Friday, May 29, 2009

So How Well Do You Know Happy?

So I did this silly quiz on Facebook. How well do you know me?

  1. What is Happy's favorite food?
    1. Fried Potatoes
    2. Potato Salad
    3. Mashed Potatoes
    4. Baked Potatoes
    5. Scalloped Potatoes

    Obviously, I like potatoes, but what kind of potatoes. It's actually pretty much a toss-up between Happy's Famous Potato Salad, and Happy's Fried Potatoes, but the potato salad edges out the fried potatoes. The Scalloped Potatoes (March 8, 2009) are pretty wicked, too.

  2. What is Happy's favorite activity?
    1. Bronc Riding
    2. Jello Wrestling
    3. Oboe Playing
    4. Potato Cooking
    5. Square Dancing

    Okay, I threw this in as a bonus answer. If you missed this answer (Square Dancing), you really don't know me.

  3. Who does Happy most admire?
    1. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    2. Abraham Lincoln
    3. Mahatma Gandhi
    4. Harvey Milk
    5. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

    Truth be known, I admire all of these people. I've read their biographies and was moved by their stories. One of these men aspired to the be very least among all, and lead his nation to independence through his sheer moral authority. Come to think of it, all of these men had tremendous moral authority. My answer is Mahatma Gandhi.

  4. Which place does Happy consider his hometown?
    1. Normal, IL
    2. Moscow, ID
    3. Potlatch, ID
    4. Kennewick, WA
    5. Wheaton, MD

    All of these places I would feel privileged to have as my hometown. They all played an important part in my growing up and my life. Moscow, though, is where I grew up and first started exploring my world. My favorite newspaper headline comes from Normal: "Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman." Oblong is a little town in Illinois.

  5. What did Happy want to be when he grew up?
    1. President of the United States
    2. a Medical Missionary
    3. a Chef
    4. an Astronaut
    5. a Lawyer

    At one time or another, I wanted to be all of these things (except an astronaut). But the one that really rang my chimes was medical missionary. I read a biography of Dr. Albert Schweitzer when I was eight or so, and I was hooked.

  6. What is Happy's secret desire?
    1. to dance C3A
    2. to visit Thailand
    3. to marry Ron
    4. to master Portuguese
    5. to move to New Mexico

    I've discussed all of these with friends and hangers on at one time or another, but the one thing I'd really like to do is to master Portuguese. I guess it's now no longer a secret desire.

  7. What most informs Happy's spirituality?
    1. Radical Faerieism
    2. Mormonism
    3. Episcopalianism
    4. Buddhism
    5. The Big Bang Theory

    All of these, with the exception of Buddhism have influenced my spirituality, and I think that all of these have important values, but the one that has mostly affected me is the Big Bang Theory (and not the TV show, although it is great television, and Ron reminds me of Sheldon. I can't wait for the second season to come out on DVD). Belief is an explanation of the inexplicable, and I believe the Big Bang Theory best explains that.

  8. Happy considers himself:
    1. a Control Queen
    2. Machiavellian
    3. Laid Back
    4. Analytical
    5. Cautious

    This is a trick question. I'm asking this from my interior perspective. And I really do consider myself "Laid Back" no matter what the objective evidence shows.

  9. Which of the following is false?
    1. Happy's Mom is his Aunt.
    2. Happy's first cousin is his twin brother.
    3. Happy's grandpa is his first cousin twice removed.
    4. Happy's Father's name is John.
    5. Happy's brother's name is John.

    This question is really better if you use the name my Mom calls me: John, rather than Happy. I really have a brother named John, which is why I like the name, Happy. And my Mom really is my Aunt, but my Father's name is Vernon.

  10. Happy is seen around town driving:
    1. a Toyota Prius
    2. a Toyota Corolla
    3. a Chevrolet Impala
    4. a Volkswagen Golf
    5. an Infiniti G35

    When I got married, we drove around in a Chevy Impala. Since coming to DC, I've driven both a Toyota Corolla, and an Infiniti, but I'm now prowling the streets with a Prius. Get the GPS installled. Ron and I talk to its disembodied voice, "Turn right at next corner then turn right...."

