Episode 51

LGBTQ History Part 1: Amy's and Matthew's Stories

Published on: 28th September, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are presenting a four-part series on patriarchy and the LGBTQ community with the crux being the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, in 2015, which granted same-sex couples the right to marry, and effectively overruled states’ rights to prohibit same-sex marriage. My guest is my dear friend and classmate in Stanford’s Masters of Liberal Arts program, Matthew Nelson - Hi, Matthew! [Hi, from Oakland Amy!]. I am so deeply honored to be on this journey with you, Matthew. [There is no one I trust more with the map, compass, and provisions for this journey than you, Amy.]

 

This week’s episodes will be a bit different from our prior discussions: First, we are devoting an entire episode to our personal stories on this topic, which we wrote in the form of personal essays and will share today. This will be Part 1 of the series. And for the first time ever, we’re recording this episode on video as well as audio! So watch for it on our website, and we may choose to post it on YouTube as well.  On our second episode, Matthew (who is a master teacher of history) will explain the historical context and the details of our essential text, Obergefell v. Hodges, and on the third and fourth episodes, we will take the Supreme Court case as a point of departure to discuss some critical questions and issues within queer theory. So let’s begin. I will share my story first, and then Matthew, you’ll share yours. 

 

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My story begins with a quote from the book Fear and Trembling, by Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. In this passage Kierkegaard is talking about the faith of the Biblical prophet Abraham.

 

 

A harder test was reserved for him, and Isaac’s fate was placed, along with the knife, in Abraham’s hand. And there he stood, the old man with his solitary hope. But he did not doubt. He did not look in anguish to the left and to the right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty who was testing him; he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him; but he knew also that no sacrifice is too severe when God demands it — and he drew the knife.

 

-Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

 


In the Fall of 2008,  my husband Erik and I were living with our four small children in the heart of Silicon Valley, not far from San Francisco, CA. Erik had recently finished his MBA at Stanford, and one night he told me that his friend and former classmate Dane wanted to come over and talk. Of course he could, I answered — Dane was kind, funny, smart, and didn’t seem to mind the kids running around. But I was nervous. The election was getting close, and the air was electric with tension. Every newspaper, every poster-plastered street corner, every conversation sparked with controversy over Proposition 8, a measure which sought to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Erik and I were Mormon, and we had been asked by our Church leaders, whom we had been taught were spokesmen for God Himself, to donate our time and money to the “Yes on 8” campaign. And so we did. We donated money, we canvassed our neighborhoods, knocking on doors and handing out flyers, and we were planning to vote Yes on 8. We hadn’t talked about it with Dane yet, but he knew we were Mormon, and we knew he was gay.

Dane showed up on our doorstep with chocolate chip cookies. I let the kids have a couple while we chatted (they were thrilled - it was bedtime!), and then I rounded them up and took them to bed, straining my ears to hear what the men were saying in the other room. After Dane left, Erik recounted the conversation, which was indeed the confrontation I had feared: Dane asked Erik point blank if he was going to vote against same sex couples’ right to marry, and Erik answered honestly that he was. Dane asked him how he could do that, and Erik struggled to find words to explain the reasons we had been taught our whole lives and that we  continued to be bombarded with —  we were receiving constant emails from family members, friends, and community members (mostly Mormon, but also a slew of forwarded emails from other religious groups) detailing the myriad ways in which “gay marriage would unravel the very fabric of society.” Talking with Dane, though, face-to-face, Erik suddenly found those reasons too hurtful and too absurd to say out loud. Instead, he replied dutifully, “I guess in the end it’s just that we believe that God has spoken on this issue, and we choose to follow God, whether or not we understand, and whether or not society understands.” Listening to my husband sum up our choice in that way, I felt the familiar rush of righteousness that came when we sang in church, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” But that virtuous surety only lasted a second - it faded fast and left me with a dis-ease that made me almost physically ill. Erik told me that Dane had been really hurt, and he told Erik that we were going to find ourselves on the wrong side of history. As I went to bed I glanced at the kitchen and saw the plate of cookies for us on the counter. 

