Evangelical Christian Mom Becomes an Unlikely Advocate
If you had asked Kathy Baldock 10 years ago if you could be both gay and Christian, the devout evangelical would've told you 'no'. But one day while hiking near her Reno home, she befriended a fellow hiker who happened to be a lesbian. As the two became good friends, Baldock had a change of heart; she began questioning everything she'd believed about gays and lesbians.
"It slapped me in the face," said Baldock, remembering the first time she went to a worship service with gay Christians in 2007. "I ended up on the floor crying and being so sorry for all the prejudices I had. I realized that something was very wrong with my theology."
Baldock is now a well-known leader of the straight Christian ally movement, working to change views within the faith. She became so compelled to fight church homophobia that she quit her sales job and formed the non-profit Canyonwalker Connections.
"I look just like the middle of the Christian church: I'm 55, I'm a normal looking white woman, I know my Bible, I don't dress weird or have tattoos, I don't walk around in tie-dye T-shirts with rainbow flags-I'm the least likely person on the planet who should be doing this," said Baldock.
Exactly what makes her an unlikely ally is what makes her an effective liaison.
A few weeks ago, for example, Baldock used her Christian mom charm to sneak into the headquarters of the anti-gay public policy group Concerned Women for America. While inside, she chatted with an assistant to one of the heads and eventually steered the conversation to LGBT rights.
"It was about a 40-minute conversation and when it was over, because I told her really compelling stories about children and how policies affect them, this girl was wiping tears and when she stood up, she hugged me," she recalled.
Every day; Baldock's inbox is flooded with messages from closeted gay youth growing up in religious homes, Christian parents of gay children, conflicted pastors, and straight Christians grappling, as she did, with the idea that homosexuality is a sin.
She also gets a lot of hate mail.
"The nastiest words I get are from evangelical Christians," said Baldock.
On the same day a vlogger uploaded his 16th attack video condemning her, she came home to a letter from a gay teen in Colombia struggling to be accepted by his family.
"It puts it all in context for me," said Baldock. "On one hand I have a Christian trying to bully me into stopping, and then I've got a 19-year-old saying essentially, you're my lifeline. A gay Christian telling him that it's OK to be Christian and gay is nowhere near as effective as me saying it because I have no agenda."
Baldock posts educational blogs and videos on her website for an audience of some 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a month. These cover everything from LGBT affirming theology, to scientific research on sexual orientation, to myth debunking.
She travels across the country speaking at conferences and giving workshops, but a huge part of her work consists of reaching out not only to LGBT Christians, but also to "the silent middle"-straight Christians who don't condemn homosexuality, but aren't speaking up about it.
"I can understand why people are reticent to speak up," she said. "You pay a price in reputation and friendship coming out as an ally. But the ones that are speaking up are the angry mean ones and everybody thinks that's the way all Christians are."
Baldock Seeks to Change Hearts and Minds
Baldock herself attends an evangelical charismatic church that is not yet LGBT affirming. It's important for her to look like the people whose minds and hearts she hopes to change.
Her team of advocates stretches across the United States and into Canada (and includes her 24-year-old daughter.)
Board member Lisa Salazar of Vancouver met Baldock last summer when they held a counter action to anti-gay Christian street preachers at Charlotte [N.C.] Pride.
Salazar was a longtime father and husband to a church-going family before transitioning about three years ago. She once held the same homophobic and transphobic views as some of the Christians she encountered in Charlotte.
"I said all those things," said Salazar. "It's almost like I had convinced myself that I had to have those views in order not to give into the devil."
The struggle for acceptance in the church is a much greater challenge for the trans community, especially because of binary readings of gender identity.
"Let's say there's this person that starts coming to church that used to be a man, that used to be in the choir and is now dressed as a woman," said Salazar. "How do parents in the congregation explain that to their children in a way that makes sense to them? Those obstacles are not there for how a congregation embraces a gay or lesbian or bisexual person, because you don't look different."
Baldock an "Unsung Hero"
"She's an unsung hero," said Salazar. "This work is so crucial because there are so many people who are rejected and who are marginalized for being GLBT and who still have faith but don't know where to turn."
Baldock is one of a community of voices trying to breach the gap between the church and LGBT Christians. Jay Bakker, son of the late Tammy Fay Bakker Messner, is another well-known voice in the affirming theology movement.
Baldock has a book in the works and is helping Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) develop church outreach. And although she's sacrificed a lot to become a full-time gay Christian advocate, she says a deep faith and a calling continues to motivate her.
"It's only a deep-seeded passion that would make you do this," she said. "People have taken these terrible translations and painted God and Jesus with a horrible picture and I'm just not willing to walk away because the truth is, what drives me is my faith. My faith compels me to stand against oppression and injustice."