Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom: It Could Happen To You…THE Interview!

Just last week, Shane Bitney Crone was awarded the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award.  He is working with famed director Linda Bloodworth Thomason on a documentary BRIDEGROOM: An American Love Story, which will surely be award winning, based on his relationship with his partner Tom Bridegroom and the incidents following his death.  He has met celebrities, received condolences and support from thousands of people, and yet there is still the very basic fact this is all a result of the death of the person he loved most in the world; Tom Bridegroom.  When we first saw the Shane’s viral YouTube video, It Could Happen To You, we sobbed.  The story was so incredibly tragic and yet…similarly close to home.  We watched the video over and over again, each time finding new things that moved us emotionally.  Their dog JB they adopted together.  The music.  The Christmas card from Tom to Shane.  Shane’s video had an enormous impact on us, not only for the need for marriage equality, but by looking at our relationship with more gratitude.  We no longer take our days together for granted and we are grateful even for the arguments.  To us…this is one of the most important interviews we have ever posted.  Thank you, Shane, for sharing your story…and introducing us to Tom. He will be remembered forever!

Please watch the video below before reading the interview.

1.Can you briefly tell us what inspired you to make your video It Could Happen to You?

Growing up in a small town in Montana, I never felt I could be myself.  It wasn’t until I met my partner Tom, that I felt liberated. When Tom suddenly died in an accident, my world shattered and adding insult to the tragedy, I had no say in honoring his final wishes.  I wasn’t welcome at the funeral and I was denied giving the one I loved a proper goodbye. This happened because we didn’t have equal rights.  I never imagined that I would lose Tom at this juncture in our lives: we were happy, healthy, in our twenties and believed we had our whole lives in front of us. I believe sharing our story is a way that I can honor him and hopefully prevent what happened to us from happening to others.

2.What was your first response when you saw that it had gone viral?

It was a surreal experience. I posted the video the morning of the anniversary of Tom’s death, May 7th.  That evening, I got together with a group of friends at the bowling alley where Tom and I first met and I remember how astonished we were by the fact that the YouTube video already had 10,000 views. The following morning the video had over 50 thousand views. Within a week it had over a million.  Media outlets from all over the world started sending me interview requests. It was incredible and overwhelming at the same time. The amount of positive feedback I was getting convinced me that I made the right decision by posting the video.

3.Did you have any fear associated with making the video public?

I am well aware of the prejudice and opposition that the LGBT community faces.  I knew that no matter what, this video would be controversial, however, I felt that I needed to share this story. In a way, I felt that keeping quiet would be selfish.  I was also concerned about Tom’s parents. After being told that I would be physically threatened if I attempted to attend Tom’s funeral I worried about how they would react.

Until now, I have been a very private person and I’ve never been one to show my emotions. I would always bottle up any sadness or pain that I was experiencing. However, when I made the video, I knew I had to show my vulnerable side in order for people to understand the pain that I felt.  I wanted non-supporters to really see the face of a person representing those whose equality they are denying.  Without knowing me, you might think I am an extremely emotional person, but in fact, the opposite is true.

4.Prior to Tom’s death, it appeared that you had positive communication with Tom’s mother via Twitter. Why do you think her attitude changed?

When Tom and I first got together, we came out to our families. My family was very supportive and Tom’s parents were outraged.  His father pulled a gun on him and they blamed me for making him gay. His parents never apologized for the way they reacted to Tom coming out.  The last 4 years of our relationship his mother came to visit a few times and I thought she finally started to accept us. I know that Tom loved his mom and I know that she loved him, but it was almost as if she was living a double life. She acted like she was ok with our relationship when she was in California, but the minute she got back to Indiana it was as if I didn’t even exist.

5.Since the video has been released, have you had any contact with Tom’s family or heard from Tom’s family?

I have not heard from Tom’s parents but I have heard from a few of Tom’s relatives who were supportive of our relationship and were saddened by the way that I was treated.  They know that Tom wouldn’t have wanted me to be shunned the way that I was.

6.What have been the three most positive opportunities that have come from doing the video?

This is a hard question to answer since so many positive things have taken place following the YouTube video.  I guess the biggest positive for me personally is that I have come to embrace my sexuality.  Having endured many difficulties in school and throughout my formative years, as so many gay kids, I was somewhat afraid to just totally accept myself, to just be who I am.  There was always the thought that maybe I was somehow not “normal”.  The documentary changed everything for me.  As they say, I now feel good in my own skin.

