Straight Into Gay America: My Unicycle Journey For Equal Rights

Lars ClausenAuthor and Pastor Lars Clausen released his newest book during Soulforce’s 1000 Watt March in Colorado.

In Straight Into Gay America people share their lives with the Guinness World Record-holding pastor who unicycles 1,000 miles for equal rights. Through roadside encounters and overnight stays, this is the story of everyday people living through the most polarizing political and religious battles of our times.

From anti-gay preacher Jerry Falwell to the gay-rights directors of HRC, PFLAG, and Soulforce, Clausen’s personal journey as a Lutheran pastor forces difficult choices between the exclusionary status quo of his church and the inclusive commitment of Jesus.

Cover of Straight Into Gay AmericaMel White says this book "will bring our churches and our nation another step closer to the day of Equal Rights." PFLAG Director Jody Huckaby calls Straight Into Gay America "a bridge across the divide between straight and gay…nothing less than a sacred journey."

Visit www.StraightIntoGayAmerica.com to read about and order this captivating adventure. Also at Clausen’s website you can read his daily reports from the Soulforce 1000 Watt March.

Create an Equality Conversation: Receive A-Page-A-Day of Straight Into Gay America, the entire book in your email for free. Read these pages and forward them. Pass them on to start new conversations for LGBT equality. 

To sign up, go to www.straightintogayamerica.com/269.html

 

Gay Into Straight America: Two Women and a Poodle

Roby, Dotti, and RyleeGay Into Straight America is the yearlong journey of Dotti Berry, Roby Sapp, and their poodle, Rylee Joy.

Gay Into Straight America began September 11, 2005, and is a commitment to creating authentic connections with people who are "wrestling" with their understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. The couple states, "With Gay Into Straight America, our intention is to engage minds, not change minds."

To learn more about Gay Into Straight America, visit their website at www.GayIntoStraightAmerica.com.

Lewis-Allen Report: Our Soulforce Journey

The Lewis-Allen family marchingOur family decided to make the journey to Colorado Springs for the 2006 Soulforce march. My partner and I and our four children started out on our leg of the march early July 19, 2006. As we marched along the 4.8 mile segment we had the opportunity to talk about why we were there and what the march meant to each of us.

When you have three-year-old triplets and a six-year-old, you find that the days leave little time for anything but taking care of the children. We embrace that responsibility and strive to ensure our children receive everything they need. As a Christian with deep Lutheran roots from my early childhood who has at many times relied on faith, I know the importance of giving my kids a firm foundation in love, both mine and God’s.

As we finished our march and rode on the bus as others marched, we had the opportunity to meet and converse with people from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the people were not used to the volume of energy that three-year-old triplets have, but they were gracious, patient, and kind.

One Man, One Woman signs at Wal-mart
Man collecting signatures for anti-gay marriage amendment at Wal-Mart

We traveled to Wal-Mart on Friday afternoon to stock up on supplies and as I and the six year old were in the store, my partner Jamieson was confronted as he emptied the mini-van of "kid trash." A man who was getting people to sign a petition for "one man, one women = marriage" verbally attacked my partner as he recognized his HRC t-shirt. When Jamieson tried to explain to a black women that was working at another table that the same bigotry was part of her history she just smiled and smugly told him that "I love you honey even if you are queer!" A Jewish women and her young son walked by during this discussion and the son said, "Gays are not going to inherit God’s kingdom they are going to the fire!" His mother and grandmother started clapping and said, "That is right baby." The girl at the table laughed and said "Amen!" As Jamieson tried to reason with her, recalling that Hitler not only targeted the Jews but also homosexuals, she became enraged at such a notion. Fearing for the safety of our triplets, Jamieson retreated. He called Jeff Lutes and, fortunately, Jeff was able to provide a calm voice of reason.

As I returned to the car Jamieson was visibly shaken and, as he told me the story, we both sat in utter disbelief. Neither I nor my partner had ever experienced such unbridled hatred in the name of religion. We made a promise to each other right there that because these people were allowed to be there by Wal-Mart we would never patronize them again.

