Humans of TCGMC: David Coleman
January 11, 2019: David Coleman has been on the front lines for change. After being expelled from college in 2005, he began a thrilling career of activism that’s taken him across the country. If you want to know more about the man who was ordered to be arrested by both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, keep reading!
JOSH: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN ACTIVISM?
DAVID: One of the most tragic and hurtful things was – going to college all of four years and getting kicked out for being gay, because I came forward about a guy who was verbally abusive and covertly threatening. This was at North Central University, off Chicago Ave.
JOSH: AND THAT WAS LEGAL.
DAVID: Yep. The human rights act of 1993 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but who’s exempt? Organizations with a religious mission. Even Lambda Legal and the ACLU told me that, basically, nothing could be done. I had to face the music and leave college. [I was] another semester and a half from graduating. Even today, I haven’t finished, simply because of the trauma.
I got into activism because I needed healing. The first equality ride happened to be in 2005, which was the year I got kicked out of college. I got to be one of the first 10 riders. We developed a program where we would visit 18 schools across the country, where, for one reason or another, discriminated against LGBTQ people. We did a test run at the Naval Academy, and we contacted all of the schools. We wanted to educate them and their students, because we felt they really needed it. The majority of them took us up on our offer. We taught students, we did education, showed them presentations… We did this for 2 months.
The first few schools were not successful, however. We went to Liberty University and Regent University. Both of them had us arrested. I can say that, while he was alive, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both had me arrested!
JOSH: THAT’S JUST LOVELY – I’M HAPPY FOR YOU!
DAVID: Thank you! At Regent, they met us with tanks and riot gear.
JOSH: AND THEY THINK WE’RE NOT TOUGH.
DAVID: Ha! Well in the majority of places over the years, we’ve seen progress. There were students at some colleges who were forbidden to talk to us. They were told they would get kicked out for even talking to us. There were people brave enough to meet us outside of campus in secret locations. We had people tell us that they did not kill themselves because of what we said. I think one of the most powerful things someone can say is that because of your activism, “I did not kill myself.” That happened multiple occasions. Looking in retrospect, you get to see a lot more of it, too. The Soulforce experience got me involved in activism, it was healing, it helped me do some good. After that, I kept getting involved in more activism. I was part of a sit-in at the National Guard Headquarters, I disrupted a meeting of the Presbyterian General Assembly when they were taking a vote that didn’t turn out so well… It led me to protest when Jamar Clark was shot by a police officer. I’ve held signs, I’ve marched, I’ve protested.
JOSH: ARE THERE ANY OTHER MAJOR INITIATIVES THAT YOU’VE WORKED ON – FOR EXAMPLE, SOMETHING LOCAL LIKE AMENDMENT 1 (WHICH LIMITED MARRIAGE TO ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN)?
DAVID: Yes, I was definitely involved in that. (Fellow TCGMC Singer) Eric Crail and I interviewed people at the church so they could tell their story about what love was. Our logic was that if we could get a message out there that went beyond “we deserve this,” we could tell a story of people’s relationships, their love. We spent countless hours of telling people’s relationships in order to give a moral message about what it means to love. Those videos didn’t go far on YouTube, but we made DVD’s out of them, and we clothespinned them to pro-discrimination yard signs all over the richest parts of the Twin Cities. I went door-to-door knocking with OutFront to people I thought might need encouragement to vote. People took them. They went off to prayer. Leaders of the religious community took them.
I credit Outfront – I credit Grant, all those people who called their families, everybody who participated – every little thing – was an activist. Everybody who worked to be part of a grand effort to achieve something awesome.
JOSH: WHAT ARE YOU REALLY EXCITED TO TALK ABOUT? WHAT BRINGS YOU TO LIFE?
DAVID: Who I am, at the core, is a spiritual being who wants to bring good and love and justice more prevalently in this world. How that manifests – I work at a church – Metropolitan Community Church – that does justice. It takes its mission seriously to help others.
Being an activist means that you are going to stand up when you see injustice. As Dr. King stated, as the mantra of the civil rights movement: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Even though I fail frequently, it’s to live a life in such a way that you are being nonviolent to all people. And by the way, nonviolence of the spirit is the hardest to achieve, because it means you have to work on yourself. It means you’ve gotta not hate somebody who just is being a total ass to you. You have to believe that they are doing the best that they possibly can, and that their intentions are good. Being an activist means standing up for the marginalized – people of color, immigrants. It’s standing with the children of the man who got shot, or the immigrants who are being thrown into the slammer.
JOSH: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR OWN PRIVILEGE?
DAVID: Privilege, and triggers, have become something scary, but privilege is about recognizing your place in the system.
Privilege means that while I might’ve worked my butt off to achieve something, there was always a part of that system that benefited me because I’m white, or male, or typically cisgendered. Those things have imparted me benefits because the system is broken. My perspective is always going to be limited, and I have to update it constantly. It means embracing the humility that sometimes, you are wrong. It means embracing the reality that the color of your skin, your gender, whatever has made you part of a majority, can blind you to injustice. A life well lived in my book is one that is reflected upon. White privilege is simply reflecting on you and a broken system and the place of those who are not like you in it.
JOSH: ONE LAST QUESTION. WHAT ARE SMALL WAYS IN WHICH EVERY PERSON CAN BECOME AN ACTIVIST? I THINK SOME PEOPLE HAVE FEAR OF ACTIVISM BEING A “BIG THING” – THESE BIG MOTIONS SUCH AS GETTING ARRESTED, DOING A DIE-IN. WHAT CAN THEY DO ON A SMALL LEVEL?
DAVID: Well, John Lewis told us at the beginning of the Equality Ride to get in the way and get in trouble. Well, I got in the way and I got in trouble. There are so many ways to get involved in activism. One level of activism is recognizing in your own self the things that need to change, recognizing how society has impacted your worldview and recognizing all the sudden, “Oh gosh, I treated that person like crap because of a different skin color.” In any realm of the world, you can impact positively. That’s activism in the heart – that’s where it starts.”