Category Archives: Thoughts and Reflections

I was interviewed on This Show Is So Gay!

Life seems to be a whirlwind tour these days.  After my recent trips to the National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C. and to Nashville for the Convergence Music Conference, I had the opportunity to chat with Ken Schneck of “This Show Is So Gay”.  

It was a pleasure to share on the show about my work as an activist and worship leader. Check it out and let me know if you have questions! The interview starts at about the 32 minute mark

I am #FaithfullyLGBT!

While in Long Beach California for The Reformation Project’s National Conference I had the opportunity to be photographed for the #FaithfullyLGBT project – an effort to share photos and stories from LGBT+ Christians across the country.  It was really an honor to contribute my voice and likeness to this campaign.  I wrote responses to three questions that were asked by the campaign and I thought I would share my responses here to give a little more insight into me and my journey. 

Name: Darren Calhoun
Faith Tradition: Non-denominational
Sexual Orientation: Gay
Gender Identity: Cis gender (He / Him pronouns)

Questions:
1. Discuss how you reconciled your faith with your sexual orientation.

I’ve been on a long and often painful road when it comes to the tensions I’ve experienced around my faith and sexuality. I was told by some of the closest and most important people in my life that being gay would be not only a hinderance to my ability to serve as a minister, but also to my relationship with God. In my teen years, I woke up daily trying to figure out how to choose not to be gay. In my college years, I committed myself to spiritual leaders who asserted that I could be “delivered” from my same-sex attractions. I was so committed to my faith that I willingly gave up school, my business, family and friends — nothing was spared in my pursuit of being pleasing to God.

What I didn’t expect was that God wasn’t looking for all those sacrifices from me. As I gave up more and more, I eventually found that those were the expectations of people who primarily sought to control or eliminate what they didn’t understand. As I entered my late 20’s, I could look back and see how God was showing me that I’m loved fully as I am. This love of God set me free to question what people were saying about how God wouldn’t love me or accept me as a gay man. Eventually with the support of other Christians who had a deep understanding of unconditional love, I found my way out of toxic and controlling churches, and into Christian communities that could affirm their love and God’s love for me no matter what.

2. Describe where you are currently in your journey with God.

Now I’m getting to know myself as I am, not as I felt I ‘should’ be. I’m slowly peeling back the layers of condemnation, years of filtering myself, and challenging myself to be seen and loved as I am. I still have to fight the feeling that one of my pastors is going to tell me something horrible like the pastor who told me that I didn’t know how ‘damned’ I am. I’m discovering just how deep, wide, and unchanging the love of God really is — for me and for everyone else. When I realized that God could love me unconditionally, it freed me to see how others could be loved the same way. Because of that kind of love, I’m working to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially LGBTQ+ people. This is what I feel called by God to do.

3. What is the one thing I want to tell non-affirming members of my faith?

Being welcoming of LGBTQ+ people but not affirming them still comes at great cost for the LGBTQ+, questioning, or struggling person in your midst. What for you may be an abstract or theological construct, has deep ramifications for the person to whom it applies. Having church policy that limits access to serving in the community or pursuing family in the form of marriage has a quiet but erosive effect on us in ways that are often invisible to you. Our validity and life experiences are often erased from spaces that haven’t made room for us to be our whole selves. Our futures are uncertain in churches that have a multitude of supports for marriage and raising children, but nothing for life-long singles as many non-affirming churches expect us to be. When we can’t enter into many of the celebrated milestones of church communities (like finding love, building a family, building a life with and publicly affirming your spouse) we are reminded over and over that we simply cannot fully belong. Good intentions and faithfulness to your interpretation of scripture will not overcome the ever-present reminders that because of my orientation (or gender identity) that I can never been FULLY accepted. This is a reality that non-affirming churches need to wrestle with in ways much deeper than answering the question “is homosexuality a sin?”.