All these years later I am still haunted by those cookies. I wonder what was going through Dane’s mind as he prepared that tender offering. I imagine him taking the butter out of the fridge, beating in the sugar and the eggs, planning what he would say. Adding the flour, rehearsing his talking points. I picture him taking them out of the oven, choosing a plate, driving over to our house alone, walking up to our door like Queen Esther approaching King Xerxes to plead for the life of her people. I think of what was at stake for him and his community in that election, compared to what was at stake for us. I think of our privilege, the straight people with the mighty scepter of historical precedence, institutional might, and voting power in our hands. I see him now as I was not able to see him then, courageous on our doorstep, bravely saying like Esther, like Isaac, “my fate is in your hands.” I see him that way now, strong and generous, extending his offering in a gesture of goodwill that now fills me with shame. He, the one whose civil rights were under attack, gave us the benefit of the doubt, gave us the chance to explain our views, gave us the plate of cookies. The kids and I ate the rest of those cookies the next day, not even thinking about what they had meant to our brave friend. I can’t think about it now without weeping.

I say we didn’t think about what those cookies meant, but that’s not true. Erik and I talked about it constantly. I had grown up in an environment where I absorbed a general sense of homophobia that was frequently confirmed at church, and there were no influences counteracting that gradual formation of bias and condemnation. Erik had been raised in a politically active, explicitly homophobic environment - I remember (and he is devastated now to remember this) that when he was preparing to attend grad school at Stanford he asked me “what will I do if there’s a gay person in my study group?” I remember answering  “um… study with him? Isn’t that what people do in study groups?” My upbringing had taught me to hate the sin, but love the sinner; his had taught him to hate the sin and avoid the sinner at all costs. So it was a shock for Erik when, early on in his Business school program, he attended the student lecture series he and a friend had started, and his friend Mark - whom Erik really liked and respected - chose as his lecture topic not his impressive pre-Business-school career; not his athletic endeavors; but instead, what it had felt like to realize he was gay. Mark stood in front of his classmates and talked about how scared he had been, and that his first thought as a gay teenager was to kill himself. Erik came home from the lecture that night, and he cried and cried and cried, considering for the first time in his life what it might feel like to be queer in this world. A switch flipped for Erik that night - that’s  how he works - he can make even dramatic updates to his mental hard-drive really easily - and over the course of the two years he naturally became close friends with several business school classmates who were gay, with no reservations. 

By the time Prop 8 hit in 2008 we were awakening intellectually as well as socially and emotionally - I remember arguing with my staunchly obedient Mormon mom friends that denying fellow citizens a civil right that we ourselves enjoyed was un-American, that it was unkind, that it was morally wrong. I remember saying that it seemed especially ironic and hypocritical for the descendants of persecuted polygamous Mormons to use the argument that “marriage is between one man and one woman” to restrict the marriage rights of others. I remember these friends arguing back that this was all about protecting children from being adopted by gay parents, that kids would be better off being raised in foster care than being adopted by parents who lived in sin. I remember crying a lot. I couldn’t look my non-Mormon friends in the eye, knowing I could never explain why I was going to do something that felt so wrong. 

I thought often about Abraham, Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith, who was willing to sacrifice not only his only child, but his obedience to the great commandment, the first divine injunction, “thou shalt not kill.” Abraham placed his moral code and his conscience on the altar along with his child - that child who represented the love of his life, the love of his wife’s life  (did Sarah even know what Abraham had agreed to do?). Isaac was their only chance at the posterity which God had promised would number the stars in the sky; the sands of the sea. It didn’t make sense, it was morally indefensible, it would desolate him. But Abraham prepared to do it anyway. It was the ultimate test, and Abraham passed. “I am Abraham,” I repeated as my stomach churned. “I am Abraham.”

So on November 4, 2008 I readied the ropes and sharpened the knife, and I took my gay brothers and sisters to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed. I closed my eyes to block out their faces and I prayed with all my heart that an angel would stay my hand, telling me it was ok - I didn’t have to do it - my willingness to obey was enough and I had passed the test. But no such angel came. I voted, along with scores of other Mormons and Catholics and nonreligious voters whose motives I can only imagine, and Californians passed Proposition 8 by 52%.

For a long time I really did feel that I had done the right thing, and the more my conscience protested, the more sanctified I felt. “If it weren’t hard, it wouldn’t be a trial of faith,” I remember saying over and over. I avoided the gay people I knew, unable to bear the searing guilt I felt when they were invariably so nice to me despite knowing I was Mormon. I wrestled and struggled, my heart pounding with dissonance whenever it was discussed at church. Clinging to scripture to combat my remorse, I turned to Genesis and Kierkegaard: “He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself,” I repeated, “and he who loved other men became great by virtue of his devotedness. But he who loved God became the greatest of all” (Kierkegaard 16).

