Once upon a time I was not so liberal. Once upon a time I 100% believed that gays and lesbians were facing a sentence of eternity in hell. Once upon a time I feared the gay movement. I feared the agenda and questioned the authenticity of every person who “claimed” to be gay. Afterall, God would not create gay people only to punish them and condemn them. He didn’t create any gay animals (a very false idea I adhered to). In my limited amount of understanding being gay was a choice. Gays were not born that way. Therefore it was sin. Fire and salt pillars kind of sin.
I didn’t have much exposure to people who were openly gay being as I attended a Christian school where being gay would likely have not only gotten you bullied but most likely expelled. I have one small recollection of a girl in my class wanting to bring her gay friend(s) to our Jr/Sr Banquet (we didn’t have dances, we had dinners… *sigh*) and those friends were not permitted because of their sexual orientation. And I was glad. At least this is what I fuzzily remember about that incident.
Right after I graduated (or just before) Ellen got a sitcom on ABC. A few years in to the show Ellen came out both in character and publicly for herself. Because of the gay content of the show ABC gave this mild sitcom a parental advisory prior to airing. I can remember being so disgusted with ABC and with Ellen. The world was certainly ending if this was the propaganda and trash that our networks were going to sell us. With so much conviction, I hated Ellen, her ideas, and ABC for supporting this. By the time Will and Grace came along the feelings continued but they had lessened.
My next exposures were much more real. College. In college I studied side by side with many lesbians and I worked with a few gay men. This was a time when I began to question if my biblical beliefs about their sexuality could possibly be wrong. I knew men that had been in committed relationships longer than most couples I knew. Longer than my parents had made it and yet here they were denied the right to be married and damned to hell. I’d question just enough to empathize for the moment and to be kind, but the Bible told me otherwise and the Bible trumped what I wanted to believe. Therefore I voted against their rights, avoided what I considered sinful parties at their homes, and continued to pretend that I was cool with who they were. You know, love the sinner hate the sin. Yeah, that philosophy.
This continued to be my mindset well in to my twenties. Every now and then a glimpse of how I might be wrong would surface. Like the time when we adopted our oldest from an orphanage in Kazakhstan and I saw first hand how many children are without families. I began to question whether a child would prefer to just be loved no matter if it’s with two dads or two moms or a heterosexual couple. Wouldn’t any family be better than no family? But, as always, my empathy and questioning were short lived. God had intended for families to be one man, one woman, and their children. Who was I to question that?
I continued down the path of righteous judgement rather than progressing my views. I felt so high and mighty that I eventually lost any empathy. I had decided no more questioning. Questioning and empathizing were too risky. I soon learned of someone from my past who was a christian man married with kids but had been having affairs with men because he was gay. I was so proud to be part of a church that was working with him to cure his sexual addiction and help him save his marriage. The fact that my church would help him rather than deny him admittance was my idea of progressive. No more questioning.
Until I began to doubt other standards of my beliefs. And until I allowed all questioning and all seeking. Until I decided to truly open my mind. Until then that is how I perceived others through my heterosexual, closed mind. After questioning, I recognized that I was right to question in the very beginning. That I should’ve allowed myself the freedom to continue down that path of evaluating my want to believe a certain truth vs the commandment that I must believe it to be true.
Now that I had deemed the Bible as untrue and I was free from the confines of god mandates I sought out to change my perspective. As much as I’d like to tell you that as soon as I left religion the shackles of all I’d been taught to believe and actively practiced just fell off, I can’t. It was like being handcuffed and having to search through thousands of keys to find the one that would finally release you. It was work. I knew at this point that I wanted to love and accept and actively fight for gay rights. Because I knew it to be the right thing. Because I knew that they were not evil. Because I had started to educate myself and I learned about the 1500 or so species that did have some types of homosexual behavior and relationships. Because I began to question why sodomy between same sex couples is any different than sodomy between heterosexuals. And because I could pull up all the times I wanted to believe differently than what the Bible taught me and hold on to how I felt about the loving gay people in my life during those times. They were wonderful people. Kind people. Not sinful, sick people with big agendas to destroy the world. Not people in need of saving or change. I was the one who needed changing. And Ellen is, and probably always was, fucking awesome! Just sayin’.
I continued down this path of retraining my mind by reading, educating, watching shows that made me uncomfortable, by voting
the way I believed to be right, by recognizing that gay parents are a great option for orphaned kids, by rubbing shoulders with more gays and lesbians without judging their lifestyle. I retrained my mind by thinking about my own boys and the fact that one or more of them very well could be gay and do I want them to ever, for even an iota of a second, to think that I don’t fully support them? No! I want them to grow up in a house where we fought for equal rights and where they knew long before they knew they were gay that mom and dad were on the front lines fighting for their right to love and be loved. That’s what it boils down to. Love. A basic right for all human beings. Gay or straight.
