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Cycling for
equality

Cycling for
equality

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Straight pastor Lars Clausen rode 1,000 miles on a unicycle and stayed with gays and lesbians to raise awareness about equal rights. Now he's written a book about the experience and he wants to share it--one page at a time.

In the opening of my new book, Straight Into Gay America: My Unicycle Journey for Equal Rights (Soulscapers), I write:

"What if we celebrated LGBT difference as easily as the difference between bicycling and unicycling, as a gift to be thankful for among all the standard wheel arrangements? I rode my unicycle to collect everyday stories, to show that queer people live normal lives, that there's nothing to be afraid of from gay people, that the friendships I've developed through the years can be found everywhere, and that the church's damnation of gay people is all wrong. I rode as a pastor to argue a point."

Many people thank me for being a straight pastor who has a heart for queers. I reply that I have a queer heart. Even though I fit into the mainstream with my white skin, heterosexual marriage, fatherhood, and college education, the margins of society feel richer than the status quo. As a careful reader of the Bible, I know there's precedent for my focus on the margin. A certain guy named Jesus spent all his time on the edge.

Ever since I got kicked out of pastoral training at seminary, I have paid attention to the edge. Back in 1990, my Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was making celibacy a formal requirement for all pastors except for married heterosexuals. My future wife and I were engaged to be married within eight months. Since we were living together before our wedding, I got kicked out along with the lesbian and gay students who were targeted. Once I got married I received permission to return to seminary. Gay and lesbian classmates with partners had to either leave seminary or lie to stay in.

Though I ended up as a pastor, I've struggled ever since with the hypocrisy of the church. How can we proclaim the love of Jesus while excluding outsiders to maintain the status quo?

In 2002 I moved further to the edge with a Guinness Record-setting 9,136 mile unicycle ride through all 50 states. More important than the record, this trip confirmed for me the gift of vulnerability. Pedaling at 10 miles per hour at the shoulder of our nation's highways, I experienced relentless hospitality. People opened up because they knew immediately that I carried no threat.

After publishing One Wheel--Many Spokes: USA by Unicycle (Benjamin Franklin finalist for Best New Voice in Nonfiction), I decided to push my riding and writing further. I'd heard that people who know queer people are more positive about LGBT equal rights. What if I used a unicycle tour to create conversations on what people are feeling about LGBT equal rights? Could a straight guy do this? Would the queer community support such a ride?

Last summer I decided to find out by unicycling 1,000 miles from Vermont to Virginia. The conversations were fantastic and I met people like Dave, AnneMarie, and Clay, who put me up almost every night of the five-week journey. I spoke with a couple who has been together for 50 years, and with people like Larry who still hasn't let his parents know he's gay. I pedaled in the New York City Pride Parade. I met officials from Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I shook Reverend Jerry Falwell's hand.

After returning home and writing the rough draft of Straight Into Gay America, my writing mentor sat down with my manuscript, then told me, "You've reported the events in your ride, but where are you in this story?" I tried defending my reporter's approach, but after a few days I knew Jim was right. I had kept my own life in a closet.

Although I've never had a closet to open, writing Straight Into Gay America turned into a coming-out experience for me. Experiences with church, events with family, differences of viewpoint with my dad, being forced to write right-handed as a child--all this came rolling out as I opened the closet of my own life. PFLAG director Jody Huckaby honored my book by writing the foreword and calling Straight Into Gay America "nothing less than a sacred journey...a bridge across the divide between straight and gay."

The stories from last summer have charged my activism for equal rights. I am learning the importance of allied voices. Queer people like Sara and Euna told me of having no voice when they speak up for equality. They are accused of selfishly seeking special rights.

As a straight person with no known gay relatives, no one can accuse me of selfishness as I advocate for equality. I can say that equal rights aren't special rights. These are human rights. I have every confidence that Jesus would agree.

With the Federal Marriage Amendment and other antigay tactics in play, we are in the midst of another polarized election season. Sometimes the bureaucracy seems so big it feels impossible to make a difference. For this season, though, I have a plan of action.

I'm giving my book away, a page every day. People who sign up at my Web site will start receiving one page every day delivered in their e-mail. Last summer I celebrated queer life on the road. This summer I'm working to get LGBT stories into the home, the church, and political conversations. When the November elections arrive, I want more votes for equality.

I've always had big dreams; I'll have to wait to see what comes. Yet even if I make no difference to the equal rights journey, I'll be glad I pedaled the miles of Straight Into Gay America. The tour and the book have done my queer heart good. And if my 10-year-old son or 12-year-old daughter grow up LGBT, I've written a promise to them that my wife, Anne, and I will love them just as much as ever.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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