Debra Lynn Peevey provided this first-person profile statement, "Being Me for 40 Years in the Movement for LGBTQ Inclusion."
I’ve always been a seeker. Born in Southern California in 1953, I sensed from a very young age that there was something more to life than what we could see. I had no formal religious teaching, except for an errant VBS week in hot Arizona summers when visiting my grandparents in Yuma. My mother remains an Atheist/scientist who rejected Christianity as a child. She blossomed in the life of the mind and being curious about the unknown.
I was curious about God, about community and about belonging. And in college, my deep loneliness sent me on a search to find and experience them. As part of my registration at UC Berkeley, in the fall of 1971 I filled out a religious preference card and wrote Christian, having been baptized at First Presbyterian Church of Yuma, AZ as an infant. My card was sent to University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and they wrote me right back! It had been awhile since they had had a CAL student drop in their laps. My student co-op was just down the street from the church on the North side of campus, and I went there my first Sunday in town.
It was liberal, had women clergy (1971, remember), was against the peace time draft, for gun control, supported women’s reproductive choice and had a meal program and clothes closet for the poor. It was a perfect fit for me! I reveled in this congregation and denomination for the first 5 years. I experienced God, community and belonging there—that might well have saved my life.
But, not having grown up in the church, I had no idea that University Christian Church in Berkeley, CA was not representative of either mainline Protestant Christianity in general, nor the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in particular.
And then I came out in June 1976. Months later, I fell in love with my pastor’s daughter and a year later, followed her into seminary. And thus began a 40 year journey into and out of the church.
We were out when we arrived at Pacific School of Religion. My coming out to myself was the closest experience I ever had to Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Scales fell from my eyes, an instantaneous life review through the lens of being a lesbian made my life make so much more sense; all the girl crushes and my less than enthusiastic relationships with boys and men. I knew myself in a totally different light from that moment forward. And I carried that enthusiasm with me into seminary, without defense against the real church, the real denomination or the real road I was setting out to travel. In those days, there weren’t any affirming organizations, no Gay Inc. infrastructure, not a faith community on the planet that supported “self avowed practicing homosexuals” and the nascent gay rights movement was largely based on the personal courage of individual gay and lesbian people coming out. And whatever movement existed, there was a fixed wall between homosexuals and people of faith. To this day, many Christians’ believe you cannot be LGBTQ and Christian. In that day, everyone believed it. Homosexuals lived only underground and constantly in fear of detection, which could mean losing everything. I was as clueless about this stark reality as I was about the church. But I made up for my cluelessness with enthusiasm!
My enthusiasm carried me a very long way. It carried me through the Commission on the Ministry meetings when I came out and most of the members had never met a, “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” And meeting quarterly for the 3 years of Seminary, they came to trust our journey and our calls. We were met with more curiosity than judgment. They supported us, at risk to their own careers. They trusted that God was working in and through us to open hearts and minds in the church.
In 1979, I attended my first General Assembly, where I had my first real experience of the denomination as whole! In St. Louis—homosexuals and allies met offsite—for the very first time. A small (half of a 3x5 card) message was tacked to a message board inviting folks to meet by calling a number to get more information. The card kept being removed and it kept being resurrected. We met secretly—from seminarians to denominational executives--to begin talking about how to be and build more support. And at that Assembly, we also voted as a denomination on the blue ribbon panel’s finding that it was outside the will of God to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The dozen of us who had met the night before the vote had strategized our presence on the Assembly floor for the vote. Apparently overnight the strategy changed but I wasn’t in the loop, so I wound up standing alone at the NO microphone to speak out against the resolution. As I stood there by myself, the loneliness that had brought me to the church, began to seep back into my bones.
Shortly after returning to Berkeley, we met with the Commission on the Ministry to talk about how to move forward. While it could have been the end, fortunately, the polity of the Disciples of Christ is so congregationally based that congregations and regions have local autonomy that can differ from a denominational stand. Our Commission on the Ministry decided to ask our Northern California Region to vote on an alternative point of view about ordination. The vote at our Regional Assembly was on this resolution: We affirm that no one human condition can be an absolute barrier to ordination. This resolution passed and subsequently opened the door to ordination for my partner and me, as well as others going forward.
