Eliza Galaher

As Interviewed by Carly M., March 9, 2012

Eliza Galaher: In Her Own Words

So my name is Eliza Galaher. I was born on January 22nd 1965 in Portland, Oregon. Iím the youngest of five children. My mom and dad were older when I was born, so my dad was 45 when I was born; my mom was almost 39. I was the youngest of five kids. My oldest brother was named Abbott, and he passed away ten years ago. My next oldest brother is Towner, and heís a drummer who lives in New York City. My sister Ursula is seven years older than me. She was adopted; she was born in Hong Kong. Then thereís my brother Matthew, whoís not quite two years older than me; and then me. Both my parents are passed away as well.

I always had crushes on both girls and boys when I was little, like little kid crushes, like your first grade teacher. But when I was thirteen, I had some pretty major crushes. I had some crushes on older girls who were sports heroes at my school. My first girlfriend was when I was seventeen, and that was back in 1983. It really had to be secret because it wasnít like -- I donít know about your school, or the high schools in Austin. I think they might have a gay/straight alliance. Back in the early 80s you didnít talk about it and it wasnít very accepted, so we had to keep it a secret.

I think we are in a real split right now in the United States about tolerance, because weíve got a lot of people that are saying itís totally cool, love is love. I donít know if you ever watch Glee. That show is very gay-friendly with gay characters, so on and so forth, but they also talk about a lot of bullying, and so youíve got that kind of stuff going on. Different states that are making same sex marriage legal, and then you have people who are running for president who think homosexuality is a sin and all that stuff. So I think we are really divided, but what I think is happening, Carly, is we are moving forward. With every time thereís change, thereís resistance to change. And I think thatís what you see -- the resistance to change coming out in more conservative people. So itís a lot of division.

Do you have any local heroes or icons advocating the rights of gay/lesbian people?

Well, I would wouldnít call her a hero, but Meg Barnhouse, the minister at First Unitarian church, she has done -- twice she has done mass same sex weddings down at the courthouse. And of course, itís illegal for same sex marriages in Texas, but sheís doing it as a protest thing. Wildflower church members are my heroes because we march in the Gay Pride Parade every year, and itís not just the gay people in Wildflower that go. Itís families, straight people, and transgender people. So my own members of my congregation are probably my greatest heroes.

So what triggered your desire to enter ministry?

It was kind of a slow process. I had joined a Unitarian Universalist church in my early thirties. As I got involved I saw that there were three passions of mine that were kind of finding a home. That was education, writing and speaking, and social justice. I really discovered that I like religious education, liberal religious education, so those three things kind of converged and I saw, wow, I donít have to choose between these passions, I can put them all to good use at once, but it took me about six years to decide to go to seminary, and even while I was in seminary I wasnít quite sure what I wanted to do.

There are seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist faith. Are there any, or Is there any one, or a few that stick out in your mind? If so, explain what they mean to you. How do they fit into modern society?

I think the really important one right now is probably the interdependent web of all existence because, as a world thatís getting more and more populated, and more and more easy to communicate with different parts of the world, we see more and more how interrelated everything is. Like, whatís happening in Syria right now, with the government bombing its own people and stuff. We have a direct relationship to that because that because the United States is part of the UN, and we have the power to intervene, but we donít because we have our own political self interests. So, you know, I believe that none of us are completely independent. Itís also not healthy to be totally dependent on others, so we have to see that we are both in power to act the way that we think is right, but understand that anything I do affects you, anything you do affects me. So the interdependence is one thatís good to know. Also, I would say the second principle, which often gets overshadowed by the first one. The second principle is equity, justice, and compassion. The word compassion is really important to me. Thatís about trying to lift somebody elseís pain, you know, ease other peopleís pain. I think thatís a big part of religious life, and a good life well-lived is being there when other people are suffering.

Hereís the trick: if Iím only helping people less fortunate than me by occasionally giving them $10 or, you know, giving them a food packet -- which is good and important, because if people are hungry theyíre hungry -- but if I only do that, then I basically donít do anything to change the system that puts them in the place they are. So the guy on, letís say, I-35 and Oltorf thatís asking for money -- I can help him by giving him some money, giving him some food. But, really, what I could also do is go to city council and say, ďWhy isnít there more affordable housing or housing for homeless?Ē So that guy doesnít have to live on the corner of I -35 and Oltorf. So helping others who are less fortunate than me means not only doing charity, but working with them in partnership so that they are in power to have their voices heard and feel that they could make a difference so that they donít have to become what somebody else wants to make a difference in the world.

Are there any specific stereotypes or generalizations that people make about gays, lesbians, transgender people that you would like to mention?

Well, I donít think it happens as much, but it used to be that all lesbians are ugly. And, not that I ever thought that, but you know, all lesbians are man haters too, and what that would do is take away the beauty of loving another woman. Why does it always have to be a negative thing about men quite well as opposed to oh, well Iíd just rather be with a woman? And, you know that I think straight men are really uncomfortable being around gay men because they think, oh, gay men are attracted to everybody. Actually, theyíre like, ďNuh uh, why would we be attracted to you?Ē Thereís a lot of stereotypes -- that gay men are weaker or not manly enough or whatever, and thatís just -- if you go to a Gay Pride Parade in New York City, youíll see like 50 New York cops in the parade. They are gay and theyíre marching in the parade, and you wouldnít necessarily look at that person and think, that cop is gay, but theyíre there, and so thereís that same thing in the military, that people think, ďOh, youíre gay? No way!Ē But no, itís not about outward appearance at all.

