This is part two of three blog entries for The Straight Ally. For the preceding entry please refer to The Origins of Misunderstanding. For the following entry read Taking a Stand, My Coming Out Letter. This is my official post on coming out as a Straight Ally.
The years between 2009 and now have been full of growth. And they finally topped off with some genuine happiness. It’s sad to admit but I honestly feel like I spent the first 26 years of my life not thinking for myself (isn’t that what fundamentalism does?). I went way out on a limb when I broke ties with everything I had ever known and moved to California. One of my first roommates turned out to be one of my dearest friends. She’s one of those genuinely good people, rare to find in life. She confided in me– almost apologetically– that her mother is a lesbian and she was raised in a completely nontraditional home. Looking back her demeanor may not have been apologetic as much as it was fearful of condemnation. Either way it was clear to me that she had suffered prior anguish because of this. I remember lying in bed categorizing this, connecting the dots, humanizingthe concept of what the “homosexual lifestyle” actually meant. It takes one cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch to refuse to considering an opposing view once you know and love someone who is directly involved in the debate. There really was no way at this point in my life that I couldn’t start to give genuine consideration for this subject. There were too many strong factors stacking up that demanded my attention to the matter.
I began formulating opinions and coming to conclusions on the subject. All the while the matter of my faith was left dangling in the balance. Standing where I am now I can see that this topic along with so many others were not completely solidified for me until I was able to reconcile my faith… or more honestly, once I had been able admit that I had nullified my beliefs. The moment that the discussion of homosexuality became front and center for me was the summer of 2011. My closest and dearest and most loved soul confided in me that she was gay. For some reason this news, although identical to that of my baby brother in 2009, stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps it was because this Loved One was a devout Christian, perhaps it was because with my baby brother I somehow always just knew and in the case of my dearest Loved One I had completely missed the boat, either way this news rocked me to the core. I would like to say I took it in stride but in all honesty I cried for weeks. I did not cry because I feared for her eternal soul or because I felt her gayness was a sin, I cried from the realization that she had spent greater than thirty-five years in utter isolation, and I cried because I knew very well the condemnation she would face when she came out to her mother.
Following this revelation I immersed myself in all things gay. It had only been a few months prior to our late night discussion that I had stumbled across my local PFLAG chapter at the county fair. They were tucked outside the back of an exhibit hall beside the dumpsters. In spite of their stinky location (pun intended), they were happily passing out literature on their organization and the services it provides. The Parents & Families of Lesbians and Gays is a group of activists who are trying to propel equality forward and provide support for gays and their family members by opening hearts and minds. Within several months I was linked into my local chapter. I felt so much support and solace being with a group of likeminded individuals. It was an eye opening experience for me to hear the painful stories of the LGBT members who have experienced firsthand the pain of rejection and judgment from their families and communities. Joining PFLAG has been huge in my journey to LGBT activism and I am so grateful that my little chapter pushes forward even in the face of diversity.
I read articles and found documentaries on the subject. My top favorite is For The Bible Tells Me So. This film visits the subject of doctrinal interpretation and although I don’t align myself with this belief now, at the time it was comforting and eye opening to hear the bible presented in a different light. If only someone had given me information like this sooner! Before viewing this film I had never known that there was the option of being Christian and being gay or even pro-gay. If this message of love and acceptance had reached me sooner, if this interpretation of the doctrine had been presented in our church or school, I and my Loved One and my circle of close friends would have had a completely different outlook on homosexuality thus impacting how we would have treated and viewed the gay community.
Instead, I was reminded during the great Chick-fil-A standoff of 2012 that the teachers, staff, and schoolmates that I spent my childhood with do not share in the same open minded stance as those Christians shown in For The Bible Tells Me So. Rather they proudly posted pictures of themselves standing in front of Chick-Fil-A’s clutching bags of greasy, artery clogging bird carcass giving a thumbs up. A thumbs up for what? Were they in support of the movement to pause the progression towards equality in this country? Were they applauding the use of their Bible to once again validate and excuse human rights violations? Was it a giant thumbs up in favor of protecting the “Biblical definition of marriage” which in reality consists of exchanging teen girls for livestock into unions with no semblance of love, or marrying the plunders of war after raping them, or the polygamous unions of many including King Solomon who had 700 wives? Or perhaps it was simply a thumbs up in place of a middle finger directed right at the gay students and classmates that spent their entire childhoods living inside a closet of fear and repression. These students knew full well that coming out would only leave them completely vulnerable to the chastisement and isolation directed at them from these very people who call themselves Ambassadors of Christ.
I found movies such as Prayers for Bobby which speaks a powerful message about the colossal and irreversible damage that is inflicted upon a child who is rejected by a parent in the name of their religious conviction. I watched The Laramie Project through tears at the evil things that people do to others when fueled by fear and hate. Bully was premiered at my local theater and I learned about The Trevor Project. Viewing One Nation Under God gave an eye opening look at reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries such as Exodus International. I was unaware that it had been as recent as 1973 before the American Psychiatric Association had finally withdrawn homosexuality as a mental disease from their compilation of mental disorders. This made me realize that my grandparents, my parents, along with their generation were already well into adulthood before any governing body took a stand against the notion that gays are mentally ill. Coming to this realization gave me even more inspiration to advocate for education and change because the long lasting effects of old data are hard to overcome. It wasn’t until 2012 that Robert Spitzer recanted his article from 2001 claiming that reparative therapy can in fact be successful. His renouncement is monumental as this single (obviously flawed) study is the sole document that conversion therapy programs use to validate their assertions.
The film also introduced me to more of the historical data surrounding the LGBT fight for equality. Somehow in all of the holocaust history I was taught throughout my childhood no one ever once mentioned that gays were also targeted, experimented on and executed for the crime of their sexuality. My mother took us to the holocaust museum in Washington DC and again I can’t recall her devoting any time to this particularly dark chapter in LGBT history. How is it that I have toured Israel twice with the church of my childhood, even touring Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem and I never recall anyone mentioning that gays suffered alongside Jews. Its not my intent to diminish the atrocities inflicted through anti-Semitism, I just found it shocking that in spite of the attention that my church placed on Israel and the holocaust that I never realized that a portion of the victims, even if only a small percent in comparison were specifically targeted for their sexuality.
I read through countless articles and watched dozens of YouTube clips on the subject. I poured over arguments and counter arguments for and against marriage equity, the spiritual standing of gays, equal job opportunities and housing treatment, equal rights for Boy Scouts and on and on and on. The more information I have found the more commitment I have gained to the fight for equality and the desperate need to provide a voice for what is one of the most misunderstood minorities of our day. There is not a shred of uncertainty within me on this topic. I only regret not having this information sooner. I spent two-and-a-half decades of my life being fed and programmed what to believe and what to stand against. I had done no formal research in those years besides attending chapel or church camp where my misunderstanding was only fueled and my mind only narrowed.