Tuesday, December 1, 2015

World AIDS Day - 2015

The date was June 5.  It was a Friday – and it was 1981.  The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) would list the first cases of what would later become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS – a word that still brings chills when it is uttered.  Some years ago I read a copy of that MMWR  - I had never seen it before.  As I read the description of the conditions of the first five cases, I shivered involuntarily.  Knowing what was to come didn’t help any.  The name of the condition would later become known as HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus once the source of the condition was identified.

Today is World AIDS Day, an international acknowledgement that this disease is still with us and has a global impact like few things have ever had.  It is always December 1.  That’s unfortunate for us Episcopalians because it gets eclipsed by the beginning of Advent and the prayers and lessons that go with our liturgical New Year.

The Episcopal Church was the first church to address the AIDS epidemic at a church-wide level.  It began with a gathering at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in February 1987 when those of us who had been involved in various aspects of the issue came together for a national conference.   It was several days of tears.  There were tears of loss.  There were tears of relief that none of us was doing what we did alone, despite the fact that we were just learning about each other.  There were tears of anger at the failure of government to respond to this epidemic when it was still new.  There were tears of grief over the thousands we knew who had already lost the battle with AIDS.  There were tears…..cleansing and refreshing, helping us each to sort out where we were and what was next.

From that gathering the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC) was born.  From that gathering emerged an “AIDS Desk” at the Church Center at 815 2nd Avenue in New York City. From that gathering a response was begun that would last for years and spin off various other ministries and programs around the country.

When the staff at the Church Center was reorganized, the AIDS Desk was eliminated but NEAC became the contractor to provide for the ministry of The Episcopal Church in the HIV/AIDS arena. Over the years there were funding challenges but The Episcopal Church continued to fund at least a minimal effort through NEAC.

Unfortunately, the funding for any HIV/AIDS ministry provided by The Episcopal Church will end as of midnight, December 31, 2015.  The budget for the triennial ending in 2015 is the last budget to include such funding.  At that sad moment, The Episcopal Church will have bowed out of a church wide response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The only other source of potential funding might be through the Executive Council, but that is doubtful.  And without a commitment to sustained funding, NEAC nor any other agency is likely to take up the baton for prevention education, ministry and hope.

From my perspective, the loss of funding is another aspect of the manifestation of racism in our church.  Most congregations no longer see those ill from AIDS in their pews.  It isn’t that such folks do not exist.  It is simply that the majority of new infections are now people of color and most of our churches are very white.  The time of the handsome gay men dying among us is long past.  What is out of sight soon becomes out of mind.

There have been, sadly, few changes in the situation over the years.  The infection rate is on the rise among young gay men again.  Province IV is the most heavily impacted geographic area of our nation and our church.  Province IV is where the costly and often deadly combination of ignorance, poverty, illiteracy, racism, stigma and homophobia happens so readily.    Statistics are alarming in that the fastest rates of increased infection rates are in Province IV.  Some areas exhibit rates comparable to sub-Saharan Africa.  (Even some truly honest sex education could have a huge impact but this area is also the home of “abstinence only” sex education in schools.  It works so well that many of the states in that area remain near the top of the charts of infections from HIV and other STD’s as well as teen pregnancy.  No one seems to make the connection between these statistics and the lack of basic and honest sex education.

June 5, 2001 was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of this terrible pandemic.  At the end of this article, you will see an address I delivered on the occasion of an observance of the 20th anniversary….it was an observance….no celebration was appropriate.  As I re-read what I had said I was saddened and dismayed at the situation we are still in as a church and a nation.

Yes, of course, we have PreP as a way of helping stem infections.  But rising infection rates of other STD’s indicates that condoms are not being used by those on PreP as is dictated by the regimen for the medication.  False security lures many into peril.  Maybe some day in the not too distant future we will actually deal realistically with HIV/AIDS.

So, I invite you on World AIDS Day 2015 to pause and remember those who have died, pray for those still struggling, and commit to doing something to get the attention of elected officials and others that might actually slow the infection rate and make this truly a chronic condition rather than a deadly condition.  It is possible.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

AIDS: Remembering 20 years

The date was June 5 – same as today. It was a Friday – and it was 1981. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) would list the first cases of what would later become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS – a word that still brings chills when it is uttered. A few days ago I read a copy of that MMWR - I had never seen it before. As I read the description of the conditions of the first five cases, I shivered involuntarily. Knowing what was to come didn’t help any. The name of the condition would later become known as HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus once the source of the condition was identified.

Yet from the start, the scientific/medical community would perpetrate a travesty on those infected with this virus. They would initially call it GRID – standing for Gay Related Immune Deficiency. In doing so they would, from the beginning, forever make AIDS a political condition instead of a medical condition. They would affix to a medical condition a stigma that remains associated with it to this day – 20 years later.

It should have been unconscionable to even think about connecting a medical condition to a specific group of people. Tay Sacs has no reference to people of Jewish or Mediterranean descent in its title. Sickle cell anemia is not, by its name, connected to people of African descent. Yet it was done with AIDS – and all who are infected with HIV continue – one way or another – to pay the price for initially associating the condition with a particular sexual orientation.

