Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Profile from the Raleigh News & Observer

A wonderful friend convinced the reporter to do this profile of me. I am grateful beyond words to my friend.

On a mission for equality

Jack McKinney says he's always had a heart for the "outcasts of society."

In February, McKinney, 45, former pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, opened McKinney Counseling and Consulting, where one of the specialties is gender identity disorders.

"I have been fortunate to know and counsel hundreds of individuals who would be considered 'outcasts' for one reason or another," McKinney said. "What I have learned from these people is an inspiration. Justice for all is not just a theory."

McKinney knew early in life that promoting the rights of the gay and lesbian community was to be part of his calling. When one of McKinney's closest high school friends publically came out, McKinney had a decision to make.

"I could continue to believe the party line about how awful gay people were, or I could believe my own experience revealed by my close friend," McKinney said. "I chose to believe my experience. The result has been the amazing privilege of befriending and counseling hundreds of LGBT people who are as wonderful as my childhood friend."

McKinney began his journey at Pullen in 1998 when a friend submitted his name to Pullen's search committee. After landing his dream job, McKinney set out to promote the rights of the LGBT community inside and outside the church.

After 18 months at Pullen, McKinney made his first big decision as pastor and asked the congregation to promote Nancy Petty, who is a lesbian, from associate pastor to co-pastor. "The decision to share power with me was really a testament to his character," Petty said. "It demonstrated his commitment to what's fair, what's right and what is equal."

Said McKinney, "The fact that Nancy is a lesbian and leading a major congregation in a Southern city says a lot about Pullen's inclusive nature."

McKinney continued to further his cause by joining with other religious leaders and activists in the Triangle to form the North Carolina Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality in 2004.

The organization, dedicated to achieving marriage equality for same-sex couples, met with religious leaders and asked them to sign statements promoting the cause and also held a rally at the General Assembly to publicize the movement.

Recently, the NCRC4ME gave its remaining funds to Equality North Carolina, the leading advocacy organization in the state for LGBT rights and an organization in which McKinney also is active.

McKinney has run into criticism from the church and community, in the form of derogatory letters and angry phone calls, but more often than not he and his colleagues receive gratitude for their work, McKinney said.

"I also befriended a couple of people who initially sent me critical letters; when I responded they seemed surprised I was willing to talk to them and we started a much more civil exchange after that," he said.

After making extensive progress for the LGBT community and becoming a beloved fixture at Pullen, McKinney made the decision to start the next chapter of his life.v"I told the church I didn't want to become a mediocre minister, and I feared I was headed in that direction," McKinney said. "Yet, the one part of my job I still had great passion for was counseling."

McKinney had previously partnered with Kimball Sargent, a nurse psychotherapist and owner of Diverse Solutions, a local business that specializes in transgender therapy.

"I was looking for someone to help my clients in a spiritual way. Jack did just this," Sargent said. "He was so helpful and empathetic to my clients, and I was not surprised when he started his own business."

More than half McKinney's clients are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and he also provides couples counseling for both heterosexual and gay couples, as well as pastoral consulting services for clergy and congregations.

McKinney said he does not find it hard to balance spirituality and professionalism in his counseling services. "There is a misconception that pastoral counseling must involve some religious angle," McKinney said. "Actually, it is just talk therapy with a therapist who is also comfortable talking about faith or spiritual matters if the client wants to do so."

McKinney remembers one of his most powerful memories from his professional life as presiding over a same-sex covenant ceremony at Pullen.

"Both the fathers were well into their senior adult years and had some anxieties about being part of a gay wedding," McKinney said. After the ceremony, the fathers, who served at best men in the service, said they thought the service was beautiful.

"After that day," McKinney said, "I never assumed people could not change their minds about accepting gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mother of the Year

I nominate this woman for mother of the year. If the world was filled with people like this, there would be less hate, more acceptance, and kids would grow up not caring what others think of them.


My favorite paragraph: "If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off."

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Than Appropriate

This is my column for the November edition of The Triangle. To see the entire publication go to trianglelgbt.com.

The recent Cameron Village “incident” has been all over the media. Caitlin Breedlove and her girlfriend were asked to leave the popular shopping center by two security officials for displaying physical affection for one another. By now most of you have heard about the subsequent apology by York Properties (owners of Cameron Village), the suspension and required sensitivity training for the security guards, and a rally held on October 17 by Breedlove and about 100 supporters across the street from Cameron Village.

Some of our neighbors in the community who are less than supportive of LGBT rights have cried foul saying Cameron Village is private property and can do what it wants. Apparently these people missed the civil rights era and the Supreme Court rulings that determined private businesses open to the public cannot discriminate against certain consumers because they don’t like “their kind.” My word, the lunch counter sit-ins that helped spark the civil rights movement took place in Greensboro and Raleigh. You would think if people anywhere in this country should understand the basic legal principles at play in this situation it would be those who live in North Carolina.

Beyond the legal and ethical debates this event sparked, however, there is something else about this story that deeply disturbs me. It is the assumption by the security guards, and those who have been quick to jump to their defense, that displays of affection like holding hands and kissing are inappropriate.

We live in a society where our connections with people are increasingly made through electronic devices. Technology has made it possible to do many of the things we once had to do face to face. We can work from home, shop from home, develop friendships with people from all over the world without ever seeing them, and a host of other activities that just a few years ago would have been impossible without physically interacting with other people. The convenience of these cyber activities and connections is amazing. But what is it costing our souls and psyches to work, play, and relate to others without touch?

Americans have long been more repressed than other cultures around the world when it comes to physical touch. This truth struck me a few years ago when I made a trip to the Republic of Georgia. Georgia was a part of the Soviet Union and only gained its independence in the early nineties. It is a country dominated by the Orthodox Church and old traditions.

So, imagine my surprise when walking around the capital, Tbilisi, to see men walking hand-in-hand with men, and women holding hands with women. I thought I had discovered a gay utopia in this tiny Eastern European country. When I asked one of my hosts about the possibility that Georgia was far more gay-friendly than other places, she said I was misinterpreting what I was seeing. She remarked that it is perfectly normal in their society for friends of any kind to hold hands or link arms in public. Then my host laughed and said she had no doubt that some of the people I saw holding hands were gay, but that even the most macho straight guy in Georgia would not think twice about holding hands with a dear friend.

Which brings me back to the original charge made against Caitlin Breedlove and her girlfriend. The idea that two women holding hands or exchanging a quick kiss is inappropriate is obviously rooted in a deep homophobia. Yet, those who have bristled at this accusation say they don’t want to see such public displays of affection from anyone, gay or straight. And that comment makes me wonder what kind of society we are becoming.

To be fully human we need to love, to laugh, to play, and to touch one another. If what is “appropriate” is to stay disconnected and separate from each other we become a culture increasingly isolated. Affection in its many different hues and colors is one of the rare things that makes us feel whole. To say we need less of that in our world makes me sad.

As a counselor I occasionally will have a client who is in such distress that he or she will ask if I will hold his or her hand for a moment. Many therapists would consider any physical touch with a client to be inappropriate. I do not. The simple act of holding another person’s hand can make anxiety dissipate, reduce the sense of being alone in the world, and create a connection that makes sharing painful stories easier. Are there limits to this kind of touch. Of course, just as there are limits to most things in life. But to suggest all physical touch is inappropriate is absurd.

So, thank you Caitlin and anonymous friend for not only standing up against an obvious civil rights injustice, but for reminding us that one of the best things in life is the exchange of touch and loving affection. We all need more of it.


About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (mckinneycounseling.org); married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology