Interviewer:

 Mason Funk

Camera:

 Natalie Tsui

Date:

 July 08, 2017

Location:

 Home Of Bill Lindsey, Little Rock, AR

William Lindsey was born on March 30, 1950. After a childhood in Little Rock and El Dorado, Arkansas, Bill pursued an academic career. He received a B.A. in English from Loyola University, New Orleans, an M.A. in English from Tulane University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in theology from University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology.

As an openly gay Catholic theologian, Bill faced employment discrimination that inspired him to be an advocate for LGBTQ people within Christian institutions. In 1993, he received a glowing annual review from his college dean. He had the most publications in his department and the highest student evaluations at the university. And yet Belmont Abbey College ended his tenure track position without a review or explanation, granting him a terminal one-year contract. The abbot in charge of the monastery that owns the college refused to meet with him to discuss his termination or provide spiritual guidance.

Feeling discarded by the church, Bill and his partner, fellow Catholic theologian Steve Schafer, returned to Arkansas. In subsequent years, Bill taught theology and served in leadership roles at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, and Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. In his scholarship, Bill has argued for theological positions that support LGBTQ people of faith, and published articles on the role of the church in dealing with HIV/AIDS and the challenges of being a homosexual person of faith. In 2008, Bill created the blog Bilgrimage, where he writes about questions relating to spirituality and activism, religious freedom, contemporary politics, culture, and faith.  

Today, Bill and Steve are legally married, and live with their two rescue dogs in a lovingly maintained, winsomely decorated 1904 Queen Anne cottage in Little Rock’s historic Hillcrest neighborhood. After Bill’s interview, in the spirit of Southern hospitality, he and Steve treated the OUTWORDS team to lunch at a local restaurant. Further extending that hospitality and spirit of service, Steve has volunteered his time and fundraising expertise to the OUTWORDS development team, helping to further our mission of capturing LGBTQ pioneer stories in the South, and all over America.

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Bill Lindsey: Bill, please.
Mason Funk: Okay. Could you just start off by telling us your name, Bill Lindsey, and spell it out?
Bill Lindsey: Literally spell it?
Mason Funk: You literally spell it out for the transcriber.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah. My name is Bill Lindsey, B-I-L-L L-I-N-D-S-E-Y.
Mason Funk: Okay great. Do me a favor and tell me the-
Natalie Tsui: Is the fridge off?
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] The fridge, we forgot the fridge.
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Mason Funk: We have to turn that … we may get the fridge kicking in.
Natalie Tsui: I'll just be like the fridge is kicked to you, and then we'll do something about it.
Bill Lindsey: If it does, we can turn it off, yeah. I don't think it normally even makes a noise, no.
Mason Funk: Okay. Yeah, we'll just give it a try.
Natalie Tsui: I'm rolling.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] In this meeting, okay. Do me a favor. Tell me the date and location of your birth.
Bill Lindsey: I was born here in Little Rock on March 30th, 1950.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. One of the things I really appreciate about being able to talk to you is that you are a Little Rock native and you still live in Little Rock, which I think gives us a huge opportunity just to get a sense of Little Rock history. We will, but first of all, just give me … paint me a picture of your family, the family you were born into. Who was your mom? Who was your dad? Were there siblings, and what's the family … what kind of family was it?
Bill Lindsey: [00:02:00] That's a hard question to answer, what kind of family I came from. I would say it was a very typical southern white evangelical family. My father was a native of Louisiana. He was born in Northwest Louisiana. His parents were farming in Red River Parish, Louisiana when he was a boy, and then when oil was discovered in South Arkansas, they moved up there because there were jobs. They were barely eking out living as farmers at the time my father was born. My mother was born and grew up about 20 miles south of Little Rock.
Both my grandfathers ended up owning crossroad stores in small towns. I didn't know her father because he died when she was seven years old. My father ended up becoming a lawyer so that I grew up in a household of a lawyer. We, when I was eight years old, moved from Little Rock down to South Arkansas where he had grown up, so most of my growing up years were there, with strong ties to Little Rock. My mother's mother and her family were all here, very close-knit people.
We would spend almost every weekend coming to Little Rock to spend time with my grandmother, my aunts and uncles. Many weeks in the summer, we stayed here in Little Rock with them. In some ways, we were a southern gothic family. You can read Eudora Welty, Faulkner, any of the classic southern writers, and Flannery O'Connor, get glimpses of our family life. A lot of drama, lots of passion, lots of arguments, people drinking too much and acting the fool as a result.
Mason Funk: It was also an evangelical family?
Bill Lindsey: [00:04:00] It was. Yeah, yeah. We were I would say culturally Southern Baptists. When we went to church, we went to Southern Baptist churches. I have the impression that we went to church primarily because it was a social obligation and it was good for my father's career as a lawyer, so we tended to go to church more after he really established his law practice in South Arkansas. I'm not sure I would say we were completely melded with the Southern Baptist church. I had friends who were much more committed Southern Baptists who would go to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night.
We weren't that kind of Baptist. We were the sort who drank and smoked, and ignored some of the prohibitions if need be.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] I love that you brought up Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite authors for sure. Obviously this woman who had just this piercing look into the hypocrisies, as you said, the inconsistencies between religion and ordinary life, and so on. I don't want to necessarily dig up old family dirt, but what were some of the ways that your family was one thing to the community maybe and one thing behind closed doors, or some of the more gothic side?
Bill Lindsey: [00:06:00] Yes. One of the obvious things was that my father was a heavy drinker. He was an alcoholic. When he initially established a law practice here in Little Rock, he ended up going bankrupt and that had much to do with his drinking problem. It persisted throughout his life and he died tragically young at the age of 49 as a result of a car accident he had driving intoxicated. When you grow up in a small town that is heavily evangelical in ethos and there's alcoholism in your family, it's as though you're living a kind of open secret. You have the impression that everybody in the community knows this but you're instructed never to talk about it.
That was a southern gothic side of my family, of my upbringing. By contrast, he had a brother who was the Academic Vice-President of the Baptist College in Arkansas who was like the good Sunday school boy, extremely upright, and so you have these two people in your family who are polar opposites and yet brothers, and there was conflict often when they got together for that reason, suppressed tension running through the family.
Mason Funk: How many siblings were there and where did you fit in, and how did you manage the stuff that was going on in your family?
Bill Lindsey: [00:07:30] I had two brothers. I'm the oldest. I had a brother who was 16 months younger than I was. Unfortunately, he ended up succumbing to the same illness of alcoholism that my father had and died also tragically young at the age of 39. I have a younger brother who's still living. He's in Austin, Texas right now. I would say that the familial alcoholism took a real toll on all of us as children. There was that sense of the secret that is not to be talked about. The shame of having a father who was sometimes there and sometimes not there, not knowing what to tell people, his clients who would call and say that he was missing meetings, not knowing how to explain the fact that he was away because he was drinking.
I think that all of that took a toll on the relationship we three sons had to each other too. It was very hard to watch my brother just below me in age succumbing to alcoholism and feeling the same helplessness I felt about my father growing up.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] Would you say helpless was one of the dominant feelings you had growing up in this environment?
Bill Lindsey: Yeah. I think helplessness is a common response, a common sense that children have growing up in a household where adults have drinking problems. They know that something is not quite right but they don't know how to change that, and I suppose they often ask themselves that they're responsible in some way for some of this.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Were those some of the questions you ask yourself in the book?
Bill Lindsey: [00:10:00] I think so. Yeah, looking back. I think that early in life, I learned to escape into a world of books. I was a very bookish little boy once I learned to read. Reading widely became a way that I held on to my own identity in the middle of a family life that was sometimes chaotic and threatened to pull me into the chaos in a way that I lost a sense of my own identity. This is how I see it looking back as an adult. Reading was extremely important to me for that reason and reading widely.
My mother's oldest sister taught at a school just a few blocks from here and she kept me supplied for years with books that she called from her library as they were considered too old to remain on the shelves, so I read an odd assortment of Victorian books that I think most children my age weren't reading, Hilaire Belloc's Bad Child's Book of Beasts for example. My father's brother's wife was an English teacher at a Baptist College and she too kept me supplied with books, so I had from two aunts with steady supply of interesting books, some of which were wild because they weren't really designed for a seven year old or eight year old boy to be reading.
Mason Funk: You mentioned that one book which I'm not familiar with, Hilaire Belloc's?
Bill Lindsey: Bad Child's Book of Beasts, yeah.
Mason Funk: Bad Child's Book of Beasts?
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] Can you tell us? Tell us the title again and what it was about, what was contained in that book?
Bill Lindsey: [00:12:00] The book was Hilaire Belloc's Bad Child's Book of Beasts. It was one of those moralizing books of the Victorian period that taught children that if you don't behave appropriately, something is going to happen to you, to punish you for failing to behave inappropriately. There was a little girl who slammed doors inconsiderately in her house and she ends up being flattened by a statue above a door that falls down on her. There was a little girl who taunted the lion in the lion's cage too many times and he pulled her in and ate her up.
There was a little boy, I suppose, who cried fire too many times out the top windows of his house and passerbys eventually stopped listening to him, and then one day he burned up in the house. They were meant to be humorous but meant to teach a moral tale at the same time, and Belloc I think himself had drawn the illustrations in the book. They were drawn little illustrations that made you laugh at the same time that you were horrified of what happened to the children.
Mason Funk: It's interesting really what that book sends out in your memory. Did it have an outside influence on you, would you say?
Bill Lindsey: I think it probably-
Mason Funk: If you would mention the title again.
