Meanderings from Minneapolis

Sunday Evening, February 6, 2011

I lost some momentum on these posts after a long, intense, productive day at Creating Change on Thursday. Then Gil was off to New York City on Friday morning, and I flew to Chicago that afternoon where I still am in the midst of LOTS of snow.

But last Thursday morning we started off at the "Practice Spirt, Do Justice" opening session where I reunited with people who I'd worked with back in the day with the Welcoming Church Movement and Reconciling Ministries Network. It was so good to see Michael Adee, who is still working with zeal with the Presbyterian More Light Churches. Don't know how he does it except for the fact that he has such a bright spirit.

There were a few others who I knew in that work from the late 1990s when the Task Force and People for the American Way started the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, a group of interfaith leaders working for change in their respective faith networks. The roundtable was the first step for a national LGBT organization to focus attention on religious organizing. Now, 13-14 years later, the Task Force, HRC, GLAAD, and other national groups are much more involved and committed to supporting the work of religious organizations. Or, maybe I should say that their support has grown and strengthened as there were always leaders who could see the larger picture where queer people of faith had a significant role to play in the LGBT equality movement. Michael introduced me as "a pioneer" of the movement, which I found interesting because I knew so many that came before me; but the more I saw how far the partnership between faith groups and the larger movement had come, I accepted my pioneer status.

Gil and I stayed for only the opening session before we started a morning and afternoon of meetings. As I admitted in earlier meanderings (below), I'm not the best at sitting in meetings/workshops no matter how interesting, so I was not disappointed in the least. What is so heartening is that people are hearing about Truth in Progress from other circles. The contacts, web presence, and networks are really paying off. More and more, I feel that I'm just along for the ride on an adventure that's bigger than us. That's a good sign, that means that Truth in Progress stands on its own merits. We had some very encouraging meetings with potential funders and national networkers that will take us to a whole other level of dialogue. What this will look like is still emerging, but it's enough to say that we are very encouraged.

We had some fun at lunch. Finishing an hour before our next meeting, I was scanning the tables around us to see whom we might talk to. I saw a nice heterosexual couple that I pegged for being PFLAG parents. They didn't have the Creating Change name tags on, but they had that friendly open manner of parents of "gays." Plus the woman had on a rainbow pin in the shape of fish. I told Gil that my mother has a rainbow ribbon on her luggage so that people who know about Gay Pride and rainbows will know she's one of them (that would be my explanation). It's worked. One time in an airport, a woman asked my mother if the ribbon had political significance or was just a decoration. You can imagine the lively conversation that went from there. Mom had another lesbian friend and the woman had no doubt about the ribbon not being a decoration. I told all of this to Gil so he decided he would go over and talk to them. As he got up from the table steadied himself with his cane he asked what the line was again about political significance or decoration but was off before I could answer. I could hear the woman saying, "Yes, it's a rainbow but also a Christian fish to remind people that the church needs to get its act together about gay issues." Or something like that. I said to myself, "bingo."

I joined the table and formally met Ron and Myrna Ohmann from St. Cloud, Minnesota, who were indeed involved in PFLAG, but were there working with Fortunate Families, a group that was part of a new coalition of LGBT positive groups "within" the Catholic Church. They were wonderful, energetic, passionate, positive, astute activists and very fortunate parents. Gil is on the national PFLAG board so it was a nice connection all the way around.

Other gleanings of the day was an ongoing Femme-Butch 101 lesson for Gil.

"Why were they calling that woman a femme? Was that a nice thing to say?" "Yes, she is proud of her dress and lipstick."

Another time, "Does her suit and tie have significance?" "Yes, she is more of a soft butch."

Thinking back on the Birmingham Pride parade, "That motorcycle group that you road with, were they your type?" "No, in fact, I've never felt like such a girl. I thought I should say something friendly to the petite woman who had given me a lift so I leaned up and asked her what kind of motorcycle we were on. To which she responded, 'Don't lean over, I won't be able to hold us up.' No, I was out of my league there."

We also had many discussions about the acceptance, sometimes non-acceptance, of white people at black events and whether or not straight allies are welcome at LGBT events. It took a lot of convincing to communicate to Gil that as a 77-year old man and an African American retired pastor and a Civil Rights foot soldier, he was way beyond welcome. He was so rare that he was welcome beyond anything he could conceive of and that whenever I mention his name in calls or on email, I hear expressions of respect for him. That this doesn't happen for everyone.

Others noticed his uniqueness. When we walked into the lobby on Thursday morning, there were queer people milling about with Creating Change pink lanyards around their necks. There was a woman marked with a US Bank name tag stationed at the escalator on each floor picking out people who might be attending their meeting. Even when he was standing between me and a man, having a conversation, a woman came up to Gil and asked him if he needed directions. I pointed this out to Gil later when we sat in the lobby picking out people with the conference and those who may have just happened to be staying at the hotel. "Surprise!"

Gil and I were in New York summer before last on the day that Obama was to speak at the 100th NAACP annual meeting. We went to the conference hotel. He pointed out various groups and people as we walked through the lobby and road the elevator up to a ballroom where we took our picture next to a sign that listed Obama's speaking engagement. That experience at the NAACP meeting for me was probably as foreign as Creating Change was for Gil. Both signify the worlds that we bring together, mix and match, hold separately, but also offer with trust to one another.

