It was the last day of high school for me in June of 1987. The final bell rang. The halls were crowded with screaming teenagers. Papers were thrown everywhere. Water balloon fights were starting in the parking lot. In the chaos, one of my classmates (I will call him “Rex”) walked up to me, shoved a note in my hand and then took off without a word. I couldn’t catch him before he left. The sheer joy and the chaos distracted me.
Rex’s note was folded meticulously. I put it in my pocket and joined the happy riot that had seized the school.
It was odd behavior for Rex to run off without a word. We had many discussions in English class that year and the prior two years. He was intelligent, witty, gentle and incredibly kind. In our final semester, our friendship deepened. We suffered through an English class taught by a truly abysmal teacher who worshipped hockey and openly hit on his female students. The girls sat in the front row (there was assigned seating) and got A’s on all their essays, while the guys were seated near the back and never earned better than a “B”. The teacher was disgusting, but Rex was cool. I probably would have lost my mind if not for him.
Rex’s history at the high school was odd. Every February, like clockwork, he would disappear for long stretches. Nobody knew where he went. He would inevitably turn up in March and have to play “catch up” on 3-4 weeks of work. Rex didn’t talk about his mid-winter absences, and, as a clueless kid, I didn’t think to ask.
Later that day, when I went home to change, I found Rex’s note in my pocket and opened it. I will now share the text of that note, omitting the identifying information. I hope I will be forgiven for this indiscretion, but it is important:
This letter is very difficult for me to write. I know you are a wonderful person and will be able to understand. Well, I guess the only way to do this is to just come out and say it. I am gay. That’s not all, I am also in love with you. I have no idea what you are feeling or thinking right now. I pray that you can understand.
Please don’t feel angry or hurt. The last thing in the world I would ever want to do is hurt you. Don’t worry about my feelings. I don’t really expect you to feel the same way, I’m sorry to say. I’ve been hurt many times before but have always gotten over it. At the very least could we stay friends? I truly treasure our friendship and would be really hurt if it fell apart because of this. Please call me at [NUMBER OMITTED] or write at the enclosed address if it is easier. Thank you for understanding.
Here is the actual note…
My first reaction was shock. Utter shock. I had never given much thought to whether my classmates were straight or gay. Like most guys, I was preoccupied with girls and the mysteries that were concealed by their clothes. I gave no thought to other sexual identities. For me, the world consisted of girls I oggled and the ones yet to be oggled.
When I got over my shock, I felt incredible sadness. Rex’s note was heartbreaking. How scary was the world for a gay teenager? You couldn’t just ask someone out. No. You had to worry about the object of your affection HATING you for being attracted to them. While I was worried about girls saying “no” to me, Rex had to worry about being beaten up, shunned, vilified. Being a teenager was confusing and lonely enough, but my friend had to deal with brutality and rejection for simply being himself. The incredible unfairness of that fact burned into me. My life and my point of view were changed forever.
Rex’s note gave me two options: call or send a letter. Because I worked delivering flowers around the Detroit metro area, I had access to a huge, detailed map. [NOTE: For you kids, no, we did not have Google Maps back then.] I found Rex’s apartment on the map, got in the car and showed up unannounced.
Rex’s sister answered the door of a small two bedroom apartment. She did not appear to be much older than me and Rex. She invited me in.
Rex saw me and asked me to sit in his room. He was nervous. So was I. I told him that I had read his note and that I was NOT angry—I was flattered. I told him that I was attracted to women, but he was still my friend no matter what.
Rex was visibly relieved. What followed was a long conversation about how difficult his high school years had been. When he came out to his father, he threw Rex out—in 10th grade! He told me about the pain he felt when his father disowned him. Rex said that his father refused to talk to him anymore. Rex’s first suicide attempt was that February of 10th grade—he was hospitalized. And every year since, he would hit the same brick wall emotionally. I suddenly understood his February absences. Rex’s sister was his guardian and sole protector in this crazy world. Only one family member accepted him and loved him the way he was.
We talked. We laughed. When I left, I gave Rex a hug.
I wish I could say that Rex and I were able to maintain our friendship, but it wasn’t to be. He lived across town and worked in a movie theater. I stayed in Warren and worked construction jobs and attended Macomb Community College. After a few visits that summer, we lost touch. I lost touch with a lot of my high school friends during those years.
Nevertheless, my visit with Rex put the world into focus. And that focus has not changed over the last 27 years. Over that time, I learned that quite a few of my classmates came out after graduation. Many of them went on to have successful lives, loving partners (now spouses, Thank God!) and children. Their stories are heroic. They are heroic.
My focus, my moral judgment, on this is unchanged. People who are LGBT have a sexual identity that deserves protection, respect and equal treatment under the law. Folks who are LGBT do NOT need to be cured. They are NOT choosing a “lifestyle” anymore than I chose my hair color when I was born. Even if sexual/gender identity was a choice (which it is surely not), it is a sacred, entirely private choice that deserves the same respect we give to a person of faith. If you are free to choose your religion, surely you must be able to choose the person with whom you want to share your life! And what consenting adults do with each other behind closed doors is their own business. Period.
And please don’t quote the Old Testament to me, unless you are dying for a Biblical beat-down. The New Covenant does away with those morally questionable Old Testament rules about owning slaves, killing children and pregnant women for righteousness sake and dealing with the “impurities” of a woman’s menstrual cycle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Leviticus 25:44-46, Leviticus 15:19-30, Exodus 21:20-21 and Hosea 13:16. As Homer Simpson said (as he was getting ready to release a swarm of locusts in George H. Bush’s house), “It’s the pranksters’ Bible.”
And more than legalistic and religious arguments, we come down to love. LGBT folks deserve the acceptance, protection and love of their friends and family. To the bitter end. No exceptions.
To my LGBT friends: I stand with you.
With Great Love,