It has been a busy time. Too busy to do much blogging.
We had a nice gathering at the Presbyterian Campus House listening to coming out stories. This followed the vigil at ETSU on Tuesday. You can read about it in the East Tennessean.
Tomorrow is a big day around our mountain.
Every Oct. 11, LGBT people and straight allies worldwide gather to celebrate openness and promote acceptance. And as of Oct. 4, ETSU joined the list of organizations to formally recognize this day.
"It helps people all around the globe know that they're not alone," said Keith Frederick, president of Johnson City's Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) group. "A lot of times when you're gay, lesbian or transgender, you can be so isolated and feel that you're the only one. So an event like today really helps people feel connected."
To mark the day, the LGBTies and ETSU's Office of Multicultural Awareness co-sponsored a candlelight vigil outside the Culp Center Tuesday night. Unfriendly weather failed to discourage about 50 participants, who shielded their candles from the wind and the rain as they listened to poetry, personal testimonies and messages of encouragement.
"We gather because we have hope," said Dalton Collins, president of the Student Government Association (SGA). "Hateful words and actions can cut to the heart of our existence. I believe every person deserves to be safe in their environment. Whatever way you choose to express yourself, know that that's OK. You deserve to be happy."
The event was also sponsored in part by the Presbyterian Campus Ministry. The Rev. John Shuck, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tenn., expressed his church's acceptance as well as his own personal support for the LGBT community.
"It's part of our theology to welcome all people and to seek equality and to seek understanding," Shuck said. "One of my roles is to help the church stop hurting people. We think that Jesus would have welcomed everybody."
According to the Study of Attitudes about Sexual Orientation, which is currently in progress in the Department of Psychology, about 18 percent of participating ETSU students identify as a sexual minority.
These students are represented on campus by the LGBTies and in the broader Tri-Cities area by PFLAG, Northeast Tennessee Pride and the Tennessee Equality Project.
Even so, gay people still have many obstacles to face. LGBT students are at a much higher risk for verbal and physical harassment as well as self-harm and suicide. Add to this the fear of rejection by family members or loss of employment due to sexual orientation, and it's not hard to understand why coming out is such a big decision.
"I walked outside to my car one morning to find the words "faggot" and "c***sucker" spray-painted on my car," said Tyler Slater, an openly gay student. "It was also saying that I deserve to die of AIDS and burn in hell."
Slater was harassed to the point that he had to move out of the ETSU dormitories permanently to escape the torment. Other students have experienced a similar climate of fear.
"I've had the occasional yell-out just because I walk with a friend of mine — not even a gay friend," said Austin Keenan, another student who identifies as gay. "I know someone that was on this campus that got fired from his job because his manager found out. It's in rare amounts, but that doesn't stop it from existing."
Even so, things are getting better all the time. National Coming Out Day is now recognized by the SGA. While things may never be perfect for LGBT students at ETSU, at least now they can gather outside the Culp Center every Oct. 11 to light one another's candles and remember that they are not alone.
There is the conference, Seeking the Mother: The Mystic Female Divine in the Spiritual Traditions at Carnegie Library on the VA campus in Johnson City. My predecessor, Rev. John Martin will speak as well as Rebecca Nunley, who among many other wonderful things is clerk of session for our congregation.
I'll be there in the morning.
But that means I am going to miss the start of Occupy Johnson City. Check the news (and get a load of the crazy comments about it) in the Johnson City Press plus the watch the newscast on Tricities.com.
It starts at ten a.m.
Check out this opinion piece by Paul Krugman. The plutocrats are foaming at the mouth.
I'll have to stop by after the conference. But I can't stay long as I have a holy union service to conduct in the afternoon.
My day is planned. How is yours?
Oh, and we are just a week away from our Jesus Seminar on the Road. Do check it out. If you are full-time student with ID, you get in free. Just let us know by e-mail or by calling 423-543-7737.
It is important to know that the Jesus Seminar is not just for religious people. This is about scholarly research into the historical Jesus to discover who he was before superstition got a hold on him. Secular people will be interested in this figure as well.
What does the rediscovery of the historical Jesus mean for the heirs of the Christian tradition? Does this Jesus have any relevance for contemporary culture and for people who claim no allegiance to Christianity? The presenters offer their insights and engage participants in a discussion about the relation of the historical Jesus to these questions.Register on-line or call 877-523-3545 or just pay at the door.