by Rev. Steve Parelli
September 8, 2011
Bronx, New York
Sitting at the table next to us in a Pokhara, Nepal hotel breakfast room, Jose and
I became engaged in a stimulating conversation with two individuals belonging to
a party-of-five from Malaysia (the others of their party looking on with interest,
and at times making comments themselves).
Through the usual polite introductions that were made, our fellow hotel guests
learned we were gay and legally married, that we are from New York City, and
were spending our summer in Asia working for the human rights of LGBT people
with a focus on religion and faith.
They couldn’t help but show their interest in us as gay and Christian, and
apparently for the following reasons: (1) they were religious people themselves
(one evangelical, the other Catholic); (2) they had a significant other in their lives
– family or friend – who was believed by many to be a closeted gay individual;
and (3) they knew the headlines and stories as reported in the papers in
Malaysia about a Rev. Boon Lin Ngeo (also known as O. Young), the award-
winning journalist of Malaysia who, in 2006, was the first public figure in his
country to openly come out as gay. Currently, the newspapers in Malaysia and
Singapore were carrying the story of his upcoming same-gender marriage in New
York City where he and his partner are presently living.
What had sparked their comment about O. Young and the headline news of his
upcoming marriage was our comment that Kuala Lumpur had a gay church with a
young gay minister from the Baptist tradition. They were obviously taken back.
“A gay church in KL,” they said, with a bit of surprise in their voice. “We didn’t
know.” And with that they told us about the O. Young marriage news and how
over the years his coming out had raised national awareness about
homosexuality. And of course, we told them how we were personally connected
to O. Young through the church in New York City where he is an associate
pastor; and that we had just been with him, days earlier, in meetings together at
another “gay church,” this one in Singapore.
They had questions. Questions they said they had wanted to ask for some time
now. But, in Malaysia – or at least within the circles they keep in Malaysia –, how
do you ask open-ended questions on a topic that is virtually taboo to endorse
even in the slightest way so they told us like school students eager to learn but
thwarted by unforgiving social norms. Homophobia is so widespread in Malaysia,
it seems, that one does not know with whom to speak openly about
homosexuality. The person they affectionately spoke of who was obviously a
closeted gay – well, they want to ask him their questions, and to show support
and understanding as well as to learn how to understand and accept, but can’t
So then, Jose and I became that opportunity whereby they could indulge
themselves in openly airing their long-standing questions and thoughts. Their
questions were genuine. Their questions were not rhetorical. As much as the
evangelical was tied to his evangelical teachings (and you could see he was), he
was truly open minded about his questions on sexual orientation and gender,
wrestling with his own doubts about what he was supposed to believe as a
Christian (rather than wrestling with me as a misguided Christian). At one point,
putting his hand over his chest, he said with empathy: “It has to come from here,
from deep within; it has to be who you are.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
Evidently he had not been taught the evangelical party line “it’s a choice,” or if
he had, he must have judged that descriptive as impossible.
They were appropriate in their questioning and only went as far as they saw we
permitted. And yes, they wanted to go that far, and we answered those
questions – not in terms that were personal, but in terms that were general.
Everyone just wants to know, usually sooner than later, about what happens in
bed. So, in our conversation with them we covered much of the spectrum –
religion, gender, homosexuality and sexuality.
You could see that the conversation could have gone on for much of the
morning; in fact, they pulled themselves away from the conversation rather than
politely excusing themselves. They were on vacation and the peaks of the
Himalayas were just outside the door and only promising a morning’s view of
them. By noon, if not earlier, the clouds rolling in would completely block the
whole mountain range from sight.
We were eager to get started on our day, too. With the help of a local activist
who took us to our “cold calls,” we spoke in person with four Christian leaders,
traveling on scooters to their offices, telling them our story and giving them the
“ex-gay” paper (in Nepali). Another individual we spoke with on the phone had
us email him the “ex-gay” paper. Our last contact of the day came to our hotel in
the early part of the evening and met with us there.
It was an unusual day. Everything fell into place. Every meeting of the day was
itself the highlight of the day as illogical as that sounds. Yet it was. Each
meeting, from the Malaysia-five at breakfast, to the individual meetings with
pastor, priest or director, had its own quality of excitement about it. The priest
was from Kerala where we had just spent four weeks; the pastor was educated in
a seminary where one of his professors taught that LGBT people need to be fully
accepted by the church, so the pastor told us; two directors of significant
Christian organizations each told us in separate meetings that this was the first
time for them to meet a gay Christian. And the local activist who was our guide
for the day was as helpful, friendly and supportive as could be.
At the end of the day we revisited what happened throughout the day with a bit
of awe and wonderment. The wonderment had started right at breakfast with the
realization that O. Young had impacted our fellow hotel guests from Malaysia.
Perhaps we could not have had that conversation with the Malaysians that same
way with that much interest on their part without the years of awareness O.
Young had brought to his country by repeatedly making the news on one level or
another as an openly gay man. Their open ended questions had origins
somewhere and had moved further along in development for whatever reasons.
And yes, certainly O. Young, as an openly gay nationally-known journalist from
their country, had a part in stimulating their thinking. They knew his public,
And that’s how it works. All of us together. All of us coming out when we can, as
we can. Each of us knowing, for one’s self, what risk factor he or she can
endure – and then finally, under the conditions that are right for each LGBT
person, coming out, sooner or later. But always, consciously moving in the
direction of someday coming out.
Coming out is never a one-time occurrence. As LGBT people, we come out
again and again and again; that is the nature of being part of an unseen,
invisible minority. Sexual orientation and gender identity is not as visible as
some might think. And because of that, we are not seen if we do not come out.
And furthermore, every situation is a new setting in which we are, if not open
about our sexual orientation and gender identity, unseen, unknown as LGBT
people. So then, coming out again and again and again is a must-do, like O
Young has done in Malaysia. And then someday, because you’ve come out,
some thinking, questioning straight person at some hotel breakfast room in
Nepal, will ask his or her pressing questions . . . to you, or eventually to someone
else, but simply because you were out.
And so, a big thanks to O. Young for his out and proud activism!
Steve and Jose
August 17 - Sept. 2, 2011
|“It has to come from here, from deep within; it
has to be who you are." - A heterosexual,
evangelical Malaysian visiting Nepal
|The heterosexual, evangelical Malaysian in Nepal
who surprised us with his searching questions and
empathy: “It has to come from here, from deep
within; it has to be who you are,” he said.
A big thanks to O. Young for his out and proud activism!
|This web page was created in and published from the
Bronx, New York on September 8, 2011.
Visits to this web pages since September 8:
Steve & Jose's Other Sheep
Asia 2011 Ministry
India, Singapore and Nepal
Table of Index
India (Index Page)
July 2 - August 12, 2011
- Young Lay Leaders Conference
- Day 2 - Jose presents
psychological dynamics of
church bias towards
- Day 3 - Future projects
Singapore (Index Page)
August 13 -16, 2011
- Steve & Jose present "Is There
Such a Thing as 'Ex-gay'?"
- Steve & Jose present a
Powerpoint on their India 2011
Nepal (Index Page)
August 17 - September 1, 2011
- "Putting a Face on
Homosexuality" - Meeting with
Nepal Evaluation Report: