Sunday, December 22, 2013

Uganda Passes "Kill The Gays Bill"

While many of us are preparing to celebrate Christmas with our families, the LGBT people of Uganda are fearing imprisonment. For what? For simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). 

This past week while Americans were busy arguing over what a reality star said about LGBT people in a GQ interview; the Ugandan lawmakers passed the Anti-Homosexuality law. This law makes it illegal to rent a home to someone who is LGBT. If you do rent to an LGBT person and don't report them to the police YOU will be imprisoned. If you're proven to be gay, you will serve 14 years in prison. Further, if your "homosexual offense" is considered an "aggravated assault" you will be imprisoned for life. So while we continue to quarrel over an ignorant reality star, our LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda are having their basic freedoms stolen from them by their authoritarian government.

I have been following this story since Uganda's lawmakers first tried to pass it in 2009. I had the pleasure of interviewing the leader of Uganda's only gay rights organization. While we're busy buying last minute gifts and arguing over Duck Dynasty, Christmas in Uganda for LGBT people will consist of fearing for their lives and their freedom to exist. If you want to learn more listen to my interview below...

If you want to take action, sign this petition...
https://www.allout.org/en/actions/uganda-now


Friday, December 20, 2013

Fred Phelps, I love you

In May 2010, Ray Boltz and I were in Long Beach, California as part of our national tour, Living True, so was the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church.

The Westboro Baptist Church is primarily made up of the Phelps family. They're famous for protesting American soldiers funerals and gay events, such as the one Ray and I were attending. Their signs such as, "God hates fags" and "Thank God for dead soldiers" have infuriated people all over the world. So much so, that there was a Supreme Court case which ruled in the Phelps family favor.
 
I heard the Phelps family would be in Long Beach the same weekend as Ray and I, but I didn't expect them to be outside my hotel.

When I woke up that Saturday morning, I heard shouting outside my hotel room. I went over to the window and pulled back the curtain. There they were, ten stories below me, with their infamous signs in tow.

I immediately became excited. I had wanted to meet the Phelps family for years. There were so many things I'd thought about saying to them. However, since my transition from a faith based in fear to a faith based in love, I no longer had the desire to do any of those things.

Instead of responding to them out of fear, I could only think, "How can I show them love?" What would that look like? 

I found a corner store nearby and bought five bottles of water. I figured it was warm that day and they might be thirsty.

Estranged son of Fred Phelps, Nate Phelps, has recently started speaking out about his experience of growing up in the Phelps family. In an interview with The Standard, Nate revealed his father, Fred, would physically beat his mother and siblings for hours. 

Because of that interview, when I saw them outside my hotel window that Saturday morning, I no longer saw people who hate me because I'm gay; I saw victims of Fred Phelps. I saw people who have never experienced love and are controlled by the fear of going to hell.

As I approached them, I grew nervous, but I went up to each one and asked, "Are you thirsty?" All of them declined as I thought they would. "Well, if you get thirsty, here is some water. It's warm out, you need to stay hydrated." Before I walked away, I looked at each of them in the eyes and told them, "I want you to know you're loved." Only one of them responded, her name is Mara Phelps. 

With her soft spoken voice she told me that we must obey all the laws of God or face his judgment. I asked Mara, "When was the moment you experienced the love of God?"

Mara looked down then up again at me and said, "I don't even know if God loves me." 

It was then I reassured her that God does love her. I continued to share with her the moment I experienced the love of God which has changed my life. Mara listened, I thanked her for listening and one last time, I looked at her in the eyes and said, "Mara, you're loved."

If it wasn't for God's love transforming me, I would have only joined the 50+ counter protesters and argued with the victims of Fred Phelps. However, I chose to retire my angry thoughts and instead show love.

That Saturday morning I made a new friend. Her name is Mara Phelps and God loves her.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Forgiving My Ex-Gay Counselor

Three years ago I decided it was time to let go of the anger and bitterness I held towards the pastor that counseled me through five years of ex-gay therapy.

