a tour across the U.S. and Canada to talk with other victims of more serious hate crimes. This documentary tells the tale of that cross-country trek.

Prodigal Sons*: Kimberly Reed, a trans woman, decides to visit her hometown and re-introduce herself as the person she always knew herself to be.

Red Without Blue*: One identical twin brother decides to transition from male to female. This documentary follows her story, and the challenges she and her brother face during this time.

For My Wife*: after the tragic loss of her partner, one woman becomes passionate about her activism for the equal rights of same-sex couples.

Drama:

The Truth About Jane: a teenage girl discovers her sexuality when a new friendship turns into something more. Her family, especially her mother (Stockard Channing), struggles to understand and embrace this reality.

Prayers for Bobby: This is a true story. Sigourney Weaver plays the role of Mary Griffith, the  fundamentalist-turned-gay rights’ activist whose son committed suicide due to her intolerance. (Have the Kleenex handy for this one.)

Boys Don’t Cry: the well-known, true story of Brandon Teena, a transgendered teenager who lives as a male until his biological gender is discovered. This is a true story. (Again, grab the tissues.)

The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love: two young girls from different social and economic backgrounds fall in love. This movie stars Laurel Holloman (a definite perk for me!) in one of her first films.

Comedy:

But I’m a Cheerleader: a high school cheerleader is sent to “gay rehab” camp when her peers and family suspect her of being a lesbian. Hands down, this is the funniest LGBT-themed movie I’ve seen to date. If all of the aforementioned dramas and docs put you in a depressing mood, then follow it up with this gem. It doesn’t disappoint.

So, let’s hear it. What are some of your favorite LGBT-themed movies or documentaries?