Did you know today is National Coming Out Day? Well, it is, and I can think of no better occasion to highlight the damage done by not coming out than this illustrious, albeit largely unfamiliar, day of reflection.
Truism: When we live in the closet, we hurt ourselves.
Truism: How we treat ourselves informs how we treat others and the world around us.
Fact: With great authority comes even greater responsibility not to be an asshole.
Hypothesis: American society is a giant asshole-manufacturing machine.
What follows is a warning from history. It’s my list of the top eight perpetrators of assholiness, exemplars each and every one of the pain caused by self-delusion and by the denial of sexual identity and personal truth.
#1 George Rekers
Social conservative, Southern Baptist minister, Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science Emeritus at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, founding board member of the Family Research Council, and former officer and scientific advisor for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).
Professor Rekers has long preached, researched, and otherwise defended the need for, and scientific validity of, gay conversion therapy, intended to change homos into heteros. He has testified in court on the allegedly destructive and sinful nature of homosexuality, and the unsuitability of gays and lesbians for parenthood in a number of court cases involving organizations and state agencies working with children.
Rekers was caught with a gay male prostitute, whose services he solicited on Rentboy.com in the spring of 2010. In his defense, Rekers claimed he paid for the young man’s services as baggage handler during an overseas trip. The doctor had ordered it because Rekers was apparently incapable of lifting his own sack. The 20-year old young man in question claims to have given 61-year old Rekers “nude sexual massages” every day while abroad. The escort also claims Rekers told him he had hired numerous other escorts in the past but didn’t feel he had gotten his money’s worth.
#2 Bishop Eddie Long
Senior Pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, self-proclaimed revolutionary spiritual leader, best-selling author, life coach and motivational speaker, holds a Master’s of Divinity degree from Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center, honorary doctorates from North Carolina Central University, Beulah Heights Bible College of Atlanta and Morehouse School of Religion, and a Ph.D. in Pastoral Ministry from the International College of Excellence, an affiliate of Life Christian University in Tampa, Florida, father of four and self-named “surrogate parent” to many other children in his church and community.
Bishop Long (see my previous blog post, The Garden of Love, for tea and back story) has long spewed anti-gay rhetoric to his congregation and to listeners of his radio show. He is a staunch defender of traditional marriage and outspoken critic of gay and lesbian parenthood.
Long has been accused by a number of young men, participants in the church’s young men's ministry, of sexual abuse and impropriety.
One of Long’s alleged victims, 23-year old Jamal Parris, told ABC News that the leader of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church swept into his life and used him for sex, then moved on to younger prey.
“I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head, and I cannot forget the smell of his cologne, and I cannot forget the way he made me cry when I drove in his car on the way home, not able to take enough showers to get the smell of that man off my body.”#3 Richard Curtis
Former Republican State Representative (2005 – 2007) serving Washington state’s 18th legislative district, married with two daughters, socially conservative voting record, opposed a gay rights bill that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2006 and voted against domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples in 2007.
On October 30, 2007, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that Curtis and a twenty-six year old man met at an adult bookstore, and that they later had sex in a local hotel room. Curtis was also alleged to have been seen previously and on that occasion dressed in women's clothing, wearing them underneath his own. According to Curtis's police statement, the twenty-six-year old man attempted to extort $1,000 from him after the encounter in return for not revealing his "gay lifestyle" to his family. Curtis ended up bringing formal extortion charges against the man.
#4 Ted Haggard
Evangelical preacher, founder and former head of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, founder of the Association of Life-Giving Churches and former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) from 2003 to November 2006.
As president of the NAE, Pastor Ted wielded great power in Washington as a professional homophobe and bigot, influencing legislators from every state in the denial of rights to LGBT folk and the institutionalization of hatred and fear toward the same. It's even been reported that he once counseled George W. Bush.
But on November 5, 2006, the Associated Press had this to report. “Haggard admits ‘sexual immorality’, apologizes.”
Turns out Pastor Ted enjoyed meth-fueled sex binges with a gay male prostitute in Denver on more than one occasion.
Don’t worry, though. Pastor Ted’s back again! And this time, he means
His wife, Gayle, is happy as a clam now that Ted is free of his homosexual compulsions. For real this time! On The Today Show back in January 2010, Gayle said, "Our relationship is better than it's ever been. Going over this mountain together has given me the marriage I've always longed for." Good old conversion therapy. Always great for solidifying delusion!
What Gayle didn’t mention is that the “marriage she’s always longed for” is one where she develops a nasty habit of slowly sawing off her pinky toe with a nail file in an attempt to gird herself against the agony of acknowledging that her husband is probably out at this very moment in an alley behind a Popeye’s somewhere with a bucket of chicken and his underwear around his ankles, cupping a youth’s balls in his hands while he prays for forgiveness.
#5 Roy Ashburn
Current Republican State Representative from California’s 18th District, finishing up the second of two four-year terms.
Roy made a career out of unequivocally and unquestioningly representing his constituents’ rabid homophobia in Sacramento by forging a vehemently anti-gay voting record. As one of his final legislative projects, he cavorted with Christian fundamentalists like Randy Thomasson of SaveCalifornia.com to put Proposition 8 on the ballot and made it quite the successful legislative endeavor.
True, his district is socially conservative, and Roy’s voting record was a clear representation of the majority’s voice there. Unfortunately for his constituents, Roy turned out to be a big ole friend of Dorothy. He ended up having to fess up after being caught in a gay bar. Poor Roy. That made his constituents veeerrrrrry angry. After all, they had voted for someone completely different from the guy they got, so they ran him out of town on a rail for secretly being the very devil that is slowly turning their America into Sodom.
You can read more about Roy Ashburn’s woes here. I smell Pulitzer!
#6 Larry Craig
Who could forget Larry? Former Republican Senator from Idaho, served 28 years in both the House and Senate, the second-longest congressional term in Idaho history, member of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, prominent conservative with an anti-gay voting record.
Former Senator Craig was arrested on June 11, 2007 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on suspicion of lewd conduct in a men's restroom, where he was accused of soliciting an undercover police officer for sexual activity. Read the sordid details here.
Former Senator Craig has maintained his innocence, despite an initial guilty plea. The courts ultimately denied his appeal to withdraw the guilty plea of guilty. During the motion to withdraw, Craig’s attorney claimed his plea “was not knowing and intelligent and therefore was in violation of his constitutional rights.” His guilty plea was upheld.
You see, the thing is, Larry Craig has been publicly denying accusations of being gay since 1982, when he was implicated in a House page scandal. Then in 1999 on Meet the Press with Tim Russert, in a twistedly prescient moment of projection, Larry actually called Bill Clinton a “nasty, bad, naughty boy.” You can watch the awkward portent here.
Nothing says “Family Values” like anonymous sodomy in a public toilet.
#7 Ed Schrock
Retired career Naval officer, former Republican U.S. House Representative from Virginia’s 2nd congressional district, cultivated an aggressive anti-gay voting record, including opposition to gays in the military and same-sex marriage.
Ed was caught on tape soliciting sex from a gay male prostitute in 2004. Not long after that, he admitted he was gay. Later thaty same year, he dropped out of his third term race and was hired as top staff person for one of the subcommittees of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on which he had previously served.
#8 Mark Foley
Current real estate agent, U.S. House Representative from Florida’s 16th congressional district from 1995 to 2006, voted against a proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban legal recognition of same-sex marriages as well as another bill that would have banned gay people from adopting in Washington D.C., one of the foremost opponents of child pornography, chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.
In 2005, ABC News reported that Foley had sent email messages from his personal account to a former congressional page requesting photos of the young man. Although a relatively common practice among congressmen and women looking for qualified page candidates, thereafter, more pages came forward alleging inappropriate conduct by Foley dating back ten years. Mark was a definite fan of “sexting.”
At one point, Federal authorities said the explicit emails and text messages could result in Foley's prosecution under some of the same anti-child pornography laws he helped to enact. Mark later came out with a statement saying "I have a drinking problem," "I was molested by a priest when I was young," and, “Oh, by the way, I’m gay."
Those of us who have spent time in the closet have different reasons for doing so. Shame and self-preservation motivated me. Others stay in the closet in order to continue reaping the rewards of being members of a privileged group, namely straight (usually white and affluent), America.
The Culture Wars in this country produce untold numbers of victims. National Coming Out Day is, quite simply, a path to reconciliation. When we come out, we reconcile with ourselves, with others, with reality.
To reconcile is to get back on friendly terms after a long period of estrangement. To reconcile is to solve a dispute or end a quarrel. Reconciliation is the longed for acceptance of a reality we cannot change. It is finding compatibility and consistency in two apparently conflicting things.
As reconciliation, National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to heal the wounds inflicted by the Culture Wars. Unfortunately, these are ongoing wars with no end in sight. To get there, we are called upon to look unflinchingly at what makes each of us human. When there’s shame involved, this takes a lot of courage. It’s easy for me to incite anger and violence, to stoke the flames of fear, mistrust and hatred. What’s not easy is to look at myself under a bright spotlight and commit to understanding the world as it is, no matter how long or painful the process.
Truism: Where there is great courage, there is even greater hope.
Truism: Life is a trip.
Fact: You are not alone.
Hypothesis: Love wins out over fear.
Be strong! Come on out! The world beautiful! I can't wait for you to get here!
If you or someone you know is struggling with coming out, here are some resources that might be helpful.
May you know peace.
A Resource Guide to Coming Out
A Straight Guide to LGBT Americans
Transgender Visibility Guide
Resource Guide to Coming Out for African Americans
Guía de recursos para salir del clóset
Living Openly in Your Place of Worship