Monday, July 30, 2012

Popular gay Christian singing duo performs concerts, advocates for LGBT homeless youth


When a friend called me last weekend asking me to go hear gay Christian singing duo Jason and DeMarco in concert I hesitated because it’s not a genre I thought would be all that exciting. Sensing my hesitation, the friend assured me the concert would be a far different experience than anything I might be imagining.

The friend, who is my former editor and happens to be Jewish, once again proved herself right and me wrong. It truly turned into one of those periods of elation that seems to be occurring less often the older I get. The singing of Jason and DeMarco drew me and the rest of the audience in the Celebration on the Lake Church on Cedar Creek Lake in Texas up out of our chairs to clap, sing, and wave our hands in the air after only 10 minutes into the concert.

At one point I looked over at my friend, and I saw tears streaming down her face. The song “SAFE” the couple performed from their CD by the same name obviously touched a chord in her. She later told me the singing of Jason and DeMarco similarly affected her a few years ago when she first saw the film, “We Are Angels,” documenting the singers’ lives. The 2007 documentary appeared on Showtime Network.

By the time the concert ended and I had heard them sing their version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and DeMarco sing the Catholic prayer hymnal “Ave Maria” solo, I was hooked. I did something I never usually do. I stood in line at the conclusion of the concert for a chance to meet the duo and buy one of their four CDs. I chose the one that was named “SAFE” and included all of the songs that had so touched something in me the same way it did my friend.

The concert won over the entire audience in the church, not only as a result of the marvelous singing but also because of the inspiring stories they told between the numbers. The pair talked about their lives, their international tours and their nonprofit group SAFE that works to help young people who age out of the states’ foster care systems, often winding up homeless.

Jason and DeMarco released the CD “SAFE” when in 2011 they launched their philanthropic organization of the same name, which stands for Safe Affirming Family Environment. The group was formed with $70,000 in savings from their touring engagements, according to the duo.

It was something Jason knew a little bit about from personal experience because when he was younger and touring with a traditional Gospel singing group he literally got kicked off the touring bus at the next stop because he acknowledged his sexual orientation to the other members. As a result he wound up homeless for about four months until he was able to pull himself out of the situation with the help of a business person who allowed him to live in a vacant apartment in exchange for administrative work.

Jason, who grew up in Maryland as a member of the Pentecostal Church, not only survived the experience, but he began touring again entertaining the congregations of the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Church. DeMarco, a Canadian native who grew up in the Catholic Church and who was working as a waiter while struggling in Hollywood to become an entertainer, met Jason one night at the restaurant.  Prior to their coupling as singers, DeMarco had a lead in the international touring musical “California Dream Men.” Their career as a singing duo blossomed with their 11-year relationship, and they eventually made their way to Houston.

The SAFE Host Home Program operated by the organization works to connect young adults 18 or older who have aged out of the foster care system with hosts with a spare room who can temporarily provide them with shelter and food. The guest stays in the host home an average of three to six months, and the young people are expected during that time to find employment, attend weekly counseling sessions and to establish a plan of action to sustain themselves.

SAFE also counsels young LGBT people and aims to educate, support and assist open and affirming couples who are interested in fostering and adopting LGBT youth. They also reach out to gay and lesbian couples who would like to start families.

The duo decided a couple of years ago that they wanted to start their own family. With the help of a surrogate mother, birth was given to fraternal twin boys and Jason and DeMarco are each the biological father of one of the twin boys. Subsequently, Jason and Demarco adopted each other’s child.

Jason has also written a newly-released book, “The Journey of Same Sex Surrogacy – Achieving Our Ultimate Joy.” All of their CDs and the book are available at their concerts, which are funded by love offerings from the congregations for whom they perform.

The addition of twin boys to their family has changed their lives, and they plan to alter their professional lives to accommodate their 14-month-old sons, Mason and Noah. But that doesn’t mean they are going to quit singing and touring. Instead, when they launch their new tour, “The Journey: Celebrating Families of Diversity,” in 2013, it will be on a bus with the kids in tow. Jason’s parents will be along to help care for the boys and to participate in a question and answer segment for the audiences.