On Saturday as we assembled for the last two-mile walk to Focus on the Family, we were again surrounded by amazing Christians united together in spirit. As we marched from Rampart Park my family was approached by a man named Sam. Sam was an "evangelical Christian" who had questions and for some reason decided to pick me. So for the next 45 minutes I proceeded to engage with Sam in a wide variety of subjects all relating to his misinformation about gay people, their families, and the "gay agenda." I have read a great deal of information on the bible and what it says about homosexuality, gay parenting, gay marriage, and the information compiled by Soulforce. I remained calm and provided Sam with answers, questions, scriptures, and personal experiences. None of the information that Sam had about gay people and the "gay agenda" was true. After Sam left, the group in front of us engaged us in conversation about Sam and expressed there joy in the manner in which I engaged Sam.

As the evening wound down I found myself carrying our six-year-old back to the hotel via the restaurant P.F.Chang’s because he was hungry. As we sat there waiting for our take out in our matching Soulforce orange shirts, I noticed two people from the march with their shirts in hand and not on, and other "family" who probably didn’t know anything about the Soulforce concert just up the hill.

As I carried my six-year-old on my shoulders back to the hotel with our Chinese food in tow I became angry. Angry because I thought living my life in the open was enough, angry at the complacency of the gay community, angry because there were only 4 families with children in the march, and angry that my God and my faith was being hijacked by Dr. Dobson and people like him.

But as I walked I was reminded by my son why we walked. As we marched earlier that week he asked us, "Dad, why are we marching?" Jamieson told him, "So you can love anyone you choose." But as I asked him again that night why did we march, his response was, "We marched so I can love everyone"

And there it was!

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Or in the words on my six year old, "You shall love everyone."

The Lewis-Allen family cheers during the 1000 Watt MarchMy family and I send a huge thank you to all the Soulforce people who helped give us a life changing experience. I don’t know how you do it day after day but I am glad you do. Our experience has caused us to make the following pledge:

We will do everything we can to make sure our children grow up in a world where they can love everyone! We take a pledge to do something each and every day to further the Soulforce cause until we meet in Colorado next year.

In his wonderful love and spirit – God Bless –
Ken, Jamieson, Spencer, Parker, Hunter, & Tanner Lewis-Allen

Families From All Over the Nation Enjoy Musical Conclusion to 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert

Concert concludes justice march from Denver to Colorado Springs to peacefully confront the anti-gay bigotry of Focus on the Family

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 23, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, Interim Media Director
Cell: 646-258-7193
richard@soulforce.org
******************************************

(Colorado Springs, CO) — The 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert ended last night with a celebration of family in song. Billy Porter wowed the audience gathered in front of Focus on the Family headquarters with a mix of gospel, soul and Broadway. Between songs, Porter told the audience how much the work of Soulforce had meant to him in his personal spiritual journey and his family’s acceptance of his sexual orientation. He related an all-too-familiar story to the audience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, of being brought up in a highly religious family and being told he could not reconcile being gay and being Christian. After many battles with God, Porter said he had lost his voice five years ago to health problems and felt God was telling him he had to start using his voice to speak out about his spiritual journey as a gay man. His voice returned to nearly full strength, and he went on to write a critically acclaimed one-man show, Ghetto Superstar, and record a sizzling sophomore album, On the Corner of Broadway and Soul. More importantly, his strict Pentecostal mother, with whom he had been estranged, came to accept him as a gay man, in part through reading Soulforce founder Mel White’s book, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. The audience teared up with Porter as he told them that his mother, who always prays with him when they end their phone conversations, recently prayed for the first time for Billy and his partner.

Prior to the concert, several hundred people joined in a two-mile justice march from Rampart Park to the Focus on the Family headquarters, led by Judy Shepard and actor Chad Allen. Members of the crowd, which came from all over Colorado — and all over the nation — carried rainbow flags and American flags, and signs with slogans like: "Separate church and hate." The marchers split into two lines and wound around both sides of the Focus on the Family campus, eventually meeting up on the other side. They joined hands forming a line across the entire front of the massive complex of buildings and stood in silent protest of Focus on the Family teachings that denigrate and demean LGBT people.

Speaking to the parents of LGBT children, Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard said, "The men who killed my son have families who care about them and worry about them. There are some parents who throw their children out because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Are you telling me that your child being gay is worse than being a murderer?" Shepard added, "You have to love them, they’re your kids."

Openly gay actor Chad Allen said about the LGBT community, "This is my family and I am proud of my family. It’s a colorful family and I love it. I am proud of how we have overcome all kinds of oppression." He quoted a scripture verse that says you can judge a tree by its fruit, and suggested that the spiritual fruit born from the struggles of the LGBT community have proved its value to the human family.

