Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Illinois: the Land of Abs

For many years, Illinois has been proud of its state motto "Illinois: the Land of Lincoln." No more. Due to the recent election of two remarkably attractive statesmen from Illinois, our motto will soon be changing to "Illinois: the Land of Abs."

Why you ask?

You've probably already seen Exhibit #1, a photo of our former U.S. Senator and current President during his recent holiday vacation in Hawaii. I saw it splashed across the cover of a supermarket tabloid beneath the headline "Obama's Pec-tacular Vacation". In case you haven't seen the shot, here goes:

Wowzers. When was the last time the U.S. had a president that looked so good shirtless?

But Obama's not the only hottie statesman from Illinois. Last November, my own congressional district here in Peoria elected Aaron Schock to the U.S. House of Representatives. Schock has already received the dubious of honor of being named the hottest congressional freshman by Huffington Post readers. But it's easy to see why--the kid is a major cutie. That's nothing new. However, pec-tacular photos of Schock at a Peoria pool party and on a recent Caribbean vacation have recently surfaced on the interwebs. I give you Exhibits #2 and 3:

Jeepers! I like how Joe.My.God. puts it: "This is a Republican congressman?"

Exhibit #4 is, of course, yours truly. Be on the lookout for my own chiseled photo which will be appearing on the covers of the next editions of the supermarket tabloids. LOL.

So there you have it: Illinois--the Land of Abs. And now back to your regularly scheduled lives.

Writing Back to Santa

Wow. That survey was intense! I spent somewhere between one and two hours last night completing the survey of ex-ex-gay individuals being conducted by Anessa Santa at the University of Montana. The survey I received was 14 front-and-back pages long! While there were a few things I would have changed about the survey (heck, I just administered an internal survey at Caterpillar, Inc., and in retrospect I wish I had phrased a few of my own questions differently), I really must commend Ms. Santa for creating a very thorough evaluation.

The first few pages were devoted to collecting demographic information--but slightly more in-depth information than most surveys ask. For instance, Ms. Santa not only asks about one's marital status, but she also asks about the gender of one's spouse, and one's marital status (and gender of spouse, if there was one) prior to and during ex-gay therapy. Interesting.

The most complicated portion of the survey also appeared in the demographic section--the assessment of one's orientation. Ms. Santa presented me with the original Kinsey scale (0 to 6, hetero to homo) and also a matrix that measured orientation in terms of physical and emotional attraction, fantasy, and social interaction. Adding another dimension, Ms. Santa asked me to evaluate my orientation with each of these different metrics at three different points in time and one aspirational time: before, during, and after my participation in ex-gay therapy and also (this was interesting) what I considered to be ideal orientation for me. Phew. That was complicated!

A final insightful component of the demographic data collected by Ms. Santa was religious identification and spiritual experience before and after ex-gay therapy. This portion was far more than a "select your denomination from the following list". Rather, Ms. Santa asked about life-changing spiritual experiences and when they occurred. She posed a bevy of questions about how I conceive of God, my participation in a religious community, and how God and I relate to each other. While completing this section, I found myself grateful that my husband and I have recently had a deep conversation about spirituality; having recently had the opportunity to articulate and talk through my convictions, I found I was able to complete this section of the survey rather rapidly.

The middle sections sought to measure consequences--good and bad--from my time in ex-gay therapy. I thought it was cool that Ms. Santa not only asked about harms, but also about benefits. I was happy to complete the short answer section about the good that ultimately came from my time as an ex-gay, most notably the most awesome set of friends I can imagine. Ms. Santa also inquired about harms, and I thought it was insightful that she asked about multiple different types of harms that may have been experienced. My friend Peterson Toscano has recently enumerated the variety of harms he and others experienced as a result of their ex-gay years; I was delighted to find that Ms. Santa asked questions about many of the same types of harms: relational consequences, emotional and psychological consequences, the financial cost of the therapy, consequences to careers and educations, and alcohol abuse. It was very thorough.

The latter sections were devoted to understanding the particular ex-gay programs I had participated in. I had let Ms. Santa know I was involved in two different ex-gay programs, so she sent me an extended survey with separate questions for each of the programs. I appreciated that Ms. Santa was not treating all ex-gay therapies as the same--and I'd be very interested to see the spectrum of responses she receives! I've heard of some pretty wacky sh*t being done in the name of reorientation; I wonder what craziness will be reported by participants in this study!

