Robert was gay.
At least, that’s what everyone believed.
He spoke with a lisp, wasn’t interested in sports, fast cars and girls. He giggled instead of guffaw. He preferred theater and opera to football games and rock music. He was described by everyone – including grownups – as effeminate.
Now, of course, the Baptist church I attended taught that homosexuality was a sin. I knew that for sure. It was right there in the Bible as plain as day:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination. – Leviticus 18:22
Anytime the Bible used the word “abomination,” whatever was abominated against was bad. Really bad.
So, it was no surprise to me that Robert was teased and tormented. He deserved it for doing something that was an abomination to God.
Yet, something in the pit of my stomach didn’t feel right when my buddies were taunting Robert. The frightened, confused look on his face haunted me. I would mumble my little slurs with the rest of them (hoping Robert wouldn’t hear) – lest someone think that I was gay. I felt terrible about it. I avoided eye contact with Robert. He was a sinner, after all. I actually resented Robert for putting me in this position.
One day Robert confided with someone in high school that he was indeed gay, and had a crush on a television actor. That person betrayed his trust and this news was common gossip in the school lunchroom that day. The barbs and insults intensified. The jeering was horrendous as Robert sat alone to eat his lunch.
That afternoon Robert was attacked by a bunch of redneck bullies. He was beaten so severely that he had to be hospitalized for a month. The boys who beat Robert up were punished, but the damage inflicted on Robert was more than physical.
The whole incident made me feel sick. I thought the perpetrators belonged in jail. They just received a fine and the instigator probation for a year, plus their parents had to pay Robert’s hospital bills.
But, what disturbed me most was the underlying feeling among some (too many) in the community that Robert got what he deserved. Of course, they were horrified by the violence, but…you know; abomination? I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but I didn’t feel good about thinking that. I did NOT feel good about what happened to Robert.
I don’t know what ever became of Robert, but it bothers me to this day that I never spoke up for him – that I didn’t speak out against such hateful treatment. It didn’t feel like the Christian thing to do. But, homosexuality, in my mind, remained a mystery to me. I didn’t understand it, and I couldn’t relate to it. I didn’t think much about it for a number of years. I felt uncomfortable when someone would tell an off color joke at the expense of homosexuals, but not enough to say something. I still believed, as my church taught, that it was a sin and that it was against nature.
Then, while working as a newspaper journalist in the 80s, the scourge of AIDS wreaked havoc on the Gay community. We did a story on a couple in Lorain, one of whom had the AIDS virus. We followed them for several months through various medical trials and frequent hospital visits.
I’ll admit that when we were assigned the story, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. The AIDS scare was real, and as a Christian, I heard many sermons from well known and respected evangelists and preachers who explained how God was using AIDS as a punishment for their sinfulness. I didn’t agree with that nonsense, but I was still a bit uncomfortable at first with this couple.
As we spent more time with the story, it struck me that these were two people who truly loved one another. It could have been a husband and wife struggling through cancer. The fact that these were two men seemed to become less important. My unfounded fears and prejudice began to melt away. There was nothing abnormal about the love these two men had for each other. The only difference was in how other people and society responded to them. When the virus claimed it’s victim, his partner was barred from the intensive care room by his “real family.”
The inhumanity of this situation gave me pause to reevaluate my position on this issue.
Years have passed, and I’ve since come to an understanding that homosexuality is just the way some folks are wired, and is perfectly normal. It has nothing to do with sin, and the Bible passages written by men during the iron age were just wrong about this aspect of human sexuality due to their ignorance. Just like they were wrong about diseases being a curse from God, or a result of an unrepentant sin. Modern science has enlightened us in these areas.
I often think about what I would say to Robert were I to see him today. Would I apologize? Would I tell him my story about how I came to see things from his perspective? Or, would we simply talk like old classmates?
Now, here we are. June 27, 2015. The Supreme Court of the United States has allowed same sex couples to legally marry with all of the rights and privileges that come with it.
It’s about damn time.