A Lot to Learn

My Column for The Elgin Review October 14, 2020

A girl in my high school had a crush on me. I didn’t get it. It was just six years after Stonewall. It was six years before the first known case of AIDS. In my insular little world homosexuality wasn’t something I was aware of. “Coming out” was something I read about on the society page of the Omaha paper when daughters of the wealthy were formally introduced as debutantes, ready to take their places in high society. Coming out back then had nothing to do with telling someone you were gay. My classmate wasn’t “out.” I just knew that being her friend felt complicated so I found ways to stay too busy to invest much in our friendship. Years passed before I understood why she seemed so hurt by me. I had a lot to learn.

My boys grew up in a different world after the worst of the AIDS crisis. Once, three years after Matthew Shepherd was brutally killed for being gay, when my boys were middle-school aged, I was putting laundry away in the linen closet outside their bed room when one of them was with a couple friends from school. I heard the boys say, “Oh! That’s so gay!” and they laughed and threw the term around loosely. This was “gay” and that was “gay” and it was clear that “gay” was decidedly un-cool.

After his friends went home, I asked my son about it.

“It’s just something we say.” He claimed.

“We don’t mean anything by it.”

I asked, “Would you say it around someone who’s gay?”

“No, Mom!” he insisted. “But I don’t know anyone who’s gay.”

A beloved member of our extended family, a member of the choir at church, his grandparent’s pastor, his own school principal who helped him adjust to life in his new school were all gay. I could see the cogs turning in his head as I “outed” people he loved to him.

“Is there anything un-cool about these people?”

“No. They’re all really kind to me.” He looked crushed. “I’ll never use ‘gay’ again to describe something bad.” 

“Good,” I said. “I’m glad.”

This past Sunday was “National Coming Out Day.” I’m thinking about the incredible people I know who are gay and “out.” I’m thinking about how much poorer my life would be without them. I’m thinking about their contributions to the churches I’ve served and the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. I’m thinking about the heartache many of them have faced, the cruelty many of them have been subjected to. I’m thinking about the ways the church, through bad scholarship and selective application of scripture has perpetuated the silencing and sidelining of beautiful children of God solely because of who they are attracted to, who they love.

I’m thinking we’ve come a long way since I was in high school. We’ve come a long way since my sons were in school. But we still have a long way to go. I’m “coming out” to say, we still have a lot to learn.

**

No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ. Ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. Worship is at 9:15 on Sunday mornings.  I love to hear from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

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