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Pushing for an Equitable Society

Well after yesterday’s post about Zac Efron wrestling a crocodile I felt like I should try a bit harder today. Someone even pointed out to me that the creature Zac Efron was wrestling was not, in actual fact, a crocodile. It was an alligator. As I said, I wasn’t trying very hard.

URUGUAYLast night I was thinking about Uruguay. On Wednesday Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to legalise same-sex marriage. Mostly I was quoting Homer Simpson to myself, but I was also thinking about how marriage equality isn’t the end game. In the same way that women and racial minorities are still discriminated against in particular ways, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are not going to be magically accepted by everyone once same-sex marriage is permitted. For example, I’m sure couples in Canada, Argentina, etc would still tell you about certain times and places they aren’t able/comfortable to hold hands in public. Understanding and acceptance of trans* people still has a long way to go.

My recent traipsing around from city to city has meant I’ve visited a lot of different churches—everything from Hillsong London and New York to MCC San Francisco. I don’t know what the “end game” is for LGBT people in churches. I thoroughly enjoyed the service at MCC, but I’m not convinced every LGBT-friendly church needs to look or act like that one.

Whatever it is, my prayer is that I will never lose my passion for making churches a safe place for people who don’t fit in, even after I personally feel safe in every church I attend. I hope the LGBT community doesn’t begin to rest on its laurels as acceptance of LGBT people increases. Perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but I’d like to think LGBT activists will continue to push for a more equitable society generally long after they have achieved equality for themselves.

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Choosing What’s Important

For many people, family are the ones they grew up with: their brothers and sisters, parents and extended family. I grew up with both my parents, but I am nine years younger than my next closest sibling. They were all moved out by the time I was 10, so for most of my childhood I grew up separately to the rest of my family.

Getting to know my brother and my sisters now as an adult has been truly wonderful.

I visit my sister Ceara and her family about once a year. Ceara is the oldest out of us and looked after me pretty often when I was younger. She’s married and has four kids of her own now. I never do much during my visits, just hang out with her, my brother-in-law and the kids. They live up in the north of California, near Sacramento.

It would be pretty easy to lose touch with them, staying friendly but never really seeing them. But now that I’m an adult I’ve learned you get to choose what’s important to you. My sister and her family live a long way away from me, but I choose to make them important.

I’m staying with them now. Today we went shopping and I bought some new clothes for my new job in Brisbane. This evening we ate soft tacos, chatted (“Is there a boyfriend on the scene or..?” “Nah.”) and after putting the kids to bed we sat and watched The Voice.

It’s not something you’d take photos of and brag about on Twitter, but in many ways this is still the most important part of my trip. Because they are important, because I love them.

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Death of Public Figures

Margaret Thatcher

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Today, Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Baroness of Kesteven and co-inventor of soft-serve icecream died, age 87—and people got opinions.

I’m 25, which means I was a toddler when she was ousted as Conservative Party leader in 1990. I’m not going to give a critique of her leadership or politics; I’m completely unqualified! Sure, I’m leery of the conservative side of politics (is anyone surprised?) but it’s impossible not to be impressed by her.

Celebrity culture is a strange thing. The public feels like it owns the identity of a famous individual, and therefore has the right to pick over their every utterance and action. It’s true that celebrities are active in the public sphere and need to expect a certain level of public scrutiny. It is, after all, part of the job. But I start to get uncomfortable when people’s identities become commodified, leading others to believe they own part of those identities. I think this accounts for the strange grieveing process we go through upon the death of a public figure; we think we have a stake in that person’s life, and so are entitled to act the ways we do.

Margaret Thatcher had a profound influence over many people’s lives, so I’m not surprised there is so much chatter surrounding her death (not to mention, this post makes me a contributior!) Perhaps there are folk who really are entitled to make comment so soon after her passing. Then again, perhaps not.

It just gives me something to think about. If my favourite politician or actor or YouTuber (!) died tomorrow, what would my reaction be? And what does that mean in terms of the way I treat public figures when they are alive?

As always, your thoughts in the comments are welcome.

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Rainbow-sticker places

Gay flag

That little rainbow

When around San Francisco, sometimes you see these little rainbow stickers above the doors of businesses. You see them in other places too (I saw them in London, even) but San Francisco is a place you see them pretty commonly.

It’s kind of funny, as a gay man, walking into a place with a little rainbow sticker above or next to the door. In many ways it makes no difference whatsoever. Like, is my burger or cocktail or eve  my antique really going to be of better quality because of a little rainbow sticker? No, of course not. The folk in that shop probably don’t even know I’m gay. Is the service I receive any different? You’d like to think that a rainbow-clad business would be happier or friendlier, but that might not always be the case. I went to a coffee shop on Valencia Street where the coffee was great but the staff were moody; they had a rainbow near their door.