Seminary was hard. It was like being tossed in a Cuisianart on chop! Not having grown up in the church, every one of my beliefs had been whispered in my ear by my grandmother. I believed her, so I believed what she whispered in my ear! Learning in my first class, on my very first day that King David was a rapist and a murderer did not fit into my Sunday school theology about him being beloved of God and a hero of his day. I was shaken to my theological core for the next 3 years! I was fighting for my right to exist. I was fighting for the tenure of the first Black professor, Dr. Archie Smith as well as the first woman professor, Dr. Karen Lebacqz. Studying took a back seat to politics, but I made it through at the end.
In my second year of seminary, my partner and I met with the Dean of Students, Rev. Barbara Roche to ask for married student housing. We wanted to move into campus housing to save money and married student housing meant we would share one rent, rather than each having full rent as single students in a dorm room. Dean Roche had just returned from a General Assembly of the PCUSA where the issue of homosexuality came to such a fevered pitch, that the openly gay and lesbian Presbyterians present needed police escorts for their safety. She was so shocked at that vitriol and hatred that she determined there and then not to participate in it. She asked us if we would be married, if we could be married? I replied, “Would you be willing to marry us, Rev. Roche?” And she gave us a married student apartment that day! Our move into the married student apartment building wasn’t without controversy, but overall we were well received.
At Pacific School of Religion we worked to include gay and lesbian couples issues in our marriage counseling classes. We lead chapel and talked about gay rights. We invited Meg Christian to do a concert in the PSR Chapel that was standing room only. I remember her finishing her concert, looking up at the cross hanging above the Chancel and getting a very impish look in her eye. She just had to do one more song about her… Gym Teacher! We were all on our feet singing along: “She was a big strong woman, the first to come along, that taught me being female meant you still could be strong….” Feminist theology was just on the horizon then. Jerry Falwell had declared war on “self avowed practicing homosexuals.” Harvey Milk and thousands of us marched in San Francisco Pride. Shortly thereafter he was assassinated and we turned out 30,000 strong to protest and weep and determined to live out of the closet!
And then the process for ordination began in earnest. I had been the Minister in Training at Lafayette Christian Church from 1979-1980. The first night I met with the youth group, one of their young members had committed suicide. It created a bond that remains with some of them, to this day. We celebrated communion with Coke and cookies—being what we had on hand—and we talked about what it meant to be a member of the Body of Christ. I was out to the Senior Pastor, Rev. Stan Smith—but we opted not to make my being a lesbian an issue before the members of the church got to know me. The following year, I came out when I wrote a letter to the Board asking them to support me as a candidate for ministry.
As word leaked out to the entire congregation, there was a cry for an all congregation meeting so they could confront me. Rather than beginning that way, I was asked to meet with small groups that would be moderated by Elders in the church. These meetings were excruciating. Members cried and screamed at me. They were certain I had molested their children. They threw scripture at me like venom and brickbats. Through it all, I did my best to be a model homosexual…polite, reflective, reassuring and reasonable. After this series of meetings, I had one more hoop to jump. I had to meet in person with the Board of Directors so they too could question me. There were supporters and detractors at the meeting and I pretty much knew who was who. The most significant moment for me was when Elder Joe Young, the only Black member of the Board, sitting across the long table looked at me and said, “Debra, I am so disappointed in you”, (I hadn’t allowed myself to cry at any of the horrible heartbreaking meetings I’d been through…but here tears fell down my face, even as I sat stone faced and listened as he continued to speak). “ I am disappointed in you, because you make me remember what it is like to sit at the head of a table and be seen only as an issue, rather than as a human being.” His understanding cracked me wide open. I worked hard to compose myself and thanked him. I felt like everything I had gone through up to this moment, was worth it. And then a woman, who had made me a cassock (to cover my impoverished student clothing) cried out at me, wanting to know why I was forcing her to leave her church. I did my best to point out that she had hundreds of churches she could attend, while there were only a handful that would welcome me. Her leaving caused us all a lot of pain. And finally the youth representative on the Board stood up to talk about how pivotal my ministry with them had been and how I had only ever acted with complete integrity around them. They saw my coming out as an extension of that integrity. When they voted, the vote was 12 in favor, 3 against. I was beyond exhausted and I was going to be ordained.
I insisted on being out in my ordination process because I couldn’t make sense of lying to become a minister; the polity of the denomination made it possible and because I never wanted anyone to be able to say that they wouldn’t have ordained me if they had known. Everyone suggested I lie. They knew more of what I would face if I didn’t, but that never seemed like good counsel from a seasoned minister to an aspiring one. I wrote a paper in my Ethics class based on Adrienne Rich’s book, On Lies, Secrets and Silence. Once my mom started speaking to me again, two years after I came out to her, she said I insisted on it because I’d never learned to keep my mouth shut! That is a truth I also cannot deny.
