Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 26, 2011 edition of India Today magazine reports: Attempts for dialogue on homosexuality have begun for the first time inside the conservative churches of Kerala, set in motion by Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz from the US

By Rev. Steve Parelli
September 27, 2011
Bronx, NY

Cover of India Today
September 26, 2011
Rev Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz are featured in the current edition (September 26, 2011) of India Today magazine, an Indian weekly publication with a readership of 5.62 million people (Wikipedia), in an article titled Sex and The Church in the Nation section of the magazine.

Mr. M. G. Radhakrishnan, author of the article, personally interviewed Parelli and Ortiz on July 13, 2011 in the lobby of the Classic Avenue Hotel, Trivandrum, Kerala, and on July 18 attended a Kerala University students’ meeting, also in Trivandrum, where Steve and Jose spoke.

The India Today article juxtaposes the Parelli/Ortiz visit to Kerala with the suing of Marthoma Church Bishop Euyakim Mar Coorlios “for allegedly committing sodomy," both events occurring in July of 2011. “Interestingly, the bishop’s case comes even as attempts for a dialogue on homosexuality have begun for the first time inside the conservative churches of Kerala where Christians form 19 per cent of the population. The efforts have been set in motion by a homosexual Baptist pastor couple from the US, Stephen R. Parelli and Jose Enrique Ortiz,” the article says.

The article goes on to quote Parelli and Ortiz on the topic of homosexuality and the church in India.

The above photo of
Jose (left) and Steve
is featured in the
"Sex and The Church" article
Parelli and Ortiz “were brought to the state by the Trivandrum Theological Forum (TTF),” the article reports.

Sam L. Sone and R. S. Ajith, both of TTF, and Dr. David Joy of Untied Theological College (Bangalore) are also quoted in the article. TTF and David Joy joined efforts with Other Sheep (Parelli and Ortiz) in the Malayalam translation and its publication and distribution of The Children Are Free, a book by two American authors, in which it is argued that the Bible does not condemn homosexual acts between consenting, committed adults.  TTF, in the first printing of the Malayalam rendering of the book, published 2000 copies.

Parelli and Ortiz spent 28 days in July in Kerala distributing 580 copies of the Malayalam book to human rights activists, religious leaders, media people, professors and students, lay leaders and parishioners, other interested parties, and bookstores and libraries.

The India Today article features a photo of Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz in an affectionate embrace.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Singaporean lesbian couple - Sheena and Kai - wedded in Central Park, New York, NY, with Rev. Steve Parelli officiating

By Rev. Stephen Parelli
September 17, 2011
Bronx, New York

Sheena (left) and Kai, newlyweds,
Central Park, NYC, September 16, 2011
Sheena (Shi Jia Sheena Ling) and Kai (Kai Hiang Tan), a lesbian couple from Singapore, were married on September 16, 2011, in Central Park, New York. Four friends of the bride and bride, three travelling from Singapore just for the occasion and a fourth a student at NYU, witnessed the marriage (along with some Muppets). The wedding ceremony, given the theme “authentically playful” by the bride and bride, was held at the Hans Christian Andersen statue, the famous Denmark writer of children’s stories, near 72nd Street and East Drive, Central Park.

Rev. Stephen Parelli, clergy member of Metropolitan Community Church of New York and member of The Riverside Church, New York, officiated.

The bride and bried - Sheena (center left) and Kai -
with friends from Singapore and Rev. Parelli
(back row far left), Central Park, NYC,
September 16, 2011
The ceremony, which began shortly after 4:00pm on a warm and bright sunny Friday, was conducted to one side of the Andersen statue on the raised stone platform area on which the statue sits. Sheena and Kai gave vows they wrote. Kai surprised Sheena with a song. The Muppets sat on the edge of the platform while the friends stood on ground level looking up to the bride and bride standing before the reverend. By-standers stopped and took pictures then carried on.