Folks, while imperfect, this is a very thorough survey that has the potential to result in a lot of good work. If Ms. Santa can find a wide enough sample base, the results she compiles could be a powerful force for moving forward the scholarship on ex-gay therapies and their consequences. If you are an ex-ex-gay, please participate. All you need to do is send an email to Anessa containing your mailing address and requesting a survey. If you know ex-ex-gays, please invite them to participate in this survey.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Letter from Santa...

I just returned to my apartment in Peoria after a wonderful weekend in Champaign with my husband and discovered a thick envelope in my mailbox from Santa. That's Annesa Santa, a doctoral student in the department of psychology at the University of Montana. Ms. Santa is conducting a study on the experiences of ex-ex-gay individuals--people like me who once participated in ex-gay programs and who now identify as gay or lesbian.

I've open the envelope and flipped through the extensive questionnaire it contains; looks rather thorough. I'm planning to set aside a decent chunk of time one evening this week that I can devote to completing it.

Do you, gentle reader, happen to be an ex-ex-gay individual? If so, please send an email to Ms. Santa and inquire about participating in the study. The survey results are anonymous and participants will receive $15 compensation for their time completing the questionnaire. Do you happen to know any ex-ex-gay people? Please let them know about this. The more participants, the more data, and the stronger the conclusions that can be drawn and reported in the peer-reviewed literature.

If you would like more information on the study, you can also contact Professor Bryan N. Cochran, who is the principle investigator for the study.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Casting out the Demon of Homosexuality in the Name of Jesus

I was disturbed when I came across these videos yesterday. Reminds me of when I underwent two exorcisms to rid me of the "demon of homosexuality." I wish I could say that this stuff is exaggerated... but my experience was similarly out of control. Lots of pastors screaming, praying, singing, feverishly shouting "in the name of Jesus". It was utter chaos. I went into a panic attack.

Geez. This really takes me back. It's so sad that people are so afraid of being gay that they are willing to submit themselves to abuse like this. It's so sad that others are so afraid of gay people that they are willing to perpetrate this insanity on others. I wish I could transport back ten years and tell myself about the wonderful, fulfilling, heartwarming relationship I have now with my husband.

Makes me think about the poor young man at the center of these videos. I wonder how he's doing now. I hope he's okay.

Hat tip: joe.my.god.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Standing Up for Civil Unions

Warning: long post!

The struggle for equal civil rights for gays and lesbians is being waged all around the U.S. I've watched with particular interest the supreme court cases over marriage equality in California and Iowa. Now a similar struggle--not for "marriage" but for "civil unions"--is brewing here in my own state. Last Thursday, the Illinois house committee on Youth and Family approved HB2234, the "Civil Unions and Religious Freedom" Act, which would allow gay and lesbian couples access to all the state-level legal benefits of marriage.

But this isn't the first time a civil unions bill has made it out of committee. Similar civil union bills have been introduced in the legislature for the past two years, but have never made it to the floor of the house or senate for debate and voting. This is no accident; the legislators who have crafted these bills are aware of the political firestorm they are likely to invoke when brought before the legislature. They have decided to try persuading their colleagues to support the bill before it ever appears before the full legislature, and they have decided not to bring it up for a vote until they are assured of its passage. Last year we came close: I am told that we had enough votes in the state senate to pass the bill, but we were 8 votes short in the house.

This year I felt inspired to get into the civil unions fight myself. A few months ago, I watched from afar as my buddy Pomoprophet doggedly fought against Prop 8 in California. Now that the struggle for equality is on my home turf, I've decided to get involved.

So, this past Monday night, I drove over to the Peoria Salvation Army Community Center for a joint townhall meeting with my state representative Jehan Gordon and my state senator David Koehler. My goal was to state my support for civil unions and encourage these officials who represent me to do the same.

There is so much to tell about Monday night. It was not my first townhall meeting with an elected representative--I had been to two before while I was living in Champaign-Urbana. But this meeting was unique. It was remarkably interactive. Previous townhall meetings I've attended were dominated by the elected official. Not so with this meeting. After opening remarks (which included a discussion of the recent unprecidented impeachment of our former governor--wow, what a state!), congresswoman Gordon and senator Koehler opened the meeting to anyone who wished to speak.

My emotions surged with the thought that I should stand up at this point and make my statement. But I decided to watch and listen and see how this meeting was going to go. I'm glad I did.

