Grace Under Pressure

Worlds away from writing speeches for Jerry Falwell, out Soulforce director and reformed evangelical Mel White joins forces with screenwriter son Mike (School of Rock) for The Amazing Race.

BY Dan Avery

February 10 2009 12:00 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.

Starting this
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.”

Among the
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.”

Deciphering clues
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
dollars.

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.

Tags: television

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