Kai (left) and Sheena celebrating
their marriage with the theme
"authentically playful"
Following the ceremony, the newlyweds and their friends, still at the Andersen statue, celebrated the marriage with gifts from the bride and bride, food and Champaign, bubbles from two bubble-making guns, and the signing of the marriage license. Jose Ortiz, arriving after the ceremony from his job in the Bronx where he works as a counselor of school children, joined in the fun.

Rev. Parelli (left) and spouse
Jose Ortiz (center left) with
Kai (center right) and Sheena (right),
Central Park, NYC, September
16, 2011
Sheena and Kai met Rev. Parelli and his spouse Jose Ortiz on August 14, 2011, at the Free Community Church in Singapore. Sheen and Kai, as first-time visitors at the Free Community Church, came for the special occasion to hear Steve and Jose, Executive Director and Coordinator of Other Sheep respectively, give a seminar on the fallacies of the evangelical ex-gay movement in America. Following the Singapore seminar, Kai and Sheena asked Jose if Steve could officiate their up-coming marriage in Central Park, New York. Before leaving Singapore, over the phone, Steve gladly agreed.

Sheena (left) and Kai (holding marriage license) with
Rev. Steve Parelli (right),
at Hans Christian Andersen statue, Central Park,
New York, NY, September 16, 2011.
Wedding guests T. Y. and C. Y, both of Singapore (and both asking to remain anonymous because of job security fears back in Singapore), signed the license as witnesses of the marriage.

Muppets sitting at the site of the Hans Christian
Andersen statue, Central Park, observing
the wedding ceremony of Sheena and Kai,
September 16, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

Parelli and Otrtiz intervied by Sylvia Tan of Fridae.com on "the false claims of the ex-gay movement"

8 August 2011
Rev. Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz: Is there such a thing as ‘ex-gay’?
by Sylvia Tan

(To view this article on Other Sheep web site, click here)

Rev. Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz, a gay married couple, will be in Singapore on 14 August to share their personal journey of reconciling their Christian faith and sexual orientation, and discuss the false claims of the ex-gay movement.

They are a gay married couple on a mission. Every year since 2005, Rev. Steve Parelli, a former evangelical Baptist pastor, and his partner Jose Ortiz – who are Executive Director and Coordinator for Asia respectively of Other Sheep – spend July and August away from their home in New York City to travel in Africa and Asia. Founded in 1992 by Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks, an American Presbyterian missionary who was and is currently still serving in Buenos Aries, Other Sheep is an ecumenical, Christian ministry that works worldwide for the full inclusion of LGBT people of faith within their respective faith traditions.

Currently over a month into their two-month tour to India and Nepal, Steve and Jose will be making a stop in Singapore on 14 August at Free Community Church to conduct a forum to discuss the methods and claims of “change” of the ex-gay movement and their experiences within the movement as participants seeking change.The couple, who legally married in California in 2008, met in 1997 while attending Hope Ministries of Calvary Baptist Church, New York City, a support group for Christians wanting to “overcome” their same-sex attractions. At the time of their meeting, Jose was attending various self-help groups based on AA principles, and Steve was in “reparative therapy” with Joe Nicolosi, author and co-founder of NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality).

Ordained in 2008 with the Metropolitan Community Church, Steve has a Master of Divinity (Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary) and an MA in Applied Linguistics (City University of New York) while Jose has an MA in Applied Psychology (New York University). Steve also has four children from a previous marriage.

Fridae catches up with Steve and Jose who were in Goa, India via email and finds out why they have made it their life’s mission to share their journey of reconciling their faith and sexual orientation with gay Christians, and Christian religious leaders around the world.

æ: You and Jose have travelled the world for years to share your personal stories. Why do you do this and what motivates you?

Jose: I want to spare others the suffering that I went through… the years of confusion, self-loathing, depression, and thinking I cannot be used of God to help others spiritually.

Steve: What motivates me personally, in part, is the sad knowledge that Christianity, in the area of sexual minorities and human rights, is more often than not, a force for discrimination, exclusion, ostracism, and criminalization. Uganda – largely an evangelical Christian country – is a case in point. God’s love is universal, inclusive, and non-discriminatory. Unfortunately, religion can be a force for ill-will, division, separation and violence.