By 1982 people had begun dying in noticeable numbers. It wasn’t clear why except that they all had diseases such as pneumocystis pneumonia and Kaposi’s sarcoma. And these were not diseases that killed people under normal circumstances – as we were to learn, people with immune systems that were intact. These were the two most well known infections at the beginning of the epidemic. Time would reveal exotic, nearly unpronounceable viral and bacteriological infections that caused dementia, wasting syndrome, diarrhea, and a host of situations ultimately resulting in a way of death as horrible as any imaginable. Typically at the time of death, the victim looked for all the world like a victim of Auschwitz or some other Nazi concentration camp from the Holocaust. I saw it all – and not long after it began.

In the early years, those thought to be at risk were often referred to as the four H’s: hookers, homosexuals, Haitians, and hemophiliacs. Again – labels associated with people were used to identify a disease. It would be several years before we learned that the method of transmission of the virus had nothing what so ever to do with who you were. It was plainly and simply a matter of something that one did – an activity that put one at risk for becoming infected with HIV. None the less, the stigma still lingers.

My involvement with the epidemic began through the Social Security Administration. A friend was having problems with his disability claim. Things were not as efficient or well-defined back then as they are now. Months went by without a decision. In July 1984 when I learned that Tom was in Emory hospital again and no decision had been made I got involved. I was finally able to determine the source of the problem with the claim: the doctor had waltzed all around a diagnosis of AIDS but had never written the definitive words in the medical evidence.

I took it upon myself to drive to the Emory Clinic, obtain the proper medical and take it to the Disability Determination Services in Decatur. The examiner said he would let me know the outcome. I got a little pushy and advised that I would wait, explaining that Tom was near death and I wanted to tell him before he died that his claim had been approved. The examiner went away for a short while, returned, and told me that Tom’s disability claim was approved.

I rushed to Emory Hospital and told Tom. He could not speak. The tracheotomy tube was still in his throat, even though life support had been removed. It would be just a matter of time. But Tom was alert and smiled when I gave him the news. And he knew his children would be receiving survivor benefits as well as his retroactive payments.
It would be many more hours before Tom would leave this world. He died shortly after midnight on July 4, 1984. Watching him take his last breath is a scene permanently etched in my memory. 1984 Was the year that the mode of transmission of the virus were identified.

As the summer of 1984 wore on, I began to see another friend, Gene, begin to exhibit symptoms that would become all too familiar to me over the years: fatigue, shortness of breath, no energy. In September, Gene was diagnosed with AIDS. That same weekend I began my career as an AIDS volunteer with AID Atlanta. In October I joined the board of directors of AID Atlanta, where I would remain for six years serving as Treasurer, Secretary and two terms as President. I have been on at least one and as many as three AIDS service organization boards at the local and/or national level since that first association began. Gene died a year later – in October of 1985. Gene’s and Tom’s deaths were only the tip of an iceberg of death and grief that would impact me and thousands of others for the rest of our lives.

The first International Conference on AIDS was held in Atlanta in 1985 – SSA was there. It took a small fight with HHS but we were there!

Friends began dying at a horribly fast rate. For many years I lost an average of two dozen friends a year. I once kept a list. When it topped 200 names, I stopped entering names in my death log. There was no point. With one or two exceptions I lost one entire generation of friends then made and lost another. Almost all of the people with whom I had expected to grow old died.

The numbers of cases continued to rise, as did the numbers of deaths from AIDS. Even after the virus was isolated and named HIV, infection and death continued. And even the discovery of the virus was embroiled in politics: French and American doctors fought and argued over who discovered it first! Who gave a damn about who found the virus first, people were dying! In 1986 Surgeon General C. Everett Coop called for AIDS education in children of all ages. And he called for the widespread use of condoms.

My closest, dearest, and best friend was Walter Alan Morgan – Alan to me, Walter to his family. We met when he came to the Savannah District Office as I was leaving the Savannah Southside Branch Office to come to the Regional Office. We discovered that we were soul mates – we were brothers born to different families. It was a relationship between friends that few are privileged to ever have. Thirty seconds into any telephone conversation either of us could tell if something wasn’t going right with the other. We truly communicated like siblings.

Alan went on to become an Operations Supervisor in the West Palm Beach District Office and then the Branch Manager of the Pompano Beach office. As fate would have it, we never lived in the same town: Didn’t matter, ours was a friendship not dependent on proximity.

Alan hid his condition from me for a long time. During a period of my life when I was experiencing the loss of so many friends I had commented to him that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it if it happened to him. So he kept his own illness from me until he was already very sick.

The last time I saw Alan, he was in a hospital bed in Broward County Hospital. I sat by that bed all night long praying that he would die – that God would take him home. It didn’t happen that night. The following Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1987 I received the call telling me that Alan had died earlier that morning. 1987 was the year AZT received approval for use in fighting AIDS. Too late for Alan.

