Thoughts on AIDSWatch 2016

AIDSWatch AIDS UnitedHeld yearly in Washington, DC, AIDSWatch is a caucus of citizens living with or affected by HIV, assembled to discuss with elected officials the issues impacting those with HIV/AIDS. With over 300 represented from 36 states, North Carolina had the third largest delegation in the country, with 23 members.

The conference is a melting pot of diversity—so many races and ethnicities, that were I to attempt to list them all, I would leave several out—men, women, and transgendered men, transgendered women, gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian; mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, veterans, immigrants, disabled, clergy, sex workers, CEOs, the list goes on.

Without the lanyards around our necks advertising our names with the “AIDSWatch” logo, or the signage visible near the conference rooms at the hotel where the yearly event is held, passersby would have no idea what we share in common.. Without those three letters, “HIV”, it’s not obvious.

But when I looked around the room, I saw the faces of HIV/AIDS today. It’s all of us here, and it could be any of us. HIV/AIDS doesn’t discriminate. People do.

AIDSWatch Kevin

Hearing the stories of those affected by HIV at the plenary session in Washington, D.C.

This nasty virus binds us in solidarity for those experiencing stigma, barriers accessing affordable and consistent treatment, and those without basic needs like food and housing, made more urgent by HIV’s presence. We speak to our Senators and Representatives on behalf of those who cannot, sharing triumphs and struggles, praise for their past support, and concerns for the future.

Most of all, we bring our collected stories to lawmakers.

Stories make HIV visible, saying, “See us. Hear us. We have HIV and we are living, not dying. We are growing older and aging. We are told to expect long, healthy lives, and we believe it. But this isn’t over. We need help to thrive in the face of stigma, discrimination, and barriers to healthcare, housing, and HIV Prevention for those most at risk.”

Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) is a federal program providing stable, affordable housing for people with HIV/AIDS. HOPWA gives stability to those in unstable, homeless situations living with the virus. Unfortunately, the HOPWA funding formula is still based on an antiquated model that includes national census data combining all people—both living and deceased—identified as having AIDS in a state. Updating HOPWA to include only those who are alive, not dead, would greatly increase the amount of funding available. North Carolina stands to gain a significant amount of money if this passes the House and Senate. Currently, the HOPWA waiting list is miles long, and HOPWA modernization would significantly reduce that waiting list.

One of Senator Thom Tillis’ staff asked me to explain how stable housing relates to stopping the spread of HIV. “Will you connect the dots for me?” he asked.

“My training is in Counseling Psychology,” I explained. “Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?”

“Yes, I am,” He said. He was clearly paying attention, helping me feel less nervous as I sat in a blue leather chair in the ornate conference room of Senator Tillis’ office on Capitol Hill, flanked by my NC AIDSWatch brothers and sisters.

“Okay,” I replied. “Before a person can begin to deal with HIV, they must have some basic human needs met—food, clothing, and shelter. Of those three, food and clothing are fairly easy to come by. We don’t have naked homeless people wandering the streets of our state, and in most cases, a homeless person can find somewhere to get a meal. But stable housing is another matter entirely. Housing someone with HIV provides safety and security. Within those walls, they can store their HIV meds safely, rest and heal. Their medicine can be mailed, they have a place where they can be picked up and taken to their appointments, and they may more easily receive Ryan White Funding, AIDS Drug Assistance Program Funding, and access other programs like Medicaid. Through stable housing, the odds are greater of staying medically compliant, not missing doses, suppressing HIV to an undetectable level, living a longer, healthier life, and lowering risk of infecting others. That’s how modernizing the HOPWA Formulary will help stop the spread of HIV.”

I assumed that the Senator’s staffer would smile and nod, take a photo, pretending to listen, but not really “hear us”. I misjudged. I’m not sure what will happen with HOPWA. But all of us from NC who participated in AIDSWatch felt we had been heard. We shared stories, were fully present, and spoke with strength and dignity on behalf of those in our state living with HIV.