Also, what motivates me personally is what I’ve experienced within my own circle of family, friends and life-long associates: complete ostracism from all who have loved me (before I came out as a gay man in my mid 40s). It is my hope that the church will someday put an end to its spiritual persecution of LGBT people so that families and friends will not have to choose between being faithful to their significant others versus their faith. No mother should have to have to deny her faith in order to love her gay son. No young person should have to deny his or her gay father in order to be accepted by the church. The church should unify family members – including LGBT people – not divide, separate and inspire feelings of doubt, rejection and even hate. Unfortunately, the Church’s motto “to love the sinner but hate the sin” does not equate acceptance in the slightest degree for the homosexual: his or her sexual orientation as homosexual is as much a part of his or her personhood as heterosexuality is for the straight person: You cannot “love the heterosexual but hate his/her heterosexuality.” The church is obviously awash and totally without any practical compass, having embraced a traditional so-called Biblical approach, setting the sciences aside along with the clear testimonies of their own LGBT members.

æ: Were yourself and/or Jose involved in the ex-gay ministries? If so, tell us more.

Steve: Only as members of groups; not as leaders. [Steve attended a group in NJ (New Jersey) and in NYC (New York City) over a period of time for more than a year.]

æ: The debate about conversion therapy/ reparative therapy has been going on for decades despite increasing social acceptance around the world and psychological associations condemning such therapy as harmful. What is driving the ex-gay industry and why can't it be put to rest?

Steve: The evangelical Christian church, which is to a degree an isolated community, is the driving force of the ex-gay industry. Young people who grow up in the evangelical church become a new crop for harvesting by the ex-gay movement; these evangelical young people are “trapped” within an exclusive community that talks about being “born again” and have a “victorious Christian life” over sin. Young evangelical gays (before they even know they are gay) are indoctrinated with a theology of sin, victorious Christian living, and anti-homosexuality, so that by the time they experience their own sexual orientation as homosexual they are already conditioned to believe that it is sinful and that “Christ is the answer.” Couple this with the total ostracism that comes from being openly gay as an evangelical Christian – ostracized by family, friends, the church, status, position, career – and you have the powerful making of the hope that one can, should change. The ex-gay movement, for the above reasons, has the force it has because of the evangelical Christian theological mindset and its mode of exclusivism (belonging via correct doctrine and right practice). Wherever evangelicalism has gone (worldwide), the ex-gay movement has followed.

Jose: As long as society and its religions continue to propagate the idea that to be homosexual is somehow less than ideal, there will be a market for these therapies that offer change. The fact is that it is very stressful tohave to justify one’s own existence and assert one’s dignity. Who would “choose” to be different when that difference can result in disdain, ostracism, condemnation or even abuse from the greater society and in many cases one’s own place of worship?

æ: What is the potential for harm with reparative therapy?

Jose: The APA American Psychiatric Association, which opposes “reparative” therapies submitted a statement which says, in part: “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred …” I believe there is also potential harm in the sadness, disappointment and intense frustration that arise when the expected success never comes. These negative feelings can lead to depression, hopelessness and suicidal ideation. The abusive and harmful aspect of such therapy is also manifest when they refer to studies that show that the client’s cooperation and motivation are the determining factors to the degree of “change” experienced. Therefore, when one is not experiencing change, one can begin to think “I am not sufficiently compliant, cooperative, invested, or committed to the ‘therapeutic’ process. I am really messed up.” What needs to be questioned is the “therapy” not the client. A client should not be subjected to such unnecessary and anguishing self-doubt due to the selective use of psychological research. I believe the rate of “success” – which could be the most minimal shift in sexual thought or expression – to be too low and the potential for harm to high to justify reparative therapy.

æ: Some people argue that it is the right of people to undergo reparative therapy should they want to "stop" being gay. What would you say to that? And if it were up to you, do you think ex-gay organizations should not be allowed to operate?

Jose: There are certain practices in the medical profession that are unethical and therefore are not allowed. Similarly, in the area of mental health there are practices that are counterproductive and/or potentially harmful and therefore should be prohibited. In my opinion, reparative therapy has such potential for detrimental effects that it should be banned.

Developing high self-esteem and exploring what it means to live out one’s sexuality responsibly should be the focus of counseling for gays instead of wasting time, energy and resources on changing that which is a natural part of one’s humanity.

Whether ex-gay groups should be allowed to operate depends on how they publicize, I believe. If they claim to be based on solid social science research and psychological practice, then they should not be allowed to operate. If they clearly say that they are intended on changing outward manifestations so that one can appear to fit in, or pass as one of the heterosexual majority, then I think they should be allowed to exist. They just should not be allowed to make false claims of change of sexual orientation.

Steve: This is not an easy question. Since the ex-gay movement operates under the auspices of local churches and is primarily a religious movement/ of religious sentiment, it is my view that government agencies do not have jurisdiction to regulate their practices. On the other hand, at some point the government does regulate in matters of health and well-being.

Just recently, in June, the New York State legislature legalized same-sex marriage; the bill they passed included church-right protections so that churches, in the case of same-sex marriage, could still teach and practice their same-sex marriage discrimination without penalty under law. Of course, marriage equality and reparative therapy is not the same – but I’m trying to illustrate that government has to be careful how it may or may not regulate religion or religious organizations.

æ: Have you received hate mail or threats by those who consider you and your ministry to be against the "proper" Christian teachings and how do you handle it?

Steve: Christians from Africa and Asia have emailed us using religious jargon to warn or attack us saying we are “an abomination,” that we “need to repent,” that they “are praying for us” to change. We respond with kindness, telling them we view scriptures differently, that the Bible does not condemn homosexuals, and that we’d be happy to discuss a particular passage of scripture if they wish to continue the conversation. No one who writes to us in this manner responds to our request for further study. It is a sad commentary on the Bible literacy of Christians, and is, I believe, bibliolatry (the worship of the Bible above God).

æ: Tell us more about the forum and if it would be useful to those who aren't Christian or who have fully accepted their sexual orientation and have no intention of "changing"? Who should come to the seminar?

Steve: Every ex-gay Christian should be there; he or she needs a different perspective; unfortunately, ex-gay Christians, in general, stay within the ex-gay movement out of fear (and not out of love) of rejection and complete ostracism.

Those who aren’t Christian and who have fully accepted their sexual orientation should attend from the standpoint of what influence they may have in organizations (or with individuals) that address reparative therapy. What this seminar offers that may be somewhat unique is the story from the inside: two evangelical Christians seriously attempting ex-gay therapy, and from that vantage point, evaluating it. Also, I feel the non-Christian activist and the Christian activist need to work together for the human rights of LGBT people.

æ: What's your advice for someone who is gay but does not want to be, or who is gay and Christian?

Jose: Not everyone in Christianity believes that homosexuality is wrong. There is a “minority report” within Christianity that argues that the Bible has been misused by religious leaders in the Church to condemn that which they do not understand. The majority opinion in the Church has been mistaken before thinking the earth was the center of the universe, that the earth was flat, and slavery was acceptable, to name a few matters. We know through the social sciences and our personal experience that there is nothing inherently evil or flawed in being gay. The Church just needs to catch up. We must patiently, persistently, and graciously tell the Church she is wrong about us. Also, remember that our religious institutions are NOT God. Our Creator loves, blesses and cares for gays as much as the rest of humankind. The rulers of our
institutions through their bias attempt to block the rays of God’s love for the LGBT community but they can no more erase God’s love for us as a person can blot out the fiery sun by blocking it from sight with his hand.

Steve: If you are gay and don’t want to be: Accept yourself as gay; love yourself as God loves you as gay; place your energies and resources not in repressing yourself as gay but in creating the person you want to be as gay (education, career, associates, etc.); find the spouse/significant other that completes you as a gay person and build a life with him or her; live life to the fullest as a gay person; live in step with yourself and those who really love you will congratulate you, those who will not accept you as you are you do not need in your life anyway.

