Thursday, February 28, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: John Victor Larson 1939-2013

Integrity regrets to report the death on January 24th of John Victor Larson, who was instrumental in the 2007 revitalization of our Northern Illinois chapter. "John was the driving force behind the re-formation of our chapter in the Diocese of Chicago," said David Fleer, Integrity's Province V Coordinator, whose territory includes the Great Lakes region. "He was its treasurer until he moved to Pennsylvania to live closer to his sister as his health began to fail. He will be greatly missed."

Born in 1939 in Peoria, Ill., John attended the University of Illinois and worked as a nuclear engineer for Westinghouse. In addition to his work with Integrity, he was involved in other peace and justice organizations including P-FLAG. When the Gay Games took place in Illinois in 2008, John was instrumental in P-FLAG's efforts to bring the rowing competition to Crystal Lake.

While living in Illinois, John attended St. John the Evangelist: Lockport. In 2011, John relocated to the Pittsburgh area and attended St. Stephen's: McKeesport, where he will be remembered in a memorial service at noon on Saturday, March 2nd. He is preceded in death by his father Robert and his wife Bonnie, and survived by his mother Velma (who turns 104 in April), three sisters, two sons, eight grandchildren and two nephews.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to either St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, 312 East 11th Street, Lockport, Ill. 60441 and/or PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois (where a scholarship fund is being established), P.O. Box 734, Elmhurst, Ill. 60126, and/or St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 220 Eighth Street, McKeesport, Penn. 15132.

Obituary and Photo - Windy City Times

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Damsel, Arise - Walking Away from Westboro

During the 2010 Believe Out Loud Power Summit, Social Movement Theorist Beth Zemsky taught us a powerful lesson about our fellow Christians who oppose our views on LGBT inclusion, marriage equality and related issues.

Whether or not they articulate it, or are even conscious of it, Zemsky says there is a subtext to how they interact with us:  "I learned what I know about people like you from people I loved and trusted."  She asserts that much of the resistance people have towards evolving their thinking about LGBT issues stems from one fact: it forces them to confront the possibility that -- if the people and institutions they relied on for their understanding of one issue are flawed -- they might have to question everything else they learned from those sources.  This is naturally quite traumatizing and can cause people to cling to ideas and prejudices that their hearts and minds might otherwise reject.

A rather extreme example of this dichotomy made the news this week when it came to light that two granddaughters of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps had left the notoriously anti-gay organization and -- after secluding themselves for several months -- were now beginning to speak about their story.

Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper moved from the family's compound in Topeka, Ks., this past fall and eventually settled in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.  In a lengthy interview with author Jeff Chu, Megan describes how it felt to walk away from everything she'd ever known.    Once active in the church (she was the first WBC member to tweet, something for which her mother Shirley has become notorious), she began having trouble rationalizing the absolutist views of the church (made up almost entirely of Phelps' descendents) with her own evolving understanding of God and the world.  Eventually she reached a point where she could no longer participate.

As with everything else, leaving WBC is absolute and final. While she harbors no ill will towards her congregation and family, Megan is coming to grips with the idea of life without them.  She has not lost her faith, however; she and Grace spend many hours talking about God, and sorting out a belief system for themselves after it had been dictated to them for so long.

Megan and Grace released the following statement.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Into the Cloud: Transfiguration Liberation

A homily preached in the Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship at Harvard Divinity School 
Monday, February 11, 2013
Transfiguration greetings from inside the cloud.  I say this not simply because of the fog that envelopes us here in Cambridge as rain melts our record snowfall, not only because of the in-between place the Diocese of Massachusetts diocese has entered in the wake of our bishop’s retirement announcement, or even in honor of the strange possibility that, as the Anglican News Service explains, "a new Archbishop of Canterbury and a new Pope may be enthroned in the same month."  I say this inspired by Luke’s unique observation that all of those present on the Transfiguration mount were not only “overshadowed” by a cloud but actually, terrifyingly, “entered into it” (Lk 9:34).  In some way, Luke seems to do more with the Transfiguration, to link the very paschal mystery to it, and to make that mystery accessible to his readers—to all of us.  In the hands of Luke, all of us are delivered into the mysterious liberation that is transfiguration.