Now you pretty much know everything there is to know about me, and then some. After making up this quiz, then rereading it, I realize that nothing and everything has changed. It was a fun little exercise, and I hope you enjoyed it, too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Remember When?

Remember when it was great to be gay because you could avoid the draft, you couldn't get married, and you didn't have kids? And we didn't think a second thought about it. Oh, how much forty years makes a difference. We're too quick to walk away from those early days. We dreamed a gay revolution, but woke up in the straight suburbs. We left many of our gay principles behind, and we should re-examine them, because adopting straight institutions and values can lead us astray, and it never makes us straight.

Although "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is an offensive and unfair policy, repealing it doesn't speak to the issues of the role of the military in our society, and the role that gay people should play within that military and the larger society. Our society lacks a highly visible critique of the military role in today's world. We are asked to support the military complex in its fight against terrorism and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gay people should demand an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but we should also be critiquing the military complex. It takes a big chunk of change out of our pockets as taxes, and it sends men and women into peril every day for what? I read a lot about what the United States does, but not a lot of why. There is a lot of blood on the ground.

When I came out, getting married was not a high priority. In the 80s, the gay community had a huge debate about whether marriage should be an issue for us. I understand why people want to get married. But if it's only about the benefits, tax advantage, and inheritance, we're not being principled in this endeavor. Marriage certainly doesn't fit my family, and it doesn't fit the families of many other gay people I know. If the rush to gay marriage is about honoring gay relationships, then the goal has to be something more than about two people. Because my marriage to Ron would say nothing about my love for Tim, Perry, and Brian. And faithfulness and fidelity would have to be re-imagined. But I'm not hearing that from the gay marriage activists.

I heard a tale from Harry Hay that he told me in my living room in 1994. A lesbian couple who were friends of his had a baby, and wanted to share their happy experience with him. He would have none of it. He felt that gay people were meant for a different kind of existence than child-rearing, and he told his friends that. They were not pleased. Harry Hay had a special wisdom. Gay people have a different life than their straight neighbors. We should not give up our own ways too easily.

Drugs, sex, and rock and roll, anyone?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Burlison Experiment

Over the past couple of months, I've been "friending" Burlisons on Facebook. I've had some very interesting conversations with other people who have my last name. Common ancestral names appear to be Isaac, Jacob, and Aaron. So far, I've found Burlisons in New York, Arkansas, Idaho, California, Oklahoma, Ohio, Colorado, Great Britain, and Australia. About 600 Burlisons are on Facebook, and I've friended about 30 of them. I still have a ways to go.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Mucus Mood

I'm in the final throes of a sinus infection. All the crud is moving south. My head is stuffed with yellow-green gunk, and I cough, pathetically. We went to see the movie, Star Trek, and I needed a throat lozenge because my mucus was stealthier than the Romulans.

Ah, the movie. You should see it. Star Trek makes no sense, but doesn't need to. It's exactly what a summer movie should be: action packed where the good guys where Star Fleet uniforms, and the bad guys have lots of tattoos, the kind your mother worried about. Just be careful who you call, "Cupcake."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Almost Back to Politics as Usual

And by that, I mean we're a day out from Washington, DC. Of course, the world revolves around DC, that's why we're headed back. We're camped out in a Fairfield Inn in Ashland, Kentucky for the night, then the long schlep home tomorrow.

We've had a nice vacation, and it doesn't seem like we've been gone for two and half weeks. But if you add up the days, that's what it comes out to. I've enjoyed the trip. Almost all of it was on Interstates. That was okay for me. I've seen a few places that I'd like to which I'd like to return. We stopped at Mammoth Caves National Park this morning, and I think I wouldn't mind spending a few days there, just knocking around.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Mom and Alex, and made it to Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had a chance to get downtown, walk around the square, and had a delightful dinner on the square. As we were walking afterwards, we came upon some (slightly inebriated) college students who were playing a game with beanbags and a board with a hole in it. We politely inquired, and before the end of the conversation, we, too, were playing Kentucky Cornhole. It's very different than the cornhole game I was told about as a child. Oh well, who knew?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ole Miss

Ron and I have been in Mississippi for the last couple of days. We attended the CMEN men's gathering last week (Saturday to Saturday). We both enjoyed the gathering, and I won a registration for next year as part of a raffle. We're seriously considering it for next spring.

Thumbs up: small gathering where you get to know many of the men; laid back and friendly gathering; pretty good food, considering. Thumbs down: mosquitoes, though they appeared to be slow and dumb; a few instances of uncomfortable crossing of intimate boundaries; a couple of guys who took themselves far too seriously.

I think what I enjoyed the most about the whole experience has been the road trip. I truly enjoy pointing the car down the road and watching the trees go by. After the gathering, Ron and I headed south to the Florida Panhandle, eventually arriving in Pensacola. We parked the car and took a walk around a boardwalk in one of the many beach towns. The air was hot and steamy, but we got in our daily walk.

We headed out of Pensacola toward Mobile. The weather was a little stormy, but nothing that a duck wouldn't like. We spent Saturday night in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The parts of the Deep South that we've seen look pretty much like what you'd see in Maryland, or Illinois. Lots of Chilis, McDonalds, and a hundred other familiar franchises. There are a couple of regional favorites. Sonic is a regional burger joint. Kangaroo is a service station chain. We ate at an Outback Steakhouse Saturday evening. The food is predictable, because you could eat it at a hundred other Outbacks, but it's a pleasure to sit, listen, and observe the locals. I speak differently than the locals, and I really enjoyed listening to the cadence and vowels of close by conversations. It was a treat to see the dress, manners, and culture of Hattiesburg played out in the local Outback.

Saturday and Sunday, we drove all the way across Mississippi from the southeast to the northwest corner. Southaven is the first town in Mississippi south of Memphis, and it's a different kind of Mississippi than one would find in the Delta (I mean, we are so far NORTH that we're almost Yankees here). Sunday night we had dinner with Sherry, Evelyn, Larry, Kymberli, and Kiel. Sherry is a great homestyle cook. She fixed us some wonderful chicken, white beans and ham, cauliflower, and fried potatoes.

Larry and Sherry are friends of Mom and Alex. Like Alex, Sherry is taking care of her mother. I see situations like this, and I'm grateful for my own good health, and hope that it lasts me for the rest of my life. Old age isn't very pretty close up.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Georgia on My Mind

Tonight, Ron and I are staying in Columbus, Georgia at the Fairfield Inn and Suites. This sure beats last night's Quality Inn in Statesville.

Of course, work on the outdoor pool that started at 6:45 this morning didn't help my opinion of the Quality Inn. I'm an expert on "budget" hotels, and Marriott definitely has it over Comfort. Oh yeah, I know the Mormon connection and the outcry I'll hear from my boycotting comrades. But Marriott really does know how to make me happy.

We had dinner at Ben's Chop House. It had the weirdest prices. Evidently, spinach is a highly valued commodity in these parts. I had a chicken caesar salad, and Ron had grilled salmon. I coulda had a $45 steak, but didn't. The Tiramisu was remarkably good. We shared it.

We also drove across the northwest corner of South Carolina. Being on the Interstate makes driving easy, but boring. So it's nice to get completely off the road for lunch. We ate at Tucker's Restaurant and Bar in Anderson, South Carolina. It's casual, but upscale. Our waitress had honey blonde hair, looked like an aging cheerleader (still a good looker), and the Southern vernacular fell from her lips in a sweet, comforting speech that bespoke breeding and good manners. How could I not have a splendid lunch? Seared tuna with a side of black beans and rice. I was not disappointed.

