Rev. Amy Delong, tried by Methodists for being a lesbian, to preach at Bering Memorial Methodist Church

Rev. Amy DeLong

Paperwork can be the bane of any job. For Rev. Amy Delong a simple annual report catapulted her into the maelstrom of the United Methodist Church’s debate on accepting LGBT people. DeLong visits Houston’s Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (1440 Harold) on Sunday, Feb. 12 to preach at both the 8:30 and 10:50 service.

In 2009 DeLong was approached by two women who wanted to get married. After conducting premarital counseling with the couple Delong agreed to perform the ceremony. As a clergy person, DeLong was required to report on her activities at the end of the year, including any weddings she had performed. She knew that the Methodist Church did not allow same-sex marriage but thought “I don’t know if anybody even reads these.” Boy, was she wrong!

With-in three days she was hauled into the her boss’s (the bishop) office. DeLong’s relationship with her partner Val was well known to her colleagues. “I’ve never had a bishop or a leader in the church or a pastor who didn’t know that I was gay,” says DeLong. “Everyone knows Val.” But the church was determined now to make an example of her, and DeLon’s relationship would now be an issue.

In 2011 DeLong was tried in the church’s court with violating the Methodist “Book of Discipline” by being in a same-sex relationship and by performing a same-sex wedding. During the trial she refused to answer pointed questions about her and her partner’s sex life. “No heterosexual couples are ever asked if they
still engage in genital contact in their marriages,” says DeLong. That refusal left the court with no evidence against her on the first charge.

She was convicted of performing the wedding and suspended from ministry for 20 days. The court also required DeLong to work with a group of ministers to prepare a statement on how to “help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an advesarial spirit or lead to future trails.” “This sentence is complicated,” says DeLong. “It doesn’t lend itself well to media soundbites. So a lot of folks have been saying to me ‘I can’t tell, is this penalty good?’” DeLong responds with a resounding “Yes!” Saying that she welcomes the opportunity to write, teach and study on a topic dear to her heart.

DeLong recalls that during that initial meeting in the bishop’s office one of the bishop’s assistants referred to her as a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” To which she responded “Val and I aren’t practicing any more… we are pretty good at it by now.” The assistant laughed. More than anything that is the impression one gets of DeLong: someone with a lot of humor and aplomb who is unwilling to back down from a fight for justice.

After the jump watch a clip of DeLong talking about her experience.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Anti-gay La. pastor arrested for masturbating at park; new hope for AIDS cure

Grant Sands

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Rev. Grant Storms, an anti-gay pastor known for protesting the Southern Decadence gay festival in New Orleans, was arrested Friday for masturbating at a public playground. Two women observed Storms masturbating in a van while looking at children near the carousel.

2. Speaker John Boehner said in an interview Monday with the Christian Broadcast Network that the House is likely to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court now that President Barack Obama’s administration has announced that it will no longer do so. Boehner called Obama’s decision not to defend the law “raw politics” and said he expects a decision on the House’s next step by the end of this week.

3. Scientists used genetic engineering to develop blood cells resistant to HIV in a new approach they say could lead to a cure for the virus that causes AIDS.

—  John Wright

‘Today Show’ features really dumb author

Meredith Viera

So maybe I’m not the best one to offer relationship advice, but in this case, I think I can help.

On the Today Show Thursday morning, Kiri Blakeley promoted her new book, Can’t Think Straight. Here’s NBC’s promo for the segment:

Kiri Blakeley, whose memoir “Can’t Think Straight” describes the shock she experienced when she learned her fiance of 10 years was secretly pursuing relationships with men, tells Meredith Vieira that she “couldn’t get as angry” as she would have if he’d been having an affair with a woman.

Let’s start with “fiance of 10 years.” Really? After 10 years, she thought they were getting married soon?

In the video, she said her fiance didn’t fit any of the stereotypes of what a gay man should be, so she didn’t know. Really? In this day and age you think gay men only fit stereotypes?

But what clues might she have picked up on? They weren’t having much sex anymore. They weren’t seeing each other as much anymore (because he’s spending time with his boyfriend). They weren’t having much sex anymore. And the biggest clue? They weren’t having much sex anymore.

—  David Taffet

Lesbian pop duo Sugarbeach launches RightOutTV stream of LGBT musicians

Marlee Walchuk and Tully Callender of the music duo Sugarbeach are two women after my own heart. As out musicians, Walchuk said that as Sugarbeach was releasing their own videos, there were few sites to put them on save for getting swallowed up on YouTube. “There was nothing on the ‘net I found where people could see videos of queer artists,” Walchuk said. “Plus, I would mention queer artists I knew of, but no one heard of them. We saw a need and decided to fill it.”