Definitely having the opportunity to turn our story into a documentary is something I never would have imagined happening.  It gives me a sense of peace to know that people watching this film will get to know Tom and learn what an incredible spirit he had. It makes me happy to think that Tom is helping fight for equality and this film will be a way of keeping his memory alive.

Another positive is the way that it has resonated with people all over the world. I have heard from thousands who say the video has changed their life, gave them hope, and inspired them to stand up and be proud of who they are. I have heard from people who once believed marriage equality was wrong and now believe it’s only fair. I have heard from a number of teenagers who said that our story gave them hope to live and it’s inspired them to come out to their families. It’s difficult to change people’s hearts and minds on this extremely important human rights issue, but my YouTube video seems to reach people and I am extremely proud.

7.Tell us about the documentary you are developing called BRIDEGROOM: An American Love Story.

I have partnered with Linda Bloodworth Thomason, Emmy nominated writer and director of the critically acclaimed film “Man From Hope” to help tell our story. We are hoping that by making the documentary we will reach a yet wider audience and continue to educate people about what equality for the LGBT community really means. It will obviously be a more in-depth look. Hopefully it will show those who somehow feel that same sex love is different from “their” love that indeed it really is no different. Before posting the YouTube video, I never attended a gay pride parade. I was not confident enough to be activist and I am certainly not a scientist who can explain what makes us gay. All I can share is my life and my experiences. I did not choose to be gay, but I should not be ashamed. Nor should I be ashamed of the love that Tom and I shared.

8. What advice would you give a fully committed gay couple regarding protecting their rights in case of a tragedy?

I implore you to have the hard conversation about your own immortality; to face the hypothetical consequences of what could happen were either of you to be injured or possibly die. I am not an attorney and every state is different but see a lawyer, get a will and get your ducks in a row. In other words leave nothing to chance. Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on the good will of family members or friends who were previously well intended. Make sure everything is documented.

All couples need an advance health care directive (also known as a living will) and durable power of attorney that are very carefully drafted. Couples who have assets need a trust and a pour over will. A pour-over will is a particular type of will used in conjunction with a trust. All the state laws vary so I would suggest meeting with an attorney in your state.

9. What are some small details most people didn’t know about Tom that made him so special to you?

After the many struggles Tom faced throughout his life, and especially after the nightmare he lived coming out to his parents, Tom never let anything keep him from being happy and positive. I know it’s common for people to say after a loved one passed that they lived each day to the fullest, but Tom truly did. He was the most talented, determined, and courageous human being. He believed in himself and he knew that he could accomplish anything he put his mind to. I have struggled most of my life with being gay, and Tom respected that struggle and he allowed me to work through it, and he was my biggest supporter. He loved me for me, and he inspired me to challenge myself and show me that being happy is a choice.

10. Today you are working for marriage equality. What are you encouraging people to do about marriage equality?

Tom and I both felt strongly about waiting to legally commit to each other until we could get married. We didn’t want to have just a domestic partnership because to us it felt like a second class version of marriage. Looking back I wish we would’ve registered to be domestic partners because it could’ve potentially prevented a lot of the struggles and heartbreak I faced after he died. Yes, LGBT couples can meet with attorneys and spend 10,000 dollars to legally protect themselves in a way that a simple 100.00 marriage certificate can provide, but that’s not right. I have heard from thousands of couples that had all of the proper legal documents prepared but their deceased partner’s families were able to contest the documents and leave the surviving partner powerless.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are no substitute for marriage. They are an important advance in the fight for equality, but civil unions and domestic partnerships do not carry the full legal benefits (especially government and tax benefits) or cultural significance of marriage. The substitution of civil unions and domestic partnerships for legal marriage assigns same-sex couples to second class status.

I encourage people to support organizations like GLAAD, and The Human Rights Campaign that support marriage equality. Marriage equality isn’t going to be achieved easily but as individuals we have the power to stand up and speak out and show people that we deserve equal rights and that all committed couples deserve to make the ultimate commitment, which is marriage.

11. What advice would you give someone wanting to come out to their family?

I encourage you to come out to your family when it feels right for you.  If you have a best friend or a counselor that you trust, I recommend that you talk to them about it. You never know how parents will react.  I think it’s important to trust your gut and determine whether or not you are ready.

12.What do you think Tom would say to you today looking back on all that has happened?