I received an email from my friend Jerry. He's on the ultimate bike trip across America. Read more about it on his blog. He and I are hoping to meet sometime this summer on his epic trip, either on this trip, or when I'm in Idaho later in the summer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On the Road Again

Ron and I got on the road about 10:15 this morning, all the way to the Silver Diner. He had Blueberry Pancakes, and I had the Ragin' Cajun Skillet. After a quick stop at CVS, we were off!

Virginia is a big state! We took the Beltway to I-66, then I-66 to I-83. We eventually ended up on I-77. We passed through Harrisonburg, Blacksburg, and Roanoke, but you really never know it when you are on the Interstate. We made two or three rest stops (Hey! Quit rollin' yer eyes!) to stretch our legs.

Tonight we're staying in Statesville, North Carolina. I'm not sure what Statesville's claim to fame is, but it has two interstates crossing at the north edge of town. We're staying in the Quality Inn on Sullivan Road. We went out to Carolina Bar-B-Q for dinner. The sauce is North Carolina (thin and vinegar) and Texas Pete. Pulled pork, hushpuppies, fried okra, and a curiosity: BBQ coleslaw. Ron had barbequed chicken. I wasn't complaining.

I'm not used to the speech here. It's not what you hear on the mean streets of Wheaton. Ron and I probably sound a bit strange, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Idaho Holiday

I've had a wonderful time on this Idaho trip. The family's doing fine, and I've eaten too much. The Lavender Graduation gives me a lot of hope for the future.

Giant Sequoia
Shattuck Arboretum

On Friday, my brother, Frank, drove up from Boise, and he, Katherine, and I traipsed around the Shattuck Arboretum with Paul Warnick, the University of Idaho Arborist. We were looking for a site for a memorial bench to remember our Dad. We selected a spot near the arboretum's Giant Sequoia. It's a reflective, beautiful place.

Frank Katherine, and I went out to a bed and breakfast that we'll be staying at in July, then we stopped off at a coffee shop, because that's what you do in the afternoon in Moscow, Idaho.

We dropped Katherine off back at her work, then Frank and I drove around town, and stopped at the cemetery. As we walked through the rows, we read off names of many Moscow and Potlatch families that we knew, had grown up and gone to school with.

The cemetery is a mysterious place. We ran into a series of five stones, all with the same family name. On four of the stones, the dead had all died on the same day, in total seven people. Some mysterious tragedy killed four children, a grandmother, an uncle, and a husband. I searched the family name on the web, but couldn't find any information.

Frank and I also stopped near our childhood home. It's an old farmhouse that was built in the early 1870s. Notice that little tree next to the house. It was about half the size when I was living in the house in the 1950s and 60s. We moved away from here in July 1966.

Moscow Farmhouse and Doug Fir Tree

Happy Giving a Speech


Saturday, May 2, 2009

An Idaho Gay History

I gave this speech on April 30, 2009 at the University of Idaho's Lavender Graduation. Ten remarkable students were honored at this event. The Coordinator of LGBTQA Programs at the University's Womens' Center, Rebecca Rod, welcomed all of us to the celebration, and the University's President Stephen Daly-Laursen gave heartfelt welcoming remarks. Below is my keynote speech, which was followed by Audrey Ebert's Valedictory, and the presentation of the graduates.

Graduates, friends, members of the University community, and family members, I'm grateful for the invitation to talk with you tonight. I'm touched by it, and deeply appreciative for the University of Idaho, for its Women's Center, and more particularly for the thousands of people like us who have graduated from this school.

When my father, Vernon Burlison, died in 1997, I wanted to remember him. He was an instructor and professor here at the University for three decades. He was also a pastor of a small community church in Juliaetta, Idaho for many years. He was beloved by all who knew him. I wanted to remember his life. I worked with the University of Idaho Foundation to establish a fund in his name at the University to benefit LGBTQA* programming through the Women's Center. I value the Women’s Center and these programs, and I invite you to support them, financially and otherwise. I especially want to thank Rebecca Rod for her fabulous work as coordinator of these programs.