And RightOutTV was born. The streaming video site features only videos from out LGBT musicians. The ladies worked on compiling artists and getting the basic site up for the last two months, and on Oct. 31 it went live. As far as Walchuk has found, theirs might be the only site providing the service. “It’s been a great process and we could be the only ones, but I’d hate to say that in case there’s one in Budapest doing the same thing,” she joked.

Now she and Callendar can get people clued in on gay artists and help present them to the rest of the world. Right now, the site features five hours of streaming video from various artists. They are working on putting more up, but that costs money. Right now, the site is all out of pocket. “We wanted to get it rolling and didn’t want anything to stop us, so basically we went with LiveStream, a free channel. Five hours is all we can do right now for free but that’s still a lot,” she said. “We’re going to work on getting a sponsor or some funding and bring it to a totally different level. With advertisers or money coming in, we can have better streaming and more storage capacity.”

Which means right now, they have to put up with Google ads on the page and in the stream. “Yeah. Sometimes we get Billy Graham ads that pop up,” she said.

Yikes — someone get them cash quick!

—  Rich Lopez

Vowels drops 31⁄2-year custody fight

Although courts finally ruled she had standing to bring custody suit, Vowels says continuing the fight would have harmed her daughter


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

THE LAST WORD  |  Kristie Vowels, seated, watches through tears as her attorney, Michelle May O’Neil, standing left, adds her signature under Vowels’ to paperwork informing the court Vowels is dropping her lawsuit seeking joint custody of the daughter she shared with her former partner. Even though attorney Ashley Russell, standing right, had located a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have helped win, Vowels and her attorneys felt the price of victory would have been too great. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
THE LAST WORD | Kristie Vowels, seated, watches through tears as her attorney, Michelle May O’Neil, standing left, adds her signature under Vowels’ to paperwork informing the court Vowels is dropping her lawsuit seeking joint custody of the daughter she shared with her former partner. Even though attorney Ashley Russell, standing right, had located a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have helped win, Vowels and her attorneys felt the price of victory would have been too great. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Kristie Vowels vividly remembers the last day she saw her daughter Meghan. It was the morning of April 24, 2007.

“I took her to school that morning. She had on her khaki shorts, and her black t-shirt and her little black Crocs,” Vowels said.

Meghan was 3 years old then. And Vowels has spent the 3 ½ years since that day fighting for the right to see her daughter again — right up until Friday afternoon, Oct. 8.

That’s when Vowels signed the papers to drop her lawsuit seeking joint custody of her daughter.

“I’m doing this for Meghan,” Vowels said in an interview at her attorney’s office. “I’m doing this because I want to do what’s best for her. I love her enough not to be selfish.”

Vowels and her former partner, Tracy Scourfield, had lived together for several years, since December 1998, when they decided to have a child together.

Scourfield gave birth to their daughter on May 21, 2004, and the couple gave their baby girl both their last names — Scourfield-Vowels.

Vowels and Scourfield ended their relationship a little more than a year later, in August 2005, and Scourfield and Meghan moved out, into an apartment near Vowels’ home. For nearly two years, the two women shared custody of their daughter, with Meghan spending part of her time with Scourfield, and the rest with Vowels.

On Aug. 3, 2006, Scourfield had Meghan’s last name changed to Scourfield. And nine months later, she cut off contact between the little girl and Vowels.  Less than a month later, on May 23, 2007, Vowels filed suit seeking joint custody.

Less than a month after the suit was filed, 302nd Judicial District Court Associate Judge Christine Collie ruled in the case, saying that while Vowels had standing as a “person with substantial past contacts” to sue to adopt the child, she had no standing to sue for custody.

Judge Tena Callahan confirmed Collie’s rulings in November and then again in January 2008, and in April that year, Callahan signed the order, based on a motion by Scourfield, to dismiss the suit.

By the end of April, Vowels had appealed the ruling, but it took a little over a year for the appeals court to issue its decision, finally affirming the dismissal on Aug. 11, 2009. Vowels asked for a rehearing and an en banc review, and on Dec. 1, the appeals court handed down a new ruling, this time in Vowels favor, saying she did, in fact, have legal standing to sue for joint custody.