He would probably say that he wishes we would’ve been legally prepared for the unexpected and that it’s important for me to do whatever I can to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else. He would probably apologize for the way his parents treated me and he would encourage me to live my life to the fullest. He wouldn’t want me to be sad.

Throughout our relationship Tom would consistently encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and free myself from all the fears that have developed because of the insecurities surrounding my sexuality.

Tom brought so much joy to my life and he showed so many people how to be loving and accepting, and he is doing that now more than ever. You can’t help but think that Tom is part of all of this and his death is not in vain and he will be remembered forever.

If you’d like to find out more about Shane or his cause Equal Love Equal Rights visit his Facebook page HERE.

Be Yourself.  Be Fearless.  Be Your Own Unexpected Luxury!

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WARNING: We allow 100 words or less of content per interview to be taken, with a link to our original interview, and used without our authorization. Content larger than 100 words or copying our entire interview without our authorization to be used in ANY manner will result in our taking legal action per copyright infringement.


Adam Bouska and THE NOH8 Campaign…THE Interview!

Typically we write some purposeful introduction filled with deeply moving adjectives displaying our overwhelming admiration and celebrity awe, but that is not the case with this interview.  Talking to Adam Bouska, the creator and photographer behind the NOH8 campaign, broke down our barriers of celebrity and fan, realizing that we are all just part of the human experience.  In fact, that is exactly what Adam Bouska has accomplished.  By looking through the lens and thematically drawing similarities between his subjects, ironically using duct tape to cover their mouths, he has helped us all to see that no matter who you are, the power of love is universal.


1. Tell us a little bit about Adam Bouska, prior to the Hollywood fame, growing up in Decatur, Illinois.

Growing up I was just a regular guy. I wasn’t out in High School. I wasn’t interested in photography yet at the point but I was definitely an artist.  I used to paint and stuff.  Other than that I would say my life was pretty normal.

2. How old were you when you came out to your friends and family?

I came out to my family, I think it was when I turned 19 years old and I came out to my best friend that same year.  I built up a lot in my head that it was going to be this life changing event, which it was, but my family turned out to be extremely accepting. I anticipated for it to be something else, I didn’t know they were pretty open to the idea.

3. Was the process of coming out a difficult experience for you?

I would say that it was definitely a difficult process because I think it was a self-realization.  I had to deal with growing up in a conservative area and there really weren’t many resources out there; not much of a support system.  My parents weren’t really educated on the whole lifestyle.  I was just taking time.  I eventually moved to Chicago. I felt it was the closest city to move to from a central farming community.  Being exposed to different lifestyles and different communities made me feel more comfortable being having to make the leap to come out.

4. Were you bullied during your teenage years?

I feel like I dealt with all kinds of bullying. I definitely saw that other kids were dealing with it much worth than I was.  I feel like everyone dealt with it to some degree or everyone deals with it to some degree. Yeah, I definitely dealt with it.

5. How did your interest in photography begin?

It really was accidental.  I was going to college for computer science and I took part in a few of my friends photo shoots that were photographers.  I just fell in love with the creative aspect and being in that whole setting of the photo shoot.  I just wanted more of a voice and a way to speak out and express myself in my own way.  I ended up getting my own camera and started experimenting and photographing my friends and it just kind of blew up from there.

6. Prior to the NOH8 campaign, what was your area of interest as a photographer?

I enjoyed photography in all aspects.  I just loved photography in general.  Just being a part of any opportunity was great.   Combining it with my abilities of Photoshop was fun in the post production aspect, because I have a lot of experience with computers.  I loved finding different ways to integrate computers and self expression to show a personal image of photography. Today, I love the human aspect of photography and being able to interact with a person.  I started leaning more towards portraiture as I started photographing more.

7. How did the concept for the NOH8 campaign begin?

 That was also another kind of accident in my life.  I call it an accidental activism because I was never an activist prior to the NOH8 campaign.  Essentially when Proposition 8 passed, myself and my partner just partially took part in these rallies and these marches in West Hollywood, and we were really moved by our experience in the marches and by the different people that came out to support that day.  All the different faces of all races and ages; it was just a really moving experience.  We went home that night and had a photo shoot at 4am in my living room.  We started with just the images but ended uploading them online to Myspace.  Other people started to see our images and wanted to be part of it and then it turned into kind of a snow ball effect.  One face after another and now we’re up to, I think, 20,000 photos now.  It’s really growing. It’s really getting an overwhelming response from the community.  Now that we have seen the success of what NOH8 can be, we just want to take it and do as much as we can with it.