Back in 1969, we were mostly homosexuals. Today, we're transgendered, lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer, or questioning, and allies.

Tonight, I want to tell you some Idaho stories, stories of my youth, and of what happened to me at the University of Idaho. It’s important to tell our stories because they weave a history of who we are and give us a perspective on where we might be going.

When I was growing up in Idaho in the 1950s and 60s, I knew I was different from an early age. I learned relatively early that I was a homosexual, but I had no idea what to do with that information. Because of a conservative post-WWII culture, as many of you may have felt at one time or another, I felt invisible.

I found out about myself by reading an article in Life Magazine, which had written about the homosexual lifestyle in San Francisco. The article showed pictures of men dancing with each other. I told my mother about the article, and she told me, "We don't talk about things like that in our home." That was quite all right with me. I was elated, because I knew, finally, who I was. It was a fact, another thing that I knew about myself. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time.

In junior high school and high school, I was the typical dork. My pants were too short. I had a very scary fashion sense. I couldn't throw a baseball or hit a basket. Football terrified me. Does any of this sound familiar? A couple of guys took delight in bullying me, but I was pretty careful to stay out of their way. I had parents who loved me just the way I was, and thankfully, they didn't ask many questions. I was smart, did well in school, and actually enjoyed PE, except for dodge ball.

And the girls, boy did I sell them a bill of goods. I liked girls. I wanted to grow up, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. And girls liked me. I dated, but rarely kissed. And I didn't even think about sex. My mother told me that the only reason girls went to high school was to find a husband, and if I EVER got a girl pregnant, I'd have to drop out of school and support her, and oh, by the way, I'd be on my own, and how could I support a family? She had a lot less to worry about than she thought at the time.

By the time I got to high school, the family had moved to Potlatch, just up the road from here. I had a crush on one of my male classmates, but the sexual attraction was transmuted into this deep, wonderful friendship of track, hunting, fishing, and playing cards.

I continued to date girls, wondering once or twice what the hullaballoo was all about. I was popular in high school, but socially awkward. I later found out that the girls liked me because I could carry on a conversation, and I didn’t make demands. But word also got out that I didn’t make out or kiss, which probably should have set off a few alarm bells.

In my senior year of high school, I got engaged to Susan. She lived on a neighboring farm. We were in the same 4-H club. She was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon, and I was Methodist.

Times were changing across America in 1969. Hundreds of thousands of people were protesting the Vietnam War. Nixon had just been elected President, promising to get us out. We had watched the beating of protesters at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. All of us in Potlatch saw this, but it hadn’t really reached us yet. We were hunkering down preparing for a confrontation between our deeply conservative selves and the Hippie proponents of Peace and Love. It was a visceral conflict, and I thought those Mormons might have some good answers.

So what was my conservative brain thinking? I was thinking that I wanted to be happy. Like some of you, perhaps, I couldn't imagine a world where I didn't have a wife and children. In 1969, there were no places in Potlatch, Idaho that had meaningful information about homosexuality, and my high school Family Living Class certainly didn't cover that topic. It wasn’t something that was on the TV News. I could hum the tunes of the musical, Hair, but I wasn’t about to join the cast. The world 40 years ago was a very different world than today. It punished sexual deviancy. It was a world where homosexuality was completely invisible, even to those of us who were homosexual. There was no gay history in Potlatch, Idaho.

Stonewall changed all of that. Judy Garland, an icon to all of us who are "Friends of Dorothy," died on June 22, 1969. As a result, the queens of Gotham were depressed, and some of them were drinking at the Stonewall Inn when the police raided the bar on the humid, scorching evening of June 28. The New York City Finest handcuffed then beat up a bulldyke with their billy clubs. A large, quiet crowd of homosexuals gathered outside the bar waiting for the paddy wagons. Desperate and angry the bloodied bulldyke cried out to the crowd, "Why don't you guys do something?" In that moment gay consciousness and gay history were born. Her angry and despairing words sparked a three-night riot, which sparked a movement, which fundamentally changed how you and I see ourselves and each other.

