So many thoughts and emotions remain.

I think about myself, as a much younger man, trying not to be gay, but venturing into the darkness of a gay club for the first time. Nervous, scared, but also a growing sense of safety. Safety, even when, in the early 90’s, the clubs in Portland would thoroughly pat everyone down because of a real threat of people bringing in weapons.

I think about 2004, when Alex would call me up whenever he needed a safe escort to Latino Night at Embers. The energy and emotion of the young latinx gays and lesbians dancing to the beat of the music. The sense of safety I saw as they would celebrate life with their chosen families.

I think about now, with my African American boyfriend, still having to navigate every situation to be aware of who is around us when we hold hands in public or when we have (almost) kissed in public.

Knowing where to find safe spaces as a gay man is important.

I see and hear the political leaders who have long spoken against LGBTQ people, now trying to backpedal or ignore or deny that Pulse was a gay nightclub. With all the recent anti-immigrant and anti-gay rhetoric, isn’t this convenient?

Latinx men and women, LGBTQ people mostly, shot down by a Muslim man.

Ignore the specific details (racial and sexual orientation/identity) of who was killed and injured.

Ignore the fact that he obtained a high powered weapon legally, so easily, when, from his background, there should have been at least a few more hurdles for him (I won’t begin to discuss the inappropriate nature of the specific weapon used, which has no purpose except to kill a lot of people quickly).

No, ignore all of that because it is too convenient to focus on the fear of Muslim people.  Focus on that fear and hatred, so as not do deal with your own failures or shortsightedness. After all, the politics of the presidency are much more important than the humanity of who was affected. More important than the politics of community responsiblity.

I am angry. I am sad. I am numb.

I read the pain of close friends who knew some of the people killed. The stories of each of the 49 people matter.

These are all part of the thoughts and stories that surround me.

2015: A year accomplished, a year changed

As we approach the end of the year, I think over everything that happened to me this past year. So much happened over the course of the year and I would have considered this year a success if any single one of these things happened without the others.

I started off the year, after several years working as a leader in the HRC Portland Steering Committee, knowing I needed a change. I had been co-chair of the Political Subcommittee, which had morphed into the Political and Community Outreach Subcommittee a few years ago, which was then changed to be called the Community Engagement Subcommittee today. In January, I led the MLK Day of Service volunteer activities in support of LGBT Homeless Youth in the Portland area. What began as the annual effort to solicit donations for the youth and organize volunteers to put the care packages together, turned into two projects this year–one where we assembled the backpacks full of donated items and one where we helped the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) move to a new location. I knew this would be a challenge, with a higher level of donations this year than before, as well as a second activity that would require more volunteers. After a huge campaign to solicit donations and volunteers, we were rewarded very nicely with both. Over 130 volunteers showed up! It really was an exciting and exhilarating day.

Somehow I knew it would be my last big event for HRC in Portland. And it was a great event to end the long run.

In February, I testified before an Oregon House Committee, representing the Democratic Party of Oregon LGBT Caucus, to support the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which would ban conversion therapy for minors. During my testimony, I also told my own personal story and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Telling my story in front of legislators whom I considered my friends, in front of a room full of other supporters I knew from around Oregon. I still felt all alone as I opened the door to show my personal pains and afflictions.

March, I traveled to Washington, DC, like I always did, for the HRC Equality Convention and Lobby Day. Lobby Day was cancelled, though, due to a snowfall. It was a great convention, all along, I was thinking that it might be my last. The last time I might see many of my friends and brothers who are part of the strong HRC Volunteer Leadership around the country.

At the end of the weekend every year is an awards ceremony. I had long become disillusioned by the awards, because I saw that generally the only personal achievement awards went to those who raised the most money for HRC in the prior year and I knew that I would never be among that group since I focused so much on community building and political relationships. Well, I was surprised. I received one of the personalized awards. I was one of the recipients of the Diversity and Inclusion Leader of the Year awards. (And a few other awards to Portland for things I was directly involved with). Ok, so it was a good year. Since I thought it would be my last awards ceremony with HRC, I thought it was a very good way to end my long tenure.

There was also a “small” thing to note the evening before I left DC when I crossed paths with an attractive man named James. Unknown to me at the time, this would initiate a huge change for me later on in the year.

In April, I testified before the Oregon Senate Committee about the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. It was even more difficult than testifying before the House committee. But, we were victorious. The Senate voted in favor of the bill, after the House had affirmed it in March. Then, on to the Governor.