After addressing the audience, Shepard invited all parents of LGBT children to join her in presenting a gift to Focus on the Family. The diminutive mom then marched down the center aisle of chairs set up for the concert with a red album with "Family" written across it in script. The book included photos and brief bios of all the families that had taken part in the 65-mile march from Denver to Colorado Springs. Several dozen family members of LGBT people followed Shepard up to the gates of Focus on the Family bathed in the light of news cameras. As they approached the line, Chad Allen called out to Focus on the Family staffers who had gathered to comment on the event to the media. A security guard approached as the assembled family members held their breath to see if Focus on the Family would accept Soulforce’s gift of the stories of the lives of LGBT families. The security guard agreed, and the audience cheered as Shepard handed over the red album, engulfing her in hugs and thanking her for her powerful witness as a mom who loved and accepted her gay son even when the world did not.

After a night of singing, dancing and marching for justice, executive director Jeff Lutes addressed the audience at the end of Billy Porter’s stellar performance. Lutes said, "When you go home this evening, hug your kids or your parents, tell your partner or your friends you love them, and know that God loves you and your family exactly as you are." It was a fitting benediction for a week spent celebrating and fighting for the real meaning of ‘family.’

To find out more about the Soulforce 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert, please see: www.soulforce.org/1000wattmarch.

Consistent with the first step in the principles of nonviolence taught by Gandhi and King, Soulforce researched and documented false claims by Focus on the Family about LGBT people, couples and families. That research is compiled in a booklet, entitled "A False Focus on My Family" and a DVD, entitled, "Dear Dr. Dobson." This powerful and eye-opening booklet is available free online at www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family and the DVD is available free to press upon request.


Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Photos from Saturday, July 22, 2006


Judy Shepard and Chad Allen

Marchers assemble at Rampart Park

Chuck Phelan prepares to march the final two miles to Focus on the Family

Mitchell Gold and Jimmy Creech

Chad Allen prepares to march

Judy Shepard and Chad Allen lead the march to Focus on the Family

Marching the two miles to Focus on the Family

Marching around Focus on the Family

Vigiling at Focus on the Family

Vigiling at Focus on the Family

Vigiling in front of Focus on the Family

Holding hands as we vigil outside Focus on the Family

Holding hands as we vigil outside Focus on the Family

Holding hands as we vigil outside Focus on the Family

Judy Shepard is interviewed

Waving the flags

Jennifer works the concession stand

Ellen Osborne takes pictures

Equality Riders Haven Herrin and Jake Reitan speak to the crowd

Judy Shepard speaks

Judy Shepard and the family photo album that will be delivered to Focus on the Family

Judy and Chad lead parents of GLBT people to deliver the family photo album to Focus on the Family

Judy and Chad lead parents of GLBT people to deliver the family photo album to Focus on the Family

Judy and Chad present the family photo album to Focus on the Family. A security guard comes down to accept it.

The family photo album presented to Focus on the Family

The family photo album is filled with pictures and stories of the families that marched from Denver to Colorado Springs

Chad Allen speaks

The crowd listens

The 1000 Watt Concert is about to begin

Billy Porter sings

Photos from Friday, July 21, 2006


Bill Carpenter, Jeff Lutes, and Kara Speltz

A fabulous group prepares to march leg 1 of Friday’s march

Continuing the march from Denver to Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs

Bob and Mary Lou Wallner

Stephen Botte and Johnathan Beck

Phil Reitan marches on

Stephen Botte and Johnathan Beck

Lars Clausen rides leg 2 of Friday’s march on his unicycle

Jacob Reitan, Haven Herrin, and Mel White

Assembling in front of Ted Haggard’s New Life Church

Stephen Botte and Johnathan Beck

Lars, Mary Lou, and Bob

Nathan, Christian, Forrest, and Jerrod

Pam and Kathi Sherrill

Jerrod shows his talent

Niko Lutes-Stein

Michael Donlan and Dimid Hayes

Daniel Graney and Roberto Flores

Anne DeLorenzo and Karen Chambers

Jeff Lutes and Mel White

On our way to Rampart Park

Mike Perez is fabulous

Corey Hidelbaugh grills everyone hotdogs

A tired couple arrives in Rampart Park

Making it easy for those without gaydar

Troy, Jeaneane, Chuck, and Steve

Picnic at the park
 

Photos from Thursday, July 20, 2006


Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes and Kate Burns

Bill, Roby, Dotti, Jessica, and Janelle

Cris Elkins has marched almost every mile

Roby Sapp and Rylee Joy

Continuing the march from Denver to Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs

Bill and a Llama he meets on the road

Barbara, Adam, Tony, Linda, James, and Chuck prepare to march

Soulforce Executive Director Jeff Lutes coordinates the march

Chuck and James are on their honeymoon

Adam cools down

Linda talks with a Colorado resident about why we are marching for GLBT families

Dotti Berry of "Gay into Straight America"

Linda and Barbara run to finish their leg of Thursday’s march

David Veloz and David Beltran prepare to march

The Veloz-Beltran family, the Calhoun family and friends, and the von Gaia family

Val, Brandon, and Judi

We finish Thursday’s march just before a storm approaches
 

"It’s Like They’re Allergic to the Truth:" Focus on the Family Answers Soulforce Criticism by Taking More Research Out of Context

Day three of march continues from Colorado state capitol to Focus on the Family headquarters

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 19, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, Interim Media Director
Cell: 646-258-7193
richard@soulforce.org
******************************************

(DENVER, CO) — Responding to comments from NYU sociologist Dr. Judith Stacey that Focus on the Family had twisted her research about the children of same-sex parents to justify anti-gay discrimination, Focus on the Family twisted the conclusions of another researcher. In an Associated Press report published on Tuesday in newspapers across the nation, Focus on the Family spokesperson and Bush administration advisor Glenn T. Stanton cited an article by Mary Parke from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) which he said shows that children need a mother and a father.

Parke’s article, "Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being," was published in 2003, and consolidates social science research comparing the outcomes of children raised by married biological parents with children raised by single or divorced parents and step parents. The article does not compare children raised by committed same-sex couples to children raised by committed heterosexual couples. The use of studies on the children of divorced or single parents to justify the claim that children fare better with heterosexual parents was the chief criticism Dr. Stacey leveled against Focus on the Family. Parke no longer works with CLASP and was not available for comment.

"They’re sticking to their game plan," said Jeff Lutes, executive director of Soulforce, "They have Judith Stacey on record as saying their references to her work don’t match the conclusions of her research so they just move on down the line and misquote another researcher." Lutes continued, "It’s like they’re allergic to the truth on this issue."

Lutes also objected to Stanton’s claim that "We have not said anything about sexual orientation" (suggesting that Focus on the Family had not made any claims about fitness for parenting based on a parent’s sexual orientation). Lutes has documented dozens of published instances in which Focus on the Family has claimed that gay and lesbian people are harmful to children, or attempting to destroy the American family. (www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family) "Focus on the Family says that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are sick and sinful, a danger to children and a threat to the American family. They have dressed their bigotry up in the language of faith and social science to make it more palatable. It’s time for them to stop because they are hurting our families."

The 1000 Watt March from the Colorado state capitol to Focus on the Family headquarters continued today, with the marchers braving temperatures that neared 100 degrees.

Among the marchers were Ken Lewis and Jamieson Allen and their four sons, including a set of triplets. As they set up a large, three-seat stroller with a canopy so the three year-old triplets could ride in style, Lewis said they were marching to Focus on the Family because religious issues were of growing importance in American society. "It’s important for us to march because it’s important for our kids. It’s important to tell the truth." Allen added, "Religion is about love not hate." Clearly a family that buys in bulk, Lewis and Allen pulled out an entire bunch of bananas and distributed them to their children before setting off along the road.

Laurin Foxworth and Lewis Thompson said their relationship was arranged by a higher power. After their initial meeting the two exchanged letters for seven years. Their correspondence had dwindled when they met again at a "Gay and Gray" conference and knew they were meant for each other. Foxworth, who is 80, and Thompson, who is 60, hammed in front of a documentary camera before their leg of the march began. Asked if they were ready for the harsh temperatures, the senior member of the couple made a muscle and said in a fractured accent, "We are strong like bulls." Asked why they were marching, Foxworth responded, "We’re marching because nothing feels as empowering after a lifetime in the closet."

This Saturday July 22 at 6 PM, actor Chad Allen and Judy Shepard, executive director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation, will lead a final 2-mile march from Rampart Park in Colorado Springs to the headquarters of Focus on the Family. The crowd will encircle James Dobson’s headquarters, joining hearts and hands in vigil as they peacefully call on him to cease his defamation of the LGBT community. At 8:30 PM Broadway star Billy Porter will protest in song outside Focus on the Family, with an electrifying jazz concert that celebrates the lives of all people and loving relationships that seek the American dream. The entire community – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families, friends and supporters, are invited to the final march and concert.

To find out more about the Soulforce 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert, please see: www.soulforce.org/1000wattmarch.

Consistent with the first step in the principles of nonviolence taught by Gandhi and King, Soulforce researched and documented false claims by Focus on the Family about LGBT people, couples and families. That research is compiled in a booklet, entitled "A False Focus on My Family" and a DVD, entitled, "Dear Dr. Dobson." This powerful and eye-opening booklet is available free online at www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family and the DVD is available free to press upon request.


Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.

Photos from Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The Allen-Lewis family prepares to march. Spencer walks with his dads, while triplets Parker, Hunter, and Tanner ride in the stroller.

Lars, Jami, and Kelley march

Continuing the march from Denver to Colorado Springs

The first leg of Wednesday’s march is 4.8 miles

The second leg of Wednesday’s march is 4.9 miles, with little shoulder on the road

The sign in the background tells us Colorado Springs is 43 miles ahead

The Deitrich-Webster family from Madison, Wisconsin. They are getting married in Canada on September 1, 2006.

The Foxworth-Thompson family marches leg 3 of Wednesday’s march, which is 4.9 miles.

Day Two of the 1000 Watt March Takes Message of Love into the Suburbs

Families continue 65-mile relay march from Colorado state capitol to Focus on the Family headquarters

******************************************
SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: July 18, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Lindsay, Interim Media Director
Cell: 646-258-7193
richard@soulforce.org
******************************************

(DENVER, CO) — The families continuing the 1000 Watt March set off from the southern suburbs this morning, the skyscrapers of Denver far in the distance. Marchers walked along the shoulder of a southbound state highway past shopping centers and subdivisions, bearing their banner calling for an end to religion-based discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families. Passers-by greeted them with friendly waves and honking car horns.

Yesterday’s comments from Dr. Judith Stacey of NYU at the kickoff to the march found their way onto doorsteps around Colorado this morning in the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette, and across the country through the Associated Press. Dr. Stacey, a professor of sociology from New York University, objected to Focus on the Family’s misuse of her research about the children of same-sex parents to justify discrimination against LGBT people and their families.

Marchers today included Doug Lundin and Richard Chacon from Colorado Springs and their young sons, Gabe and Chris. Lundin expressed his desire as a father to see his children raised in a more equal society. "I want the same things every parent wants for his children: to raise them in a safe neighborhood, send them to good schools and to provide for them the best I can," Lundin said, as Gabe and Chris colored and watched videos on the bus waiting for their turn to march. "In his misrepresentations of the gay community, Dr. Dobson makes my job as a parent much harder."

Also joining the march today was Lars Clausen, a straight ally who last year rode his unicycle from Burlington, Vermont to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about the need for LGBT equality. His book about the experience, Straight into Gay America was released today. He called the book a "coming out story," about the changes and discoveries in his life the trip brought about.

James Mulder and Chuck Philyaw, from Madison Wisconsin, marched in celebration of their marriage last October. The two had been planning to honeymoon this summer in California, but decided to come to Colorado instead when they heard about the march. (The newlyweds have scheduled time to enjoy national parks and tourist attractions around Denver and Colorado Springs after the march.)

This Saturday July 22 at 6 PM, actor Chad Allen and Judy Shepard, executive director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation, will lead a final 2-mile march from Rampart Park in Colorado Springs to the headquarters of Focus on the Family. The crowd will encircle James Dobson’s headquarters, joining hearts and hands in vigil as they peacefully call on him to cease his defamation of the LGBT community. At 8:30 PM Broadway star Billy Porter will protest in song outside Focus on the Family, with an electrifying jazz concert that celebrates the lives of all people and loving relationships that seek the American dream. The entire community – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families, friends and supporters, are invited to the final march and concert.

To find out more about the Soulforce 1000 Watt March, Vigil and Concert, please see: www.soulforce.org/1000wattmarch.

Consistent with the first step in the principles of nonviolence taught by Gandhi and King, Soulforce researched and documented false claims by Focus on the Family about LGBT people, couples and families. That research is compiled in a booklet, entitled "A False Focus on My Family" and a DVD, entitled, "Dear Dr. Dobson." This powerful and eye-opening booklet is available free online at www.soulforce.org/article/false-focus-family and the DVD is available free to press upon request.


Soulforce’s purpose is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information go to www.soulforce.org.