My ordination on May 31, 1981 was a wonderful celebration at Lafayette Christian Church, in a community in the East Bay of Northern California. The assembled people of God, the music, the focus on inclusion (even the bulletin was a rainbow!) and the spirit of what we had come through together made the laying on of hands an entire congregational affair! And then as Elder Joe Young and I stood together at the communion table and represented the possibility of love overcoming fear in the history of the church and society, we broke the bread and felt the re-membering of the Body of Christ in our presence.
My partner and I had broken up before my last year in seminary. It was a blow to us and to the seminary community. I had moved to Seattle, to follow a new relationship and a job. When I arrived in Seattle—the job I’d been hired for was no longer available. The Senior Minister neglected to tell me that before I moved, but he did out my new partner to her boss. I cobbled together two jobs at different congregations, one Disciples the other UCC. Things in Seattle weren’t great, so I was open to other possibilities.
Shortly after my graduation and ordination, I interviewed for jobs in Southern California because our General Assembly met there. I had two congregations interested in me—which was amazing because women clergy were still relatively rare and few congregations were interested in hiring us. The interview process in each congregation played out the same way. At the first interview they loved me! They had me meet with the youth, the women’s group, and the pulpit committee. As they prepared to invite me to come back for a second interview, the committee members asked me if there was anything else they should know. I replied happily, “Yes, I am a lesbian.” And rather than just showing me the door, or actually remembering that they had thought I was good enough to ask back for a second interview, they screamed at me about needing to seek medical care for their children to make sure I hadn’t molested them, threw scripture at me, and couldn’t get me out the door fast enough. At the second congregation, the first interview went just as well. They asked me back for a second interview and when I showed up for it, I could tell something was very wrong. One of the ministers who was a close friend of my ordaining pastor had outed me to the committee. When I walked in to the interview room after church, instead of simply telling me that I was no longer a candidate, they asked me if the horrible news was true and when I confirmed it, they proceeded to abuse me with scripture, their fear and loathing and threatened to take me to jail if I had abused any of their children. This took place as the Senior Pastor, a closeted gay man, sat there and let the abuse continue before asking me to leave.
After these experiences of truth telling, I instituted my own don’t ask, don’t tell policy. I would answer truthfully any interviewing body that asked me if I was a lesbian, but I wasn’t going to tell them if they didn’t ask. So I headed back to Seattle and to my two jobs, having been shaken to the core. And a couple of months later, the Regional Minister, the Rev. Bob Brock called and asked if I would like my name given to Findlay Street Christian Church (FSCC) in the south end of Seattle and I told him yes. Bob also said, “I hate to send anyone there who thinks they can do anything with that church.” I didn’t know whether to be insulted or grateful. Women clergy were more often than not, considered for just such congregations.
The good people of FSCC interviewed me on 10 separate occasions. And finally they narrowed their search to two candidates, a young man serving in Georgia and me. If they chose me, they didn’t have to pay moving expenses, so they invited me to preach and stay to meet with the congregation afterward for a potluck. That same day they held the vote. The most memorable moment of that day was when a woman asked me if I was sure I was the right man for the job. I tucked my head and looked inside my dress and assured her that I definitely was not the right man for the job, but if she gave me a chance, I believed I could prove to her I was the right person for the job! The issue of being a lesbian never came up and I was hired with 90% support of the congregation.
I began my ministry at FSCC on July 1, 1982. It was a small congregation, located in a working class neighborhood in the south end of Seattle, in the most integrated zip code in Washington. In spite of this, it was a predominantly white congregation and most of the members had supported covenants keeping Jews and Blacks from moving into the nearby neighborhoods that fronted Lake Washington. Most of the men who worked, worked at Boeing. Most of the women were older widows. I was 29. Five people passed away my first year. As they watched me sit vigil and bury their friends, they came to see that having a woman minister was going to be OK.