I learned about grief more intense than I could have imagined – despite having already gone through so many deaths. I also learned the danger that comes from not dealing with that level of grief. Making the panel you see here was a cathartic experience for me. I was finally able to say good by to Alan, to let go. In May, 1988, when I turned the panel over to the Names Project, the moment of presentation had been preceded by hours of gut wrenching sobbing. When it was over – I was cleansed and finally ready to move on.

The panel I had made for Alan was presented to the Names Project at the 1988 display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The display committee would later become the Atlanta Chapter of the Names Project. I would have the honor and privilege of serving on and chairing its board of directors several years later. Dozens of us were bitten by the Quilt Bug! It was a bite that would provide some of the salve needed to help heal the wounds inflicted by the AID epidemic.

Once the virus was isolated, there was new hope that drugs could be found and developed that would fight the disease. The first, as mentioned, was AZT.

AZT was a gamble. It was not initially clear what the dosage should be, how often it should be taken, what the side effects were, or what the long-term effects might be. It all began with 4 pills every four hours around the clock. There were jokes about gay men “beeping” every four hours. It was the pill timers that everyone used to keep up with their medicines. You could be in a group and someone’s timer would go off. There was this mad scramble until the one pill timer that had actually gone off was located. It was a simple touch of humor for an increasingly sad situation.

During the early years, AID Atlanta, founded in 1982, was the only service provider in Atlanta and the entire state for people with AIDS. Later Project Open Hand was founded – a spin off from AID Atlanta’s meals on wheels program. Similarly the Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network sprang from AID Atlanta’s Department of Pastoral Care. We could not get grant funds to support the department, so we spun it off on its own. A former AID Atlanta board member, Sandra McDonald founded Outreach, INC., to provide a program of services focused toward intravenous drug users. Later Jerusalem House was founded. Then AIDS Education Services for Minorities and others would be founded to deal with the needs of those affected by the epidemic.

It was also during those years that we witnessed people with AIDS being bodily removed from airplanes and left to crawl across a sidewalk to a taxi – if one agreed to take them. We witnessed housing evictions – not because of inability to pay rent – but because of being ill with AIDS. Some dentists, even some doctors, refused to treat AIDS patients. Ignorance and fear were the orders of the day. Some of that never changes.

In 1989, I reached a milestone age: forty. It was time for complete physical exams and time to begin watching for those things that can go wrong with the human body as it begins to age. Part of that exam was to be an HIV antibody test. But I chose to go a different route – a T-cell count. If the count was below a certain number, it would be pretty certain that I was infected. The T-cell count wasn’t high enough. I took the HIV antibody test. The test confirmed what, in my gut, I already knew: I was infected. There was no screaming or crying, no hand wringing. I was well versed in the subject of HIV at that point in my life and I would simply deal with it. By looking at the T-cell levels and a medical event that took place in my life in 1982, it became clear that was when I became infected and sero-converted.

Later during that same year, 1989, the drug protocols would indicate that anyone with a T-cell count lower than 500 should to on AZT. Mine was and I did. I went on AZT. I washed down my very first doses with a Michelob beer as I stood in my dining room. And I started beeping every four hours!

Time and AIDS marched on. The drugs changed – new ones came out – some worked better than others, some not at all. And some people could not tolerate the side effects of any of them. More people died. I remained involved in AIDS work – partly from a sense of obligation; partly with a fervent hope that someone would be there for me if I needed them. I developed new circles of friends. Not everyone was dead – most were. I attended funerals, I conducted funerals, I buried friends.

Ryan White died from AIDS in 1990 at age 18. His name lives on in the Ryan White CARE Act – now the major source of Federal funding for services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

New classes of drugs became available and I’ve been on a good many of them. Most worked for me quite well – no side effects of any consequence. One notable exception occurred when we had to smuggle DDC into this country from Mexico. Our own FDA had not yet given it their seal of approval despite its use in several places elsewhere in the world. Apparently one shipment of DDC came into Atlanta that was about twice the usual strength. The side effect of DDC is neuropathy. So when hundreds of us started losing the feeling in our toes, we stopped taking it immediately.

By 1995 HIV became the leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. In 1996 protease inhibitors and multi-drug therapies were introduced, bringing new optimism.

At the moment I’m on a three drug combination or cocktail. I take four pills each morning and three at night. To those I add half a dozen other pills during the day. Some control the potential side effects of others – some deal with other issues. But I no longer beep!

In many ways, HIV is becoming a chronic, manageable medical condition rather than a health crisis leading to an eminent death. The pills keep many of us healthy. But they still don’t work for everyone. I still lose a couple of friends each year to AIDS. And the situation in the less developed areas of the world remains a serious health crisis, generally leading to an early death. The drugs either are not available or are too expensive to buy. In those parts of the world, AIDS still means death. It also means millions and millions of orphaned children.

I saw that face to face several years ago on a visit to Honduras for the National Commission on AIDS of the Episcopal Church. I sat across the table from four young adults, all HIV infected. There I was, with access to all the drugs available for the treatment of HIV. There they were, they had access to virtually nothing. The drugs that are available are targeted toward infected children. Talk about guilt!

