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Know the Five makes mental health a priority at UGA

Know the Five UGA

Know the Five makes mental health a priority at UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – March 6, 2017 – Mental health literacy becomes a common topic of conversation at the University of Georgia thanks, in part, to one public relation campaign course’s efforts in the last month to decrease the stigma surrounding emotional suffering on campus. The campaign, Know the Five UGA, working in combination with several student organizations, including the Student Government Association and the Public Relations Student Society of America—Drewry Chapter, has collected over 500 pledges, gathered a robust social media following, and held several successful campus events all since launching on Feb. 15.

Their benefit concert alone, Nuçi’s Knows the Five, held on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Nuçi’s Space attracted nearly a hundred attendees and raised $525 for mental health awareness. Featuring live performances by local artists Son and Thief, Hill Elliott, and Tommy Trautwein, the event created an open, positive dialogue about mental health in the local community through music.

“The concert was so fun,” says Hill Elliott, 21, of Roswell, Georgia. “I can always get behind performing for people when I see eye-to-eye with everyone in the room about a certain issue. In this case, we all shared a focus on raising awareness for mental health. It just felt right.”

Concert attendee, Bailey Smith, 21, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina says, “Combining a concert and a social issue was a great way to make it easy to talk about a difficult topic.”

Know the Five UGA believes that understanding the five signs of emotional suffering: personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care, and hopelessness, is an important first step in the mental health literacy. With this knowledge, people can help prevent pain and suffering and get those in need the help they deserve.

“Our emotional well-being should be valued just as much as our physical well-being,” says Jordan Calhoun, 22, of Kennesaw, Georgia and one of the coordinators for Know the Five. “Sometimes the battle for mental health awareness can feel like a losing one. Our concert proved to me that people care about breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness and want to learn how to better care for themselves and their friends. Seeing people care about the Five is nothing short of humbling, inspiring, and encouraging.”

With less than a week left to go in the campaign, Know the Five UGA encourages everyone to take the next step in becoming an advocate for mental health. Sign the pledge to know the five signs online at


Know the Five UGA is a student-run, independently organized campaign benefitting the Campaign to Change Direction. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness of the five signs of emotional suffering and increase mental health literacy within the Athens-Clarke County community. For more information: please visit or email

Contact: Jay Horton, Communication Coordinator,, (540) 421-6968


Featured Writing

What The “Dones” Want More Than Your Skinny Jeans

New Atlanta Church
Prayer flags hung outside of “New Church” United Methodist Church were created by congregants and community members during the Candler Park Fall Festival on Oct. 1, 2016 and Oct. 2, 2016.

ATLANTA – October 19, 2016 – Why does God kill babies? Did God create dinosaurs? Why do people say bad things are part of God’s plan? Why does that corner street preacher say I’m going hell for being born gay? And is the Republican Party really the only “Christian” political party?

All these questions were overheard during a high school youth group. Although they might appear silly at first, these questions from America’s youth disclose the reason many people attend church in the first place; to seek answers to life’s hardest questions. However, churches recent failure to truthfully answer these and other tough questions effectively has caused a mass exodus of many millennials and internet natives from organized religion. These people are known to many in the religious community as the “dones,” individuals so tired or done with church that they eventually choose to leave altogether, but have yet to lose their faith entirely.

“Dones” would be considered a large subcategory of the more frequently researched and discussed “nones,” also known as the religiously non-affiliated. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center article titled, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” self-identified, religiously unaffiliated Americans saw a 6.7 percent population increase between 2007 and 2014 while Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations both saw significant decreases. This percentage was even higher when they isolated based on age. The millennial generation alone saw increases as large as 9 percent.

Since this study was published, methods of motivating “nones,” and more specifically “dones” to return to church, have become widely discussed in many religious circles. In the last several years, articles like, “5 Ways Churches Can Reach Millennials” or “10 Reasons Churches Are Not Reaching Millennials,” have become relatively commonplace. Though they lack the specific jargon, one can easily tell they are debating ways to attract and retain the “dones.”

Attention is focused on “dones” because they appear to be more easily motivated to return to church since they already understand church. For a while though, the tactics for luring millennials back were highly superficial. Award-winning Christian blogger and author, Rachel Held Evans, points out in a 2013 blog post, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” “Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates  edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.”