#FaithfullyLGBT photo by Daniel Rarela
#FaithfullyLGBT photo by Daniel Rarela

What does it mean to #MakeLoveLouder at Chicago’s Pride Parade?

June 26, 2016 will mark my sixth year of being part of counter-protest efforts at the Chicago LGBTQ Pride parade. This effort started with the “I’m Sorry” campaign in 2010.  At that time, a group of people gathered together to apologize for the way the church has harmed LGBTQ communities.  We were a mostly Christian group of allies and LGBTQ+ people showing up at Pride to inspire a little more love and acknowledge the wrong that had been done by Christians. This tiny effort touched the hearts of many and went viral on the internet.  Eventually this idea caught on and was replicated at Pride parades across the country and even beyond the United States.

High-fives from parade goers at the Chicago Pride Parade
High-fives from parade goers at the Chicago Pride Parade

I’m excited to say that we’ll be back this year with the Make Love Louder at Pride campaign (#MakeLoveLouder).  The Center for Inclusivity is sponsoring the effort as we rally Christians, Muslims, Atheists, LGBTQ people and their allies, religiously affirming and those from a conservative tradition, under the banner of humanity and love.  We’ll be wearing red t-shirts and positioning ourselves between the parade marchers and the protesters near the end of the parade route.

#MakeLoveLouder red teeshirtIf this idea excites you and you want to join us, I’m writing to help prepare you mentally and emotionally.

If you’ve never been around the anti-LGBTQ protesters, it can be pretty intense. If you’re sensitive to the following descriptions, please take that into account and don’t ignore your gut.

(triggering and harsh language warning)

The protesters are a mix of people who are local as well as from infamous places like Westboro Baptist Church. They carry four-foot-tall banners and smaller posters and are on bullhorns the entire time. They call out individuals to question, blame, insult, and condemn. They say things like “I hope you get gonorrhea and die” or “You with the long hair, you’re going to rot in hell forever.”

They have signs that read “God hates fags.”

The protesters work to incite anger, and there’s no shortage of parade goers who will yell “f-you” and put up middle fingers at them in response.

Every year at least one person ends up getting arrested (and the protesters do press charges) for spitting or throwing something like a water bottle. This is a strategy that the protesters use as a revenue source by settling out of court with defendants.

It can be pretty crowded and hot (it’s a parade), and sometimes that can be a bit much for some people. Oh, and there are intoxicated people everywhere, so you know how that can go.

I purposely try to describe the worst here, because I don’t want to lead anyone into something potentially harmful without warning them.

Chicago Police in front of the anti-gay protesters at Chicago's Pride Parade 2015
Chicago Police in front of the anti-gay protesters at Chicago’s Pride Parade 2015

In contrast, I’ve never felt physically threatened. Uniformed Chicago police have the protesters barricaded in, and they escort them into the parade and back out at the end. Chicago Police surround the protesters by standing shoulder to shoulder outside of the barricade. The officers have always been pleasant toward us (parade goers and counter-protesters).

The best part for me is getting the crowd to cheer and drown out the hate speech.

I get lots of hugssometimes as people cryin appreciation for my being there.

My arms get tired from high fives. 🙂

My face hurts from smiling and yelling “I love you!” or “God loves you!”

I’ve even gotten a little dehydrated from cheering and sweating (bring water!).  🙂 

All that is to say that although the bad is BAD, the good is GREAT! People should talk and figure out what they are okay with and by no means should feel any pressure to come or to stay if they don’t feel good after experiencing what’s going on. By moving just a block away you can forget the protesters are even there and resume enjoying the parade.  If you decide that this isn’t for you, that’s totally finesurvival is a form of resistance, so you thriving elsewhere that day is important, too!

I will say that SO many people who have been part of this effort in the past didn’t realize how impactful the simple act of showing up could be.  So many of us have shed tears of joy or been personally rocked by what this embodiment of love is about.  

If you want more details, we’ll keep our Facebook event page up-to-date with information including location and details about t-shirts. Visit www.CenterForInclusivity.org to learn more about this great organization.

Detail Map showing the location of the protesters during Chicago's Pride Parade

Fathers, Shooters, and Good Men: A Call to Action

[This piece was originally shared on The Good Men Project 6/19/2016]

Growing up, there were parts of my childhood that were unique in ways that I would not realize until later in life. Some of the hallmarks of raising a young black boy on the south-side of Chicago these days were absent from my world. Today, I’m especially thinking about the role of my father in shaping how I exist in the world.

“Boys will be boys” and the now popular “man up” were not the kind of phrases I heard as a kid. I was never encouraged to fight with my fists. When my parents disciplined me, it never involved physical punishment like spankings or punches. Life was not always easy but on the days when I felt overwhelmed, they never shamed for crying in response. As I look back, I am profoundly grateful that my father was different.

Toxic masculinity—the idea that being a man means we have to carry ourselves in ways that are harmful to others and ourselves for the sake of living out some unrealistic ideal of what “being a man” is all about.

Before he passed away, my father stood six feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. He always wore a goatee and while he was generally a gentle giant, one would not presume that from looking at him. His voice had a certain rasp to it from when he was a smoker, but he didn’t say much. He was also a bit of a geek: a Star Trek fanatic and computer nerd long before home computers were ubiquitous. He was married to my mom, a woman I would grow to understand as a feminist and someone who stands up for what she believes. I saw them disagree plenty of times but I never saw my dad place his status as a man over her as a woman. As a kid, I had no reference for why women would be treated any differently than men, but if I saw it, I knew it was wrong.

What I have come to realize is that I grew up somewhat sheltered from our culture of toxic masculinity—the idea that being a man means we have to carry ourselves in ways that are harmful to others and ourselves for the sake of living out some unrealistic ideal of what “being a man” is all about.

My father was different and raised me differently, as a result. As I grew into an adult, I slowly had my eyes opened to the various ways I experience injustice and discrimination, first as a black man, then as a gay man. I am thankful that I never felt undue pressure about who I am at home. I came out as gay at 18 years old and I remember telling my parents last, in part because I was least worried about them accepting me. I was always loved, always encouraged — even as an artsy/creative kid who sometimes did lip-synch performances to Patti LaBelle in the living room on the stage that I built for such entertainment. My parents supported me to freely play, create, build, perform, and explore in ways that were safe.

—•—

Out of Orlando Florida, we are slowly receiving details about a man who took the lives of 49 others in a LGBTQ nightclub on June 12, 2016. The media was quick to share details of his life, including ways that he might be described as homophobic. We have heard that his father was very strict and he has been accused of beating his ex-wife. Later we found out that he attended this nightclub regularly for as long as three years before his killing spree and that he has used a gay dating app to talk to at least one person. As the narrative expands, there are speculations that he may have been gay or bisexual himself and struggling with deeply internalized homophobia. On social media and in the news this tragedy sparks heated debates about gun control, the role of religion and its impact on LGBTQ people, Islamophobia, and who should be scrutinized in this country.

The idea that men are instinctively predatory and violent and that the burden of resisting that nature rests on the abused is enshrined in our culture.

One particular theme that surfaces in the debate is about men, specifically, “men are dangerous.” Is it white men who have committed the majority of mass shootings in the country or is it Muslim men who we are told have pledged themselves to ISIS? Just weeks ago, the debate was about predatory men pretending to be transgender to gain access to women’s bathrooms so that they can attack women. We’ve also queried what should happen to men who have sex when the person cannot consent—which is rape—and what should happen to the perpetrator. Many people defending this kind of assault with the phrase “that’s just the way men are.” These issues are the fruit of toxic masculinity. The idea that men are instinctively predatory and violent and that the burden of resisting that nature rests on the abused is enshrined in our culture.

These issues are the fruit of toxic masculinity. The idea that men are instinctively predatory and violent and that the burden of resisting that nature rests on the abused is enshrined in our culture.

