I grew up in the most southeastern part of southeast Georgia that you can be in, St. Marys. I’m the son of a career Navy submariner who served during the years when “don’t ask don’t tell” was at its peak. I didn’t fully give my life to Jesus until my freshman year in high school when my family began to attend the local United Methodist Church regularly. At this time in my life I had little to no exposure to the LGBT community. If I knew anything about gay persons it was that dad believed it was wrong, sinful, and that gay men and women were not worthy of God’s never ending grace.
Being only 14 and not yet having my own view of the world, I believed the status quo of the household. Growing up in South Georgia it was always very taboo to be gay. If any of my peers were actually gay they hid it and tried to conceal any signs that they may be gay. I can still to this day remember feeling a sense of accomplishment when a peer I suspected to be gay came out. I would even tell fellow peers, “told you so.” Thankfully, that 14-21 year old version of me is dead. I like to believe a person dedicated to carrying out the two greatest commandments of loving the Lord with all my heart, mind, body and soul and loving others as Jesus has loved me now lives.
I wish I could put an exact moment to when my biases towards gay persons faded away. I do know that it happened during the time of my undergraduate program at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga. I came into Armstrong believing I was a strong young Republican who had the love of Jesus in my heart. Looking back, I was probably just an 18 year old recently out of the nest who knew very little about himself and the world he lived in.
Savannah has a very large LGBT population and even hosts a Pride Day downtown each September. When I began to spend more time in the heart of Savannah, the downtown area, and get to know a wider variety of people my eyes were opened to the beauty and diversity of this world. My first real relationship with a gay person was when I began working for a place in downtown Savannah. I can still remember how it all started. I had just quit a job on Tybee Island that wasn’t really worth the gas money to get there. On the way back into town from Tybee I decided I was going to find a job waiting tables downtown. The first place I came to ultimately began the process of changing me. I was able to talk to the owners of the restaurant right away.
They both sat me down and we just kind of had a friendly conversation. It wasn’t like typical interviews. The owners were Brian and Charles, who have since sold the restaurant and moved to the Atlanta area. At one point Charles mentioned that he and Brian are partners. Clueless as I was I said, “Right you guys own the place, and are business partners.” He said, “no we are partners, partners. Is that going to be a problem with you?” I needed a job. I really liked these guys, and it seemed like a really fun place to work so I had an on the spot decision to make. I said, “No, not at all.” So I worked for Brian and Charles for the summer. I got to know them. I began to build an understanding that they are essentially two great adult men who love each other and care about everyone around them.
Halfway through the summer I decided I had too much free time and should get another part time job. I had always seen the bicycle taxis riding around and got interested. I cycled in my free time and loved exploring the city already, may as well get paid for it. I had no idea I was in for the best 4 years of my life.
This was a time of getting to know human beings from all walks of life from all over the world. I worked with a diverse group of drivers and the customer base was even more diverse. I’m currently a behavior analyst as well as the youth director for the church I grew up in and can’t help but look at what happened in my life as very much a shaping process through positive interactions with people from all walks of life, especially gay men and women.
I’d like to share the moment that likely was the last rub of the eraser on my page of gay biases. During this time my wife was working for a hotel in downtown Savannah. We were just dating at the time. One of her closest friends at the hotel was a young man named Andrew. Andrew was born and raised in Savannah. Andrew spent his entire education in a local Christian school. Andrew is a Christian himself, and was even voted most Christ like by his senior class. Andrew is also a gay man. During Andrew’s sharing of his coming out story with my wife and I he told us about how hard it was for him to even accept himself as gay. He grew up in a local Baptist church that preached frequently on the “sins” of homosexuality. He tried so hard to pray that he wouldn’t have feelings for another man. He tried for years.
It probably wasn’t until I heard Andrew tell me all these things that I truly believed that there is no way being gay is a sin. When we sin it is a choice we make. I don’t think I choose to be heterosexual. I can’t with good Christian conscious believe that any of my gay brothers and sisters choose to be gay. God loves us all and wants us to love each other as God loved us. I pray that the true love of Jesus Christ can erase the hate and free us all.