Yet this has not been proven to be successful. Yes, a church that makes these changes might see an attendance increase for a few Sundays while the younger generation “checks the place out,” but as far as long-term retention, the numbers are still plummeting. This is because most churches fix the façade while never truly getting to the heart of the issue. According to studies done by the Public Religion Research Institute, many young Christians believe the church often misses the nuances and complexities of their faith.

In her most recent novel, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,” blogger Evans also discusses this concept saying, “We [millennials] don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”

Though the majority of church leaders still don’t understand this opinion, a few congregations are emerging as pioneers in this new field of faith. Churches like, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver or St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, Urban Village Church in Chicago or even closer to home “New Church” United Methodist in Atlanta, understand the importance of creating real faith communities at the intersection of an intellectual faith and warm hearts.

Take for example, “New Church” whose mission is just that, to create an authentic, artistic and adventurous Christ community at the intersection of intellectual faith and warm hearts. Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of two dying, mainstream Methodist congregations in downtown Atlanta, “New Church” was founded at the beginning of this year and is growing its attendance by finding creative ways to have the difficult conversations about faith within their community. They do this by meeting at pizza places, pubs and parks, sharing testimonies about each other’s faith journeys, and always remembering each story is unique.

After attending a service for the first time last Sunday at their building at 1561 McLendon Ave., one congregant, Caroline Finn, 19, said she liked worship there because, “the theology is not focused on tradition, rules and being right or wrong; it is focused on finding and sharing God’s love. You don’t need to have the answers; you don’t need to follow any rules or interpret a passage [of the bible] a certain way. You just need to show up.” She continued by saying, “I think the ‘right and wrong’ rigid belief systems of other churches create in and out groups that can really intimidate and exclude people.” She loved this complete inclusion that “New Church” offered so much that she said she’d be back the next week.

When asked if this broad tone was intentional, co-pastors Anjie and Andy Woodworth, said “Very much so! It’s even in our strategic plan for the church. ‘We will be radically inclusive and will not ‘half-ass the all are welcome’ message. We will be as multi-ethnic as Atlanta, aiming for the diversity of God’s Kingdom.’” They are a come-as-you-are congregation through and through.

Adorned in a rainbow stole, Anjie preached last Sunday about this inclusivity and love to a mix-gendered, intergenerational congregation of about 100 with ethnic profiles from all over the world.

“It was amazing to see their reactions to this stunningly unique, conversational worship.” Andy reflected. “I feel parishioners like it because it’s honest. It never feels like your old dad trying to be hip by wearing skinny jeans to work. It feels like a place where everyone can relax, let their guard down and talk about life as it really is.”

If mainstream denominations really want to change the trajectory of church participation, reconnecting with the ‘dones’ and the millennial generation, research shows this is best way to do it. By hearing and validating people’s questions and understanding they don’t want off-the-cuff answers to life’s biggest questions, the church has the potential grow once again. Spaces for inclusive discernment are key, because who really knows for sure if God created dinosaurs? A discussion could be had!


“New Church” United Methodist Church was formed in the vital merger between the historic Epworth and Druid Hills congregations in downtown Atlanta. Primarily serving the Candler Park, Druid Hills, Edgewood, Kirkwood, Lake Claire, Virginia-Highlands, and Poncey-Highlands neighborhoods, “New Church” looks to be an community dedicated to serving those who are “done” with the hurtful expressions of church. This authentic, artistic and adventurous parish aims to be radically inclusive creating a multi-ethnic congregation as diverse as God’s Kingdom. “New Church” pairs an intellectual faith with a warm heart celebrating a new way to live life with Jesus Christ. For more information check out

Blog Writing

Male Polish

Breaking society’s gender norms one “beauty boy” at a time.

“This 17-year-old male makeup artist is the new face of CoverGirl” the BuzzFeed headline read last Thursday afternoon on Twitter. At first, I was slightly taken aback. What did I just read? I immediately went to CoverGirl’s Twitter page and found the tweet below.


With it, James Charles a high school senior at Bethlehem Central High School in Bethlehem, New York was announced as the first male brand ambassador of the 55-year-old cosmetics company, CoverGirl.

At this discovery, for some bizarre reason, I felt the need to jump out of my desk at work and run around the office telling my bosses and coworkers all about the news.* In this instance, I don’t think I would have been able to articulate why James’ contoured and freckled face with the purple COVERGIRL text below it made me so happy. However, reflecting on this moment, my elation was most likely an expression of gratitude for the fact that another guy was breaking barriers and being appreciated by mainstream media for being himself rather than conforming society’s rigid gender norms. And to a lesser extent, I was excited because I saw myself in James.

