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Some Perspective

Following a school board meeting during which members of a newly formed church that holds worship services in our public school system, a local paper published an article covering the story.  A move made by our local superintendent has caused an on-going, contentious debate among community members over whether this agreement the school has with the church violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Some argue that it does not but what I found most disturbing, personally, during the school board meeting and the article(s) that came out covering the story is the growing debate not over the constitutionality of the matter but whether or not this "church" is anti-LGBT.  It should be pointed out that those of us in the LGBT community saw and read some very harmful words written by the church's pastor on its website--which had been taken down after being told the language was hurtful.  The pastor did apologize.  It should also be pointed out that this "church" is wanting to establish itself within our community among a half-dozen or more, already existing Christian churches. 

I was just months old when the Stonewall riots happened, which sparked the gay liberation movement and gave birth to gay rights organizations’ across the country including “Gay Pride” marches, which have commemorated the anniversary of the riots every June since the first marches were held in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago in 1970.  I am forever grateful to all who came before me that fought the fight for liberation and legal protections under the law.  As a young man in the late eighties and Christian, it was not only still a very tumultuous period of time to be gay but particularly to be gay and in the United States Armed Services.  The on-going plight for gay people was ever so much a part of the popular national news stories, due in part to the on-going AIDS crisis, the rising instances of LGBT-targeted hate crimes, and the increasing number of witch-hunts in the military to out, humiliate, and punish its gay service members which made it all the more difficult to come to terms with being gay. 

“Come on Ladies!  Hold it.  Don’t you dare drop, don’t you dare drop!” he shouted at us.  There were 80 of us, young men in total.  We were all being cycled on the line in the barracks and held in push-up position.  He was not our company commander; he was a Naval Seabee, the toughest of the tough by Naval standards.  He was asked by our company commander to drill us because we’d failed an inspection earlier that day.   When you were being drilled through hell, you dare not make eye contact with the instructor.  While in push-up 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,” he shouted.  As he continued barking, I became hyper focused on my own dripping sweat pooling just inches from my face.  It took every ounce of fight in me to not get sick.  Today, I find it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that back then I was only a year older than my now-seventeen-year-old son.  

I did make it through basic training. Actually, I excelled and was meritoriously rewarded as one of the top ten percent in my company.  Chasing perfectionism is something many gay people can relate to.  Following more training and six months later I found myself stationed on a Naval Air base outside Washington where I lived in the barracks alongside many of my other young shipmates.  One afternoon, our squadron’s Master Chief who had called a special meeting for all persons living in the barracks paid us a visit.  Once gathered, he very coldly informed us that our shipmate was upstairs packing his bags at that very moment.  Many of us had grown very fond of this person.  The Master Chief told us our shipmate was leaving.  He would be heading to Bethesda for treatment and ultimately dishonorably discharged because he was a homosexual with 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 heavier and heavier to carry; I drank heavily during those years to drown the pain, and mask my fear.  It was during this period, in 1989, that I happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  I was a white lone Sailor, and perceived queer.  I was chased down and attacked, beaten with a lead pipe.  I know they 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 and bruises and a mangled broken hand, which I used to protect my skull.  But nobody saw to treat the slowly dying soul inside of me.

Self-hate is a very dark and lonely place.  As for many of my gay brothers and sisters, standing for truth and shining one’s light isn’t an easy road, and far too often ends horribly and far too short for some.  It is for this reason that I share some of these personal stories and give voice to those that have struggled.  In response to a recent article regarding a new church and the Saugatuck Public School board, a couple of members in the community were quoted in the article.  I hope to give you a little more perspective.  If you are white, male, heterosexual, and Christian, and you think it is unfortunate that this situation has been a platform for a discourse of fear and exclusion, I ask unfortunate for whom?  You stated that you’ve never felt any discrimination [from this new church], why would you?  You’re white.  Male.  Straight.  Heterosexual.  And Christian.   Forgive me, perhaps I’m being presumptuous.  I may not have known discrimination and oppression to the extent that my gay elders had, but I know what discrimination and oppression feel like.  I know what discrimination and oppression look like. I know fear intimately.  To you, I repeat the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” 

If you are white, male, heterosexual, and Christian, and you say that your church is inclusive and more so, that [the church] 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, give a separate set of rules to gay persons to uphold within your church, that my friend, IS anti-gay.  Not only anti-gay, but anti-love, anti-Christ.  To you, I choose the words of Maya Angelou, “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 know I probably speak for many of my gay brothers and sisters when I say that 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 have.  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 truly beyond anything I’d hoped for and dreamed.  I know that the younger generations have it easier, are far more accepting.  And I am grateful to have lived to begin to see this and to witness all the great change in our world, to see more inclusion and acceptance.  But we must continue to speak our truth and stand up together to point the finger at injustice and discrimination, as often as it takes because some cannot.  

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