“If it’s just who you are, why be proud about it?”
It seems like a reasonable question, right? I mean, if we’re born this way, what is there to be proud of? It’s not like we did it, right?
If you’ve ever asked that question, or been tempted to ask it (especially if you think it’s a clever question) here’s what I need you to do: imagine one of the really big St Patrick’s day parades. Imagine a very big, bearded, slightly inebriated Irish American in that parde. Now imagine yourself wearing a t-shirt with a British flag printed on it, and some slogan such as “The Irish are all terrorists!” in really large print. Now imagine yourself confronting the inebriated Irishman in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day parade and demanding that he explain just what it is he has to be proud of, anyway, just because he was born Irish?
If you are a straight or straight-identified person living in our society, having grown up going to schools that encouraged your childhood crushes, that held dances that celebrated your teen age boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, watching movies where 99.9% of the plots include at least an element of either boy-meets-girl or boy-rescues-girl or woman-gets-her-man, et cetera, much of your existence is the result of a system of privilege which is the equivalent of that t-shirt.
So that’s the first thing I have to be proud of: I haven’t been crushed by the forces of homophobia, I didn’t commit suicide in my teens, I survived all the beatings, I managed to avoid being driven into addiction or a life of loneliness by all of those people, assumptions, and cultural expectations that said I couldn’t love, and if even I could my love didn’t matter, my very self was false.
I survived all of that and became a productive member of society. I found a man who promised to love me and stay with me the rest of his life—and he did! And after he died, I was lucky enough to be found by another wonderful man who somehow isn’t put off by all my obnoxious personality traits and has the audacity to love me!
We have a circle of friends who run the spectrum from straight through bi and gay, and contrary to what I was told again and again throughout my childhood, how lovable or worthwhile any of them are has absolutely nothing to do with their orientation.
I’m proud not just because I’m still here and I’ve survived, but because all of those people marching in Pride Parades all around the world have survived. From the freaks to the wallflowers, from the lesbian moms and gay dads to the queer aunties and uncles, from the straight parents of lesbian & gays to the straight kids of gays & lesbians, from the queer soccer players to the queer sci fi nerds (and there are a lot more of us than you think!), from the drag queens to muscle daddies and gym bunnies, from the dykes on bikes to the queer corgi owners club (sometimes one of the largest groups in the parade), from the go-go boys to the clog-dancing lesbians, from the queer quakers to the gay service members, from the cyber sluts to the snap queens, from house spouses to the queer executives… in short, every bi, gay, trans, lesbian, gender-non-conformist, queer, homo, fairy, butch, femme, st8-acting person or ally who has survived another year and is still ready to stand up, be counted, and throw a fabulous party.
I’m proud because we have endured hate, which has taught us how to love better. I’m proud because we have fled the shadows, and showed the world our light. I’m proud because no matter how many times we’ve been knocked down, we have gotten back up.
I’m proud because we’re all here, and we’re beautiful!
First, because it’s a parade, and people do some pretty astounding things when they march.
I watched my first Pride Parade before I marched in one. I was barely out to anyone at the time, and I wasn’t even sure what the parade was. I had seen (usually lurid and shocking) pictures in the papers and during the very brief coverage that would appear on the evening news.
I suspected those representations were highly inaccurate, but I had heard a few conflicting descriptions from gay people I knew.
What struck me most about that first parade was how unexceptional most of the people looked. Oh, yes there were some outrageous costumes, and some people bared a bit more skin than you would normally see on a summer sidewalk, but the vast majority were far more fully clothed than a typical beach crowd.
I understand why a lot of people think there’s a lot more nudity at Pride Parades than other events. It’s mostly because of the men. Our society is so heavily patriarchal that we don’t notice all those women in revealing clothes, provocative poses, and suggestive angles used in advertising, television shows, and the like. Women are allowed to show off their legs, a little cleavage, and much more, to show just how beautiful their bodies are. No one blinks at all the near nudity of women on floats in the Seattle Seafair Family Torchlight Parade, for instance, or the Tournament of Roses Parade, or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade—it’s there! We don’t consciously think about how much of the world is geared around appealing to the sexual desires of straight men.
We are not used to men putting themselves on display in the same way. So when the float covered in go-go boys goes by, instead of realizing that it’s no more nudity or sex appeal than what you might see on, say, the Miss America float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, we’re too busy freaking out at the Naked Boys (who aren’t actually naked)!