I was working at the Potlatch lumber mill that summer. I watched men walk on the moon, and I read about the Stonewall riots in Time Magazine. It was a very short article. I saw myself, again. This time, I was gay, still determined to get married and have kids. Still in love with my fiancée, Susan, but quite sure that I was gay, and totally clueless about what that meant to me and to the ones I loved.

That fall, I entered the University of Idaho. This was a time of personal exploration, looking for moral compass, trying to figure out what was what. One of the student Audio-Visual technicians that I worked with introduced me to pot. I also started drinking heavily, more to enjoy than to escape. My Methodist mother was appalled when she found out. She and Dad cut me off financially, for which I am grateful. They cared about me.

During this time, I also took the investigator lessons from the Mormon missionaries. I was baptized a member of the LDS Church when I was 19, and my fiancée, Susan, was very happy. My Mother was relieved (except for the LDS part), because it appeared that I was turning my life around. Strange as it may sound to you, I saw no contradictions in all of this. Without a history to know and understand, it's extremely difficult to gauge one's behavior. There was no gay past in Idaho from which to learn.

I was also a janitor at the Student Union Building and the University Classroom Center. One of the restrooms that I cleaned at the Classroom Center was notorious. It had lots of phone numbers, and some graphic suggestions about social activities. I knew that other men like me were out there. I had read their phone numbers and their messages. They may have sat next to me in my classes, but we never connected, and it never occurred to me that this could be a community in the making.

I dropped out of school my junior year to save money to go on a mission for the LDS Church. At church, I was a Sunday School teacher and a Priesthood Advisor to some of the men in the congregation.

I moved into the Mormon fraternity, Sigma Gamma Chi, next door to the LDS Institute. One Sunday evening in 1972, my roommate, Kay, a member of my Sunday School class, came into our room quite visibly upset and said he had to talk with me. He told me he had just had a sexual encounter with his zoology professor. In a moment of clarity about who I was, I responded, "Kay, I'm gay, too." He and I had a torrid affair. It was full of sex, danger, intrigue, secrecy, and desperation. We were always hiding out from our fraternity brothers, and yet they knew what was going on. We were a scandal, and we were terrified.

Kay and I loved each other passionately, and I think deeply, and we tried to imagine a world where we could live together. But we couldn’t imagine it. Moscow, Idaho was not San Francisco. We were sandbagged by a repressive religious culture. And in the midst of the biggest social and cultural upheaval of the 20th century, instead of Making Love Not War, we were at war with ourselves. We did not hear stories of other people like us. We had found each other, but could not create a world in which we fit.

We talked to our bishop, our stake presidents, and eventually, I was told to talk to one of the LDS Church authorities about my gay problem. I remember Elder Henry D. Taylor well. He told me, "Brother Burlison, I promise you that if you fast and pray, and get married in the Temple of the Lord, it will take care of your problem." Did he ever get that right! It took care of my problem, and confirmed to me, more than ever that I was gay as a goose.

So in May of 1973, Susan and I finally got married in the LDS Temple at Logan, Utah. I had had a difficult year. Kay had gone on a mission to Brazil, and I missed him a lot. My mother died the previous December after a long illness. Susan and I had broken up, and then had gotten back together only to rush off to Logan to get married, because it would take care of my problem. She thought everything was fixed. I felt like a heel. But I really wanted to marry, have children, and live happily ever after. I just wanted to be happy. I wanted my wife to be happy. Needless to say, Susan and I weren't happy. We loved each other. We tried to ignore the elephant sharing our bedroom. I was gay. Ultimately, our love for each other wasn’t enough.