I was active in the community beyond the church. I helped to organize a women clergy group meeting. It seemed every denomination had one or two in Seattle! I was invited to be a Founding Mother for the Women’s Funding Alliance. We took on United Way to challenge their monopoly on the Combined Federal Campaign. Gay and lesbian folk began hearing about a lesbian pastor at a small church in the south end and came to the church. After 5 years of serving in the closet, I was ready to quit. By then, I had met my partner—now spouse Candy S. Cox-- and she challenged me to stay and try telling the truth again instead of quitting. So I put things in motion to do just that.
I asked an Elder to go a visit a woman who had stopped attending the church. I had heard from another member that Jody had quit coming because there were homosexuals at the church and she was afraid of AIDS. So Bob took Jody to lunch and called me immediately and said we needed to meet! We had lunch later that week and he told me why Jody wasn’t coming any more. He told me that it was my job to make sure none of “them” had leadership positions. And then he told me that the Elders had already met and they wanted to know where I stood on the issue of homosexuality. I was shaken and I told him I’d get back to him about when I would preach on the subject. I went home and did a lectionary study and picked the lectionary that began on the first Sunday in Lent, March 15, 1987. Peter’s Dream in Acts 10:9-16 and the Exodus story were the cornerstone of my sermon.
I began my sermon, with great thanks to Candy, talking about the various times the church had stood on the wrong side of history. People’s lives had been ruined and even lost by the Church’s insistence that the earth was flat, that the earth was the center of the universe, that slavery was Biblically sound, that the Gospel shouldn’t be in the common vernacular, that evolution wasn’t real and that women shouldn’t be ordained. Each of these culture wars had ended with the church having to concede they were wrong (except the argument about women’s ordination still lingers on). And now, in 1987 the church had the opportunity to stand on the right side of history by seeing homosexuality as akin to being left handed in a right- handed culture. When I got to that point in my sermon, people got up and walked out. Some never returned. Some stayed to make sure I lost my job, even though I still hadn’t come out. And the history of FSCC changed irrevocably that day. And we came to know the living reality of the Exodus and working together to discern how something God once called unclean, could now be known as clean.
Lent became real for all of us. Those who stayed felt cast into the wilderness. Turmoil, uncertainty, and anxiety filled the building and followed us home. The Elders met the next night and could have easily fired me, but instead processed my sermon and created a plan. As Elder after Elder shared their response, I was shocked and awed. They said if I thought it was important then we should study the issue more. They said they had loved all the new members up to the point of learning that some were gay and lesbian and it wouldn’t be Christian to stop loving them now. They said they church hadn’t ever stood up for anything, and maybe this was our chance. And then one Elder said, “I can’t believe what I am hearing! It is as if prejudice and bigotry have gotten a bad name in this church! And if that is so, I am prepared to resign!” The Chair of the Elders said she was ready to accept his resignation, because prejudice and bigotry had no place in the church.
And thus began a 6 week long process of small group Bible study and congregational education about homophobia. Suspicions ran high among those who stayed. Older members insisted on being in the room when the collection was counted to make sure the new members weren’t there to cheat the church. Some of the laity came out and told their stories. Members questioned what they had always been taught and were open to seeing the clobber texts in new ways, when viewed through the lens of other scriptures. 25% of the members never came back, but new people started coming when they heard what we were doing. And then Holy Week arrived! Monday night of Holy Week was the regularly scheduled Board Meeting. It was the first congregational opportunity to fire me. I had spent the month coming out to the Elders, so when they voted on whether or not to fire me, they were fully informed. The mood for the meeting was like a public hanging. The man who had been my Elder, drove back and forth in front of the church telling people to vote me out. Yet, he didn’t have the courage of his convictions to come into the building and cast his vote. 45 members attended and 30 could vote. The one man who could have successfully led the charge against me didn’t, even as he had told me he would vote against me that night. And because he didn’t lead the charge, my opposition petered out and wasn’t able to muster the votes to fire me. Instead my ministry was supported, with a vote that was exactly double the vote of my ordination approval, 24-6. And come Easter morning, we experienced the Resurrection in reality. We made it through. We were still standing. We knew the elation and the fear of the empty tomb. We wept collectively at what we had been through. We grieved our losses. We celebrated our new beginning. We recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit and be began to build a new way of being church together.