8. Who have been the three most profound or personally interesting people you have photographed for the campaign?

            Yeah, that’s always a difficult question because it’s the diversity, the vast amount of different people. The personality we’ve been able to photograph that’s made it such an amazing experience?  If I had to narrow it down I say one of them for me was Jane Lynch and being able to shoot her on the set of Glee was a lot of fun.  She has such a huge personality and is so down to Earth and she’s done so much for the cause and the campaign herself in different ways.  She helped us raise money by getting the word out and stuff like that.  She’s a great person and it was an awesome experience to work with her.   I also ended up doing her book cover too.  It was really honor to be able to work with her on two different occasions.

            Another one, I don’t know his name, but there was this kid at our open shoot in Atlanta who is the son of two moms.  He brought his parents’ marriage certificate as his prop for the photo shoot.  Being able to photograph him in the moment, I feel like it captured what NOH8 is all about.  It was a really moving experience.  After he held the marriage certificate up above his head everyone kind of erupted and applauded and cheered.  I feel like being in the moment and being able to photograph him in that moment, in that experience, is my most memorable experience from the campaign… I don’t know his name though.

            And then I always reference this one; the lead singer of Anthrax, Scott Ian.  It was really awesome to be able to photograph him.  It was really unexpected because he didn’t plan to come in for a photo shoot.  He just jumped in line of an open photo shoot.  It just shows the power of how you do what you do to get involved and how everyone has a voice.  It was really cool to see him do that and support the campaign.  I liked that.

9. Do you believe that “every picture tells a story”?

Yes, definitely. I can’t even count how many stories I’ve heard working on the campaign; some of which we’ve begun chronicling in the BE HEARD section of our website. I think that’s really how the photos stay so fresh for me. Even after 20,000 portraits, each person has their own reason and purpose for posing, and I’m honored to be a part of helping them tell that story.


10. What story does your picture tell?

This is a real tough question. I hate to translate a pose into anything too literal, but I actually think mine is probably one of the most straight-forward. In doing these photos, I wanted to use my skills as a photographer to speak past the attempts to silence my rights and those of my community. I think my photo illustrates someone wanting to put something seemingly intangible into perspective – or frame.

11. If you could only listen to one CD for the rest of your life and it couldn’t be a mixed CD what would it be?

            This one is a tough question too! It would probably be, gosh! I mean I really enjoy the Beatles; The White Album, that’s the last CD I remember owning or having.  I really liked it. I can’t even remember the title of the song, because I would just listen to the whole CD.



12. What are three books you would recommend to a stranger on an airplane?

            Three different books?! I would have to recommend Jane Lynch autobiography “Happy Accidents.” I would recommend Zach Walhs new book that is coming out, he’s a youth activist and he wrote about his two moms.  And then Meghan McCain “Dirty Sexy Politics” I did the cover to that one too so check that out.

13. What do you see when you look through your lens that we don’t see?

            Gosh, I feel like I see beauty in everything. I mean, I don’t know if… I don’t believe that everyone sees that all the time but I believe there’s beauty in everything and everyone.

14. What are three things you’ve learned that you hadn’t expected by doing the NOH8 campaign?

            I’ve learned that there’re so many things going on in the community.  It’s educated me that we’ve come so far but really there is so much more that needs to be done.  Being able to travel all over the nation and to see all these different people come in with their stories and want to tell their stories through the NOH8 photos has really shown us that there’s so much more out there.  I mean the fact that you can still be fired in the majority of the states just for being gay.  The fact that you still can’t adopt in the majority of the states.  There’s just so much more that needs to be done.  That’s probably one of the biggest thing I’ve learned.

15. What is the sexiest city in the world? Hotel? Club? Restaurant? Place to shoot?

            Sexiest Hotel – My favorite have always been W hotel, to narrow it down to one… I really liked D.C.
Sexiest City – Los Angeles no doubt.
Sexiest Club – That’s a tough one.  I don’t know.  I’ll say The Abbey in West Hollywood.
Sexiest Place to shoot – That’s hard to narrow down. It would have to be my studio in Los Angeles.

16. What would you say to a 15 year old who was being bullied about being gay?

Despite how cliché it might sound or hard as it might be to believe, things really can get better. I was born and raised in a small town in the middle of Illinois and never thought it’d be possible for me to live the life I’ve led so far.  But I stayed true to myself and followed my dreams, and that’s really the best thing you can do. Kids at 15 will do anything to feel better about themselves, and that includes picking on people that are different than they are. Sometimes people grow out of it, sometimes they don’t; you can’t control that. What you CAN control is your own actions. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself! Being you is the best thing you can be.

17. You’re coming to Indy this month, any expectations?

            I expect a huge turnout.  I’m from the Midwest myself and have a lot of friends in that area.  There’s been a lot of buzz about it so far and we’re really excited to get out there.  A lot of people have been following the campaign for some time and I feel like the energy for the campaign is only growing.  It’s really exponential the amount of faces we’ll be adding to this.  I feel like its growing upward from here and it can only be huge for Indiana.  I’m really excited.

18. Has there been anyone that was politically or personally difficult for you to photograph for the campaign because maybe it just didn’t feel like they should be part of it?

            I mean, working with Cindy McCain was awesome because she showed that it wasn’t a republican or democratic issue.  The fact that the focus on the conversation has always been on marriage equality I think shows the greater good is being done and we’re keeping the focus in the right direction.  

19. What’s next for Adam Bouska?

            I’m always working on something new.  Right now the big focus is on the NOH8 campaign.  We have a lot of things we’ve been working on.  We’re going into a new iPhone app and we’re taking the campaign into new countries.  I’m always going to be photographing regular stuff as well.  I’m working on different book covers and different projects.  The truth of the matter is, for me right now, my priority is the big focus on the NOH8 campaign.  There’s a huge success there and we just want to push that as far as we can.  As long as we have the attention and the support of the community we’ll be doing it and that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

20. What is your greatest simple luxury?

            Being able to work and live with my partner.  Growing up I just never thought that would be possible.  The fact I get to do that every day, I don’t know, it’s a luxury for me.  Something we can’t take for granted and see that we can’t take for granted.


Thanks Adam!

Please visit the NOH8 Website for information on the campaign and to find dates for events near you.

Be Yourself.  Be Unafraid.  Be Your Own Unexpected Luxury!

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*Photographs courtesy of Adam Bouska.

WARNING: We allow 100 words or less of content per interview to be taken, with a link to our original interview, and used without our authorization. Content larger than 100 words or copying our entire interview without our authorization to be used in ANY manner will result in our taking legal action per copyright infringement.

Please visit the NOH8 Website for information on the campaign and to find dates for events near you.

Chris Stedman…Just A Little Above Average

Photo Credit Erin Williams

We had initially titled this interview: Chris Stedman…The Prince of Secular Humanism Discusses His Evolving Worldview, Eboo Patel, Teen Suicide and His Love of Britney Spears. But after hours of looking at his pictures and editing the facts, it just didn’t seem right. At the cost of gaining more views or getting more people to read our blog, just in the name of a sensational, attention-grabbing title, we couldn’t do it. It just didn’t fit. Chris never called himself the Prince of Secular Humanism…we did! He’s considerably more humble than to pat his own back let alone identify himself as royalty of religious discussion. In fact, when we spoke with him initially about secular humanism and referred to him as an “expert”, he laughed and corrected us, pointing us to at least five other authors and speakers on the subject.

But after a few months of knowing him we have absolutely no problem complimenting or heralding the young man who could very well be accepting his Noble Peace Prize within the next ten years. And unless you know of him already and have simply come to this interview to find out more about the guy you already love, than you’ve probably never even heard of him. So what is it exactly that makes Chris so interesting?

For starters, he is the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow at Harvard University and the Managing Director of State of Formation at The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He writes and runs his own blog NonProphet Status,writes for the internationally famous blog The Huffington Post, and is the youngest panelist for The Washington Post on Faith. He is also writing a book which will be published in 2012 by Beacon Press. But Besides being a writer, an educator and a highly requested national speaker, what exactly does he do?

Stolen from his blog’s About the Author section, “Chris is an atheist / secular humanist working to foster positive and productive dialogue between faith communities and the nonreligious.” Are you getting the picture yet? To steal yet again from his blog, guest blogger, Walker Bristol, Freshman Representative of the Tufts’ Freethought Society states, “Humanism, as a philosophy, is dedicated to the betterment of the global community as a whole and seeks to dispel discrimination and unfounded bias. Behind Humanist philanthropic efforts and community service projects is a unique commitment to action untainted by goals of conversion or self-promotion.”