But what really struck me that first time, was how ordinary so many of the people looked. The various hobby-based clubs marching by in their matching t-shirts, throwing candy. The men and women, mostly in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, walking in a group with their dogs on leashes. The political groups with matching t-shirts chanting their slogans. The groups with kids—lots of the queer couples and their kids—marching with whichever group they were with. Plus lots of church or other religiously affiliated groups and lots of amateur sports leagues.
There were a multitude of costumes, many feathers, copious amounts of glitter, and a lot of rainbows. The outrageous costumes sometimes had some sort of political message. But often they were just things like big crazy headdresses that you weren’t sure what they were meant to signify, but it was rainbow colored!
Then after all the groups with their banners and fliers and sometimes matching t-shirts had passed, the parade just kept going, just lots and lots of random people. It took a few minutes for us to figure out what was happening. I learned later that it’s a tradition that’s gone from the very first Pride March in 1970 on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. After the parade passes you, you step off the curb and join it.
And that’s why some years I watch. The reason for the parade, ultimately, is simple visibility. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious monsters lurking in seedy clubs, we’re the person in front of you at the check-out line in the grocery store, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks while laughing at something his computer.
We’re here, we’re everywhere, we’re real, and we have lives just like you.
I watch so that the people who are being brave and marching in their first parade will be seen and cheered for. I watch so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, and lesbian friends) will get the applause that their costumes deserve. I watch so the guy who was up all night gluing sequins on his and his boyfriend’s costume will get the cheering that work deserves. I watch so that the older couple walking together holding hands will be seen and their love acknowledged.
I watch so that the ones whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now. I watch and applaud so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters. I watch so that the ones who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one will know that we see their grief and share it. I watch so that the straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I watch so I can see and be reminded of just how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.
And finally, I watch so that as the last official entry goes by, I can see all the people who aren’t part of a club or organization who, just like me, stood on the sidewalk cheering and applauding.
And I cheer and applaud for all of them until finally it’s my turn to step off the curb and say to the world, “Me too.”
Oh, the many reasons one continues to march in Pride Parades after that first exhilarating time…
One reason I marched in so many parades was because I was a founding member of the (now defunct) Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus. Every year we marched together with our banner. Some years we had candy to hand out. Some years we had fliers. Some years we just waved. People always shouted at us to sing, but you can’t do big choral singing in the middle of a loud street. If you try, no one can hear you over the ambient noise unless you scream. You can’t hear each other well enough to stay in key or in rhythm. We tried, a few times, to get a good mobile sound system to play recordings of us singing, but that doesn’t work well, either.
So one reason I was there in the parade year after year was to march with my fellow choristers. To show people we were there, maybe get a few more people coming to our concerts. Maybe find a few new recruits. It was always a fun group to march with.
I was also there for the same reason I marched the first time. Saying to the world that I’m here, I won’t be invisible, I’m not going away.
I was there to see all the people standing on the sidewalk. Some in couples. Some in family groups. Some were there specifically waiting to cheer for a friend, family member, or significant other who was marching with one of the groups. Some were just there to cheer everyone. Some of the folks watching together had gone to more trouble dressing up than some of the people marching. There always seemed to be at least one group like that watching from a big balcony or deck overlooking some part of the parade route.
I was there, yes, so that I’d have the satisfaction each year of either glaring at or blowing kisses at that one guy who was always there at one corner with his big sign with a bible verse on it telling us how much he thought god hated us all. I never yelled at him. One year, Ray and I stopped right in front of him, french kissed, then turned and blew kisses to him. Ray kept turning around, waving, and making yoo-hoo sounds as our group marched on. Which was hardly original, but it was fun. I don’t know if it was literally the same guy year after year. It seemed like it was. He always seemed to be alone. He was very grim-faced but always silent. At least when I saw him. I like to imagine that he eventually came out, got some therapy, and settled down with a nice leather daddy in Palm Springs.
I marched to smile and wave at the people watching. To accept the applause and return it. “Hey! We all made it another year!”
I marched to show that we’re not all cute fashion-conscious young men—some of us are chubby, grey-bearded, sci fi nerds in t-shirts and tacky Hawaiian shirts.
