I haven’t blogged on my own website in seven months. Seven months! In the world of writing, that’s almost criminal.
The truth is, I haven’t spent much time blogging on this site since I launched it in 2013. My heart has taken me in other directions.
Not long after the launch of jrjamison.com, Kelsey and I founded The Facing Project and I shifted much of my time to developing the organization (including blogging over there). Then in 2014 I became Interim Executive Director of Indiana Campus Compact (while maintaining my role as Associate Director), and in the spring of 2015 I officially became the Executive Director. That summer, I also agreed to join the Editorial Board for the International Journal of Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement. All exciting things for sure, and, honestly, I find each of them more interesting than my personal blogging about community engagement in higher education.
Another truth is I likely won’t blog on this site much in the coming months because all of the above is growing.
The Facing Project has spread like wild fire and there are now over 100 chapters of the organization in communities across the country (almost 60 of which have come on board just in the last few months!). That’s keeping Kelsey and me pretty busy. Indiana Campus Compact continues to expand the work we’re doing with our partner campuses, most namely around assessment and student engagement, and I’m now co-hosting a national podcast through the Campus Compact headquarters in Boston called The Compact Nation Podcast. Actually, Episode 1 will be released tomorrow!
But another thing that will keep me from blogging on this site . . . drum roll, please . . .
I’m writing a book.
When I’m not doing all of the above, I will spend my time bringing the rest of the #drivingwithdave experience to life into a full-length book. If you’re thinking, What the hell is #drivingwithdave?, I took a trip with my dad this past summer to rural Missouri for his 55-year class reunion and live tweeted and Facebook posted the entire trip.
The five days together was more than a trip for the reunion, it was time to bond with my dad: He, a straight good ole boy from rural Missouri who supports Trump, and, me, a gay liberal who likes my craft beer. We hadn’t spent that much time together since we made the same trek in 1994. Much had changed between us since that time, but the trip made me realize the distance I thought was between us really isn’t that far. And I can’t help but think that’s where I hope we get as a nation with our own divides—if we just spent time finding our common ground. Side note: Don’t get excited my conservative friends; there’s no way in hell I’m voting for Trump.
So we’ll see where this goes. I’ve devoted three Saturday mornings thus far to writing and I have just shy of 10,000 words. Just 70,000 more to go. My goal is to shop this to agents by this spring. Wish me luck! Now that it’s out in the open, I’ve got to finish this thing.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in my work continue to follow The Facing Project as the 60 new projects unfold over the next eight months, watch the growth of Indiana Campus Compact over the next year, and tune in to The Compact Nation Podcast the first Wednesday of each month.
And buy my book when it comes out!
Fifteen Valentine’s Days ago Cory and I were a new couple experiencing our first Valentine’s Day together. I’m pretty certain it involved Red Lobster, wine, and a movie rental from Blockbuster. I don’t seem to recall what we watched, though I imagine it was something along the lines of a documentary or an action film. (This was before I’d mustered the courage to tell him I don’t like action films.)
We were so new, in fact, that we weren’t calling ourselves a couple. That would come a month later. On Valentine’s Day in 2002 I definitely loved Cory, but we made a rule that we wouldn’t say “I love you” until we truly, truly meant it and felt it. I didn’t want to be first because I feared he may not love me back the same way I loved him. So in that moment, we really, really liked each other and enjoyed our cheddar bay biscuits, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some movie. (It must have been an action film since I don’t remember a thing about it.)
On that Valentine’s Day, I wasn’t certain we’d be together to see the next, even though we’d known each other since the spring of 2000. There wasn’t a commitment to be each other’s one and only, there were no “I love yous,” and there was no future that I saw in Muncie.
But the commitment eventually came, the “I love yous” were in abundance, and we chose to make our home in Muncie—where we’ve celebrated the past fifteen years’ worth of holidays together.
Fifteen Valentine’s Days ago I never thought we’d be married three different times due to the ever-changing marriage laws of our state and country.¹ And I never imagined our wedding would end up on the front page of The Huffington Post.
In the Fifteen Valentine’s Days that have come and gone, we’ve purchased a home together, fathered three different dog babies, lived through the deaths of five grandparents and a few friends, supported each other in different ventures, owned and said goodbye to eight different cars, traveled across the country and around the world, and said goodnight, next to each other, at least 4,000 times.
On this fifteenth Valentine’s Day together, we’ll enjoy good food (but definitely not from Red Lobster), wine, and probably some documentary off of Netflix.
Let’s clink our glasses and imagine where life might take us fifteen Valentine’s Days from now.
¹We were first married during a commitment ceremony in 2005, though our marriage wasn’t recognized by the state of Indiana or the federal government. Our next wedding came in 2014 when a federal judge struck down the marriage ban in Indiana, but our marriage was then terminated by the state the same day. On October 6, 2014, our marriage was reinstated when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana must recognize all same-sex marriages. And, of course, marriage equality came to every state in the summer of 2015.
