Almost a decade ago I was tentatively coming back to my church after a relatively brief–but angry and heart-broken–absence. I was newly single and learning how to be myself again while slowly putting my life back together. One Sunday evening I attended a dinner gathering for us newbies to meet some of the church leadership outside of a more formal church setting, an idea I think is kind of brilliant, actually, and wish happened more often. I was sitting in someone’s living room, paper plate of pot-luck on my knees, chatting and trying to make some new friends. That is when Gaaron walked in. Gaaron was an old friend of someone who was there, he was on a cross-country road trip and only in town for the night. His friend had invited him to come to this dinner thing for a little while.
Gaaron–a name he explained was an amalgam of “Gay” and “Aaron”–had a fuzzy Kermit the Frog backpack, a pink baseball hat, and wore a black t-shirt that said “Nothing This Fabulous Should Be In The Closet.” He was introduced to the group, and to their credit the people there were polite, if not overly friendly or kind. I immediately liked Gaaron, he reminded me of a couple hilarious graphic designers at my office. After he got a plate I beckoned to an empty chair beside me; I asked him about his travels, he complimented my liquid eyeliner and nail polish, and pulled a bottle of body glitter out of his Kermit backpack explaining that it would make my eyes sparkle. He was genuine, happy, kind, and funny. Had Facebook been invented at the time (you know, for non-Ivy League plebeians) I would have added him as a friend on the spot. After maybe 45 minutes or an hour, he and his friend–the guy in my church–left to go about their business of catching up and a little city sight seeing.
And that was when those church people I was meeting for the first time–highest local leadership included–stopped being polite. They laughed, nastily mimicked his voice and hand gestures, mocked his clothes and the content of his backpack, said a number of offensive and degrading things about his character, morality, and personality, and expressed genuine relief that he had finally left.
I was shocked, and to my forever shame I said nothing. I was so surprised at the two-faced behavior of these “Christians,” I was confused as to why they were polite to his face, only to mock him behind his back. In a world of “love thy neighbor” and the Golden Rule, how could they possibly justify their behavior? I don’t portend to know everything about Jesus, but I’m pretty sure that were He there He wouldn’t have belittled Gaaron. He would have just loved him because Gaaron is a human being and we as humans are to to be kind and respectful to other humans, and as Christians we are commanded to love all other humans, end of story.
If Gaaron was your friend, would you mock him? If he was your brother, would you laugh at him? If he was your son, would you ostracize or scorn him? Well, he is someone’s friend, someone’s brother, and someone’s son.
For several days I had all these terribly conflicting emotions about Gaaron. How could I sit there, thinking I was this reconverted Christian, embarrassed for how my new friend was being treated, yet too embarrassed to stand up for him to a room full of
bullies strangers. This was ten years ago, but I still acutely feel how uncomfortable this situation made me feel, both the comments that were made, and the fact that I did nothing. Then I was uncomfortable, now I am outraged. A few days after meeting Gaaron I typed out my experience and my part in this bullying behavior, and I sent it to the 5 or 6 gay friends I had at the time. It was so hard to admit that I didn’t defend Gaaron, or even tell his taunters to shut the hell up. At the end of that email I promised each of those friends that I would never again stand by in such a situation, that I would not be too embarrassed to tell someone to shut their mouth, to knock it off. That I would actively defend any gay person against those who mocked or hurt them based on their sexual orientation or outward appearance.
I have kept that promise–I will not tolerate homophobia to any extent. I will not allow someone to make biased and generalized judgement on someone’s morals or character based on whether or not they are gay. (Caveat: online posts I sometimes choose to disengage/defriend/unfollow/block instead of fight. Explaining to someone in-person that their behavior is not okay is very different than calling them out online. Wars have started due to the latter; I don’t fight with trolls or bigots online.)
My state leads the nation in suicide attempts of youth who identify as gay or lesbian. Almost half of the teenage homeless population here are gay and lesbian kids who were thrown out of their (religious) homes after coming out to their parents. Now, you tell me, does it seem more decent, more moral, more Christian to actively fight against this prejudice? Or is it better to actively contribute to teen homelessness and teen suicide and turn a judgemental-blind eye to the thousands and thousands who are seeking acceptance, kindness, and basic humanity? If you aren’t Christian, you don’t somehow get out of this “would you rather” scenario. If you are HUMAN, you need to make a choice: fight prejudice, or contribute to it.
I am a Christian, and despite what any religious leader says about homosexuality or homosexuals, Jesus said love thy neighbor. He didn’t say love only your white, middle-class, heterosexual, Republican, traditional-family, Christian neighbors. He said love thy neighbor, and that seems like a good rule of thumb for me. And if I get to St. Peter and the pearly gates and it turns out I am not heaven-bound because I did not make my gay/ethnic/poor/Jewish/Muslim/liberal/divorced/single-parent/blended family neighbor feel somehow “other” or “less than” then I don’t really want to go to heaven anyway. If that is the trade off, I’d rather be a decent human than be a celestial angel; if I’m wrong, I sure as hell don’t want to be “right.”
You don’t have to agree with me, but if you leave a comment you do have to be nice. If you can’t say something nice, find somewhere else to spout your feelings. All homophobic or degrading comments will be immediately deleted and the author blocked. My blog, my rules.