Candy and I had long been planning to have a Covenant Ceremony that June 27th during Pride Weekend. So at the June Board Meeting, I officially came out to the Board. Most people greeted the news with enthusiasm, and a few more people left. Now while building a resurrection community, we were also ready to help build a national movement within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Working with others across the denomination, we helped to found GLAD, the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples organization. Candy served as a founding board member. Findlay Street Christian Church became the first Open and Affirming Congregation within this new organization. Candy announced the formation of GLAD on the floor of the General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky in October of 1987. In a room of more than 8.000, you could have heard a pin drop! We went to the National March on Washington en route to the Assembly, where the AIDS Quilt was laid out for the first time. It was the first and only time I ever wore a collar. People were amazed to see a minister there. It was so important for me to be a presence of love and grace to so many whom had been so deeply hurt by the church.
Findlay Street continued to grow and flourish after we became Open and Affirming. We doubled in size and even won prizes for evangelism. When the National Evangelistic Association called and asked us for the secret to our success, once we told them, they mailed us the certificate rather than helping to tell our story more publicly!
I continued my ministry for 5 more years at FSCC. We were the church that many of the men dying of AIDS chose to come to. We were the church that those who had broken relationships with the church chose to come to. We were the church that housed the People of Color Against AIDS Network offices as well as the Community Food Bank. We gave space to a Black social worker to be a community liaison and to provide help to church members in lieu of rent. I preached at the first World AIDS Day service at First Baptist Church and I was on local television and in the paper as an open lesbian pastor.
Having been part of the national movement within the Disciples as well as very public in Seattle, I became a target for hate mail. Especially, every time Disciple Renewal—the most conservative group within the denomination-- told our story to point out the moral depravity and decay of the Church. I came to call myself the Disciple Renewal poster child, as I was their best fundraiser of all time! I was on the General Board of the denomination at the time and so also had access to denominational leaders. So many told me I was good for my cause. And so many supported me in private, but very rarely did as the need increasingly rose to support me in public.
After fifteen years of being out, being the only open gay or lesbian minister (the second person openly ordained, the wonderful Rev. Allen Harris was ordained in 1991, ten full years after me) and being exhausted by the national and local hate that came my way, I knew it was time for me to leave. On the first Sunday in Advent in 1990 I preached on the church being pregnant and being in a time of preparing for new birth, and I heard these words during my pastoral prayer. “You are not the midwife to bring new life to this church.” And I knew it was true. I resigned the next Sunday and served til the end of February 1991.
I needed extended time to heal. I left ministry feeling like I had no skin. The pain stored in my body equaled my body weight. Blessedly, Candy agreed that I didn’t have to work for a while. And then she decided to sell her business and take a year off with me. We travelled some, but mostly I quilted and gardened and worked to regain my strength.
A year later, when we both needed to go back to work, Candy found me a job posting at Hospice of Seattle. I got the job and for the first time in my life and ministry being a lesbian was a plus. It was during the AIDS crisis and many of the men on hospice were afraid of the church and a chaplain. But my nurses and social workers were able to tell them about me and then they were so relieved and so in need of God’s grace. I sat with many parents who did not know their sons were gay, until they learned of their deaths by AIDS. This was a great transition ministry for me that lasted for 4 years. During my time at Hospice of Seattle I went back and did post graduate work in spiritual direction at Seattle University. This was a period of deep healing as well as a time of recognition about how deep my wounds really were.
Candy got a new job in Washington DC, so we moved to Reston, Virginia. I worked as a spiritual director there, lead lots of retreats for leaders of various congregations as well as women’s retreats. I kept my foot in the door, but did not join a church and lost my standing in the Disciples. I simply did not have the stuffing to jump through their appropriate hoops to continue my ministerial credentials. I felt like the church had left me. And fortunately, in my time away from parish ministry, I had learned that that wasn’t the same as God leaving me.
We lived in Virginia for 10 years. My first volunteer project there was with the AIDS Quilt. I volunteered as a quilter and as a fundraiser. When the entire Quilt was displayed for the last time in 1996, I helped family members and friends make panels for their loved ones and Candy and I had the honor of witnessing President and Mrs. Clinton walk silently among the panels. He was the first president to ever acknowledge the Quilt. During that long October weekend, when 44,000 panels were already on display, covering the entire Mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building, we also received over 2,500 new panels. That was 300 more than had been on display in 1987. I remained a volunteer and helped them develop a successful fundraising campaign.
As part of my work at Seattle University, I learned about the Enneagram. It is a psycho-social-spiritual typology that meets you at the depths you will meet it. We read a book about it shortly before moving and were interested in learning more. So while in VA, I participated in the teacher training for Certification in the Riso-Hudson school of the Enneagram. It continues to be the most important approach to building a life of faithful service that I have ever found. I use it in my spiritual direction practice as well as for my own spiritual growth and formation. I am blessed with wonderful teachers and guides.