Educational efforts in the gay community in this country slowed the rate of new infections to a standstill several years ago. But by 1999 there was evidence that the infection rate is once again on the rise. A new generation of young gay men didn’t have the preventive education provided by the deaths of dozens of friends. Youth equates with invincibility and immortality for so many. Add to that the false sense of security the drug regimens appear to bring and you have a recipe for disaster. They don’t always understand the necessity of not engaging in risky sexual behaviors, much less the necessity of not sharing needles. Both behaviors still spread HIV.

Sadly, it is rare for children to receive an adequate education about HIV prevention in school, or at home, or at church or synagogue. Teaching them to “just say no” has never worked. Kids need to know in terms they understand, however explicit and direct they need to be, what causes HIV infection and how to prevent it. Talking to them about sex, teaching the use of condoms, will not increase sexual activity among young people. The high rates of teen pregnancies and STD’s are obvious indicators that kids are having sex regardless of whether or not we are talking to them about it! The most powerful educational tool that school administrators seem to find safe enough to use is the AIDS Memorial Quilt – but that alone is not enough.

It may be clear to you now that I’ve reached the point where I have stopped preaching and gone to meddling! Well I’m going to meddle some more. And I am going to be blunt.

There are powerful myths out there about AIDS and HIV. Those myths are powerful and they are dangerous. I’ve mentioned one – the myth that talking to kids about sex makes them have sex. Last week the results of a national study showed clearly that safe-sex programs do NOT increase sexual activity – a reason often cited by some groups for not using them.

There is another myth that there are no African American men who have sex with men. None are gay. If anything, they are all bisexuals. Hogwash! The same lie is told in the Latino community as well, and to some degree in the Asian community. Those myths kill! No minced words, no apologies – those myths kill people daily. Recent CDC studies show AIDS is now the leading cause of death in African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. And in a study done in six large cities, nearly one third of the young black gay and bisexual men are testing positive for HIV – one third, one out of three!

If you take nothing else away from here today, at least take the truth. Take the truth that more than 20 million people have died from AIDS worldwide and over 8,000 more die each day. Take the truth that HIV infects 40 million people and that number increases by over 14 thousand every day.

Take the truth that unprotected sexual activity spreads HIV. Take the truth that the virus doesn’t care what sexual orientation, social or economic status, race, creed, or religion its host might be. Take the truth that there are men who have sex with men in all racial and ethnic groups. Take the truth that denying the existence of those men can condemn them to death. Take the truth that your children and grandchildren, your nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters need to know that having unprotected sex can infect them with HIV regardless of the gender of their sexual partners. Talk to them. Share that truth. Take the truth that 4.3 million children under the age of 15 have died from AIDS.

Take the truth that there are over 18 million children who have been made orphans by AIDS.

Take the truth that sharing needles also shares infection. Take the truth that needle exchange programs slow the spread of infection and they don’t increase intravenous drug use.

Take the truth that AIDS is not a divine punishment for anything anyone did or did not do. Take the truth that AIDS is caused by a virus and that virus is spread through the actions of human beings: good people, bad people, rich and poor, black and white, red, yellow and brown and all shades between. Being infected is not the consequences of who you are. If it is the consequence of anything it is the consequence of doing something out of either ignorance or stupidity. Being infected with HIV has nothing to do with the worth or value of the human being that hosts it.

If any of us truly believes that having HIV reflects a consequence of someone’s worth as a human being, we had better be ready and able to explain why someone gets the flu or cancer or emphysema or leukemia or polio or Hodgkin’s disease or sickle cell anemia or Chrohn's disease or any other disease we could name. The truth remains that there is no connection between any diseases we might get and our worth as human beings. Disease is not punishment.

The final truth I want you to take away is the truth of my survival. You know, I can’t state with certainty why I am still on this earth. I wasn’t supposed to still be here by now. But I am! I attribute my continued good health and survival to a number of factors: I didn’t give myself an opportunity for further infection. I’ve engaged in protected sexual activity for the last sixteen years. I’ve had good quality medical care that involved me in the decisions that were made. The various drugs I’ve taken did what they were supposed to do. I have a good self-image of myself as who I am as a gay man. I don’t believe and never did believe the garbage that there was anything flawed about me.

I have a firm resolve. That’s another way of saying I’m hard headed – at least according to my parents! And I have a very strong faith in the one who created me. I know that the one who created me did not inflict this virus upon me. For me, these are the factors that sustain me and contribute to my continued survival. My goal is to live to be a hundred years old – and I’m over half way there already!

My reasons for sharing my story with you are simple: To let you know there are those who are surviving with HIV. To let you know that there is hope. And finally to let you know that you can do something about HIV/AIDS: Learn about it! Teach about it! Debunk the deadly myths about AIDS! Save people’s lives! Maybe 20 years from now, AIDS will be a disease of the past.

Thank you!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

The Most Rev. Michael Curry installed.
This past Saturday and Sunday were amazingly remarkable days in the life of The Episcopal Church. It was my good fortune to be able to attend both the Vigil at the DC Armory on Saturday and the Installation of The Most Rev. Michael Curry at the National Cathedral on Sunday, the Feast of All Saints. The presence of the Holy Spirit was evident!