Again this didn’t come as easily as I would’ve liked or expected. For example, soon after my decision to lose religion, we enrolled our boys in an alternative school and we learned that they would be teaching sex ed when our boys became fifth graders. In that class they teach about transgenders and alternative lifestyles and how it’s okay to be anything and it’s our responsibility to treat all people, no matter their sexual orientation, with great respect. For some reason, just the idea of my boys being taught that an alternative lifestyle was a valid option brought up a little past anxiety in me. Even though I too believed that and wanted to teach them those standards for living. Sadly, the residue of all my years of fighting against homosexuals still surfaced from time to time. But this time I knew those feelings and thoughts to be false and so pushed through the negative reaction they gave me. I was slowly becoming free from my prejudices.
Freedom did eventually arrive. The key to my shackles had been found and I was released. Since that day (there was no one specific moment) I was free to fully accept the gay community without any baggage. I was free to start fighting for their rights.
Two years ago my little brother told me he had something he wanted to tell me (and my sisters). He (K) said, “Amy, I’m so scared to tell you and I’m afraid I’ll chicken out so I’m telling you that it’s important and I need you to hold me accountable. I need you to make sure I tell you.” At the time, my siblings and I all lived in Tucson and were running every Monday night together and then having dinner afterwards so we decided that the next Monday he would spill his guts. Of course, during the next week or so my sisters and I were taking guesses at what we thought he would need to tell us. What news had him so nervous? I think I had landed somewhere on the guess that he was dropping out of college and he was afraid of disappointing us.
We went for our run and then out for dinner and when the conversation time came it went a little something like this,
K: So I have something to tell you guys. Why don’t you guess.
Us: You’re dropping out of school? You got a girl pregnant? You’re moving? You got married? You’re gay?
K: Yep. I’m gay.
Us: Amidst hugs, laughter, and tears…. Yay, that means more adopted kids in the family! K, I’m so happy for you! K, that’s wonderful news! You had us scared shitless. Do you feel better now that it’s out?
K: Yes, but I’m still scared to tell the parents. Will you guys help me with that?
After that it was just a barrage of questions rapid fire style!
Since that day, I can honestly say that I love my brother deeper than I ever have. Being gay changes nothing about him. Absolutely nothing. But being free of his secret does. His coming out gave him the freedom to be true to himself and with that freedom he has more of himself to give. He isn’t hiding in fear and shame anymore. He is liberated. He’s more genuine. I always find it sad to hear his story about trying to convince himself that he wasn’t gay. And I hear this a lot. People fight against being gay because they want to be anything other than that. We aren’t at a place yet where we can discover we are gay and feel just as comfortable as discovering we are hetero. That has to change.
I have a lot of regret when it comes to my brother. I have regret that my sisters and I ever teased him about being gay. When he would cry, when he would never bring around a girlfriend or talk about girls,etc, we teased him. I regret that I ever fought against his right to be with who he loves. I regret that I wasn’t a safe place for him to share his life with. I’m sad that so many people still don’t have a safe place to be free from their secrets. 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. 40%!!! I regret that I am part of the reason he needed to stay closeted for so long. I regret that I judged his lifestyle before I knew it was his lifestyle. I regret that I didn’t take a more active part in his life when he was silently struggling with this. Alone.
But on the flipside I’m also proud. I’m proud that I came to a place where I was safe for him to share his secret. I’m proud that I was on that journey before I knew my own brother would be part of this community that I was learning to love and accept. I’m proud that I can now stand right by his side and fight for his rights. His right to be married. His right to adopt a child. His right to be by the one he loves. To share health benefits with that person, to get tax breaks, to have estate privileges. These are all rights I will fight for. I’m proud that my boys have a great example of a man and that man happens to be gay. That they will see that they too can be gay and I will shout it with joy from the rooftops. I’m proud that I allowed myself to question all those years ago. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure how my relationship with K would function. I’m not sure I could’ve supported him and if I did, there’s no doubt that I’d be secretly praying for his conversion. I’m proud that I can honestly say that I love my brother just as he is. Perfectly beautiful.
Mostly, I am proud of him. It takes a lot of guts to come out and own your truth. Especially in religious circles. It takes a strong person to come out knowing there’s a good chance that some people will judge and some people will be harsh. When I first told one of my long time friends, I had a very small glimpse of what my brother must sometimes fear. I was excited to share my news but I knew she wouldn’t likely feel as excited as me. What I didn’t expect was her response, “that’s disgusting and wrong.” That person is no longer privy to the exciting and celebratory moments in my life. Truly I’m sad that she can’t see the beauty in him and the beauty in his coming out. I do. He does. I’m all kinds of big sister proud.
The journey continues. He probably still has people to come out to but as the days pass on I believe it gets easier and easier. He becomes more comfortable in his truth and who he is. And he knows that he is forever loved by those who matter most.
Now let’s get this equal rights movement right where it needs to be…all things fair and equal in the hetero and homo worlds! Let’s make a future for our kids so they don’t have to hide in any closets or feel ashamed of their sexual orientation. Let’s educate the people so our kids don’t hear ignorant judgements about how they are ‘disgusting’ and ‘wrong’.
As always, readers, journey on. Fight the good fight.