Bill Lindsey: Okay. I think-
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] Just hold on. Okay.
Bill Lindsey: We can turn that off.
Mason Funk: That's okay.
Bill Lindsey: [00:13:30] I think Bad Child's Book of Beasts captured my imagination when I first read it. I must have been seven years old because it was funny and a little bit horrifying at the same time, and the combination I suppose, appealed to my seven year old self. It probably sentimentally meant a great deal to me because I was very close to the aunt, my mother's oldest sister, who gave me the book. She was a woman who never married and was very nurturing towards us as children, and there was always a sense that when things were turbulent in our household, we could go to my grandmother's household.
She lived in that household and kept house while teaching school, kept house for my grandmother and her brother, and she was a very nurturing and loving child-centered woman. She was like an alternate mother for me.
Mason Funk: I love that. I love hearing about these. Many, many times, people to have seemed to have these relatives who have stepped in when the nuclear family wasn't quite doing the job.
Bill Lindsey: [00:14:30] Yeah. I think that's so important and it's one of the things I grieve about the fragmentation of extended families in the United States right now in our culture. I wonder how children like me who sense that I was different in some way, that might be stigmatized, bookish, introverted, timid, frightened of my father who could be very brutal when he was drinking, always sensing that I didn't quite meet his expectations. It was important to have these other relatives that I could turn to, my grandmother, my mother's oldest sister, my father's brother, for affirmation and for protection really, for a sense of security that wasn't always there in my own family.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] Today, as you said, you mourn or you grieve, that this extended family system seems to be not functioning the same way?
Bill Lindsey: [00:16:00] I do. I think children are not on the whole – this is my impression – raised with the sense of closeness to aunts and uncles, to grandparents that I had. We lived a few blocks from my father's parents. They were always there in my life and more a stable presence. Their house was quiet and peaceful in comparison to my own. Part of the reason I think that those ties are fraying is that people are much more mobile nowadays and they're not raised as close geographically to family members as I was in my generation.
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] Great, okay. Let me see. Let me check my questions here. Now, you also mentioned growing up in Little Rock is in some ways synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement.
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Mason Funk: The integration of the Central High School, which I guess would've happened when you were seven.
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] Can you paint us a picture of maybe as a child what you were aware of in terms of the racial structure of the city, of the south, but primarily what you were able to see with your eyes, what the roles were, what was accepted and what wasn't, and so forth?
Bill Lindsey: I think most white southern children of my generation were raised in a way that tutored us from the time we were tiny children to see the world through the lens of race, through the lens of white superiority.
Mason Funk: Sorry. I've just overheard we had a plane.
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Mason Funk: But you were right.... Just start with that sentence over again.
Bill Lindsey: I'll do that.
Natalie Tsui: [00:17:30] [inaudible 00:17:33].
Mason Funk: Ben Lindsey, was that your-
Bill Lindsey: Father.
Mason Funk: Your father?
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Natalie Tsui: Let me just adjust this just a little bit since we're here. Maybe-
Bill Lindsey: I'll have another sip of water, if I may?
Mason Funk: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: Then, if you could adjust a little bit more?
Bill Lindsey: Tilt?
Natalie Tsui: No.
Bill Lindsey: [00:18:00] Like this?
Mason Funk: Actually, if you can actually straighten your chair towards me?
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Mason Funk: I see it's a little off-kilter.
Natalie Tsui: It's a little off.
Bill Lindsey: Like this?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's great, yeah.
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Just follow a little bit like you're trying to [inaudible 00:18:15].
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Mason Funk: [inaudible 00:18:15].
Bill Lindsey: Is this good?
Mason Funk: Yeah. It's good, yeah.
Natalie Tsui: I do have to get through this since we've … the plane is clear and the focus is good.
Bill Lindsey: [00:18:30] Should I just pick right back up with the-
Mason Funk: Yeah. I'll basically just start with the same question basically which was, what were you aware of? How were you raised? You used the word tutoring. Just start again with how the average white child of your era was as you say, raised to see the world in a certain way.
Bill Lindsey: [00:19:00] Yeah. I think most white children of my generation were tutored to see the world through the lens of race and white superiority. Southern writers like Wendell Berry in his book, The Hidden Wound, and Lillian Hellman in several of her books, Killers of the Dream, for example, have reflected on the way in which from the time they, and I can relate to their experience myself, were taught to see the world as a world divided into black and white with hierarchical arrangements that we took for granted.
White was superior and black was inferior. We were taught not to question that world. It was either there by nature or by God's design, and regardless of the explanation, it was immutable. It shouldn't be changed. All these somehow was inculcated in our thinking from the time we were very little. I can look back and even remember certain key moments in which I was given lessons about racial etiquette. I remember when I was very young, I must have been three years old, using the term colored lady, and my mother's mother took me on her lap and said, "We don't refer to colored women as ladies. They're women."
I remember asking, "Why is that?" She said, "It's just how things are." That's the kind of the lesson, a way of tutoring a child at a very young age to see the world through the lens of racism and white superiority.
Mason Funk: I'm going to have you stop for one second just again because of the plane.
Bill Lindsey: Sure. I'm sorry about that.
Mason Funk: That's okay. That's okay, not your responsibility.
Natalie Tsui: Wait, you can't stop that?
Bill Lindsey: [00:21:00] I wish I could.
Mason Funk: Can't you stop the planes? Okay, so carry on.
Bill Lindsey: I have vague memories. As you've mentioned, I was seven years old at the time that the crisis occurred at Central High School.
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] Do me a favor. Back up. Let's start this as a fresh thought. Set the stage for us. In 1957, something whatever happened at Central High School. The Federal government ordered, that's it. Then say, "I was seven years old and I have vague memories." Go from there.
Bill Lindsey: [00:22:00] Right. There was as you know a crisis in 1957 when the high school in Little Rock Central High was integrated and the Governor refused to permit the integration to take place, forcing the hand of President Eisenhower to send out national troops to protect the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students integrating the school. I was seven at the time and so of course what I remember of this is filtered through the memories of a very small child. I do remember discussions at Christmas dinner for example that year, and arguments around the dinner table with one of my mother's sisters who was a teacher, her second oldest sister, saying something that, even at the time, surprised me because it seems so nonsensical.
I remember her saying, "If I were one of them, I would be out marching for my rights too, but I can't possibly support their rights because my father was as a segregationist and I have to be a segregationist too." My mother's father was born in Alabama in 1869 so she was harking back to lessons that really came right out of the Civil War. It was when I began I think to enteradolescence that I started beginning to confront the fact that the social arrangements, the racism of my society, was not natural. It wasn't something that reflected a divine plan. It was constructed by white people to serve our interest and needs as white people.
I can remember little epiphanic moments if you want to call them that. We had a black woman who did washing and cleaning in my house, and this was when we lived in South Arkansas. We would drive her home every evening that she came to work in the house in our station wagon, going into one of the black neighborhoods in town whose streets weren't paved. All of the black neighborhoods in my community had unpaved streets, children standing by the side of the road, us like visitors from some other country with our assumptions of superiority in our station wagon, looking out the window at these children lining the dusty roads.
I remember one day thinking I could be one of those children. It's only accident that I'm inside this station wagon and they're standing outside, and that began to change the way I viewed the whole system in which I was growing up. I remember another incident in 1964 in my junior high class, took a trip to the world's fair in New York. While we were on that trip on a bus, all of us, the Civil Rights Act passed, and I remember the whole bus lamenting when the news broke that it had passed. All of us, 13 and 14 year old children, I joined in the lament and sitting next to me was my best friend at that time who turned out to be … all of my high school best friends turned out to be gay like me.
He turned to me and said to me, "I don't agree, black people have rights too." I remember that this came like a bolt of lightning for me to hear. I had never heard this. Shamefully, I had never even thought about it. It started me thinking. It changed my perspective.
Mason Funk: Do you remember details of what the junior high kids on that bus, what specifically they were … what were they lamenting? What did they object to?
Bill Lindsey: [00:26:30] There were children on the bus as we took this trip up through across Alabama up through Virginia, Maryland, Philadelphia, into New York. They had brought confederate flags and they taped them in the windows of the bus. I remember a certain point at which the teachers on the bus said, "This can no longer be permitted because you're going to elicit hostility to us and to the bus as you cross the Mason-Dixon Line." They were lamenting what they perceived as the end of a world-
Natalie Tsui: [00:27:00] [inaudible 00:27:00].
Mason Funk: Sorry about that.
Bill Lindsey: It's become a real symbol.
Mason Funk: Yeah, especially now, I guess.
Bill Lindsey: Even when Trump went to Poland, there was a confederate flag being flown by one of the right wing Poles. It's a symbol of white supremacy now.
Mason Funk: Okay, so we're speeding it?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, it's great.
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] Okay. Now, let's go back to that moment. Just take us back again. Tell us again about the kids on the bus putting rebel flags on the window and carry on from there.
Bill Lindsey: We were taking this bus trip from Arkansas, from South Arkansas to the world's fair in 1964.
Mason Funk: Sorry, the clock again. Okay, we better turn that clock off.
Natalie Tsui: All right. I'm just going to cut.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Bill Lindsey: I challenged her racism during the election. Now, she's jubilant that Trump won so this was payback.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Bill Lindsey: [00:28:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, wow. Your query is making me sick.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: God.
Bill Lindsey: Then Jesus in the bible, and little praying hands emoticons, so it's sick.