“AIDSWatch” reminds our lawmakers that we are paying attention to the choices they make. We are diverse, we are strong, and we have a voice in the fight to end HIV, and we will be watching what our elected leaders do next.

Thoughts on HIV and NC Harm Reduction Advocacy Day.

This year’s HIV and Harm Reduction Advocacy Day was April 29 in Raleigh. This is my third year attending on behalf of NCAAN (NC AIDS Action Network) www.facebook.com/NorthCarolinaAIDSActionNetworkwww.ncaan.org and NCHRC (NC Harm Reduction Coalition) https://www.facebook.com/groups/ncharmreduction; www.nchrc.org
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There was a sense of being “okay” that day in Raleigh. Underneath what the other advocates and I were doing, there permeated this notion that we were advocating on behalf of those who, for a myriad of reasons, were unable to travel and speak for themselves. Of course that was there. It’s “advocacy’s” definition. It was also fantastic and a little intoxicating to speak with representatives from my district who seemed to “get it”–the importance of access to medical care, medicaid, and other basic services for those living with and affected by HIV. The importance of having more powerful allies, regardless of party affiliation, who took time out of the busy day to spend just ten minutes hearing us, and understanding the importance of our place as North Carolinians. It was great. It puffed me up, and my ego was going, “YEAH! This is GREAT! You spoke the TRUTH!”

Now for the other piece–the piece where the ego meets the awareness–or, the place where the ego meets an obstacle. Not to be a Debbie Downer at all, but just aware…I thought, “That was easy. That was a little too easy.” I was preaching to the choir. In my district, I was lucky to have buy in and face time before I even opened my mouth. I mentioned the agency, Triad Health Project, where I work, and while I was blessed and grateful that the representatives with whom I spoke knew of us and the valuable work we do, and agreed with what we were pitching, I thought–“I wonder how this would go down if I had to fight harder? How would I deal with closed ears, polite nods, and rejection?”

What about those people in our state government who don’t feel they have a dog in the fight for HIV funding, stigma reduction, HIV decriminalization, Harm Reduction Bills, and the advocacy NCAAN and NCHRC do? I want to say to those state legislators the following:
cropped-red-ribbon-tree1.jpgOkay, sure. You may not think you have a dog in this fight. You may think “No way–not my issue, and definitely NOT in my backyard.” But, you DO have a dog, and I bet that dog can fight. And you DO have a backyard, and I bet it’s just a matter of time before HIV and Harm Reduction issues show up in it. So, rather than becoming reactionary, and making a party line decision based on what your party is doing, or making a decision based on fear, on stigma, on belief, even…why not dig a little deeper for facts, statistics, and have conversations with those of us in the state who are living with HIV, with addiction, and with those who are working so hard to insure access to services that provide medicine, dignity, support, and empowerment to those with HIV and addictions…don’t you think that by doing so, you’d strengthen your own “dog” and also make your own backyard a safer, better place to be?
That’s what I didn’t get to say at NCAAN and NCHRC Advocacy Day. And that’s what I think ought to be said, and heard in our state.

No More Bullies.

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There is a three-word bumper sticker on my car: “Don’t Raise Bullies”. I got it from the Stand Up Foundation, http://www.standupfoundation.com/. I rarely talk openly about the bullying I endured. When I do, it’s from a great emotional distance, and with a twinge of self-deprecating humor. It’s time I come out and write about it publicly. It’s time to name names. It’s time for me to stand up and forgive.

Here are a few choice memories pulled from my childhood Rolodex:

