The next time you spot a cute blond guy on Grindr, you might want to doublecheck what he’s into: It might be Michael James Alexander Szalapski, an openly gay minister from Clarksville, TN, trying to get you to come to church.
“Since I’ve been coming to the church, I’ve brought a number of people here who are also gay, usually on Grindr, because I’m quite clear on Grindr that I’m a Christian, and my real main purpose to be there is to be a Christian influence on Grindr, honestly,” says Michael James Alexander Szalapski tells Instinct.
Szalapski was brought into his Methodist church to pastor to young people, especially those who might be struggling to accept their sexuality. He’s upfront with his agenda and says a surprising number of men respond to it. “People will message me and say, ’hey, you’re a Christian? Me too.’ And I’m like, ’hey, I’ve got a cool church that you can come to.’”
For men who grew up thinking God hated them and they were going to hell, “it’s amazing to see what difference a little sentence on an online profile can make,” says Szalapski. “Just that little glimmer of hope that the God that they knew as a kid, that they thought was a loving God and they were told was a hating God.”
Szalapski is being profiled by filmmaker Christian Hendricks as part of South of The Ohio, a project documenting “the hidden queer South.”
Speaking of Tennessee, elders at Ridgedale Church of Christ in Collegedale excommunicated Linda Cooper for loving and accepting her lesbian daughter, Kat, a decorated police detective. “The sin would be endorsing that lifestyle,” Ken Willis, a minister at Ridgedale Church of Christ, told to the Times Free Press. “The Bible speaks very plainly about that.” Kat successfully fought to get benefits for her wife, Krista—leading the Board of Directors to approve benefit for same-sex partners, making Collegedale the first city in Tennessee to do so. Linda made the fool mistake of supporting her daughter, to church leaders gave her two options: Either atone for her “sin” or leave the church.
Linda took Door No. 2.
“Literally, they’re exiling members for unconditionally loving their children – and even extended family members,” Kat Cooper told the Times Free Press of Chattanooga.
It’s not clear what, if anything will happen next. Churches of Christ are fairly independent, with no hierarchy to appeal to. Within individual churches, beliefs about homosexuality and same-sex unions range from the reactionary to the progressive.
More states are considering bans on reparative therapy, now that New Jersey has signed one into law. In Washington State State, Rep. Marko Liias is urging his fellow legislators to pass a similar measure. “Having another state ban it – particularly one with a conservative governor – makes me want to see if we should take the step to actually prohibit it,” he said.
Lawmakers in New York are urging for approval of a ban that has been languishing in ALbany. “Conversion therapy is among the worst frauds in history,” says openly gay NY state senator Brad Hoylman. [It’s] been discredited by the American Psychological Association and other … leading mental health organizations.”
Bans like these would bar the practice on minors, with infractions resulting in fines and possible loss of license. But they would have no impact on unlicensed quacks and religious leaders.
After hearing claims of bias, the LGBT workers’ group Freedom to Work submitted two fictional resumes for an opening at Exxon in Illinois: One applicant outed herself as a lesbian in her resume, the other provided no information about sexual orientation or gender identity. Though the lesbian was more qualified, she was never contacted. The lesser of the two received multiple callbacks.
The Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw has just taken on Exxon’s case, prompting outcry from LGBT groups. (The firm has been praised for its support of the LGBT community and received a 100 score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.) “Exxon’s shareholders will now pay big bucks for Seyfarth’s lawyers, who are probably some of the most expensive corporate defense lawyers in the country,” said Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida. “But I don’t think there’s any need for Seyfarth to run up their billable hours since Freedom to Work would like to settle the case today.”
Freedom to Work just wants Exxon Mobil to adopt an anti-LGBT-discrimination policy. “Exxon could… copy and paste Chevron’s LGBT workplace policy, and we would accept that as part of the settlement.”