If you are gay and Christian: For my part, as an evangelical gay man (and theologian), I have had the wonderful experience of re-thinking just about everything that I’ve been taught theologically – not just the gay-part. If you are gay and Christian, don’t just adjust yourself theologically on the mere six passages of scripture that are used to abuse you; but re-think the whole evangelical (Americanized) western, male, heterosexual, Reformation faith. Religion is the story we tell ourselves again and again; perhaps you need a whole different story. For the gay Christian – don’t just tweak your theology around the question of sexual orientation; re-do theology from top to bottom; it is a journey once you start you will find is, perhaps, the spiritual life worth living.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) at USA international airports no longer in effect it appears, at least as this American gay married coupled experienced it yesterday for the first time since 2008

By Steve Parelli
Executive Director, Other Sheep
Bronx, NY
September 3, 2011

Every year since 2008, upon re-entry into the USA after traveling abroad during July and August in Africa or Asia, Jose Ortiz, my live-in partner since 1997 and legal husband since August 25, 2008, has been immediately escorted to a separate room, out of sight, without any explanation except “Follow me” or “Come with me.” I would be told I could not follow. I would be separated from him without any explanation. As we were expecting, it happened again yesterday for the fourth year in a row – his being escorted away that is – at the JFK airport in New York City upon our return to America from Nepal. Only things were surprisingly different this time around: I was not separated from my spouse!

In 2008, when this unhappy event suddenly occurred for the first time, “it was traumatic: the feeling of law officers separating us without being able to communicate with each other and without being told why we were being separated,” so I wrote the following year, in 2009, feeling again the embedded emotions when retelling the happening. (It turns out that “Jose Ortiz” is a “John-Smith” common-enough name so that he is listed with law officials as a suspect of some sort and his name must be cleared before he can enter the USA. This also happened once in Beijing, in 2009, where we were making a connecting flight to the USA – he was pulled aside for a name check before clearance was given to continue with his flight.)

This time around – yesterday – while waiting in line to present our passports to US officials, we laughingly “reframed” the whole (expected) ordeal by calling it one of our time-honored “rituals” (a term we use to designate events we routinely observe together which we value as important to our relationship).

However, on the contrary, we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, Jose was escorted away at the point of entry, but we were not separated as in the past. We were being treated with the same dignity other heterosexual marriages receive. As per policy (so I had observed in 2008), spouses and families are not separated when one of the spouses is escorted away for background check. (It appears only friends travelling together are separated – but not families.)

In 2008 I had refused to be separated and was accorded permission from the officer in charge to stay with Jose. I entered the restricted area with Jose and observed other spouses and families who were kept together while only one member of their party was undergoing screening for clearance.

In 2009, when I refused to be separated on the basis of my August 25, 2008, marriage to Jose in California, the officer laughed at me and said, “You’re not married here!” Then, unlike 2008, we were separated. The officer was right, of course. International airports are under Federal jurisdiction. DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) is a Federal regulation that does not recognize same-gender marriages performed by states. According to DOMA, in JFK I’m not married. As soon as I step out of the airport I’m married. Because of DOMA, the US officials regarded me as a mere friend, and not the legal spouse, of Jose (though legally married by the State of California), and so, unlike other spouses of heterosexual marriages, I had no right to remain with Jose my legal spouse.

In 2010 when we were routinely separated at point of entry, I made no fuss and simply went to the luggage area as instructed and waited patiently for Jose to compete his background check (by then I knew what to expect). It didn’t feel any better in terms of our dignity as a married couple, being treated differently than heterosexual couples, but at least I wasn’t a nervous wreck wondering what was happening to my spouse by federal officials.

But yesterday was different. I was treated with the same dignity afforded heterosexual couples. It appears that Obama’s policy to not honor DOMA is alive and well at our international airports. What a pleasant surprise. Yesterday, for the first time since 2008, Jose and I were treated as human beings upon re-entry into the USA after traveling abroad: we were not separated when Jose was escorted away for name check and eventual clearance. Yesterday, in spite of DOMA, Federal government officials at JFK recognized us as a legally married couple – as “husband and husband,”as we like to call ourselves. What a wonderful welcome home surprise that was!