Growing up, I was presented with two “tracks” of understanding homosexuality. While both of my parents were very honest and open about sexuality-in-general, my father discouraged any “girly” stuff in my life. On my fifth birthday, my parents fought over what they were going to give me. That year, I had asked for a Barbie doll and when my father found out that my mother had bought me one, he “flat-out refused to raise a faggot in this house!” My mother, trained in Early Childhood Development, knew that all children go through an exploratory period where they play with and eventually define their gender identity for themselves. For her, a boy playing with Barbies was “normal” behavior – the same way a girl playing with blocks or trucks would be. It was “normal” if the boy chose trucks or chose dolls, and it was “normal” is the girl chose trucks or chose dolls. The issue in play on 7 June, 1987 was not what was “normal” however. It was about what kind of kid they were going to raise and “faggots” were not allowed.
While I am sure my mother held concerns about my behavior over the years (ex: not having a serious girlfriend until I was in college, my lifelong interest in fashion, my circle of gay friends, and generally “liberal” views on social issues) I have never been convinced that she would love me any less if I were gay. Concerned? Maybe. Probably. I think that is a healthy thing for parents to be concerned about their child – straight or gay. I have a little brother who is 14 years younger than I am, and I am continually “concerned” about him. Is he safe? Is he happy? Did he get enough to eat for dinner? In fact, this week he begins job placement and I seriously “concerned” to know how that will go for him. I’m anxious right now, writing about it! But, as we all know, raising a gay child presents unique challenges. Hate speech and violence, sideways glances, and shunning – especially in religious circles – are among them.
My point here is to say that, while I am straight, I was still raised with both sides of this debate. I did not understand why my dad got so angry that day (full disclosure: I was attracted to the Barbie doll. I didn’t want to be the Barbie doll, as proven by the fact that they found me a week later “in bed” i.e. “in a compromising situation” with Barbie), but over time I began to see why his reaction was so strong. It’s tough to know what to do when you’re in that position. Scary, even. By coming out, your child is a target for negative attention and that wasn’t something my father wanted for me.
As I grew older, I found and continue to find many friends among LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transexual) communities. In fact, I prefer their company at times because they have had to learn what it means to live honestly, endure hardship and criticism, and have been forged in the fire of experience much as I have. They have had to come to terms with why they believe what they believe and… Honey… Lemme tell ya, nothing endears me to someone quicker than a meaningful conversation.
In that vein, I present the following list of ways to love your local LGBT friend, family member, church member, classmate, whatall. There is enough hatred in the world already. Let’s be unique and try something different.
7. Share a meal together.
I’m a firm believer in the healing power of food. In my social circle, we share a meal on a weekly basis. We make time to sit down with one another, eat together, and catch up on what has been happening that week. I have found in the last three decades that the patience of sitting down together and the intimacy of sharing a meal brings out who we really are. If you invite your LGBT’s family over, remember that you are “sharing” that space, even if it is your own house. They may bring their own set of difficulties to the table, and that’s okay. You are letting them know that you love them anyway.
8. Support the idea of family.
One of the loudest arguments against LGBTs is that they are “destroying the sacredness of the family.” I’ve never really understood what that meant. My immediate family consists of my parents (divorced), my stepmom (adopted, but later ran away from home), my brother (who has Autism and lives in a group home) and my stepsister (a lesbian who works for the Coast Guard and is stationed in Guam) and me (living in California). Moreover, there are two or three people who are more of a “family” to me than those I share genetics with – Samantha Curley, Chelsea McInturff, Emmy Smith, Matthew Schuler, Tamisha Tyler, Sarah Keay, Kyle Shevlin, and Naomi Wilson to name a few. The idea of a “nuclear” family with one dad, one mom, one sibling, and a dog is foreign and strange to me because I have always preferred what Jesus said in Matthew 12: “Who is my family? The one who is on God’s side is my family.” It was an idea picked up later by the Early Church who agreed that “Anyone who says they love God but hates a family member is delusional.”
9. Respect the sanctity of marriage.
I am not a married man, but I have worked in a law office. During my time working there, I concluded that when it comes to law, people only want one of two things. They either want money, or they want blood. When it comes to divorces? They only want blood. Money is irrelevant. Having seen and worked with so many divorces, an ironic thing began to happen. I began to respect the covenant of marriage more and more. It takes work on both sides to hold a relationship together. Once you invite the church or the government into that, things don’t become easier. They become more complicated.
If your LGBT wants to get married, they probably need all the encouragement they can get. It’s a testament to the power of love when a couple – straight or gay – wants to get married, so help them. Support them. Encourage them. Love them. Because marriage is a really big deal.
10. Be aware of physical touch
One of the common experiences among LGBT who have come out to their friends and family is the sudden and unexpected absence/ removal of physical touch. It is, as one friend put it, “like [my friends] were afraid of ‘catching the gay’ from me.” You need to be aware of what is going on inside your own mind and heart as much as ask questions about what is going on inside the heart & mind of your LGBT. Now that your LGBT is “out” are you afraid to touch them? Are they withdrawing from you?
We all need a hug sometimes, to be embraced. Sometimes, a simple act of kindness speaks more than words.
A few weeks ago, I happened to catch one of my friends at a really bad moment. I was going down in an elevator and they were going up, and it was just one of those really coincidental moments when you know, you just know this person needs someone to talk to. After a few seconds of her dodging, wiping tears and saying she was “fine” I confronted her. “Listen,” I said. “You can bullshit me all you want, but you need someone to talk this out. It’ll either be me or it’ll be someone else, but I’m standing right here so… Just talk to me and not someone else.”
So that’s what she did.
We walked around the block a few times as she unloaded – from the fight she had earlier that day with her girlfriend, to the conversation she had with her pastor that afternoon where she was made to feel unwelcome in the church, to the way that one of her friends didn’t stick up for her when she really needed it… The day was awful. Just awful. We kept walking and when she was finished, she sighed, wiped away her tears and said, “I’m done. That’s it. That’s everything.”
And I just hugged her. Because that’s what friends do.
Days later, she told me how much that meant to her and explained to me how important physical touch is to LGBTs, how she knew people that had come out and whose parents, afterward, were suddenly distant, “like a foot or so between them and their parents that wasn’t there before. When you hugged me, it reminded me of that and how important that can be – crossing that distance and letting people know you care. Not everyone does that.”