Wednesday Evening, February 2, 2011

Today our schedule was completely open, so much so that we wondered if we'd come a day too early. Our plan was to go over to the Hilton, the conference hotel, at 10 this morning, hang out in the lobby, and see what would happen. We didn't make it there until 4:00. What happened instead was that I went down for a quick though late breakfast, checking texts on the way. We had been trying to meet up with Sung Won Park of Believe Out Loud and had tentatively scheduled a time for noon at the Hilton. However he sent a text saying that he was staying at the same hotel as us, the Millennium. I wrote him back hoping to change our meeting place so we could stay inside. (Have I mentioned that is bitter cold here?!). I then went into the hotel restaurant. As I was getting settled into a booth nearby the only other occupied table, I overheard someone introducing a man named Sung. I waited a minute until I decided that I might as well see if this was the same Sung whom I had talked to by phone months back, who now serves on our National Advisory Panel, and one I'd been exchanging texts with. Yes, indeed, he was the one. He was having a breakfast meeting so we agreed that we'd meet back in our lobby at noon. I then got on the phone to have Gil come to the restaurant.

Meanwhile, a man came in and greeted Sung. I overheard Sung call him Macky. Well, there was a Macky that I'd exchanged a brief email with several months ago, a filmmaker who works at Auburn Theological Seminary. This Macky was placing a to-go order. I got up again and introduced myself saying, "are you Macky Alston?" Indeed he was. I reminded him of our email exchange, and on cue, in walks Gil. Macky sat with us for about 20 minutes discussing the project, Gil's upcoming speaking engagement at New York Theological Seminary, and an idea for a press statement by the Task Force about the choice of Charlotte, North Carolina, as the location of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Just another breakfast with Gil. By the end, I was calling around to find someone to film Gil's presentation at Stony Point Conference Center outside of New York City. Gil wrote a statement about the convention choice and later I sent it off to the media staff at the Task Force and GLAAD. By then it was noon and we met up for a stimulating and humor-filled time with Sung in Gil's suite. I captured some on film and will post on our video blog. By the way, somehow Gil drew the big nice condo-sized two-room suite, big enough for a meeting of 25 people. He says that it's about reparations or some such.

So our day went, serendipitous meetings one after another. We made it to the Hilton and immediately ran into PJ Serrano, one of the men I had mailed the press statement to. He was sitting with the Task Force's senior press person. Then we went upstairs to stand outside one of the People of Color institutes to see who might talk to us. We chatted with one of the presenters. I spotted a woman that looked vaguely familiar. Once I saw her name tag, I realized it was the Deputy Executive Director of the Task Force the Rev. Darlene Nipper who I exchanged email with last year to try to meet at Creating Change in Dallas, but we weren't able to make that work. We caught her today as she was leaving the workshop room, and I introduced us. Her eyes lit up when she heard Gil's name, and she said, "you are exactly the person I've been looking for." How much fun is this? She has squeezed us into her very tight schedule for tomorrow.

The evening was filled with the same --connections, recognition, reunions, people-watching. Gil picked up a flyer with the slogan "Syphilis can come in beautiful packages" overlaid on a picture of a handsome young black man. It was an advertisement for free syphilis and HIV testing at a men's bar. Gil asked if this was a prelude to sex. I quipped, "It's at a gay men's bar. It's all a prelude to sex." Gil chucked. We continued to watch people running to greet each other with bear hugs; a young man just coming in from outside wearing shorts (there's one in every crowd); and a beautiful mixture of fashion, color, age, facial hair, and mittens.

More people arrived. It was wonderful to see the Rev. Nancy Wilson Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Church. It has easily been over ten years since Nancy and I last saw each other. She is one of the wise women of the longtime LGBT equality movement and someone significant in my early coming out years. She is one of the speakers for the opening plenary session. The Task Force this year is highlighting the religious/multi-faith organizers and voices in the movement.

Tomorrow we will attend a day-long (yikes) institute "Practice Spirit, Do Justice." We get to skip out for a couple of appointments, that might help un-glaze my eyes.

Wednesday Morning, February 2, 2011

Gil arrived safely yesterday afternoon with only a short delay at Newark. Prior to when I told the hotel shuttle drivers Monday night and Tuesday morning that I was meeting a friend and going to a conference, the assumption was that my friend was a woman. I guess we are as Gil says, "the odd couple."

After dinner we registered for the event. We were stumped when staff member Cliffie asked what Gil's title was so she could put it on his nametag. We settled on co-conspirator. As she was typing it into her laptop, we second-guessed ourselves and asked Cliffie if it really was okay. She said, "It's Creating Change, anything goes." We knew that, really, we did.

So later when Gil asked her if I could go to a People of Color workshop and Gil go to the white supremacy workshop, she did not bat an eye. However we checked with someone else who checked with someone else, and we found out that the white one was sold out and the POC ones were for POC only. Later Gil pointed out that the only workshop offered for white people to go to was the white supremacy one, that all the others were for POC, so of course it sold out. Pretty darn funny.

For those of you in MT and Idaho with the White Supremacy groups with their guns and singing twin daughters, this workshop is called "Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles.” I'm actually relieved it's sold out. I've been to more than enough conferences and workshops for a couple of lifetimes that it's hard for me to sit through an hour let alone a whole day. Thursday will be a challenge. Gil tells me that it's because I'm more evolved. I think it's that I have a low tolerance for boredom and the anticipation of being in a crowded room that I can't easily and politely (both) escape, makes my eye twitch.

So, for today, I have it easy. We will troll the lobby outside the meeting rooms for interesting (or not) conversations.