I marched for the friends and loved ones who are no longer with us: for Ray, who promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, who loved Disney movies and old books, who danced with an abandon I envied, who even made jokes about the chemo, and whose last words on this earth were “I love you” spoken to me; for Jim, a friend from high school who didn’t come out of the closet until he was dying of AIDS, and I don’t think ever marched at Pride; for Chet, a cousin who was sent away when he came out, who vanished for years until one day his mother got a call from a hospice, and whose immediate family continued to reject him even refusing list his name in his grandfather’s (my great-uncle) obituary; for Stacy who sang like a TV version of an opera singer and loved a good joke; for Frank who didn’t sing so well, but never missed a rehearsal; for Mikey who was as tall as a pro basketball player but would rather play Dungeons and Dragons; for Scott, who was so sure that if we prayed harder we’d both turn straight, but died in a car accident before graduation; for Kerry who was always defensive about his Vespa; for David who played even the impossible accompaniments written by Mr M and made the piano dance; for Tim who sang like an angel and loved David so much it took your breath away when you caught him smiling in David’s direction; for Todd who was diagnosed with the disorder that would become AIDS before it had a name, who made the most morbid jokes about the disease, and never allowed anyone but his partner see him cry each time he saw another funeral notice for someone he knew; for Phil who was kicked out by his parents before graduation, but put himself through college despite them; for the other Todd who moved in with one boyfriend after the next, never able to keep a relationship going for more than a couple of months until he met Jack; for Glen who had problems with labels; for Mike who had problems with middle C… and for so many others who I only knew briefly.
I marched because someone needs to and I could.
Why did I march in my first Pride Parade?
Because for years I was deathly afraid that people would guess. I was certain that, if people knew I was gay, that everyone would despise me. Why would anyone want to be friends with, let alone love, such a freak?
The earliest moment I remember feeling that fear was when I was four (yes, four!). I didn’t even know there were words for what I was. I had made a linguistic error, referring to two neighbor boys my age as my “boyfriends.” At that point, I thought that the word “girlfriend” meant a friend who was a girl, and “boyfriend” was a friend who was a boy. But my use of that word sent my grandmother into a tizzy, explaining to me that I must never, ever use that word. And as she explained, so emphatically that it scared the bejesus out of me, that boys would occasionally have girlfriends, and then eventually would find the one special girl that they would spend the rest of their life with, but would never, ever have those kinds of special feelings for boys, that was when I first realized that there was something wrong with me.
Later, after getting teased at school for being a “sissy,” or because I “threw like a girl,” I started to form a better picture of what that difference was.
For years, whenever my dad was angry to the point of beating me with something clublike (as opposed to just slapping, punching, and generally knocking around), he hurled the word “c*cksucker” at me repeatedly. That’s the word I remember most when I think about the time he broke my collarbone (I was ten), for instance. I didn’t know what that word meant until I was eleven. But that simply solidified everything I had already gleaned from the notion that every bully, harasser, and teaser at school, the park, or Sunday school had already made clear: boys like me were horrible, unloveable, detestable creatures.
So I did everything I could to hide it.
When puberty hit, a few months before my twelfth birthday, any doubt that I had about why all those words kept being hurled at me was gone. I threw myself into every church activity I could, because I thought if I just worked hard enough for him, surely god would eventually stop ignoring my years of tearful praying to make the feelings go away.
I honestly can’t say which motivated me more to try so many sports in middle school: trying to find a way to appease Dad, or trying to find a way to become a “real boy” to appease the bullies.
By my late teens I had finally realized that words like faggot, pussy, queer, homo, and so forth were hurled at any guy that someone meant to demean. It didn’t always mean that they thought you were literally homosexual, it was just that that was the most dehumanizing, detestable thing they could think to accuse you of being.
But because that was the most horrible thing someone could call you, it just amped the terror of what might happen if anyone realized that I actually was gay.
Even when I stopped believing that I was going to hell for feeling this way, the terror didn’t leave. Because what was really scary was the certainty that everyone I cared for would abandon me. Even when, after applying logic and ethical analysis to the abstract concept of sexual orientation, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with any two consenting adults choosing to love each other, I still feared that abandonment.
It took a few more years of being closeted, being extremely careful about who I let know that I wasn’t heterosexual. A few more years of telling even those few people that I was bi—it wasn’t that I was lying so much as trying really hard to convince myself. Because somehow being bisexual meant I was only half a freak, or something. A few more years of furtive attempts at having relationships with guys (and trying to do that while constantly fearing someone who wouldn’t understand might see is dreadful enough on its own, let alone all the other problems inherent with the inexperienced trying to figure out relationships)—before I was finally ready to stop hiding.
I marched because I finally realized that the sorts of people who would abandon you weren’t worth having as friends. I finally realized that my worth wasn’t dependent on their approval. I finally realized that if they had a problem with me being gay, that it was their problem, and not mine.
I marched because I was tired of hiding. I marched because I was tired of trying to be invisible. I marched because I was tired of all the people trying to make me invisible or urging me to keep it to myself.
I marched because I was ready grab the world by its metaphorical lapels, give it a shake, and say, “Hey! I’m standing right here!”