Yes, I know I’m not a teen, award-winning, makeup artist with 745 thousand followers on Instagram, however, I do think I love the glitz and the glam almost as much as the CoverBoy. My sister jokingly calls me Mr. Magpie as I am always attracted to the glitter. Take for example my most recent shoe purchase, these bedazzled Steve Madden slip-ons I found at a consignment store in Northwest Georgia last month for $30. I just couldn’t resist.


Something else I can’t resist is a relaxing mani-pedi with a girlfriend; a fact I am frequently made fun of for. Most plausibly because instead of opting for the more masculine clear coat the nice Asian ladies try to force upon me, I prefer to boast a bold statement color that matches my current mood. Every time I go through this process in my glorious massage chair, I contemplate why this is a “girls” activity? When did painted faces and decorated nails become feminine? As far as I know, these activities have no correlation to female genitalia and do nothing more than enhance the aesthetic and overall personality of a person.

Much of the disdain for what I’ll call ‘‘beauty boys” in the United States appears to have its roots in conservative Christianity. There have been many articles and books published on this topic in the last year surrounding biblical manhood.

As mentioned in Chandler Epp’s August Religion News Service article, How the Christian ‘masculinity’ movement is ruining men, he discusses how Darrin Patrick’s The Dude’s Guide to Manliness and James MacDonald’s Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood focus solely on necessity for young boys to have military strength and exert dominance at all times in order to fulfill God’s wishes for their manly lives.

However, as Epp points out, “The Christian Bible paints for us a view of manhood that is much more complex than these simple stereotypes allow. For every biblical reference to warriors like Samson or Saul, we read of characters like young David, a harpist, who through no power of his own defeated a giant. We meet Simeon, known for patiently waiting decades to see God’s promise revealed. Jesus himself notably refused to fight back, even giving up his life and physical body in a history-making display of spiritual strength.”

This is a point Nate Pyle seems to also support in his book Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. In a 2016 interview with Jonathan Merritt on the feminization of the church, Pyle says, “This is nothing new. In fact, people have been worried about this since before the 19th century.” He even goes as far as to say the obsession with hyper-masculinity in American Christianity is one of the main reasons Donald Trump is so popular this election cycle. “Donald Trump with his promise to ‘make America great again’ sounds like a move back to the good ‘ol days when men were men” and everything was just “locker-room talk.”

These narrow opinions of male gender expression are then continually echoed in the portrayal of men in the media. Magazine covers boast sexually appealing guys with bulging biceps and well-defined chests, rarely giving space to the average twink or full-figured man. Not to mention men with more “feminine” aesthetics; with foundationed faces, highlighted hair and aqua acrylics. I can now understand, to an extent, the plight of women fighting to have short hair and wear pantsuits and still be called women!

Talking about and questioning these gender norms are important for promoting acceptance of different versions of ‘manhood.’ If they so choose, men should have the freedom to wear nail polish and makeup, stigma-free, and without compromising a part of their manhood. Call it Male Polish if it makes feel better, but hinder and be hindered no more my societies tight gender conforms. Remember James, the paint suit and the power of breaking barriers.

*I’m grateful that I work with an inclusive, understanding events team at an amazing institution.
Blog Telenovelas Writing

“¡No Al Racismo!”

Una marcha típica de américa latina que he participado en, en la plaza congreso de Buenos Aires para “Ni Una Menos” este verano pasado. Esta marcha fue en protesta de la violencia género y los derechos para las mujeres de Argentina. // foto: Jay Horton

Una cosa que me sorprendió cuando yo visite Argentina este verano pasado, fue la cantidad de racismo. Vive en el barrio de Recoleta en la ciudad de Buenos Aires. Recoleta es el barrio más viejo, más rico, y más blanco de la ciudad. Digo blanco porque la mayoría de la gente en esta área tiene piel como nieve y ascendencia europea. Muchas personas de este lugar son racistas incluso mi mamá anfitriona, porque no hay mucho diversidad.

Recuerdo un situación cuando necesitaba una paragua nueva y le pregunté dónde está un buen lugar para comprar una a ella.Y ella dije que hay una tienda en la esquina al derecho del apartamento pero es propiedad de… (con pausa)… los arabes. Me asombro por esto commentario por mi mamá. ¿Por qué es importante la raza del dueño de la tienda de las paraguas? La respuesta es no fue importante. Sólo fue un comentario racista. Aprendería estos tipos de comentarios son común no sólo para mi mamá anfitriona pero para la mayoría de américa latina.