  • Third grade. School bus ride. I’d taken two of my father’s art instruction books to school to show the art teacher. I was interested in human anatomy and learning to draw figures. I’d begun work on a male nude—DaVinci’s “Vetruvian Man”, and wanted to show my progress. I was proud of it. I’d worked on the symmetry using my father’s drafting tools. I took it out to scan it one last time, making sure my drawing looked like the one in the book. Reid Butler, a fifth grader, lunged over the seat behind me, snatched my drawing and the book out of my hand and waved it over his head, proclaiming me a “faggot” for drawing pictures of naked men. That was my first introduction to the word. He crumbled up the drawing and bounced it off my forehead. The bus driver stopped the bus, confiscated my art book and proclaimed it was “Not something I should even have, much less bring to school”. I was reported to the principal’s office where I was paddled for bringing “pornography” to school. The fact I was bullied, shamed and called a “faggot” at the age of nine was never addressed. My mother, though humiliated, stood up for me nonetheless. She left work early the next day, and stood in our driveway as the bus pulled up to let me off. I was surprised to see her there. She boarded the bus and shouted, “I want to see Reid Butler!” With some reluctance, Reid stood up after a few other kids snickered and pointed him out. She pointed the long, elegantly polished nail of her index finger at him and proclaimed, “I know your mother, and I know your father. I know where you live. I know they didn’t raise you to be a bully or use words like “faggot”. If you ever insult, bully, or touch my son again, the next time you see me will be when I am on your doorstep.” I wish I could say I was proud of my mom at the time, but I was embarrassed and horrified that she had to defend me, and that I wasn’t brave enough to defend myself. Today, I am grateful.
  • Fourth grade. Bathroom stall. I walked in to use the toilet. Reaching for the toilet paper, above the dispenser was my name spelled incorrectly—“Keven Varner”—with a cartoon face sucking on a cock next to it. In another, different scribble next to it, the word “FAG” in all caps. I was upset my name had been spelled incorrectly. I was more upset that soap and water and vigorous scrubbing with my tee shirt couldn’t erase it. Even if it had, the memory remains indelible.
  • Seventh grade. School commons, 8:15 am, before homeroom. Students gathered in the commons before first bell to mingle. I was bending over to get something out of my book bag when I heard a hiss and then felt a push on my back which sent me sprawling to my hands and knees…and then smelled something awful on my jacket, my clothes, all over me. When I got up, I was surrounded by a full circle of other kids. I was in the center. Some of them were holding their noses, some of them were pointing at me. All of them were laughing. Eric Preston had doused me with “fart spray”. Eric and his friends were slapping themselves on the back, cackling at what they’d just done. When I removed my blue Members Only jacket, there was a yellow sticky note affixed to the back with the word “FAGGOT” written in black felt marker. I stuffed my jacket in my locker. The locker smelled like fart spray for a week. I never wore that jacket to school again. For years, I had a recurring nightmare that I was surrounded by a crowd of hecklers, pointing at me and laughing, as I stooped on the 50 yard line of a gigantic football stadium. Until I went to college, I kept the sticky note in my nightstand, hidden in a little wooden box as a reminder.
  • Seventh grade. Last day of school before summer break. School stairwell landing between the second floor and the first floor. I passed Craig Ferree and Michael Hemric leaning against the second floor lockers on my way to the bus. Craig made a loud kissing noise at me as I walked past. I remember being too happy about it being the last day of school to let anyone get to me—all the other kids had left and were milling about in front of the flag pole, hugging their goodbyes, waving to their teachers and friends. I paused on the landing between the 2nd and 1st floor and looked out the big picture window for a moment, enjoying the quiet before joining the other kids and heading home to six weeks of freedom. Craig Ferree leaned over the railing above me, hocked up a mouthful of mucous and spit, and shot it down on top of my head. “Faggot” he said. Then Mike Hemric echoed, “Cocksucker”. I ran down the hall to the first floor bathroom, washed the spit from my hair, face and neck and wiped off with a handful of brown paper towels. I missed my bus and called my sister to come get me. When she asked me why I missed my bus I lied and told her I stayed after school to say goodbye to all my teachers. She believed me.
  • Tenth grade. My 16th birthday, January 13, 1987, approximately 8:15am. High school commons, before homeroom. My favorite band was The Cure.  I’d gotten two of their cassettes, “Head on the Door” and “Standing on a Beach, the singles”, and my first pair of black Converse Chuck Taylors. I took Mom’s fabric scissors and ripped strategic holes in the sides, I took her fabric markers and drew the British flag across the back of the left shoe, and bought red glitter paint and drew the anarchy symbol across the back of the left one. The morning of my birthday, I put on my father’s baggiest cardigan, buttoned his white oxford cloth shirt, two sizes too large all the way up to the neck, put on a bolo string tie with a the bullet hole-smiley face pendant from the Watchmen comics holding it together, teased up my hair and gelled it, set a pork-pie hat on top of my head just like “Ducky” from “Pretty In Pink” (one of my favorite movies), tucked my black cargo pants into slouchy red socks and pulled my birthday present–the black Chuck Taylors– onto my over-sized and flat size 12 feet. I was happy. I was sixteen. I had my license. I had a car of my own, and I was going to drive it to school for the first time.