We may never fully know all the details of what made the killer at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando choose to commit such a devastating act or why some men rape. We can look critically at how we participate in our culture and make changes for the better. This call is not to say that everyone needs to be raised the same way as me. This is a call to action, for us to ask hard questions about how we raise our boys and make sure that we are not participating in a culture that creates violent, abusive killers.

—•—

Toxic masculinity affects us all from how we raise boys to the culture that created the shooter at Pulse Orlando. This is a call for us to change our culture and to make space for every man to be a good man.

As a society, we need to make space for men who are different: men who live differently, who follow a different religion or none at all, who dress differently, who speak differently, who come from different countries or speak different languages. We need to make space for men who create and perform, men who play a sport, men whose bodies are large or small, men who like heels and a blouse and men who like fitted baseball caps and hoodies. We need to include men who are in the gender and sexual minorities and majority. We need to make space for men to have a full range of emotions and expressions: to cry and to laugh, to sing and to shout, to be silent and to speak, to live and to love fully.

We can be men who do good, who own our failures and make amends. Men who dismantle abusive cycles and make the world better with love.

In the wake of this tragedy and as I consider how best to honor the memory of my father this Father’s Day, I’m digging deeper into being the man who made my father proud before he died. I have invested the last 16 years of my life working against injustice by speaking up and taking action to make our world better for everyone. We don’t have to be the kind of men who lead by intimidation and brute force. We can be men that lead with love and compassion, men who treat others the way we want to be treated. We can be men who do good, who own our failures and make amends. Men who dismantle abusive cycles and make the world better with love. Let us do the hard work of learning and living out what it means to be good men.

 

Chicago’s Donald Trump rally protest photos

Chicago, I’m proud of the way we came together to send a loud and clear message that Trump and the hate that is churning in his rallies and within his supporters is NOT welcome here.  We shut down the rally and that’s a victory for us all. I hope other cities do the same. 

Most of what I observed was peaceful protest. THOUSANDS were on the streets that night but the media focused on the individual instances of violence.  Sadly, that’s what they are most interested in showing the public, contributing to the fear and speculation that these protests are chaotic and dangerous. 

In a somewhat uncharacteristic move, Chicago Police were being very heavy-handed in how they tried to force protesters out of the intersection at Racine and Van Buren. Police would swarm in packs of 50 at a time — crowding in protesters and attempting to create a wall of force to push protesters around. I saw someone get hit with a billy club and several people pushed to the ground.  Even with repeated instances of police officers aggression, the majority of the protesters remained peaceful. 

Below are some of the images I captured from #DumpTrump in Chicago. 

Talking about Sankofa and Racial Reconciliation at North Park University

Today I had the pleasure of being invited to North Park Univeristy in Chicago to share during a panel discussion and follow up Chapel Chat. The topic centered on our aim to reach the moral excellence of racial reconciliation and justice. 

The message comes from this passage:

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,”
‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:3, 5‬ ‭NLT‬‬
http://bible.com/116/2pe.1.3,5.nlt

We were asked to briefly respond to the following prompts. The following is a copy of my speaking notes. 

1) What did I witness this past weekend that is a direct threat to moral excellence, something that does not reflect God’s character well. 

It’s become increasingly difficult to watch not only the way my ancestors were enslaved, but also the fabrication of a mild and sannatized history of this country that minimizes and justifies this evil.  

I’ve begun to see how capitalizism and industrialization have driven and benefited from the theft of Indiginus land and the enslavement of Black Americans.  In school I remember being taught about the invention of the cotton gin as if it suddenly made things better for everyone when in reality it multiplied the need for slave labor. The birth of the industrial revolution in the US was something that I never realized happened at the cost of enslaved people’s lives. 

