Seeing Beauty, Safety, and Acceptance In A Gay Bar

The view nowadays is quite a bit different, and altogether better...

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Aspen (not his real name) always says hello, checks in to see what’s happening in my world, and has two outfits for his shift at the Parliament House. His first outfit is usually a fun t-shirt of some sort and shorts. He’s very fit, blond, and sequential.

Sequential? Yes. He likes, and I would guess that he enjoys order. It isn’t so much that there is a method to his madness, he’s all method in the midst of the merry Parliament House madness. The way he lines up the white plastic cups with ice, in rows, in a strategic place right above the well is a work of art. He’s incredibly efficient with his distribution, and reclamation, of drink napkins. His movements along those lines are almost a ballet of its own. He is very alert to wipe down the counters any time a drink’s condensation leaves a ring or a small spill from a sloshed drink mars the dry surface…

Aspen, yeah… he got this. Sequential.

Then around 11 pm Aspen changes into his second outfit. That pretty much consists of everything he is wearing, coming off. There goes the shirt, neatly folded, rolled up and tucked away. And then there go the shorts, neatly folded, rolled up and tucked away. Aspen then starts serving up drinks with his sequential method in full effect in underwear that defies gravity and probably costs more than my car.

I like Aspen. He’s good looking, yes. But I like him because he just seems so …normal. Yes, almost naked in underwear that looks like something out of Cirque De So Incredibly Gay, but for someone who barely knows him, he just seems like a regular guy trying to do a good job.

Scanning to my left I see Tilda. Of course, not her real name because I don’t know her at all, but she looks like a Tilda to me. She is trans. She is tall with long flowing, wavy, blond, hair. Tilda was wearing a traditional little black dress flowing down to mid-thigh, and stars all over her leggings. The cosmos leggings were quite distracting so I didn’t catch what her shoes (heeled boots maybe?) looked like. She was animated and telling the handsome Native American man next to me that the lesbian couple on the dance floor was incredibly hot.

I looked over and smiled as I saw these women laughing, smiling, dancing and enjoying the evening. They were the first couple on the dance floor before it would soon become packed.

The 10 pm Footlight Players show finished, and the large crowd flooded out of the theater, down the mirrored hallway and into the various bar stations. Young, old, flamboyant, not flashy, a few Hipsters laughing into their phones, an abundance of Pulse memorial ribbons/t-shirts, blingy outfits, not blingy outfits, every body shape, every fashion choice possible from Macy’s clearance (where my shorts came from) to one woman who seemed like she was straight up from Miami in her Haute Couture… every variety of person possible started migrating through the bar.

Many of course flocking to Aspen’s neatly arranged and efficiently running landing pad as he served up his sequential drink realness to the manifesting merriment.

Usually, when I go out, I will have one (maybe two) overpriced drinks and then wind down with a diet coke before heading home. I usually try to escape the merry madness before the witching hour (12 am). Last night I got home before midnight and still felt it was super late.

At 11:15’ish pm, as I walked back to Hubert the Humble Hybrid. I was completely sober and grateful for the diet coke delivered caffeine to keep me awake as I drove the 20+ miles home. While driving, I marveled at how different my experience with gay bars is today as compared to when dysfunctional me lived in them the first time I came out (in the ’80’s). Yes, there is dysfunction and “wild” party type things that happen (as it does in every community), but I am not and cannot be the dysfunctional person I was back then.

Plus, nightclubs are entertaining enough without additives or ending up in a pile of people at Waffle House at 3 am.

What I saw last night, and really since I have come back out, is that gay bars are just one of many safe havens in the LGBTQ community. Every community has pros and cons; good and bad relational dynamics. But what I saw last night was a broad variety of very diverse people who felt safe and enjoyed a fundamental level of freedom and acceptance.

To date, I’ve never seen anything like that (fundamental level of freedom and acceptance that includes LGBTQ people) in the church. My view has been limited to the conservative church, and I have been on a church “sabbatical” for about a year now. I readily admit my experience is not a completely accurate observation for the “church” at large (i.e. progressive, liberal, affirming, etc.) I think I am ready to find, support and/or create that type of haven for our community members of faith.

I know this, our Creator knows every single name of every single person in the bar last night. He knows how the beautiful woman with the Miami vibe thinks and feels as many in the room assess her “look” as she walks through. He knows what is making the Hipsters laugh into their phones and enjoys the sound of their chuckling. Our Creator knows Tilda’s real name and why she likes stars so much. Jesus knows the lesbian couple’s story, the steps they have journeyed and will journey together. He knows the handsome Native American man’s name, story, who told me how funny the drag show was.