Mason Funk: Okay. Once again, we'll come back to that. Let's go back to the bus, the bus from South Arkansas to the world's fair.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: The atmosphere on the bus and the confederate flags.
Bill Lindsey: Should I start from the very beginning?
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Not the very beginning but you can say, "I was on this on bus with my junior high school class going to the world's fair."
Bill Lindsey: Yes. We were headed in 1964 to the world's fair. It was a trip, a class trip for my junior high school class from South Arkansas. I remember the bus going up through Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Virginia up through Maryland and Pennsylvania, into New York. I remember some of the children on the bus. I call them children because we were 13 or 14, having confederate flags and taping them into the windows of the bus. The teachers eventually told them, "We have to take these out because you're going to draw hostility to us by doing that."
I think their response to the Civil Rights Act which passed as we were taking this trip, was the response of people who believed that their world was ending with the Civil Rights Act. The world they had been taught to believe in as permanent, as superior, as something that they were going to defend at all cost, was going away and they were shattered and angry as a result of that. We continued in our high school in South Arkansas up to the point of integration which took place in 1967. We moved with all deliberate speed as the Supreme Court language said which meant we dragged our feet up to the moment that we were about to lose federal funding.
We continued right up to the point of integration at every assembly in the school to bring a confederate flag and an American flag into the assembly side by side. As the two flags were marched down the aisle to be put on the stage or the dais, Dixie was played and the whole school would shout, "The South will rise again," as the flags were crossed and the confederate flag was crossed over the American flag. That ended only when the school was integrated in 1967. That's the world in which I grew up.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's truly amazing. It sounds like a scene out of a movie.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: You watched it and witnessed it.
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] I'm really curious as to you already mentioned being bookish, timid, not necessarily in step with the mainstream of your peers, and maybe at some point along the way, of starting to having awareness of your own sexuality. How did that … it's really hard to probably pin down, but in terms of you having perceptions about racial issues, discrimination and your own evolving awareness of you also being someone who eventually could be put outside or who was an outsider, how did that all developed, if that's not too broad or vague a question? How did those to your own awareness of being gay and of discrimination against blacks for example, how did those two issues begin to come together, at that age perhaps?
Bill Lindsey: [00:32:30] I would say initially I was much more aware ... once my eyes were opened to use the biblical metaphor, the scales fell from my eyes about racism, about the system of segregation. Initially, that was the Civil Rights cause that really engaged my passion. I remember in my college years, I went to Loyola University in New Orleans. There were still some marches going on due to Civil Right.
Mason Funk: I'm so sorry.
Natalie Tsui: There's a weird-
Mason Funk: Bird.
Bill Lindsey: [00:33:00] It's a bird outside screeching.
Natalie Tsui: It's really loud.
Bill Lindsey: It is, isn't it?
Mason Funk: Does it do that? Can we chase it? [inaudible 00:33:09] chasing it away?
Bill Lindsey: We could. He could even tap on the window maybe Natalie, if you want to tap on the window?
Mason Funk: Tap on the window a little bit.
Natalie Tsui: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] That's so funny.
Bill Lindsey: It sounds like a parent bird that might have a fledgling and the fledgling has fallen out of its nest.
Mason Funk: No.
Bill Lindsey: I suspect that's probably what's happened. It sounds like a blue jay. They're very aggressive.
Natalie Tsui: That's a blue jay.
Bill Lindsey: Is it? Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: It was looking off and going like, and then it would hop higher and higher and be like.
Bill Lindsey: I think it's quiet for now.
Natalie Tsui: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It seems to go away mostly.
Natalie Tsui: [00:34:00] It's farther away. I was tapping on the window trying to scare it. Let's see if I can hear it. We're good.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: [inaudible 00:34:03].
Mason Funk: Dear. You're on a roll too. Let's just start. You really said that … I can't remember how we started but you were talking about how awareness of the Civil Rights issues became a passion for you.
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Okay.
Bill Lindsey: [00:35:00] Yeah. I think given the world in which I was raised with this pronounced racism that tinged everything, the cult of white superiority, Lillian Smith says, "We believe that in the land of epidermis, everybody with a white skin was a king or a queen." She grew up in I believe Georgia, being taught that. Once the scales began to fall from my eyes as a young adolescent about all of these, and I began to see this as not natural, not by divine revelation but socially constructed, then the Civil Rights Movement became foundational for me.
When I went off to college at Loyola in New Orleans, there were simultaneous demonstrations going on around the campus both due to the Civil Rights issue. I remember for example a bar near Loyola that was refusing to serve mixed race couples, and we marched to protest this. Simultaneously there were these demonstrations going on and then demonstrations about the war in Vietnam, but it was the Civil Rights ones that engaged my passion because they tied into my own history, what I had seen, what I had experienced, the falling of scales from my eyes.
You ask how that connects to the question of gay rights, of LGBTQ rights, for me autobiographically, again I would say that the Civil Rights Movement was foundational. I began to build, as I became aware that I was gay and began to come out of the closet, I began to build on insights that had been foundational to me from the Civil Rights struggle. So I could completely understand the perspective of James Baldwin or Bayard Rustin who saw this carryover between the movement for African-American rights, rights for people of color, and the movement for LGBTQ people.
As Bayard Rustin said, he spent time on both crosses and they were in some ways, the same cross, the denial of his humanity, both because of the pigmentation he had and because of his sexual orientation.
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] That's great. That's great stuff and I want to circle back to that. I remember in your notes you mentioned witnessing racial violence in your own community and I think it's important again just to document specifically what you saw.
Bill Lindsey: [00:38:00] Yes. There was violence right in my community in South Arkansas as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. In my senior year in high school, three of my classmates, three boys, shot and killed a black boy in cold blood. They were passing by his house. He was sitting on his porch. They shot him and they … though there was legal action, I don't know all of the technical details. They were exonerated, they got off. This happened and it was as if it fell into the abyss of history even though the whole town had a sense of what really had happened and that the backdrop to this violence was hostility due to the integrating of the schools.
In that same year, I was out driving with my two closest friends both of whom as I mentioned, have turned out to be gay as adults. One died of AIDS, both friends that I'd had for years in Baptist Sunday School. We were out driving one evening and we happened on a Klan rally taking place on the outskirts of our town, so I saw with my own eyes the Klan burning crosses. We stopped the car and watched and listened. You could hear some of the speeches. Men, women, children, you could tell that some were women under the robes because of their size, and obviously some were children.
Fiery speeches about race and protecting the white race, and using the symbol of the cross to justify all of these. When our high school was integrated, it was plastered with lurid, printed flyers that I suspect were produced by the Klan or the White Citizens' Council predicting all sorts of chaos and all sorts of destruction of the white race if integration took place. Pictures of blonde, young women dancing with black men, and we were told this would lead to … the flyers said, "This would lead to the mongrelization of the race and this is something we don't want." One of those two friends I had, the one who went to New York and died of AIDS, kept samples of them so that he wouldn't forget that this actually happened in our own lives. Yeah.
Mason Funk: You touched on something that I think is important from historical perspective. Somebody else had enlightened me recently to the way the Klan was viewed and the White Citizens' Council, and they were different organizations and they had different social strata from what I understand.
Bill Lindsey: [00:41:00] Yes.
Mason Funk: Can you just explain that for us, to someone who doesn't know what these two organizations were, and how they were viewed by different white folk depending on where you came from?
Bill Lindsey: [00:41:30] Yeah. There was I would say, overlap between the White Citizens' Council and the Klan. There was always the fiction that upper class southern people, professional people, educated people, white people, were somehow racially benign in comparison to working class white people. When the Klan was talked about, the implication was well, these have to be working class white people, the sort who want to stir up violence and do damage. They're not nice as we are. The White Citizens' Council gave a facade of respectability to racism but there's a very interesting book, I can't at this moment recall the name of the person who wrote it or even the title.
This is a woman who grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights period. She grew up with that same fiction, hearing it constantly; her family belonged to a country club in Birmingham. I think her father was a lawyer and she began to dig as an adult and a journalist into the history of the bombings in Birmingham. The more information she amassed, the more she came to the very uncomfortable conclusion that her own father had some tie to all of this violence. It was hidden. It was separated. The pretense was that affluent or professional, or educated white southern families were disconnected from the violence.
They were part of it. There were strings that tied the two organizations together and everyone knew this, but wouldn't talk about it.
Mason Funk: Maybe they were almost like they would get the Klan to … in one way or another, get the Klan to do their dirty work?
Bill Lindsey: [00:43:30] Exactly. As my black friends say, "White people often throw rocks and hide their hands," and this was especially true in the case of organizations like the White Citizens' Council, and something you have to keep in mind is that as all of this was unfolding, year after year, the 1950s, the 1960s, the churches on the whole were doing nothing to stand the tide of the violence. Why would they when many of the white evangelical churches of the south had actually split their churches, the Baptist, the Methodist, the Presbyterians, over the issue of slavery?
They had been willing to split the church over the issue of slavery. They then defended Jim Crow. They were silent about the lynchings in the Jim Crow period. They fought against integration. They defended segregation, and so they were silent about the violence that was occurring in southern communities during the process of integration. I eventually chose to leave the Southern Baptist Church that my family was attending because it split over the question of whether to accept black members. I think this might have been in 1965.
I remember going to the pastor of the church and asking, "How can we do this? How can this be? This seems like a clear moral issue to me," and I remember his saying, "The church has to move more slowly than society does. We have to let this be worked out by society itself, and then the church can take its stand." What Martin Luther King decried as the willingness of the church to be the tail light rather than the headlight of social change.