Scourfield’s motion for a rehearing was denied by the appeals court, as was her appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. And on July 26 this year, the appellate court issued the mandate to return the case to trial court.

Vowels was ready for the next stage of the battle. But she and her attorneys, Michelle May O’Neil and Ashley Russell, knew it would be a hard fight, thanks to legal precedent set in a 2000 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Troxel v. Granville.

In that case, a Washington couple were suing for visitation rights with their dead son’s children. But the Supreme Court ruled that a parent has the constitutional right to rear their children as they see fit, and that to abridge that right, the court had to find the parent unfit.

It is, O’Neil said, a very high standard to meet.

“It’s really hard to disprove the fitness of a parent. Look at Britney Spears and everything she went through, and she was never ruled unfit,” O’Neil said.

Still, there was a chance. In fact, Russell had found a clause in the Texas Family Code that might have even lowered the bar so that Vowels and her attorneys wouldn’t have to try to prove Scourfield unfit to win their case.

To gain standing to sue, Vowels and her attorneys had already proven that she had “actual care, control and possession” of her daughter — through the joint custody arrangement with Scourfield that lasted almost two years — within six months of the date she filed suit.

And then Russell found a clause in the code that said if a parent “relinquishes actual care, control or possession” of a child for six months, that overcomes the presumption of fitness. And the courts had already ruled that Scourfield had relinquished partial control to Vowels over the course of those two years.

It was the chink in Scourfield’s armor, and if Vowels and her attorneys could prevail, it would likely set precedent, O’Neil said.
But, the attorney added, “If we win, what would that look like?”

On Sept. 1, O’Neil met with Scourfield’s attorney to try and reach an agreement that would allow Vowels to see her daughter and end the court battle. After all, Vowels said, “For me, this was never about winning a court case. It was just about being able to see my daughter. That’s all I wanted, to see Meghan.”

But during the meeting with Scourfield’s attorney, O’Neil said, it became blisteringly clear that Scourfield would never settle.

“I tried everything to get him [Scourfield’s attorney] to make a settlement. I hoped that after 3½ years, she would soften some and agree to something. I used every persuasive argument I could think of,” O’Neil said. “But it became painfully obvious to me that no matter what her lawyer thought or said, or what I said or what Kris said, there was never, ever going to be a settlement offer.”

Vowels recalled that day and her conversation with O’Neil.

“Michelle and I walked outside after she met with Tracy’s lawyer and sat down, and I remember her telling me what took place. Then she said, ‘You know Kris, I don’t know if I can win this for you,’” Vowels said. “I was so taken aback. I said, ‘Yes, you can.’”

But O’Neil wasn’t swayed. “I asked her, if we do win, what will that look like? I really wanted her to think about that, about what it meant to keep fighting and what it would mean if we won,” she said.

“We could go through this horrible, protracted fight, and I knew that on every ruling from the judge that didn’t go her way, Tracy would appeal it, all the way to the Supreme Court. If we go through three or six or nine more years of court battles, even if we win everything, what does that really look like? Even if the court gives you custody, will Tracy support your relationship with Meghan? What will it do to Meghan?”

And that was what cemented Vowels’ decision. She and O’Neil set an appointment for later to make the final decision, but Vowels already knew what she had to do.

“I was OK that night. I was OK that next week. But not really,” Vowels said. “Grief was knocking on my heart, and it was knocking hard. I realized that I had been in some phase of grief for 3 ½ years. I hadn’t been living; I had just been functioning. I functioned at a high level, yes, but I had limited myself emotionally.”

O’Neil said Vowels had stayed positive throughout the fight, always putting up a brave front. But she knew the struggle was wearing on her client.

“Every hearing, every meeting, Kristi came to that courthouse thinking, ‘Today’s the day that I’ll get to see Meghan again.’ Every time, even when she knew that it wouldn’t actually happen, she came with that attitude. It was really affecting her ability to just live her life.”

And so Vowels decided to end the fight. With her attorneys standing behind her, as they had done for more than three years, Vowels signed her name with a shaking hand to the papers that would end the case.

It’s been a long, hard battle, but Vowels said she is ready now to move on with her life, even though she will always love her daughter and will always think of herself as Meghan’s mom.

For the two attorneys, who describe themselves as “two straight, white, Republican women with husbands and children,” this case has been life-changing.