    I was talking to my friends Emily and Cookie in the commons before homeroom. Cookie was handing me a homemade birthday card when I heard, “Hey FAGGOT. Where the FUCK did you get those ugly-ass shoes?” It was Michael Hemric. He’d passed me in the hall for weeks, lunging at me, knocking my books out of my hand, sneaking up behind me and slamming me into the lockers, each time with the word “faggot” added to it like another hole-punch in my low self esteem card. I’d change my traffic pattern to avoid him. Sometimes I’d excuse myself from class, go to my locker before the bell rang, and wait outside the door to my next class just to avoid him. Sometimes I’d hide in the auditorium backstage, in the costume and prop room before school started. That morning he was standing with three or four of his cronies, redneck assholes, bigger than me, in the doorway between the commons and the hallway toward my locker. Michael Hemric knew where my locker was. He’d pushed me into it enough times to remember it’s location. “Flat-footed, cock-sucking faggot. Why the fuck are you wearing those dumb-ass shoes and that hat?” He called at me from across the commons. I looked at the floor and stared at my shoes. Suddenly I hated them. I wanted them to save me but they just stared back. I can still recall the cold panic that shot down my neck to my groin as Michael stalked forward and knocked my hat off my head. “I’m talking to you, faggot,” he spat, inches from my face. I was in the middle of the circle of shame again, just like seventh grade. How do they form so quickly? One moment you’re standing against a wall reading a homemade birthday card, the next moment you’re surrounded by the collective masses itching to watch a beating before lunch. I bent down to retrieve my hat and he kicked me in the shoulder. I was alone. My friends had deserted me. As I stood up, shaking, too frightened of what would happen next if I defended myself, he stomped on my right foot with his boot, and walked off. Theresa Neese, who I had known since second grade, and who was dating Michael at the time, walked over to him and told him to “leave Kevin alone. It’s his birthday”. I picked up my backpack and limped past and through the circle of shame, through the redneck pack of wolves flanking Michael Hemric, past Theresa Neese who was all of 5’2 and who stood taller than I did at my defense that day, walked through the shame and the label of faggot invisibly tattooed across my forehead. Hands shaking, I turned the dial of my locker, opened it on the third try. I wiped my nose and my eyes with the sleeve of my father’s cardigan. Inside the locker I placed my pork-pie hat. I bent down, unlaced the birthday present from my feet, took them off, and placed them in the locker as well, and spent the rest of my 16th birthday in my socks. When I drove home that afternoon, I rolled down my window and threw the shoes into the woods on the side of the road. It would be 20 years before I bought another pair of Converse Chuck Taylors. Today, I own four pair. Today, no one makes fun of me and gets away with it.

    Glasses KEV

Today, no one abuses, makes fun of, or shames anyone in my presence and gets away with it. I am outwardly chill and laid back, intelligent, witty, funny, and grounded. Yet, lurking just beneath that placid body of water is a rage that churns from the heart of a deep, underground fissure. It’s a gaping wound that won’t heal. Just writing about it threatens to bring it spewing to the surface. One reason I am so outwardly calm is that I am afraid of my anger. I am afraid that I could see red and completely forget myself–even for just a moment, because that’s all it would take–and utterly destroy another abuser, first with words, then with my fist and feet. The same feet that were made fun of, the same fists that felt powerless, would take over all these years later, leaving destroyed cities in their wake.

