Homosexuality was not discussed in the evangelical Christian household that I grew up in. I don’t recall my parents ever mentioning views that were either supportive or disapproving of gay people. But from the various pulpits I listened to until my mid-20s and among my Christian friends, it was taught to me that homosexuality was a sinful lifestyle that this deviant group of people had chosen.
Into early adulthood, I had adopted these views: While we should be kind to everyone – gays included – by no means should we accept them for the choices they’ve made much less approve of them. But it was more than that. In a tacit way, I was taught that homosexuals (much less bisexuals and transgender people) were odd, weird, alien, different, not to be trusted. They were The Other. They were flamboyant perverts, ladyboys and hedonists who had rejected God and were souring our society. It was easy to feel icky, easy to despise gay people, to shamefully think them lesser – especially since I didn’t know any, and it’s easy to fear what we don’t know.
And then I met John. I was 23 and we worked at the same newspaper, and he was the first openly gay person I’d ever known. John wasn’t anything like the gay monster I’d been led to believe all gay people were. He was kind, selfless and went out of his way to befriend me. He was inquisitive and as serious as he was witty, always a good time to hang with. He didn’t talk in an effeminate voice (weren’t all gay men effeminate?). But more than anything, he was just a regular old dude. Very quickly, he shattered every gay stereotype I’d carried for years. I couldn’t help but think that everything I’d been told about what it meant to be gay was a lie.
Around the same time, something happened in my best friend’s extended family. In this Christian household, I’d heard a number of anti-gay and blatantly homophobic jokes, remarks and views over the years. And then one day, lo and behold, my best friend’s young, charismatic, beloved uncle came out after living with his “friend” for a number of years. Here he was now, gay as can be. And my friend’s family had to deal with it. Bless them, they welcomed him warmly and openly and overnight became an accepting, pro-gay family. All it took was someone they loved being gay and it transformed their attitudes toward an entire population of people.
This is why Pride matters to me. This is how being out and open can make an impact.
Rarely do hearts change by being told to. A politician, teacher, book or celebrity can rarely make an impact on someone’s heart. That’s not how we change. Change comes from within, and it’s usually stirred and provoked by personal relationships. When people we love courageously come out, it makes it hard to dislike people like them, people who have endured similar experiences. We are forced to make a choice to either love them or shun them or something in between. And that’s how change happens. That’s how cultural movements take hold, one heart at a time.
I cannot begin to know what it’s like being an LGBT person, much less someone living openly and proud. My heart breaks for those who are discriminated against or treated differently simply for being the people they were born as. They did not choose their queerness, just as I did not choose my straightness.
But the more of our friends who are out and proud shows all of us that the LGBT community is made up of people who want what everyone else wants in life. They are our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues and our community leaders. They are people we love and respect, whether we know they’re gay or not. That’s something to celebrate. Happy Pride.