Author and LGBT ally Kathy Baldock takes a comprehensive look at the historical and cultural layers of misunderstanding about homosexuality and gender non-conformity — and why they need to be peeled back for good.
Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach between the Church and the LGBT Community is grounded on author Kathy Baldock’s kindness toward all readers (not a drop of snark or holier-than-thou here), her diligent research (both deep and wide), and her transparency about her own journey from lack of understanding about homosexuality to whole-hearted compassion and support for the LGBT community. As both a straight ally and a member of the conservative Christian church, she is the first to say how far she has come – and, thus, to trust that other minds and hearts can also change. Helping that process along is her personal aim and the mission of the nonprofit organization she has established, Canyonwalker Connections.
As Kathy walked the trail of her life from considering homosexuality a sin to getting to know lesbian and gay people as people and even learning that many gay and trans* people are faithful Christians, she began asking questions – first, about the six Bible verses long used to condemn homosexual relationships. As one question led to another, Kathy expanded her research until Walking the Bridgeless Canyon took its final, comprehensive form – quite different than what she had set out to write, and yet, she says, “the book I wish had been available to me a decade ago.”
The book explores how society’s views of homosexuality have been affected by multiple influences, some obviously related and others surprising in their impact: flawed research by early psychoanalysts, the changing roles of women, Prohibition, paranoia about communism, the manipulative entangling of religion and politics to get votes, ignorance about HIV/AIDS (did you know its start involved colonialism in the 1920s?), and fascinating new understandings of genetics and gestation. Even enlightened LGBT allies are sure to learn a ton through this book!
Highly effective are the many personal sharings by LGBT individuals and those who love them. Some are heart-wrenching, others inspiring, but all bring the research to life in highly personal ways. Kathy’s gentle manner of coming alongside the reader, wherever he or she is on the journey from aversion to acceptance, makes this book accessible to all.
I sat in a restaurant having breakfast with my friends, the same three Christian women I’d been meeting with every Friday for over a decade. We talked in hushed tones about Luanne. “Did you hear Luanne is now a lesbian?” No, I hadn’t, and it surprised me. How could Luanne be a lesbian? After all, she didn’t just casually go to church on Sundays; she sang in the choir and went to Bible studies with us.
Well, Luanne had become gay; some lesbian had seduced her into the lifestyle. A recent double knee surgery had made it difficult for Luanne to get around her apartment and care for herself, so a kind woman at church invited her to convalesce in her home. And that’s when it happened! The four of us tsk-tsked: “Poor Luanne” had been tricked into a lesbian relationship. …
I frequently ran into the same woman on the trails on the weekends. One day when I had finished my solo hike, I had extra time, so I asked her, “Do you mind if I turn around and walk with you for a while? I’ve seen you lots of times and I don’t even know your name. I’m Kathy.”
“Sure,” she said. “I’m Netto.”
I soon suspected Netto might be a lesbian. The pre–marriage-crisis version of me would have graciously and politely confirmed my suspicions, then kindly maneuvered the conversation to a point where I could inform Netto of her sin and, consequently, her need for Jesus. … At that point, however, I was emotionally drained by the burden of my failing Christian marriage. With my own life in tatters, I didn’t feel like I could “tell” anyone anything. …
Over the next year, on most weekends, I hiked with Netto. What a pleasure it was to exchange my solitary, sorrow-filled hike for lively conversation with my cheerful new companion! …
Over the next five years, … I made more friends in the gay community. My expanding network of gay and lesbian friends started challenging assumptions I held. …
… I walk in the expanse between distant groups: the straight community and the LGBT community, as well as conservative Christians and gay and transgender Christians. From the vantage point of seeing good in each of these communities, for a long time I wondered, “How did we arrive at this point of extreme division? …”
In November 2011, on the thirtieth anniversary of the first reported cases of a mysterious “gay cancer” in America, I went to the Nevada Museum of Art with my friend Dean to see the documentary We Were Here, produced by David Weissman. The film reflected deeply personal accounts of five people living in San Francisco when the disease soon to be known as HIV/AIDS first appeared.For an hour and a half, I was mesmerized by stories eloquently told by eyewitnesses, survivors, and caretakers. Where was I while all this was happening? When people were dying and alone, where was I?Feeling the shameful ignorance of so much profound pain and loss, I sank in my seat. After seeing We Were Here, I stayed awake till morning reading online about AIDS—dates, facts, stories, and science. Though I have hundreds of friends living with AIDS, I had never researched the topic before seeing the documentary. I took out a notebook and made a list of years and deaths from the epidemic. I had been completely removed from the crisis and need in the 1980s and 1990s. Now decades removed, the impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay community pierced me.Through the night, I wept in remorse, asking, “Where were you, Kathy?”While people were dying and alone, where the heck was I? Why didn’t I care? How could I not have noticed? First hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people died each year, and I went about my life. Isolated from the tragedy of people living with HIV, I got married, became a follower of Jesus Christ, raised and homeschooled my children, and led Bible studies.At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1993, Pastor Jerry Falwell said:
AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh’s charioteers. AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.
Falwell’s voice was the one I had heard and believed then. …
As a Christian, my response to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s was without excuse. I not only ignored the pain and death of people living with AIDS, but I believed they “deserved” it. I had no understanding of homosexuality with respect to human sexuality, and my religious views were constructed on what I had been told by religious and political leaders seeking to take advantage of my ignorance for the sake of their own corrupt (at worst) or misguided (at best) agendas.
DELENA WILKERSON is the publisher and editor of 10,000 Couples magazine. Over the past 25 years Delena has published many articles, edited a national newsletter, and been both author and editor of several how-to books on financial management for nonprofits. She is a graduate of Livingstone College in North Carolina and the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. Delena currently lives in Oak Park, IL with her spouse and son, cat and koi.