I was born and raised in the rural rolling hills of Southeast Ohio in the early 1970’s…it was a place and time that, well let’s just say if you were anything other than white and “straight”, you were not only not accepted, you were ridiculed and persecuted. I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian home. We went to Sunday School and of course Church every Sunday without fail. If you said you were sick, you had better have had a fever or been throwing up or you were left at home and expected to watch church services on the tv.
I have heard a lot from people about how they believe children are being "Groomed or "Indoctrinated" into a "Gay" lifestyle, so let me say this. I was groomed and indoctrinated to be straight. I sat through countless sermons on Sunday mornings where I was told that homosexuals are evil and are going to hell just for being homosexuals...in other words, I was going to hell just for being me...just for being born. Guess what? That indoctrination did not take. I was born gay and that's that.
I was also groomed and indoctrinated to be judgmental, racist and misogynist. These three fundamentals were drilled into me from the church and school. They were taught to me by adults and peers. They were displayed in the community and they were widely accepted. These three attributes run deep and have taken me years to overcome.
I grew up knowing that I was “different”. It was at age 5 that I discovered I was gay. Now, of course at that age I had no idea what being gay was or even what sex was, but I now know what all those thoughts and feelings were that I experienced at that tender age. Throughout my childhood, I never really quite fit in…I was “unique”. I was never bullied…never was I ever even in a “fight”. I was certainly never one of the popular kids either. I was sort of just forgotten about. Our life revolved around church and it was indoctrinated in me at a very early age that if I didn’t spend my days continuously seeking forgiveness for every “sin” that I committed, I was going to Hell. For me it was never about the glory of going to Heaven, it was all about being scared to the point that you did everything possible to avoid eternal damnation in fire and brimstone.
I learned that if I didn’t want to go to hell, I had to pray continuously and ask for forgiveness for every thought that went through my head, every word that came out of my mouth and every action I took…it was all sin. And, the biggest sin of all, the one that would most definitely land me in an eternity of damnation was being gay. I was told that gay people made a choice to be gay. I racked my brain over and over but could never come up with the time I had made a decision to be gay…how could a 5 year old make a choice to be gay? Well, I didn’t have the answers and unfortunately I didn’t have a mentor to ask, so I made the unfortune decision to just fake my way through life. The “choice” I made was to pretend to be straight, somehow hoping that one day I would “turn” straight. As part of that “choice”, I choose to marry a woman, surely that would “turn” me straight. Well, it did not, and as a result I hurt a very special person who did not deserve to go through that hurt…that “choice” is one I truly regret and am forever sorry for. As one can imagine, eventually the real me could not contain himself…the gay me reared his head and that marriage ended.
Still believing that I had somehow made a “choice” to be the way I was and ever believing that I was on a one-way trip to eternal separation from God yet somehow just trying to live my life, I developed severe depression and anxiety. I began what would be years of going through psychotherapy and being prescribed one after another of first this drug and then that one…the doctor would change the dosage…up the strength on one and then lower the strength on another. I would be so hopped up with energy one day and unable to wake up the next. All the while I made one bad decision after another, continuously seeking love in relationships that always ended in disaster. Eventually, I found a really good friend, his name was Vodka. Vodka was a great friend. He was always by my side. He was there when times were good and bad. He didn’t judge me and he just seemed to make everything better. One day I realized that I could give up the therapy visits and the laundry list of medications. I didn’t need any of them or anybody…I had my good friend Vodka and we were going to take on the world together.
The years went by and I found myself living in the deep south of the United States, Georgia to be exact. I had been working in corporate America, but knew I had a deep calling for something much greater. I never gave up on God even though there were many times that I thought He had given up on me. I knew that somehow God had a place for me in ministry, I just wasn’t sure what that ministry was. Then, the universe closed a door behind me while opening one in front of me and I began working in funeral service for a Mortuary in north Georgia. I had found my niche, this is where I was meant to be. Shortly thereafter, I began pursuing the path to being a licensed minister and became ordained through Universal Ministries. I began officiating funeral services for the unchurched and my ministry began to grow. As time went on, the Grief Support Counselor at the mortuary where I was working stepped down and I was tapped to take over the grief support outreach program which included facilitating a monthly grief support group, Bridges of Hope. I probably got 100 times more out of facilitating that group than any of the participants got…what an awesome experience. I too have known my share of loss. In 2009, my sister, whom I was extremely close to, took her own life. It was a devastating blow…a loss I still feel to this day. The very next year, 2010, a week before Thanksgiving, my 99 year old grandmother, my father’s mother passed away. She had been the matriarch of the family. She had lived her life trying to be an example of a Christian lady. She was the glue that held my father’s side of the family together and now she was gone. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my father stood over her casket and officiated her funeral. I hadn’t seen my father in a year and there was something different about him. He had always been an active man, constantly on the move doing something. But now, he was different. He seemed exhausted and it wasn’t an exhaustion brought on by grief, it was something deeper. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and on January 14, 2011, he passed on. Three huge loses in less than three years. The losses continued: family, friends, jobs, relationships, etc. and etc. Yes, I know what grief is, but through it all I held onto my faith. There were many times that faith waivered, but it didn’t fall.
I became a Stephen’s Minister and then later became a Stephen’s Ministry Leader…if you are not familiar with Stephen’s Ministry, you need to Google it…everyone of us needs a Stephen’s Minister at some point in our lives. I continued officiating funerals and became a Life Celebrant. I also branched out to officiating weddings and the grief support facilitation grew as well. But, all the while, even though I was helping others, my old friend Vodka was never far off.
After a string of failed personal relationships, I met someone, someone who I thought might be the one. There were many red flags waving right in my face, but I ignored them all. The biggest of those flags was the fact that I was 46 and this young man was 23. Don’t get me wrong, under the correct circumstances an age difference of 23 years can work, but he was not ready to be in a relationship at all and I was getting into the relationship for the wrong reasons. That’s what is known as a recipe for disaster. I disregarded the red flags, ignored the advice of close friends, quit my job and moved to another city with him. I had always felt that I had to remain “in the closet” both at work and in my personal life, so few friends and even fewer family even knew that I was gay. And, of course no one at work had any idea. I began to feel isolated and alone and I felt extremely disingenuous in my ministry…there I was trying to help other people, but lying about who I truly was. Then, we made a second move and even deeper into the deep south. I was now even more isolated, more alone and of course feeling even more disingenuous in my ministry. It was the most depressingly conservative and bigoted place I had ever lived in my life and the hatred of gay people was palpable in the atmosphere. At work, they openly mocked and degraded homosexuals as well as minorities. A phrase I heard daily was, “That’s as wrong as two men in a bed.” On one occasion a lady in the office while referring to two gentlemen in the town actually said, “They seem like such nice boys, I just can’t believe they are gay.” To which the office erupted in laughter while I stood by silently, saying nothing in absolute fear and horror.
The depression and anxiety of earlier years arose again and my good friend Vodka was right there to save the day. Soon, every night when I got home the first thing I did was make a cocktail. Then days off, the drinking began first thing in the morning. It was quickly getting out of hand…the drinking made getting through the days easier, but the next day the depression and anxiety would be even worse. The issues in our relationship grew exponentially and one day they came to a head. The relationship was over. It was a disastrous end to three years of my life and yes it took some time to get over, but it was an answer to prayer. Not only was I out of that relationship, but I was out of that town, out of the deep south, out of that severe bigotry and hate and I was headed to a place where I could do some recovery.
I spent the next several months seriously examining my life. I spent every spare moment in prayer and I repeatedly asked God for the same thing, “God, please send me someone I can love who will love me in return.” It was a simple prayer but it was from the heart. I also asked God to remove from me everything that He wanted gone from my life and to please show me what His plan was for my life. I said goodbye to my old friend Vodka, we didn’t part for life, I still see him once in a while, but we completely parted ways for a few months. Though I was out of deep southern Georgia, I was still in Georgia and still forced to stay in the closet, but God was pushing me out of that closet. My life began to change and so did my outlook.
Though many parts of my life were quickly improving, one thing remained…I still had not found love. Finally, in desperation, I simply said, “God, I am completely putting this in your hands. I am giving up on the search and I am going to put 100 percent of my focus on my life. If you choose to send me someone someday, so be it and if not, ok.” That night, from half way across the country, my soul mate found me on eHarmony. It started with a like and then a text and then a string of texts and then before we knew it we were on the phone talking that very same night. Three nights later I booked a flight to go meet him. One month later we met and had our first real date. The next day I proposed and another month later he flew out to me and we drove back across country to start our lives together. Another year after that we were married and my life is forever changed.
It took me 50 years to find real love and it also took me 50 years to throw that closet door open, but at least and at last it is open. Thank you God for answered prayers.
My heart simply breaks for all the people I see, meet, read about and hear about in the LGBTQ+ Community who are going through pain and hurt and have no one to turn to. Something I have seen way too many times are LGBTQ+ folks who have lost a partner or spouse and have been scared to death at how they would be treated at the funeral home and something else I have seen way too many times was how they actually were treated. I have vowed to be there for my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers to help them navigate and deal with the tough times that come in life…the times when everyone needs a support system and everyone should have one.
I stand not only for my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers, but for all those who are oppressed, hurting, lonely, lost or just simply need someone to lift them up.
I’ve had the privilege of being ministered to by several amazing pastors over the years and one that I absolutely treasure is a good friend to this day. She has dedicated her life to standing firm against racism, bigotry and hatred and exudes love in all she does. One beautiful Sunday in May (It was Trinity Sunday) God put me in a service she was leading and I got to experience one of the best sermons I have ever heard…if not number one, definitely one of the top five. She stood in the pulpit in front of a large United Methodist congregation, a congregation I had once felt loved in but now that congregation was divided…entrenched in a dispute…yes, you guessed it, a dispute over homosexuality. She looked firmly yet lovingly out at that congregation and said, “You may not LIKE me, I may not LIKE you. But we are called to LOVE one another with the love that Christ has for us.” She went on to say, “For the Church to live into its full potential, we must not only believe in Jesus Christ, but we must also live as Christ lived, offering His truth, His love, His grace and His mercy to ALL who would come to Him. One plus One plus One equals One. You, me and the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) equals this congregation.
So, I simply say to anyone reading this:
You my friend and me and God together are one force to be reckoned with. If God is for us, who can be against us?