Greetings from Columbia Missouri. Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Bruce Alspaugh, and I am the Board chair for the Mid-Missouri LGBT Coalition, a small grassroots nonprofit organization. Our mission is to unify, inform, support and mobilize Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals, groups and allies in our community through community building, communication, education and advocacy. Among other activities, we organize the local Pridefest in Columbia Missouri.
In the wake of the passage of a statewide constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in August 2004, it became very clear that a lot of untruths about homosexuality were being spread in local churches and a lot of education needed to be done. Many people in our organization were very active in the campaign to defeat the amendment. We donated money, put up yard signs, sent out press releases, phone-banked, worked with local pastors and clergy, and everything we could think of to persuade people to vote NO on the amendment. We sent out teams of trained volunteers door-to-door to talk with registered voters one-on-one to discuss the amendment and urge them to vote NO. By election day, I had blisters on my feet from so much walking and was so exhausted I could hardly walk into the polls to vote NO myself. We managed to DEFEAT the amendment locally through strong grassroots organizing even though it passed elsewhere by large margins where we did not have the resources to mount an effective campaign.
We did not stop educating even after the amendment passed. We formed a Faith-Based Outreach Committee to do educational work in churches. The committee is giving a PowerPoint presentation, “A Call to Come Out,” to educate churchgoers on the subject of homosexuality. We set up resource tables at local events and pass out literature including Walter Wink booklets. We work with local supportive pastors to help educate their congregations. An example would be the Open Door Ministry at the Missouri United Methodist Church. They have three moms who are going from church-to-church and on radio and television talking about how they managed to reconcile their conservative religious beliefs with their love for their gay sons. We made a DVD of their presentation we can send you for the cost of reproduction, postage and handling if anyone is interested.
Soulforce has been gracious enough to allow us to run their videos on the local public access cable television channels. During the campaign, the Constitution Defense League ran 30-second TV ads against the amendment. It takes more than soundbites to educate people on such a complex subject, so now we run documentaries on public access cable television. If anyone knows of educational videos we could get permission to run at little to no cost, please contact me. We operate on a shoestring budget.
As for my own spiritual journey, I grew up, was baptized, and confirmed in the Missouri United Methodist Church many years ago. At that time the church, like most of society, was not accepting of LGBT people, and I drifted away from it for 20 years. My parents took me to church and to Sunday school regularly when I was in elementary and junior high school. As a young child, I found the wooden pews to be too hard, the sanctuary too hot, my shiny leather shoes too stiff, my tie too tight, and the sermons too long. Sunday school was not very intellectually challenging for me. After junior high school my parents and I quit going to church. To this day, I'm not sure the exact reason why. I think they went more for my sake than theirs, wanting to raise me "properly" as good parents.
That is not to say that I did not struggle with issues of faith after I left the church. I asked myself a lot of questions about whether there even was or is a God, my purpose for being, and what constitutes “truth.” I found myself an agnostic. I couldn’t prove scientifically there was no God, but neither could I prove that there was one nor if there was which of the denominations had the right understanding of a supreme being. The problem was that I could not reconcile modern science with my understanding of Christianity. I was reluctant to make a leap of faith fearing it would be a leap of delusion. I prayed to God constantly and still do to send me some sort of sign and tell me what He wants of me so that I might try to do it. To this day, all I get back is silence.
I also struggled a lot with the fact that I was gay. I kept hoping that if I never acted on it and did everything I could to put my same-sex attractions out of my mind they would go away. After years of mental torture, it became clear that this was not a phase. It was a difficult decision to make, but I finally "came out" at age 23. "Coming out," allowed me to begin the healing process towards self-acceptance. It's been seventeen years now, and the only regret I have is that I did not do it sooner.
It has been a long and difficult journey for me, but I got into the hermeneutics and came to the conclusion that being gay is not a sin according to the Christian Bible without the help of a local church. I was at a PFLAG meeting when I found out that there was this group called the “Open Door Ministry” that I mentioned earlier that was flying a pride banner at the local Missouri United Methodist church. This did not sound at all like the church I grew up in, so being my inquisitive self I had to investigate. To my amazement, I discovered that my local church was working to become a lot more accepting of LGBT’s, so I rejoined. I found my church to be a good place to explore and ask a lot of questions about what it really means to be a Christian. Presently, I am investigating whether Open Door Ministry can introduce a resolution at the 2006 Missouri Annual Conference disagreeing with the recent Judicial Council decision reinstating a Virginia pastor who refused to allow a gay man to become a member of his church.
As you can see, I am a very passionate activist for LGBT causes. I even pass out business cards for our organization while waiting in line at McDonald’s. My lament is that we have not been able to attract the attention and resources of national organizations despite our best efforts. We are out here in the trenches battling the religious right with practically no resources. Missouri is a bell-weather swing state that accurately predicts how the rest of the nation goes. We were the first state to face one of these constitutional amendments in the last election cycle. We have gone with the winner of every presidential election for the past 100 years with the exception of 1956 because of our unique demographics that mirror the rest of the nation so perfectly. We would have expected national organizations to pay more attention to what is happening here, but such has not been the case. Raising funds has proven to be extremely difficult despite all our efforts.
If anyone is interested in learning more about or supporting our organization, please visit our web site at www.midmolgbtcoalition.org
Bruce Alspaugh, Chair
Mid-Missouri LGBT Coalition
PO Box 1947
Columbia, MO 65205