Mason Funk: Why did that regular pastor think that it was the church's responsibility to go slower than society?
Bill Lindsey: [00:46:00] I think this was a justification for not ruffling the feathers of the people who put money on the collection plate of the church, Sunday after Sunday. He knew that many of the business and professional leaders of our town were staunch segregationists, and that if he spoke out, they would make him pay financially. I've seen this exactly the same dynamic in southern churches. It's still going on in many white evangelical churches in the south over the question of gay rights, accepting gay people. There's a very influential Methodist church only a few blocks from here, has very wealthy members
some of them nationally prominent people. It has great difficulty coming to any open acceptance and welcome of gay people because there will be financial reprisal if it takes that stand.
Mason Funk: Wow. Okay, this is all good stuff. Now, so you had not been raised Catholic?
Bill Lindsey: No.
Mason Funk: You went to Loyola and I don't know if there's a connection there in terms of when you became, when you made a decision to align yourself with the Catholic Church, which obviously for its part has been seen, has been in both ends of the spectrum when it comes to say social change.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: How did you decide to become a Catholic?
Bill Lindsey: [00:47:30] I became a Catholic … I've referred to the split in my family, Southern Baptist Church. I think this was in 1965 after the Civil Rights Act when some black families in town considered becoming members of the church and there was a big debate in the church about whether to accept black members or not. It split the church even though we eventually decided that we would open the door to black members. This debate and the response of my pastor to it disillusioned me so much that I decided, I can't be part of this church any longer.
The Catholic Church in our small town in South Arkansas by contrast seemed progressive about racial matters. It had integrated without fanfare, long since, and so at least part of what drew me to the Catholic Church was that, that I saw the church exemplifying what I thought should be how churches behaved racially, black people and white people sitting in pew side by side, and praying without any distinction. Probably there was some family tug to the Catholic Church because one of my mother's grandmothers was an Irish born Catholic woman who came to Arkansas as a little girl with her family.
That was something woven into our family history that we talked about and felt pride in, so there was that too. My choice to go to Loyola was a choice to go to a Catholic college after I had become Catholic. It was when I was 17 that I joined the Catholic Church. Little did I know that down the road, the Catholic Church would repudiate human rights when it came to LGBTQ people, so this has been one of the tragedies of that decision. I chose the Catholic Church because I thought it took a courageous progressive stance regarding the Civil Rights of African-American people. Then, it pulled a rug out from under me as a gay person.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] This is jumping forward in time but did you ever … Did that ever get to the point where you thought you might have to leave the Catholic Church?
Bill Lindsey: [00:50:30] Yes. I would call myself now a disconnected, alienated former Catholic. I don't see a place in the Catholic Church any longer for people who are LGBTQ. I admire people who hang on and can stay connected but as far as I'm concerned there's not a place, no place has been made for us. It's as if a table has been set and there's not a place set at the table for people who are LGBTQ. I don't think you can claim that you're giving people a place when you insist that you have a right to fire them because of who they are or who they love.
I just don't think you can put that together with any claim that you're making a place foror welcoming those people. That's how I've come to see it.
Mason Funk: [00:51:30] I interviewed a very interesting man in Los Angeles named Richard Zaldivar, who is a prominent local activist. He started eight service organization to serve the Latino community and he was raised Catholic, Mexican-American parents, and to this day, still as he says in his interview, "Goes to the Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles every Sunday and sits in the front row with his partner in front of a non-conservative archbishop." His stance is, if you feel like you deserve a place at the table, you don't need the table.
Bill Lindsey: Right, yeah.
Mason Funk: How you've grappled with that question, I'm sure, and come to a different conclusion in a way?
Bill Lindsey: Yeah. I can see that and I honor that.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] When you say that, tell me what you're talking about.
Bill Lindsey: [00:52:30] I honor that claim or assertion of some Catholics that, "It's my church too and I intend to stay as an LGBTQ person." I can't say that the church should have a place at the table if I don't assert my right to take that place. What it makes me see it differently is my unique experience. I would say as a theologian who was employed by Catholic colleges and who eventually found his career shattered, for reasons of sexual orientation because of my long-standing relationship with Steve, who's now my husband.
I can't see things otherwise now after my career was destroyed. My vocation, taken away, my livelihood removed from me, healthcare coverage. There were years of intense struggle just to make a go of it after we both lost our jobs. From my perspective, we were decisively pushed away from the table by the church and I see that happening again and again to gay and lesbian, and transgender, and bisexual people working in Catholic institutions. It's just a story that doesn't end. You can open the paper on almost any day of the week and read another story about somebody fired by Catholic institutions.
Those of us who have gone through that experience have a different place in terms of, I would argue, in terms of being accepted at the table or not. I think it would be very different if you had never experienced that direct oppression by the institution itself. I can honor those people who keep going and I think they're important that they do keep claiming a place, yeah.
Mason Funk: This is obviously a story that we need to get into. It's interesting to me, you didn't mention this in your questionnaire in a direct way that I noticed. You losing your career, in fact both of you and Steve.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:54:30] Tell us what happened.
Bill Lindsey: [00:55:00] Steve and I met at Loyola when I was a student there in 1971. He had been a student at St. John's University in Collegeville Minnesota. He burned his draft card and was hitchhiking down to Mexico where he intended to work in a mission. He had a cousin who lived near a mission in Southern Mexico. We met and I convinced him to go back to college and complete his education, and we've been together ever since. We lived many years with the fiction, which was a fiction we cherished even for ourselves:
we told ourselves is that we were just intimate friends. This was just a phase. It would someday be over. We decided in the mid-1970s to go off to graduate school and do theology degrees in Toronto at Toronto School of Theology, St. Michael's College. It's a consortium of different denominational schools. We were enrolled through the Catholic college at St. Michael's. We both got doctorates in Catholic theology and eventually when we started looking for jobs, we both found ourselves hired by universities in New Orleans.
I was hired by Xavier University, a historically black Catholic university, and Steve was hired to teach at the Seminary, Notre Dame Seminary. After about seven years, I was offered tenure at Xavier. At the same time, Steve went through the tenure process at Notre Dame and even though he was voted unanimously to receive tenure by the faculty and students, director of the university unilaterally denied tenure to him. This caused us to have to look for other jobs if we wanted to stay together.
I turned down the tenure at Xavier University in New Orleans and we both were lucky enough to find jobs at a small Catholic college in North Carolina called Belmont Abbey College. Background to that story, it's a Benedictine school. Steve grew up in a family that has lots of Benedictine relatives. Two of his aunts, his father's two sisters, are Benedictine nuns. They've been exceptionally kind to us and supportive, so I think Steve's familial Benedictine ties played a certain role in our securing those two jobs.
Within two years unfortunately after we had taught theology at this school, I suddenly was presented with a terminal contract even though I had glowing evaluations. They told me I'd published more than any faculty member the year I was given this contract, had great teaching evaluations, and so forth. I asked for an explanation of the terminal contract and they refused to give it to me. Then, they started lying and saying that they had told me the reason for the contract but that they wouldn't put it in writing.
None of that had happened. I had no choice except to resign, and then within another year or two, they've terminated Steve's job. At the same time, they terminated a sizable, handful of faculty and staff, all of whom were thought to be lesbian or gay and that ended our career as Catholic theologians. Since then, we have the impression that we're blackballed. We've never been able to find another job as Catholic theologians. The work Steve does which fortunately brings in a good income to support both of us is fundraising work for the medical school at the University of Arkansas.
He's working outside his field and has a certain degree of mourning about losing his vocation as a theologian but we need the job to live.
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] How about you? How have you been choosing the mourning of that loss? How is that one?
Bill Lindsey: [01:00:00] I think I've gone from mourning to fighting. I think I surprised the institution, Belmont Abbey College, the Catholic Church, by fighting back, and by pushing for an explanation of my job. I've become a blogger, I write. In some ways, having this happen loosened my tongue so that I could speak out specifically about how the church treats LGBT people. Up to that point, we had lived the sort of... in Catholic institutions then, and I have the impression, it's still the same, you have to walk a very fine line for the most part if you're gay or lesbian, and especially if you're in a relationship, or transgender.
It's a don't ask don't tell arrangement. You have to pretend that over here is your private life and here is your public life, and the two don't meet. Losing my job, our jobs in that way, loosened my tongue so that I could speak out in a way I couldn't as long as I was within the institution, walking that fine line.
Mason Funk: That's great. We have more to cover but I think this was a good time to take a break.
Bill Lindsey: Sure. I hope I'm not just babbling on.
Mason Funk: You're doing great.
Bill Lindsey: Good.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Natalie Tsui: [inaudible 01:01:11].
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Okay. I think before I forget, I would like to talk about this recent comment that, not about your cousin per se, “You queers make me sick,” but what do you sense is ... I read somewhere along the way that northerners have hard times understanding the southern mentality. It's kind of a siege mentality, it seems. It seems like the church also today is portraying itself as under siege. I wonder if that's … what are your thoughts on this, the comparison between say the south and the church, and asserting as... you're trying to tell us what to do, which nobody likes, and you're trying to take away our values?
How do we as queer people respond when people tell us that they feel like we're A?, we're shoving our values down their throats and we're trying to tell them what to do?
Bill Lindsey: [01:03:00] Yeah. That's a big question to answer. Yes. I think definitely this is a big factor in the political scene today, white evangelicals came out at historic rates to vote for Donald Trump. It's very clear that it was the white evangelical vote, 81% of white evangelicals, something approaching 60% of white Catholics, Mormons. By definition when you say Mormons, almost all white. About 60% of Mormons voted for Donald Trump. These are the base that put him into the office and the base of the Republican Party right now.