But as months and years passed I found that in place of the peace and confidence that had been promised for passing God’s test of obedience, I felt more and more sick. I read the news, following the court cases mounting to overturn California’s vote, and as most of my Mormon friends clamored that the voice of the people must be upheld, I found myself secretly rooting for the Supreme Court to step in and override California’s vote, as it had done in the mid-20th Century when virulently racist Southern states refused to desegregate. It was  too late for me to redeem myself, but perhaps it was not too late to revive Isaac. Perhaps the Supreme Court would step in like an angel after all. I remember the day in 2010 when the federal court deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and I also remember the summer day in 2015 when I found my 14-year-old daughter sobbing with joy in her room, and she told me the news that the United States Supreme Court - via the case Obergefell v. Hodges - had guaranteed marriage equality for all. I marveled at her purity and goodness, and I hugged her as we cried.

I know that some people will tell me that my story uses too extreme a metaphor – I didn’t actually kill anyone. Are you sure? Only nine years earlier, when California was roiling with controversy over Prop 22 (which was nearly identical to Prop 8), a 32-year-old gay Mormon man named Henry Stuart Matis wrote a letter to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, begging them to re-think their position on same-sex marriage. He then drove to his local chapel in Los Altos, California and shot himself in the head on the church steps. His suicide was so effectively hushed that I, living in Utah at the time, never heard about it. Only after I had helped to pass Prop 8 did I learn that Matis’ suicide had taken place at the very chapel where I would later gather with my congregation. The chapel where all four of my children were baptized. The chapel where we sang “Love One Another” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The very chapel where Erik and I reported to receive our Prop 8 canvassing assignments. Did people die under our collective knife again in 2008? Undoubtedly they did. This knowledge will haunt me for the rest of my life.

And even for the queer people who survived Prop 8 physically, I sacrificed their “inalienable” right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - happiness that my church had taught me came from getting married and forming a family. That was the whole point of life, according to my religion -  to grow up, to fall in love, to commit my life to one person and share not only physical intimacy, but the sacred emotional intimacy that comes from supporting each other through grad school and work stresses and first homes and paying bills and raising children together. Marriage and family was the greatest joy, my church said. …But that fulfillment was not allowed for some of our brothers and sisters. All of that joy, all of that meaning, is not for them. When I consider what it would have felt like for Erik and me if  our beloved religion had not only denounced our love but rallied our beloved community to make sure we could never, ever be married? That would feel in every way like death.

I will never be like Abraham again. I guess, to be honest, I never was like him in the first place: In Kierkegaard’s words, Abraham “…did not look in anguish to the left and to the right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers.” I did, and I know now that that very anguish, that frantic looking to the left and right, that challenging heaven with my prayers –if anything was God, that was God. That anguish was the divine in me saying “this is not right. If there is a God, God would never ask you to sacrifice another human being’s hopes and dreams and love and family on his altar.” It was an unholy sacrifice – it was a sacrifice that wasn’t mine to make. And I will be sorry for the rest of my life.


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Matthew:

Parker Palmer, a true humanist of our age, author of Healing the Heart of Democracy and The Courage to Teach, wrote: “The more you know another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” Toward that end, I hope you will take away truth in the recounting of my story that illuminates the experiences of gay boys and men in the U.S. Of course, I speak to you not just as an openly gay man, but also as a Christian, a husband, a teacher and a student, a runner, a humanist, and a cisgender man with flaws. Oscar Wilde famously said, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future.” In hearing my story, may you draw their own conclusions.

 

Since this is a text-based discussion, I would like to share a passage from a contemporary Sikh-American feminist to prime the thinking of your listening audience. Valerie Kaur writes in a book I cherish, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love:

 

<<Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear. When I really want to hear another person’s story, I try to leave my preconceptions at the door and draw close to their telling. I am always partially listening to the thoughts in my own head when others are speaking, so I consciously quiet my thoughts and begin to listen with my senses. Empathy is cognitive and emotional – to inhabit another person’s view of the world is to feel the world with them. But I also know that it’s okay if I don’t feel very much for them at all. I just need to feel safe enough to stay curious. The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters. Sometimes I start to lose myself in their story. As soon as I notice feeling unmoored, I try to pull myself back into my body, like returning home. As Hannah Arendt says, ‘One trains one’s imagination to go visiting.’ When the story is done, we must return to our skin, our own worldview, and notice how we have been changed by our visit. So, I ask myself, What is this story demanding of me? What will I do now that I know this?>>

 

Perhaps, I could invite you to follow Kaur’s wisdom.