The 35-day, 24-city tour will begin on Feb. 1, 2013, and it will roll from Houston to Phoenix, through several cities in California and to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Dallas and back to Houston.

One woman attending the performance told Jason and Demarco that she had seen them perform live three times previously, and that she was looking forward to seeing them yet again. I imagine that I also will want to hear them sing again someday.

For information about the duo and their upcoming tour visit http://jasonanddemarco.com. Information about SAFE is available at www.safehouseforall.org.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The chicken is out of the bag now, silly cow


(UPDATE: The Jim Henson Co., creators of The Muppets that include Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog announced on Facebook it would no longer partner with Chick-fil-A because of the company's president's anti-gay remarks. In apparent response, some Chick-fil-A locations reportedly are posting signs in their doors claiming the toys were "voluntarily" being withdrawn because of safety issues, according to multiple reports on Facebook. The Henson Co. reportedly declined further comment, noting the fast food chain restaurants are on the front lines of the controversy.  Boston's mayor had already declared Chick-fil-A unwelcome in that city because of the same remarks president Dan Cathy made to the Baptist Press recently.)


When. Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy (shown in costume above, left) recently confirmed to the Baptist Press he opposed marriage equality for LGBT people it sent shock waves through the chicken-eating wing of America's liberal-minded community, but I've got to admit I really appreciated his no bullshit answer.

Cathy told the website, which offers "news with a Christian perspective," that he was guilty as charged," which I and many others interpreted to mean bigoted.

"We know," Cathy told the Baptist Press, "that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

Before you could say cluck-cluck, gay activists began launching calls for boycotts against the fast food chain best known for posting billboards across the country featuring black and white cows that urged people to "Eat more chickin." And conservatives opposed to marriage equality quickly started vowing to do exactly what the billboards suggest. As the furor grew, Cathy probably wondered if he had stepped in a big pile of you-know-what, left not by his chickens but one of his prized mascots.

My reaction was a little less invigorated than some responding to Cathy because I've never eaten at a Chick-fil-A, and I doubt that I ever would have except in an emergency. In fact, I can't even recall ever noticing the location of a Chick-fil-A, although I've certainly seen the billboards on the highway and chuckled at them.

The bottom line for me is that I'm not losing anything because I probably wouldn't have been caught dead eating in one of the fast food chain's restaurants in the first place, regardless of management's position on LGBT rights.

I like to eat good food that is made either at home or at an eatery that takes pride in every dish that it prepares, whether it be a small, home-style cafe or an exotic, upscale restaurant. Chick-fil-A with its mindless, mass-manufacturing of chicken sandwiches just doesn't intrigue me, but I can see how it might appeal to many Baptists who appear willing to thoughtlessly swallow whatever their pastors dish out.

Still, I'm glad that Chick-fil-A's top boss let everyone know exactly how he feels about LGBT people just in case I ever find myself on the highway in one of those "I think I'm starving" situations and decide to settle for the next opportunity for nourishment. Now, I at least know that if the next spot is a Chick-fil-A to drive on a little further. I don't want to help a business guided by an executive with that mindset earn a profit.

But that's not to say I'm going to punish myself to make a point.

I admit there have been a couple of times since the Human Rights Campaign launched the boycott against Exxon that I bought a tank of gas at one of the corporation's stations because I was running on near-empty. I gladly cut up my Exxon credit card many years ago, but I'm not going to push or have my car towed to another gas station just to spite the corporation's management.

Finding a place to eat, however, is another issue. Just as when I see that I've still got a quarter-tank of gas left and plenty of time to locate a more friendly brand, such as Chevron or Shell, I can stave off hunger long enough to locate a friendlier fast food chain.

So let me say, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Cathy, for enlightening me and all of the millions of other consumers in the country who are either members of the LGBT community or friends of it. We like to be informed about the prejudices of executives of large corporations so we can avoid spending our hard-earned money helping them earn big bonuses.