At age thirteen my parents suspected I was gay. Maybe it was playing with barbies when I was really young, kissing other boys when I was five-years-old or getting excited to wear make-up for the church Christmas play that gave it away. I'm not sure what gave it away but there were a slew of stereotypical behaviors and evidence that screamed, "This child is faaaabulous!"

Whatever tipped them off, my parents scheduled a time for me to meet and talk with the pastor. They told me, "Pastor Rosene wants to speak with you after church Sunday night." I wasn't told why she wanted to meet with me. They made it seem like the pastor initiated the request. I thought maybe she had a prophetic word for me or she just wanted to check in and see how I was doing. I was excited to have a private moment with the Pastor. I looked up to her. I admired her.

After church that Sunday evening in October, Pastor Rosene and I made our way to the back of the church where her office was located. I remember it was October because 98 degrees was performing just fifty miles away. I remember sitting in her office, glancing at the clock and thinking, "They're probably taking the stage at this very moment." I was excited to be only fifty miles from my teenage crush, Nick Lachey.

Rosene asked some general questions then she shared a story with me that she saw on the news. The story was about someone who was molested as a young boy by an older man. When he grew up, he ended up molesting other young boys as well. As she shared the story, I thought that this was the life of all homosexuals, I didn't know any better. However, I knew I was a homosexual. I've known that ever since I was five-years-old when my friend Elijah and I made out with each other every Sunday after church. Rosene finished the story and said, "Azariah, I feel fire behind my eyes." This was typical spiritual lingo in our church. In this moment, it was her abstract and confusing way to say, "I know you're gay." I was becoming nervous, I started to feel shaky and scared. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. I thought, if all homosexuals molest little boys like her story argued, I didn't want anything to do with it. I thought I could change and she could help. Tears flooded my eyes and like the ugly crier I am, I confessed for the first time in my life, "I-I-I'm g-g-g-gay." At this point, the only way I could breathe was with big gasps of air.

That night in October was the first of many nights we attempted to rid myself of homosexuality through pentecostal style exorcisms and unlicensed counseling. The pain and torment this counseling caused was tremendous. I was being asked to deny who I am and be something artificial. There were many times I wanted to kill myself. I remember one night in my room, I wrote a goodbye letter to my family, I pushed the dresser against the door and had a knife in my hand. I gently pressed the blade against the skin of my forearm to get an idea of what the pain would feel like. I wanted to know what to expect. There were two serious moments - while I was receiving ex-gay therapy - when I had everything set up and I was ready to end my life.

I wanted the same-sex attraction to end but God wasn't answering my tear filled prayers and the ex-gay counseling wasn't making the feelings go away. I thought the only way out was to end my life. Looking back, had I been empowered to live my life authentically and honestly, this torment would have never happened.

After coming out in 2008, I had a lot of bitterness and resentment towards Rosene. I would often talk poorly of her and the church. I was very critical and cynical of Christians. I had a growing animosity towards Christians and only wished ill feelings towards them. However, in the fall of 2010 I was ready to move on and let it go. I realized harboring that animosity was doing nothing more than hurting me, causing me to live in the past, and hindering me from being whole.

After not speaking for years, I called Rosene. She sounded happy to hear from me. I told her I wanted to come in and speak with her. We scheduled a time to meet for the following week.

I hadn't been to the church in years. I walked in the side door, made my way through the kitchen and found Rosene walking up the hallway. She no longer had the big puffy hair, instead, she had it pulled back in a pony tail. Other than that, everything about the church and her was the same as before. We went into the nursery room and sat down. After catching up for a little while, I told her why I came. "I'm here because I want to tell you that I forgive you. You don't know this, but those years that you counseled me to become ex-gay caused me a lot of unintentional pain and torment." I explained how it caused me pain and that I was suicidal during that time. She was quiet and listened. When I finished speaking she began to share. "Azariah, I have been doing this for many years. I know the spiritual world. This is like the student trying to teach the teacher. You're the student and I'm the teacher."