I could make myself look more conventional, I could grow my hair longer, I could wear more girly clothe, I could not wear tattoos, and therefore I could fit into society. Whereas somebody of a different race, or theyíre disabled, they get discriminated against a lot more easily than I necessarily, because Iím also white. If I was a black lesbian, you know, Iíd have that going against me, even though itís not anything bad. So in a way, my being gay hasnít been as hard for me. I know, as being a person colored in this country has been, or being a native or immigrant, Iíd say whatís hurtful and hard is people feeling that they are free to yell slurs at me; just saying things mean to me. When my mom was dying, she died of cancer, she told me, even though she had known I was gay for ten years, she told me that last time that I saw her, she had never been able to accept that I was gay. And at first I was like, ďOh my god, I just failed her so bad, she doesnít love me. Iím such a bad person because my mom didnít accept me.Ē And then I realized, it doesnít matter if she accepted me, what matters is that I accepted me, and itís not about my momís approval. Itís not that I didnít love my mom, but itís not about her approval. Itís about just accepting who I am, and so, I have to not worry about what other people think about me all the time, just know that Iím just as good as anybody else. But itís hard because youíve got a lot of people judging you and telling you that youíre not a good person. You have to apply all the more to have that powerful voice in your head that says, ďYes, I am.Ē

When I lived in New York City, like I was telling you earlier with the pride parade, I went to the Gay Pride Parade every year, and I go in Austin too. I think that was one of the first major things I did: march in the Pride Parade in New York. And thatís like hundreds of thousands of people. The parade goes for miles. Itís very, very affirming. Youíve got religious people, youíve got cops, youíve got firefighters, youíve got sober people all marching, and then youíve got just as many people lined up all along the parade cheering you on. And thatís really lovely, although sometimes there are haters, but you have to figure out how to work with them. That was a big event Iíve done. And lobbying -- here in Austin at the capitol- anti- bullying lobbying, I preached on gay rights and I have a certain policy here at the church. I will officiate a straight coupleís wedding, but I will not sign their marriage certificate. So they have to go a little extra distance to get their marriage completed. Itís just really a formality, but it makes that couple think, oh yeah, we have rights. We get to do something that our good friends donít get to do. So thatís something I always do, just to plant that seed in peopleís minds. You get to get married; some people donít. So thereís pride parades. Iíve been to marches in Washington D.C., lobbying, preaching, and just being a minister at the church... this very welcoming church is really important, too. I mean, the fact that this church has an openly gay minister and that they chose me, thatís a pretty big deal. That says something a lot about the church too, about being welcoming .

Justice helps you see that I do have power that can be put to use, like being bad use, like being mad at people. I also have power that can be about creating positive change in the world. I try to put that power to good use, working with other people to see they have power to change. A lot of that work has been happening at that spring for Austin. It has made me more compassionate; itís made me have more confidence in myself; itís made me less self conscious, so Iím not as embarrassed about going out and talking to the world. So it has really helped with my esteem, and itís also helping me be better at stronger relationships with people.

I think of my tattoos as like little chapters of my story along my life. Iíve been doing it for 20 years. And so, they symbolize different parts of my spiritual journey. I donít think Iíve ever gotten anything that Iíve really regretted. I have thought of a million tattoos that I thought Iíd want, but Iím glad I didnít. Thereís a lot of words on my tattoos. Theyíre spiritual words, like maitri means loving kindness. Iíve got a lot of birds on me because I think they symbolize freedom and kind of a lightness of the existence. I have a memorial tattoo to my brother on the back of my calf. This one, I actually have to say, this one is one, two, three, four, five Japanese characters. I feel a little bit bad about them because I donít know enough about Japanese to feel like I have ownership of these in a way thatís authentic. They mean moon, rain, mountain, tree, and river. Nature is really important to me. Sometimes I kind of feel bad, like I stole a certain culture by having them. So, usually, itís something that I feel really just called out to me. My newest one, and by far biggest one, is on my back, and itís a tattoo of Kuan Yin. Sheís the Chinese goddess of compassion. She always looks very mellow. Sheís just like, ďHey, Iím just sitting here.Ē But sheís always in a position thatís kind of like, ďIím ready to get up if I need to or if somebody needs me.Ē

For me, itís important, even though Iím a gay person, I think itís important for people to know that there are many, many things that define a person. If people are always thinking of me as somebody whoís gay, and not also a writer, or a lover of dogs, and you love traveling, Iíd be like, ďCome on man, donít box me in. Iím more than that.Ē So I think thatís important. The other thing is, I think, ultimately, none of us are only straight, or only gay, or only this. I think there needs to be room to not have labels and not feel boxed in.