Friday, October 30, 2015

It Is Time!

This past Wednesday, when I received a text from the Field Director at Equality Ohio asking me if I would be willing to share my story on October 28th, I didn’t think much about it before saying that I would.  I wasn’t sure which part of my story he was asking for, but, at this point, I don’t have many secrets.  Pretty much anything anyone wants to know about me can be ascertained from a quick Google search. 

The next day I began to wonder more about what it was.  Was I being recorded?  Was it for a specific type of media?  Would I be speaking in front of people?  Regardless of the response, I would have probably agreed.  Equality Ohio has referred me for a handful of interviews, and I knew that they wouldn’t put me in a situation that would be unsupportive.  When the response came back, my anxiety spiked.  I learned that I would be speaking in front of people at the Statehouse regarding the need for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Ohio in the areas of employment and housing.  I was filled with a mixture of honor and fear. 

When I mentioned to a few friends that I was nervous, they said that they couldn’t understand why.  Why, after all the other public work that I have done, would this make me nervous?  I’ll admit that my first reaction was selfish.  Talking in front of people scares me to death.  I push through and do it when I believe the importance of the work necessitates it.  I this situation, having experienced what it is to be in a situation where I had to come to work every day knowing that I could legally be fired at any time because of who I am, I didn’t have to hesitate on whether or not the work was worth me dealing with some anxiety.

Coming to this realization brought a new kind of anxiety with it though.  The weight of importance that accompanies this kind of legislation is enormous.  The words that I would say or not say could have an impact on whether or not this bill would pass.  What, for me, is a simple issue of basic fairness is, to some, an unnecessary measure to extend protections to people that they feel don’t deserve them, to people like me who they feel don’t deserve them.  My hope is that the legislators in my state will send a message to me, and so many others, that I do matter.  Having the Supreme Court of the United States, back in June, affirm that the relationship and marriage that I hope to share with another man someday will have the same significance and legal standing as anyone else’s is amazing.  It truly is, but, it makes it even more disheartening that my state continues to send the message that the basic needs of employment and housing don’t matter for me. 

I was honored, on Tuesday, to be a part of the introduction of this very important piece of legislation, The Fairness Act, by Representative Nickie Antonio.  My hope is that Ohio is finally ready to make a clear statement in support of fairness and equality for ALL Ohioans.


You can watch the press conference of the introduction of The Fairness Act at the link below.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gone Too Soon...

This past Sunday seemed so perfect.  I had been out on Friday and Saturday nights for Highball.  Next to Pride, Highball is one of the big community events here in Columbus that I look forward to all year.  In fact, I might even look forward to it more than Pride because, while I love the Stonewall Pride Festival, for those of us who are active in the LGBTQ community, in addition to being a lot of fun, Pride is also a great deal of work.  It’s exhausting.  Highball is just fun.

So, tired from being out late Saturday night, I slept in Sunday morning.  After I woke up about 11:00, I spent some time working on some reading for one of my classes.  Later in afternoon, I got a shower.  I have recently begun attending a new church service in the evenings.  It just works better for me.  So, many other days of the week are filled with morning classes, coffee meetings, and other commitments.  I appreciate being able to keep Sunday truly as a day that feels restful to me and enjoying a more leisurely pace to the day. 

The service began at  5:00 and ended about an hour later.  Within minutes of leaving the service, I received a text from a friend asking me if I had heard the “awful news.”  I told him that I had not.  The next text from my friend would feel like a violent shaking of my inner being as I read the words that told me that a young and dear friend had been killed in a bicycle accident.  I felt an emptiness wash over me.  Then, I got pissed.  Why was he saying this to me?  Was this a joke?  It couldn’t be real.  Why would anyone think this was funny?  Then, the reality of it began to sink in.  Mind you that I went through this strong and complex series of emotions within a handful of minutes.  Then, as I was still processing, my friend sent me a link to the news article about the accident.  Any shred of doubt began to be pushed to the side as I read the words.  My heart began to break even more as I began to imagine what those last few terrifying moments of life were like for him. 

