[I had hoped to find a young person, like this University of Louisiana-Monroe student, to interview before I wrote my Times-Picayune column for Sunday's paper. I didn't find him in time, but on Saturday morning, I did find him. And he agreed to write about his experiences for this blog, anonymously. It's very powerful stuff. I hope you'll read it and share it. His message needs to be heard. - Bob Mann]
It was too gay.
“It’s fine for you to stand up for the queers,” my grandparents will say, “but God help you if you’re one of them.”
I am, it appears to be, the last gay man still in the closet to his family. That’s why this post is anonymous. That’s why my sexual orientation is blank on Facebook. That’s why I use gender-neutral pronouns when talking about my significant other.
I can’t be gay in Northeast Louisiana. I came out to my parents, and they’ve shoved me back into the closet.
“The family isn’t ready to hear that,” they said.
The family isn’t ready. Well, I suppose in all fairness it did take some getting used to myself.
I live in West Monroe, and I’m a Mass Communications student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM). I moved here because it’s more progressive than my hometown, also in Northeast Louisiana. I mean, it has two gay bars. Look out San Francisco.
But West Monroe is also home to the most famous anti-gay person in the world: Phil Robertson. I’ve never met Phil. But I was raised by a Phil Robertson.
My Phil Robertson told me that I was an asshole for being so selfish to come out of the closet to my mother.
My Phil Robertson told me that my boyfriend will never be welcomed to his house, as if he were diseased.
My Phil Robertson threatened my life because I had the audacity to be who I am.
I’m 21 now. I first realized I was gay when I was 13. I’ve known that I liked boys since I was eight. And I will never forget the day that I decided I wasn’t going to be gay.
I was in Sunday school, and I’d been daydreaming about moving off to San Francisco, because my dad had told me “it was full of faggots.” It sounded like the place for me.
Then it came to be my turn to read the Bible. And I read the verse aloud.
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”
That didn’t quite click with me, so I asked what it meant. And my Sunday school teacher said, “It means that being gay is a sin.” I felt sick. It was fine if my dad hated gays, but now God does, too?
My future caved in around dreams of sunny California and San Francisco, until all I could see were the fires in the pit of hell.
I was 13 years old.
So, I became straight because I didn’t want to go to hell, and any time I strayed from the path of heterosexuality, I prayed to God to heal me of my sickness. And, then, after a while, I still liked boys. So, I prayed harder. I prayed more. I cried. Until eventually, I stopped believing in God altogether.
If there was a God, surely he heard my prayers. So, he either is wanting me to be a sinner or he doesn’t exist. Either way, it’s not a god I wish to believe in.
I was 16 when I lost my faith. I was also 16 when I met my first boyfriend. It was like being James Bond in Podunk, Louisiana. We’d sneak off to the soybean fields just so we could be together. It was all a magical experience of holding hands under blankets and secret signals for “I love you.” Ah, to be 16 again.
I had my first kiss, my first time and my first heartbreak. I was being the most abnormal person in school, but I was finally living what I thought was a normal life. I was being me. Even though “me” involved leading a double life.
Long story-short: I regained my faith. In fact, I’ve been considering becoming a minister. I am very much still a gay man. And I believe God has called me to minister to other gay people to let them know that God loves them just the way they are. I’m to undo the hurt caused by the Church—the same hurt caused to me.
Gay people, more often than not, throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to religion. But we have a good reason. We’ve been scarred. Religion has damaged us. And I try to share with them the light I have seen in the Episcopal Church. But every time I get close to a breakthrough, something happens that brings out the worst in people.
One year it was Chick-fil-a. This year it’s Phil Robertson.
Thanks to Phil, I now know where everyone in my family stands on the issue of whether or not I’m a human being.
I even saw a “friend” of mine post something about how gay people can’t be Christians. Wow. Not only will they keep us from having equal rights, but they’ll keep us from equal salvation. We can’t just be second-class citizens. We have second-class souls.
I drive through town, much like the girl in Bob’s story, and I see everyone talking about how right Phil is. How they have Christian values by excluding about 15 percent of the population from their religion.
Phil claims to love everyone, and I have to believe that he has the best of intentions for saying what he said. But he must realize the damage that those words do to people like me.
He encouraged – hopefully unintentionally – a two-week-long “fag bashing” in Monroe and around the world. He made me feel unsafe in my own home. I can’t count how many times I heard “faggot” over the Christmas visit home.
All of this is in a state that still has laws against, and still arrests people for, having homosexual relations.
I remember hearing about Matthew Sheppard. I remember learning about Harvey Milk. I’ve never been under any impression that northeast Louisiana is safe for gays.
And people say Phil is being persecuted for his beliefs.
You don’t know persecution until you’re a 12-year-old boy sitting in a church pew when your preacher encourages everyone to vote to make gay marriage illegal because they think you don’t deserve the same joy of raising a family due to your depravity.
You don’t know persecution until you’re told that God doesn’t love you because of how He made you; when Christian fundamentalists are tied up to the back of pick-ups and dragged down a back road because they believe the Bible. When you know that, then you can talk about persecution.
I try really hard to not get angry over this. But it’s hard for me not to see red when I think about my grandparents, whom I love, who will never be able to be a part of my life because of their own ignorance. I doubt my parents come to my wedding one day. All because my love is different than their love.
But my love isn’t different. It isn’t unholy. It isn’t wrong because a man with a beard said so in a GQ article.
My love is real. And it’s not going away.