Sex abuse becomes an epidemic

LGBT people no more likely than heterosexuals to be perpetrators, but all organizations should take precautions to protect youth

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HELPING THE VICTIMS | David Clohessy, right, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, appears at a press conference in Vermont in 2007 alongside a victim who didn't want to be identified. Clohessy said the St. Louis-based SNAP, which began 23 years ago, now has 10,000 members around the globe. (Associated Press)

 

Webb-DavidThe seemingly never-ending reports of lawsuits and criminal complaints being filed by people alleging they were sexually molested by members of the clergy might make one wonder if directing worship is, or ever was, the main objective of those seeking ordainment.

Since my youth I’ve heard people grumble that the pastors, priests, rabbis and others calling the faithful to their churches on Sunday mornings were interested primarily in personal glory and how much cash they could raise from their flocks, but I never heard anything about them expecting a donation of flesh as well.

That is, I never heard about it until the mid-1980s when the scandals involving Catholic priests sexually abusing male youths began surfacing.

When the media first began covering the scandal I imagine the reaction of most people was that a few cases would surface, and that would be the end of it. Who would have ever dreamed that 25 years later the scandal would have grown to epidemic proportions and spread worldwide to other religions and institutions as well?

Just recently after reporting about a pastor who was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a church member, I heard from the executive director of an organization of which I knew nothing. The organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP (snapnetwork.org), was founded 23 years ago, and it now boasts 10,000 members around the globe.

David Clohessy, who has led the St. Louis, Mo.-based group for more than two decades, said it has expanded far beyond its original mission of providing support to people who were sexually abused by Catholic priests.

“Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops  and Protestant ministers,” Clohessy said in his e-mail to me. “And in recent years, we’ve heard from and helped many who were hurt in other institutional settings such as athletic programs, schools, camps, day care centers, etc.”

The scope of what he is talking about is mind-boggling, but a quick review of the news headlines covering only the past year or so confirms what he is saying. There is an epidemic of sexual abuse of young people under way in almost every walk of life they might encounter.

Male-on-male sexual abuse seems to stand out more in my mind in connection with the problem, but another scan of the headlines reminds me of the many cases of female high school teachers accused of seducing male students and male teachers seducing female students.

Obviously, the problem is universal. SNAP notes on its website that half of its members are women.

The SNAP literature maintains that “homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals.” It explains that reports of boys being molested are more prevalent because men tend to express their anger outwardly as in litigation, whereas women are more likely to direct it inward. It adds that women are more likely to resolve their pain through therapy and support groups, and that male-on-male sex is more salacious and more likely to attract attention.

Whatever the nature of the revelations, it is clear that all young people are at risk of being sexually abused in some area of their lives.

Unfortunately, their relationships with members of the clergy, school teachers, caregivers and all other people with whom they come into contact must be closely monitored by parents.

It’s a world of worry that is hard to fathom based on my own childhood experiences. I never had a teacher, a Sunday School instructor or anyone else charged with my care ever make any sort of inappropriate move on me, but it’s been 50 years since I was a child. A friend of mine with whom I grew up assures me that neither he nor his brother ever experienced anything inappropriate at his Catholic Church. It was just unheard of at the time, but that could be attributed to a reluctance of victims to come forward.

A pastor I spoke with recently told me that his church had already taken steps to ensure that no employee or volunteer of the church has private access to children or other church members. All of the offices will have windows in the future, he said. Other steps will also be taken to make sure everyone behaves as they should, he said.

Those are pretty drastic steps, but it would probably be a good idea for all organizations to implement such precautions in light of what we now know about sexual abuse and harassment. It appears this unfortunately is the way all organizations need to be run today.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. He can be e-mailed at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Community mourns ‘Chief’ Guy-Gainer

Gay 23-year Air Force vet became North Texas’ pre-eminent advocate for the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

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PAYING RESPECTS | The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, center, who delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Dave Guy-Gainer on Feb. 7, also spoke at the impromptu candlelight memorial at the Legacy of Love monument on Cedar Springs Road on Feb. 4. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

American flags lined the walk in front of Cathedral of Hope for the funeral of Dave Guy-Gainer on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The 63-year-old gay Air Force veteran who served for 23 years and spent a decade working tirelessly for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” died unexpectedly Feb. 2.

At a hastily called memorial at the Legacy of Love monument on Cedar Springs Road on Saturday, Feb. 4, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink said, “I don’t know why Dave died, but I do know why he lived.”

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Dave Guy-Gainer

Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center Dallas, said the day Guy-Gainer died was the saddest of his life.

And Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez recalled that on the day DADT repeal took effect last year, Guy-Gainer told him, “The fight’s not over.”

Among the continuing fights Guy-Gainer envisioned was acceptance by and service from the military’s Chaplain Corps. Toward that end, Guy-Gainer helped create the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy. In October, he brought a group together from around the country for a meeting at the Interfaith Peace Chapel in Dallas to formalize plans for the forum.

And while gays, lesbians and bisexuals can now serve openly, Guy-Gainer continued to fight for the rights of transgender men and women to serve.

“It’s very sad for us,” said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, where Guy-Gainer was a board member. “He was dedicated to state work as well as federal work.”

Guy-Gainer worked locally as well. In 2010, he ran as an openly gay candidate for City Council in Forest Hill, a small town south of Fort Worth in Tarrant County. Although he made it to the runoff, he lost to the 12-year incumbent by a few dozen votes.

In remarks at the funeral, gay retired Army Col. Paul Dodd said Guy-Gainer, who became the pre-eminent advocate for DADT repeal in North Texas, worked just as hard to end the problem of bullying. He alluded to Guy-Gainer’s death-by-suicide indirectly.

Dodd said that on Sept. 20, 2011, the day DADT repeal went into effect, Guy-Gainer wrote, “After a celebratory, euphoric high, this old airman crash landed tonight with reports of another youth who took his own life. We simply aren’t getting to the youth who are suffering.”

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, who was a close friend of Guy-Gainer’s and delivered the eulogy, talked about the suicide more directly. He said he felt anguished over how to deal with it in the funeral service.

“Everyone was hurting from it,” Sprinkle said. “Frustration, anger, guilt — that’s what I had to address.”

DADT-party

CELEBRATING REPEAL | Gay and lesbian veterans, including Dave Guy-Gainer, far right, identified themselves at a celebration at the Resource Center Dallas on Sept. 20, 2011, the day the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” went into effect. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

He said he decided to talk about Guy-Gainer’s suicide so that those mourning his loss wouldn’t treat it as a scandal but as a tragedy. And he said he needed to dismiss fundamentalist beliefs of eternal damnation for those who take their own lives.

“One of our tall trees fell, and we all feel it,” Sprinkle began his eulogy. “I begin with sighs too deep for words.”

He spoke about the biblical concept of lamentation.

“Lamentation is something the community needs to know how to do,” he said. “Suicide is a single act with plural effects that arose from problems and pain.”

But he said he’d simply miss Guy-Gainer’s “sweet, awkward goofiness” and praised him as a “relentless advocate for human rights” who fought “bullying and anti-LGBTQ religious bigotry.”

Guy-Gainer joined the Air Force at the age of 18 and served for 23 years. His work for the repeal of DADT and his LGBT activism began after another gay vet insisted he march in uniform in Austin’s Pride parade in 2001.

He became vice president of American Veterans for Equal Rights and served on the board of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for about five years.

Gainer grew up in Charleston, W. Va., in what he called a “very, very fundamentalist family.”

In a 2009 profile published by Dallas Voice, he said growing up he knew he was gay, but that he was raised to be a minister.

“I figured, I’ll join the military, that’ll fix me,” he said. “I’ll get married like all the GIs did, and that’ll fix me. But you know what? It didn’t fix me.”

Guy-Gainer’s daughter, Brie, said that wasn’t his only reason to join the military.

“Dad has a true passion for the rights and duties of people who choose to live in a free country,” she wrote to Dallas Voice in 2009.

Guy-Gainer received five Meritorious Service medals and the Bronze Star and retired in 1990 as a chief master sergeant, a rank achieved by the top 1 percent of enlisted men and women.

He met his husband David Guy in 2000. They married in San Francisco in 2004 and had a commitment ceremony in Texas followed by a party at the military base in San Antonio where he worked at the time.

His work to end DADT earned him an invitation to the White House signing ceremony for the repeal legislation in December 2010. In September 2011, at a party celebrating the repeal going into effect, he donated boxes of papers relating to his work to the Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Research Library at Resource Center.

After the funeral service at Cathedral of Hope, Guy-Gainer was buried at the DFW National Cemetery in Dallas with full military honors.

Guy asked that donations be made to Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, in care of Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs, Dallas, Texas 75235.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

DRIVE!: Welcome to the neighborhood

With their move from Irving to Lemmon Avenue — the ’hood’s Motor Mile — Goodson Acura has undertaken a bumper-to-bumper overhaul.