“I had just been practicing maybe a year when Kristi came to us with this case,” Russell said. “I was just learning to navigate the family courts system and figure out where everything fit. Then this case came along and blew that all wide open. I realized that there were all these people, all these families and children who don’t fit into these neat little slots made for us by the law.

“This case really heightened the awareness for me that in reality, people are not all treated fairly under the law, and that is not right,” Russell added. “You can only do the best with what you have, but we all have to fight for what is right.”

O’Neil said that she already had an idea of the legal barriers that LGBT people face, thanks to her time as a young lawyer working in the Texas attorney general’s office.

“That was when the attorney general was defending the sodomy statute in the case that eventually went to the Supreme Court,” O’Neil said. “And as a Baylor Baptist bow-head girl, that was a real shock to my system, believe me! But through that, I got exposed to the prejudices so many people are subjected to, and I really learned compassion [LGBT people and the defendants in the case], even though I was defending the statute.

“That experience really broadened my horizons, and I have always since then made it my personal policy that I would never withhold my help from someone just because they were different from me,” O’Neil continued. “And I think it is sad that some [LGBT] people think that there aren’t any [non-gay] lawyers they can rely on. There are prejudiced people, and there are prejudiced attorneys. But that’s not us. It’s sad to think that people might judge us on our orientation.”

O’Neil said she has never had another case like Vowels, which has proven to her yet again that “a child can never have too many people to love them.”

“This case,” she said, “certainly has given us an opportunity to try and make a difference. I believe we have made a difference, and I hope that it will continue to get better for others at least in part because of what we have done.”

While Vowels said she will never close the book on her relationship with her daughter, it is time to start writing a new chapter in her own life.

“I really believe we all have a path to walk. What matters is how you choose to talk that path,” she said. “I could not have gotten through this without Michelle and Ashley, and I couldn’t have gotten through it without my faith in God. My faith is even stronger now, and I think I can be an even better Mom now. I believe that my love for Meghan is what will allow me to open my heart and my life to another child.

“What it all comes down to is that we have created change; we have created opportunities,” Vowels said. “I always say you have to be the change you want to see in the world. That’s what I am trying to do.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Remembering a friend and helping others

Friends of woman who committed suicide holding 2nd benefit for Foundation for Prevention of Suicide


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

HAPPIER TIMES  |  Shauna Greaham seemed like ‘the perfect person’ to her friends, but in reality, she struggled throughout her adult life with depression. This weekend, her friends are holding an event in her memory to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
HAPPIER TIMES | Shauna Greaham seemed like ‘the perfect person’ to her friends, but in reality, she struggled throughout her adult life with depression. This weekend, her friends are holding an event in her memory to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Kinita Albertson first met Shauna Greaham in high school, when the two played softball for opposing teams. Then the two women met again, this time as teammates, when they both played college softball for Texas Weslyan University.

Greaham was, Albertson said, “the perfect person, so amazing.”

But it only seemed that way.

Greaham committed suicide on Oct. 13, 2008.

Albertson said Greaham struggled with periodic bouts of depression throughout her adult life. Although Albertson said she never knew of her friend being bullied or harassed over being gay, Greaham wasn’t comfortable with her sexual orientation, either.

“When we were in college, she was embarrassed to be gay. She never talked about it or admitted it,” Albertson said. “Even after college, I would see her at the games [for the lesbian softball league], and she would say, ‘Oh, I’m just playing for the gay league because they needed more players.’”

Still, Greaham’s friends never expected her to take her own life.

“She had a girlfriend, but they were breaking up,” Albertson said, recalling the days leading up to her friend’s death. “We knew Shauna was upset and depressed, so we went over that weekend to spend some time with her. She seemed to be okay. Yes, she was upset, but by the time we left, she seemed okay. She was laughing and having a good time with everybody.

“And then, she was just gone,” Albertson continued. “Nobody really knows what happened. Something just snapped, and she was gone.”
And her friends were left with grief and questions.

“I had all the questions and nowhere to find answers. Even on the Internet, I had trouble finding any information. I had to dig. I was just grasping at straws as to why this happened,” Albertson said.

And then she found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and finally found some of the answers she was seeking.

“I found AFSP online, and I called and asked for information. They really did help,” Albertson said.

One of the things she learned, Albertson said, was not to give in to some of the common misperceptions about suicide.

“A lot of times, when someone commits suicide, people say that they just gave up, that they quit trying. It’s a lot more complicated than that. There aren’t such easy answers,” Albertson said. “That’s one thing I don’t want people to think about Shauna. She was an amazing person, and I don’t want anybody to think of her as a quitter.”

