In the midst of a dark and twisted time for LGBT individuals, with hate crimes at an all-time high, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric spewing like fountains, openly gay conservatives like Milo Yiannopoulos and Guy Benson joining the ranks of our persecutors and my own family advocating for a “new America” that Trump will bring, it can all seem hopeless.
Sometimes the hate doesn’t come to you in a direct form, like someone screaming in your face. For example, my own family member, in an attempt to show support, tagged me in a Facebook meme. The meme was of a pastor who said that, basically, Christians must love gay people and accept them as their neighbors because that’s what Jesus would do. Seems sweet on the surface, but the message it sends us is clear: You only love us because Jesus wants you to.
But what about our heterosexual counterparts? Why do you just naturally love them? Why is it so fucking hard to just love other people because you should love them? The reason is clear: The Bible has historically been used as a tool to segregate and divide this nation. It has been used as an excuse for slavery, and now it’s used to propagate anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
It’s interesting that even to this day, my family can’t recognize the damage their rhetoric has done to me. They often feel as if I’m holding onto stuff in an unhealthy manner. They feel as though I’m persecuting them for their beliefs — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I left for the Marines at 19 years old, I was immediately immersed into a world full of different kinds of people. Perhaps one of the most profound moments happened within my first six months in the back of a 7-ton military vehicle during a training event. About 10 men, including me, were smooshed together and decided to talk about race. One Marine said, “Well I don’t care if they have rights, but blacks shouldn’t marry whites.”
Baffled, I said, “That’s a fucking joke, right?” I honestly thought that he was spewing off some racist joke that would be alleviated with a distasteful punchline or, at the very least, he would state that he didn’t actually believe that. But he wasn’t kidding, and many of the other Marines were in agreement. Later I would learn the word “jigaboo,” and I would learn that the South truly does believe it will “rise again.”
If there’s one thing my mom did right, it was to raise us outside racism to the extent that I was almost completely unaware that it was a real thing. Education in Idaho didn’t teach us much about slavery or current racial problems, and there weren’t any people of color around me, for the most part. To this day, I’m perplexed by my mom’s fervent approach to teaching us skin-color acceptance while staunchly warning us of the lurking homosexual. The line was very clear, and when this line is drawn and enforced in a family, the “other” is excluded from respect and honor.
When I began to go through puberty, my “deviant” sexuality became the focus of my mom’s discontent. It spiraled down into very dark places, where I was to blame for my own desires. To her, I was choosing to be gay, and regardless of choice, I was a safety risk to my own siblings. It became OK to be a little more mean to me, to treat me as less than and to disregard my emotions and ideas.
This treatment, when reinforced for years, doesn’t go away overnight. It’s never reconciled, and the only way to mitigate the damage, or attempt to, is to recognize that it happened in the first place, which we all know is incredibly challenging for those with strongly held religious beliefs. When the root of the treatment stems in saving one’s soul, one’s actions seem glorious or, at the very least, well- intended. This point was reinforced in a conversation with my mother during Thanksgiving three years ago when I was in college post-Marines.
“Mom, how you treated me growing up, how you taught the other kids to see me, fucked me up. It told everyone in the family that I was less than them. It told them that I wasn’t equal, and that my life was sinful.”
“But honey, I can’t help but think that if I didn’t raise you the way I had, you wouldn’t be the man you are today.”
And maybe there’s truth in that. Maybe I wouldn’t have become as resilient. Maybe I wouldn’t be so vocal about the wrongs I see in society. Maybe I wouldn’t have graduated college.
But then, maybe — just maybe — I’d be better. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through therapy. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to join the Marines to become a man. Maybe my relationship with my family would be healthy. Then again, if I were straight, maybe the same could be said, but I’m not. I’ll never be, and so I’ll never be an equal in their eyes.
Implicit bias is impossible to fix if we don’t recognize it in the first place, and even then it is a constant battle. I have my privileges. I’m a white male after all, but recognizing the privilege and actively fighting against bias is the best I can do. But I have no idea how to help fix that in my own family, let alone an entire community of evangelicals.
To this day, my family believes I’m a drama queen. They believe I talk too much about my sexuality, and that I should just focus on living my life, but to this I have an answer: Until every young queer person from Idaho feels comfortable coming out, until every young queer kid in the U.S. feels safe and accepted, until we are treated as equals not only in law but in all social circles, and until the love you have for us is rooted deeply within your heart and not in a pastor’s demand, I will not stop talking about it. It will be the quintessential essence of my being because I refuse to stand idly by while more kids are treated the way I was treated. You are not kind and loving because you think Jesus would have accepted us. You are still a bigot, and the children of this country will look down on you with shame for the way you’ve treated us.
Johnathan Gilmore was a combat Marine deployed to Afghanistan who writes about masculinity, veteran awareness and LGBT issues. Gilmore graduated from Cornell University with a degree in communications. Read more on his blog: https://jtg237.wixsite.com/johnathan.