This cloud-envelopment is not the only unique gift brought to us by the Year C in our liturgical/lectionary rotation.  Only Luke, among the synoptic witnesses, gives us a window onto the summit conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  All three accounts tell us that Peter, John and James see these towering figures of the Law and the Prophets.  But Luke alone explains that “they appeared in glory” and, most importantly, that “they were speaking of [Jesus’] departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  The term for departure is ξοδον, a word that evokes the Exodus of the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity.  Already the gospel story draws upon Moses’ shining encounter, as our first reading reminds us.  But Luke’s window onto Jesus’ mountaintop discourse gives us more on which to chew.  Jesus was about to embody Exodus.  Think about what that might mean.  Think of what we know about the journey that lay before him:  the downward slope into Jerusalem, the crucifixion, the resurrection and ascension.  The shorthand Luke uses for this, the frame through which he wants us to read it is ξοδον.  It is liberation from oppression. It is the transformation of an individual body—suffering and death followed by resurrection life—as the transformation of a collective body.   Does this relationship of collective to individual embodiment not shift how you might read Jesus’ words of agency? Do you not hear the notion of “accomplishing” this paschal mystery in a different way?  It is not simply a matter of deciding to suffer and to die (which, of course, is not simple in and of itself).  This “accomplishment” is about the exodus of a people, or as Paul puts it in our reading from 2 Corinthians, freedom, which flows out from “the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).

Both in written reflection and in iconic depiction, the Christian East has long honored the Metamorphosis (as it is often called, after the term with which Matthew and Mark describe Jesus’ transformation), and has seen in it a deep connection to the mystery of Easter itself. Transfiguration is not only something that happened to Jesus on Mount Tabor, as our unnamed peak is often called.  It is also the effect of resurrection power in our lives here and now, as well as at the end of all things, when that power will lift us up from the grave.  Transfiguration is the transformation “from glory into glory” to which Paul speaks in this breathtaking vision: “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).  This is not an effect reserved for the end.  It is with us now.  It is why, “we do not lose heart” as we carry forward in our ministries (2 Cor 4:1).  The present, pervasive reality of transfiguration allows us to discern the holy in this cloud in which we stand.

The idea that to be transfigured is to be changed, to be transformed, to be metamorphosed first drew me to the theology of transfiguration-- as someone who has transitioned, it spoke powerfully to me.  The complexity of my gender identity also gave me a particular appreciation for its liminal placement in the liturgical year.  But surely I am not alone in my love of the uniquely clear way in which the transfiguration (and more specifically Transfiguration Sunday, placed here, at the threshold of Epiphany and Lent) makes the heart of the gospel-- the good news of God’s transforming, healing, reconciling work -- available to us, a prism through which to see our own lives as in some way part of this larger collection, these stories of salvation history.  This combination of liminality and transformation should prompt us to see not only the obviously-set-apart places, the mountaintop locales, but also the more mundane interstices, the in-between spaces of our lives, even the painful ones, as places of transfiguration. 

These thresholds can be temporal, spatial or both.  What if we considered the context of divinity schools and seminaries, of universities and of higher education  more broadly through this lens?  Such contexts are crucibles—as you surely don’t need me to tell you—spaces of intensive formation,  carrying the anxiety of next-steps, for students as well as for faculty and staff.   And so from that crucible, from this cloud, I want to invite us all to consider here and now:  What is the ἔξοδον you are about to accomplish, or rather, that God is about to accomplish in you?  How are you being called to embody the paschal mystery in all its incorporation of death and new life?  Stand on this verge today and know that by virtue of your membership in the body of Christ, you too are being transfigured.  You, dear friends, are caught up in the mystery of metamorphosis, you are poised to leap up from the sacramental waters of your baptism. In the least likely spaces of your life, you are being “changed from glory into glory,” invited to grow like the engrafted olive shoot you are into the very heart of the living God.  The death Christ died and the resurrection life through which creation itself was recast—these fundamental tenets of our faith our not simply mental exercises, but spiritual realities with deeply concrete implications.  As we move toward the dust-filled return of Ash Wednesday and the wilderness territory of Lent, think on this mystery.

