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June 9, 2006 on 11:26 am

Recently I interviewed my friend, Lars Clausen, about his new book, "Straight into Gay America." Clausen, who holds the Guiness Book World Record for the longest unicycle tour (9136 miles), is no stranger to defying the odds. An ordained ELCA minister, he's dared to pursue a remarkable ministry of advocacy for LGBT folks. As soon as I heard Lars was done with his book, I pre-ordered it. I'm excited for it to arrive soon! Thanks, Lars, for taking the time to answer a few of my questions about your ministry and your new book!

What is it about the theme of your latest book, "Straight into Gay America," that appeals to you the most?
When PFLAG director Jody Huckaby wrote the foreword to "Straight Into Gay America," he called this book a bridge across the divide between straight and gay. That's the most satisfyind description of my project that I've yet heard. I headed Straight Into Gay America last summer because equal rights for LGBT people is one of the most polarizing issues in our religious and political communities. I chose to tour by unicycle because almost everyone loves a unicycle and find me non-threatening. People opened up and told me stories all during the 1,000 miles of my tour. Hearing those stories last summer and now sharing them with this book is the reason for the ride. I'm hopeful that these voices will be a useful part of the journey toward equal rights.

What advantages/disadvantages do you think a straight person has as he or she seeks to add his or her voice to this movement?
One of the people I met, Sara, used to be married to a man. Now she's married to a woman. She's always spoken out for LGBT equal rights, but now that she's married to a woman she feels silenced. People accuse her of selfish interest.

People look at me and ask why I care about LGBT rights. This isn't about special rights. This is an issue of human rights.

The advantage of being straight is that no one accuses me of being selfish as I speak out for equal rights. I'd highly recommend becoming a straight ally. The sense of gratititude I've received from LGBT individuals and organizations is extremely encouraging.

My only caution in being a straight ally is to listen well and follow the lead of LGBT people. It's easy to assume that I understand more than I really do, but I'll never have the direct experience of being LGBT. One of the lines I treasure from last summer's tour is, "allies listen, and they believe what they hear."

Have you had a chance to have meaningful discussions with people who completely disagree with what you're trying to do, or who firmly believe that you're advocating a sinful ‘lifestyle'? If yes, what was the outcome of one of those discussions?
Yes. My dad disagrees with me, and for three separate reasons, I wrote our disagreements throughout the book. First, we live in a polarized country these days. Talking about contended issues is hard, and I'm not perfect at having these conversations. Writing about my dad and me is part of what makes this story very personal for me. Two. My dad and I are still talking. For too many LGBT people, conversations with family have ceased. I included my dad stories because I think we all long for ways to stay connected to our families. I wish my dad and I agreed. But I'm thankful that we're still talking. Three. It's tempting for all of us to avoid the hard conversations, and to either pretend everything is fine or to avoid our conflicts by climbing into a closet (closets are for straight people as much as for queer people). I wrote Straight Into Gay America because I believe that stories are part of the way forward. Somehow, I believe, we need to keep finding courage to keep speaking up for our stories and our experiences.

4) How has unicycling helped you to draw attention to this issue?
As I wrote at the beginning of my book:

During 5 weeks and 1,000 miles of unicycling for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) equal rights:

No one cited Biblical injunctions against me unicycling on the road.

No one studied the constitution to see what to do with my one wheel preference.

No one said to me. "We have our place. You have your place."

No one forced me to ride in a closet.

What if we celebrated LGBT identity as easily as the difference between bicycling and unicycling, as a gift to be thankful for among all the standard wheel arrangements?

There's something in a unicycle that makes people smile. The unicycle allowed me to enter conversations about one of our most contended political and religious issues. My own vulnerability on the unicycle invited genuine conversations from those I met.

As for drawing attention, a unicycle is a natural for grabbing attention, both from individuals, as well as from the media and from organizations. I'm thankful I have this tool to help me speak for justice.

What would you like tell people who are deeply concerned about homosexuality being, for them, in direct opposition to God's will?
In Virginia, during my tour, I stayed overnight with a transgender woman. Her eighty-year-old Christian mother came over to visit and when I interviewed her she told of a what a shock it was when her son Steve told her he was going to become Sarah. Then she told me the line I wish that all of us had on our lips. "All I knew was that whatever happened, I didn't want to lose my child."

I think this is what God must say of each of us. "No matter what, I don't want to lose you."

Mom says she has developed a better relationship with her new daughter than ever before. "We're more honest. And I have such respect for Sarah. It took a lot of courage to make this transition."

Only because mom listened to her daughter could she come to accept and respect when her child changed sex from male to female.

What do I want to tell religious people as we consider the acceptance of homosexuality. Let's follow Jesus example of less judgment and more love, less damnation and more compassion, less condemnation and more honest listening. These are Christian priniciples, which, if we follow them, will lead us toward full political equality and religious affirmation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.