Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Fighting for the Right to Live in the Light

Today my heart feels burdened to share with you something that comes from a family whose courage and love have changed our lives. I am crying as I write this, because words cannot begin to express the magnitude of the gratitude I feel for this family or the urgency of the need for which they are fighting.

If it wasn’t for this family we wouldn’t be the leaders of an HIV/AIDS Local Outreach Team that partners with RoseHedge MultiFaith in Seattle to serve those suffering with HIV and the often associated challenges that can come with it (isolation, homelessness, stigma, addiction).

If it wasn’t for this family we would never have agreed to write our story for the website of Biola Queer Underground – the story that became “Just Because He Breathes,” and which went viral several times in June of this year.

If it wasn’t for this family we would not have traveled to Irvine, California to speak in front of hundreds of people to tell them what God has taught us through the life and death of our son. The video of that presentation, which was our first time speaking in public, has over 80,000 views on YouTube.

If it wasn’t for this family we would not be starting an LGBTQ small group at our church this fall.

If it wasn’t for this family there would not be a rapidly expanding online FaceBook group of parents who love Jesus and who also love their gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/queer child; this group is the ONLY place that most of the parents feel safe to share how fiercely they love their child without fear of being judged and condemned by their churches.

If it wasn’t for this family we wouldn’t have befriended other parents in our church community whose teenagers have come out to them….we wouldn’t have known them.

If it wasn’t for this family, I wouldn’t have the courage to continue this work. When I have been at my lowest point, feeling beat up by both the right and the left, wishing that I could just go back to my “normal” life, these are the people who remind me to keep listening to God’s voice and trusting HIM with the consequences.

I could go on and on. Without the support and encouragement of this family, who have loved us unconditionally and who have been behind us every step of the way in our journey, we wouldn’t be speaking out on behalf of the LGBTQ community today, especially not in conservative Christian circles, which is where our message needs to be heard, but is often unwelcome.

Please take a few minutes to watch this family’s video, and to read the words of my dear friend, Jodie Howerton, who is doing something that MUST be done in order for all of our kids to have accurate information about how to prevent AIDS. The only way we can stop this disease from killing more of our children is through EDUCATION.

I’m prepared to fight for my son’s right to live in the light.

Several years ago, when my oldest was in 5th grade, I previewed the HIV/AIDS video that our local public school uses to fulfill state educational mandates. The video was produced in the 1980’s (might have had an update in the early 90’s), was incredibly fear based, and contained very outdated information about the virus.

I was stunned. In most other ways, I’ve been very impressed with the curriculum our school district utilizes. The video featured newspaper headlines that read, “Thousands Die of AIDS” and even spliced in a shot of the grim reaper at one point. To illustrate how HIV attacks the immune system, the video used abstract concepts related to baseball that even I, as an adult, was confused by. Then there was the personification of HIV as a red monster.

My 8-year old son, Duzi, is HIV positive.

He is not scary and he is not contagious. He takes a regimen of anti-retroviral medication every day and has an undetectable viral load. He is not a threat to anyone.

The information in the video was scary. Those without additional information would be afraid of my son after watching it. Afraid of my son – a “normal” (whatever that means!) kiddo who plays soccer, basketball, and baseball, does karate, and is a talented hip-hop dancer. Afraid of my son who is a human being that defies stereotype. He is a survivor and simultaneously, a student that loves and reads the Magic Treehouse series. Just like your kids.

The video I previewed perpetuated stigma, the terrible stigma that still criminalizes HIV positive individuals, even when they adhere to their medication and have an undetectable viral load. The chances of transmission are seriously almost moot (if you consider 1 in a million via sexual intercourse moot, even less if blood outside of the body is involved- I TOTALLY do) when HIV viral loads get to undetectable – meaning HIV can’t be detected in the blood.

Back to my preview of the public school video resources:

When the video ended, my head was spinning, blood rushed to my face, and my hand shot up. Why, I demanded, was this video being shown at all? Wasn’t there something else produced in this century that we could show instead? The poor teacher showing the video was simply utilizing a resource that had been approved by our district, and by our state. I then complained to the principal and to the school nurse, who put me in contact with the Health Coordinator at the school district.

The Health Coordinator was incredibly kind and helpful. She admitted that the video was outdated and together, we searched for replacement videos – for an entire year. We found nothing appropriate for the public school setting. And I really mean nothing.

Don’t just criticize. Create.

