Friday, October 19, 2012


Okay, so I need to weigh in on the issue of Amway President Doug DeVos donating half a million dollars to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).   As a young boy growing up in Amway I had the pleasure of meeting Doug’s father, Amway co-founder Rich DeVos.  He knelt down until his eyes met mine and shook my hand.  “Dream big son. You can be anything you put your mind to. Don’t lose sight of the American dream.” That's what he said to me.  Well what if my American Dream is to marry the man of my dreams and have every American see me as an equal? 
I watched my parents and thousands of other couples parade across the stage at Amway rallies around the world and not once did I ever see a gay couple. In fact when I discovered I was gay my first thought was, “Oh no, what about taking over my parent’s Amway business? I can’t do that if I’m gay!” 
This past summer my mother, no longer in Amway, turned seventy years old. My sisters and I threw her a big surprise party and invited as many people from her life as we could find, including my parent’s Amway sponsors.  They were overjoyed to see me, but when I turned around to introduce them to my boyfriend Jonathan, they simply turned away and ignored him.  They have made it known over the years that they do not accept homosexuality.  They pretended like Jonathan didn’t exist.
A spokeswoman for Amway released the following statement in response to the recent boycott: “As private citizens, the DeVos family supports causes and organizations that advocate for policies aligned to their personal belief’s. The family believes one of the highest callings of any individual is to express their own personal beliefs as a participant in the democratic process.”
I could not agree more. However, when you are donating to an organization that prevents individuals from living freely in this democratic process you so admire, that is not advocating “for the policies aligned to their personal beliefs.”  That is not supporting free enterprise or a society in which all are created equal. Rather, that's manipulating the system to appear all-inclusive while fueling an organization that believes straight people are better than gay people.
Amway then released this statement: “Our employees and distributors come from all walks of life and represent an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. The Amway opportunity is open to everyone.”
If that is true, how many out gay employees work at Amway Headquarters?  Does Amway have an LGBT community? That Amway statement is a big one to make in the press without statistics to back it up. 
Rich DeVos made me promise to dream big and never lose site of that dream. Well Rich, I haven’t. Thank you for supporting this proud gay American. Now put your money where your mouth is and donate $500,000 to an LGBT organization. Be a real man like the ones I hang out with. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Having A Good Attitude vs. Reality

Growing up in an Amway pop-up house, I was forced to have a positive attitude at all times.  Negative statements were as banned as Brand-X products. Negative emotions - like sadness and anger - were an abomination. My parents stood on stages in Amway rallies around the world and gave heart felt talks about over coming adversity and stern advice on how to change your thinking.   Mind over matter meant mind over reality.
It has taken me a long time to sift out the useful parts of my Amway upbringing.  I tossed it all away after my father’s Amway dream collapsed along with our family.  But after a while I started to miss my positive attitude and slowly realized that many of the teachings my father inherited from Amway weren’t the problem. It’s what he did with them that became the issue. 
Having a good attitude is necessary for any kind of success.  But when that attitude becomes a round the clock personality, then it stops being real.  Since my days in Amway I have met people who use this overzealous attitude to dominate a conference room or hide parts of themselves they are ashamed of.  I can smell a sales technique coming a mile away and I can feel when someone is being inauthentic or using a learned positive attitude to overcompensate for some kind of insecurity. 
The entire network marketing sector and life coaching industry is saturated with techniques on how to work with people.  Rehearsed spiels and over-caffeinated presentations with a bulldozing “I’ll win you over” approach annoy me.  I agree that good energy is infectious, but only if it comes with a fully equipped human being.  It’s when the Stepford Wives syndrome takes over that scares people into thinking that a positive attitude is one step away from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  I watched my father use this side of the self-help movement to avoid reality and run from his feelings.  I’ve done it myself.
I believe there is a healthy balance in this area.  I am a freelance writer and therefore self-employed. I never escaped the entrepreneurial gene passed on by my father and am grateful for that. I rely on my people skills and good attitude to attract work and interest in my work.  But I am not going to sell it to you twenty-four hours a day.  I'm not a machine.  There's a human being behind these words you're reading and that is my first priority: to be human.  I meet people everyday and after twenty years of trying every sales spin and technique out there I've realized that the best sales pitch in the world is sincerity.  Authenticity and sincerity clears away the negative attitudes all on their own, exposing the natural God-given beauty that is our personalities, on good days and growing days.  
 That’s my reality, and I have a pretty good attitude about it. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Birth of Life After Amway

It all began back in 1998 when I began writing and performing my one-man show, Life After Amway here in NYC.  The journey has been long and rewarding. I have written this story into a memoir and a film. We all have a story to tell.