Boom! There it was! I was set free! Eleven years after the counseling started, I FINALLY felt set free. God had finally answered my prayer. "You're the student and I'm the teacher," she argued. In that moment, I realized what she was doing. She was negating my life experience and attempting to position herself in a place of power and influence over me once again. However, I wised up too much and her game was over.

I remember that moment from three years ago very well. I remember the feeling of being set free by choosing to forgive her. That moment is still very real for me to this day.

For the thousands who have gone through ex-gay therapy, the pain we experienced was excruciating. It's unforgettable. I want to encourage you, when you're ready, choose to forgive. Whether you meet face-to-face with the person/s who did it to you, you write them a letter, or you go into the wilderness to scream out the pain. Whatever you do, let it out. I promise you that forgiveness, as difficult as it is, WILL be the key that sets you free.

If Pastor Rosene reads this...

The Divine is trying to teach you that your capacity to love and accept the Samaritans of today's society is bigger than you're allowing it to be. Pause. Reflect. Choose to grow.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

[Samaritans were despised by the Jews in the Bible. They were considered unclean and the lowest of society in that time by the Jews.]

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who Would Jesus Hate?

This video was made for my visual arts class at Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne. Its purpose is to juxtapose hateful messages about gay people from religious leaders against what really happens in their everyday life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Her Name Was Stephanie

Driving to church was a dreadfully boring experience. There was nothing but corn fields and dirt roads the whole way. Occasionally, my sister Amanda would try to entertain us by singing and sometimes my other sister Sarah would try rapping the song, "Jesus Freak." I would join in on occasion but I spent most of the time staring out the window wishing the drive was over. Driving to Sunday evening service the night that Stephanie came was no different.

Every Sunday evening the church service was dedicated to congregants sharing testimonies of what God has or is doing for them. My dad was always the first to testify. He is a man of routine. Just like he would go through every room in the house praying the same prayer for each of his kids every weekend, he also gave the same testimony every Sunday. After my dad would speak then Carla would share. After Carla shared, a lady named Stephanie walked on the stage, she adjusted the microphone and began to speak.

Stephanie was not a part of the typical Sunday lineup. This was different, in more ways than one.

Stephanie had long brown hair and wore a floral print dress with tennis shoes. I don't remember the words she spoke but I remember she reeked of sadness, fear, and desperation like heavy cheap perfume. There was an odd tension in the room when she took the stage, as if she didn't belong up there.

When the church service ended, members of the congregation gathered around her in the back. At a young age I knew what this meant; they wanted to convert her. But, why? I didn't understand.

As we drove the dirt roads home that night in our grey Chevrolet station wagon, Amanda didn't sing and Sarah didn't rap. Instead, we talked about Stephanie.

That night as I closed my eyes to sleep, Stephanie closed her bedroom door for the last time. A few days later my mom told us what happened.

Stephanie had just been released from jail. After Stephanie visited our church as a last attempt to find love and acceptance, she went home. It was there that someone tied Stephanie to her bed and murdered her.

The conversation we had about Stephanie on our way home from church that evening was how her birth name was Stephen. The tension in the church sanctuary that testimony night stemmed from the fact that Stephanie was a transgender woman. The reason why members wanted to convert her after the service is because they thought she wasn't right with God.

It was us, the church, who wasn't right with God.

On that testimony night, Stephanie spent her last evening in a place she hoped would show her love and acceptance. Instead, our testimony was one of rejection and hate for who she was.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, consider who the Stephanie's in your life might be. Love them. Accept them. Make sure they know it.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gratitude

This video was made by YouTuber, JoeNationTV. I learned of Joe after having dinner with him and some other new faces here in Las Vegas the other night.

I wanted to share this video because I feel it is a wonderful reminder that we are surrounded by wonder and beauty at every moment of the day. We just have to slow down then choose to acknowledge and appreciate it.

Allow yourself to slow down.