AFSP is a nonprofit organization “exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide,” according to its website.

The agency works to meet its goals by funding scientific research, offering education programs for mental health professionals, working to educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention, promoting policies and legislation aimed at preventing suicide and offering programs and resources for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and those who are themselves at risk for suicide.

The organization also has a specific LGBTQ Initiative and in 2007 helped sponsor, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a conference on LGBTQ suicide. AFSP has since funded several grants related to the issue of LGBTQ teen suicide and is currently working to complete a review of research and recommendations on LGBTQ suicide and suicide risk, according to the website.

The organization is also actively involved in studying and publicizing the link between anti-LGBT bullying and suicide.

But all those efforts take money. That’s why Albertson and her friends this weekend will hold their second annual “Strides for Shauna” benefit show and date auction.

Casey Cohea, who is helping organize the benefit, said eight people have already committed to being “auctioned off” for dates, and she expects others to join the list by the time the event starts Saturday night, Oct. 16.

The event will also feature a performance by Nikki McKibben who was the third place finisher in the debut season of American Idol.

McKibben isn’t one the dates who will be auctioned, Cohea noted, “she will just be there to sing. We told her what we were doing, and she wanted to help.”

The show and auction starts at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Best Friends Club, 2620 E. Lancaster Ave. in Fort Worth. And anyone interested in volunteering for the auction can contact Cohea at pinkertc15@yahoo.com or Albertson at Kinita.albertson@gmail.com.

But even those who can’t attend can still contribute by going online to OutOfTheDar-kness.com and donating to Team Strides for Shauna.

“I didn’t know Shauna. I’m doing this because people that I know and love knew and loved Shauna and this is important to them,” Cohea said.

“But I am also doing it because this is something that affects so many people in our community. We are losing so many people to suicide, and we have to do something to help.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Donations needed for Tenn. lesbian couple who lost their home in possible anti-gay arson

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” — it is one of the most well-known verses in the Christian Bible. Now you have a chance to put that Scripture into action and help a lesbian couple in Vonore, Tenn.

The evening of Sept. 4, Carol Ann and Laura Stutte had gone into Nashville for dinner to celebrate the fifth anniversary of leaving Oklahoma to move into what they called their “dream home” just outside Vonore. But then they got the call from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office telling them their dream was going up in smoke: Their house was on fire.

As they drove up to the smoldering remains of their home, they saw the insult that had been heaped on top of injury: Someone had painted the word “Queers” in big, black letters across the white wall of their detached garage, which had not been destroyed by the fire.

The two women believe that the fire was the latest — and worst — in a string of anti-gay incidents that have plagued them since shortly after they moved into the house, things like having nails strewn across their driveway and the lug nuts on their boat trailer loosened. Plus, Carol Ann told KnoxNews.com, there were the threats and insults from a neighbor who once told them this “joke”: What’s better than a dead queer? Two dead queers.

The neighbor, Carol Ann said, had also told them she would burn their house down.

For five years, Carol Ann said she and Laura chose to just “turn the other cheek” and try to “keep the peace.” But in August, they reached a breaking point and reported the ongoing harassment and vandalism to the sheriff’s department. (Go to KnoxNews.com to see video of the two women talking about the fire.)

Sheriff Bill Bivens said his department has not determined whether the fire was a hate crime, but is definitely investigating the possibility. The Tennessee Bomb and Arson Investigative is also looking into the fire.

Carol Ann, a 47-year-old landscaper, and Laura, a 48-year-old nurse, have said they will never rebuild on that same site, and are too afraid to return to Vonore. For now, they are staying in a safe house at an undisclosed location. Carol Ann’s 26-year-old daughter, Kimberly Holloway, had been living with them at the home in Vonore. She is now staying at a separate safe house location.

For several days after the fire, the Stuttes didn’t talk to anyone about what had happened. When they finally did go public, the community responded. A special fund has been set up for them at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville (yes, that is the same church where a man opened fire during a children’s production of “Annie” back in 2008 because he was angry over the church’s liberal bent). Ben Byers with Tennessee Equality Project’s Knoxville committee said a benefit concert is planned, and the Maryville chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is accepting contributions of clothing and toiletries for the women and dog food for their three dogs who survived the fire.

If you want to help, you can contact either the church or the PFLAG chapter. If you want to send a message of support, you can do that at the “We Support The Stutte Family” Facebook page.

—  admin