Luke’s vision of the Transfiguration frames our entry into Lent and Easter like no other gospel.  To be sure, the placement of this day at the end of the season of Epiphany, as the bookend to Jesus’ baptism (another iconic favorite in Eastern Christianity) works similarly in all three years of our lectionary.  Transfiguration stands as the mandorla, the holy hinge on which the cycles of Incarnation and Pascha swing into one another. But Luke’s version alone gives us a prism through which to read the paschal mystery itself.  Luke alone truly uses Transfiguration as the key for interpreting the cross and the empty tomb.  Luke alone refracts our very body/ies through the lens of Exodus (for an Easter preview, see Luke 24:1-12).  And so again I ask you, what is the ἔξοδον that God is seeking to accomplish in you?  How are you being called to embody the liberation that is the Paschal Mystery?  Amen.

Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge is the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a Lecturer and Episcopal/Anglican Denominational Counselor at Harvard Divinity School.   

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Even in the Red States, Change is Coming - Wyoming Marriage Equality Report

Wyoming, known as the “Equality State” for first giving women the right to vote, recently inched closer to acknowledging LGBT Equality Rights with proposed legislation to establish Domestic Partnerships, Marriage Equality and ENDA-like Employment Protections. While none of the measures were approved this session, the fact that two made their way out of committee and received significant floor votes has heartened some Equality advocates to believe that, even in the reddest of red states, change is coming.

“Even in the Red States, Change is Coming.”
Unlike the last full legislative gathering in 2010 when rights activists spent the entire session fending off hostile DOMA-style bills, this year activists were able to focus their energies on proactive, pro-rights bills. HB 168 would have established Domestic Partnership Rights & Responsibilities; HB169 proposed to recognize that all couples are entitled to marry; and SB131 would have added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Wyoming's anti-discrimination statutes. All three bills were introduced by Rep. Cathy Donnolly (D-Laramie), the only “out” member of the Wyoming Legislature.
Marriage Equality never got out of committee, but Domestic Partnerships made a valiant but unsuccessful showing 25-34 on the House floor and the anti-discrimination protections failed 13-17 in the Senate. Considering the gross ignorance exhibited by some legislators – one warned of the risks of “GRID” and another spouted fantastical statistics about gay & lesbian life expectancy, activists are encouraged that 42% of state legislators supported some measure of equality.

A highlight of the committee hearings came when Sen. Bernadine Craft passionately explained her support for Equality by citing her Baptismal Covenant. Sen. Craft (D-Sweetwater Co.), a cradle Episcopalian from Holy Communion-Rock Springs who is in the holy orders process, said the debate should not be centered in religion. “I should not have to be here representing my faith community…because this shouldn’t be about religion or faith, this should be about the law.”

Craft, who’s beloved as “Bernie” throughout the Diocese of Wyoming, said she was taught from childhood to “seek and serve Christ in every human being, to love my neighbor as myself and to respect the dignity of every human being.” Craft reminded listeners of the multiple biblical definitions of marriage in the Old Testament and stressed that, ultimately, her particular religious views were not an issue here. Rather, she said, “I think this is about human rights. I think this is about human dignity.”

“A highlight of the committee hearings came when Sen. Bernadine Craft passionately explained her support for Equality by citing her Baptismal Covenant.”
Craft closed by saying, “My God says respect every human being. My God says judge not lest ye be judged.”

Supporters watching the hearings and instant messaging on, proudly proclaimed Craft’s membership in The Episcopal Church. It was an unlikely but effective evangelical moment.

The Domestic Partnership bill garnered the support of every Democrat, as well as the few moderate and libertarian-leaning Republicans in the State House. Extremist social conservatives, spouting outdated and offensive views, shocked some of their constituents. Talk of fielding moderate GOP challengers in the 2014 elections began soon after.

Wyoming’s serious consideration of these equality measures garnered media attention from around the country. The legislative campaign was championed by a coalition of diverse Equality advocates in the state, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation, various faith groups, Wyoming Equality, Queer Advocacy Network, PFLAG and others. The coalition was formed during the 2011 Legislative Session when extremist groups such as Wy Watch (funded by Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs) sought to enshrine DOMA in the Wyoming Constitution. Intense, round-the-clock efforts by passionate equality-minded citizens narrowly beat back the goliath discriminatory threat – much to the surprise of both sides. Communication networks established on the fly in 2011 were put back into operation for this year’s session. (Wyoming has a part-time citizen legislature which meets in full session for 40 days every odd year; during even-numbered years only budget matters are considered.)

Debriefings with GOP legislators who voted against domestic partnership and discrimination protections are presently underway in an attempt to find common ground for bills to be introduced in 2015. Some say they need assurance that the bills are not an attempt to “redefine” marriage.

Meanwhile, concurrent to the legislative session, a high school senior in the small Wyoming town of Worland (pop. 5,458) waged a successful campaign for the right to include a small rainbow flag in his senior picture. Matt Jolley, an openly gay teen, launched an online petition campaign after his high school principal told him he could not use his picture of choice in the annual yearbook because it was “political.” Matt immediately turned to to garner support.

Integrity’s Province VI Coordinator alerted a network of LGBT-friendly educators in Wyoming to generate an email & phone campaign to the Washakie County school district superintendent and school board. Thanks to widespread Facebook sharing, Matt’s petition earned nearly 5,000 signatures within 72 hours. With surprisingly little ado, the superintendent said the photo was permissible. Matt was deeply gratified by the support he received, especially from his hometown, his friends and his family. Yet another sign that attitudes, even in uber-conservative Wyoming, are changing more rapidly than many realists might expect.

- Pamela R.W. Kandt

Pamela R.W. Kandt was recently named as Province VI Coordinator.  She has served as a Gay-Straight Alliance mentor to teens in Matthew Shepard's hometown and is a volunteer organizer for pro-LGBT bills in the Wyoming State Legislature. She's also the former director of the Wyoming AIDS Project.

Pamela joined Integrity in 2009 and attended General Convention as a volunteer in 2009 and as a Deputy advocate in 2012. Pamela also serves as a co-convener of the Episcopal Women's Caucus.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Proud to be an Episcopalian at Creating Change

Alan Yarborough
To get to the Creating Change conference, I took a quick drive down the road to Atlanta, GA, from Clemson, SC, where I go to school. Having the conference in a Southern city was a wonderful experience, proving that the South is home to a significant component of the LGBT rights movement. I had the privilege of staffing the Integrity booth in the exhibit hall, where you can find booths for organizations of every kind, from welcoming church organizations to lawyers offices.

The conference itself is a wonderful space for LGBT activism and intersectional social justice work, where attendees can choose from workshops on race, class, immigration, religion, politics and more. The variety of people attending the conference makes for an eclectic opportunity to converse and problem solve in a safe and affirming environment with people and organizations who are on the forefront of not only the LGBT rights movement but every other social justice movement in the country.

So many visitors to Integrity’s table expressed words of gratitude for Integrity being one of those organizations on the forefront of equality. One woman in particular spoke about Integrity’s tangible work for transgender and gender nonconforming people. She said while many other organizations include transgender in name only, Integrity takes action on transgender rights. 

Others who stopped by the table were unfamiliar with Integrity and the work of welcoming and affirming organizations. Many revealed their current lack of faith and the moment when their church community turned them away. I believe that for many, seeing the Episcopal Church present at Creating Change inspired a bit of hope and reassurance.

Representing Integrity at Creating Change meant standing on the shoulders of all of those past and present who have done amazing work for LGBT rights. Representing Integrity meant I received these expressions of thanks for the work of so many, and I want to pass that thanksgiving on to all who are a part this organization.

In this time of re-imagining for Integrity, we will remain a leader in this work. Having experienced success on a national level within the Episcopal Church, we can move ahead in bolstering Integrity’s presence throughout every community, like in my small home town, Clemson, South Carolina. We can move ahead in our commitment to the trans community and in our intersectional work across race, class and national origin.

Thanks greatly to Bishop Gene Robinson’s attendance, the Episcopal Church had a large presence at the conference. Integrity and the Episcopal Church emerged as leaders in this movement years ago, and they are still at the front of the line today. The change Integrity has inspired in our world, insisting that all have a place at the table, makes me proud to be a gay man, a Christian, and an Episcopalian.

- Alan Yarborough

Alan Yarborough is a student at Clemson University, where he is a Peer Minister at the Episcopal chaplaincy, the Canterbury Club.  He was one of several young adults who participated in Integrity's Leadership Summit in Pasadena in autumn of 2012, and has also worked with us as a research assistant and intern.  Alan was joined at Creating Change by Province IV Coordinator Bruce Garner. The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Retired Bishop of New Hampshire, was presented with the Susan J. Hyde Award for Longevity in the Movement by the  National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.