I continued school here at the University. My academic advisor was my bishop. He was very concerned about me being gay and married, and all that. 1976 was a very scary year for me on campus. But I finally graduated, much to my relief!

So that was growing up gay at the University of Idaho. I discovered that not only was I clueless, but everyone else was, too when it came to homosexuality. Nobody knew what to do about my problem. Everyone, even those who I loved dearly, could only give me really awful advice. The reason for that is because we had no gay history. No one was telling our stories.

Actually, there were two lights in the dark. When my mother was dying, I went to the student counseling center because I needed someone to talk to. The director of the center and I talked my way through the anger and pain of my mother's illness. Then he asked me if there was anything else. I told him I was gay. He told me, "That's okay." During the same time, another janitor came out to me (an incredibly brave thing for him to do). He introduced me to a staff member who took me to his room, and held me one afternoon. That's all he did, but I needed that more than anything else at the time. I was afraid and distraught, and he held me.

I went to graduate school. I got a job. Susan and I had four beautiful children. I was excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Susan and I got divorced. I was fired from my job because I was gay and a security risk. I moved to Washington, DC. I met Ron, the love of my life. I got on with my life.

So what is the object of my story? Gay people have a history. And it's not just a personal history like I've recounted, it's a history in the context of world events.

We now know a lot about sexual orientation. We know a lot about gender identity. And it's my earnest hope that we're learning something useful from our histories. But to learn from those histories, we have to hear the stories and understand their impact.

I belonged to a religion that ultimately felt so threatened by my sexuality that it excommunicated me and tried to rob me of my spiritual life. Today, people who are members of sexual minorities are still under grave spiritual assault in most organized religions and denominations because of who we are. The most heartwrenching web page I've ever read is a page listing links to obituary notices of members of the LDS Church who have committed suicide because they were exposed as lesbian or gay, in their local churches, kicked out of their spiritual community, and robbed of their spiritual life. Their blood cries out to us.

Today, even in the smallest hamlet in Idaho, young women and men can find out important information about their sexuality or their gender identity. There is a history out there for them, maybe not in the local library, but it’s on the Internet. It's not a neat history, and not always a truthful story, but the word is out, and for the most part, the word is, it's okay to be gay or queer, or transgendered, or confused for that matter. I invite you to add your voice and your history so that you are heard. Don't be quiet.

I want to say a few words about love. Love is a wonderful expressive, intimate, and creative gift. Be happy with that gift. Be open to its giving and its receiving. There is a joy in love, and for me it comes down to this, I choose to love someone of my own gender. We must be very clear with ourselves: it's okay!

I still sometimes wonder about those men who left their phone numbers in the UCC men’s room. I hope they survived the plague of AIDS, and I hope they have gone on to live lives of purpose and dreams.

I wonder about you. I wonder about other students on this campus outside this room who should be here, listening to your stories, recounting their own. You offer hope, compassion, and strength in what is a chaotic, difficult collegiate world.

Some final advice: find your own family. I have stayed in Washington, DC, not because I like the traffic, or nine million people being in my face every day, but because I love Ron. For twenty-six years, he’s been my man! Twenty years ago, I went to a pool party, and bumped into Brian, and he's with us, as well. Fifteen years ago, I met Perry at a potluck, and he joined our family. Ten years ago, I square danced with Tim, and he became part of our tribe. I love these men dearly and completely. They are my chosen family. My hope is that you will choose your families too.

Take care of yourselves. It's okay to be yourself. It's okay to fight for what you believe in. Don't let anyone rob you of your spiritual birthright. Be playful and silly at least once a in a while. Let the ones you love know how much you love them, every day. Tell your story; please tell your story so that it can become part of a rich rainbow tapestry as beautiful as the Palouse Hills as resilient as the spirit of the people in this room tonight. I hope that each of you has a wonderful life. My life has been wonderful because of the men and women I have loved. I do not want anything less than that for you.

Thank you.

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer and Questioning, and Allies