The meeting was dominated by economic issues. Let me remind the reader that I live in Peoria, a midsized city in downstate Illinois that is home to heavy equipment giant Caterpillar, Inc. Caterpillar is a Fortune 50 company that employs some 116,000 people worldwide. Well, at least it used to employ that many people. The global economic crisis has slashed Cat's income from $50 billion in 2008 to a projected $40 billion this year. With that 20% cut in income, the company has shed almost 20% of its employees; 22,000 layoffs that have been announced since December of last year.

The townhall meeting was filled with people who had lost their jobs. Our community has been flooded with unemployed people and employment is nowhere to be found. Of course I knew this as fact from the news reports I have heard--but I still go to work every day, and I still work next to other employed people. Monday night was my first opportunity to spend time with a lot of people who are unable to provide income for their families. The union presence was strong, but I had a sense that what was going on transcended union alliances; these people were desperate.

As I mentioned earlier, this conversation dominated the meeting. And you know what? I'm glad it did. And I'm glad I shut up and listened and had the opportunity to learn for an hour. I was impressed with the back-and-forth conversation between the community and the elected officials. Time was shared equally. Both sides asked questions of the other. And the elected officials explained the steps they were taking to address the jobs issue. Moreover, I had the sense that they were actually going to modify or tweak their plans and legislation based on the discussion that took place in that room.

As the meeting passed an hour, Senator Koehler asked if anyone who had not had a chance to speak would like to do so. I'll admit it--I was afraid. But with a deep sense of purpose and a rush of adrenaline, I stood up.

I didn't talk long. I just said that I wanted to briefly change the subject to a domestic issue. I let everyone in the room know that a bill that would legalize civil unions in Illinois had passed committee last week--and in my recollection, the room became very quiet at that point. There had been a lot of fidgeting from restless people who had hotly discussed their families' futures for an hour, but all that ceased. I pressed on into the silence.

I told the senator and representative that I wanted to encourage them to vote in support of civil unions if the bill was to make it to their respective chamber this year. And I asked them if they would let me know how they plan to vote.

And then, blood pounding in my head, I sat down.

Senator Koehler spoke first. "Yes. In fact, I am the sponsor for the bill in the Senate." Wow. I'm sure a relieved expression washed over my face as I mouthed the words "thank you" as the senator continued to speak. Senator Koehler apparently feels quite passionately about civil rights for gays and lesbians. I learned Monday that he is a minister in the United Church of Christ, and that night he took the opportunity to give the audience a short sermon on fairness and equality. I was blown away--not only that my senator supports the civil unions, but because he was willing to spend so much time talking about LGBT issues.

Congresswoman Gordon had much less to say--possibly because the senator had already taken up so much time--but she let the room know that she also supported civil unions and intended to vote for the bill if it is introduced in the house. At that point, the officials asked if anyone else in the room would like to comment or ask questions.

I thought "here it comes. Here comes the firestorm."

Nothing. Silence. The meeting moved on. Eventually education was brought up and discussed for about ten minutes. Finally, the legislators were wrapping up the meeting. They asked for one more question. And then it came.

A middle-aged man sitting near me asked, "these unions you talked about earlier--I heard they are anti-marriage. Aren't they anti-marriage?"

"Here we go" I thought. "We're going to have the big argument now."

But the big argument never came. Senator Koehler asked the man to clarify what he meant by "anti-marriage". The guy wasn't too clear, he said something to the effect that he had heard civil rights for gays and lesbians meant people would no longer be allowed to marry in Illinois. It was so odd hearing him say that. But I thought of all the propaganda I've heard that LGBT folks are destroying marriage in America, etc. etc. It was so interesting to realize that the bizarre statement this man just tried to articulate was the way that sound byte had been understood by this everyday guy.

Senator Koehler quickly put the man's fears to rest. Marriage would not be eliminated in Illinois. People who were married before would be married after.

And with that statement, the townhall meeting ended. I was so encouraged.

But not as encouraged as I was later that evening. There's one major detail I haven't told you about this townhall meeting--both my parents were there (long story, I'll explain it in a subsequent post--there is so much to write about their visit). But I will say this: as a direct result of the townhall meeting--no kidding--my mother said she supported civil unions. I was blown away.

So I left the townhall meeting glowing. I had learned that both my elected officials are supportive of equality under the law (albeit it separate and unequal, but that's an argument for a different day). Moreover, at least two people who were confused or opposed to civil unions before the meeting (my mother and the guy who asked the anti-marriage question) had misunderstandings corrected. And civil unions in Illinois gained at least one more supporter :-)

All because I was willing to stand up in a townhall meeting in the Peoria Salvation Army Community Center.