In law school, I spoke as a straight “ally” to various classes for the campus office of LGBT Affairs. During orientation, the speakers, both gay and straight, shared their coming out stories. The stories ranged from extremely painful to funny to sweetly innocent. One woman’s story of her adolescent crush on a camp counselor was so cute I wished I was a girl just so I could date her.
I find revisiting my story every now and again a refreshing reminder of why I believe in tolerance and acceptance, and why the fight for full equality cannot stop until it is a reality. Here’s my story — I hope you’ll share yours as well.
I went to college a fundamentalist Christian. I thought being gay was a sin, and that gay people should be prayed for. I wasn’t hateful about my beliefs, but they were relatively firm.
Until I met Rob. Rob and I worked for the campus conference office, he as a full-time conference planner and me as a student assistant. Rob was in his late 20s, good looking, and very self-assured. He was a fun guy to hang out with, and we spent many a day criss-crossing campus together in the department minivan.
Some way into that summer, I said something about Rob, to which a co-worker replied, “You do know Rob is gay, don’t you?” I didn’t. But rather than the “ick” reaction you might have expected, what came to mind was more of a “huh, what do you know?” I couldn’t instantly categorize or judge Rob, because I knew him, and we were friends. As the summer wore on, he said a few things that made his orientation clear, such as his trademark “doing the bobblehead at all the boys walking down the hall.”
That one relationship triggered a change of mindset. I left college with the conviction that discrimination against LGBT people was wrong. But moving back to my little hometown to write for the local newspaper, the subject never really came up and I didn’t do anything with my conviction.
Then our state senator came to town. At a time when major education issues were before the state legislature, he held a town hall meeting where the one and only topic was preventing gays from adopting. He had sponsored legislation to this effect based on anecdotal, hearsay evidence about a pair of gay men who adopted a child, and it was later discovered that one of them had a criminal record. This, somehow, made gays on the whole unfit parents.
What shocked me as I sat in a little diner covering the event was the prevalence of gay jokes being whispered back and forth between the “town fathers” at the meeting, most of whom were Democrats. I left the meeting furious, and logged on to join the ACLU that day. In a number of small ways, I’ve spoken for love and equality for the relationships of LGBT citizens since that day.
How about you? How did you come to accept your own sexuality, or come to the conclusion that you were “straight but not narrow?”