Although the Supreme Court’s decision to declare section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is a victory for us, it is a partial victory, only. People outside the 12 states and the District of Columbia which currently recognize marriage equality, are still denied the protection that marriage brings.
It’s sad that the five justices who ruled on this didn’t see through to the logical conclusion of one of their statements about the families of same sex couples in their ruling: “The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
That statement doesn’t just apply to the children in the 12 states that currently recognize marriage equality. It applies to all of the two million children the census bureau recently said are being raised by gay or lesbian parents in throughout all the states.
Even if the extremely unlikely outcome had happened, if the court had ruled on the more fundamental constitutional question, it wouldn’t mean our fight for equality is over. In 29 states there is no law against firing someone simply because he or she is gay, or because an employer thinks he or she is. Laws don’t prevent someone from being a jerk and finding another excuse to get rid of someone they don’t like, but non-discrimination laws give you options in the most egregious cases. They also encourage employers, large and small, to create policies that reduce the occurrence of the less egregious cases.
When it becomes legally unacceptable to openly fire, refuse to promote, or otherwise materially penalize employees simply because they are gay, it starts becoming socially unacceptable to joke or negatively comment about it. And studies have shown in other areas of discrimination, that just turning down the heat of acceptability of open discrimination starts changing private attitudes. Not for everyone, but enough to make life a bit more bearable on a day-to-day basis.
In 33 states there is no law against firing or otherwise penalizing an employee for being transgender. Heck, it’s nearly impossible for a person who is either undergoing gender reassignment therapy or has completed it to use a restroom without people throwing hissy fits and wailing and gnashing their teeth about some of the strangest and most far-fetched “consequences” of that.
Even when the transgender person is a six-year-old child.
And don’t get me started on the people who don’t understand that it is not just a matter of someone deciding they want to dress in the other gender’s clothes. So-called natural physical gender is nowhere near as well-defined and clearcut in some cases as most people think.
While 49 states have some form of anti-bullying laws on the books, seven of those states either explicitly exclude harassment due to sexual orientation and gender identity from the definition of bullying, or severely restrict what schools and school employees can do when the bullying occurs in those areas. Another fifteen states don’t specifically exclude harassment because of sexual orientation, but leave the wording vague enough as to make it unenforceable. And then the extent to which gender identity is or isn’t included varies so widely, I get confused whenever I try to read all the charts about it at places such as Bully Police USA or the Trevor Project.
When the elder George Bush was President, the Surgeon General’s office determined that teen suicides could be reduced by two-thirds if we initiated prevention programs targeted toward GLBT youth that attempted to reduce the stigma and fear of rejection. Many other studies conducted by organizations ranging from the federal department of Health and Human Services, to the association of State Attorneys General have reached similar conclusions.
Even in states considered very liberal, with anti-discrimination laws and the whole works, gay and lesbian employees consistently make less money then their straight colleagues with similar education, experience, and job performance evaluations.
So, even if we had received marriage nationwide, there’s still a journey ahead before we’ll be at full equality.
Bill was a medical laboratory technician. Scott was an architect.
Bill said he was walking with friends one night on their way to have drinks when he saw a really sexy guy on a motorcycle waiting for the light to change. A bit later they saw the motorcycle parked in front of a bar. It wasn’t the one they were heading toward, but Bill wanted to meet the guy on the ‘cycle, so he convinced his friends to go in. Bill found Scott inside, tried to strike up a conversation. Scott didn’t seem interested, but wasn’t completely unfriendly, either. Eventually another guy that Scott had been waiting for arrived, and it seemed obvious that they were together. Bill’s friends didn’t want to stick around, so he and his friends went to the place they had originally been headed to.
Hours later, Bill was still with the friends at the other bar when suddenly a voice asked if he could buy Bill a drink.
Scott had heard Bill’s friends say where they were going, and once he had concluded some unfinished business with his ex, had come looking for him.
Less than a year later they were living together. They bought a house together. Scott’s family all lived in or near the city, and over time came to accept Bill into the family. Years later, Bill’s still got teary-eyed telling about the first time Scott’s brother’s daughter called him Uncle Bill. “This was the 70s,” he explained. “It was far more common for families to refuse to even meet your brother’s gay lover.”
The house they’d bought was something of a fixer-upper. They worked on it together for years. Even with Scott’s connections in the real estate industry, they hadn’t been able to get a bank to give them a mortgage in both their names. Scott had insisted, then, on drawing up a contract so that the money Bill put into a special account they had set up for house expenses would be recorded as equity in the house. Scott had also insisted on drawing up wills. “He didn’t like to leave things to chance,” Bill told me.
One day at work, Bill got a phone call from one of Scott’s co-workers. Scott had been in some kind of highway accident. Bill hurried to the emergency room. Arriving at about the same time as Scott’s mother.
It was too late. Scott had been pronounced dead on arrival.
Over the next few days, Bill was busy with funeral arrangements. It was all a bit of a blur, of course. All those tedious details seem unimportant in the face of the enormous sense of loss.
“I should have known something was up from the way Scott’s father and brother were acting,” Bill said. “I didn’t really notice until the wake, when I noticed they were both absent.”
When Bill arrived home after the funeral and wake, he found the father and brother along with a lawyer. They had a court order, barring Bill from removing any property from the house until an inventory had been completed by a court appointed agent. Scott’s father was contesting the will, on the grounds that Bill had coerced him into signing it.
Bill couldn’t afford to put up much of a legal fight. The will was thrown out, though the equity contract was not. I don’t know all the the legal details, but the upshot was that Bill had to move out, and was only allowed to take items that he could prove he had paid for himself. The family did have to pay him the equity, thanks to one of the precautions that Scott had set up, but they seized nearly every piece of furniture and nearly every personal item in the house.
Bill wasn’t allowed to take even any book, photograph, or paper that he could not show was his personal property. Because the mortgage was in Scott’s name, the presumption was that the house and all property within was Scott’s. Bill, as far as the law was concerned, was just a roommate. “At one point,” Bill said, “I thought I was going to have to produce receipts for my own underwear. As it was, more than half of my own family photos went to them, because I got tired of arguing over every page in every photo album.”
As part of the equity settlement, he was also forced to sign an agreement he would never try to contact any of Scott’s family members again. Even though at that point Bill really needed the money, he balked at that, until Scott’s brother informed him that if he didn’t, the brother was going to say to the police that he overheard Bill making lewd comments to one of the nepews. It was a lie, but as the brother said, “Who do you think they’ll believe?”
Some time after the last legal document had been filed, Bill received an unmarked envelope in the mail. Inside were some polaroid photographs. Someone had piled all of Scott’s sketchbooks from his years of art classes and beyond, made a bonfire, the took pictures of the fire. “Of course they took all his sketchbooks, and of course they burned them. Half of Scott’s sketches were of men.”
Even when there is a will that specifically names one’s unmarried partner, the law stil considers said partner a stranger, for legal purposes. Blood relatives can contest wills on all sorts of grounds, and any non-relative has a disadvantage in regards to burden of proof.
Marriage, as opposed to civil unions or any other arrangement, changes that. In both formal law and common law principles, a spouse is not just counted as a blood relative, but is automatically the nearest relative. If other family members contest a will, it is considered an intra-familial dispute, and the burden of proof switches.
Yes, Scott died in the early 80s. This may lead you to think that in our more enlightened times this sort of thing can’t happen.
You’d be wrong. There’s the case of the two young men who had been together for several years, until one died in an accident just last year. His family were able to legally prevent his surviving partner from even getting a look at the full police report about how the young man died. The surviving partner was told not to try to attend the funeral, or else.
Or two older men, both retired, had been living together for decades. They’d had a ceremony together years ago and exchanged rings, but their state doesn’t even recognize civil unions. One of the men, as his health has deteriorated with age, began to exhibit dementia. His sister had herself appointed guardian and kicked the other partner out. When the story broke just a few months ago, the partner who had been kicked out had had to sell his wedding ring to get enough money to travel to relatives of his own who would let him live with them.
There will always be people who disapprove of the people their grown children or siblings choose to share their life with. But if the law recognizes our marriages the same as it does any heterosexual couple’s, there are thousands of legal protections and safeguards available to protect us and the ones we love from such people.
Marriage is how we say, both socially, culturally, and legally, “this person is family.”
It’s a right that every adult should be able to exercise.
I love Michael because:
- His first reaction when he hears someone is having a problem is, “How can I help?”
- He loves to re-read his favorite books again and again.
- He reads an astounding number of new books every year.
- He will spend hours letting me babble about a book, a TV show, or a movie that he isn’t really interested in without complaining.
- His smile always makes me feel happy, no matter how bad a day/week/month/year I’m having.
- When I’m ranting and raging about something that isn’t working, or that I’ve broken, or that’s just really bothering me, he says, “Okay, honey” without any sarcasm or flippancy in his voice at all.
- He can fix unfixable equipment.
- He’s got the prettiest eyes.
- He acts as if my extremely nerdy mathematics rants are interesting and important.
- He tells me when I’ve screwed up, but always in private.