When we think about repentance and how to turn from our evil ways, it’s not simply a matter of “Forget to forgive”.  In the spirit of Sankofa, we genuinely have to look back and correct the generations of false narratives. We have to address the ways that we have dehumanized and undervalued the contributions of people of color to this country.  We have to own the erasure of our suffering and oppression. We must begin to use our history as a lens — to see where we – both individually and collectively – continue to participate in this legacy of abuse and injustice. Then we can turn from our evil ways begin the healing of our land. (2 Chronicals 7:14)

2) What keeps you striving for reconciliation?

I center myself on the example of Jesus. I see his incarnation as the embodiment of the direct response required for reconciliation.  It’s not easy, pretty, or convenient but it’s essential. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 12:2-3 says “… For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

People come against me for speaking out about injustice.  I’m often accused of “perpetuating racism” and “dividing up the races” by exposing and challenging how white-supremacy still has a locked grip on our culture.  There are times where the verbal attacks and calls for violence against me can be discouraging.  But then I am reminded of the example of Jesus, who when he spoke folks were ready to throw him off a cliff! If that’s the expected response to radical truth, then I’ll have to wear my parachute while I cry loud and spare not! Dismantling oppression and abuse culture matters.  I can’t afford to let it go unchallenged. I realize that at the core of the Gospel is the message of liberation and reconciliation –  we can be restored and I’ve been equipped with the Spirit and with Truth do the work of restoration.

 

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Panel Discussion

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“Back then, my RIGHT NOW seemed impossible!” – My Testimony at Urban Village Church

This morning I had the privilege of sharing a tiny bit of my testimony at Urban Village Church.   Check it out!

Here’s what I originally wrote:

I’m Darren, born and raised here in Chicago on the South side and I currently live in East Garfield Park on the West side. I was raised as an only child but have a TON of cousins that were like siblings… Siblings that could go away after they broke my toys. 

Growing up, one of my cousins – Mike – was ALWAYS getting in trouble.  It wasn’t that Mike was necessarily up to no good. In fact, Mike was usually somewhere being quiet while his younger brothers and the rest of the cousins were wreaking havoc. But Mike’s father (big Mike) had this idea that because Mike was the oldest of his kids, he was always to be “responsible” for everything that went on.  Therefore, anytime anything happened, Mike was the one getting yelled at first.  It became a running gag for us.  To this day we look at Mike ask why he let the most unrelated thing happens.  
 
That’s a humorous way of thinking about how sometimes things that happen to us, aren’t always our fault or even about us. In my own life, I’ve seen this in in a few ways. While my parents weren’t like Mike’s Dad, I did learn early on that stuff happens — these things, for better or worse, impact me and others. 
 
About 16 years ago, In the church I attended during and after college, I had some of the best and worst experiences of my life.  In college I co-founded a campus ministry and would be ordained only 8 months after it’s launch.  This ministry had a profound impact on the university campus but it would be years before we began to realize how toxic that church was.  One day when I have more time I can tell you about how during this season I struggled to sort out my sexual orientation and my faith; How I was taught to be ashamed of my own testimony. How at one point I was living in the basement of a church at the direction of it’s  leadership and cut off from my school, my business, friends, and even family for the sake of “getting delivered” from homosexuality. All of that is the back story to what God would one day do to transform my experiences into something that would help countless others. 
 
You see, that experience set me up for a few things. Here’s three of them:
 
1) I learned that my experiences matter.  The things that happened to me aren’t isolated or even rare.  Lots of people have been wounded in church and something needs to change.  
 
2) I developed an amazing amount of compassion and patience for people who use religion or their power to control and manipulate others. I think fear and ignorance drive people to do terrible things to others.  However, Love Wins over fear. 
 
3) I realized that I could affect change.  Equipped with nothing more than my story and my faith, I help leaders, parents, and friends of LGBTQ+ people understand the negative ways they may have impacted people like me. Now, because of my willingness to be vulnerable with my experiences, churches and institutions are changing their policies, families are reconciling with estranged loved ones, and communities are becoming safer places for everyone. 
 
