header photo

Gays know firsthand what fear, discrimination mean


I was just months old
when the Stonewall riots
sparked the gay liberation
movement and gave birth to
gay rights organizations
across the country. “Gay
Pride” marches have commemorated
the riots’ anniversary
every June since
the first marches were held
in the New York, Los Angeles,
San Francisco and
Chicago in 1970. I am grateful
to all who came before
me who fought for liberation
and legal protections under
the law. 
As a young Christian man
in the late 1980s, I found it
remained a tumultuous time
to be gay, particularly for
those in the United States
armed services. Gay people’s
ongoing plight was included
in national news
stories, due in part to the ongoing
AIDS crisis, rising instance
of LGBT-targeted
hate crimes and the increasing
number of witch hunts in
the military to out, humiliate
and punish its gay service
members. This made it all
the more difficult to come to
terms with being gay.
“Come on, ladies! Hold
it! Don’t you dare drop!” he
shouted at us. There were 80
of us young men, all being
cycled on the line in the barracks
and held in pushup position.
“He” was not our
company commander; he
was a Seabee, the toughest of
the tough by the Navy’s standards.
He was asked by our
company commander to drill
us because we’d failed an inspection
earlier that day. 
When we were being
drilled through hell, we
dared not make eye contact
with the instructor.  While in
pushup position we were not
to look up from the line, but
this time someone did.
Someone broke. 
“Get back in pushup position!
What are you looking
at? Do you want something
to look at? Ladies, I think
we have a faggot among us,”
the Seabee shouted.
As he continued barking, I
became hyper-focused on my
dripping sweat pooling
inches from my face. It took
every ounce of fight in me to
not get sick. I find it hard
now to wrap my head around
the fact that back then I was
only a year older than my
now 17-year-old son.
I did make it through basic
training. Actually, I excelled
and was meritoriously rewarded
as one of the top 10
percent in my company.
Chasing perfectionism is
something many gay people

can relate to. 
Six months later, following
more training, I found myself
stationed on a Naval air
base outside Washington,
D.C., where I lived in the
barracks alongside many of
my young shipmates. 
One afternoon, our
squadron’s master chief
called a special meeting for
all persons living in the barracks.
 Once we had gathered,
he coldly informed us
a shipmate was upstairs
packing his bags at that very
moment. Many of us had
grown fond of the young
man. The master chief told
us our shipmate was heading
to Bethesda for treatment
and would be dishonorably
discharged because he was a
homosexual who had
AIDS. This hit me hard.
As soon as I had the approval
and opportunity to
move off base, I did. The
burden of my truth was getting
harder and harder to
carry; I drank heavily during
those years to drown the
pain and mask my fear. 
In 1989 I happened to be
in the wrong place, at the
wrong time. I was a white
lone sailor, perceived to be
queer, and was chased down
and attacked, beaten with a
lead pipe. I suspect my assailants
would have killed
me if I hadn’t thought to
jump out in front of an oncoming
car to force help. 
I was taken to the hospital
where I was treated for cuts,
bruises and a broken hand,
which I had used to protect
my skull. But nobody saw to
treat the slowly-dying soul
inside me.
Self-hate is a very dark,
lonely place. As for many of
my gay brothers and sisters,
standing for truth and shining
one’s light isn’t easy. It
can end horribly and far too
short for some. I share these
stories to give voice to others
who have struggled.
A couple community
members were quoted in a
recent newspaper story regarding
a new church renting
Saugatuck Public School
facilities. I hope to give
some of them more perspective.

If you are white, male, heterosexual,
Christian and
think it is unfortunate that
this situation has prompted
discourse based on fear and
exclusion, I ask, “Unfortunate
for whom?” 
One person said he had
never felt any discrimination
(from this new church). Why
would he? He is
white, male, straight and
I may not have known dis

crimination and oppression
to the extent my gay elders
did, but I know what they
feel and look like. I know
fear intimately. 
To this gentleman I repeat
Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s
words: “Freedom is never
voluntarily given by the oppressor;
it must be demanded
by the oppressed.”
If you are white, male, heterosexual,
Christian and say
your church is inclusive and
honors diversity; perhaps
your definitions of honor
and diversity are different
from mine. If you welcome
people into your fold yet
treat gay persons differently,
giving them a separate set of
rules to uphold within your
church, that is anti-gay, antilove
and anti-Christ. As
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve
learned that people will forget
what you said, people
will forget what you did, but
people will never forget how
you made them feel.”
I speak for many of my
gay brothers and sisters
when I say we are sensitive
to issues that may tread upon
our constitutional rights and
freedoms. And I, for one,
must stand up when white,
male, heterosexual Christians
don’t “see” the real fear
and concerns others may
I honor all LGBT persons
who came before me. Their
plight made our journey a
little easier. Because of
them, I was able to make it
through the military and go
on to build a life that was beyond
anything I had hoped
or dreamed for.
The younger generations
have it easier and are far
more accepting. I am grateful
I have lived to witness all
the great change in our
world, to see more inclusion
and acceptance. 
But we must continue to
speak our truth, stand together
and point the finger at
injustice and discrimination
as often as it takes, because
some cannot.
Writer Greg Gerrans lives
in Douglas. –Ed. The Commercial Record

Go Back