- He doesn’t say, “I told you so” even though he has the right to dozens of times every week.
- He kisses really well.
- He can always find things I lose, often right away.
- He just laughs when I point at something he can’t find that’s right in front of him.
- He makes the most yummy chicken soup from scratch on the entire planet.
- He finds ways to anonymously help people.
- He doesn’t complain about my weird music.
- When I’m going overboard with the Christmas music, which he can’t stand, he either puts on his own earphones without saying anything, or asks if I can skip to another song.
- Even though he absolutely hates tomatoes, he helps me grow my own.
- He has great legs.
- He has, on way more than one occasion, when learning that someone is limping along on a dying computer, assembled a better system, installed software (sometimes going to interesting lengths to find out what sorts of software the person uses without telling why), tested everything several times, then shipped it off to the person as a surprise.
- He looks good in a worn work shirt and heavy duty Carhartts.
- He rocks a Victorian frock coat and top hat.
- He’s comfortable with us both quietly working on our projects at home all night.
- He can chop vegetables faster than the human eye can follow.
- He laughs at my lame jokes.
- He finds humor in nearly every situation.
- He believes in people.
- Even me when I am convinced I don’t deserve it.
- When I asked, “Will you marry me?” he grinned brighter than the sun and said, “Yes.”
My earlier post about the apology issued by Exodus International President, Alan Chambers, just hours before they officially announced they were shutting down wasn’t the only one that expressed skepticism. But there were a lot more places out their taking only a very superficial read of the apology on the first couple of days.
I don’t claim any special knowledge. All I did was read every word of the long apology as posted by Mr Chambers, and then read a live blog from the conference of the closure announcement, and then read the entire official statement published by the organization. A simple, literal reading of each entire statement reveals that, contrary to how some people reported it, they are not renouncing their condemnation of homosexuality they are not abandoning their insistence that gay people must either be celibate or enter into an opposite sex sham relationship to be “right with god,” and they are not apologizing for the harm they caused.
But don’t take my word for it:
John Shore: An open letter to Exodus International’s super-remorseful Alan Chambers. His first money quote:
And congratulations on all the press coverage your apology is receiving!… Why, it’s almost like you’ve been strategically planning your heartfelt apology for months!
But he gets bonus points for:
…you’re no different from the guy saying, “I apologize for being the leader of a group of white-hooded KKK guys who burned a cross on your lawn. That was wrong. You n—–s still need to go, of course. But we’re gonna stop with the hoods and the cross burnings. People just don’t get behind that the way they used to. So we’re gonna regroup, lose the name ‘KKK,’ and come up with a more acceptable way of promoting what we believe. Isn’t that great?!”
When I read that one to my husband, he said, “Yeah! We’re not going to wear those white hoods any more. Now we’re dressing up in blue hood. Blue’s a warm, welcoming, friendly color, right? What? You say they still look like the same old white hoods? No! They’re blue! It’s just a very, very pale blue…”
An apology from an organization with a history of purging content from their website without an official redaction will always ring hollow. Closing it down and launching a new one like the last one didn’t exist won’t cut it. Let me be clear: There’s nothing shameful about admitting the terrible things you wrote and said were wrong, and taking full responsibility for them. In fact, this is an honorable and difficult thing to do. The problem is, the people who once led Exodus haven’t done this yet.
Then there’s Jane Brazell: Exodus International: harm repackaged is still harm, where it is noted:
We lost friends, family, and community; we were told that we would not inherit the Kingdom of God – that we were no longer a child of God. That’s what I wanted to hear from him. I wanted to hear that he sees LGBTQ people as holy, that our relationships are holy, that we are in fact beloved children of God and that nothing will separate us from that love. I wanted to hear that he recognizes the courage it took for us to come out and live wholly before God and the world. I didn’t hear that…
And then here’s one where the person ignores all the parts of the apology where they said, “if some people felt pain” rather than “we harmed people,” but she still isn’t giving them a pass: Rev. Dr. Cindi Love: Apologies Are Too Late When the Damage Is Already Done. Money quote:
“Unfortunately, they misled the people they claimed to want to “help.” Last year, Exodus President Alan Chambers reported that 99.9 percent of people who engaged in reparative therapy did not change their orientation.”
And, as several of us predicted, they’ve already announced the formation of a new ministry to create “mutually transforming communities” which they plan to call ReducedFear.Org. Transforming? Right, totally different than “curing” or “repairing” or “changing”—oh, wait, it isn’t.
But it is exactly the opposite of “accepting” or “affirming.”
I told a story earlier this week about someone freaking out at a picture of my husband on my desk many years ago. Now I want to tell you about a completely different experience.