I think there’s something powerful about the way that our stories can work together for the greater good.  The trauma that at one point made me despair life is now the fuel for my ongoing work for justice, inclusion, and reconciliation.  It’s not easy and most of the time there are road blocks. I have countless frustrating and triggering conversations – sometimes with people who totally ignore or disregard me.  There even are times where it feels like things simply won’t get better. But that’s when I have to pause and take a long view of what’s happened up until now.  I’m reminded of how back then, my RIGHT NOW seemed impossible!  
 
I don’t believe that God necessarily sets us up for bad experiences, but I’m confident that God eventually makes something beautiful out of them.  I’m hopeful that when I go through hard times that something in that experience will be useful for someone else along the way.  I believe that like the song we sang earlier, when I give myself away, that God would use my giving for something awesome. 

Why I don’t trust most Bill Cosby defenders.

When I was a teen I was out with a friend and a gang leader picked a fight with my friend because someone the gang leader liked had interest in my friend. Both my friend and I were hit and our lives threatened with weapons.

For a number of reasons I never reported it.

Close to 20 years later after having this experience tucked away for years, my attackers face scrolls across my Facebook newsfeed. Apparently he had been brutally murdered in his home and this was a news report about his killing that someone shared. As I scrolled I saw dozens of my Facebook friends talking about how great a man this guy was and how wonderful he was in the community.

This was all shocking to me and I was emotionally triggered. I immediately felt the same fear that I felt the night I was attacked – as if it had just occurred. I wondered what happened and why no one was talking about his gang activity. Then I saw the comment sections. EVERY person who spoke up about his violence was immediately verbally attacked, questioned, and shut down by people who didn’t know him in that light. Others who had been harmed by him were told that they were trying to tarnish his great “legacy”. People were told “the past is in the past!” and to “get over it”. Reading these things made me feel not only scared but also alone. Some of these defenders were people I considered friends. Who could I turn to and say that I too had been harmed? Who would believe me or care?

I reached out to some people who shared the article about this guy. At best they were indifferent. It just wasn’t their issue and they couldn’t offer me much compassion or empathy.

My friend who had been the target of the attack passed away years ago, so I felt completely alone to deal with what happened and how this news made me feel.

Thankfully I have some amazing people in my support network who were equipped to be there for me during that time and help me get back to feeling normal and processing those emotions.

Bill Cosby defenders trigger me the same way that the defenders of my attacker triggered me. This is bigger than Cosby EVER being found guilty, innocent, or otherwise. HOW we respond to allegations against beloved figures speaks volumes to survivors of abuse.

I’ve been a pretty vocal advocate for survivors but this has taxed my soul. People have carelessly made jokes, minimized the importance of how we talk about rape, and some have been outright dismissive. Many people I don’t even bother engaging. People I care a lot about I will try to have conversations with, but there’s only so much that I can do. It comes at a personal cost for me to engage others on how we impact survivors. So when I see it’s going nowhere the loss for me is far deeper than a Facebook disagreement. I no longer feel like you are a safe person and will regard you as such until you demonstrate otherwise.

So this larger conversation is about Bill Cosby but it’s also about rape culture – the two are inextricably connected. You can’t touch the Cosby situation without also touching rape and abuse culture and if you’re not ready to deal sensitively with that, then you are NOT a safe person.

To every survivor, to every person who was attacked and has survived in silence, to every person who has spoken up only to be shut down; I hear you, I feel you, I’m with you. We will heal, we’ll keep surviving, and we will make the world a safer place.

My interview for the Imago Dei Summit

I had the opportunity to share a quick bit of my testimony and some thoughts about how church leaders can engage with LGBT Christians. The Imago Dei conference is a response to the Association of Certified Biblical Councilors conference which happened this week and included LOTS of damaging ideas about LGBT people and how to help them. The video is about 21 minutes long.  Check it out here: http://imagodeisummit.weebly.com/summit-sessions/darren-calhoun