This is the story of my friend Kurt. I was the new kid in high school and I discovered that in a small town, it is difficult to break into social cliques. I was marginalized by the popular kids because my dad worked in a factory and I was from Chicago. One had to be in the right social circles. Somewhat ironic in a town of 8,000 after living in Chicago. One country club does not a social scene make.
The first student to approach me was Vicki, as she muttered in the library that they had no good books. She introduced me to her brother, who was a living doll, cute butt and very funny. Kurt and I spent the better part of an evening at an “accidental” date discussing the worlds problems, as teenagers love to do. I discovered that we had nothing in common and we argued for literally hours. He was a Republican, a bigot and, worst of all for this young hippie chick, he littered.
And yet, he was funny, witty, smart and completely charming. We became the best of friends and for many years people believed that we were dating. It was always difficult to explain to potential boy/girl friends that we were just friends. Very few got it and most were jealous. Kurt’s life became more troubled. He disappeared from school, starting doing drugs, then harder drugs. His parents sent him to a psychologist and it got worse. When he returned after disappearing for a week, our circle of friends discovered that he was doing heroin and had thoughts of suicide. We watched him like a hawk. He had many, many friends.
Not once did the thought cross my mind that he was gay. He chased girls like there was no tomorrow and he called kids queers and faggots. We would argue about that. He had me completely fooled.
After high school, we lost touch and when I looked him up, he was living in San Francisco, in the time of Harvey Milk. It was the only safe place to be out in that time. He watched the White Night riots from his window as he lived near Civic Center. San Francisco was a place where he could be happy and began to accept himself. Then HIV came and wiped out the gay community. His partner died, his entire circle of friends died. He feel into a very deep depression. This was during the 1980’s when Republicans were doing things like putting bumper stickers on their cars that said “All the right people are dying of AIDS.”
Each day this month brings me closer to the grief that I know that I will feel. Because his birthday is at the end of September and his death was in early October. Outside of my husband, I was closer to him than any other man. He was my friend. We knew each other and loved one another unconditionally. I cannot begin to fathom the fear, the internalized homophobia and shame that he had to overcome. He was so smart and could have achieved anything. Instead, he fought a society that constantly told him that he was sick and a pervert. he loved his friends, was an amazing host, was knowledgeable in so many areas and was always entertaining. He was the epitome of graciousness, with lovely thank you cards and birthday cards. He was always excited when we visited and loved to show us his city. There is a hole in my heart that no one else will ever fill. I keep my memories of him alive on a flash drive, with photos, letters and music, that I store inside a little box from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, his favorite building. Not a gay bar. A church. An amazing church.
Every person who has lost a loved one, for whatever reason, knows what I mean. Everyone is human. Everyone is vulnerable and has feelings. Everyone can be hurt and struggles to protect themselves from hurt. My friend was as human, as worthy, as amazing as anyone else. Being gay was such a small part of his personality, of his potential. Yet others could see only that, not the real person underneath.
Someone you know IS gay. You may or may not know it. When I hear people say “I have gay friends and they know how I feel”, usually in reference to not supporting same sex marriage, I ask you “Are they really your friends? Have you asked them how your opinion makes them feel? Friend? Really? Or just acquaintances. While I applaud you for not preaching hatred, it is truly naive to believe that gay people don’t fall in love and don’t want stable, legal marriages. They are just like you and me. In the grand scheme of things, don’t each of us deserve the right to marry the person we love? How can love ever be wrong? How can a fight to legalize marriage take so long and so much money? How can love make us more uncomfortable than words of discrimination and marginalization. Do you really want to be the one to say “I won’t give you rights to Social Security, Medicare, tax benefits, the right to visit your partner in the hospital”.
Nothing will convince me that my LGBT friends are less worthy in any way. Not Shirley Phelps Roper, not Maggie Gallagher, not Pastor Steve Andersen, not Ann Coulter, not the Pope, not James Dobson, not the conservative in the cubicle half way down the hall from me, and most importantly, not the Bible. I have way too many LGBT friends. They are diverse, amusing, amazing, and a few are annoying. Because they are human. In the forty years that I have known gay people, and I’ve known a lot, not a one has tried to abduct my son or indoctrinate me with some kind of gay kool-aid. They talk about the same things as everyone else. Work, money, pets, car trouble, grocery shopping, their knee hurts, the kids don’t sleep at night, the cable company screwed up the bill. It’s only a myth that the gay lifestyle is glamorous. Most of them live just like you and me. Except we don’t have to be afraid that someone will kill us for being straight. Love is not a sin.
geekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.