While I am pretty sure that Aspen’s underwear was constructed in the devil’s temptation factory :::laugh::: (just teasing), I am convinced Aspen brings a smile to our Creator’s face when his sequential gifting manifests in the midst of all this merry madness.

Overall, I believe our Creator is pleased when all of His children can simply be themselves in a fundamentally free and accepting environment.

Beautiful.

May safe havens increase in every sector of our community; starting with those safe havens existing for others in our hearts.

randy_sig

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Sunday Offering: Anchoring Points in a Tempest of Distraction

"We are family." Yes, we are.

we are family

The below “anchoring points” help keep me focussed on what is important. The truth is that you lovely peoples 🙂 are far more important than the tempest of distraction that assaults us every single day. It’s the highest priority to do everything possible to keep and protect that truth.

While seasons change and spheres of relationships ebb and flow, I want people to know they are cared about and loved. I genuinely believe we are all family (in the greater scheme of things.) That’s the focal point the below points spring from. I hope you find them encouraging and maybe even helpful.

So, here goes…

Anchoring points:

  • Explore, Discover and share Beauty in all its manifestations.
    • Resist pessimism and cynicism from within and coming from external sources.
  • Assert humor.
    • Not at someone else’s expense. Unless it is Donald Trump. FINE, ok not even then, but unless he ..ok…not even then.
  • Engage with encouragement.
    • Be specific; often.
    • Swim against the tide of discouragement.
  • Seek to be life-giving; energizing.
    • Avoid time hijacks and energy drains. Avoid hijacking someone else’s time and draining their energy.
  • Focus on and amplify what is good and true.
    • Be careful with confrontation; only do so if it promotes, preserves, and enhances life for the greater good (remember MLK).
  • Speak to what you know
    • Don’t talk past what you know. DON’T talk past what you know… Randy…shhh… do you really know what you are talking about? It’s ok if you don’t.
  • Love Jesus, love people …
    • and don’t be an asshole about it; no condescension, minimization, generalization.
    • reflectively listen first
  • In all things, keep it simple.
  • Spiritually, we are family, all of us.

So, there’s that! If you have any thoughts or additional “anchoring points,” I would love to hear them in the comments, social media or if you are shy 🙂 privately. Have a great day.

randy_sig

 

First Month Anniversary of Pulse Nightclub Attack

pulse memorial DR Phillips lawn

It’s Tuesday morning, July 12th. Today is the one-month anniversary of the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub killing 49 and wounding 53 beautiful LGBTQ souls. While there is a void where these beautiful Latinx brothers and sisters were taken from us, even in our grief our community (local and at large) has shown strength and become stronger. The amazing love I have seen in action as well as received by and extended from our community is something that has been deeply inspiring and life-changing.

We are first-hand witnesses to the fact that Love does conquer hate in the moment and in the long run.

If you haven’t given, or would like to make another contribution, please donate to OneOrlando.org. It is a fund set up to help those affected by the tragedy.

randy_sig
The photo at the top of this post was taken of one of the many pop-up memorials to the victims. It was on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center at the candlelight vigil the Monday night after the attack.

Spiritual Intimacy: Connection With The Creator

Since "coming out" my Communion with Christ has deepened, expanded, and matured.

Guardian Angel

Me: I can’t stay in this house another minute. If I lay down on that couch, I am just going to wallow in depression and waste the rest of the day.

Him: Go to our spot.

Me: ::: the thought of sitting on my favorite park bench at the Riverwalk goes through my head ::: Or I could go to coffee and be around people and draw, or get some Mexican food… but I don’t want to drive anywhere… I will just stay here. NO, I can’t remain in the house, or I will go crazy…

Him: Go to the Riverwalk.

Me: But I don’t want to run, I could just sit and look out over the lake; maybe something pretty will happen.

On July 12th I will celebrate 18 months of being open and honest about being gay. In my head, and heart, I haven’t ever doubted in my faith in Christ and His “finished work” in my life. Anyone who knows me over the past 24 years knows that I genuinely believe that He is the Creator of all that is beautiful and kind in the world; that He is alive and transcends our thoughts, senses, and even our dimensions.

I do believe I have Communion with Him regularly and in surprising ways. However, I have struggled with seeing Him in that intimate way lately. There has been so much darkness and weirdness going on in the world and some big transitions in my life; it’s been easy to be sad and distracted.

Me: :::driving to the Riverwalk while still in a funk:::

Him: I’ve got something to show you.

Me: Cool. Is this really… like You, you?

IMG_7901When I arrived at the Riverwalk I went down into the war memorial man-made peninsula area. Looking northward I saw a peaceful rain shower over a part of the lake (not the whole lake). It was serene, and the smell of the rain came with the outflowing air. It was nice.

Then I went over and sat down on my favorite bench facing out westward over the lake. A good ol’ storm was happening over that way. Lots of lightning, thunder, and I wondered if I should even be out. However, it was an isolated storm and not moving my way. So I sat on my favorite bench and just watched the storm clouds and rain billow and roll from a safe distance away.

Then, the sun punched like a bright dot in the middle of the storm…

Him: Just watch…

IMG_7915And almost immediately the light arced like an angel wing through the storm.

Right then the breeze from the rain shower to the north dramatically shifted to coming out of the storm to the west. The wind was much stronger and felt cooler with a very fine mist.

Him: The very first time I spoke to you, and you responded, was a situation very much like this…

And that’s when I, a grown man of 48 years, openly wept in a public park.

NOoooo… not wailing snotty-nosed crying but… tears streaming down my face as I remembered my Love for Him runs very deep and has a long history.

Guardian AngelAs the light ripped the cloud in half, I remembered that moment I heard Him and responded the first time with crystal clarity. 26 years ago, He shredded another cloud in Texas as I was driving down Pioneer Parkway, even before I became a Christian, and told me that He loved, delighted in, protected and had a plan for me. I was instantly filled with joy

A joy that welled up again yesterday.

God never told me I had to be a particular type of person or believer. He just told me He loved me and extended an invitation to relationship. He never told me I had to go to an institutionalized or culturally derived church… indeed, the worship going up from a park bench yesterday was the best worship service I have had in a year or so; ranks right up there with my all-time favorite “I love Jesus!” experiences.

IMG_7927John 1:5 came to mind:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

One of the lies that I was told and believed when I was in the church closet was that to be honest and accept being gay meant you couldn’t possibly have intimacy with God.

Wrong. So … incredibly wrong.

From my experience, Our intimacy/Communion has not only remained, but it has deepened, expanded and matured.

It says in the scriptures that when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, that the veil of the temple was ripped in half. This was the veil of separation, a huge and very thick veil that set apart the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt, from the people. You could *NOT* go in there without being a high priest, and only under STRICT legalistic codes and customs. With Jesus, every bit of that “separation,” symbolic and spiritual, was destroyed. There is no need for anyone, at any time, anywhere, to ever feel like they are not welcome in His presence.

Nothing, not one thing, not even our own self…can separate us from His love. Darkness is cast out, love conquers hate.

On that note, my lovely friend, if you are inclined, I encourage you to go wait for Him. I think He has something to show you.

randy_sig

The Exit Door Is This Way…

8175759 - 3d rendering the empty room with opened door
The following is full of emotion, but it is not written in spite or contempt. It’s my honest opinion born out of experience. It is direct and to the point so it would be easy to read it as harsh, but please don’t. It is written from a broken heart, not a vengeful one.  With that in mind…

I want to write about two ideologies born out of religious legalism that is of immense harm to LGBTQ people.

First, I believe the bastardized version of the religion the man who shot the beautiful souls at Pulse Nightclub taught him an evil ideology. This evil system of thought taught him that it was a divinely blessed mandate to murder 49 and wound 53 Latin LGBTQ people in a mass shooting.

Second, the bastardized version of the religion I am associated with, Christianity, teaches LGBTQ people an evil ideology that says to be divinely blessed and ok with God’s will and people, we must kill our core relational sense being, identity, and expressions of love.

Both of these twisted versions of spiritual teachings are abusive and deadly.

Systemic bigotry and bias have been passed down for generations. Many LGBTQ Christians feel our only option is to become something we are not. We are forced to conform to church teachings based on cultural conditioning, not the life-giving and affirming teachings of Christ. Shame and condemnation are repackaged as smiling promises of liberation from “brokenness” and “freedom from homosexuality.” If we do not conform to what is presented as our only option (a false projection of self), we are disenfranchised, abandoned, oftentimes punished and routinely stigmatized.

We become the scapegoat. Somehow we are made out to be a villain when all we are trying to do is be ourselves.

As a result, unfortunately, too many LGBTQ people die slowly through self-loathing, destructive addictions and unhealthy relational patterns. Even worse, some choose the horror of suicide.

The over-arching point I am trying to make is this: I believe that every single day the Pulse tragedy is repeated when LGBTQ persons around the world are thrown out of their homes, violently attacked, persecuted, murdered, or take their lives because of culturally driven and public/church policy accommodated religious stigmatization of LGBTQ people.

Stop the abuse. Stop demonizing us for who we are and how we love. Stop the killings.

People can choose to live however they want, but after 21 years in a conversion ministry movement, I know it doesn’t work. I no longer believe that building bridges to non-affirming and non-accepting churches is the right metaphor or action to take. I believe in finding the exit door to those churches and inviting others to come along. Sometimes the most gracious, brave, and life-giving thing to do is to walk away and live an honest life.

As I continue to abide in Christ, with His guidance, I have found a true spiritual home among others in everyday authentic relationship.

You are welcome here.

randy_sig

Happy Marriage Equality Day!

SCOTUS Decision for Marriage Equality - First Anniversary

Pride New Era 2016
The drawing featured at the top of this post is called “New Era” and is my pride 2016 drawing. I might work on it a bit more, but I kind of like it the way it is, and should probably leave it alone…maybe.

One year ago today the Supreme Court decided that the rights, benefits and protections of marriage equality included couples of the same gender.  Hooray!

It was a very emotional and wonderful day. Mr. Future Thomas-Husband (Daniel Craig?) rejoiced … wherever he was at. Which reminds me, he needs to hurry up and get his application to be Mr. Future Thomas-Husband finished and sent in!

Don’t forget the accompanying video… honey.

^ See what I did there? Daily terms of endearment, and cute hubby nicknames like honey or more like Schnoogy-Bare-Bear from me is a benefit I bring to the table. A benefit now protected by the law of the land! Mr. Future Thomas-Husband (aka Schnoogy-Bare-Bear) will understand and love that benefit. 🙂

Or at least I hope he pretends to love that benefit. If not, we will work through it … until he is ok with it :).

Some of my online acquaintances have been discouraging. They say that a guy my age won’t find blah blah blah and/or monogamy is an unrealistic ideal blah blah blah… I say phooey on the Mr. Future Thomas-Husband h8ters! Regardless of whether I am single, dating, married, it’s all good. I know who I am and comfortable in my skin. So, while I am good with whatever happens tomorrow, I don’t have to let go of the love I already have for my future husband.

Nope, not “pining away.” More like, enjoying the idea!

So, my friends, happy Marriage Equality day! For those that are already married, my single man encouragement to you today is to give your spouse a cute nickname like Schnoogy-Bare-Bear … and then goose them or something.

Then, pull your other half, the one who holds your heart, close. Look into their beautiful eyes and tell them a list of specific reasons for why you love them. Not just, “I love you because your awesome.” More like, “I love you because of your golden heart… your willingness to serve at ____, the way you are a good Parent to our kids, the way you help me understand ____ help me to be a better person by _____” and on and on. Be specific and generous with your reasons.

And of course if you are a praying couple, if you would like to pray for that crazy Randy to find his Schnoogy-Bare-Bear, I’d love that!

Back to you lovely couples, as you look into the windows of your spouse’s soul, remember that you are home. Be someone that when your spouse looks into your eyes, they feel safe and at home, too.

Happy Marriage Equality Day!

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8 Days After Orlando Pulse Shooting – A New Era Has Begun

Some Initial Personal Thoughts After The Tragic Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando

monday 613 vigil
OneOrlando_WhiteThis post will share some initial thoughts about the tragic attack on Pulse Nightclub, and the aftermath. First, it is in my heart and mind to not get lost in the weeds of peripheral issues. These precious people who were victims, survivors and their families are the top priority. So, please pop over to OneOrlando.org and donate to the people directly impacted by this tragedy. If after giving to the families you want to read the below, please do.

Yesterday morning I woke up and stared at the ceiling while tears formed. Then reached for the phone and posted to Facebook:

Woke up and it is cloudy, darker than usual. Listening to a soft rain shower hit the roof and weeping with the skies remembering it is one week later. ‪#‎OrlandoUnited‬ ‪#‎OneOrlando‬ ‪#‎OrlandoPulse‬

Impact

Will never forget waking up Sunday, June 12, 2016, and shuffling over to my phone. The first thing I saw was an alert pop up from a friend’s nephew messaging me, “Did you see what happened in Orlando?… Holy shit! At Pulse!” I flew to my computer and between that and my phone I was messaging, checking social media profiles, and emailing any potential friends who might have been there or who I know work there.

It’s hard to describe the power of the mixed feelings that happen when one by one you find your friends are alive, but the death toll climbs to a staggering 49 people. I did not know any of the people murdered but as the week has gone on the devastation is being seen further and further; deeper and deeper. I know two friends who lost cousins in the attack. Another friend who lost a good friend and had a co-worker wounded as she fled the scene. As well as many other friends and acquaintances who lost someone or knows someone who was injured and trying to heal. I met a man at one of the vigils who lost three of his friends, and another one was in the hospital fighting for his life. And at every event and meeting, I went to; I saw the haunted eyes of people who had seen horror and felt the loss in ways that words cannot encapsulate.