How do queer people deal with this reality? Robert Jones just wrote ... You might know that he wrote the book, End of White Christian America. He's the descendant of several generations of Baptist pastors in Georgia from the same county in which my father's mother had roots, Twiggs County. He knows the white south intimately. He wrote a book called, The End of White Christian America, in which he says, "White evangelicals in particular do feel under siege right now." They recognize that their demographic control of society is waning of American society.
Natalie Tsui: Refrigerator.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Refrigerator did kick on.
Bill Lindsey: Sorry.
Natalie Tsui: That's all right.
Bill Lindsey: It's a thread. Mason, I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: That's okay. I remember where we were, roughly anyway.
Natalie Tsui: [01:04:30] We're rolling.
Mason Funk: It was about this book. I think you can start by saying, a guy ... it's interesting that he's from a peculiar county, but the most important thing is a guy recently wrote a book called The End of White Christian America, and he expresses this feeling that their values are being stripped away, and how do we as queer people respond?
Bill Lindsey: [01:05:00] Yeah. Robert P. Jones has written a book called, The End of White Christian America. He's just published post-Trump election an appendix, if you will, to it, a kind of reflection on what the election of Trump means in light of the thesis of the book. The thesis is white Christians, and especially white evangelicals, do feel under siege, and their response is to want to turn the clock back to the imagined golden age of the 1950s. He thinks this played a big role in the choice of so many white evangelicals to come out and vote for Trump.
He also thinks that it's not going to be an effective strategy in the long run for two reasons. The demographic changes that white evangelicals and white Christians in general are fighting, are not going to shift. Racially, the country is becoming more diverse, less white. It's certainly becoming less Christian than it was in the past. Gay and lesbian people are out of the closet. Transgender people, they are not going to go back to where they were before. We aren't, without a tremendous fight.
The other thing he thinks that is going to be ineffective is the strategy of linking the future and the brand of white evangelicals to Donald Trump. They're going to sink or swim with Donald Trump and probably in all likelihood eventually, to sink rather than to swim. How should queer people deal with this? I think we have to just continue being who we are, insisting on our right to be who we are, to have the rights that other people in the population enjoy, not conceding in any way to the demand that we return to the closet that we forfeit rights, fighting if necessary, I think is what we have to do.
My analogy would be to look back again foundationally to the Civil Rights Movement in the American south. One of the lessons I think I learned then is that you don't let people who want to act as a brake on necessary social change, you don't let them determine the future of a society. They will be there and they'll always work to stop the social change but you have to step around them. No society that wants to have a vibrant or viable future can let itself be controlled by those who are, William Buckley called the conservative movement, a movement to stand astride history and to shout "no." You can't let those people control the future of a society if you want a future, and so it seems to me.
Mason Funk: [01:08:30] Why did William Buckley and these people by definition to a certain extent anyway, they believe that by shouting "no," that that is in a weird way a constructive stance that it's about saying "no" as opposed to saying "yes" to something? I don't know if you can answer that question, but why do they think that saying "no" is the answer?
Bill Lindsey: [01:09:00] That's a question I'm not sure I even know how to answer. Why was the strategy of the Republican Party throughout the Obama administration totally obstructionist? I think that the reason is that those who say "no" relentlessly enough and powerfully enough ultimately control what happens, and so it's an issue of control, I would say. They want a control over the shape of society and its future that they feel they're being denied. They certainly felt this in the period of the Obama presidency, though he was in so many ways such a centrist person. What were they frightened of? What were they reacting against?
I think in personal relationships the partner who always says "no" really is controlling the relationship. You can't go any further than the "no"that one person places in the relationship, so "no" is a way of controlling.
Mason Funk: [01:10:30] What role do you see when our society is clearly still grappling with white supremacy? This notion it's very, very ingrained. Here you are, you and I two white males, cisgender men talking to each other. How can the queer community become help to dismantle white supremacy?
Bill Lindsey: [01:11:00] I think the queer community has to dismantle white supremacy. If you go to any large southern city and look at the queer community, Little Rock is no exception, what you'll find is that it is highly stratified according to gender, according to race, according to social class. We don't have a cohesive gay community, queer community, in Little Rock because we can't somehow negotiate all of those chasms of class, gender, and race, so we're fragmented. We're pulled into a little cliques with white gay men who have money and professional status trying to control everything.
In many southern cities, I've just visited a friend in Charlotte, and this is true of Charlotte. I saw it in New Orleans. I think it's true in Atlanta. In many southern cities, white gay men can be viciously racist and viciously misogynistic by taking that approach to building an alliance. What they're doing is building into the queer alliance all sorts of defeat because we need solidarity between each of these groups of people within our alliance if we're going to make any dent especially in places like Little Rock.
It's very hard for affluent white men whether they're gay or straight to relinquish control, however. Society has revolved around white men for so long that we take for granted, it's our right to define how things are understood and to define movements. I think we have to combat the racism within the gay community especially within the white male gay community head on. We have to do education about the need to build alliances that are intersectional that cross boundary lines.
You can see some of that and the possibilities that hold with the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina that Rev. William Barber has been able to put together.
Mason Funk: [01:13:30] Yeah. One thing, we were interviewing this woman yesterday, Charlotte Wilson and she's so funny. She had said "I'm not a Liberal. I have some friends who are Liberals,” but she's a radical. She has as much distrust to Liberals as she does of conservatives. She said, "White supremacy …" She's a white woman. She said, "White supremacy really is a soul-killing phenomenon." It's not just that it's unjust. It's self-destructive. What-
Natalie Tsui: Sorry, I'm just going to make an adjustment before you ask your question.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Bill Lindsey: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: His collar popped up and can I get this ... scoot one inch over to your right.
Bill Lindsey: To my right?
Natalie Tsui: Yup, that's it.
Bill Lindsey: How's that?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, that's perfect.
Bill Lindsey: [01:14:00] Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Okay, that's great. Okay. Yeah. Now you can lean.
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: I'll walk into [inaudible 01:14:05].
Bill Lindsey: Great.
Mason Funk: When I was asking that question you were nodding in agreement. What was your take on that idea?
Bill Lindsey: [01:14:30] Yeah. To be autobiographical, I mentioned to you, you asked about white supremacy as a soul-killing phenomenon. I mentioned to you an experience I had just this week where a cousin of mine logged into my Facebook page and left a message which began with the statement, "You queers make me sick," and then moved on to Jesus and the bible, and praying hands emoticons. As I thought about what she did, what I realized was that the genesis of her hostility has to do with the 2016 elections when she also had come to my Facebook page to vent racial hatred.
She is someone who is deeply consumed by racial hostility. Why she's that way?, I don't quite understand. I don't quite get but I can see as I think about what's happened to her and how she views the world that there's something deeply soul-killing about her need to hate people on racial grounds and then to wrap this up in the bible, and Jesus, and images of Jesus. I've spent the week thinking about the theme of hatred and what hatred does to people, and I definitely would say, racial hatred, white superiority, which is grounded in racial hatred, kills a soul. It destroys a soul. It's like taking a snake to your bosom and holding it close, and not expecting it to bite.
These are themes explored by Lillian Smith, I mentioned her previously, who by the way was a lesbian from Georgia, in her book Killers of the Dream, writing about ... really what she was writing about is how racism and white supremacy among white southerners doesn't only harm black people as the object of discrimination, but it also harms white people by destroying their souls. It gives us the illusion that we're somebody simply because of the accident of pigmentation and race is a fiction anyway. We know genetically that we all a stem from the same racial pool ultimately, so it's a very artificial way to divide human beings up.
Mason Funk: Great. Natalie, do you have questions?
Natalie Tsui: I guess I have one which is, are you still religious? Then if you are, how do you reconcile your queerness with religion?
Mason Funk: You can answer me as if she's still invisible.
Natalie Tsui: [01:17:30] Just ignore.
Bill Lindsey: [01:18:00] I would describe myself as someone who at a very deep level, has religious convictions. I refuse to let people who define me as worthless, lead me to define myself as someone who doesn't believe in some divine ground for my life. In terms of religion, I'm not formally religious any longer. Just this past week when we celebrated the 4th of July and people began to talk about Frederick Douglass' powerful statement about what the 4th of July means to people who have been enslaved, one of the lines that leapt out to me is that as I read it again, is that he said … I'm paraphrasing. He said, "I'd far rather an atheist or an infidel, than to believe in the kind of Christianity being preached to me by the divines of the white churches in the United States."
Again, I'm circling back to that foundational Civil Rights Movement that has meant so much in my life. I see exactly what he's talking about and that's where I am too, it’s very hard. Steve and I both feel this way. It's hard to find any connection to most churches that we know anything about because they simply aren't willing to engage some of the structures of oppression in our society, racial oppression, being one of them. That doesn't mean that I've given up completely on the concept of spirituality or of belief in God. Those are too much woven into my being, I think, for me to give up on them.
Mason Funk: Great. Other question, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: That's it for me. Thank you.
Bill Lindsey: Yes.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] You mentioned in your questionnaire that your brother's death had a major impact on your life, the trajectory of your life. Can you tell us about that?
Bill Lindsey: Yeah. It does happened my brother died right I spoke earlier about our taking jobs after-
Mason Funk: If you don't refer to what you said earlier?
Bill Lindsey: [01:20:30] Okay. Steve and I were looking for jobs together. This was in 1991 after I was given tenure, offered tenure at Xavier University in New Orleans. Steve was denied tenure at Notre Dame University. Jobs opened up for us at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. At the very same time that this happened, my brother died. I received word from my mother that he went through recurring periods of severe drunkenness and he had done this again. This time, he wasn't going to come out of it. His liver had failed and that he was in intensive care and expected to die, so I came home to Arkansas and was with him as he died.
Something about that experience galvanized something in me where I decided when we ... if we took these other jobs together, even if I had to live with this don't ask don't tell fiction within a Catholic university context, I wasn't going to pretend or apologize about the fact that I was gay and living in a committed gay relationship. I didn't have to tell people about this but if they asked, I would be honest about it. Something about my brother's death led me to see that I have to be absolutely true to who I am even if it means I pay a price because life is finite.
I've watched someone I grew up with, this is the first death I had ever actually been present at., I watched that person stop breathing and his heart stopped pumping on the heart monitor, and what I decided is life is finite. It's too short not to be who you are even if you pay a price. For me, that meant who I am as a gay person in a committed gay relationship that is now a marriage. It was very important to me after that to be true to myself and there are people who have told me, "Well this is probably what caused you to be fired eventually," because I didn't apologize in any way for who I was when we took these new jobs.
At the same time, I tried to play the game because that was the only way one a person could survive teaching in a Catholic university as a gay person at that period. and I suspect it's not much different right now.
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] You would love meeting a woman we interviewed, a transgender woman in Michigan last summer, who had been fired from her Baptist university teaching position for what she came out as transgender.
Bill Lindsey: [01:24:00] It's just with church-related schools. Yeah. It's just so sad. It's so tragic. I don't know what they think they're doing in terms of the brand of Christianity. The gospels, Jesus never says a single word about any of these things. It obviously was not the focus of his concern but he did say a mouthful about love and justice, and setting a table for everybody. He invited to his table people who were outcast in his society, broke the religious rules of his culture to do that. I don't know what these Christian institutions think they're doing. They're certainly not transmitting the gospel message or honoring the memory of Jesus as the gospel is portraying. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] We'll talk over lunch about my conversations with my younger brother, a steadfast conservative. Let's see. Yeah, I think it's 12:15, I just realize. We should do our final four questions. We have the same final four for every person. These are intended to be just little snippets, little quick bits of wisdom or whatever. To someone who comes to you and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," whatever that might mean for that person. What piece of wisdom, pearl, if you want to call that of wisdom, would you offer that person?
Bill Lindsey: [01:25:30] I would say absolutely, "Yes, come out. You will find that life is entirely different once you've come out. There will be ups and there will be downs. You'll be surprised that some people that you thought would be supportive won't be. You'll be surprised that some people you thought would not be supportive will be. Ultimately, what you accomplish in yourself by coming out, it's worth no matter what happens to you."
Mason Funk: Great.
Bill Lindsey: Yeah.
Mason Funk: What is your hope for the future?
Bill Lindsey: [01:26:00] My hope for the future is for a world in which people live together more harmoniously regardless of gender, sexual orientation, national identity, social status. Again, this is part of that spiritual religious backdrop that's just part of my life. I believe in that vision of the world that we have to keep moving towards it and working towards it.
Mason Funk: Why was it important to you or why is it important to you to tell your story?
Bill Lindsey: [01:27:00] Our story is all we have. Ultimately, it's who we are. Just recently, I was doodling about, by doodling, I mean sketching, a verbal sketch about stories, and it occurred to me I have a tendency to tell strong stories. The reason I tell strong stories is that I need a strong story for my own life in order to hold myself together. We're only given one story in a sense, and if we don't learn to tell that in a strong way, we've lost the thread of our existence, it seems to me.
Mason Funk: Great. That's an interesting perspective out of that. Last but not least, this project OUTWORDS being a collection, a cataloging, or cataloging of stories like yours from people all over the country, what do you see is the value of that, from a project like OUTWORDS, and if you can mention OUTWORDS in your answer?
Bill Lindsey: [01:28:00] I think what OUTWORDS is doing is really important to collect history that would otherwise be lost, and to do it in a wide and diverse way. The other aspect of this project, the OUTWORDS project, that seems to me really important is we think that things have gotten better for LGBT young people, but that's not the case in many parts of the country. LGBT young people need to hear the stories of-
Mason Funk: Sorry. Just hold that thought, LGBT young people.
Natalie Tsui: [01:28:30] I think it started a little like a-
Mason Funk: Okay. If you can say, "We think that things have gotten better"?
Bill Lindsey: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: I think we're good. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: We're still here.
Mason Funk: Okay, sorry. Yeah. It's droning?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. Maybe just-
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this. You said at first, you said there were two points. One was that present source of history won't be lost, then you said there's a second. Start there with the whole second idea, the second reason why OUTWORDS is important.
Natalie Tsui: [01:29:00] It’s gone.
Bill Lindsey: [01:29:30] Okay. The second reason I think OUTWORDS is really important is that we have a tendency to think now that things are better for LGBT young people in the United States but I don't think that's true in many parts of the country. In fact, I think there's been a backlash reaction as people have come out of the closet, a backlash to Obergefell. LGBT young people are experiencing forms of oppression, bullying in schools, hostility from family members that are accentuated now.
It's very important for those LGBT youth to know that people have walked down this path before, that doors have been opened for them, that there are many different ways of being LGBT and they have role models. I think that if they look carefully, they can find these role models. I think what OUTWORDS is doing is providing stories that allow young people who are LGBT to find somebody that they can see as a role model and to realize they're not alone. That seems important to me. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Great.
Bill Lindsey: Good?
Mason Funk: That's perfect. You survived.
Bill Lindsey: Great.
Mason Funk: [01:30:30] We're going to do something called room tone which is we're going to just record this room with nobody talking for 30 seconds.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. Room tone. One of the dogs is barking outside.
Mason Funk: Really?
Natalie Tsui: [01:31:00] Yes, like bark, bark, bark.
Mason Funk: I think you're hearing a clock. You're hearing a clock-
Bill Lindsey: It's the clock.
Mason Funk: Which has been going the whole time.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Natalie Tsui: Okay. We'll continue on. Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] The fridge, we forgot the fridge.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] In this meeting, okay. Do me a favor. Tell me the date and location of your birth.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. One of the things I really appreciate about being able to talk to you is that you are a Little Rock native and you still live in Little Rock, which I think gives us a huge opportunity just to get a sense of Little Rock history. We will, but first of all, just give me … paint me a picture of your family, the family you were born into. Who was your mom? Who was your dad? Were there siblings, and what's the family … what kind of family was it?
Bill Lindsey: [00:02:00] That's a hard question to answer, what kind of family I came from. I would say it was a very typical southern white evangelical family. My father was a native of Louisiana. He was born in Northwest Louisiana. His parents were farming in Red River Parish, Louisiana when he was a boy, and then when oil was discovered in South Arkansas, they moved up there because there were jobs. They were barely eking out living as farmers at the time my father was born. My mother was born and grew up about 20 miles south of Little Rock.
Bill Lindsey: [00:04:00] It was. Yeah, yeah. We were I would say culturally Southern Baptists. When we went to church, we went to Southern Baptist churches. I have the impression that we went to church primarily because it was a social obligation and it was good for my father's career as a lawyer, so we tended to go to church more after he really established his law practice in South Arkansas. I'm not sure I would say we were completely melded with the Southern Baptist church. I had friends who were much more committed Southern Baptists who would go to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] I love that you brought up Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite authors for sure. Obviously this woman who had just this piercing look into the hypocrisies, as you said, the inconsistencies between religion and ordinary life, and so on. I don't want to necessarily dig up old family dirt, but what were some of the ways that your family was one thing to the community maybe and one thing behind closed doors, or some of the more gothic side?
Bill Lindsey: [00:06:00] Yes. One of the obvious things was that my father was a heavy drinker. He was an alcoholic. When he initially established a law practice here in Little Rock, he ended up going bankrupt and that had much to do with his drinking problem. It persisted throughout his life and he died tragically young at the age of 49 as a result of a car accident he had driving intoxicated. When you grow up in a small town that is heavily evangelical in ethos and there's alcoholism in your family, it's as though you're living a kind of open secret. You have the impression that everybody in the community knows this but you're instructed never to talk about it.
Bill Lindsey: [00:07:30] I had two brothers. I'm the oldest. I had a brother who was 16 months younger than I was. Unfortunately, he ended up succumbing to the same illness of alcoholism that my father had and died also tragically young at the age of 39. I have a younger brother who's still living. He's in Austin, Texas right now. I would say that the familial alcoholism took a real toll on all of us as children. There was that sense of the secret that is not to be talked about. The shame of having a father who was sometimes there and sometimes not there, not knowing what to tell people, his clients who would call and say that he was missing meetings, not knowing how to explain the fact that he was away because he was drinking.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] Would you say helpless was one of the dominant feelings you had growing up in this environment?
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Were those some of the questions you ask yourself in the book?
Bill Lindsey: [00:10:00] I think so. Yeah, looking back. I think that early in life, I learned to escape into a world of books. I was a very bookish little boy once I learned to read. Reading widely became a way that I held on to my own identity in the middle of a family life that was sometimes chaotic and threatened to pull me into the chaos in a way that I lost a sense of my own identity. This is how I see it looking back as an adult. Reading was extremely important to me for that reason and reading widely.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] Can you tell us? Tell us the title again and what it was about, what was contained in that book?