As a person of faith, as a seminary student, and as someone who, through counseling, hopes to be able to help others make sense of the pain in their lives, I have to admit, in that moment, I was unable to help myself.  The so often asked question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” filled the central arena of my mind.  Why did this have to happen to Ben?  He was such a sweet kid.  A student at Ohio State, I had driven him back to his dorm many nights after volunteer nights at Equality Ohio.   He had worked passionately as a part of the Why Marriage Matters campaign.   He had even recently traveled with me to my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio to be a part of some organizing there.   What made Ben even more amazing was that, while he was always willing to give of his time and passion to causes that we important to him, he did so while balancing school and multiple jobs, striving to get ahead and to build the life he wanted for himself.

Ben Meyer
1995 - 2015
During the very early hours of Sunday morning, all of that passion and drive was prematurely snuffed out.  The true and full impact of what he would have accomplished will never be realized.  I have suffered a great deal of grief and loss during my nearly four decades on this planet, but the death has rocked me significantly.  I have struggled within myself asking what I should do.  Tonight, I just felt the need to express some of this.  Writing is my outlet and sometimes putting the words on the page helps me to work through the emotions that drive them.

Ben, I miss you.  I’m so sorry that, for whatever unfathomable reason, this had to happen.  Know that you made more of an impact in your brief time on this earth than many ever will.  When I was twenty years old, I was embarking on a journey to deny who I was in an effort to create a version of myself that was more in keeping with the expectations of others.  You were true to you every day that I knew you.  I admire your courage and bravery to be your authentic self at such a young age.  The world needs to be better for young people like you.  I commit to keep doing the work that you were so passionate about and to do what I can to make the world better for young LGBTQ people, for those who choose to travel this earth in more environmentally friendly ways, and to work against injustice wherever I encounter it.  Your flame was brief, but it was bright.

~ Culbs

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Loss of Community

When I first saw this story a few days ago, I felt an immediate connection.  Whether one loses their faith community because they were asked to leave, as in this story, or struggle to find the courage to walk out on their own, as in mine, there is still a void left.  It took a couple of years after separating from my former church before someone finally suggested that I might have unresolved feelings of grief from the loss of that community.  Even though my experiences there were harmful to me in some ways, encouraging me to suppress my sexuality and asking God to heal a part of who I am that I realize, in retrospect, didn’t need healing, that church was my community for thirteen years.  That is not insignificant.  If anyone reading this has suffered a loss of community such as this, I would encourage you not to ignore it.  Give yourself permission to grieve and work through your own process to acknowledge the loss of relationships and community.  Hopefully, like me, your life will be filled with amazing new relationships, community, and sense of purpose.  Still, those new presences in your life do not erase the feelings of loss that some from being suddenly cut off from a community of faith that has been your home and place of connection for years prior.

For me, the need to address this unresolved grief surfaced after a break up.  After spending all those years living as an ex-gay, this was my first real relationship.  So, when it came to an end, I was devastated.  I tried everything I could to keep the relationship from ending.  We went to meet with my pastor for counseling, but it was over.  Still, I couldn’t accept it.  My pastor referred me to see a psychologist that she knew to help me work through the loss of the relationship.  The psychologist, after getting to know a bit more about me, was able to see the connection between the extreme grief that I was feeling over the end of the relationship and my unresolved feelings of loss from my former faith community.  Having her help me make that connection was an important revelation for me.  Up until then, my focus had been on moving forward and surviving.  This was my first moment to consciously pause and look back to recognize what I had lost. I continued to work through my grieving process with the psychologist, and I also, at her suggestion, ordered a copy of the Grief Recovery Handbook.  I asked a friend who had suffered the loss of a close loved one to go through it with me.  I found the experience of being able to talk about it and to have my loss acknowledged to be very affirming.  Too often, we push people to dismiss losses like this.  We shouldn’t.  While I am better off today and I wouldn’t go back, I still needed to have my loss acknowledged and validated.  Giving myself permission to acknowledge that, while no one had died and I had left of my own free will, I had still been left with a sense of tremendous loss was very healing  for me. 

~ Culbs