It was some years later. The company had grown, been bought by a giant corporation, split in two, and the division I worked for was sold off to another big company that set us up to run semi-independently. They hired some new people to fill out the most decimated departments. One of the new people hired was a young computer engineer, fresh out of college from Eastern Europe.
One day shortly after he joined our company, Eduard, the young engineer, was setting up my account in the new bug tracking system, showing me how to log in, and so forth. So he was looking over my shoulder while telling me what to do next. When we finished, he pointed to the photo frame on my desk. It was in a very similar location as the previous picture had been. Many things had changed since the previous experience with another engineer. Ray had died, and I had since met, fallen in love with, and now lived with Michael. My office was in a different building, the equipment and furniture were different.
So the man in the picture, the picture frame, the desk, and so on were all different. The only thing that was the same was that I still kept the picture at a spot where I could see it, and where other people could usually ignore it.
He asked in his heavily accented voice: “Who is… Is that your, uh, husband? Partner? I don’t know the word.”
I told him it was my hubby, Michael, and that I never knew what word to use, either. Boyfriend, partner, husband all had difficulties back then.
“Does he work in computers, too?”
I explained that he did computer support for a number of clients, and also worked for a computer refurbisher.
“How did you meet?”
I briefly told him about the science fiction convention where we’d met.
“It’s good to have things in common. I met my wife in the hiking club in college. We both love climbing mountains.”
And so I asked him a few questions about her. It was a simple, brief, very human conversation.
Over the course of the next few years we worked on a lot of software products together. Eduard and his wife had a couple of sons. He started organizing snowboarding excursions for the other employees. He bought a motorcycle and started riding it in to work (and organizing long groups rides with others on summer weekends). He rose to a management position. He was one of the smartest, nicest people I’d ever worked with. One of his best traits was that he accepted everyone at face value, more concerned about getting the job done right than worrying about whether who was the “proper” person for the job.
I can’t tell you how many engineering managers I’ve met who pigeonhole non-engineers the moment they meet them. They assume all tech writers know nothing about technology (and don’t really want to know), but only worry about things such as Oxford commons, split infinitives, and making text look pretty. With that sort, any time I made intelligent comments on specifications, or suggested workable fixes to problems, they would look at me as if I’d grown and second head and ask, “How do you know about that?”
Eduard wasn’t that way. When, for instance, we had to resurrect some old functionality in one codebase that hadn’t been used in many years, and I started explaining about how we had sampled which parts of the digital signal, he just started asking questions about the technology. It wasn’t until the end of our discussion that he asked how I knew it so well. When I told him I’d been the software tester on the project when we’d first developed the functionality, he just nodded and asked if I’d be willing to explain it to the engineers who had to re-create the functionality, and was I willing to review test plans.
Then one June Monday I was in the office, busy because I had some big deadlines looming. I had heard on the news about a late season blizzard that had struck nearby Mt Rainier days earlier, and how rescuers had had to retrieve two climbers who had gotten caught in the storm. One of them hadn’t survived.
It was quite a shock when I learned the climbers were Eduard and his wife. They were very experienced climbers. It had just been one of those times when nature reminds us just how small we are. They had had to dig in to take shelter, and as the storm raged on, Eduard had wrapped himself around his wife, using his body to shield her from the worst of the cold. He saved her, but it cost his life.
And that’s how this queer middle-aged man, from a very low-church Southern evangelical background wound up standing in a very high church, orthodox funeral mass surrounded by teary-eyed co-workers in the very unchurched Northwest a week later.
He had been raised in a culture that was much less gay-friendly than ours (which still isn’t terribly), but I had never felt the slightest hint of judgement or awkwardness from him. He had treated the discovery of my husband’s picture completely matter-of-factly, and any other conversations that drifted into family or related topics remained that way. He approached the world with an open mind and an open heart.
Because of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and the annual commemoration in many places with a Pride Parade, I always end up writing about gay rights or people who oppose them even more often than usual during June. But for the last few years, June also makes me think about Eduard—a straight guy with a wife, kids, and a predilection for adrenaline-pumping hobbies—who had reacted exactly the opposite as that other engineer upon seeing a simple picture of a man on my desk. Whereas the other guy had taken offense and demanded that I be punished and forbidden to have the picture in my office, Eduard had asked how we’d met.
I hold out hope for the day when Eduard’s open-hearted outlook on the world is the norm from straight guys everywhere.
So, Exodus International, the oldest of the so-called ex-gay/reparative therapy ministries announced last night that they are closing down. A few hours before the announcement, which they made at a conference full of their members, the current president of the organization, Alan Chambers, issued an apology to the gay/lesbian/bi/trans community.
Other religious conservatives are angry, calling them sell-outs and worse.
A lot of other people at the other end of the political spectrum seem to be very surprised that most of us gay people aren’t jumping up and down with joy, accepting the apology, and saying that all is forgiven because someone has said they’re sorry. They are disappointed that we don’t seem to understand that saying you’re sorry is only the first step in the type of redemption and forgiveness model that the people who work for Exodus International have been raised in.
I agree that an apology is only the first step—and it is an important step—in the process of making amends. Except, in order to be that first step, the apology has to be for the actual wrong that you have committed. This apology is not that in the slightest.
The bulk of the apology is about incidental things. He apologizes that some (many) of the counsellors used the so-called therapy as a way to gratify their own sexual desires. He apologizes because some people “found a message rather than mission”—which may qualify as the most convoluted way to say, “if people were offended” ever. He apologizes for neglecting to mention in his own personal story that the so-called cure has never actually made his own attraction to members of the same sex go away. He apologizes for “failing to acknowledge the pain some people experienced.”
It goes on and on. But he never apologizes for the actual wrong: he never apologizes for lying, living the lie, or pressuring other people to live the same lie. In fact, he explicitly says that he is not apologizing for his “deeply held biblical beliefs.” And that’s the heart of the problem. They may be deeply held beliefs, but they aren’t biblical. Don’t go quoting that tired verse from Leviticus at me unless you’re prepared for a long lecture about declensions in Hebrew, and unless you’ve been willing to stone someone to death for the abomination of wearing clothes made of more than one kind of fabric, okay?
In their long announcement at the conference of their decision to close down, one of the board members said, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people…”
Except that nothing positive has ever been accomplished by this group. Nothing. Guilting, coercing, and bullying people into denying their feelings, luring them in with the false hope (and they’ve known it was a false hope for well more than a decade or two) of a “cure,” then handing them instead a lifetime without love, affection, or intimacy are not positive things. Bullying people until they commit suicide is not a positive thing. Encouraging parents to kick their gay children who don’t change after going through the torture they call therapy out on the street is not a positive thing.
I admit that I am not impartial. While I have never been through any of these therapies, I have had friends and relatives who did give them a try. Most of them survived. One wound up killing himself outright. Another essentially drank himself to death over the course of a few years. One cousin who went through ex-gay therapy has lived his entire life since alone, never dating anyone. He’s dependent on antidepressants and some other drug he once called his “temptation dampener.” I have no idea what the second drug actually is, because among the bewildering array of rules and restrictions he has continued to live under for years is a prohibition against talking unsupervised with anyone who is openly gay or who was supportive of him when he was “in the lifestyle.”
Other relatives have refused to accept me for who I am, and/or refused to welcome my husband (either Ray when he was still alive, or now more than a decade and a half after Ray’s death, Michael), precisely because that one cousin has “been able to change.”
The god they claim to believe in promised not just life, but life abundant. Living alone, constantly afraid of talking to the wrong person, afraid that a little emotional intimacy might lead to forbidden acts, only getting through the day with the help of drugs to kill the libido, and other drugs to kill the very natural depression that comes from living alone, afraid of any intimacy, and a drug-neutralized libido is not abundant life.
The truth is that Exodus and their ilk have lost the fight on a society-wide level. All of these anti-gay organizations have seen their donor pools shrink dramatically in the last few years. Support is dropping off even among many traditional conservative religious circles. Support is practically non-existent among teen and early-twenties aged evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Surveys indicate that a major factor in many young adults leaving the churches in which they were raised is all the anti-gay rhetoric. The writing is on the wall. These guys aren’t shutting down because they’ve had a change of heart. They are shutting down in hopes of re-grouping and finding a new way to attract donors and supporters.
And to top it all off, their deflecting, delusional, and self-serving announcement about why they are closing ended by quoting a bible verse that used to be my favorite, John 16:33. They quoted a different translation than my preferred one. I’m going to stick with mine: “In the world you will face tribulation, but be of good cheer! For I have overcome the world.”
That may be what has angered me most about their non-apology. They have not faced tribulation, they are the tribulation others have faced. They have institutionalized bigotry, and turned it into a process which does not spread love and joy and forgiveness, but rather grinds people down with shame, fear, and lies. They are the very thing that their lord came to overcome, not the other way around.
If they ever realize that, if they ever apologize for being so very, very wrong, I might be willing to consider it their first step in a process by which they may eventually earn forgiveness.
But so far, they aren’t even looking in the right direction.