At the new facility, there’s clearly an emphasis on style. Sleek, sophisticated interiors are resplendent with textures and patterns. Every model is on the showroom floor, each in identical silver body color, which only allows for easy comparisons between models and complete color coordination with the space around them. Behind the welcome desk and throughout the lobby, friendly faces are eager to offer assistance.

“One of the things that we’ve always prided ourselves on is our culture. That’s the best way to describe it,” says Richard Schindler, president and Goodson employee for more than 23 years.

They’ve also worked hard to stay on the cutting edge, with next-generation tablets that read barcodes inside vehicles and an alignment analyzer built into the service drive. Maybe most enlightened: An LGBT community representative, Chad Whitefield, who keeps the dealership involved in events that benefit various charity groups and give back to their customers.

— Steven Lindsey

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

National news briefs • 09.02.11

Judge puts trial on hold in case against Dan Choi

WASHINGTON — Dan Choi may be closer to having charges against him dropped after the judge in his case put the trial on hold this week.

Choi, a gay former Army lieutenant, was arrested for handcuffing himself to the White House fence in November 2010 to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Choi was dismissed from the Army under the policy.

Choi was arrested two other times earlier in 2010 for similar White House protests. However, charges in those instances were brought against him in local court.

This case is being tried in federal court and he faces six months in jail and a fine. Choi’s attorney claims he is being treated differently and harshly prosecuted because is outspoken and gay.

In putting the trial on hold, the judge said that he believes Choi has shown — at least preliminarily — that he is being treated differently.

The government prosecutor, Angela George, said that she plans to have the judge’s actions reviewed by a higher court. She said that Choi is being treated no differently than the other protesters. Choi attorney Robert Feldman said that he believes the judge’s actions mean that his client has “effectively won the case” and charges will eventually be dismissed.
The trial is on hold for 10 days.

Others arrested in the case accepted a plea deal of no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty with the condition of no further arrest for four months. Choi rejected that deal.

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Death penalty recommended in case of man who murdered family

LYNDON, Kan. — A jury recommended the death penalty for James Kraig Kahler who was on trial in Kansas for killing four family members in November 2009. Final sentencing by the judge is set for Oct. 11.

Kahler is the former city utilities director in Weatherford.

After 23 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce. She was a fitness trainer at a Weatherford gym and had been seeing another woman she worked with after Kahler tried to initiate a three-way sexual relationship with his wife and the other woman.

Kahler moved to his parent’s home outside Topeka weeks before the murder.

His son Sean, now 12, testified that he saw his father shoot his mother.

In addition to his wife, Kahler killed her grandmother and their two daughters, ages 18 and 16. Sean testified that he was not threatened during the shooting rampage.

The defense argued that the affair affected Kahler’s state of mind. They argued for life in prison because, they said, he was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he committed the murders.

Under Kansas law, mental illness is only a defense if it prevents the defendant from forming the intent to kill or acting with premeditation.

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Jury unable to reach verdict in trial of teen accused of killing classmate

LOS ANGELES — A jury was unable to reach a verdict in deliberations that began on Monday, Aug. 29 in the murder case of Brandon McInerney, who is accused of shooting his gay classmate, Lawrence King, in their computer class in Oxnard, Calif., in February 2008. The judge declared a mistrial.

In closing arguments, the prosecution said that McInerney, whose attorneys claimed shot King in a panic after King repeatedly flirted with him, was lying in wait and planned the killing ahead of time. They claimed the defense was using gay panic as an excuse.

The defense said McInerney was in a dissociative state when he killed King. They claim he was not completely aware of what he was doing and said he grew up in a violent household and was sexually harassed by King.

One of the jurors is a college student who started classes this week. Ventura County Judge Charles Campbell is allowing the jury to deliberate around her schedule.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity.

The murder took place when McInerney was 14, but he is being tried as an adult. Now 17, he faces up to a 50-year prison term, although jurors may consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter with a 14 to 21 year sentence.

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Prosecutors: Man filmed with Clementi should stay anonymous

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Prosecutors say the identity of a man recorded on a webcam in a gay intimate encounter with a New Jersey university student who killed himself should remain a secret.

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office filed a motion Monday, Aug. 29, asking a judge to withhold the name of the man, identified only as M.B.

The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark reports the request came in response to a motion filed by lawyers for Dharun Ravi, who is accused of spying on Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi and is charged with bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Clementi killed himself last September after his encounter with M.B. was transmitted online. His suicide sparked national discussion about bullying.