So, I decided to make some new videos. With the collaboration of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State, physicians from Seattle Children’s Hospital, and fundraising help from Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation, I’m creating a series of four brand new video resources for 5th grade, 6th grade, middle school and high school students.

These videos will be available FREE OF CHARGE to any school district in the nation that wants them.

Utilizing a documentary format that features a “day in the life” of an HIV positive person, the videos will contain medically and scientifically accurate information and will focus on reducing the devastating social stigma still associated with the disease. Students will understand the truth about prevention and transmission, and will feel compassionate, not fearful.

Of course, given the nature of education budgets in states across our nation, there is not any funding available for these videos. We need to raise $150,000 to create all four videos. We’ve launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to help us create the first video.

A collective family decision to share.

Before you go to Indiegogo, I need you to know how much thought, discussion, and prayer went in to my family’s decision to disclose Duzi’s status so openly. Up until now, we have only disclosed his positive status on an individual basis. We have never believed that HIV is something to be ashamed of. We have never communicated to Duzi that he has something to hide or be embarrassed of. Never. We have so normalized HIV in our home, that we actually rarely discuss it any more. Every morning, Duzi takes his HIV meds, I take my thyroid meds, Caleb takes his acid reflux meds, and Alex takes her iron supplement. It’s no big deal.

We started to realize sometime in the middle of last school year that more people knew about Duzi’s HIV status than we thought. Unfortunately, even though HIV status is protected under federal privacy laws, moms at the bus stop, parents at athletic events, and well-meaning people in our church like to chat about “secret” things. We realized that we were not in charge of the information people were communicating to one another about our son’s health. People that knew about Duzi’s status didn’t know that we knew that they knew and so were not coming to us directly to ask questions. We had no idea what myths were being perpetuated.

We’ve decided, with Duzi’s input, with my other kids’ input, with perspective from our community of positive families, and with counsel from friends who know us well, to disclose openly.

Secrets have much more power than truth. We desperately want Duzi to live free of the burden of secrecy and shame; I have no doubt that open disclosure will have some consequences. I have no doubt that we will encounter ignorance and prejudice But, at least we will know about it.

And, I’m prepared to fight for my son’s right to live in the light.

We have 30 days to raise money for our “Redefine Positive” campaign on Indiegogo. Would you consider contributing?

Indiegogo Campaign // Facebook Page // Twitter // Pinterest

No Shame About Being HIV Positive

My Identity as a Straight Christian

Today I welcome my first guest blogger, our dear friend, Julie Rodgers, who is on her way from Dallas to Seattle to spend the weekend with us right now!

As a straight Christian woman, I “identify” myself as a heterosexual ALL THE TIME. One look at my FaceBook, and my friends know that I am CRAZY about Rob. My desk at work had pictures of Rob and I, and our kids, all over the place. Friends could easily accuse me of “flaunting” my straight-ness, if people were accused of such things, because Rob and I are very public with affection and open with how grateful we are for each other.

Julie-and-Us-June-2013

If Rob and I are getting a bit too friendly at church, our friends just laugh at tell us to get a room, or they stop and tell us that we are a role model for young marriages around us. We don’t get judgment – we get affirmation. Nobody in the church has ever challenged us that we are not putting our identity as Christians first. We’ve never been told that we aren’t making Christ the center of our lives. They assume we are, based on our commitment to loving each other in a Christ-like way.

If I had to stop identifying myself as a straight, married woman when I walked into our church, I would quickly stop going, because it would be IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to really know me. Rob is my best friend, my soulmate…and he has been so for the past 30 years. He is part of me, and has been an enormous part of how I am learning to trust that God loves me unconditionally. If someone wants to know Linda, they are going to have to hear about Rob. That is just HONEST. It isn’t a crime or a sin or anything else negative…and it is about time we start extending the same permission for our gay friends, if we ever want to really know them, and if we ever want them to feel comfortable at our churches.

The Language Wars – by Julie Rodgers, Guest Blogger

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term “gay” in evangelical circles, which is understandable since the church has only recently begun asking questions of how to welcome gay people in their congregations. Among conservative Christians, “gay” is often understood as an identity—particularly an identity that communicates one’s desire for gay relationships. Many well-meaning Christians take the assumption further, believing it’s a sin for someone to embrace a gay label because they see it to be an identity rooted in something other than Christ. Among the culture at large, however, “gay” is understood simply as a description of one’s attraction toward the same sex. It’s a way of communicating an important aspect of their lives to the rest of the world through language. So when someone says they’re gay, they’re saying “I’m attracted to the same sex,” but Christians often hear: “Homosexuality is the foundation upon which I’m built and the driving force in every decision I make.”