Saturday’s event was sponsored by the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE).  They turned the DC Armory into church for the day, creating wonderful worship space from a building which the preacher, The Rev. Sandye Wilson, noted had been used for a horse show just a few weeks ago!  As she shared, if you smell something, it’s legitimate!

The liturgy was on the “high” side of the spectrum with no less than three thurifers swinging the smoke in the processions in and out. Joyful music and laughter were a big part of the service, clearly a celebration in every sense of the word. I sat next to former Integrity USA Treasurer Lis Jacobs. She was delightful company. Bishop Michael and I hugged and spoke briefly.

Sunday began with some rainy weather but that would prove not to dampen anyone’s spirits. I arrived at the National Cathedral early enough to be fourth in line! I was fortunate enough to be in a seat about twenty rows back from the altar and next to a large screen monitor. Between my location and the monitor, I missed very little of a powerful and joyful service.

The procession was in multiple parts/sections involving Native Americans drumming in a rhythmic and almost hypnotic cadence. Bishops of our church were seated in the first chair of each row along the center aisle. A double row of bishops occupied the fore and aft rows of the crossing where the Gospel was read. An aerial view provided the reason for this unusual seating pattern:  The red of the bishops’ vestments formed a gigantic and dramatic red cross!

Then came the knock on the great center doors of the west entrance by still Presiding Bishop-elect Curry. He was welcomed with thunderous responses from the congregation of some 2,500. We renewed our Baptismal Covenant and were asperged by Bishop Michael and The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who clearly enjoyed themselves in the process.

The Primatial Staff was then given to Bishop Michael by Bishop Katharine and he became the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. He was then seated in the stall of the Great Choir designated for the Presiding Bishop.

The Liturgy of the Word continued with prayers for the Presiding Bishop offered by representatives of four faith communities, followed by the Gloria and the appropriate collects and readings for the Feast of All Saints. Bishop Michael’s sermon was next.

It was clear for ears that would listen that our new Presiding Bishop’s vision for The Episcopal Church is one that includes welcome for ALL at the table.  He intends to exclude no one. He specifically mentioned sexual orientation in his sermon. I’m not sure I had ever actually heard those words at such an occasion before. Code words perhaps, but not the exact words; references perhaps, but not such specific words.

I found myself thinking back to another Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Edmund Browning. He proclaimed that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church. That was his intent and his vision and he paid a price for such forward thinking in the early 90’s. Yet he stayed the course as much as anyone could in such stormy seas. I will always be grateful for his extraordinary leadership.

From my perspective, Bishop Michael will indeed move us forward to the realization of the goals that there will be no outcasts in our church and that all will be welcome in it. The task is not his alone, however. Each of us must do our part in bringing into being the beloved kingdom where all are equal in God’s eyes.

The presence of the Holy Spirit was most evident to me at two times in the service.  The Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the offertory.  On the last chorus, as the oblations and offering came down the aisle, the congregation stood and joined in the singing.  It was an emotional moment.  Then when Bishop Michael said: “Let us join hands and sing the prayer our Savior taught us” it was remarkable to watch everyone take a hand and even more moving to see the bishops seated on the aisle to step out into the aisle to take the hand across from them.  Then at the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer, all hands were raised together.  I choked up and could not sing.

The service continued with the Eucharist, something ordinary for us but extraordinary in this time and place. I have rarely heard a congregation be so forceful in responding in the liturgy and in singing.

The closing hymn was “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and earth and heaven did truly ring! I was blessed to have been present.  It was an experience of a lifetime. Yes, indeed, the presence of the Holy Spirit was evident, almost palpable.  And yes, God is good... all the time!

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA

Monday, October 26, 2015

Integrity in the Diocese of Indianapolis

Diocesan Coordinator John Steele
and his husband John Cutter
The Diocese of Indianapolis celebrated two events this weekend.

The new Diocesan Coordinator, John Steele, made Integrity's presence known at its second half convention (the dioceses held two half conventions this year). John is a Delegate to the Convention and a newlywed to John Cutter. At the convention, seven resolutions passed: review alcohol policies for church events, study parental leave issues, strengthen greater cooperation among dioceses, commit to greater study around racism, respond to the work of the church-wide task force on the study of marriage and their resources, engage in more Bible study, and commit to work toward food security issues in local communities.

Moreover, Integrity's newest chapter celebrated its inauguration at Trinity Church, Bloomington. Convenor Ed Brandon invited Province V Coordinator David Fleer to speak at Trinity's adult forum on Sunday, October 25. David spoke about Integrity's history and its future to a friendly audience of parishioners. He also stressed the grass roots nature of Integrity, emphasizing the importance of local initiative in directing the attention of Integrity on matters of interest to the church.

Join us in celebrating the ways Integrity proclaims God's inclusive love throughout the Church.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Join us on Spirit Day this October 15

Join us on Spirit day this October 15th. Integrity's forty year support of LGBT Episcopalians includes our youth, and we wholeheartedly encourage efforts to make the public aware of the suffering of those whose lives are made miserable, or worse ended, as a result of bullying.