I know your company has tried to backtrack on the issue, posting on Facebook that you now want to "leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," but it's a little too late for that. Your subsequent pledge to treat LGBT people with respect if they enter your restaurants isn't good enough. I doubt your sincerity.

The chicken is out of the bag, Mr. Cathy.

If I regret anything at this point, it is my loss of innocence. I'll never be able to look at those billboards again and chuckle, now that I know how bigoted you and the rest of the cows are.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Morocco bans all-gay cruise; let's boycott them in return


By now everyone has probably heard that the RSVP Vacations' all-LGBT passenger cruise that glided out of Barcelona June 29 on a Holland America Line ship en route to Morocco got turned away by the Islamic nation's officials before we even got half-way across the Mediterranean Sea.

We left port with great fanfare, dancing around the pool at the back of the ship with some revelers yelling "Morocco here we come." Dance music blared in the background, expensive cocktails flowed and all of the smiling faces reflected the joy and unity we felt about the journey. Many us of stayed up quite late partying on all eleven floors of the ship way into the wee hours of June 30.

I was, in fact, still in my luxurious bed contemplating the day and thinking about what all I wanted added to an omelet in the Lido Deck Restaurant when I heard the captain begin making an announcement over the ship's intercom system. His tone was grave as he announced that Moroccan officials had canceled permission for our visit, saying they could not guarantee the safety of the passengers because of a growing controversy about our planned stop in Casablanca.

The captain then turned the microphone over to RSVP's president Jeff Gundvaldson who confirmed that we would not get to visit Morocco, even though many of us had planned and paid for the trip last year and had already arranged for tours of the North African port made famous in the movies. Gundvaldson said he had spent much time the previous evening on the phone talking to Moroccan officials and had even involved U.S. diplomats in the discussions to no avail.

Letters were placed in the mailboxes of all staterooms from both the captain and Gundvaldson later in the day confirming that we would not be allowed to visit Morocco on July 1 and would instead be diverted to Malaga, Spain. The letters explained that the crisis had arose because of news stories announcing our imminent arrival. "This is due to the fact that Morocco is an Islamic country where laws regarding homosexuality exist, despite the country's long history of tolerance and welcoming of gay tourists."

Reaction was mixed among the passengers. Some arrived at the pool in handmade fezzes with the message, "Fuck Morocco, others wore their life vests over their swimsuits with the words "Morocco or Bust" written on them and others grumbled a little bit but got over it. None of us were willing to let the official snub ruin our trip, especially me in light of it being my first cruise ever.

Everyone was assured they would receive refunds for the land tours they had scheduled.

For the most part all of the passengers understood the dilemma the captain of the Nieuw Amsterdam and Gundvaldson faced. It wasn't totally unexpected by me because of the controversy last March when two passengers from an Atlantis Events' all-gay cruise were arrested by Island of Dominica police because they allegedly were observed in a sex act on the balcony of their stateroom while the ship rested in the port.

It's possible that widely-reported incident influenced what happened in the case of our cruise. At the time of the Dominica incident many LGBT activists began calling for Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations to avoid ports of call where homosexuality is still considered illegal.

All of us aboard ship went on to have a wonderful trip, and I saw sights that I will remember for the rest of my life. Passing by the enormous Rock of Gibraltar with its twinkling lights at dusk is a sight I will never forget. The beauty of the sun-splashed Island of Ibiza is another beautiful image burned in by brain forever. In every port I saw not only beauty, but a cleanliness in Spain that American cities would do well to try and imitate.

The only think irking me now is the comments Moroccan officials made to reporters covering the story. The officials were quoted as saying they hadn't denied the ship's entry. Clearly, the government officials don't want dollar-rich LGBT tourists avoiding the country in the future because they are so dependent on tourism. In other words, it's OK for us to visit. Just don't come into port with more than 2,000 homosexuals at a time.

Now, that's the only thing about the trip that makes me mad, and that's why I'm urging everyone to boycott Morocco in the future. There are plenty of fabulous sites in the world to visit where they are more than happy to see us show up in large numbers spending our heard-earned money.