During this deep dive into spiritual direction and leading retreats on adult spiritual formation, Candy leapt into leadership at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). She served as Co-Chair on the Board and then worked with their media team. Fundraising in DC is a heady mix of rubbing shoulders with movie stars and political sheroes and heroes. Her work in advertising and with the Task Force was a very exciting and fulfilling time of life!
When Candy retired from the advertising business, we decided to move to Mexico. We were hungry for an adventure and to become citizens of the world. It was an amazing experience living in a foreign country. After 18 months we knew that living in Mexico wasn’t a long term retirement strategy for us, (though we still hold the dream of living internationally) so we moved back to the states. We picked Arizona because we did not want to be old and cold and we love the sun! Six months after moving back, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Constitutional Ban against same sex marriage was illegal! I proposed to Candy in the car as we listened to the story break on NPR. We wanted to go to California and get married! In 1987 when we had our covenant, our families were invited and only one of my brothers had come. He stood with me. In 2008, we called every member and they all wanted to be there! In five weeks we planned everything so that 21 years and 1 day after our covenant, we were legally married in my sister’s back yard on June 28, 2008, with my same brother Neal standing at my side. On our honeymoon, we decided to volunteer full time against Prop 8. Candy worked with the media team creating amazing videos and I worked with the field team as a field organizer for Santa Barbara County and as one of two state wide Faith Field Organizers, along with the Rev. Lindi Ramsden a UU pastor I knew from seminary. I had hoped that having been ordained in CA and knowing lots of folks there, I would be able to leverage them and their congregations to be champions for marriage equality. I was wrong.
Working on the NO on Prop 8 campaign was the hardest thing we have ever done. The best part was Candy and I learning how much we loved working on projects together and forming bonds with the field team that continue strong today. The worst part was losing after pouring our hearts in 17 hours a day for months as well as being reintroduced to the vitriol of Christian’s. Each side raised $44,000.000 in that campaign, and traveling the state to talk to Christian’s about supporting us had some high notes, but mostly it was a cacophony of hatefulness. The election of President Barack Obama that same night helped to ease some of our pain.
Losing in California was a wake up call to us all! Marriage Equality was an issue whose time came after the passage of Prop 8. The entire country was stunned and we saw after losing 32 ballot initiatives in a row, that we needed to change our strategy. And it also signaled a change in my career. From our work against Prop 8, we began receiving calls to help with various campaigns.
In 2009, I was asked to be part of the planning team for and to preach at Believe Out Loud, a first of its kind coming together of the Task Force’s Field Team and the Welcoming Church Program Leaders member’s base. Each Welcoming Program was tasked with identifying participants to attend and learn the basics of organizing to create public policy change. For three days organizers and local church members worked together to instill organizing principles and tactics. Overcoming the resistance to organizing within congregations and communities was and is a very steep climb. My sermon sought to bridge the gap between these two communities. Some participants really caught hold of the theory of change that says, change the church, change the world, change the church. Clips from my sermon are available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URAgyLlmi8Q.
More Light Presbyterians asked me to join their calling team to have conversations with Presbyterian clergy to end the ban on ordination of LGBT candidates for ministry. Working with Toby Rogers and the Rev. Janet Edwards as well as the Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig of Covenant Network of Presbyterians, I had conversations with about 500 Presbyterian clergy that summer. We didn’t prevail in passing Amendment 08B, but we lost forward and made it clear that rescinding the ban was possible. Only 500 votes out of thousands cast separated winning from losing.
Next the Arcus Foundation hired us to evaluate three Welcoming Church Programs. Arcus had donated a million dollars over the previous 5 years to these three programs and wanted an independent evaluation of their efficacy. Together we created an interview plan to evaluate Reconciling Ministries Network and their work among the United Methodist Church, Lutherans Concerned and their work in the ELCA, and finally Integrity and the Chicago Consultation and their work within the Episcopal Church. With the full cooperation of the organizations, I conducted 80 interviews and heard first hand the impact as well as the growing edges of each organization. In general the evaluations showed that the organizations met or exceeded their granting objectives, and each group was given suggestions for moving forward to enhance the efficacy of their work.
More Light called again in 2010 after another resolution had passed the PCUSA General Assembly to rescind the ban on the ordination of LGBT candidates, meaning another national phone campaign to ratify the new Amendment 10A was necessary. This time I was better prepared and I was able to call many of the same clergy I had two years before. It was great to catch up! Candy and I strategized with Tricia again and Candy created a masterful statistical chart that became the heartbeat of the MLP campaign. I had about 1000 conversations that summer and Candy handled the statistics and the media. It was clear that we were going to ratify Amendment 10A in early May of 2011, and I’ll never forget the night we reached ratification! The Moderator of the PCUSA was in Minneapolis and we trusted that the Presbytery of the Twin Cities would vote to ratify. The entire media plan was based on their voting before Pacific Presbytery did that same night. But then a huge storm hit Minneapolis and they broke for dinner. We created a new media plan as we waited, identifying spokespeople in Minnesota and Los Angeles. Watching Candy at work was inspiring! Finally the Twin Cities meeting was restarted and the vote to ratify meant the ordination ban on faithful LGBT Presbyterians had come to an end! All the while we were hosting my mother and sister in the other room for my birthday. One amazing moment was when Candy asked me to take over preparing dinner because the New York Times was on the phone!
In 2012 I received a call from Dr. Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Faith and Religion Program asking if I would be interested in applying for the position of Faith Director of Washington United for Marriage. It meant moving back to Seattle for 4.5 months to be a member of the Field team. I applied and was hired. Fortunately, I still had many faith contacts from my 10 years of ministry in Seattle. I moved in with our dear friends Don and Ann Berrysmith and went to work building a Faith Cabinet, leaders within each denomination who could both advise me and lead work within their own constituencies/denominations to organize and engage teams within local congregations to support the work of the campaign. Our primary objective was to engage our faith supporters to hold conversations within their congregations and over the phone with voters. Christian faith organizations were the largest opponents to the ballot initiative and it was my job to mobilize and maximize the voices of people of faith who supported marriage equality because of their faith. The faith team of Aubrey Thonvold, Stephen Crippen and me created teams within all the expected denominations as well as with Mormons for Marriage Equality and Catholics for Marriage Equality. All people of faith wore the same button supporting the ballot initiative. If you consider all the faith wars historically and now, that was a major accomplishment! We sold out of our first 1,500 buttons and nearly our second batch as well. Those buttons were responsible for thousands of conversations across the state. Washington, Maryland and Maine all passed marriage equality ballot measures in one night and Minnesota revoked their Constitutional Marriage ban. 4 ballot victories in one night after 32 straight losses at the ballot box! Every campaign had a faith director!
I came home exhausted! Right after that campaign, the Rev. Rebecca Voekel of the Institute of Welcoming Resources of the Task Force asked me if I would consider taking a job with them as their Lead Ecumenical Trainer. The job would be to travel the country working with any/all of the welcoming church programs whenever they held a Building an Inclusive Church workshop. I would train and be responsible to make sure every participant got connected to their correct denominational program. We were still committed to building more welcoming congregations in order to empower the members to engage in conversations within their churches and in their communities. I said no to this request initially because I needed to rest. It was filled instead by my good friend Alex McNeil. When he was hired to be the ED of More Light Presbyterians, I then took the job. I held the post from mid 2014 to the end of 2016. It was a blessing to work with the organizers at the Task Force (National LGBTQ Task Force by now) as well as the trainers among the denominational welcoming groups. One of the best nights in my life as a faith organizer, was the last meal I shared with them receiving their gifts of grace and getting to share my heart with them one by one.
In 2013, More Light Presbyterians came calling again. Against my better judgment, both More Light and Covenant Network decided to forward resolutions to the General Assembly in support of removing language prohibiting marriage equality. Tricia, Candy and I all thought it was a bad idea. We didn’t think it had a chance of passing the Assembly and would stir up lingering animus of the previous two votes. We were wrong! It passed the General Assembly by one of the widest margins ever at the Assembly. So we got to work. This time though, because we opted not to make the calls ourselves, but instead to supervise a team of regional coordinators who would use our well honed tactics to build teams within every presbytery possible to do the outreach themselves. This built empowered communities in each presbytery to work together to create change going forward. Amendment 14F also passed the presbyteries by a wide margin. Our work with More Light Presbyterians was complete.
