A surprising quote struck a chord, deep inside me. I never think about the work I do for LGBT equality as combating evil. The quote came from a recent interview with Colin Stewart, an Episcopalian from Orange County, who edits the international blog, Erasing 76 Crimes.
“The wrongness of homophobia hits me hard. It doesn't matter that I'm straight, because I don't devote time to the blog for my own self-interest, other than to feel that I'm doing what I can to combat evil.”
He got my attention!
The courage to “take a plunge”
When Colin retired from a very successful career in journalism two years ago, we both had no idea that we would be working together to amplify many extraordinary stories of courage and devotion to the noble cause of human dignity and achievement, often against all odds. The target population was the LGBT community and straight allies in 76 countries where it remains illegal to be LGBT and Colin felt compelled to use his professional skills to help tell their stories.
As a priest, I recognize this journey for Colin as primarily his sense of calling. The Mystery (some of us name as God) does call unlikely people into extraordinary adventures! It can happen at any age. A book called “The Third Age” by William Saddler describes the process for renewal and re-invigoration of our lives after 40 years old. Some other theorists who are changing the way we think about aging and work, would also claim that retirement is not an end but the pinnacle moment life has actually prepared us for. All of the work, ups and downs, challenges and little victories have prepared us for a unique “last gig for God.”
This is something that is totally counter-cultural, revolutionary and whether you are a religious person or not, it is a both a frightening and exciting gamble. For others, the spiritual growth we receive from these personal “plunges” into the abyss or unknown, can give us the energy we long for in the drudgery of certainty and free us from the coffins of what is predictable or respectable. People who have never been on fire or passionate about anything in their lives are assured of never burning out. We can find ourselves among the walking dead if we are not paying attention to these murmurings and callings inside and outside us. Some may discover we are already dead, but just haven’t fallen over yet. What Colin has done, and brilliantly so, is to have transformed a potentially cozy and safe retirement into the adventure of a lifetime that has linked his creative genius to millions of people around the planet with their genius and potential.
The wonders of Social Media
Now, only two years after his “plunge” and decision to create a blog, Colin’s online platform for LGBT activists gets around 50,000 hits a month and is expanding to include a French section, edited by Denis Leblanc from Canada.
Colin is one of three extraordinary individuals that St. Paul’s Foundation will be recognizing at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego on Sunday, June 1 with our Hero Awards. Last year, we recognized a Unitarian Universalist, Eric Isaacson, for his superb legal expertize used in California and Supreme Court deliberations, and a United Church of Christ pastor, Michael Scheunemeyer, for his courageous leadership over the years.
This year, we will honor Colin and two other activists who have been featured in this column: Angeline Jackson (who runs the only lesbian-only organization in Jamaica) and Dr. Thomas Muyunga from Uganda (featured in last week’s column):
My interview with Colin
AO: Colin, you have just returned from an important conference in Nairobi, can you talk about what you saw going on there and how it inspires you in your work here in California?
CS: For LGBT activists, last month's Pan-Africa International Lesbian Gay Association (ILGA) conference laid the foundation for increasingly powerful advocacy on behalf of justice and tolerance in a continent where LGBT people have been increasingly targeted as scapegoats by politicians and closed-minded religious leaders.
I was surprised and delighted to see so much active participation by activists who are people of faith, many of them ejected from mainstream denominations because they shun people on the basis of their sexual orientation.
For me, the conference was an important opportunity to get acquainted with African activists, whose work I hope will be made easier by improved communication locally and internationally through the Erasing 76 Crimes blog.
AO: One of the emerging issues we are seeing is the lack of resources for the French-speaking countries in Africa. How are you working with these communities?
CS: Activists from French-speaking countries in Africa are particularly at a disadvantage, because the majority of information about LGBT rights, as well as about HIV/AIDS, is in English.
French-speaking activists are often sidelined at conferences, so it was heartening to see that translators were on hand at the Pan-Africa ILGA conference, which meant that activists could understand each other in both English and French. Much more needs to be done to create a strong network for French-speaking activists, and I hope that the Erasing 76 Crimes blog will be able to help make that a reality. Bilingual editor Denis LeBlanc has recently joined me in working on the blog, which will help in that endeavor.
AO: I just returned from Cameroon earlier this year where you are regarded as a saint because of your work with CAMFAIDS and everyone I met there knows who Colin Stewart is! Can you say more about why Cameroon is so close to your heart?
CS: There's a special place in my heart for Cameroon, one of the world's most repressive countries for LGBT people. Cameroon was the home of Eric Lembembe, the first journalist/activist to work with me on the Erasing 76 Crimes blog. Before Eric was murdered last summer, we worked together to produce 34 articles in French and in English about the injustices perpetrated there against the country's LGBT citizens.
The San Diego ceremony
Colin will be sharing more about his work on a panel at the Cathedral Forum at 9 am Sunday, June 1. He will be a guest of honor at the celebration brunch at noon.
Tickets and information can be obtained HERE.
“Be patient. God is not finished with me yet!”
Clearly, the good Lord has not quite finished with Colin Stewart. Many people look forward to retirement as a period of slowing down or doing something unrelated to one’s previous professional portfolio. Retirement has brought a surprisingly new vigor and focus to Colin, allowing him to begin a new chapter of his life where he is producing his best work ever.
He is mentoring and is respected by hundreds of activists all over the world for a ministry which brings hope and inspiration to thousands more. He amplifies voices that are needing a larger platform to tell their amazing stories and he has been doing this long enough as a person of faith to see the difference between good and evil. We don’t often think of this work as challenging or even combatting evil … but Colin has been covering these issues so comprehensively that we can see the patterns of evil, injustice and systemic violence country by country in a way we could not see it before.
His blog can help us see how an isolated incident is in fact related to a pattern of terror and discrimination in a particular country by reporting on previous occurrences. As others would wish these atrocities to simply vanish into the past, and many respected institutions are clearly culpable through his reporting, this collection of stories and testimonies will bear witness for generations to come simply how others overcame enormous obstacles, (like Thomas or Angeline who will be honored with Colin next month) while showing grace, courage and service to others. It is this leadership and heroism that we honor. Colin’s careful and deliberate documentation of this era assures us that future generations will not forget the price that was paid so others could simply be free.
Next week’s column will be give readers an update on another hero work, Angeline Jackson, since her href="http://sdgln.com/news/2013/03/08/rgod2-angeline-jackson-lesbian-activist-homophobic-jamaica" target="_blank">last interview in March 2013.
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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 RGOD2 appears on SDGLN and GLBTNN.