Ravi’s lawyers say they believe M.B. has information that could help their client’s case but they don’t know his name.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

COVER STORY: Leaving a lasting legacy

Although his years as leader of the largest LGBT church in the world weren’t without controversy, there’s no denying Michael Piazza has left a lasting impact on North Texas

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

It’s not often that the Rev. Michael Piazza gets caught at a loss for words. But as he walked through Cathedral of Hope’s columbarium recently, he simply touched the marble covering the ashes of the late activist John Thomas, gently caressing the name plate without saying a thing.

Then he turned to the other memorial plaques, many of which originally hung on the outside wall of the old Metropolitan Community Church, the building that is now the Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

He pointed to one and asked if I knew him. We told each other stories about some of the people whose names hang there in remembrance. Most died of AIDS-related illnesses.

For Piazza — who is moving to Atlanta where he will take over as senior pastor of Virginia Highland Church on March 1 — leaving these people may be the hardest part of leaving Dallas. He worries that the memory of some of them will be lost.

Piazza knows Cathedral of Hope — the church known as Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas when he became senior pastor in 1987 — will be in good hands and he’s proud of the institution he helped to build.

But he still feels a great sadness at leaving behind the names in that memorial garden — the friends, church members, community leaders whose funerals he performed — at one point, as many as a dozen of them in a week.

Piazza served as senior pastor and then dean of Cathedral of Hope for 23 years. Currently, he is president of Hope for Peace & Justice and he co-founded and co-directs the Center for Progressive Renewal, an organization that trains leaders to build new and revitalize old churches within the United Church of Christ, the denomination Cathedral of Hope joined in 2006.

David Plunkett, Piazza’s assistant for the past nine years, was hired by Virginia Highlands Church to become director of church life. Last year, Plunkett moved from his position at Cathedral of Hope to become executive administrator for the Center for Progressive Renewal. He has served as Piazza’s principle proofreader for his last five books as well as most of his articles and sermons.

Piazza said that he couldn’t get his job done without Plunkett. But Plunkett downplayed his role and said he simply makes it appear that Piazza is in two places at the same time.

GOOD PARTNERSHIP | The Rev. Jo Hudson, left, said that the time she spent working with Piazza “has been a gift in my life.”

From Atlanta, Piazza will continue to co-direct the Center for Progressive Renewal. The Rev. Cameron Trimble, the other half of that team, is based there.

Piazza said that Trimble’s strength is creating new congregations while his is turning around declining congregations. Their goal is to spread the liberal UCC denomination, strongest in the northeast, across the south.

After a year of travel in his new position, Piazza said it became obvious that they needed a base of operations. Virginia Highlands, without a pastor for two years, provided that opportunity.

While his new church is large, its congregation has become quite small, something Piazza sees as a wonderful challenge.

Founded in 1923 as Virginia Highland Baptist Church, the congregation designated itself an inclusive congregation in 1993, withdrew its membership from the Southern Baptist Convention, affiliated with the more liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and then joined the Alliance of Baptists in 1996.

In 2002, while maintaining its Baptist affiliations, the church joined UCC.

Piazza admitted there was something quite delicious about becoming the pastor of a church that once belonged to the denomination that blocked Cathedral of Hope’s membership in the Greater Dallas Community of Churches.

While First Baptist Church of Dallas still publicly denounces homosexuality, it’s former pastor, W.A. Criswell, used to denounce Piazza personally and Cathedral of Hope in general by name from the pulpit.

That doesn’t happen anymore, Piazza said, and he counts that as part of his legacy.

Ask those outside the church about Piazza’s accomplishments and they’ll mention buildings — the original Cathedral, the John Thomas Bell Wall, the Interfaith Peace Chapel and the as-yet-unbuilt, Philip Johnson-designed, new Cathedral.

Ask those who’ve worked with him or have been longtime members and one word is repeated — vision.

NEW BEGINNING | Piazza, center, celebrates the consecration of Cathedral of Hope’s new sanctuary in 1992 with then associate pastors the Rev. Carol West, left, and the Rev. Paul Tucker.

Annette and Pat, who asked that their last names not be used, were on the board of the church when Piazza was hired and were the first couple in Dallas to meet him in person.

“We picked him up from the airport,” said Annette.

Piazza had flown in from Jacksonville where he was pastor of an MCC that he nurtured from 28 members to 270 in a short time.

“He was a visionary for the church,” Annette said. “He saw potential in us. He took worship to a different level.”

She said that as soon as Piazza got to Dallas, he demanded quite a bit from the congregation: Services would start on time; dress was more respectful, and while church was a great place to meet people, it wasn’t for cruising.

