"I am not the only pastor, let alone the only one in Oklahoma, that is supportive of the LGBT community," said Andy James. "It would be wrong for me to try and portray it for anything more than what it is." Pastor Andy and his wife Christy were high school sweethearts who reconnected after 30 years, after both ended their previous marriages. Both are participating in AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC) together this year. When asked what his congregation thought about their participation, Andy said, "Nobody has ever said anything to me personally about my participation in this event or my views or opinions regarding the gay community."
This will be Christy's fourth ride with ALC. She had previously cycled in Dallas with a group of gay friends. "One of my friends inspired me to ride ALC," she said. "My friend was turning 50, and I was turning 40, and participating in ALC was our big thing." The following year, Christy brought 10 friends with her to experience the ride. This year, she rides with her new husband, Pastor Andy.
In 2012, Andy received a call from a friend, informing him of another mutual friend, Jeff, who was sick in the hospital. Andy and Jeff were old high school friends who played in the school band together. "We both tried out for drum major our senior year and he made it and I didn't," he recalled. "There was always a friendly rivalry between us."
Jeff was in the hospital and, unfortunately, succumbing to complications due to AIDS. Andy drove more than 200 miles to see his friend. "I sat there in his room, just talking, and recalling memories," he said. Jeff had undergone a lot of negativity and hostility throughout his life due to his sexuality and his illness. "He experienced a lot of judgment at the hands of organized religion," said Andy. But none of the judgment came from his lifelong friend Andy.
Andy openly announced his participation in ALC this year to his congregation . "A lot of members showed their support financially," he said. Andy and Christy collectively raised over $7,000 for the ride this year. The United Methodist Church is not known for openly supporting the LGBT community, but not all those who are members fully agree with the views of the church. "We as a denomination in the future will need to repent for what we have done," Andy said. "I take my ordination seriously and I am very respectful about the current stance of the church, but I just kind of do what I do."
Andy and Christy are riding in memory of Jeff, who passed away two days after Christmas in 2012. Andy says it was a privilege to be Jeff's friend. Christy is a three-time veteran of the ride, but this is the first time she will share her journey alongside with her new husband. "I am so excited to have him with me this year," she said. "It's a great thing to share and being a veteran rider, I now get to ask him how he feels after each day."
Andy and Christy are an example of the diversity of AIDS/LifeCycle. It encompasses a week full of amazing people who are each there for their own personal reasons. Pastor Andy and his wife are setting an example for the faith-based community and proving that love and acceptance are truly what's most important in life.
AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported, seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It's a life-changing ride -- not a race -- through some of California's most beautiful countryside. AIDS/LifeCycle is coproduced by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and is designed to advance their shared mission to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. This year, over 3,000 cyclists and volunteer roadies raised just over $15 million.