Así no me sorprendió cuando en capítulo ocho de Relaciones Peligrosas, la telenovela Telemundo que yo estoy estudiando, el escritor introduce un nuevo personaje negro que se llama Cassius y está odiado inmediatamente. Cassius es un personaje interesante porque él rompe todo los moldes y estereotipos para gente negra. Cassius es inteligente, talentoso, y guapo. Todas las mujeres de la escuela se quieren. Como La Profesora, Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru y nuestra lectura dice, los escritores de telenovelas introducen personajes como Cassius con el fin de señalar las problemas de raza en esta cultura.Y lo hace!

El escritor escribe muchos escenarios para Cassius a crear drama en la forma de relaciones peligrosas como el título de la telenovela. En la telenovela, Cassius empieza a tener una relación con una chica blanca quien tiene un novio blanco. Con esta, el escritor añade el conflicto de amor interracial. El amor interracial es un otro litigio significó en nuestro sociedad. Esta relación interracial crea un triángulo de tensión que es común en muchas telenovelas. Aunque, un otro problema es el hombre blanco en este triángulo es agresivo y un racista violento. En un punto de la trama, él y uno de su amigos amenaza Cassius en un baño.

Si esto no era drama suficiente, una profesora en la escuela dice un frase racista en clase y Cassius se informa a la directora de la escuela. La profesora está reprendido por la directora, pero muchos de los estudiantes aun asi, en puro estilo latinoamericano, tienen una marcha por los pasillos de la escuela en protesta. Ellos gritan, “¡No Al Racismo! ¡Fuera Anaconda!”

Pienso que es interesante como el escritor se muestre las diferencias y semejanzas de racismo en los estados unidos y américa latina. Porque Relaciones Peligrosa es una escuela de hispanohablantes en Miami y el escritor puede comparar simultáneamente el racismo de los dos. Son sorprendentemente similar.

Blog Telenovelas Writing

La Telenovela; Un Mecanismo de Cambio

El Oblelisco en La Avenida de Julio en la capital de Argentina, Buenos Aires, durante el mes del orgullo LGBT en el verano de 2016. // foto y modificaciones: Jay Horton

Cuando yo leí la lectura asignada para el primer dia de mi clase de telenovelas, una cita se permaneció en mi mente sobre del propósito de una telenovela.  En un sección de “Drugs, Thugs, y Divas” por Hugo O. Benevides, él escribe (si lo era en español), “telenovelas proveen apoyo para un continente con muchos problemas económicos y sociales como un mecanismo de enfrentamiento”** Esto es un propósito o concepto mental de una telenovela que nunca consideré antes de esta clase. Yo piense que telenovelas eran sólo para entretenimiento de las abuelas hispanas o los amas de casas en países lejos de acá. Nunca pensaba que las programas son más populares en la mayoría de hispanoamérica o que las telenovelas tienen la capacidad de influencia que las tienen. ¡Es increíble! Necesitaba cambiar mi vista de telenovelas. Solía pensar que las telenovelas son sólo programas rosas, muy melodramáticas y de las mexicanas. He aprendido en la clase que hay un espectro de tipas de telenovelas de rosa a de ruptura.

Esta cita me obligó a pensar más sobre de las posibilidades y capacidades de telenovelas de ruptura en particular. Si las telenovelas son mecanismos de enfrentamiento con problemas económicos y sociales, es también posible para que se conviertan a mecanismos de cambio económico y social.

Un problema social para muchos latinos es la aceptación de homosexuales en sociedad porque la mayoría de la población hispánica es catolica. En la religion catolica, ser homosexual es un pecado. Según un artículo en El Huffington Post, “Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia?,” Roberto Pérez dice que la telenovela puede ser la mejor canal para cambiar las tradiciones de intolerancia religiosa y los estigmas de homosexuales. La presencia de homosexuales en telenovelas normaliza las vidas de personas LGBT y crea más exposición para las problemas individuales con esta identidad se tienen.

Pienso que esta idea es muy interesante. Así para mi proyecto final para la clase quise estudiar la representación de homosexuales en las telenovelas. La telenovela que elegí a estudiar es Relaciones Peligrosas de Telemundo. GLAAD, un organización LGBT en los Estados Unidos, dice en un artículo de 2012 que esta telenovela aborda el asunto de inclusión de homosexuales. En los primeros capítulos que veía, no he visto una trama gay, pero hay muchos capítulos y tiempo para esta tipo de trama a desarrollar. ¡No puedo esperar!