I am here and now forgiving every “faggot” ever hurled at me. I am forgiving every push, every trip, every slam against a wall, and every name ever called. It’s not right, but it’s okay. Michael Hemric, Craig Ferree, Reid Butler, Eric Preston and countless other bullies, you abused me, but you did not beat me. You made me stronger. You turned me into a warrior. You honed me into the man I am today–compassionate, fierce, intelligent, empathetic, and above all, kind. Kinder than you were, and braver than you’ll ever be. Without you ever knowing it, I kicked all your collective asses over the years by learning to accept and love myself.

Yet, I’ve carried you with me all these years as well. You have, no doubt forgotten me. I cannot forget you and what you did to me. But I can lay down your weight. I can release the pressure valve on that deep fissure of anger in my heart, and forgive you. I can witness, and make sure the abuse stops with me.

To my gay brothers and sisters I charge you: Stop doing what the bullies did to you. Stop abusing each other. Stop gossiping, stop throwing shade and sarcasm. Stop causing emotional drama. Stop the petty, judgmental comments online and in public forums like Facebook where we hurl catty barbs, slice tiny cuts and chip away at the hard-won self esteem of our collective community from the safety of a keyboard or a smart phone.

If you don’t have something compassionate and useful to say, keep your mouth shut. Keep it cute or keep it mute.

Untold storyWe have been abused, and abusers long enough. It’s time we started lifting each other up instead of tearing each other apart one catty, toxic comment at a time. Let’s show the bullies we are better than they are and not allow self-loathing to destroy the best of us. Instead, let’s love with just one condition–that we are impeccable with our words and vow not to use them to spread emotional poison. If you’re carrying the weight of abuse and bullying, please talk with a trusted friend. Share your story. Release some of that pressure before it consumes you, and find someone who with whom to share your compassion and your love. Look in the mirror…that’s a good place to start.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/kovie-biakolo/2014/09/17-things-former-bullied-kids-do-a-little-bit-differently-as-adults/

http://www.standupfoundation.com/

http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

Against Same Sex Marriage? Don’t Have One.

I’m tired of being used. I’m tired of being an unwilling participant in a “moral issue” and a “point of debate”, and having invisible fingers pointed at my gay brothers and sisters from the safety and quasi-anonymity of a computer laptop, where it’s easy, and cowardly, to spew out vitriolic statements in grand, sweeping generalizations about the LGBT citizens of North Carolina instead of setting aside assumptive judgment and embracing curiosity and compassion. And then, calling yourself a Christian with the flourish of a poisoned pen.

To those still against same-sex marriage, I ask this question as a gay man in a committed and loving partnership: What did I do to you?  I’m being honest here. Really, what did I do to you? How does my request to have equal, legal protections under state and federal law impact your life as a heterosexual in any way at all? I just don’t get it and I need to understand. Give me concrete, irrefutable evidence to support your argument, other than “It’s the will of the people of North Carolina that we should ban same-sex marriage”. The will of the people may be a majority, but it’s still just an opinion. Opinions change over time, and often as a direct result of education and compassionate understanding.

Put these opinions aside. I’m looking for cold, hard irrefutable facts. Stats. Graphs and pie charts. I want to know, specifically, how my committed and loving relationship with my partner has alienated and threatened your heterosexual relationship or your ability to have one. I would honestly like to know how our life goals, our liberty and pursuit of happiness have negated or threatened yours. Because I’d like to apologize and make amends, if I need to. Otherwise, I’m sick and tired of being your punching bag and I’d like you to stop now.

I would like to know why, rather than seeking to engage in a dialogue and understand me, and other LGBT folks like me, you judge us, fear us, and vilify us, stating we have an agenda. Oh wait…We do! It’s the same agenda you take for granted—equal rights and legal protection under the law. The ability to have our unions recognized as valid under state and federal law. That’s it.

When my partner and I heard the news that same-sex marriage ban had been overturned in North Carolina, I was outwardly happy, yet inwardly introspective. I thought about our relationship, and I asked myself, “Are we ready? Now that it’s legal, do we want to show others, publicly, that we have a right to the same benefits and protections under state and federal law that heterosexual couples have? Just because we CAN get married now, SHOULD we?” We don’t want to get married “just for the benefits”, mind you. We want to get married because we are very much in love. My partner and I will not rush into marriage. In fact, before we decide to join together in matrimony, we will seek premarital counseling, and we will walk with confidence into spending the rest of our lives together, eyes wide open, with open hearts. Gosh—that sounds a lot like what a normal, healthy heterosexual couple would do. We will do this with or without your permission, North Carolina. There is nothing political about our love. I find nothing romantic about politics. We don’t need your permission. We couldn’t care less about whether or not our love, and our committed relationship is, or is not “The Will of the People”.

The mere fact that we are forced to think about it, are judged for it, and are aware that there are those in this state who are actively plotting to keep us from having a legally recognized relationship makes me so angry I could spit galvanized nails. Our marriage is not about you. The answer to the above questions is as follows: We have done nothing whatsoever to destroy the sanctity of your marriage. Our marriage will be ours alone. Our struggles, too, will be ours alone, and if our marriage shouldn’t last, then it will also be our divorce, not yours.

My advice to those who are against same-sex marriage in the state of North Carolina is simple: If you’re against gay marriage, don’t have one. Don’t want to perform a gay marriage? Well, if you’re a clergy person, fine–don’t. We will find someone who will. If you’re a magistrate, it’s your job. Do your job or resign. Someone else will be happy to take it for you and marry us.

But don’t you DARE tell me I can’t have mine. And please, in the name of the God I worship, just like you, stop lobbing scripture like so many cannonballs over the walls of your judgmental fort. Lower your drawbridge and invite us to the table. You’ll find that gay and lesbian couples have more in common with you than you ever imagined. Just give us the opportunity to “be”, and we will leave you alone. I promise.

There’s another document you may consider quoting instead of The Bible: The Declaration of Independence, which states that all of us are created equal, and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It seems only fair and reasonable to me that the truths we held as self-evident in 1776 are the same truths we honor today. Rights like these can’t be taken away. That’s why they’re called rights.

Speaking Truth to Power…Or Not.

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Yesterday, May 8, 2014, was the second anniversary of the passing of Amendment One to the North Carolina Constitution. The amendment is the state’s first, hence “amendment one”, and it defines marriage as being only between one man and one woman. The amendment says nothing about “as defined by the Christian faith and its bible”, and yet, this is implied by omission.

Yesterday, on Facebook, “Freedom to Marry in NC” posted a photo of a lesbian couple protesting this amendment by wearing “Vote Against” tee shirts, one was pregnant, and her partner knelt next to her belly in a pose of a loving, expectant family to be. It was poignant, and it captured the hopes of those who are most affected by this amendment–that they, too, may have a place at the table and be recognized by state law and federal law as a loving couple raising a family and seeking the same rights as all other families in our state. The outpouring of support was overwhelming–over 5,000 people “liked and shared” the photo, and 95% of the comments were supportive, cheering the couple on as they went to lobby and share their story with North Carolina lawmakers in an effort to repeal the amendment. I supported them as well, and felt a sense of connection as I read the supportive comments posted underneath their photo.

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Except for one. Just one guy. His name is Dennis Roman. I don’t know Dennis Roman, and I doubt I will ever know him. But I do know some facts about Dennis, based on a visit to his Facebook profile. Dennis is a father and a grandfather. He is married. He is a Christian, and he is currently unemployed. No judgments here about Mr. Roman–just the few facts I can glean from his public Facebook profile. Mr. Roman has posted photos of him holding his newborn grandson, and he is beaming with pride. The comments beneath are positive and supportive. He posts photos of his wife and family, and he seems to have love and support in his life. Mr. Roman will never have to convince anyone of his right to marry, of his right to be a legally recognized, loving and supportive father; will never have to question his right to be a grandfather, his right to file jointly on his Florida state and federal income tax return, will never be denied the opportunity to make end-of-life decisions about his wife or his kids. Mr. Roman will never feel ostracized from his church, his community, his faith, or his God because of his “lifestyle”. Mr. Roman is currently unemployed, but he will never have to worry about on the job discrimination based on his sexuality when he seeks employment. He will never have to keep his wife a secret, or worry about the repercussions and stigma of being married to a woman. It is highly unlikely he will ever feel stigmatized or discriminated against. He’s a heterosexual, Christian, white married male.

I found myself looking at the photo of Mr. Roman cradling his grandson with such pride and admiration, and I alternately looked at the photo of the two women together, one with her face lovingly posed next to her adoring partner’s pregnant belly. It saddened me that I was able to have empathy and a smile for two photos representing the miracle of life and a loving family, and this man didn’t. His comments on Facebook focused on “The Bible says marriage between same-sex couples is wrong. This is not what Christians believe, and therefore it is wrong.” It saddened me that he just didn’t get it, and that he felt compelled to share his negative, judgmental views on the social networking site. It is this man’s right to disagree, but is his judgment kind, compassionate, and ultimately as Christian as his espoused beliefs?

I have to think not.

Angry at first, I wrote and posted this response beneath his comment:

  • Dennis Roman: In the Christian faith, it’s (gay marriage) wrong…. You just can’t make your own feelings up and live by them, then you become the God you worship 

Kevin Varner: You just said it. “In the Christian faith it’s wrong”. Fine. Christian faith doctrines are not the laws that govern the rights of those who live in our country. Just because your religion calls something “wrong” doesn’t dictate that you have the right to pass that sweeping, unilateral law against everyone seeking a legally recognized union. THAT, sir, is wrong in any religion.

I admit I felt my ego at work as I wrote the comment. I felt like I’d just “shut him up”. I was wrong. His negative replies to the positive, supportive comments of these women and their struggle to have their family legally recognized and protected continued through the comment thread.

And then I dug deeper and thought: What IS the best response to negativity? Must we always be compelled to speak truth to power, or is it just as powerful to ignore those shouts and vitriolic responses? Is it possible to shut someone up by shining light on the good and not shining it on the bad? It seems to me, especially in an open forum like Facebook, so many of us focus on the negative comments. We’re itching for a fight, especially when we feel we are right.

I looked back at the positive replies, and I looked at the over 5,000 “likes and shares” of the post against Amendment One in North Carolina. All this good, and one bad (albeit persistent) commentator. I posted this final reply to Mr. Roman:

It’s tempting to focus our energy on the negative comments of Dennis Roman. It’s easy to look at this gentleman’s comments as the “virus in a bag” that, when released, will contaminate all the healthy, compassionate, loving and accepting comments being shared here. *Sometimes it’s important to speak truth to power, yes. But there’s another strong response we can have instead to the “Dennis Romans” of our world: We can simply ignore those voices, those negative energies, and focus our attention on the good comments. If we shine light on the good and compassionate, perhaps the negative voices will slink back into the darkness from where they came and cease to poison our banquet. So–let’s just simply ignore Dennis Roman. Eventually, I bet he will go away.

I bet I’m right. Light, compassion and love outshine darkness, judgment and hate. Christianity is one of several religions that teach this. I will make a promise to Mr. Roman and do the Christian thing: I will never invalidate his marriage, his “lifestyle”, his rights, his difference and diversity, and his religion. He has just as much right to happiness, marriage, equal representation under the law, and the right to be proud of his children and grandchildren as the lesbian couple he believes should not have these rights. That’s what equality means–an equal shot at happiness for all families. It’s a right everyone deserves, and I bet there are more Bible verses that speak to these rights than there are about the perceived “sin” of “the homosexual lifestyle” and gay marriage.

**If you’re interested in reading more about the Freedom to Marry movement in North Carolina, below is a link to the website and blog:

http://www.freedomtomarry.org/blog/entry/meet-the-couples-taking-action-for-marriage-in-nc-2-years-after-amendment-o