Storming the Gate: An Interview with Rev. Mel White

Rev. Mel White is an accidental activist. He came from deep inside his
closet, ghost writing biographies for leaders of the religious right, to
fasting in jail because his old employers would no longer recognize him
once his true identity was revealed. He was thrust into this new role by
his 1992 book, Stranger At The Gate.

“The book was so much more widely read than I thought,” White
said in a recent phone interview. “We have become much more recognized
than we ever thought or even wanted to be. That kind of recognition leads
to good things and really high stress things.”

It also led to activism. He has fasted on the steps of the Senate to
protest the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, he has been jailed for
trying to contact Pat Robertson, one of his past employers, and he has traveled
the country speaking to college groups trying to get the good news to gays,
lesbians and straight people alike.

It’s been an education. “I went into activism without any kind of
preparation. I didn’t know the rules. I just thought you went out there
and stood for truth and let the chips fall,” he said. “I got a
letter from Lynn Cothren from Coretta Scott King’s office at the King Center.
He told me I broke a rule by saying I would not try to get through to Pat
Robertson anymore. I said ‘what are the rules?’ and he introduced me to
King’s writings, which led me to Ghandi’s writings, so between the two of
them I have been transformed by the soul force principal.”

It’s that soul force principal that is now the focus of White’s work.
It’s the subject of his upcoming book, Storming The Gate, A Gay Christian
Discovers Soul Force. White explains it this way: “Ghandi and King
advocate non-violent change. Principals range from ‘at the heart of the
universe the soul force calls us to do justice.’ The people on the religious
right are not our enemies they are simply victims of misinformation as we
have been. We bring them truth and love relentlessly, and we cannot stoop
to any kind of violence, even spiritual violence.”

White takes his message on the road to college campuses across the nation.
“There is a sweet spirit on university campuses in terms of tolerance
and understanding but at the same time Campus Crusades for Christ and other
conservative religious organizations often gather in huge numbers to protest
my appearance,” White observed. “They’ve tried to close down the
events by taking over the mics. So you have this wonderful mixed bag of
people who want me to be rejected and I’m so glad I can come onto campus
and tell gays and lesbians that God loves them and God created them and
they should celebrate it.”

It has taken Rev. White a long time to realize he can celebrate his sexual
orientation. For years he tried to change his orientation, going through
ex-gay ministries, counseling and retreats all designed to make him heterosexual.
He now has an iron-clad answer for those who say gays and lesbians can change.
“I say, everything in scientific inquiry says you’re wrong, everything
in historic says you’re wrong, everything in my personal experience says
you’re wrong, do you have any evidence, scientific, historical or personal
that proves you’re right? Invariably they will quote the person who is the
current poster child for ex-gay ministries then move on to say what happened
to last year’s poster child nobody knows.”

He hopes sharing his experience with ex-gay ministries will help save
other gays and lesbians from such an experience. “They mean well, they
are sincere and they are sincerely wrong,” White asserted. “Most
gays and lesbians do not choose it .. most gays and lesbians I know spend
years of their lives trying to reject it and the ex-gay movement with it’s
false hope is the worst kind of promise because it is one that can’t be
fulfilled. In that false hope we are ten times worse off after we have tried
it than if we had just been told from the beginning, ‘hey, God has a wonderful
sense of humor, She made you gay, She made you lesbian, now embrace it,
celebrate it and live it with integrity. Don’t even try to change it because
it cannot and should not be changed.'”

But, White is adamant that gays and lesbians should be responsible in
their sexual orientation. “Like I say to the university students, celebrate
your homosexuality but remember you’re only homosexual occasionally when
you get lucky, the fact is we are homospiritual all the time. We need to
rediscover our homospirituality that gets us through all of these times
and when they do get dark we know our way through them. And whatever spiritual
journey you’re on renew your energy. Walt Whitman said, ‘Re-examine everything
that you have been taught. Discard anything that is an insult to your soul
and begin again.’ Right now we must ignore the ex-gay argument and say I’ve
settled that, don’t even bring it up to me. If I’m wrong God’s grace covers
me, but I’m not going to spend anymore time worrying about it. Now I’m going
to live my life with joy and courage and integrity. I’m not going to pay
attention to these arguments from the ex-gay people who don’t know what
they are talking about and hold out false hopes that lead to death.”

With that issue settled for White, he has now moved on to fight the battle
against the religious right. As the Minister of Justice for the Universal
Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, White finds himself called
on to keep the struggle of gays and lesbians in the forefront. Despite the
triumph for gay and lesbian marriages in Hawaii, many battles remain for
gays and lesbians, and White is ready to do his part. It’s a daunting battle,
but White says it’s not a hopeless battle. “They told Ghandi and King
the battle was hopeless. Their response was to bring the truth in love relentlessly,”
White responds. “The idea of surrounding their outposts of intolerance
and to constantly keep them under siege. It’s not passive, but active resistance.
When there is an untruth out there that leads to discrimination and intolerance
and death, we must keep going back to the truth. Violence is not effective.
That makes them martyrs.”

To White, the basic rights of gays and lesbians are worth the fight.
But we must be patient. “We have to mobilize ourselves during these
next 4 years to keep truth before Clinton and Congress, to keep truth before
our state legislators, to keep pushing it and doing justice for us and doing
justice for all of the sufferers,” White emphasized. “We have
to show that intolerance levels in this country are very high, and that
we show by our tolerance and our understanding and our presentation of truth
that we’re not going to go along with it. I think we’re winning. It’s just
very slow.”