God in America

Last night I watched the conclusion of a PBS documentary, God in America.  It was the second half of a four-hour film that explored American worship and it’s influence on our culture.  Last night’s two-hour continuation began with World War II and the rise of Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Watching Graham preach from the stage at a revival brought me back to the childhood I spent in Amway rallies. These rallies were monthly events that changed my parents lives and profoundly shaped mine.  My father loved these rallies more than any other part of the Amway business.  I have no memory of childhood that does not include these spectacles. And they were spectacles.  Anywhere from one hundred to one thousand Amway distributors would gather in a hotel ballroom or large convention center on a Saturday night to praise Jesus and free enterprise.
I was raised Catholic, but my parent’s were sponsored into the Amway business by an affluent African-American couple by the name of Bill and Anna Mae Wright, who greatly influenced my religious upbringing.  Bill and Anna Mae were Christians just like Graham and preached at Amway rallies like they were in church.  In fact most of my parent’s Amway group was black.  I even grew up thinking all black people were rich, because that’s all I saw.  Bill and Anna Mae would bring us in their limousine to their Baptist church on Sundays  where I would sit and listen to the preacher tell me to hitch my wagon to Jesus’ star.    At the following Amway rally I would listen to Bill and my father recreate that sermon, but in Amway verbiage, in order to motivate their followers. There was no separation of church and state in Amway.  My father held weekly Amway bible study groups at our home every Thursday night with the local Baptist pastor leading the way.  I saw faith as another stepping-stone on the great road to success.
I prayed like a good white Catholic and a good black Christian.  But when I reached adolescence and discovered that the gay man I was growing into was not accepted by either faith, I threw the baby out with the bathwater and turned my back on God.  That is an unfortunate reality for most gay Americans when facing this dilemma.  I made boys and my quest for success my new Higher Power.
When I was twenty-six years old I found myself questioning my salvation at my father’s deathbed, as he lay dying of cancer.  My father spent the last years of his life in the front row of Rev. Earl Paulk’s Pentecostal mega church in Decatur, Georgia: The Cathedral at Chapel Hill.  He had left my mother for a southern black flight attendant and together they had found Jesus.  As I sat by his bed watching the most powerful man in my life waste away, I read through his bible.  He had studied this book and its teachings but had he changed? This was the same man whose ego ruined my family.  Where was God then?
In one of our last talks he leaned over to me and said the words I had longed to hear my entire life
“I was wrong.”
He denounced his success driven, materialistic life and told me to find God.  But how do I do that? I’m gay.
After his death I returned to New York and got sober.  That was the resurrection of my spiritual life.  It’s been a long and bumpy road but worth every pothole.
Last night’s documentary got me thinking about where God and the American Dream stand for me today.  The documentary, of course, featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and clips of his preaching. In a 1965 sermon he boldly called out America on its arrogance.  If he could have delivered that sermon today, it would be just as relevant.  I thought about my own arrogance and American entitlement.  I see it everywhere in this country, from Wall Street to Hollywood and, yes, even in the Christian faith.
I want the best life I can have, but I also want to be helpful and part of the solution.  I want to accept others for who they are and give everyone the freedom to believe what he or she feels is best for them. I want to smile and wave good morning to my new Islamic neighbor here in Harlem.  I want the same rights as every other human being in this country and I don’t want to fight you for it.  I want to be a producer of harmony rather than dissonance.  And if there is a God I just want to ask one question. What kind of American do you want me to be?