According to GLAAD, "Spirit Day began in 2010 as a way to show support for LGBT youth and take a stand against bullying. Following a string of high-profile suicide deaths of gay teens in 2010, GLAAD worked to involve millions of teachers, workplaces, celebrities, media outlets and students in going purple on social media or wearing purple, a color that symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag. Spirit Day now occurs every year on the third Thursday in October, during National Bullying Prevention Month, and has become the most visible day of support for LGBT youth."

We invite you to wear purple on October 15th, and be willing to tell people why. Show your support for our children, and let them know that you support them. Feel free to tweet and Facebook your purple with the #SpiritDay hashtag. Turn your Twitter and Facebook profile photo purple using this link.

For our Bishops and Priests, we ask that you wear purple on October 18th, and designate it Spirit Sunday. Use purple as your liturgical color that day, and make it clear that we, as Christians, need to support our LGBT youth - some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Pledge to go purple!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pride and Welcome in the Desert

Last weekend the parish of Christ Church, Las Vegas welcomed Integrity President Matt Haines to be a part of their weekend of LGBTQ Pride.  Activities began by  marching as a church through Downtown Las Vegas Friday September 17th.  Saturday Christ Church rector, The Rev. Dr. J. Barry Vaughn hosted a reception bringing together key parish leaders and LGBT members to discuss further intentional welcome.  Events culminated Sunday with a dynamic "Rector's Forum" focused on how to build radical welcome after marriage equality and of course Eucharist where Matt Haines preached on welcoming powerlessness.  To hear or read the sermon click here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

President Elect Bruce Garner Excited for Integrity's Future

I am honored to be Integrity USA’s President.  Yes, I realize my name was the only one on the ballot! But you did have the option of writing in other choices.  So, yes, I am honored and my goal is to serve you and our organization well.
The year 2015 has been an historic year in both the Episcopal Church and in the United States in the long journey for full inclusion and equal rights and rites for persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning…LGBTQ folks.  We can legally marry our same gender partners in both church and civil ceremonies.  Yes, that is remarkable, but it is only one step of many on a still long path to where we are entitled to be.
While we can marry, we can still be fired from employment in too many states.   We can still be conveniently overlooked in the clergy deployment process in too many dioceses.  We still face obstacles in adopting children, especially second parent adoptions.  We are still the objects of those who want to inflict bodily harm on us because of who we are.  The actions and attitudes of a County Clerk in Kentucky over the last few weeks’ stand witness to how much still needs to change for us to be fully included in both society and church.
Twenty five years ago I was in the same position I am in now:  President of Integrity, having been elected in 1990.  We had recently concluded the work of the General Convention of 1991.  That convention was a water shed convention born out of the pain of exclusion…..and that pain began to surface in Phoenix, Arizona, as the convention progressed.  The pain also began to be healed at that convention.  Two gay deputies came out on the floor of the House of Deputies and the building did not collapse.  The first serious debate about LGBTQ issues of inclusion took place before hundreds if not a thousand of deputies and bishops.  I will never forget the impromptu gathering outside an exhibit hall after that debate as we formed a circle and began to sing songs and hymns, many with tears streaming down our faces, particularly as we sang “We shall overcome.”
That was a beginning and much has changed.  Much has not changed.
At the 1991 General Convention, unpleasant events actually enabled me to meet with the Presiding Bishop, the Vice President and Secretary of the House of Bishops and my own bishop.  We began conversations that would continue after the convention.  I was able to negotiate the first meeting of an Integrity President with a Presiding Bishop, namely Ed Browning.  That led to a meeting between him and the Board of Directors of Integrity….another first time event.  These meetings came at a great price to Bishop Browning.   At times we seemed to be engaging in clandestine events!  Yet he was intent on being true to having said that there would be no outcasts in the Episcopal Church.
Neither I nor the board at the time could have achieved what we were able to do without the hard work of my predecessor as President of Integrity, Kim Byham.  He and I often took different approaches to issues, but we worked together and I count him as a dear friend as each of us has aged and allegedly mellowed over the years!  None of us works alone. 
We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  We walk on the bridges others have built as they have gone before us.  We are obligated to build bridges for those who come after us, even if we are not likely to ever have need of what we have built.
Over these past years I saw canonical changes, resolutions, etc. that were intended to bring equality to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers……or at least they did on paper.  Reality hasn’t always been the same as what was “on the paper.”  We have much work to do.
I have witnessed the election and consecration of a gay male and a lesbian female as bishops of the church even as we became more and more aware of hundreds of openly out and proud LGBTQ clergy in our church.  But such is not true everywhere.  Our sisters and brothers in some provinces of the church and in some diocese must continue to stand behind closet doors as they engage in their callings as priests, deacons and bishops of our church. We have much work to do.
The year 2015 will go down in the history books as another water shed year because we gained the right to marry the person we love in both our church and in secular society.  Again, that is not true in all places…..subtle and not so subtle barriers continue to exist.
Let me also be clear that being able to marry the person we love does not equate to having achieved equality as LGBTQ persons.  We can still be fired from jobs because of sexual orientation and gender expression/identity in too many places.  We have no protection of guarantees of housing or public accommodation in too many places.  Our children…all children and teens….do not have the protections they need against being bullied and harassed in schools and in society.  Our trans sisters and brothers who find themselves incarcerated face even more terrible discrimination from authorities that has the potential to undo what they have achieved in their lives simply trying to live as the person God created them to be.  Too many of our trans sisters and brothers are being murdered with law enforcement not apparently giving these cases the attention due them.  Those living with HIV/AIDS are often denied critical medications needed to treat them while they are in jails and prisons.  We have much work to do.
And, my sisters and brothers, the demon of racism continues to raise its ugly head within our LGBTQ community and within the broader community.  The insidiousness of racism further compounds the work we must be about in achieving equality in our church and in our world.  None of us are free until all of us are free.  We have much work to do.
I am very aware that there has been some turmoil and dysfunction within Integrity.  My goal is to address and resolve those issues as much as they can be resolved.  Part of that resolution will be the transparency of how I and the rest of the board of directors operate.  For a few examples:  minutes of each board meeting will be published on the Integrity website following their approval at the subsequent meeting.  Financial reports will also be published once approved and accepted at a board meeting.  Dates, times and locations of board meetings will be posted on Integrity’s website so that any who wish to attend may do so.  Board meetings are always open except when discussing personnel issues (and the acquisition of property, which is highly unlikely to be an issue for us!).
We all have work to do until that day when Integrity herself can retire because there is no question anywhere in our church about the full inclusion of ALL LGBTQ people and the motto that “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is truly a reality.