 

I grew up in central Massachusetts, outside of Wooosta, a blue-collar city 40 miles West of Boston. We were a traditional American family -- with divorced parents, step-brothers, a sister, a step-sister, and from them an extended family of lovely sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews. We were a nominally Roman Catholic family, helmed by confident and sometimes domineering men, but my sainted mother, Denise -- wise, kind, and true -- was the actual spiritual leader of all of us in the ways she lived out Gospel values in her daily life. From the experiences of physical and psychological abuse she sustained, I learned well about the insidious nature of patriarchy. 

 

I went to St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, and even today I praise the Xavarian brothers for giving me a sterling education and the social-emotional intelligence I would need to make it through the pending tumultuous years. Like many teens, I yearned for meaning and purpose, and the high-liturgy and hypocrisies of the Roman Church gave way to a more Biblicist sect… a kind of neo-Calvinist Evangelicalism. After being “born again” in this church of my high school journey -- what I now realize in retrospect was a juggernaut of the worst “Muscular Christianity” and complementarian misogyny -- I converted many members of my family. (Ironic, I know, given how you might be able to foresee how that would back-fire on me.) I preached in the church and led the youth group (with an adult leader who, I would learn in college, abused his power with an underaged girl, a close friend of mine at the time).

 

As a teen, I was confident, but also hid a great uncertainty about myself. I knew I did not have the same feelings for girls that many of my peers had. My desire was for some of my male friends, like my best friend Nick starting in the seventh grade. This was something I discovered about myself, something I knew as someone realizes in adolescence that they are taller than others or have natural artistic capacities or athletic abilities. Nothing about this realization was chosen, and I knew at my core it was something that would always be true of me. Yet, the faith I was drawn to condemned my desire as sick and sinful. I loved Jesus and I loved walking the Christian path, but I also realized that I was becoming what people called “gay.” Not ever feeling any shame for that, actually, but fearful that who I was might be fundamentally incompatible with discipleship – I decided to compartmentalize that aspect of my identity. It hurt that I never felt safe to share that with any of my family or friends. Though, I recollect registering moments of contentment and gratitude that at least I could feel, and feel so profoundly. Though, those feelings were regularly stigmatized in much of the religious rhetoric of this church I was affiliated with, Bethlehem Bible Church. For instance, when I would hear Mr. Abendroth, the head pastor, preach from Romans 1 that perhaps – as if just a passing suggestion -- when St. Paul refers to the men “who committed shameless acts with men” and receive “in themselves the due penalty for their error” he is referring to contemporary gay men contracting HIV/AIDS and dying. I will never forget that wounding moment. I will spare your audience the particulars of the corrective exegesis which would expose this interpretation as not only spurious but spiritually violent. In true patriarchal fashion, Mr. Abendroth with Bible in hand regularly bullied women and condemned possible queers in his congregation. And, my father reinforced these notions at home.    

 

Speaking of my father, he forced me into what is now the most conservative Christin college in the nation. It wasn’t so when I was there, actually at its height of institutional liberalism (which is hilarious seeing as it wouldn’t even allow a Young Democrats club on campus), but I made the most of the experience, I guess you could say. Even as I was the resident director of a dorm and a TA for two professors, I was comfortable coming out to myself, owning the identity label “gay.” The catalyst for this was a text I read in an ethics class, taught by one of the few professors-of-color at the university. Richard B. Hays, ethicist at Duke Divinity School, revealed a diversity of ethical frameworks in his book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. The chapter on homosexuality, arguing for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church (though opposed to same-sex marriage and queer ordination), was a revelation to me. So, I pursued a deep independent study in Christian ethical thought concerning LGBTQ people in the church and queer rights. All this I knew I had to do in utter secrecy. For example, I read and tear-stained the pages of Mel White’s best-seller, Stranger at the Gate: To be Gay and Christian in America. I had to read these books while hidden away, so I went to the basement of Centennial Library to do this reading. Sometimes I would visit Antioch College to read, considered one of the most liberal colleges in the nation, for fear someone at my university would glimpse the incriminating cover of one of these texts. Yes, I even hid my books and articles underneath my dorm mattress so no one would find me out! Because I was a lonely pilgrim on this intellectual and spiritual journey, I emailed authors of these books to seek their guidance. They were, much to my surprise, quite generous with their time and mentorship. From all of this secret study, my political and spiritual views shifted in a much more progressive and pluralistic direction. By the end of that collegiate experience, I was ready to be myself, even if I couldn’t come out for fear of retribution. Though, I teased them! One of my last days on campus, I wore a sleeveless pink t-shirt that my best friend to this day, Faythe, gave me that had bold white letters across my bulging chest: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN! (With others’ raised eyebrows as I crossed the quad, I knew it had the desired effect!). 