In 2014 I applied to be the Faith Director of Why Marriage Matters Arizona! The ED, Jeremy Zegas and I had worked together on the ballot measure in Washington. My job was to secure faith leaders’ support for marriage equality. We asked them to write letters, hold press conferences, prayer breakfasts, preach and write letters to the editor about how their faith underscored their support of marriage equality. On October 17, 2014 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the constitutional ban on same sex marriage and Attorney General Tom Horne opted not to appeal. Candy and I attended the press conference with the Attorney General and hit SEND on my texts to over 100 faith leaders who were ready to deploy to every courthouse in the State of Arizona. They carried signs that said, “I Stand Ready to Marry You.” Over 130 marriages took place that day! Most couples had been waiting decades and were thrilled to be able to marry that day. Here’s one article about that amazing day: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2014/10/17/arizona-gay-marriage-ruling/17431229/ We were ready and we celebrated that night with a huge overflow crowd at the UCC Conference Offices in Phoenix and at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson.
From my work on the Why Marriage Matters Arizona campaign, in 2015 I was asked to work with the team from ONE Community, co-founded by CEO and President Angela Hughey. Angela created OC with her spouse Sheri Owens in 2007 to reach out to the business community to build support for full LGBT inclusion within their organizations. ONE Community’s Unity Pledge is the largest LGBTQ inclusive pledge in the country. This is her core belief: It’s time to ensure equality for all Arizona employees, residents, and consumers. It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business. It’s good for the business of Arizona. Her business plan changed when the Arizona State Legislature passed a bill giving businesses the right to discriminate against, including refusing service to LGBT patrons so long as they cited sincerely held religious beliefs. The bill lingered for 5 days on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk. During those days, ONE Community, which had the best relationships with businesses across Arizona, mounted a campaign to get the governor to veto SB 1062. Thus launched a statewide Open for Business to Everyone campaign that distributed 3500 signs statewide (in less than 72 hours) for businesses to display. The sign was downloaded over 100,000 times as well! Faith communities had also joined in to request the veto. A senior Evangelical pastor, who was in the room told me that he and 4 other Evangelical pastors met with the governor the day she vetoed the bill and in the privacy of her office suggested she veto it too. It was bad business all the way around for the State. Gov. Brewer did veto SB 1062, but we have yet to have statewide protections for the LGBT community.
I was brought on to build out the faith support for full statewide inclusion. Together we built a group of 225 faith leaders, including all the mainline denominations, Jews, Muslims and Mormons. They have written, testified, preached and hosted a powerful curriculum called The Star Activity that puts participants in the life experience shoes of LGBTQ people in a very real way! Our small team worked with business leaders, faith leaders, public school leaders, medical workers and social service providers to train them in LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, in the school, and in the public square. Everyone is always surprised that in 26 states there are still no statewide protections in housing, employment and public accommodations for the LGBTQ community.
I retired as the Lead Ecumenical Trainer of the National LGBTQ Task Force and ONE Community in December 2016. Since then I have initiated two campaigns. The first grew organically from the Women’s March on Jan 21, 2017, when 25,000 of us marched in Phoenix and joined marchers from around the world in the largest single protest march in the world. We were all declaring our support for values of inclusion and solidarity in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. Our local group meets every other week to discuss the issues and write post cards to our congressional representatives. 2 from our group visit the local offices each week. I also helped to organize an online support campaign for Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly LGBTQ Bishop in the United Methodist Church. We solicited letters from her colleagues from seminary to nationally known faith leaders to speak out in support of both her inspirational leadership, qualifications as well as to end the repression of the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church. Our campaign lives on Facebook at #ToBishopKOwithLove (https://www.facebook.com/ToBishopKOwithLove/?ref=bookmarks).
I continue to join Candy and the Rev. Janet Edwards as advisors to the Global Faith and Equality Fund of the Horizons Foundation. This fund focuses on stemming the exportation of homophobia by faith leaders from the United States primarily to the Global South, and it supports organizations in the US who are doing this essential work. It is an honor to be a part of this team.
This year, Candy and I are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of our covenant in June 1987. I continue my spiritual direction practice as well as my study and teaching of the Enneagram. I also love mentoring younger activists! I dream of strategizing with other older activists to discern the importance and place of being grandparents of the movement in this time. I will do this as time allows. As we have many interests, frienda and family that call for our attention and our time!
While I am still a seeker, I no longer consider myself a Christian. I’m still curious about sacredness, community and belonging. And I sit content with what I have experienced and learned and what else beckons us beyond the horizon.
Biography Date: July 2017