On May 18, I had the honor of standing behind the Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, as she signed House Bill 2307 into law. How could my year possibly get any better than that?

In June, on my birthday, I unveiled a new photo project, unlike anything else I had ever done. “Not Human, Born Perfect” was my idea of using photographs to tell stripped down stories of LGBTQ people of all races, ages, and body types. The initial plan was to have 50 stories by my 50th birthday next June, but that goal is put on hold for now, as my life has taken on even more dramatic changes. (I will go back to that project one day, though).

As the month of June passed, I was full of conflicts. I had been in a very insecure job situation ever since 2003, finding layoff situations whenever projects would end. My current job contract didn’t provide any vacation time and the company shut down twice a year, leaving me with two weeks unpaid every year. I could not plan short term or long term and I was really growing weary of the instability and uncertainty. This is not how my career was supposed to go!

For several years, each time I faced a layoff or unemployment, I would often consider looking for employment outside of Portland. Over the years, I basically had narrowed that down to either Chicago or Washington, DC. As I noted earlier, there was an amazing man in Washington, DC with whom I had been communicating almost daily, really, since May. I knew that there was something very different about our interactions than with any other man I had ever met before. I knew that I needed to move to where he was if I was ever going to find out if there was anything more to our interactions.

Since the company where I was contracting had a ‘shut down’ week the last week of June, I knew that that was the time for me to try to arrange job interviews in Washington, DC.

There were three or four companies I was speaking with, but only two seemed to me to be a possible fit for me. I was nearly certain that one or both would schedule interviews in person, but I could not wait any longer beyond about the 17th of June in order to reserve airfare at a reasonable price. So, I took a gamble. I set up my reservations to travel to Washington, DC the last week of June.

The next day, one of the companies called to set up an interview—the last full day I would be in DC.

A week later, the other company called and also set up an interview the same day.

In all my years of job searches, this has never happened. Interviews don’t happen that easily.

So, I had my itinerary complete and traveled to Washington, DC, just a day after the historic Supreme Court ruling on the freedom to marry. I had a great visit with friends and the interviews went well, even while I had to be late to the second one because the first one ran long (they had me talking to everyone in the office, it seemed, including the CEO).

July began, I knew that almost certainly I would be moving by the end of the month, but, of course, I still did not know whether I had a job ahead for me. I most certainly could not move across the country without employment! But, I also needed to give my landlord the required notice that I was leaving. I needed to plan! But I couldn’t. So, another blind gamble. I was confident that I had done well in at least one of the interviews, so I had to take a risk and give my notice that I was moving out.

As I approached the ‘two week’ window for giving notice on my current job, I still did not have a job offer. What do I do? I need to make a decision! Down to the wire, the day before I needed to turn in my notice on my job, I had one company call to present me with a job offer! Then, at the end of the day, the other company contacted me to say I would receive a formal offer the next morning! Really? I must be dreaming! Both offers were exactly what I had asked—one would have me start employment August 10 and the other, August 15. So, I turned in my two week notice at work, then accepted the offer that I considered the best one.

Then, I began a sell off and give away of nearly everything I owned. All my furniture must go! I wanted to only have a few boxes to ship and carry the rest in my car across the country.

July 28th, I brought about 15 boxes of belongings to the local mailbox store and put them in the mail to Maryland. July 29, I had two more boxes to ship (and a few other things went to my mom’s house when I realized they wouldn’t fit in my car). I then hit the road to begin the journey across the country with my dog, Jackson and my little gnome, #timbergnome.

August 2 I arrived in College Park, Maryland. My job didn’t start until August 10, so I had a few days to get things together and also a chance to visit friends. And James and I had our first date on August 3.

The rest of the year has been very busy, getting adjusted to the new job, setting up my new home in Capitol Hill, and most important, more and more dates with the man I fell in love with.

And I am back in a leadership role with HRC here in Washington, DC.  Yes, I accepted an opportunity to be one of the leaders of the Community Engagement subcommittee, part of the HRC Greater Washington, DC Steering Committee.

Looking back on this year, I am overwhelmed and humbled. I never could have predicted any of this, and I definitely would not have believed you if you told me I would be living in Washington, DC by the end of the year.

I am loving my life right now. A beautiful boyfriend, a nice home in one of my favorite neighborhoods, a good job, and a city I have always loved.

Don’t even ask me to predict anything that might happen in 2016.11002819_10153120027072248_1665953913_o

Celebrate Freedom, Celebrate As A True American

For some of us who identify as LGBT, we can fully celebrate freedom as a full citizen in the United States, with the US Supreme Court once again acknowledging that we are equally able to marry the person we love as any other American. But for some, there might still be a sense that we are second class citizens. I’m thinking here about our transgender brothers and sisters and our non-white brothers and sisters.

Today, I won’t write about any of the statistics or tell any stories about these groups and others who still do not feel that they are fully American citizens. No, today I look at the promise that was given to all Americans when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and ask everyone to remember that each of us was created equal.

I think about the day when I can walk hand in hand with my future boyfriend (husband?), who is a beautiful black man, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, by the White House or anywhere else in Washington, DC. Two men, hand in hand, biracial, walking proud in the nation’s Capital, showing that we are just like every other couple (assuming that we will also be in love at that time).

The promise of freedom for all Americans is in reach and it is now time to celebrate that. This is what is called patriotism. It will still be a fight and challenge for many years to come, but on this Independence Day, I want to celebrate the possibility, especially since we have just been reminded of our full humanity.

Happy Independence Day!

Approaching mid-life…or am I already there?

A week from today is my birthday. My 49th birthday. This past year has been an amazing year, with any highlights. Awards from HRC for the things I have done, being a part of history in Oregon as I helped get the Youth Mental Health Protection Act passed (this is the ban on conversion therapy for minors) and eventually even having the honor of standing behind Governor Kate Brown as she signed the bill.

My life is lived in circles, many repeated places, but the experience each time around always depends on the quantity and quality of lifetime investments I make.

Last June, I returned to live in the city of my birth, still with a little bit of trepidation about my work situation, but with much more confidence in myself and the decisions that I made–an equal amount of reflection of my past experiences and attitudes and conviction in everything I do.

I am once again thinking about my life and career and future loves. I know that my current work contract will end in early August and I am unsure if it will be renewed. At the same time, I recently stepped away from some of my leadership roles in the community, while I figure out what is next.

I have hinted to some that I might contemplate a cross country move create even more change in many ways. I know the job prospects are very different elsewhere and in certain places, like Washington, DC, there are many other opportunities for social justice and political involvement that might be a good change.

Then, there is a man I have met who also happens to live there. I won’t discuss much about that, other than I am currently enjoying getting to know him. I won’t try to guess how this will turn out, other than I know that I will have a great new friend.

Next week, on my birthday, I am unveiling a new set of photos I am calling “Not Human, Born Perfect”. This is a very new and different direction for Mae and the photos I display will be only the beginning of this project, as I plan on freaking 41 additional images, telling stripped down stories of LGBTQ people of all races, ages, and body types.

49. The start of my 50th year on this planet. I really do not feel that old, but I have to admit that I don’t know what it is to feel like ‘that age’. I have so much life ahead of me, even if I have recently spent a lot of time reflecting on the life behind of me. I know that even better things will come, even when I shake things up a little.

Conversion Therapy — A survivor’s story

One of the bills in front of the Oregon House this session is House Bill 2307, the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. In essence, what this does is ban conversion therapy for minors by licensed practitioners. The House Healthcare Committee is currently hearing this bill.

Conversion therapy is defined as practices that purport to either change a person’s sexual orientation, their gender identity or expression, or lessen their same sex sexual desires. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘reparative therapy’.

This one is personal. I will be testifying in support of this bill where I will share my own personal story:

From a very young age, growing up here in Oregon, I knew I was different. I knew I thought differently, saw things in a different way, and felt things differently from everyone else. I also realized that I was more attracted to guys than girls. In my child’s mind, I put these things together and thought that all my differences were due to being gay, and I so much wanted to be like everyone else. When I was in middle school I began hearing about the programs and counselors who vowed they could make someone like me straight. I researched programs through Exodus and read books by licensed psychologists that offered that promise to fix me.

It wasn’t until a few years out of college that I finally connected with a conversion therapy group in Dallas, Texas, where my job had located me. I actively tried to make it work for me, but after countless sessions  of heart-wrenching effort over one year I decided that it was not going to happen. I was a failure.

For the next several years, I dove into my career, pretty much completely neglecting anything else in my life. I did try a couple of relationships with guys, but they failed. I could not fully live since I still had so many things that were unresolved. I had done nothing to fix myself.

It wasn’t until more than 15 years later, when I turned 40 years old, that I connected with a new group of ex-gay survivors at beyondexgay.com. I drove down to their first conference in Irvine, California, not knowing what to expect. I enjoyed the conference, but didn’t feel moved by any of it. It wasn’t until my drive back to Oregon when I was flooded with emotions of what had happened, and where I was with my life and how I had shut off a large part of who I was. So, in 2006, I slowly started living.