My adult life has been lived at an interesting intersection of conflict and passion.
My passion for community, volunteerism, storytelling, and education has taken me on some wild rides. Because of my work, I get the unique opportunity to visit many communities around the world and witness first-hand how their own passions for civic engagement bring them together for the common good. When hands bind together for social justice and positive change, the ripple effects can go far beyond one small idea that started it all. I leave these communities knowing that some of my work may have been part of the initial spark that ignited the flame, but, ultimately, it’s the communities that fuel their own fires into something bright and beautiful. I’m often just happy to witness it and be a small part of their coming together.
The conflict is that my work lends itself well to the missions of churches and people of faith, and fans of my work often fall into that category. That, in and of itself, is not a conflict. I’ve loved the work I’ve done with many churches and faith-based institutions. The conflict often happens when folks learn that I’m gay. While I’ve had many faith communities support me and show nothing but love and full acceptance, I’ve had others who’ve refused to work with me. Last year, I was uninvited as a speaker at a major university because of concern that my “message may conflict with the views of attendees.”
It would be a lie to say it doesn’t hurt a little when these things happen because in those moments I realize it will never matter how much good I do in the world, how many models I put out there to help folks, or how much my message could turn someone’s life around—everything I’ve done and will ever do is discounted by some because I was born different than a majority of the population.
But I have thick skin. I have a loving husband of 15 years. I have a successful career. I have many people who support me, including my family. All of these combined keep me empowered. I’m lucky. I truly am because, despite how far we’ve moved the dial on LGBTQ rights and protections, nearly 2 million teens are thrown into the streets each year by their own families for being themselves. These kids make up 40% of the overall homeless population.¹ And sadly, 45% of them end up selling their bodies for sex just to survive—those who do survive. LGBTQ teens who come from families who reject them, or feel that they can be changed, are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.²
Overall, religion is cited as the number one reason for all of the statistics above.³
I always think about what I can do to help these kids understand that their lives have value and that there is nothing wrong with who they are and who they love. And if they believe in a higher power, God loves them and fully accepts them regardless if they’re LGBTQ, black, white, brown, or every color in between.
Given my platform, I do often share who I am to give hope to others who hear my message. I’ve fasted around Thanksgiving in solidarity for those LGBTQ kids who have nowhere to go and no meal to consume. But I know there is more I should and could be doing.
So much to my delight, I found a conference called Truth in Love that is taking place this weekend in my hometown. Organized by the Greater Grace Church, among others, the conference is being publicized as a place to open up dialogue between people of faith and the LGBTQ community. On the surface, it seems so right on—but deep down, between the lines, the true intent speaks volumes.
In her letter to the Star Press, organizer Jeannine Lee Lake points out that the conference has three main goals:
1) To discuss Biblical scriptures relating to homosexuality;
2) To discuss the past, present and future responses to LBGTQ issues in the church, and;
3) To provide spiritual support for those who desire a traditional heterosexual Christian lifestyle.
Yes, please re-read goal number three. To me it says, “We’ll pray away the gay.”
She goes on to say, “Many Christians like myself do not consider gay behavior as part of God’s ongoing plan for humanity; we believe God is able to deliver anyone from any behavior that is ungodly.”
Sure, Jeannine and other organizers may want to open up dialogue, but at the end of the day they view being gay as something wrong and curable by the grace of God. That’s some pretty scary stuff. In fact, the practice of conversion has been denounced and called ineffective and harmful by major medical and mental health organizations across the country, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, yet so many churches still prescribe the practice.
These practices can inflict harm that will last a lifetime.
Check out my friend Peter’s story. Peter was sent away to a conversion camp by his religious family when he was a teenager. Even though he is now happily married to a man and living a great life in Atlanta, the conversion therapy he had to endure has had lasting negative effects on his life. He questioned his own worth as an individual for some time, not because he’s gay but because of how he was made to feel by others.
I just can’t wrap my brain around how some still believe conversion will work, either through prayer, counseling, or a combination of both. Though Truth in Love claims to not be a conference that supports conversion, their goals say otherwise. Jeannine has indicated that all voices are welcome and that attendance is FREE. I really wish I could attend to have my voice heard, but previous commitments won’t allow me.
Many of you have indicated an interest in going. Please do so; we need our voices heard at this conference. But do so in a respectable way. If any understanding can be created across difference, it can only be done when we listen and act in a civil manner.
We will not always see eye-to-eye. But to find truth in love, we must learn to accept and allow people to be who they were meant to be. I hope someday we can have a true, open dialogue without fear or shame so no other kid gets thrown out or dies at the hand of “religion.”
²The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide