I remember how the world used to be. I had heard about gay people. I knew they existed, but I didn’t think that I knew anyone like that. The words that were used to describe them back then were ugly and started with letters like “f” and “q.” I was quite naive about such things. I had no feelings one way or another because I assumed that I would never meet a gay person.
The first time that I realized that I did indeed have an acquaintance with someone who was gay occurred in the nineteen eighties at the height of the AIDS epidemic. That’s when I read an obituary for someone who had died from that dread disease. Back then code words like “special friend” were used to name partners, and the person who was named as such was someone that I knew.
For a time my only reaction was shock, but rather quickly I came to realize that I really liked my friend, and realized how much he was hurting because of his loss. There was no way I was going to turn my back on him because of this revelation. I became complicit in his secrecy. Never discussing his situation out loud. I knew all too well that he would not be as accepted by everyone as he was by be.
After that I began to slowly learn of more and more of my friends, acquaintances and family members who were gay as they courageously came “out of the closet.” There was a neighbor and mother of my daughter’s best friend who formed a close and loving relationship with a female partner. I found out that one of my bosses was gay and had been taunted since his youth. On a visit with my nephew after he went to college in Chicago I learned that he was gay as well. As time passed many of my co-workers became more and more open about their sexuality. Most recently I was proud to attend the weddings of one of my dearest gay friends and my gay nephew. Both of the ceremonies were beautiful and emotional, and most of all right and just.
I have seen the genuine love between two gay individuals. I have viscerally felt its power. I recall my neighbor’s partner telling of a trip to Israel that they had taken. With tears in her eyes she spoke of placing their hands together on the Wailing Wall and joining in a tradition of thousands of years that united them spiritually. She described the oneness that the two of them felt in that breathtaking moment. When she looked across the room at her partner their eyes locked and I saw the purest most intense love in their glances. I felt tears well in my own eyes in that powerful moment.
I have seen the same emotion with the two couples whose weddings I was privileged to share. They care as deeply about one another as any straight couples, perhaps even a bit more, because they have had to fight so hard for the realization of being married in the eyes of the world. It is a beautiful and inspiring to watch them together, and I am happy that they have found the happiness that they deserve. Nonetheless, I realize all too well that they are still subjected to hate, bigotry and even the fear that one day their rights to be married may be overturned by zealots who abhor their way of life.
People sometimes ask why it is so important to gay individuals to “come out.” I have a small inkling of what they are doing when they admit to their sexuality in front of the world. I too carried a secret that burdened me for a very long time. I was unwilling to speak of my mother’s mental illness to anyone beyond a highly trusted group of friends. I walked a tightrope hoping that nobody would learn why I sometimes missed many days of work, or why I seemed so down. I can’t really explain why I was so afraid. I worried that people would not understand my family’s situation, or that they would treat my mother differently once they knew. It was a burden that only grew as the years went by until I finally reached a point at which I was unable to hide my truth any longer. I literally blurted out my story to one of my bosses, and thankfully his response was to reveal that he too was responsible for the health and safety of a mentally ill relative. He prayed with me and gave me some excellent advice. After that I began a campaign of sharing my reality. I learned that so many people were frightening and hurting, and my witness gave them hope. It was a good thing for me, my mother, and those that we knew to speak the truth. In a sense I was able to take her illness “out of the attic.”
When I read testimonials from friends, acquaintances, and family members about the emotional journeys that they have made because of their sexuality, I truly understand what they are hoping to accomplish. As a society it is long past time for opening our minds to the fact that love between two people is always a good and wholesome thing. In fact, stability, devotion, and commitment should be honored by us all. These are not things that should be hidden or reviled.
I don’t know when we will finally reach a time when our gay and lesbian brethren will be viewed by all people as perfectly normal and acceptable, but I would like to believe that such a day will one day come. I’ve searched the New Testament high and low, and although I don’t count myself as a scholar I can find no clear evidence that Jesus condemned the union of anyone who is truly in love. There is a vague reference in the Old Testament that might in fact be interpreted any number of ways, but Jesus Himself told us that He had come to show us the new ways. He consistently argued with the Pharisees over outdated rules and spoke in favor of accepting and loving all people. I think if He walked among us again He would embrace the gay and lesbians to show us how we too should live.