** Benavides, O. Hugo (2008). Drugs, thugs & divas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. (pp. 5).

Blog Writing

The South Needs You!

Over the weekend, #BoycottGeorgia became a trending topic on Twitter after the Georgia Senate passed a revised version of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) Friday. If voted into law, the act would legalize a version of state sanctioned discrimination giving individuals the right to refuse service to many marginalized groups including Georgia’s queer community. The hashtag was started by opponents to the act in order to show their displeasure with the legislation emphasizing its ignorant irrationality. It was a great promotional effort in support of social justice, however from the long-term activist’s point of view it has a flaw. The boycotting of a whole state will most likely require individuals to leave that state. This emigration of progressives minds moves the solution to American inequity farther from the epicenter of the problem that is the south.   

Recently SECU: The Academic Initiative for the Southeastern Conference, hosted a collaboration workshop to discuss civility on campus among its member institutions. Each institution selected four leaders to represent them at the University of South Carolina at the beginning of this month. I, along with Tifara Brown, Crystal Mussenden and Justin Grimes, had the privilege to attend this historic meeting of the minds as representatives from the University of Georgia. The conference emphasized the significant impact young people can have on the world as well as the linchpin power of millennials in the south.

On the last day there we heard from a South Carolina transgender student who boldly pointed out the pivotal role of the Southern institution in progress. They highlighted the critical need for individuals like themselves to continue to promote inclusivity and equity in the region. They said the South is the best place for activism because it has the greatest potential for gain. A fact you could audibly hear resonate in the room.

As an follow-up, the University of Alabama’s current Student Government Association President Elliot Spillers politely reminded us that UA didn’t integrate their sororities till 2013. People often forget that he and his peers fought hard to desegregated Greek life in the 21st century. It’s heartbreaking that almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education and the historic desegregation of public schools, there are still communities of great homogeneity on many large university’s campuses and still work to be done.

Fortunately, big changes are continuing to happen in this world because people are continuing to persevere and fight for what’s right in the areas where these social issues are greatest! Take hope that groups like SECU are not shying away from difficult discussions on problems of race, gender, sexuality, and many other intersecting identities. What liberal southern leaders are finding though, is that if people #BoycottGeorgia and #BoycottTheSouth they are giving into the wants of the opposition and further hindering progress. It would make bigoted politicians very happy if FADA somehow booted all the “gays” from Georgia. To them that would be a miracle and hence it must not happen. Those that can, find havens of safety to stay in Georgia, to stay in the South and fight for the sake of all that is right. That is what is needed.

As Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri recently reminded the world after the discrimination issues at Mizzou, “change of this magnitude is hard; but this status quo is not acceptable.” So do not give up. Don’t ever underestimate your potential to create change where you are, even if you are a Southerner. The South needs you!

Blog Writing

Back Off! I’m Baptized!

Immediately after moving to Athens, Georgia, to attend the university there, I felt the urge to go to church; something I had always done with my family growing up. The campus ministries I had tried attending were just not satisfying my spiritual needs. Also, at the time, I didn’t have a car on campus, so I needed to go somewhere within walking distance. Being a life-long United Methodist, I figured I would try a Methodist church first. The only Methodist church I knew about within walking distance was Athens First United Methodist Church. So that is where I went almost every Sunday of freshman year.

The church was perfect for me: both welcoming and inclusive. It had plenty of ways to get involved. I joined the sanctuary choir and a handbell ensemble. I participated in some of the mission activities and worked with their REACH international student program. The church helped me make many new friends and provided an escape from the everyday stresses of college life. I loved it so much I even transferred my membership towards the end of the spring semester.

Not only did the church give me a home away from home, it gave me my faith back when it was all but the size of a pea. Something I haven’t really admitted to anyone until now. I put up a good front, but inside I was falling apart. I was struggling with my identity and where I fit into this giant world we call earth. Thankfully though, Athens First acted like a kind of crib, keeping me in one place and in one piece, so Gods arms could scoop me back up and remind me who I was: His beloved child.

One of the many ways the church did this was through baptism. Not my own baptism, that happened when I was but a wee infant only a week old, but through the many other children who were baptized in the congregation this past year. The worst kept secret of that church is that they are probably the most fertile congregation I have ever seen. There was almost a baptism a week. Which was good for me considering the state of my faith at that time.

