Grace Under Pressure
BY Dan Avery
February 10 2009 1:00 AM ET
Mel White has
never been one to run from a challenge. A former
speechwriter for evangelicals like Jerry Falwell and Pat
Robertson, White came out of the closet in the early
'80s and wrote a best-selling autobiography,
Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian
in America. Countering the homophobic rhetoric of
his former employers, he also founded the gay
social-justice organization Soulforce, which sponsors
Equality Rides to Christian campuses to spark peaceful
dialogue. He then became an ordained minister in the
gay-affirming Metropolitan Community Church. In 2002, White
and partner Gary Nixon even leased a home across
the street from Falwell’s Lynchburg, Va. church
just to keep the legendary holy roller in check.
week, though, White will be running -- traversing nine
countries across 40,000 miles on the new season of
CBS’ The Amazing Race. Joining him on this
grand adventure is his award-winning screenwriter son
Mike (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock),
who is openly bisexual.
“Mike’s a massive fan of the show,”
says White, 68. “He auditioned on his own and
was accepted, but the person he signed up with bailed at the
last minute. I was the backup plan.”
far-flung countries the show’s contestants visit in
its 14th season are India, China, Russia, Switzerland
and, for the first time, Romania.
“I’ve traveled a lot more than most people,
but there’s nothing that can really prepare you
for this show,” White explained.
“You’re racing the clock -- the whole
thing is such a rush.”
and overcoming challenges designed to test their
endurance, intelligence, and cunning, the team that crosses
the finish line first walks away with a cool million
Just before the
show’s February 15 premiere, we spoke with the
veteran activist to find out what it was like running
the race of a lifetime and why gays still need to
stand their ground against the Christian right.
Advocate.com:Were you familiar with The Amazing Race
before you entered?Mel White: Not so much -- Sunday isn’t a good
TV night for a clergyman. Mike showed me a lot of old
episodes, though, and I really got into it.
Did the producers know who you were when you signed on? I don’t think so, or at least it never
came up during our conversations. I don’t think
they did any research into my activism. They wanted me as
Mike’s dad, which was fine with me -- I was delighted
to be billed as “the gay father.” It
gave me a chance to talk about not just being gay, but
being a gay parent, without the perceived stigma of being an
activist. Of course, I wore my Soulforce hat everywhere,
hoping it’d spark some interest.