Friday, April 15, 2011

My NOH8 Story on a Day of Silence or Meditation on my Namesake

Back in February, I had the chance to attend one of the most wonderful gatherings of LGBTQ people I've ever had the chance to attend: the Creating Change Conference, in Minneapolis. What made this gathering so great was that it best represented the whole "tent" of queerdom: young and old, men, women, and people who didn't cling to one binary gender, gay, lesbian, bi, and a rainbow of transgender persons, genderqueer, poly, allies, intersex persons, you name it, and persons from the group were beautifully, wonderfully represented.

Among the activities that weekend was the opportunity to become part of the "NOH8" campaign, the brainchild of young gay celebrity photographer Adam Bouska, originally in response to the Prop 8 campaign (which likewise spawned this blog), but now reaching far beyond California and the issue of anti-gay prejudice.

For a mere contribution of $40 (far from a pittance for many people, and an unfortunate bar to the full representation of people who would best represent this campaign), anyone could feel like a supermodel for justice for a few seconds, and come out with a professional portrait of their own activist selves.

At first, I didn't think I could justify this price and this indulgence, as cool as it was. But then I looked at my special shelf, and saw on it my clerical collar, gathering dust, and my Great-Grandfather's watch, a prized heirloom that my Father has let me take care of. Both of these items are very special to me, the one a signature part of my vocation to the Lutheran ministry, and the other, a prized possession of one after whom I was named. The combination of the two inspired me to have that photo taken, and to represent fully who I am to this cause for freedom and equality.

What follows is the description that I provided Adam in helping to understand the meaning behind this pose. I don't know that it will gain any kind of wider audience, and so I share it here for the few of you for whom it might be of interest. I love my vocation, and I love my Great-Grandfather, even though we could never have met. I respect his hard work and dedication to his profession, which the watch honors after 30 years of service. And I am proud of his name, Elsworth, which is my middle name and my Father's middle name, as I am of the man who gave it to me.

Love should never keep one from being honest about love; yet that is what Prop 8 does. May that proposition, in time, fall to the ground as an embarrassment to those who supported it, as much as the pride I feel in opposing it with my whole being.

"My pose for the NOH8 campaign was filled with symbolism both personal and of wider-reach. This pose represents family, time, tradition, my personal and our communal struggle for equality and justice. I wore around my neck my Great-Grandfather's watch given to him for 30 years of service in 1953. I also wore one of my clerical collars.

My calling is to the ordained ministry of Word and sacrament in the Lutheran church, the faith into which my Great-Grandfather was baptized on his deathbed. Yet being openly gay has prevented me from getting a church and being able to wear the collar as an ordained person.

Time, literally entangled around my neck, is therefore represented on at least 3 planes in this image: 1. The time of tradition, weighing physically and metaphorically on my vocation (as it has on many others); 2. The time (4 years) I have been waiting to become a pastor; 3. The duration of our movement for Gay and Lesbian rights, which began in America around the time that this watch was presented to my Great-Grandfather.

I never knew my Great-Grandfather, but am proud of his work and love him. I am, along with my Father, his namesake. Our middle name, Elsworth, was his only given name. Yet past, present, and future meeting in one place on this point is bittersweet. I have encapsulated this experience in the following poem:

Time Entangles Our Necks

Time entangles our necks,
breathing life and death
past years of pressured peace and silenced dreams.

Great our Grandfathers'
wishes, ambitions for
Their Unseen, a gleam
of semen stretched
through several faltered
beams of forced omission.

Faith of our fathers,
stopping still
cockblocking their sons,
frockboxing their daughters
behind a god who pressed in law
what certain ancient lawyers saw.

Faith remains, lifeglue,
more than a living,
or escape from dying,
shining too from the
eyes of the future who
know what the sins
of the past could do:
a lasting screw.

If our great grandfathers only knew.


  1. cool! What does the $40 go towards? Is it a non-profit working for good or just to line the photographers wallet?

  2. I'd say a little of both. Although it's a 501c3 now, I think the bulk of the $40 goes to the photographer & overhead for travel, advertising, and such. I know there's one very critical article about it, but I don't think NOH8 makes any claims to be funding anything that it doesn't fund, so I don't have a problem with it. It is to some degree a vanity thing, but I will say that the pic has opened up some conversations with more conservative acquaintances that might probably not have happened by just trying to bring the subject up.