Annette said those steps led to the growth that led to the new cathedral.

“The church wouldn’t be what it is today if he wasn’t there at that time,” she said.

The Rev. Carol West, now pastor of Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth, calls Piazza her mentor. She was the first woman licensed and ordained under him.

While acknowledging their sometimes-stormy relationship, she said, “I think Mike is a visionary. My belief is he took this community to a place they were ready to go.”

She said that when he arrived in Dallas in 1987 in the middle of the AIDS crisis, the LGBT community was doing nothing but taking care of people with AIDS.

“He [Piazza] always had a vision of the community having more,” West said. “He helped our community get our voice.”

She called him a model for many pastors and thanked him for getting her to her current position.

Cathedral of Hope’s current senior pastor, the Rev. Jo Hudson, called Piazza “one of the best and most creative preachers I’ve ever known.”

She, too, remarked on Piazza’s clarity of vision for the church from Day One.

“He gave them courage and direction,” she said. “He made the church a visible sign of hope.”

Piazza said he did three things when he first arrived that helped the church become what it is. The first he called “big worship.”

He said when he arrived in Dallas, the church was already doing enthusiastic, joyous services well. He helped make it bigger but also made sure it was visitor friendly.

Visitors needed to be welcomed and the service had to be easy to follow, Piazza said. That included simple things like a service bulletin that was done well.

But the congregation also needed a sense of community, a sense of intimacy, Piazza believed. To accomplish that as the church grew, small groups were formed to keep people engaged.

“That way it didn’t matter how big we became,” he said.

The third component was community service, and that, Piazza said, gained the church respect.

“This church gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Piazza related a story told by the Rev. Paul Tucker, who is now senior pastor at All God’s Children MCC in Minneapolis, about a conversation he overheard at a diner in Oak Lawn.

“We were in the paper for something like air conditioning Maple Lawn Elementary School’s gym. These two old codgers were sitting behind Paul reading the paper, and they were talking about the church. One said, ‘I don’t know about this queer stuff, but that church does more good than any other church in this city.’”

One of the programs Piazza started soon after he arrived was a weekend hot meals program for neighborhood children. The area around the church on Reagan Street was very poor and children who were fed in school during the week were going hungry over the weekend.

“Men in wheelchairs with AIDS would come to feed those children,” he said. “This church became respectable.”

So respectable and even admired that even Criswell had to stop denouncing Piazza and the church from the pulpit. Groups like the KKK stopped picketing them. The council of churches approached Piazza and begged the church, to join. Piazza refused because by that time, the church had nothing to gain from council membership.

Controversy

But as the church grew, so did controversy. As the congregation raised money to build the new cathedral designed by Philip Johnson, allegations of financial mismanagement arose.

The national Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (the denomination now just known as MCC] was called to audit the Dallas church’s records.
But Cathedral of Hope’s budget was larger than the denomination’s, and the denomination was unequipped to deal with the controversy, Piazza said.

One woman who didn’t like the way the church was being managed filed a complaint of financial mismanagement against Piazza. At the time the board was overseeing financial management, not Piazza.

Because the denomination didn’t have the staff to look into the allegations, MCC hired private investigators. The investigation dragged on for months, until finally, the cathedral’s board of directors had had enough. The board members called a congregational meeting, and the congregation voted by a 90 percent margin to leave MCC.

Piazza looks back now at the conflict with a philosophical eye. He said that much of it was rooted in theology, although that never got named.

For years, the cathedral had been moving away from MCC, which Piazza said is rooted in much more conservative theology.

He said that part of the 10 percent voting against leaving were simply people who had been a member of MCC for decades.

But Piazza admits missing the significance of the vote at the time.

As they voted to leave MCC, they also elected Piazza as the pastor of the newly independent church by the same 90 percent, an overwhelming vote of confidence by any standard among churches of any denomination.

“If I didn’t piss off more than 10 percent of the congregation after being here for 17 years,” he said, that was a great accomplishment in itself. “It was one of the greatest affirmations of my life — and I missed it entirely.”

When Piazza thinks now about mistakes he’s made over the years, he quotes Michael Jordan, who said, “I missed 9,000 shots and that’s why I succeeded.”

In other words, the church moved forward by always taking chances.

Piazza said that sometimes they hired someone who turned out to be a mistake, but other times they took chances and hired people like Tucker and West, who he called heroes.

“But sometimes, you just have to make mistakes and you learn from them,” Piazza said.