 

Driven by my love of learning and a calling to teach, I secured a place at Harvard to study the history of religion. Thrilled to be at a university that championed freedom of thought and personal expression, I devoted myself to history, gender and sexuality studies, and politics in the academic study of religion. 

 

But, it wasn’t even before I had my first class of my graduate degree, I was spiritually raped. I understand that characterizing the following story as such will be controversial, but I haven’t found a better way of doing so all these years. 

 

I came out to my mother on Christmas Day, 2003. I called her to the couch in the basement of my family home, and surrounded by books, as if foot soldiers in my mission to explain myself clearly, I told her that I had one more gift to give her. Perplexed and curious about the books piled high, she insisted I get right to the matter. I disclosed to her that I was gay. She paused, and then she said: “But you were always so athletic, so good at soccer.” We laughed. Then, in a more serious tone she said, “I want to know what God has to say about this,” to which I replied, “I do too, but it won’t be as simple as pointing to a verse in the Bible to sum it up.” She then pledged to me that even if her closest friends should turn on her for it, she would never stop loving me. From the first, she assured me of her unconditional love. 

 

In the weeks following the new year, 2004, my sister was preparing her wedding to a man she met at Bible college in Pennsylvania. She requested that I read Scripture in the wedding, and I was honored to do so. My father, in typical patriarchal fashion, required the groom, from whom she is now divorced, to ask him for her hand in marriage. Once granted, my father would hand her off during a very traditional ceremony as if she were his property to give away. I digress. My mother suggested that I should come out to my sister, convinced she would affirm and love me because of my bravery to do so. My mother was wrong. My sister rescinded her request that I read a Bible passage at her wedding, claiming she wasn’t having anyone read the Bible afterall (which turned out to be patently untrue), and informed the presiding minister that because I was an openly gay man I wasn’t permitted to be directly involved in the ceremony. 

 

Now, let’s proceed to the beginning of the summer when I moved into my first apartment with friends before my sister’s wedding. I was working a part-time job in Harvard Square, exhilarated to be on the verge of commencing my Master of Divinity degree. At the time, I was attending a Presbyterian church in South Boston, which was an ecumenical congregation devoted to serving the poor and the area’s spiritually disenfranchised Catholic communities whose churches were shuttered to pay out settlements in the priest sex abuse scandal roiling Boston. I really loved being a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church because it was the most genuine enactment of Jesus’ Gospel I had yet to personally encounter. One day, while walking through a busy Harvard Square at the height of the day, I received a phone call. It was Mr. Abendroth, the pastor of the church I had left many months before because it was so wildly discordant with my evolving beliefs. His words are indelibly etched on my gray matter: “Matt, the pastor who is officiating your sister’s wedding told me you are living an openly gay lifestyle. What’s more, I know your father knows nothing of this. Let me be clear: You have two days to tell him about this, or I will.” I was enraged. I told him he was abusing his power as a so-called religious authority, and that he had no right to force me to come out to my father against my will. He replied, “You tell him, or I will,” and then I hung up the phone. Consequently, I collapsed to the ground and people around helped me get back to my feet asking if I was okay. This is why I call it spiritual rape -- Mr. Abendroth was using his conferred authority as a Christian pastor with this ultimatum to harm me. He was threatening to disclose my truth, and without my consent. Religious leaders should never wield personal information as a cudgel to try to gain power over a person, or weaken an individual that they now deem an apostate. Mr. Abendroth did this to me. 

 

Now in Harvard Yard -- yes, that Havid Yaaad -- I called my father to do what Mr. Abendroth was forcing me to do: Tell him I’m gay at a time I did not choose and under circumstances I did not believe safe. You see, I saw Harvard not only to be a place where I could pursue my graduate studies, but as a refuge where I would be financially, spiritually, intellectually, and in other ways independent from the hegemony of a homophobic father and of a cultish Evangelical community. I needed to feel secure in my new community to be empowered to take this step for myself, and on my own terms. I was yet to have arrived at that place; my graduate program hadn’t even commenced. That agency was taken from me the moment Mr. Abendroth abused his power in classic patriarchal fashion. So, I called my father and I told him I’m gay. His answer was -- again, things so painful are never forgotten: “If you were a murderer or a sexual predator, I would still love you.” He was equating my forced admission of queer identity with heinous crimes. To date, that is the best I’ve heard from my father about Mr. Abendroth’s odious, perverse, and contemptuous abuse of power.      