And Chris, this 24 year old, tattooed, gaged eared, skinny jean wearing, symbol of sexiness is utilizing academia, pop culture and kindness to bridge the gap between secular and religious identity. When we initially approached him for this interview, stating we wanted to find out more about him because he seemed so interesting, he laughed and said “I’d say that I’m just like anyone else — in fact, I don’t actually handle praise all that well because I see myself as really average, and I live a very average life. I talk about my story not because I think that I’m particularly special, but because I think that everyone has a story to tell, that sharing these stories will make the world a more loving and compassionate place, and that one of the best ways to invite others to talk about their experiences is to share your own. When we exchange stories with one another, I think we discover that we’re not really all that ‘special’ — which is to say, we’re all special, in our own way. But we stop thinking of ourselves as the most important person in the world, and that gives us empathy for other people.

Photo Credit Meadville Lombard Theological School

1. What does it mean to be the “Interfaith and Community Service Fellow” for the Humanist Chaplaincy for Harvard University?
My role at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is really the first of its kind – it’s a position within an atheist / humanist organization specifically devoted to promoting interfaith cooperation and planning community service. I’m so lucky to have this job, because it marries three of my biggest professional (and personal) interests: building interfaith understanding, cultivating humanist community, and advancing social justice work. My fourth biggest interest is writing, and that’s where my blogging work comes in.

2. At 11, you entered the Evangelical Church and now define yourself as an atheist. What inspired this conversion?
It’s a long story, which is why I’m writing a book about it! But I’ll give you a hint: my conversion to Christianity came shortly after I began to recognize that the world is an imbalanced place – I started reading books like Roots, Hiroshima, The Diary of Anne Frank, and so on – and I was looking for a way to make sense of all of the injustice and suffering in the world. The only folks I heard talking about justice, and about improving the world, were Christians. My conversion also coincided with my parents’ divorce, and church created a community of support that essentially substituted the support I had gotten from my family. So when I began to critically evaluate my conversion later when questioning my faith, I realized that Christianity had never felt like a first language to begin with; that it had been a package deal, but that a belief in God wasn’t true to my roots.

Photo Credit Deanna Mandarino

3. Why is it important for people of religion and atheism to work together? What would you like our readers to learn from your work?

We live in a world sharply divided by religious identity – perhaps most of all along lines of religious and secular identity. Looking at the shouting match in popular discourse, between the so-called “New Atheists” and the “Religious Right,” the idea of identifying common ground between atheists and the religious might seem impossible. But truth be told, there are a lot of shared values we can all rally behind, and I think it is especially important for atheists and the religious to combat the significant misconceptions that exist on either side and attempt to foster understanding and cooperation to work toward resolving the most important issues of our time like poverty, global climate change, HIV/AIDS, and so on.
4. What does it mean to be a “secular humanist”?
There are many different definitions of “humanism,” but in my mind a humanist is anyone – religious or not – who maintains a worldview grounded in reason and guided by compassionate action. I put “secular” before “humanist” to signify that my worldview is specifically naturalistic and nonreligious. To borrow from the title of a recent book by the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, Greg Epstein: in short, a secular humanist is someone who believes he or she can be good without God, and who strives to live this way. I prefer “secular humanist” to “atheist” because it suggests something about my values, rather than the mere fact that I do not believe in any gods.

Photo Credit faith and fashion

5. How does being gay contribute to your belief system towards religion?
It’s funny; at various points in my life, I would’ve answered this in very different ways. Hell, I’ll probably answer it differently two months from now. But, right now, I credit the recognition I had at 11 years old that I am queer with setting the course for the work I do now. Being a member of a marginalized community helps me empathize with experiences and worldviews that are different from my own, and I believe that has made me more compassionate. At one point in my life, being gay might’ve contributed to the bitterness I had toward religion and the religious, but now being gay means being deeply and personally invested in active religious pluralism, or the idea that we all – religious or not – need to work to understand one another better. We’re all “other” to someone, and I’d like to see that change.

6. What does being gay mean to you today?
Being queer to me means being a border-crosser and a translator. We occupy liminal spaces in American society and around the world, so we need to know how to navigate fraught intercultural issues, as most of our actions are, in a sense, intercultural exchanges. I think this makes us especially adept at bridging divides – or, at least, it has directly contributed to my sense of feeling empowered to do so.

