Gay rights activist Marc Adams gives presentation in Columbia

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 | 10:12 p.m. CDT; updated 7:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 4, 2011

COLUMBIA — In front of more than 40 people, author and gay rights activist Marc Adams returned to Columbia after two years to give his "Hope Needs Only Hands Hearts" presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Wednesday.

Adams, who founded HeartStrong Inc. in 1996, travels to universities and churches to spread awareness of the issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. His speech covered the increase in reported suicides in that group and his own struggle with self-acceptance.

"I founded HeartStrong Inc., a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization to provide outreach to GLBT individuals adversely affected by the anti-gay environment at religious educational institutions," Adams said.

Since its inception, HeartStrong Inc. has reportedly helped more than 1,000 students to come out to their families and help themselves. 

Adams began his presentation by starting at his beginning — sharing his story of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian home. His father, a Baptist preacher, raised his children to believe homosexuals were "child molesters."

"Being fundamentalist Baptist is pretty much the same thing as being Amish and in the military at the same time," Adams said.

Adams said he learned from his Baptist upbringing that "homosexuality was a sin, punishable by eternal damnation."

An award-winning author of nine books about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, Adams spoke openly about his own struggle with religion and sexuality.

"Religion is a choice a person makes," he said. "Sexual orientation is who you are."

Highlighting different sides of the spectrum when it comes to faith and sexuality, Adams shared his own path to acceptance.

"Coming out always starts with accepting yourself," Adams said. "I think you should do everything you can to love and accept yourself."

Adams concluded his speech by calling on the audience to pay more attention to the situation facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths in educational institutions.

Audience members, who spread the word about Adams mostly by word of mouth, asked Adams about his faith, thoughts on gay marriage and how to help out in their own community.

"It doesn't take a lot to give someone hope," Adams said.

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