Since that time, I have been further finding out really who I am and finally, as recently as last year, discovered that the many differences I was trying to fix all those years ago are much more due to living with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the Autism Spectrum.

Through my life and from the stories I have heard in the ex-gay survivor network, I directly see the harm that is caused by conversion therapy. While it is unrealistic to ask for a complete ban of all forms of conversion therapy, it is very important to support this bill that would put an end to the practice of conversion therapy by a licensed professional for minors.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been working towards a goal of eliminating conversion therapy in the next five years. From their website, they have documented many years of research about conversion therapy, along with tools for survivors as well as those who want to work to eliminate conversion therapy.

From the NCLR #BornPerfect project:

Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The risks are even greater for youth. Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

When California passed this ban in 2012, the LGBT caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon passed a resolution to do the same in Oregon. The full DPO State Central Committee followed with a vote in support of the resolution. We have been working with our coalition partners ever since. This is not just important to me, but also important to our LGBT youth.

This law has also passed in New Jersey and the District of Columbia. Oregon will be the third State.

One year of living honestly

The title might imply that I didn’t live honestly before, but I actually tried.  The title is in reference to this, where I revealed that I had recently learned that I am living with Aspergers Syndrome, on the autism spectrum.

Where I might have failed in ‘honesty’ was in not having the knowledge or tools to present myself to others as a whole person, fully aware of my presence.  I know now that there are many things I did and said where I was not fully aware of myself.  I now know where my known limitations are and I am even learning how to pay attention to my trigger points.

What do I mean by trigger points?  Well, for instance, when I have explained a solution to something or a debate point and the other party still does not understand or see my point after a couple variations of explanation, I have learned to let it go (no, don’t queue the song..)  When I have said something that I thought was important (because, really, anything I say is important and shouldn’t be ignored), and realize that no one was paying attention, well, while it still greatly disturbs me, I know now that I have to just let it go and let things move on.  Really, it is difficult, but I have far fewer times when I want to march out of the room in frustration and actually I’ve been told that I appear much more at peace and much more pleasant to be around.  I know that I feel much more confident in everything I do and definitely finally know what it truly means to be present.

While I can attest to meeting more guys, going on many more dates than before, I still find myself single and as I approach the age of 50 in a little more than a year, I really am starting to feel alone than I have in the past.  I tire of the comments from well-meaning acquaintances that I will eventually find the man I’m supposed to be with, because really none of us know what will happen in the future.  But as I approach 50 and find myself alone, I think back to a conversation I had with a friend many years ago.

My friend had asked me, “What’s your scary age?”

I asked what he meant and he said it was the age that I’m most afraid to reach.

While I really never have had any issue with age, mine or anyone else’s, I told him, just out of the air, “50–but at that time I will have been celebrating the 10th anniversary with the guy I will be with for the rest of my life”.

Of course, that never happened, and as I get closer to that ‘scary’ age, and I’m still single after all these years, well, I have to honestly say that it disturbs me.

But, I understand it somewhat. As long as I was unaware of how I pushed people away with generally how I presented myself and as long as I was unaware of why I was told many times that I was too stiff or too emotionless, then I do understand how guys who were looking for that perfect guy and never took the time to really get to know me, then I understand why those didn’t work.  I am still holding out hope that someone will come around, but in the meantime, I am working on strengthening my friendships, even while I see many of my friends getting married (since gay men can now marry the person they love in Oregon) and therefore focusing their energies more on those relationships, as appropriate, than on their other friendships. But those things I understand.

I also understand when some people who used to invite me to parties no longer invite me.  They haven’t really spent time with me since I have learned that I have Aspergers, so I understand why they might not want to spend time with me. But another thing I’m learning is how to move on.

Hopefully those people who matter will see that (for those who have not yet seen it).  Good things will come. Great things will continue to come my way. I have an amazing life ahead of me, no matter what.  And it is even better now that I know how to work around something that was previously an unknown weakness.

Discrimination has no place in Oregon

Religious freedom to me is a personal thing. Religious freedom is to have the freedom to love and worship God without persecution. Religious freedom is the freedom to love my neighbor unconditionally.

When I read about the different business owners who have turned away some sex couples in the name of Jesus, it greatly disturbs me.

“Everything I do, I want everyone to see Jesus through me, ” I have heard being said.

The problem there is that Jesus would not turn anyone away.