But I still feel safe wherever I see that sticker. I can talk freely to my friend about who I’m interested in without worrying another patron will take offence to the pronouns I’m using; if I was dating someone, I could be affectionate without worrying about who was watching or how they would react; if I am there alone I might see a same-sex or trans* couple there and be reminded that I am not alone.

Essentially, that little rainbow sticker gives me permission to relax. I can stop thinking about the ways I fit in or don’t fit in, and instead just be myself. In a way San Francisco as a city is one big rainbow sticker, so I can understand why so many LGBT people come here.

In terms of my faith, because it is never far from my mind, my hope is that churches everywhere will become rainbow-sticker places. Not just for LGBT people, but for everyone. The rainbow flag represents many people coming together as one diverse community. In my past experience, church has been a place where people from many backgrounds come together seeking a common goal, serving a common God. I’ve met a few gay men while I’ve been in this city and had the odd experience of ‘coming out’ to them as a Christian. They’ve asked how my friends and family have reacted to my coming out, and they’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been maligned, ridiculed or kicked out; they say “I’m glad to hear your experience with them has been so different”.

It’s clear I’ve had it easy.

It makes me sad that so many of the folk I’ve met have experienced hardship simply because they no longer desire to hide the fact they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans*. The LGBT community is not the only group of people presenting a challenge to the status-quo in churches, and I believe the Church needs to be a place that loves unconditionally, just like Jesus did. This poses a challenge to me, because there are groups of people I find difficult to love. I’m not able to love them properly by myself; I need a community of people there with me to do it properly.

A rainbow-flag community of people with a wealth of experience from different backgrounds who can support each other to love those that are difficult to love—that is what I want the Body of Christ to be! I’ve seen shadows of it in the YouTube community, the LGBT community and the Christian communities I’ve been part of, so I know it is possible. It’s not necessary to have a physical rainbow sticker above every church door, but it is necessary to act like there’s one there; not just for the sake of people like myself, but for other people who struggle to find a home at church, or anywhere else for that matter.

But I cannot do it on my own.

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Re/Discovering New York

All good things must come to an end, and tonight is my last in New York City. My friend Amanda (who co-runs an amazing, but little-known news blog, Wonkistan) has generously let me stay in her apartment and eat all her granola. I’ve just come from a YouTube convention in Orlando too, but I’ll have to blog about that another day.

Manhattan SkylineWhen I was living on Iona I would see people get off the ferry with their mouths agape; they wanted to visit the island so badly all their lives and finally they had arrived! A ruined nunnery, swarthy little cottages, an oddly-shaped mountain and a looming stone abbey — it was all there, just like they’d seen in pictures and documentaries for years and years.

Isle of Iona

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My island — that of Manhattan — is a little more urban than Iona, but I couldn’t help but compare myself to those pilgrims as I saw the misty skyline of East Harlem through the window of my cab driving over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Not that this is a spiritual pilgrimage for me by any means, but I’ve spent my whole life watching movies and TV shows set in this city, and more recently reading books with stories so rooted here, that to pluck them from their New York setting would obliterate their meaning.

The Empire State BuildingIt means New York is simultaneously alien and eerily familiar to me. I haven’t dealt with these kinds of crowds or this volume of traffic in a long time, but the streets and the buildings and the parks and the bagels are exactly like I know from TV, and haven’t I seen those benches somewhere before? New York feels familiar, but there’s a profound sense of discovery as I walk the streets. It’s kind of addictive: what could there be around that corner? I’ll turn around after just one more block. No, just another block more. Actually, what’s that over there? Better check it out now or I might forget where it is and lose it forever.

I have wanted to visit New York all my life, and this week I finally made it.

Staying with Amanda has been wonderful, and as a New York City native, she has never experienced that sense of re/discovery like I have this week. She was highly amused by my borderline obsession with the squirrels in the park and did not quite grasp the trepidation I felt before using the subway for the first time. Whenever I find something in real life that I saw first on a screen I always try and remember so I can tell her about it, thereby helping her re/discover her city too.

Iona friends and I in New York

Iona comes to Manhattan

Tomorrow I leave for sunny San Francisco, but I’ve had a wonderful time in New York and I hope to return sooner rather than later. Amanda and I went to a Watsky show, rode the Staten Island Ferry, discovered an AMAZING vegan Chinese restaurant on the Lower East Side with our friend Kassie and had brunch in the West Village with friends.

I also met up with four friends I originally met on Iona. Iona and Manhattan certainly felt close that day.

If you want to check it out, Amanda and I made a video about my squirrel obsession affection.

Until tomorrow!

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