It’s problematic because eventually we all get old. And there’s stuff like going, “Ewww,” to the old guy at the bar. But if it wasn’t for stuff that guy had done you wouldn’t be able to be in a gay bar.
On Coming out
What was it like growing up as a gay man in a small community?
I grew up in a small town in southeastern Alberta – redneck country. I only started to realize I was gay late in college. And then graduate school I woke up one night and thought, “Oh! That as a nice dream… Yeah, I think this is it.”
What was coming out like for you?
Oh gee, that was late. I’m not sure if it was coming out or getting thrown out. What happened was there was a potentially difficult situation that came up in a church. I stepped in to help a person that identified as a sexual minority and when [the church] realized what I had done they weren’t very happy with me and asked me to leave. This was about 10 years ago. Up until that stage I knew who I was but wasn’t really very open.
I was spending all of my working days in a small community where you’re not really sure you want to be out. So, I was very selectively out; mainly through the internet. I was moderating a gay men’s group that, at that time, had over a thousand people. So I was doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes but none of it that really had my name on it. It’s only been in the last few years that you’ve been able to find me, by name, associated with the gay community.
Do you have any advice for GBQT guys just coming out?
Well, you don’t have to be out to everybody, if it’s not safe then don’t come out. I think coming out is something that needs to be done for mental health. I don’t think you can have really good mental health and be in the closet. But being out can be just being out on the internet with a support group. For some people that’s enough until they move somewhere where they can fully come out.
There are people that are only out in the churches they attend because it’s the only safe place they can be out. I think every affirming church has people that are very comfortable with people in the church knowing, but they don’t want anyone else to know because it’s just not safe. So I think it’s important that we have these spaces where people can be out but it’s not mandatory that they be in the parade.
What was the process for you reconciling your faith with your identity as a gay man?
That involved quite a few things, one of which was the online discussion board I mentioned. It was quite moderate and had over a thousand gay men on it. I did that for quite a number of years and it was made up of predominantly gay, Christian men; so we had a lot of discussion about those issues. At the time I thought I was doing quite well in my life except for a problem I had encountered at my job; so I went to see a counselor to work through it.
At one point he asked, “Oh and about the gay part…” and I said, “Oh, I think I’m doing okay.” But as we got talking about it some more I began to realize that maybe I wasn’t doing so good after all. So he asked me to study, for myself, each of the “clobber” passages – the bible passages that are used to argue against homosexuality. So I went through each of those passages and looked at all the different ways they could be interpreted. I used conservative theologians and I started building a case that there are alternative meanings, and that maybe the context doesn’t support the interpretation that it’s been given so far. So that was what I did for these 6 main passages and I continued to do more work and have found over 300 links and resources and have done workshops on these topics as well.
Do you anticipate the church in Canada becoming more LGBT friendly?
I think it’s going to have to, I don’t think there’s a choice. In general, trends are not looking good for all churches. For example, the Southern Baptist denomination in the States could lose up to 50% of it’s congregation in the next 30-40 years, just from people dying or leaving the church. And that’s the general trend across all church denominations. I think there’s a trend for churches to realize they can’t survive if they don’t do something.
You also see pockets of churches becoming more affirming at a local level, and I think we’ll see more of that as they realize they can’t survive. It used to be, “Oh, it’s just the organist. And as long as he shuts up and does the music we’re okay with it.” But people are starting to realize there’s more LGBT people than just the organist. There are even conservative Christians saying “You know, we really missed the boat on interpreting these passages, and I believe we’ve not been interpreting them correctly,” and so, for them, it’s going to be a matter of can we get our head around a different way of interpreting scripture that allows us to respect the authority of the Bible?
I also wanted to cover issues of aging in the gay community. Since our community and media focus almost exclusively on younger guys, what’s been your experience with that?
It’s problematic because eventually we all get old. And there’s stuff like going, “Ewww,” to the old guy at the bar. But if it wasn’t for stuff that guy had done you wouldn’t be able to be in a gay bar. And it’s really true, there are some really amazing people that are getting older and we may not have around much longer who have really helped a lot to make the community what it is.
There are people like this in every community and when they die we lose a huge piece of our history. I was talking to a man from northern Saskatchewan and they would drive for hours to get to this one tiny gay bar. They had to enter through the alley. It was hard to find and they would only stay for maybe an hour or two and then go back home. And they did that because it was the only way to have community. These stories will be gone because I don’t think anyone is really sitting down and thinking about how to record all of it. We have some bits and pieces but nothing systematic saying, “This is our heritage. These are our stories. We need to keep them.”
Do you think there’s a need for more inter-generational connection in the gay community?
I think there is a need. We lost an entire generation, or at least a major portion, to AIDS that can’t fill that role. I see a need because most gay and bisexual men are not born to gay or bisexual parents, so they don’t learn the history of their culture and their community. You have to be taught these things by somebody. Learning how to come out, how to build community… these are all things that are learned. And since we aren’t taught them as kids we need to learn them as teenagers and young adults. These role models in older generations can be very, very valuable. We don’t have a lot of them and I think there’s a tendency to maybe not necessarily want them. But there are times when we need them.
If you could tell the queer community one thing what would it be?
Well I think being authentic and being real is good for mental and social health. We don’t have to be somebody we aren’t. People sometimes think they need to put on a big persona that they broadcast whenever they are out. You don’t have to do that. Let’s just be ourselves. Be real and genuine and it will go further in the long run.