Monday, October 28, 2013

You Are More Than

 
 
Did you know you are more than? 

You are more than capable.

You are more than someone's opinion. 

You are more than your accomplishments.

You are more than the abuse. 

You are more than an event. 

You are more than your mistakes. 

You are more than a relationship. 

You are more than enough.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Three Reasons You Should Put Yourself First

A little over a year ago, I grew weary of my procrastination and my stagnant pace in life. I came to a place where I was ready to put myself first in two different ways.

One... I wanted to get physically fit.

Two... I wanted to get my financial life in order.

I was only able to accomplish these two things after I created a vision. I went out and bought a cork board and on a sheet of paper I wrote down what I intended to accomplish within one year. I hung the cork board in a place I would see it everyday. Within that year, I accomplished 90 percent of my goals. For ten months, my diet consisted mostly of chicken, salmon, vegetables, and some fruit. I consumed less of Papa John's Cinnapies (it's funny for those who know me well) and began working out.  The result... I lost 30lbs. During those ten months, I learned about eating healthy and had a regular workout routine. Not to toot my horn too much, but I also just completed one month of CrossFit! As far as my financial goal, I tracked my income and my spending which enabled me to have savings and pay off debt.  I learned to say no and put myself first. During those ten months of change, many of my friends thought I no longer wanted to hang out with them, but that wasn't the case at all. I just simply couldn't keep doing what I was doing and expect a different result.


Here are three reasons why I find it important to put myself first... 


It keeps your cup full
How many times have you beaten yourself up for not accomplishing all your tasks? How many times have you wished you had not gone out with your friends so you could get up early and take care of your business? How many times have you wished you would've just said, "No, thanks." Putting yourself first allows you to keep your cup full and achieve your goals. Spiritual teacher, Iyanla Vanzant, once said, "What's in the cup is for you. What runs out of the cup is for everyone else." Keep your cup full so you can be an effective person of service in the world.


You empower yourself
Putting yourself first empowers you. When you start to put yourself first and say, "no" to things that don't contribute to your success and begin saying "yes" to things which do, you start to see results. When you see that number on the scale get closer to the number you desire, you feel empowered. When you see how much you've saved in one month, you feel like you can conquer the world! Empower yourself by choosing to put yourself first in every situation! As Iyanla Vanzant says, putting yourself first is not selfish... it's self full.


It will strengthen your relationships
When your cup is full and you feel empowered, it allows you to give your best in all things, including relationships. Because I chose to care for myself, I became able to care for others. Last year, I had to write a paper which required me to visit a Buddhist Temple. When I visited the Temple, I participated in the meditation session. I had never meditated nor had I been to a Buddhist Temple. To keep this story short, it was a beautiful experience. During the meditation, the monk kept repeating, "Love and kindness to yourself. Love and kindness to your mother and father. Love and kindness to your siblings. Love and kindness to all living things." It starts with love and kindness to yourself. Once you are full of love for yourself, you're able to share the abundance of love with others. Remember, it begins with YOU!


  Put yourself first. It is the best thing you can do.

Be kind to yourself and others. 

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Creating A New Story

I deleted my blog.

You may or may not have noticed this. More than likely, you didn't. At the end of the day, who cares! You have probably been busy with family, friends, work, school and just good 'ol personal time. You've been busy creating your own story and writing this chapter of your life.

This past Spring, I chose to delete my blog after hearing a message of, "being addicted to your story." The only way to stop being addicted to your story is to write a new one. So, I decided to do just that.

This new story and chapter has led me to becoming physically fit, strengthening relationships, maturing as an individual, and moving across the country with someone that I love very much. This chapter is still new to me and unfolding. However, I look forward to sharing it with you and writing about the lessons I've learned so far.

This new blog (AzairahSpeaks 2.0... lol) will be dedicated to creating new stories. If you've successfully created a new story for yourself and would like to share the lessons you've learned on this blog, please email them to me at azariah.southworth@gmail.com

Be kind to yourself and others.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth