Connecting the Dots to Charlotte’s Pride Event and Back.

About the middle of May, 2011, my friend, Kathy Baldock invited me to be one of the directors for her recently registered non-profit, Canyonwalker Connections. She told me she had been praying for the right person to represent transgender persons and that my name kept coming to her mind. 
Kathy laughs when she recalls a conversation I had with her a while back and kids me about it. I told her I had this notion that after my surgery at the end of March of 2010, I hoped to simply live a life in quiet anonymity, flying under the radar, a private person who would not have to be talking about where I came from, that I had been a man. etc. Only my family and those who already knew me would know this about me. For everyone else, it was none of their business. She laughs when she points out that if that is what I envisioned, then I had obviously gone about it the wrong way. One doesn’t accept an invitation to address two-hundred people to tell them about their life and one certainly does not write a biography that tells all the details. Believe me, I do have an excuse for each of those, and it had nothing to do with seeking fame.
I have often stated that up until four years ago I had a death wish. I thought death would solve so many problems. No one would have known anything about my gender "issues," my wife would have gotten the insurance payout, and I would have avoided needing to transition. Today, I look at my life and I beg God to let me live as long as possible—there is so much to be done.  As I consider how all these separate events form this amazing chain, I am excited and humbled. I see God opening new doors I never imagined I would be walking through. Let me just connect a few dots for you, better said, let me share with you how some dots have connected in my life, bringing us to where I am today—veteran of my first Pride Event as an "activist."  
Almost two years ago I reached out to a transsexual I had never met, formerly one of Vancouver’s most well-known chefs, who had been outed in a local food publication in a very “gossip column” sort of way. The editors then published her letter in which she explained and defended herself. It was brilliantly written and I wrote an encouraging comment in which I outed myself. Oops. 
I tried to find her contact information and called all the people I thought might be able to help me reach her, but no luck. I finally sent an email to the editors of the magazine and asked them to please forward my contact information to her and a couple of days later, she responded. That was the beginning of our friendship. I was basically one year ahead of her in the transition process.
Then, one year ago, she called me to invite me to a barbecue. She was going to be preparing all the food and thought I would enjoy meeting some other trans women. The truth be told, I was hesitant at first. I had always been leery of ending up with only transgender friends—in a sot of transgender ghetto. With the exception of her, I really did not have any other trans friends. But I went to the barbecue since, after all, she was asking me to be her guest.
Two things happened the day of the barbecue, first, I met other transsexuals in varying stages of transition, and second I learned about an affirming church from one of the ladies who attended it. She tells the story that she too was reluctant to go to the barbecue because she was going to miss the inaugural service at the church’s new location. Nevertheless, she had a conviction—or prompting—that God wanted her to be at the barbecue to meet someone special. It humbles me every time I hear this story or recount it. We were both there reluctantly, but for different reasons went anyway. 
I attended her church the following Sunday and I was struck by the Spirit’s powerful presence the minute I walked in. The worship service was energizing and the love and affirmation I experienced from all was beyond description. I had been in a two-year drought, ever since I transitioned and stopped attending my church. Lest you thing my reasons for leaving had to do with me being asked to stay away, it was actually my decision. Though all of my friends would have liked me to continue attending, I was aware of a few members who had a history of being outspoken about their anti-gay views. I did not want to embroil the church in a divisive controversy, so I walked away.

Needless to say, I had been hungry for fellowship, for worship and for the caring shepherding I so deeply needed. I'd only had my surgery five months earlier and I was still vulnerable and “raw.”

So many wonderful new connections have resulted from the friends I have made at Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship (formerly Rainbow Community Church of Vancouver), least of which is my new friendship with Kathy Baldock. Tori, the friend I met at the barbecue and who invited me to her church sent me a link to one of Kathy’s blog posts, “Can Size 14 Heels Keep You Out of Heaven?” and the accompanying video.