Plus, we are still learning the details and hearing the stories. These are my neighbors, people I may have danced next to at one time or another on a crowded dance floor, or seen at various events … the ripples and pain from the stories and aftermath keep flowing.

As I left the big downtown vigil on Monday night 6/13, I was taking a picture of the huge memorial area where we all were leaving flowers. While I was there, a young man and his boyfriend walked up with tears pouring down their faces. Then the taller of the two peeked up over the crowd to see and immediately collapsed to the ground in mourning. Understandably he couldn’t be consoled, and his boyfriend joined him on the ground, scooped him up, held him tight.

Then those of us around them gathered and placed our hands on their shoulders and arms. Smartphones and cameras disappeared, the unfiltered beauty of humanity emerged, our tears fell as whispered words of comfort and love flowed forward to the grieving couple.

One Orlando, One World, One Voice

Within 24-48 hours it was evident that the impact had devastated Orlando and the ripples created virtual tsunamis through the Internet and social media. I couldn’t stop crying with all the videos and messages streaming in from around the world. Paris lighting up the Eiffel Tower in Rainbow colors, Tel Aviv’s City Hall doing the same, tens of thousands in the streets of London singing, LA Pride and London Pride (and many others) stopping the parades for moments of silence, all the cities across the country doing magnificent memorials and outpouring of love.

In February/March I started the process of trying to learn more about, engage and serve the local community. I have done some volunteer work for HRC Orlando (Human Rights Campaign) and shared my story at an event for them the Friday night before the tragedy. All that to say, I am a newbie and don’t know all that I need to know, and don’t know what I don’t know, yet. Even so, I was able to join my HRC Orlando friends at one of their houses that horrible Sunday morning. There were tears, and that is where I learned that the death toll had jumped from 20 to 49, it was crushing news, and I am glad I was not alone.

Later in the morning, there was a conference call of a lot of different leaders, local and national, and I listened in. It was comforting listening to these folks keeping proper perspective and priorities while operating in selflessness and wisdom. I was deeply touched and inspired by the heart of our community leaders and volunteers. I am amazed by the fact they know how to get mobilized, rapidly, in an efficient and comprehensive way. It was truly a community, at every level, in “one accord” and beautiful. I have never seen anything like what unfolded that day. It is a comfort that there is a genuinely loving community we can turn to and rely on.

As my friend Mella once said to me when I was a homeless gay 19-year-old

When the world treats us badly, WE have to love each other. WE have to be there for each other. WE are family.

Catalyst

Many in the local LGBTQ community and the community(ies) at large are saying this is a historic turning point for us. Many, and I do mean many, of my personal friends and acquaintances are saying that it is a personal turning point for them as well. I agree. We all have our process of course so I will be interested to see how they adapt and grow beyond this. I know for me it is an unhindered passion for our community. To do what I can to carefully confront and hopefully, end destructive religious bias and bigotry against God’s gay children. That last sentence encompasses a lot, and while it is clear in my head, I will explore all of that in subsequent posts.

While I can only speak for myself, I believe the LGBTQ community has had enough. We have been beaten/bullied as children, mocked as teens, pressured, discriminated against, turned away, disenfranchised, and violently attacked as adults. We face rampant, and widespread discrimination in every sector of society and a large majority of LGBTQ people still live in secrecy and fear. All because of our natural relational state of being; for who we are.

No more. Simply put, no more. This will end. It will stop. Love is winning and will overcome hatred. There is no other option. Others may choose to be silent. Your silence is noted but will not discourage us. Some will decide to oppose full LGBTQ equality, but as they seek to reinforce institutionalized/generationally reinforced closets of shame and condemnation, we will be selflessly serving and sacrificially giving toward the good of all and not lost in the myopic concerns of a few.

Last Saturday night I joined 19 other of my brothers and sisters as we took part in the Orlando City Soccer Club pregame show. We were lifting up the massive circular Orlando Lions logo flag. As we walked on the field in five lines of four, we proudly held each other’s hands. I was on the end of the fourth row and holding Chris’ hand (another former Exodus staff person). When the crowd roared as they noticed our group, the volume tripled as we then raised our held hands in the air. I looked around at our crew’s huge, broad smiles, lots of emotion in our eyes … lots of healthy affirmation.

We will always grieve the loss of our brothers and sisters who were killed. We will take care of their families. We will unite as a city and nation. We are here with the rest of the world’s love pouring in and echoing through our hearts and streets. Love is winning; as it always does.

It’s a new era for LGBTQ people. I look forward to our future.