 

Harvard Divinity School proved to be everything I needed it to be. Not only was it academically enriching -- I took classes across the university -- but it prepared me to teach and live out my queerness through activism. For example, for a field education placement for my degree in 2007, I co-lead Soulforce’s Right to Marry campaign in New York. With my co-leaders, I recruited, trained, and directed dozens of college students in non-violent, direct action social protest for marriage equality. We arranged meetings with Republican and Democratic state senators to advocate for marriage equality. I am reminded of the words of the only-recently studied, openly queer civil rights leader and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, who said: “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” On one occasion, the infamous Rev. Ruben Diaz, Democratic representative of the Bronx, Pentecostal minister, and avowed marriage equality opponent, refused our many overtures to speak. So, we arrived at his office with a miniature wedding cake in hand, and as he was shuffled out the back door to Albany, we staged a sit-in and media-generating protest outside his office. Those were the days! My fellow co-leader and friend, Casey Pick at the Trevor Project, and I like to think we had a hand in the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 ;) Who knows!?  

 

From there, I have devoted my life to teaching. I took my first faculty position in a theology department at a Benedictine Catholic school adjacent to Stanford. For seven years at the Woodside Priory School, I guided students in the historical study of religion in order to strengthen interfaith understanding and dialog. I taught elective classes in religious violence, in Dharmic traditions like Buddhism and Taoism, in cults and new religious movements, and in religious myth. I leveraged my stature as a theology teacher to advocate for marriage equality in the Proposition 8 fight; Amy’s story represents well the tumultuous debate this ballot initiative created in California. I validated my students’ counter-protest of the Westboro Baptist Church’s hate-riddled shtick in front of Gunn High School, which was still reeling from a spate of student suicides. Then, California Catholic Daily published an anonymous hit-piece against me, then as the Chair of the theology department, and manufactured a very public confrontation between me and the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone [The Godfather still comes to mind when I say his name]. At the time, Cordileone was the very face of national religious opposition to marriage equality, and to me the worst of Roman Catholic patriarchy. The crux of the controversy pertained to my social media advocacy for marriage equality, and my opposition to Cordileone for being apprehended for driving while intoxicated. For that, I was the target of this rag’s animus. To make a long story short, this put my school in an awkward situation, and even though students, parents, faculty, and most administrators defended me, the board of directors of the school, monks at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, who hold the deed to the school’s land, decided I must be expelled from the theology department. Knowing that the school had guaranteed my contract, but left me nothing to teach, I could not countenance such discrimination; so I sought new employment.

 

Now, for seven more years, I have taught in the history department at Menlo School. I teach religious history, Modern World History, Global Issues, Modern Political Rhetoric, and a class on theories and histories of violence and non-violence. I am the faculty moderator of Spectrum and Rainbow clubs, our alliance and affinity groups respectively, and I hope to teach a queer theory class in a couple years -- that is, after I finish this Master of Liberal Arts degree at Stanford! You and I, Amy, just need to successfully write and defend our theses!

 

Through my work with teens, I hope to model for them a way of being masculine -- through my queerness -- that need not be straight-jacketed with normative patriarchal expectations and reflexes. I hope my students see in me a person who cares about them, sees them, in all of their beautiful rainbow uniqueness. I especially want to show closeted queer students a world of possibility in their individuality, not beset with the stigma, oppression, and outright bigotry that I encountered from those who claimed to love me most. 

 

Today, I am married to Robert Kuhn, the love of my life for a dozen meaningful and fulfilled years. COVID-19 thrust upon us an abridged wedding ceremony last year, so we are excited to have a complete celebration in the summer of 2022.

 

I dedicate this talk to my mother, Denise, who has been unfailing in her love and support; to my husband who is everything to me; and to you, members of the listening audience, who might have heard something in my story that prompts you to love the LGBTQ people in your life more intentionally.


 Amy: Thank you Matthew - really beyond words - for being here today. 


I’m so excited to reread Obergefell v. Hodges and discuss it with you on Part 2 of this 4-episode series, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy. 

 

 



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Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.