I am indeed honored to be President of Integrity USA.  With the help of our Board of Directors, our Provincial Coordinators, our Chapter Convenors, and with the help and support of every member of Integrity, we can address and resolve the issues that remain before us.  Let us strive forward to what lies ahead with the wind of the Holy Spirit pushing us and the still small voice of God calling us.  We have much work to do.

New Board of Directors: Servant Leaders at the Ready

By:  Matt Haines, President

This past General Convention has called the Episcopal Church to lead and serve in even more inclusive ways.  Integrity USA is excited to answer that call.  We now have a full Board of Directors ready to serve the church and our movement through uncharted possibilities. 

Each of the people who volunteered to run for election and were chosen to serve bring unique gifts to their upcoming ministries. They are united, however, in their dedication and faith in the future of this organization.

The new Board has many things going for it which will prove to be valuable as our work continues to evolve.  Four of the six members live in Southern states (Provinces 4 and 7), which means that the needs of this region will be better represented than ever before.  Three members identify as either transgender or gender non-conforming.  There is no doubt that their voices and votes on this Board will help Integrity to be even more sensitive and equipped to serve this growing demographic in our church. We have laypeople, a deacon and a priest serving fully according to their callings. Each member has a long history of local activism, church involvement and servant leadership.  Your new Board of Directors are:

Bruce Garner, President (Diocese of Atlanta)
The Rev. Gwen Fry, V.P. of National Affairs (Diocese of Arkansas)
S Wayne Mathis, V.P. of Local Affairs (Diocese of Texas)
The Rev. Carolyn Woodall, Stakeholder's Chair (Diocese of San Joaquin)
Mel Soriano, Secretary/Communications (Diocese of Los Angeles)
Deanna Bosch, Treasurer (Diocese of Texas)

Integrity USA's mission is “to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations and members to proclaim and embody God's all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them”.  Your new Board of Directors are excited to work toward this holy goal.  Please love and support them as they honor you with their selfless service.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Election for President of Integrity Sep 7 - Sep 14

Every three years Integrity elects a Board of Directors to serve the mission of our organization. On the last day of General Convention we announced the results of that election. At that time no one had been nominated for the role of president; hence there was no one was elected to that position.

In order to fill the vacancy, nominations were announced and have been open since General Convention. The deadline to file as a candidate was August 28, 2015.

We are happy to announce that someone stepped up to lead in this special ministry. The membership now can finish the election process with a full slate.

While there is only one candidate on the ballot, write-in votes are permitted per the bylaws. All members in good standing are eligible to vote and will be emailed a secure ballot. If you do not receive an emailed ballot by Monday, September 7, 2015 please contact Laura Zeugner (laura@integrityusa.org) to verify membership status and to be issued a ballot.

The candidate statement is shown below.

The election will run from 8 am EDT Monday, September 7 to 8 pm EDT Monday, September 14. Results will be posted here on our blog, Walking With Integrity.

Please join other members in voting for president. The current and incoming Boards of Directors appreciate your support and prayers as we begin our transition in the new triennium October 1st.

Matt Haines,

Candidate for President Statement:  Bruce Garner

I live in the diocese of Atlanta and worship at All Saints’ parish in Atlanta where I have served as Head Verger for over 19 years. I am a delegate to our Annual Diocesan Council and a member of the Executive Board of the Diocese of Atlanta. I serve as chair of the Diocesan Commission on LGBTQ Ministry and the Diocesan Commission on AIDS.

I have been active in Integrity at various levels since the early 1980’s, having served as National President, National AIDS Coordinator, Provincial Coordinator, Chapter Convenor and currently Chapter Secretary/Treasurer.