Bill Lindsey: [00:12:00] The book was Hilaire Belloc's Bad Child's Book of Beasts. It was one of those moralizing books of the Victorian period that taught children that if you don't behave appropriately, something is going to happen to you, to punish you for failing to behave inappropriately. There was a little girl who slammed doors inconsiderately in her house and she ends up being flattened by a statue above a door that falls down on her. There was a little girl who taunted the lion in the lion's cage too many times and he pulled her in and ate her up.
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] Just hold on. Okay.
Bill Lindsey: [00:13:30] I think Bad Child's Book of Beasts captured my imagination when I first read it. I must have been seven years old because it was funny and a little bit horrifying at the same time, and the combination I suppose, appealed to my seven year old self. It probably sentimentally meant a great deal to me because I was very close to the aunt, my mother's oldest sister, who gave me the book. She was a woman who never married and was very nurturing towards us as children, and there was always a sense that when things were turbulent in our household, we could go to my grandmother's household.
Bill Lindsey: [00:14:30] Yeah. I think that's so important and it's one of the things I grieve about the fragmentation of extended families in the United States right now in our culture. I wonder how children like me who sense that I was different in some way, that might be stigmatized, bookish, introverted, timid, frightened of my father who could be very brutal when he was drinking, always sensing that I didn't quite meet his expectations. It was important to have these other relatives that I could turn to, my grandmother, my mother's oldest sister, my father's brother, for affirmation and for protection really, for a sense of security that wasn't always there in my own family.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] Today, as you said, you mourn or you grieve, that this extended family system seems to be not functioning the same way?
Bill Lindsey: [00:16:00] I do. I think children are not on the whole – this is my impression – raised with the sense of closeness to aunts and uncles, to grandparents that I had. We lived a few blocks from my father's parents. They were always there in my life and more a stable presence. Their house was quiet and peaceful in comparison to my own. Part of the reason I think that those ties are fraying is that people are much more mobile nowadays and they're not raised as close geographically to family members as I was in my generation.
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] Great, okay. Let me see. Let me check my questions here. Now, you also mentioned growing up in Little Rock is in some ways synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement.
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] Can you paint us a picture of maybe as a child what you were aware of in terms of the racial structure of the city, of the south, but primarily what you were able to see with your eyes, what the roles were, what was accepted and what wasn't, and so forth?
Natalie Tsui: [00:17:30] [inaudible 00:17:33].
Bill Lindsey: [00:18:00] Like this?
Bill Lindsey: [00:18:30] Should I just pick right back up with the-
Bill Lindsey: [00:19:00] Yeah. I think most white children of my generation were tutored to see the world through the lens of race and white superiority. Southern writers like Wendell Berry in his book, The Hidden Wound, and Lillian Hellman in several of her books, Killers of the Dream, for example, have reflected on the way in which from the time they, and I can relate to their experience myself, were taught to see the world as a world divided into black and white with hierarchical arrangements that we took for granted.
Bill Lindsey: [00:21:00] I wish I could.
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] Do me a favor. Back up. Let's start this as a fresh thought. Set the stage for us. In 1957, something whatever happened at Central High School. The Federal government ordered, that's it. Then say, "I was seven years old and I have vague memories." Go from there.
Bill Lindsey: [00:22:00] Right. There was as you know a crisis in 1957 when the high school in Little Rock Central High was integrated and the Governor refused to permit the integration to take place, forcing the hand of President Eisenhower to send out national troops to protect the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students integrating the school. I was seven at the time and so of course what I remember of this is filtered through the memories of a very small child. I do remember discussions at Christmas dinner for example that year, and arguments around the dinner table with one of my mother's sisters who was a teacher, her second oldest sister, saying something that, even at the time, surprised me because it seems so nonsensical.
Bill Lindsey: [00:26:30] There were children on the bus as we took this trip up through across Alabama up through Virginia, Maryland, Philadelphia, into New York. They had brought confederate flags and they taped them in the windows of the bus. I remember a certain point at which the teachers on the bus said, "This can no longer be permitted because you're going to elicit hostility to us and to the bus as you cross the Mason-Dixon Line." They were lamenting what they perceived as the end of a world-
Natalie Tsui: [00:27:00] [inaudible 00:27:00].
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] Okay. Now, let's go back to that moment. Just take us back again. Tell us again about the kids on the bus putting rebel flags on the window and carry on from there.
Bill Lindsey: [00:28:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Not the very beginning but you can say, "I was on this on bus with my junior high school class going to the world's fair."
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] I'm really curious as to you already mentioned being bookish, timid, not necessarily in step with the mainstream of your peers, and maybe at some point along the way, of starting to having awareness of your own sexuality. How did that … it's really hard to probably pin down, but in terms of you having perceptions about racial issues, discrimination and your own evolving awareness of you also being someone who eventually could be put outside or who was an outsider, how did that all developed, if that's not too broad or vague a question? How did those to your own awareness of being gay and of discrimination against blacks for example, how did those two issues begin to come together, at that age perhaps?
Bill Lindsey: [00:32:30] I would say initially I was much more aware ... once my eyes were opened to use the biblical metaphor, the scales fell from my eyes about racism, about the system of segregation. Initially, that was the Civil Rights cause that really engaged my passion. I remember in my college years, I went to Loyola University in New Orleans. There were still some marches going on due to Civil Right.
Bill Lindsey: [00:33:00] It's a bird outside screeching.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] That's so funny.
Natalie Tsui: [00:34:00] It's farther away. I was tapping on the window trying to scare it. Let's see if I can hear it. We're good.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Okay.
Bill Lindsey: [00:35:00] Yeah. I think given the world in which I was raised with this pronounced racism that tinged everything, the cult of white superiority, Lillian Smith says, "We believe that in the land of epidermis, everybody with a white skin was a king or a queen." She grew up in I believe Georgia, being taught that. Once the scales began to fall from my eyes as a young adolescent about all of these, and I began to see this as not natural, not by divine revelation but socially constructed, then the Civil Rights Movement became foundational for me.
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] That's great. That's great stuff and I want to circle back to that. I remember in your notes you mentioned witnessing racial violence in your own community and I think it's important again just to document specifically what you saw.
Bill Lindsey: [00:38:00] Yes. There was violence right in my community in South Arkansas as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. In my senior year in high school, three of my classmates, three boys, shot and killed a black boy in cold blood. They were passing by his house. He was sitting on his porch. They shot him and they … though there was legal action, I don't know all of the technical details. They were exonerated, they got off. This happened and it was as if it fell into the abyss of history even though the whole town had a sense of what really had happened and that the backdrop to this violence was hostility due to the integrating of the schools.
Bill Lindsey: [00:41:00] Yes.
Bill Lindsey: [00:41:30] Yeah. There was I would say, overlap between the White Citizens' Council and the Klan. There was always the fiction that upper class southern people, professional people, educated people, white people, were somehow racially benign in comparison to working class white people. When the Klan was talked about, the implication was well, these have to be working class white people, the sort who want to stir up violence and do damage. They're not nice as we are. The White Citizens' Council gave a facade of respectability to racism but there's a very interesting book, I can't at this moment recall the name of the person who wrote it or even the title.
Bill Lindsey: [00:43:30] Exactly. As my black friends say, "White people often throw rocks and hide their hands," and this was especially true in the case of organizations like the White Citizens' Council, and something you have to keep in mind is that as all of this was unfolding, year after year, the 1950s, the 1960s, the churches on the whole were doing nothing to stand the tide of the violence. Why would they when many of the white evangelical churches of the south had actually split their churches, the Baptist, the Methodist, the Presbyterians, over the issue of slavery?
Bill Lindsey: [00:46:00] I think this was a justification for not ruffling the feathers of the people who put money on the collection plate of the church, Sunday after Sunday. He knew that many of the business and professional leaders of our town were staunch segregationists, and that if he spoke out, they would make him pay financially. I've seen this exactly the same dynamic in southern churches. It's still going on in many white evangelical churches in the south over the question of gay rights, accepting gay people. There's a very influential Methodist church only a few blocks from here, has very wealthy members
Bill Lindsey: [00:47:30] I became a Catholic … I've referred to the split in my family, Southern Baptist Church. I think this was in 1965 after the Civil Rights Act when some black families in town considered becoming members of the church and there was a big debate in the church about whether to accept black members or not. It split the church even though we eventually decided that we would open the door to black members. This debate and the response of my pastor to it disillusioned me so much that I decided, I can't be part of this church any longer.
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] This is jumping forward in time but did you ever … Did that ever get to the point where you thought you might have to leave the Catholic Church?
Bill Lindsey: [00:50:30] Yes. I would call myself now a disconnected, alienated former Catholic. I don't see a place in the Catholic Church any longer for people who are LGBTQ. I admire people who hang on and can stay connected but as far as I'm concerned there's not a place, no place has been made for us. It's as if a table has been set and there's not a place set at the table for people who are LGBTQ. I don't think you can claim that you're giving people a place when you insist that you have a right to fire them because of who they are or who they love.
Mason Funk: [00:51:30] I interviewed a very interesting man in Los Angeles named Richard Zaldivar, who is a prominent local activist. He started eight service organization to serve the Latino community and he was raised Catholic, Mexican-American parents, and to this day, still as he says in his interview, "Goes to the Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles every Sunday and sits in the front row with his partner in front of a non-conservative archbishop." His stance is, if you feel like you deserve a place at the table, you don't need the table.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] When you say that, tell me what you're talking about.