For those who are not aware, baptism is a sacrament. The church defines a sacrament as an outward sign of inward grace. United Methodists believe in infant baptism because we believe in something called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the concept that God pours out his unmerited favor upon all of his children before and regardless of whether they consciously decide to receive it. The water in baptism symbolizes this grace. I like to think of it as God saying, “I made you, I love you, and you are mine!” That is also the reason why we don’t believe in second baptisms or rebaptisms, because God’s love can never be undone or re-given.

Every time the pastor baptized a child in the congregation, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he would then invite the congregation to sing this song:

Daniel, Daniel, God claims you

God helps you, protects you, and loves you too!

We this day do all agree,

A child of God you’ll always be!

Daniel, Daniel, God claims you

God helps you, protects you, and loves you too!

(The Faith We Sing; 2249; Words and Music by Stanley M. Farr)

We always replaced “Daniel” with the name of the child who was receiving the baptism. I would try to sing along until the tears came streaming down my face. I would always lose my cool right as we reached the line about “a child of God you’ll always be.”

I couldn’t help but think about all the other names this child might be called in his or her life. Names like the ones society had given me. Some used to describe like white, gay, male, middle-class, or Christian and others to wound like faggot, anorexic, or cracker. My tears though, were tears of joy because I finally remembered that in all the names this world might bestow upon each of those children getting baptized or had already given me, God had named us first!

He called us his and beloved before we were yet born. Ultimately, that is the only identity that matters. God, Athens First UMC, and those little babies reminded me that when the world wants to put labels on us we have the right to say, “Yo, back off! I’m baptized! My only true identity is that of a Child of God!”

Blog Writing

Go Out And Overcome!

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.

-Walt Disney

Since I was little, I have felt a calling to go into ministry: to go to seminary and get ordained as a United Methodist minister. My dream was to show people how awesome I knew the church to be and that in being a part of such a community one could have support through all life’s most challenging and most glorious moments. A fact I felt I knew well. The church had given me a heart for music and service. The church had built me up when middle school bullies tore me down. The church gave me new friends when I moved in high school and the church even showed me love and support when I most recently came out as gay. An experience I know, sadly, many of my LGBT brethren fail to ever witness. However fortunate I may be, I quickly learned of the world’s hypocrisy. It claims to admire dreams but still seems to find great pleasure in crushing them unless we have the strength to fight.

However accepting my local church may have been about my realization that I liked men, in one fell swoop I felt I had just screwed my chances of having the future I always dreamed about. The world seemed to overwhelming say I could not be a gay pastor, I could not even be a gay Christian without admitting I was living a life of sin. I was hearing a loud “NO”… until I stopped to really listen to those that mattered. To listen to those many leaders, past and present, I greatly admired rather than the random bigots of cyber-space and proof-texting street preachers. It was in the words of friends and mentors that I finally found hope.

A good reverend friend of mine reminded me to always focus on what I had going for me, rather than what I lacked. Optimism over pessimism. I could not change my attraction but I could change my attitude about it. Authors Justin Lee and Matthew Vines in their books “Torn” and “God and the Gay Christian” helped me further reconcile the dueling aspects of my identity. Through their words and prayer I began to believe that I could indeed be a faithful homosexual, and probably didn’t even have to commit myself over to celibacy. When I reached out to an openly gay minister and friend of mine, asking him how he did it, he said he just persevered and focused on what he knew to be true. He peacefully protested by being the most authentic version of himself and working his hardest to overcome. He kindly reminded me of the words of Dr. King when he said “an unjust law is no law at all.” Plainly put, my friends told me I could be a pastor if God could work through me!

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who heard a lot of “no’s” in his lifetime. No, you cannot vote. No, you cannot drink from this water fountain or take this seat. His dreams were also for a world of inclusion not exclusion, so he worked his hardest, and he too overcame. Some might have said a woman would never sit in a justice chair or senate seat or even have the opportunity to vote. Yet woman like Sandra Day O’Connor, Hattie Caraway, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone sure proved them wrong. They inspire me because they persevered in the midst of “no’s” and they make me think my dream is still possible. Yes, it might take some more work to achieve, but then again that probably means it is just another good dream.

This world is going to tell you “no” a lot of the time, but you must have the courage to say yes! Yes, I can do this and I don’t care what you think! To quote Taylor Swift, “the haters gonna hate,” but I want you to know your dreams are always possible! Prove the world wrong! Go out and overcome!