Because of the confusion over the term, I typically avoid using labels altogether and say “I’m just Julie”. For years I’ve internally thought of myself as “gay” (in the descriptive sense) and used the term among friends who know me well, but I haven’t felt compelled to use it broadly if it’s going to cause problems for those in my community or lead them to make assumptions about me. In other words: I accommodate others by framing my experience in a way that makes them more comfortable. But if we’re asking questions about how to create a safe place for gay people in the church, I think we should consider ways to welcome them without insisting they accommodate us with the terms they use to describe their reality. It can be detrimental for gay people to be constantly challenged by loved ones based on the language they use to describe their sexuality. Imagine this scenario:

Your friend calls you on a Friday evening and invites you out for a night of bowling with the crew. You’re tired after a long week of work, and you respond with: Thanks for the invite, but I think I’m going to stay in for the night. I’m an introvert and I recharge by being alone, so I just need some time to myself. “WHAT?” Your friend replies. “Why would you say you’re an introvert? You’re not an introvert—you’re a child of God!” Well of course I’m a child of God, you say. I’m a child of God, but I also happen to be an introvert—I recharge by being alone. “How can you claim an identity other than what God says about you?” Your friend insists. “Besides, I see you interact with others and you’ve always got TONS of energy! Why would you identify yourself this way and reduce the whole of your life to this one small thing?” Well, I don’t want to argue with you and I’m not claiming this as a defining aspect of my identity, you explain. I’m just sharing an important part of myself with you to give you a better feel for what it’s like to be me so you can know and understand me more fully. “Well, I get that you sometimes feel the draw to be alone,” he replies, “but I think you need to avoid using labels like that when speaking about yourself. There’s a lot more to you than this, and I hate to see you defining yourself by this one aspect of your life.” But I’m not defining myself…..

That sounds absurd, doesn’t it? We communicate who we are through language, and we use descriptive words to share our internal experiences in order to be known by others. While our primary identity is certainly rooted in Christ, we use countless adjectives to describe unique aspects of ourselves to one another: sensitive, intelligent, emotional, artist, brother, actress, writer, old soul, high strung, laid back—all these terms paint a picture of a person’s relationship to the world around them. Most people with a gay orientation desire to communicate that to their loved ones, and most feel the word “gay” is the easiest way to express one’s attraction to the same sex. Just like we don’t make assumptions about a heterosexual’s ethics or habits based on their revelation of being “heterosexual”, we shouldn’t make assumptions about a gay person’s beliefs or relationships based on their revelation of being gay.

This is important to understand because it can be defeating for gay Christians to be challenged every time they share this personal part of their lives with loved ones. It can start to feel like they’re being shoved back into a place of hiding—as if they’re only loved by you if homosexuality is a small part of their lives they communicate in subtle terms that don’t make you uncomfortable. Many gay people feel like “SSA” does not authentically communicate the extent to which their orientation affects their day to day lives: it gives the impression that this is simply a feeling that arises from time to time. But sexual orientation involves more than mere attraction; it affects the way we interact with the world. There’s a different relational dynamic when someone walks into a room as a gay person than when someone walks into a room as a straight person (just like a Latino probably experiences a country dance hall different than a Texan). It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing—just different. But in order for your gay loved ones to be known by you, it’s important to extend them the liberty to communicate their reality through whatever language they feel best describes them.

This might not seem like a big deal, but we honor people by referring to them however they wish to be described. If someone takes the vulnerable step of welcoming you into this aspect of his or her experience, I think it should be cherished. It can be defeating for them to be challenged based on how they communicate their experience simply because you disagree with the language they use to describe it. I understand Christians don’t mean harm by insisting gay people reject the gay label—the rationale makes sense. But I hope you’ll consider what it’s like to be in the gay person’s shoes next time you find yourself uncomfortable with their choice of descriptors. It’s likely they’ve felt tremendous shame for being gay in the first place, and they’ve probably agonized over the fear of expressing that to their Christian community. I hope our churches will be a place where we desire for people to be known and loved enough to get past our discomfort over whatever terms they use to describe themselves. And I hope we won’t make assumptions about the way they choose to live their lives based on our preconceived notions. Ask them questions! They’re probably longing for a safe place to share more about this integral part of their lives.

Julie blogs at JulieRodgers.wordpress.com and has an incredibly important voice in the discussions around being gay AND being a Christian. Lots of great discussions happen on her blog…join in!