There's something I need to tell you that I've not had the strength to share. There's something I've alluded to over the years that I've not had the will to move beyond. There's a secret that I've guarded all these years to keep from hurting my mother. Some might say that I'm being overly dramatic in sharing my secret. Others might accuse me of being insensitive in my treatment of my mother. That's neither here nor there. The secret has to be shared—hurt feelings and all.
For all the progress I think I've made in my life and that we've made as a people, I can't move forward until I let go of this resentment I've harbored against my parents. I can't get over the resentment that they were unprepared to raise a gay son without acknowledging that they simply didn't know how. I can't ask my parents to forgive me for being distant without telling them why.
Chick-Fil-A has drawn a lot of attention lately. But most of the news sources covering the story—conservative and liberal alike—have gotten it wrong. This is not about Mr. Cathy's views. This is not about "gay marriage" or freedom of speech and religious liberty. This is not about a damn chicken sandwich. Mr. Cathy's statements, however backward and dim they might be, are not what's at issue here.
The fact that we have an epidemic of suicide in the LGBTQ community should be the focus. We should all be standing in our chairs crying out that every soul—gay or straight—is valuable and important. But that doesn't get ratings, drive ad sales or sound good in a five-second sound bite. We live in a world where kids are slipping away, into a dark lonely place, where they think it's better to die than to fight for who and what they are.
This is about those times when I held my father's pistol to my head.
Yes, there was bullying, but you already know that. Yes, there were tears, too many to count. There were hours with my parents pleading for me to explain why I was so depressed that it eventually led to a session with a Christian family therapist. The therapist asked me point blank and rather tersely, "Well, are you a queer?"
My denial from that point as a non-sexual pre-teen and into my 20s tied my hands and my ability to understand who and what I was. That kid crawled deeper into the closet, and on more than one occasion, knelt on my father's side of the bed praying for the strength to pull the trigger. The only reason I failed is because I understood that it would break my mother. I kept my head down and kept on going because I didn't want to make my parents suffer. The resentment took root then, and I've unwittingly let it flourish ever since.
Looking back, I can see that my parents did what they thought was right, but I still resent the fact that they weren't really there. I also know that it's wrong for me to blame them because the reality is that I wasn't really there. I never found the strength to say, "I think I'm gay." Of course, everyone else was saying it, but I never owned that truth. Here I stand at 40, and I finally have to snatch that albatross from around my neck and let that resentment go.
Oddly enough, the Chick-Fil-A debate led to that revelation. It also shined a bright light on the divide between those who understand what it is to be discriminated against and those who claim we want "special rights." I've been very vocal about polls that show equality is increasingly moving into the majority, thus trumpeting an optimistic view. Real progress, though, can't be made until you take a good look at what is at the heart of the debate.
It is estimated that LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Why? Because they're being told—literally and figuratively—that they are unnatural abberations that are against God's design and will never be accepted or valued by anyone. Imagine trying to have a positive view of yourself while having that hateful opinion thrown at you from everyone, including adults who should know better but don't. It's not enough to say "It gets better" when they can't even see beyond the bullying that just happened a moment ago. I never imagined that my life could be as good as it is because I couldn't see beyond the way that pistol looked in my hands or felt pressed against my temple, or the taste of the cold metal inside my mouth. I couldn't see at all.
We will never be fully equal until every teenager knows that it's OK to be gay. That won't happen until people like Mr. Cathy stop using their money to marginalize our fundamental rights as American citizens. You don't get to ramble on about "special rights" with a mouthful of chicken sandwich, because we LGBTQ folks will never get to make progress while kids have a mouthful of a pistol.
I'm standing right here in front of you, begging you to acknowledge me as a human. I'm begging you to look at your children and consider that they might be struggling with their sexuality. I'm begging you to stop the hateful intolerance and consider that you, whether you know it or not, are killing our youth. How can you eat that chicken sandwich with their blood on your hands?
Eddie Outlaw co-owns the William Wallace salon in Fondren. He blogs at www.jfp.ms/outlaw.