That was it. I had to know more about this person and I spent the next hour reading other posts and watching other clips. I sent her a friend request on Facebook and shared with her who I was and a bit about my life’s journey. It was Sept. 8, 2010. I will summarize the last year by simply saying that Kathy is responsible for my advocacy on behalf of LGBT persons in Uganda, and for creating a website to that end, and more recently, my advocacy in Charlotte, N.C. One unfortunate thing that both of these have in common is a fundamentalist anti-gay preacher from the U.S., Lou Engle, best known for his leadership of The Call and association with prominent members of the Christian Right. But also one of the men singularly responsible for inspiring and fueling the homophobia that has gripped Uganda, culminating in the proposed “Kill The Gays Bill.”  
Lou Engle’s connection with the Charlotte Pride event is also one of record. He is buddy-buddy with an equally legalistic preacher from Charlotte (who shall remain nameless for personal reasons), come author of “A Queer Thing Happened to America.” This book is a compilation of allegations and accusations of the LGBT community’s mythical “Gay Agenda.” I say “mythical” because in fact I have met one of the key gentlemen responsible for coining the term in the first place when he and the conservative Christian organizations he worked for in the early eighties were looking for the hot buttons to push to get Evangelical Christians to send money and join the various groups and political parties. They discovered very early on that whenever they vilified gays and scared people with suspicions of a dark, evil, gay conspiracy, revenues and membership would spike. They honed the art and used it to their political and financial advantage, for in fact, there was no gay agenda. Yes folks, the “Gay Agenda” was a fabrication of Evangelical Christians hungry for power and money.
This Charlotte preacher/author first organized a group action called “God Has a Better Way” (GHABW) in 2009 to protest that year’s Charlotte Pride Event. Their purpose was to share the “love of Jeeeesus with the lost.” (My inflection and paraphrase.) I don’t know much about how effective their efforts were that year, but preacherman saw an opportunity to invade this year’s event since, for the first time in Charlotte, it was taking place in a public square. Actually on three city blocks. I'm sure the dynamics this year would have been worse than we witnessed and if the infamous Lou Engle had been present, as had been exected. Fortunately, "Kingdom business" kept Him away, according to our preacherman. I would rephrase it as it was the Kingdom's business to keep him away. Maybe that is all that needs to be said to give you an idea of this preacherman's fundamentalistic perspective and motivations. Lou Engle and he are like two peas in a pod.
Back to Kathy. When she learned about this planned action in Charlotte and who was behind it, she was incensed. A few months ago she did a thorough, scathing review of this man’s homophobic book, guaranteeing her a place as a target in this man’s shooting gallery. When I read her post sounding  the alarm, I did the unthinkable, I went to their website and read about them and from there I went to their Facebook page and clicked on the “like” button. Why, you ask, would I do such an odious thing? Well, I could not let this man get away with his comments and views on transgender persons, which I read in the GHABW web site.
I was polite but critical and fully expected to see my comment get deleted. Instead, the page administrator replied and thus began a lengthy exchange between “them" and me. A few posts into the exchange, this chameleon showed his true color. It was brown. (Pun intended.) You can read most of the exchange on my blog post, but be warned, it is long. I stopped copying and pasting when I realized this man can let his diarrhea go for a long time. (Pun intended again.) 
Anyway, this exchange was read by many, and Kathy also created a blog post with an earlier compilation of the exchange, resulting in even more people reading it. Some of the Charlotte Pride organizers were pleased with what they saw Kathy and me doing on their behalf and extended a warm welcome to join then in Charlotte, to stand with them and present a different Jesus message. Neither Kathy or I have the resources to hop on a plane nor can we afford the transportation and hotel costs. Kathy posted an request for donations of travel points and/or money, and within a few hours, people from Wisconsin to California came through. This was further confirmation that we needed to be there. Another significant and heart-warming thing that began to happen was the stream of supportive and appreciative messages sent from all over the world. Not kidding.
Do you see why Kathy laughs at my now dispelled notion to be a private person after my surgery? 
Okay, I admit, some of my earlier comments and taunts with respect to this man are inflammatory and childish, but he pushed too many buttons I didn’t know I had. Yep, this advocacy thing is all new to me and it surprises me as much as anyone who knew me before. I am compelled to speak out and to do it loudly. Really, I don’t known where it comes from, except to say that is is from deep within when I see how some “Christians” blindly think that the “love of Jeeeesus” means they can sweetly judge others, especially transgender persons, I need to speak (and one day I may even learn to scream).
You can read Kathy’s blog post to get a sense of how things turned out so I won't take time here to duplicate what she has already shared. The two of us spent a good portion of the flight back to California debriefing each other and comparing notes, studying photos and videos we had taken. Her account jives with what I saw and experienced. It was very surreal, to say the least.
What I want to share with you are some personal reflections. 
Let me begin with the GHABW pep rally we got to see from across the street. As a worship leader, I was affected deeply by what I saw and heard. The musicians and singers were very good, and it sounded great from a musical point of view. All the songs they sang, with the exception of one I will talk about in a few seconds, were songs we sing at our church. But what got to me and broke my heart was to see how worship was being used to manipulate. The experience was no different than watching a high-school pep rally before a football game, or worse yet, a tribe getting ready for a hunting expedition. It will take me a while to get the sour taste out of my mouth. The worship leader would call out, “Let me hear you!” “Louder!” etc. as he tried to raise the pitch. I vowed right then and there never to use worship in this way. I have always believed that when we worship, we have an audience of one, the Lord himself. Here worship was being used to pump up the troops and get noticed. It was loud and the worship time ended with the chorus of one particular song repeated for close to five minutes, like a broken record, as it got louder and louder.


After the short chat by preacherman, he asked the two hundred participants to turn and raise their hands toward the city and shout, “Liberty! Freedom!” It was strange. One has to ask themselves, who were they shouting it out to? The Pride Event was four blocks away and the nearest building was the empty NASCAR Hall of Fame across the street. He then turned the microphone over to one of his assistants who explained the “rules of engagement.” I kid you not, in their minds they were marching into battle. Lovingly, of course. After invoking God, they marched into the city square carrying bottles of water, concert flyers and “The Rainbow Promise” handouts. 

I realize I am making an assumption that you will know who Kathy Baldock is and what Canyonwalker Connections is all about. I will explain. Kathy is a straight, Evangelical Christian woman who for the last six to seven years has reached out to the LGBT community, in particular, the Christian LGBT community and affirming churches to help restore the breach between them and the church at large. A few years ago she attended San Francisco Pride and wore a T-shirt on which she had written “Hurt by Church? Get a Straight Apology.” This started a fire in her soul that could not be doused, thanks to the many heart-wrenching stories of judgement and exclusion she heard and all the tears that were shed in the process. Today, she offers T-shirts at cost to any straight Christian wishing to extend the love of Jesus to LGBT persons at their pride events with the updated message "Hurt by Church? Get a #str8apology."


Kathy and several Charlotte straight Christians wore their T-shirts and engaged people one on one with the message of inclusion and affirmation, and also provided information and links for finding welcoming churches in the area. Since I could not wear the "Straight Apology" shirt for obvious reasons, I made my own. We knew in advance what The Rainbow Promise handout looked like, so I drew it on the back and wrote “I Will Be Happy to Recycle The Rainbow Promise Handout” and a smaller version on the front. My job at the event was to walk around with a large garbage bag collecting the cards off the street and from anyone I saw carrying one. When I explained what the card’s message was and how it directed them to a website that preached condemnation to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons, a small fact that had not been shared with them by the red army, they could not dispose of the handouts fast enough. This often gave me an opportunity to tell people about the love of Jesus. 

Besides the GHABW group, there was a group of vitriolic street preachers whom Kathy opined were worst example of how to reach people for God. No doubt the red army was happy these hateful preachers were drawing so much attention and jeering responses, they, the red shirts, could at least say they were loving by comparison. I would not be surprised of some were also secretly glad these street preachers were giving it to the gays.

Kathy was so angry at the language and the verbal attacks being spewed out, she decided her place at this event would be to stand in front of these preachers and run interference, while at the same time, speak to anyone she sensed needed to hear her message. It was intense and it was amazing to see, mostly young persons, break down in tears of joy and gratitude. Since her return home, in just a few days,  she has already received many emails from these people, wanting to engage with her some more. 

On another personal note, the Lord used this event to teach me an important lesson. I have a confession to make—I have not liked drag queens, ever, especially since I began the process of disclosure and transitioned. The reason is this: I saw drag queens as a liability to my bid to blend into society. The fact is many people assume that transsexuals are nothing but drag queens or expect them to look like drag queens. The other admission I must make is that for this reason I had never attended a pride event since the drag queen thing seems so overdone and high profile.

As I walked around collecting the GHABW garbage, I saw a group of trans ladies that I assumed were drag queens, and this is how I learned my lesson. By the time the red army had retreated to their base, I was under a lot of conviction for my attitude towards these ladies. I finally got the courage to approach them and I introduced myself. I asked them their names and I told them I was down from Canada just for this event and that I had come with the #str8apology lady standing in front of the street preachers. I asked them if they could each tell me what their life was like. What they shared with me broke my heart. They not only loved Jesus, they also had valid reasons for looking the way they did. They weren’t drag queens. They were persons who, due to the discrimination in society against transgender persons, would have everything to loose, their jobs, their homes, their friends—everything. And on top of that, they feared their families would reject them and so too their churches. So for them, they would need to continue living as men, not daring to take any risks.  Feminizing their bodies or transitioning were out of the question. Yes, they may have been all too conspicuous, with their undeniably male features, but they were lovely persons and they loved by Jesus. I realized how wrong I had been for keeping my distance, when in fact, they were my sisters in the Lord. 
Since my return home in Vancouver, I have been processing all the stuff I saw and experienced. I must admit that beneath my stoic exterior, I have been hurting. The preacherman has posted his views and opinions of what went on and the more he writes, the more he adds to the success of their campaign. He has also said some very demeaning things about me. (Take a listen below and see if his words match the photo.) As per my Facebook post earlier today, I'm realizing how much I hurt for trans people and the continuing attacks on me sting, but they are really attacks on others who are more vulnerable. He would gloat about this incredible weight I feel today and would call it conviction. It is not that at all, it is confirmation that I am called to stand in the gap for others who are like me, both men and women. 






N.B. This man knows how to twist things with such a sincere and heartfelt delivery. He is an expert at it, but he is just a big fish in a mud puddle. I hope he stays there. The disconnection between what he claimed he saw and how things really looked are very different. He knows how to sound compassionate, dripping with heart-felt sincerity, but he is a skilled manipulator of facts and events. If he was as heart-broken when he met me, as he claims in this short clip from his radio broadcast, then he also knows how to act. He was delighted to run into me, as evidenced by his happy grin. He implies that all the information he shares about me resulted from this encounter. Not so. He is quoting from the exchange we had on the GHABW Facebook page. You be the judge.






Comments

  1. My dearest Lisa, I know that the experience of the last few weeks has been very difficult for you. However it is also my belief that this was an important building block, that will strengthen you to do the work that God has in store for you. I too have engaged the wily Dr. Michael Brown, and it wasn't a picnic. I won't go into a lot of detail regarding our conversations, but I question his love for our community? I keep thinking of the cover of his book, showing a man, ( I don't know whether it is a picture of him, or not)with his pants down, and only wearing shorts.
    He uses the Bible as a weapon, rather than to express the love of God. He is a real knack of insulting people and then trying to imply that the person who asks a question is attacking him, and 'His Love" for us. My husband, Bob kept asking why I even bothered talking with him? I did so, not because I was attempting to change is views, or opinions, but because I felt there might be a young member of our community reading this tripe, and I hoped what I said made a difference for them. In fact I did receive a few comments, telling me that I had inspired the writers. Bob and I have been social activists for many years, so we know that what you did took an amazing amount of courage, but He is our strength, and as long as you rely on His promptings you can't go wrong. You are an amazing woman Lisa Salazar and it is a blessing to call you friend.

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  2. Love you, Lisa. It's courageous of you to post that audio with the photo and expose the misguided and hurtful thinking of Michael Brown. I have so much respect for you for doing that. You are a beautiful woman! God bless you.

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  3. Absolutely wonderful, Lisa!! In my own exchanges with Michael,I have seen the same thing. He is a very dishonest and manipulative man. I don't know who the GENTLEMAN is that he met ..was it someone who was with you and Kathy? Love to both you and Kathy for being bright and shining witnesses at Charlotte Pride!!

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