Plunkett called innovation part of Piazza’s legacy. He said that he started attending services at Cathedral of Hope via the Internet while he was living in Reno.

“Television was extremely expensive,” Plunkett said, so Piazza broadcast services on the Internet.

He was ahead of the curve and his worship style came through on line.

“I felt connected to a larger community,” Plunkett said, even though he lived in a smaller city with nothing comparable to Cathedral of Hope.

Family in transition

Once Piazza decided to take the position in Atlanta, several things fell into place. He and his partner, Bill Eure, put their house on the market and had an offer the next day from the first person that looked at it.

Eure works for American Airlines, but works from home and does not need to be in Dallas for his job.

LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW CHURCH HOME | Michael Piazza said his partner Bill Eure, left, withdrew from his involvement in Cathedral of Hope when Piazza resigned from his position there, and that Eure is looking forward to beginning an active church life with Virginia Highland Church.

Piazza said that when he stepped aside at Cathedral of Hope, Eure also withdrew from the congregation. Virginia Highlands gives him a place to begin an active church life once again.
Together they raised two daughters with the girls’ mother.

Their older daughter graduates from Booker T. Washington High School in May and will be in college next year. Their younger daughter is a junior at Townview Talented and Gifted. She’ll finish the year in Dallas and the family is deciding whether she’ll transfer next year.

Eure will remain with them in Dallas for another couple of months until the house sale closes.

Hope for Peace and Justice

The future of Hope for Peace and Justice is undecided.

Piazza writes Liberating Word, the daily communication sent to 13,000 subscribers. He described the writing as a job no one else wants and one that he can continue from Atlanta.

But day-to-day management in the Dallas office will pass to someone else, he assumed.

The board is meeting this month to discuss what direction that organization will take after Piazza’s move. Its Art for Peace and Justice division also recently lost its director, Tim Seelig, who moved to San Francisco to become director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Coincidentally, Seelig and Piazza also arrived in Dallas at the same time.

Many of the Art for Peace and Justice events take place at the Interfaith Peace House so moving the group to San Francisco with Seelig was not feasible.

“You can’t replace Tim,” Piazza said. “He has such a unique place in the community.”

Piazza said that that group would reinvent itself.

Seeing the end

Cathedral of Hope will continue to change and flourish, he said.

Someday, he said, the Johnson cathedral may be built. He said that no cathedral has ever been built by a congregation alone. It takes an entire community.

“We’ve always framed it as either it happens or it doesn’t happen,” he said. “We were always really clear that if the larger community doesn’t decide to participate in it, it just won’t happen. We just don’t have the resources ourselves.”

But he said the church continues to work at building relationships with people who do have the resources.

READY TO BUILD | The Rev. Michael Piazza speaks at the 1990 groundbreaking ceremony for the church’s current facilities.

“We’ve done a piece of it and I think that’s really important,” he said.

Piazza said that when he hired Hudson as pastor, he knew, “My time here is limited.” She became the local pastor and he knew that if things worked well, she would become his replacement.

For the first two years, she worked for him. Then they switched roles.

“While she was a great pastor,” Piazza said, Hudson had never managed a multi-million dollar budget. She agreed to become the senior pastor if he stayed to help manage the church finances.

So for the next two years, he worked for her. During that time, he phased himself out. For the past year, he has had no official affiliation with the church even though his office has remained in the Peace House, which is attached to the building.

“It’s good timing for me to not be here anymore,” Piazza said. “It’s time for this place not to be haunted by my ghost.”

Hudson said that Piazza’s life has been devoted to working for justice for the LGBT community and fighting for what’s right for all people.

“Working with Michael has been glorious, creative and exciting,” she said. “Our time together has been a great gift in my life.”

She said she hopes he’ll be remembered in Dallas for single-handedly saving people’s lives.

“The work he will be doing at Virginia Highland Church will be an incredible new chapter in his life,” Hudson said.

Piazza said he runs into people at the grocery store regularly who ask him the next time he’ll be back to preach and he thinks, “I don’t work there anymore.”

But he said the transition was so gradual, “that even this congregation doesn’t know. They just think I’m off traveling.”

Many people hoped that Piazza would give a final sermon before leaving for Atlanta, but he said they’ve already transitioned. He compared that to a Texas funeral, more popular when he first arrived in Dallas, where they reopened the coffin at the gravesite after the funeral service.

“So someday I’ll come back and preach,” not in six months, but maybe in a year or two, he said. “For me, this has been a long goodbye already. We don’t need to make it any longer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright