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RGOD2: Saluting the quiet army of people who make things happen

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda

My life rolls out in the next six weeks as a kind of nomadic pilgrimage from San Diego ending in Washington, D.C. for the World AIDS Conference.

It has taken eight months and an army of people to ensure 26 “authentic witnesses” from countries where it is illegal to be LGBT can tell their stories. It is almost impossible for LGBT people to access HIV prevention and health services in 76 countries. The archaic laws used to criminalize us are regulating a quiet genocide throughout the world, largely supported by religious organizations.

These witnesses have an important message and they are all doing incredible work. I only know four of these people even thought I am working my tail off to raise money to bring them to D.C. to tell their stories. They will be here for two weeks and they do not even know each other.

They too will begin a kind of pilgrimage -- much further and more dangerous than mine. I know what I will be returning home to in San Diego on Aug. 1, while these 26 witnesses have no idea what to expect – particularly if their work with us became public in their home countries. The last day together (on July 29) will be talking about their needs and support systems as they go back to do incredibly brave and unappreciated work.

I wish you could have read their bios. Some are very young, working to support their fellow LGBT people, some working in HIV, others are straight allies, journalists, scientists and clergy. They represent a quiet army of people determined to make things happen.

We are now beginning to book their airfares, and they have been busy making arrangements with the embassies to come here -- this is not an easy task. For example, our AIDS Director (married – straight -- public health expert) in Kampala, Uganda, was turned down by an official at the American Embassy because he told Robert that he had no connection to the USA! DUHHH! Even though we had invited Robert to speak at the World AIDS Conference about his experience training Ugandan doctors and nurses to serve LGBT people. Robert has been able to counter the homophobia in the health system where LGBT people remain terrified and humiliated to even ask for an HIV test!

So all over the world, people are moving out of their comfort zones, building new connections, looking for a way to share new ideas and hope, leaving friends and lovers in a quest to make the world a better place. This is “the wilderness of your intuition” as Alan Alda writes. They want to make their lives mean something. They want to make a difference.

This is what I mean when I talk about “the Spirit of 76” and we are catching it! We are being moved by the Spirit who is calling her children out of bondage and putting new photographs inside our heads –“What kind of a world do you want to live in my dear?” she teases and prompts each one of us.

San Francisco Pride

For some of us, we just sleep through it all. We will settle for the good life -- a partner, a good job and some fun to watch the gay pride parade without much disturbance from outside or “the other side.”

I had a couple of people who wanted to volunteer to help raise money for global equality at the San Francisco Pride celebrations next week while others couldn’t be bothered to support Bishop Christopher or “the Spirit of 76.” We may have a wonderful Pride celebration in San Francisco next weekend with the epic theme of Global Equality and I know we can find a dozen volunteers to ensure the work we have been planning for the past eight months can get a little bit of support with all the other San Francisco organizations.

The deeper question is: “How will global equality become a journey for all of us and not just a slogan on a T-shirt?” How do we live into the journey towards global equality?

There is a wonderful buzz that has been created in San Francisco when the Pride board chose the radical theme of Global Equality. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo convinced us, this was something that could help his movement and cause.

I know we are all going to learn amazing things from the 26 strangers who will come to D.C. in July and tell their stories. These stories will inspire us to move into a different place as an LGBT community. As long as we see ourselves as victims in any situation, the perpetrators keep us exactly where they want us. The journey demands we move beyond victimhood, to survival, and from survival to thriving. This is the journey each one of us is called to embark upon. It is an interior journey and we will meet the mentors and cheerleaders we need upon the way. I am living it. I know others living it too.

The L.A. scene – beyond Tinsel Town

Our “Energizer Bunny” leader, Bishop Christopher, arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday after travelling 24 hours from Kampala where it is very illegal to be gay. It’s not so easy at 80 years old to leave your wife and family and familiar surroundings to embark on a six-week journey.

The bishop cannot fund his nine full-time employees who work for LGBT equality in Uganda without this kind of trip right now. He was met by a gay couple, Lou Slimp and Terry Takeda, who live near Glendale. They are members of All Saints Church and provide wonderful love and hospitality to Christopher every time he passes through.

They will be coming to the premiere of the film “Call Me Kuchu” on Saturday evening at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film has already received four awards at the Berlin Film Festival. The bishop is featured in the film and was closely associated with the late David Kato and ended up presiding over his funeral when a near-riot took place. I spoke to the bishop two hours after the actual event, but seeing it all captured on film was totally surreal!

The film will be shown throughout his tour including at the Human Rights Watch exclusive preview in New York (it is sold out) and at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Tuesday, June 19. My good friend Allison Arngrim (Nelly Olsen) will be making a special appearance with the bishop and introducing the film to the Twin Cities on July 15, and it will be shown at the U.S. Capitol to underscore the need to protect the Global South from American-based fundamentalism.

This film is going to get a LOT of acclaim. The two young filmmakers Malika Zouhali-Worral from Brighton, England, and Katy Wright, from L.A., are BRILLIANT, and they care a lot about what is going on in Africa. This is undoubtedly the beginning of an amazing career for them where filmmaking can also be about change-making in the world. I love these very creative people who look through a lens and capture both what is particularly awesome about some human beings and equally horrifying. They are part of the army of quiet people who are changing the world.

The bishop is coming down to San Diego tonight (Friday night) to have dinner with Mitt Romney’s neighbors, a wonderfully committed gay couple, Tom Maddocks and Randy Clark, who have been very active locally for LGBT equality and serve on EQCA’s board. They made national headline news this week when it was discovered that some of Mitt’s neighbors are gay! Tom and Randy also volunteered for a while in Uganda and are eager to share stories with the bishop. When asked what people should bring to dinner, I replied, “a telescope!”

In praise of gay and straight couples

Two of the bishop’s favorite San Diegans will also be at the dinner party tonight. Rick and Lindy Miles helped bring PFLAG to Qualcomm many years ago and opened up corporate San Diego to helping to secure talented LGBT people in the workplace. As straight allies, they love the bishop and he stays with them.

The bishop has also become friends with their neighbor, an eye specialist who runs a very successful clinic in Tijuana. The Vidurras operated on the bishop and Mrs. Senyonjo’s eyes in the past two years for a fraction of what it would normally cost. Good people in our town! They are people who cross borders every day and have learned to live and move comfortably with people who are “not of their own kind.” This is the San Diego that I love. This is how we are changing our world too.

On Saturday the bishop is looking forward to catching up with more of his friends here. We are having a fundraising brunch hosted by another wonderful gay couple who go to my church, David Reicks and David Kochs. Brunch is from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, and a good chance for everyone to spend time with the bishop and support people who fight the Christian Right every day. You can buy a ticket here or make a donation to the St. Paul’s Foundation HERE.

My good Welsh priest friend Ian Davies from St. Thomas in Hollywood invited the bishop to preach on Sunday morning at 8 and 10:30 am and then he will be interviewed on IMRU before a second showing and panel about “Call Me Kuchu.”

Not to be outdone by L.A. and San Diego, our good friends of Men Alive, the Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus will have a reception for the bishop and Robin Voss, a local producer who made the life-changing film “What The Bible Tells Me So.” I have some good friends in Orange County who have always supported my work and people like David Przeracki and his partner CW Hung, Robin Saunders, Paul Wick and Ron Leon, Carl Stevens and Duffy Luca, Colin and Sue Stewart who are sponsoring a journalist coming from Cameroon to be with us in D.C. These folk are the salt of the earth! You can find out more about the Laguna event on Monday, June 18, from 6 to 9 pm. right HERE.

From surviving to thriving

On Monday evening, we will all go to bed and the next morning the bishop and I will board a plane for San Francisco for a week of meetings, pleading, begging and telling stories about how we change the way we think about being LGBT.

It will also be a joy to see the bishop in the role as a grand marshal. He is finally getting the recognition denied him for nearly 12 years when his church and society defamed him and his family. LGBT people wonder at why our straight allies sometimes take on our defamation and being around Christopher for these periods of time, I see how others are inspired to see how this 80-year-old is not only surviving, but he is thriving! He still needs lots of money and support from all of us, but there is a thriving quality about him in his retirement that is infectious.

Andrea Shorter and the Reverends John Kirkley and Tom Jackson are leading our week in San Francisco and behind them are the Diocese of California and Oasis and an army of “salt of the earth” volunteers who open up their hearts and homes to us. There are these wonderful people in all the places we will visit, all quietly working hard to build a road to a better place. They get to know each other through giving hospitality to strangers and meeting new friends and the world simply becomes smaller.

Behind every great person …

Next Tuesday, I will wake up and say goodbye to my partner. We will not see each other for six weeks. Christopher did the same to his wife Mary two days ago.

We sometimes forget to thank and recognize the quiet and strong loved ones who allow us to dream of a better world and hold us up when the journey can drain our energies. These loved ones are also the quiet presence of people who also make things happen. I wonder about the wives and partners and families of the people who will be journeying to D.C. in a month’s time. What are they hoping for? How will this “Spirit of 76” experience change each one of us and the world we are shaping?

I hope to write more about the forthcoming trip and about the people who make it all happen. It goes something like this: San Diego-L.A.-San Diego-Orange County-San Diego-San Francisco-New York-Minneapolis-Indianapolis-Washington, D.C.-Minneapolis-Washington, D.C.-San Diego (and home on Aug. 1!). Keep us all in your thoughts and prayers and catch the Spirit of 76!

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.

The bottom two photos on the left are of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda and the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego, visiting the grave of slain LGBT rights activist David Kato.