Bill Lindsey: [00:52:30] I honor that claim or assertion of some Catholics that, "It's my church too and I intend to stay as an LGBTQ person." I can't say that the church should have a place at the table if I don't assert my right to take that place. What it makes me see it differently is my unique experience. I would say as a theologian who was employed by Catholic colleges and who eventually found his career shattered, for reasons of sexual orientation because of my long-standing relationship with Steve, who's now my husband.
Mason Funk: [00:54:30] Tell us what happened.
Bill Lindsey: [00:55:00] Steve and I met at Loyola when I was a student there in 1971. He had been a student at St. John's University in Collegeville Minnesota. He burned his draft card and was hitchhiking down to Mexico where he intended to work in a mission. He had a cousin who lived near a mission in Southern Mexico. We met and I convinced him to go back to college and complete his education, and we've been together ever since. We lived many years with the fiction, which was a fiction we cherished even for ourselves:
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] How about you? How have you been choosing the mourning of that loss? How is that one?
Bill Lindsey: [01:00:00] I think I've gone from mourning to fighting. I think I surprised the institution, Belmont Abbey College, the Catholic Church, by fighting back, and by pushing for an explanation of my job. I've become a blogger, I write. In some ways, having this happen loosened my tongue so that I could speak out specifically about how the church treats LGBT people. Up to that point, we had lived the sort of... in Catholic institutions then, and I have the impression, it's still the same, you have to walk a very fine line for the most part if you're gay or lesbian, and especially if you're in a relationship, or transgender.
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Okay. I think before I forget, I would like to talk about this recent comment that, not about your cousin per se, “You queers make me sick,” but what do you sense is ... I read somewhere along the way that northerners have hard times understanding the southern mentality. It's kind of a siege mentality, it seems. It seems like the church also today is portraying itself as under siege. I wonder if that's … what are your thoughts on this, the comparison between say the south and the church, and asserting as... you're trying to tell us what to do, which nobody likes, and you're trying to take away our values?
Bill Lindsey: [01:03:00] Yeah. That's a big question to answer. Yes. I think definitely this is a big factor in the political scene today, white evangelicals came out at historic rates to vote for Donald Trump. It's very clear that it was the white evangelical vote, 81% of white evangelicals, something approaching 60% of white Catholics, Mormons. By definition when you say Mormons, almost all white. About 60% of Mormons voted for Donald Trump. These are the base that put him into the office and the base of the Republican Party right now.
Natalie Tsui: [01:04:30] We're rolling.
Bill Lindsey: [01:05:00] Yeah. Robert P. Jones has written a book called, The End of White Christian America. He's just published post-Trump election an appendix, if you will, to it, a kind of reflection on what the election of Trump means in light of the thesis of the book. The thesis is white Christians, and especially white evangelicals, do feel under siege, and their response is to want to turn the clock back to the imagined golden age of the 1950s. He thinks this played a big role in the choice of so many white evangelicals to come out and vote for Trump.
Mason Funk: [01:08:30] Why did William Buckley and these people by definition to a certain extent anyway, they believe that by shouting "no," that that is in a weird way a constructive stance that it's about saying "no" as opposed to saying "yes" to something? I don't know if you can answer that question, but why do they think that saying "no" is the answer?
Bill Lindsey: [01:09:00] That's a question I'm not sure I even know how to answer. Why was the strategy of the Republican Party throughout the Obama administration totally obstructionist? I think that the reason is that those who say "no" relentlessly enough and powerfully enough ultimately control what happens, and so it's an issue of control, I would say. They want a control over the shape of society and its future that they feel they're being denied. They certainly felt this in the period of the Obama presidency, though he was in so many ways such a centrist person. What were they frightened of? What were they reacting against?
Mason Funk: [01:10:30] What role do you see when our society is clearly still grappling with white supremacy? This notion it's very, very ingrained. Here you are, you and I two white males, cisgender men talking to each other. How can the queer community become help to dismantle white supremacy?
Bill Lindsey: [01:11:00] I think the queer community has to dismantle white supremacy. If you go to any large southern city and look at the queer community, Little Rock is no exception, what you'll find is that it is highly stratified according to gender, according to race, according to social class. We don't have a cohesive gay community, queer community, in Little Rock because we can't somehow negotiate all of those chasms of class, gender, and race, so we're fragmented. We're pulled into a little cliques with white gay men who have money and professional status trying to control everything.
Mason Funk: [01:13:30] Yeah. One thing, we were interviewing this woman yesterday, Charlotte Wilson and she's so funny. She had said "I'm not a Liberal. I have some friends who are Liberals,” but she's a radical. She has as much distrust to Liberals as she does of conservatives. She said, "White supremacy …" She's a white woman. She said, "White supremacy really is a soul-killing phenomenon." It's not just that it's unjust. It's self-destructive. What-
Bill Lindsey: [01:14:00] Okay.
Bill Lindsey: [01:14:30] Yeah. To be autobiographical, I mentioned to you, you asked about white supremacy as a soul-killing phenomenon. I mentioned to you an experience I had just this week where a cousin of mine logged into my Facebook page and left a message which began with the statement, "You queers make me sick," and then moved on to Jesus and the bible, and praying hands emoticons. As I thought about what she did, what I realized was that the genesis of her hostility has to do with the 2016 elections when she also had come to my Facebook page to vent racial hatred.
Natalie Tsui: [01:17:30] Just ignore.
Bill Lindsey: [01:18:00] I would describe myself as someone who at a very deep level, has religious convictions. I refuse to let people who define me as worthless, lead me to define myself as someone who doesn't believe in some divine ground for my life. In terms of religion, I'm not formally religious any longer. Just this past week when we celebrated the 4th of July and people began to talk about Frederick Douglass' powerful statement about what the 4th of July means to people who have been enslaved, one of the lines that leapt out to me is that as I read it again, is that he said … I'm paraphrasing. He said, "I'd far rather an atheist or an infidel, than to believe in the kind of Christianity being preached to me by the divines of the white churches in the United States."
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] You mentioned in your questionnaire that your brother's death had a major impact on your life, the trajectory of your life. Can you tell us about that?
Bill Lindsey: [01:20:30] Okay. Steve and I were looking for jobs together. This was in 1991 after I was given tenure, offered tenure at Xavier University in New Orleans. Steve was denied tenure at Notre Dame University. Jobs opened up for us at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. At the very same time that this happened, my brother died. I received word from my mother that he went through recurring periods of severe drunkenness and he had done this again. This time, he wasn't going to come out of it. His liver had failed and that he was in intensive care and expected to die, so I came home to Arkansas and was with him as he died.
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] You would love meeting a woman we interviewed, a transgender woman in Michigan last summer, who had been fired from her Baptist university teaching position for what she came out as transgender.
Bill Lindsey: [01:24:00] It's just with church-related schools. Yeah. It's just so sad. It's so tragic. I don't know what they think they're doing in terms of the brand of Christianity. The gospels, Jesus never says a single word about any of these things. It obviously was not the focus of his concern but he did say a mouthful about love and justice, and setting a table for everybody. He invited to his table people who were outcast in his society, broke the religious rules of his culture to do that. I don't know what these Christian institutions think they're doing. They're certainly not transmitting the gospel message or honoring the memory of Jesus as the gospel is portraying. Yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] We'll talk over lunch about my conversations with my younger brother, a steadfast conservative. Let's see. Yeah, I think it's 12:15, I just realize. We should do our final four questions. We have the same final four for every person. These are intended to be just little snippets, little quick bits of wisdom or whatever. To someone who comes to you and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," whatever that might mean for that person. What piece of wisdom, pearl, if you want to call that of wisdom, would you offer that person?
Bill Lindsey: [01:25:30] I would say absolutely, "Yes, come out. You will find that life is entirely different once you've come out. There will be ups and there will be downs. You'll be surprised that some people that you thought would be supportive won't be. You'll be surprised that some people you thought would not be supportive will be. Ultimately, what you accomplish in yourself by coming out, it's worth no matter what happens to you."
Bill Lindsey: [01:26:00] My hope for the future is for a world in which people live together more harmoniously regardless of gender, sexual orientation, national identity, social status. Again, this is part of that spiritual religious backdrop that's just part of my life. I believe in that vision of the world that we have to keep moving towards it and working towards it.
Bill Lindsey: [01:27:00] Our story is all we have. Ultimately, it's who we are. Just recently, I was doodling about, by doodling, I mean sketching, a verbal sketch about stories, and it occurred to me I have a tendency to tell strong stories. The reason I tell strong stories is that I need a strong story for my own life in order to hold myself together. We're only given one story in a sense, and if we don't learn to tell that in a strong way, we've lost the thread of our existence, it seems to me.
Bill Lindsey: [01:28:00] I think what OUTWORDS is doing is really important to collect history that would otherwise be lost, and to do it in a wide and diverse way. The other aspect of this project, the OUTWORDS project, that seems to me really important is we think that things have gotten better for LGBT young people, but that's not the case in many parts of the country. LGBT young people need to hear the stories of-
Natalie Tsui: [01:28:30] I think it started a little like a-
Natalie Tsui: [01:29:00] It’s gone.
Bill Lindsey: [01:29:30] Okay. The second reason I think OUTWORDS is really important is that we have a tendency to think now that things are better for LGBT young people in the United States but I don't think that's true in many parts of the country. In fact, I think there's been a backlash reaction as people have come out of the closet, a backlash to Obergefell. LGBT young people are experiencing forms of oppression, bullying in schools, hostility from family members that are accentuated now.
Mason Funk: [01:30:30] We're going to do something called room tone which is we're going to just record this room with nobody talking for 30 seconds.
Natalie Tsui: [01:31:00] Yes, like bark, bark, bark.