Photo Credit Natalie Parys

7. If there was a God, what would God be like?
Honestly, I’m not willing to say that I’m absolutely, positively, 100% sure there is no god. However, if there is a god (and that’s a big “if”), I believe that god is an uninvolved one – one that exists, possibly created the world, but has since been mostly “hands-off.” And if such a god exists – and I do see it as a possibility – then I think it really doesn’t matter. If an uninvolved god is out there, it doesn’t concern me one bit. These days, I’m a lot more interested in what is happening in the world around me than whether or not a god exists; about whether people have the things they need to live happily and peacefully. And the kind of god I certainly can’t fathom is one who would condemn people who honestly tried to live and learn the best they could to an eternity of suffering; so if I’m wrong and there actually is a benevolent, loving god, I will welcome being proven wrong with humility and with curious wonder. And maybe a long laugh and a beer.

8. One of the first things we noticed about you was your interesting and eclectic style. How does your style reflect your belief system?
Well, my tattoos each reflect various stages in my evolving worldview… It’s a cheesy metaphor, but I often liken my tattoos to a scrapbook. It’s the best documentation I’ve got of how I’ve matured in my adult life, and I wouldn’t change any of them. As for my general style; I’ve always experimented with different attire, but from a young age I was interested in expressing myself visually. The style I’ve got now is… well, let’s just be honest, I dress like a stereotypical hipster (as my friends all love to point out). I’ve been dressing this way since the end of college, and so far I’ve managed to carry it over into my professional career. You’d be surprised what you can get away with if you just add a tie! But honestly, one of the reasons I love my style is that I really do feel that it reflects who I am at this point in my life, and I hope that it suggests that I don’t have too many pretensions about what I do.

I’ve tried to “dress professionally” but it just isn’t me; I always expected my tattoos and my style to be a professional hindrance, but I’ve honestly been amazed by how it has helped me connect with people in my work. I think a lot of people don’t expect someone who looks like me – tattoos galore, including an almost-finished sleeve, stretched earlobes and a nose ring, skinny jeans and concert t-shirts – to be talking about interfaith cooperation. But I think it’s such an important issue and that everyone needs to care about it, so I hope my style helps some people who might not have cared before to see it as important, and to see that they too have a place in this movement – that it’s not just for older folks and religious people.

Photo Credit Erin Williams

9. If you could only listen to three CD’s for the rest of your life and they couldn’t be mixed, what would they be?
Wow; after questions about the existence of god, my sexuality, and other so-called “difficult subjects,” this is far and away the hardest question yet! In fact, I think we’ll know the answer to the god question before I can narrow my favorite albums down. Every year, I write a blog post detailing my 50 favorite albums of the year, and it always takes me weeks. But I’ll just go with something “old,” something “new,” and something from my youth. Old: Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones. New: Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois. Nostalgic picks: Garbage’s Version 2.0 or The Fugees’ The Score. Also, I recently got really into an amazing gay artist named John Grant – pick up his debut, Queen of Denmark, if you haven’t heard it yet. It’ll change your life.

10. What are your three favorite fiction and non-fiction books?
Everything by Flannery O’Connor – I’m obsessed. I have one tattoo for her, and others planned. Also, Acts of Faith by my mentor, Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, played a very formative role in the work I do now – in fact, describing my reaction to it is essentially the climax of the narrative in my book. (How nerdy is that?!) Finally, my current boss, Greg Epstein, has a really fantastic book for anyone looking to explore humanism called Good Without God.

Photo Credit Adrienne Baker, IFYC

11. How do you define “sexy”?
Oh man. Superficially, I go weak in the knees for a subtle but intoxicating cologne, a scruffy face, … and skinny jeans! But more than anything (cliché alert!) I find confidence, creativity, empathy and humility sexy. People who just see the world in a different way – in a way that forces me to challenge my approach and my perspective – there’s nothing sexier than that. Same goes for an open heart; not just a posture of “caring for others,” but people who genuinely experience heartbreak because of the suffering in the world. Okay, that sounds pretty cheesy and dumb, doesn’t it? Also, it’s probably kind of bullshit: at the end of the day, James Franco is just flat-out sexy, regardless of whether he cares about the world’s suffering or not.

12. What is the most important issue on the gay agenda today?

Full inclusion and protection for transgender individuals. For too long, trans folks have been marginalized, ostracized, and largely ignored by the so-called “LGBT agenda.” Every month at least one transgender individual is killed in a hate crime in America – a fact largely ignored by the media. With the increased attention on gay and lesbian suicides this year, we must not forget about the emotional and physical violence that trans folks experience. It’s crazy to me how pervasive transphobia is, even within our community. I’m certainly not an innocent party in this respect, but I’m working on it.

Photo Credit Ky Dickens

13. What are three things you wouldn’t do no matter how much money you were offered?

I’ve come to a point in my life where it’s difficult for me to say that there are things I would never do, because over the years I’ve done many things I once thought I wouldn’t. I’ve come to recognize that it’s quite difficult to predict what you might do in any given situation until you’re actually confronted with the choice, and that sometimes we make the wrong choice. That said, I’d like to believe there are some choices I could never be compelled to make, and they’re the big ones: murder, rape, genocide, etc. At the end of the day, you have to be willing to be morally inflexible on certain things, and physically harming another person is one of those things. Emotionally harming is where it gets a bit more complicated, eh?

14. What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?
I’m not sure they’d know where to begin! I’ve got my vices, to be sure, but I think my friends might highlight the way I can get distracted by things that shouldn’t matter – how I can fixate on things beyond my control. I think I have a difficult time “letting go” when something is unsolvable; I like to imagine that nothing is insurmountable if you just persevere and push hard enough. This difficulty to relent to the forces beyond my control has caused me a lot of pain in my life, but it has also helped me overcome obstacles that I thought I could not. So it’s good and it’s bad, but I’m learning to harness it more for good and be more aware of when it is having a harmful effect.

Photo Credit James Croft

15. If you were to die tomorrow, what three things would flash in your mind?

I’m not sure; I think I’d be too distracted by my impending death! But I’m sure I’d think immediately of my family, and of the love I have for them. When everything is said and done, my family is what matters most to me, so I’m sure my thoughts would turn to them.

16. What are three movies that have greatly impacted you?
Dancer in the Dark, Dogma, and Saved! The first always makes me cry, and the others make me laugh and think – they tackle complex issues concerning religion with levity, heart, humor and humanity.

17. When Chris, the Harvard intellect, is put away, what are some trivial things that we wouldn’t know by looking at you?

Ha! Let’s see; my vanity is probably obvious in my hipster clichés. What else? Well, okay, so I really love Britney Spears. It’s weird; I never really cared about her when I was younger, which is unusual since I came of age in the era of Britney. But when I was a senior in college, Britney began to unravel, and I took notice. Now I won’t liken her to Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf, but I did see something in Britney’s public undoing that made me pause. Here was the real person beneath the façade; the animal behind the android. She had been tamed and domesticated her whole life, and she tried to liberate herself. The sad thing is that she didn’t know how to do it well, and she became quite unwell. Now she’s gotten her public image together and her career seems to be doing quite well, but I still see a caged animal when I look at her. I don’t know if I’m just projecting my love for tragic figures on to her, but I see some sadness in her. Or, at least, some boredom. So I root for her, you know? I want her to do well, and to be happy. There’s no way to know if she is, but I hope that the fact that even when she is “promoting” a new album she’s hardly in the public eye, means that she has the space she needs. Because I’m just tired of seeing her cry in interviews! Honestly, her 2007 album Blackout is probably the greatest pop album ever released, and I rock out to that like nothing else when no one is around. That said, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga could stop recording music and I’d be perfectly happy, so I guess I don’t fall for pop trappings every time. But my love for Britney is forever, ha.

18. You are currently working on a book. Tell us about your book which is due out in 2012.

My book is part memoir, part call for greater dialogue and collaboration between the religious and the nonreligious. I use my personal story of growing up irreligious, becoming a Born Again Christian and realizing I was gay, eventually leaving the faith and becoming very anti-religious, and then eventually becoming a passionate advocate for pluralism and interfaith engagement, because I think, like sociologist Marshall Ganz, that stories are the most effective way to communicate ideas and values. Still, it’s weird to be writing a memoir – especially at 23 years old! – because you open up your experiences for public scrutiny. But I’m learning to get used to it, and I’m doing it because I think mine is an underrepresented perspective. But ultimately, I don’t want my work to be about me – my biggest hope is that my story will prompt other people to share theirs. I don’t want to tell my story simply to make it known; I want to initiate a dialogue on religious and nonreligious identity and engagement in America.

Photo Credit Nat DeLuca

19. Boxers, briefs, jockstraps…or nothing at all?
Ha! Oh my. Um, well… I wear skinny jeans nearly every day, so it’s certainly not the first of those options. I’ll leave it at that; a gay atheist has to keep some mystery, eh?

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