At the church-wide level, I have served on the Executive Council and on several commissions, committees, etc. of the church. I am currently a Trustee for The General Theological Seminary located in New York.

I bring nearly 35 years of non-profit board experience to any work I set out to do, having served “startups” to mature agencies.  A more comprehensive list of my non-profit work is attached. (Ed. note: Document on file with the Secretary of Integrity.)

I think God is calling me to this ministry for two reasons. First there is that sometimes annoying tapping of the finger on the shoulder that tries to get my attention. Second, I think I have the skills from my previous work to help Integrity USA find a path to a different level of mission in The Episcopal Church in light of the changes that took place at our General Convention this year and in light of the changes taking place in the secular world. These events represent one level of change regarding the LGBTQ community. There remains an inadequately addressed level at the diocesan and parish level to bring further full inclusion of LGBTQ children of God into the rich life of The Episcopal Church at all levels. Integrity needs to find that path and clear away the debris and make it a highway toward full inclusion in our church.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are You Called to Lead Integrity as President?

Integrity members have elected an extraordinary group of leaders to serve on the Board of Directors!  Each person elected will bring real value to our organization as Integrity builds upon the successes of General Convention. 

The position of President has not yet been filled.  We need someone with a love of service and heart for our mission to lead our dynamic new board.  Please consider nominating yourself or others to this ministry.

We need to receive your nomination by Friday August 28, 2015. You may submit an application to: nominate@integrityusa.org

In the application please include the following information:

  • Name, Address, Phone, Email
  • 2-3 paragraphs about yourself
    • your diocese and your experience with Integrity
    • the skills/experience you will bring to this position
    • why you think God may be calling you to this position

The only requirement to run is that you are a member of Integrity. So please make sure your membership is up to date!

You are welcome to contact Matt Haines (matt@integrityusa.org) or other current Board members if you want to know more about what’s involved.
Once nominations are closed, current members will be sent online ballots.

Please join us in praying that God will raise up leaders among us who can joyfully take on the responsibilities of this organization so that we may further God's kingdom together!
Below is the section from our bylaws describing the duties of the President. 

   Article 5. Duties of Officers

      Section 1. President

         A. If and when there is no Executive Director, the President shall be the

principal spokesperson for the organization and shall be the chief

representative of Integrity to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican

Communion, and other organizations domestic and foreign.

         B. The President shall chair meetings of the Board.

         C. The President shall have charge of, and may with the concurrence of the

Board, appoint committees and individuals to assist in carrying out the

programs and obligations of the organization; shall be a member ex-officio

of all committees and task forces; and shall make regular reports to the

membership of Integrity.

The full bylaws can be found on Integrity’s Website. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

What’s Next Integrity-- Are We Done? Are You Kidding?

What’s Next Integrity-- Are We Done?  Are You Kidding?

By:  Matt Haines, President

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”  Jesus of Nazareth  (LK 12:48)

We celebrate great gains these past several weeks!  We had many great successes at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.  The Sacrament of Marriage is now a reality for same-sex couples in our Church and will be available in most of our dioceses!  Our Church has condemned the evil torture of so called “Reparative (Conversion) Therapy”.  Transgender Episcopalians have asserted that their names are sacred and are to be recognized as holy within liturgy and church records; the Church concurred overwhelmingly.  The Episcopal Church has also voted to show solidarity with LGBTQ people in Africa and will lobby on their behalf.  Some might wonder—is Integrity is now finished with its mission.  Are we done?  Are you kidding me? 

·         Transgender people are being slaughtered on our streets weekly; suicide kills even more.

·         Gender-queer and Trans Christians often find our churches less than welcoming.  We must change this together.

·         Over 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ; most of them rejected by “Christian Homes”.

·         Over 70% of lesbians and gays tell the people they love about their orientation; bisexuals 28%.  This must improve if we are ever going to live in Integrity.  As a church and a movement we can no longer ignore the “B” in LGBTQ.  

·         All Dioceses must be held to the Gospel of Inclusion proclaimed by this Church.  We can no longer allow LGBTQ people, or children raised by LGBTQ couples, to be excluded from Holy Baptism!  Access to Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Unction, Penance, must be available to all the baptized.  All who feel called to vocations in Holy Orders and/or Marriage must be taken seriously and be given the opportunity to live those vocations out.

·         We must still lead the Anglican Communion and offer special help to LGBTQ people in the many provinces where our people face prison or execution!

·         Racism and sexism still plague our nation, church, and our movement.  Together we need to engage in understanding how male privilege and institutional racism work against true equality.

We are now ready to begin to work even harder, with God’s help and yours!  The Supreme Court has recognized our right to marry and the Episcopal Church recognizes our marriages as sacramental.  Rights are nothing if not exercised and sacraments are meant to empower us to serve this broken world in Christ’s name. 

Are we in the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert?  Maybe—some of us are.  If you find yourself there, rejoice and start building up Zion for those still on the way.  If you are still in the desert, look for one another and keep an eye out for Jesus.  Jesus knows the way!  We have been given so much, thus we are required to give even more back in return.  Please join in our efforts to live into this gospel call.