During my years as an activist I have shaken hands and had brief conversations about equality with some of the most influential antigay leaders in America; including Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, John Hagee, Bill Hybels, Tony Perkins, and the late Jerry Falwell. I also stood at the doorstep of Focus on the Family with a crowd of my LGBTQ friends and allies. In almost every case, my partner and kids were by my side. Let me explain.
In 1999 I joined 200 others in the launching of Soulforce by visiting Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, and engaging in dialogue with leaders at his Thomas Road Baptist Church. I participated in several more direct actions over the next few years, and then got really active in 2004 when James Dobson was coined "The Kingmaker" by the national media for his role in getting evangelical Christians to re-elect George Bush.
I organized a nonviolent protest of Dobson's antigay propaganda and on May 1, 2005, over 1000 LGBTQ people and allies gathered outside Focus on the Family. The highlight of that event was when the crowd slow danced to a recording of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Johnny Mathis & Ray Charles, and then marched defiantly, but peacefully, around Dobson's sprawling 47-acre headquarters.
That effort landed me the gig as Executive Director of Soulforce from 2006 through 2009. I began by organizing another large protest outside Focus. This time we compiled a photo album of LGBTQ families and Judy Shepard and actor Chad Allen (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) delivered it to the staff at Focus while the media recorded their efforts.
Over the next several years, I took same-sex couples and families to meet with some of the country's largest mega-church pastors (I wrote about my family's encounter with Rick Warren here, and the above photo is of Joel Osteen meeting my children). Bilerico contributor Paige Schilt served as my Communications Director and was instrumental in the success of that national campaign to raise awareness. My team also helped our young activists in launching the Equality Ride (which continues today and visits religious and military colleges with discriminatory policies against LGBTQ students).
Although you may not be in a position to organize events of this magnitude, you and your partner can act with strength and integrity to take a stand against injustice and advance the love you share. Get involved with your state equality organization; participate in lobby days; talk to family, friends, and neighbors about your relationship; come out at every opportunity; and if you are bold enough - invite an antigay church leader out to lunch for some dialogue. Whatever you do, do it without any violence of the fist, tongue, and heart and remember that in reality we are challenging unjust systems, not people. In due course, we seek to be in community with those from whom we currently find ourselves divided.
We are each responsible for taking action in pursuit of equality and you have the faculty to be powerful, influential, and prevailing. Most importantly, when you act you strengthen your own identity and your capacity to love others more fully. You may or may not be able to change the heart of another, but in trying, you most certainly will change your own.