Trigger Warning: This post contains abusive and hateful language about the LGBTQ community, as well as an account of events that could be traumatic for some.
I just left the Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference. It was a wonderful three days packed full of information, resources, connections, and new friendships. The conference wraps up each year around 6:30pm on Saturday; but my fiancé and I had finished our last session at 5, and decided to try and beat the crowd to grab dinner. Our early departure caused us to miss the commotion that happened roughly around 6 o’clock. A few men with signs and bullhorns stood outside of the convention center and harassed conference goers as they exited the building. Ranting and raving against the evils of the queer community, they drew a large group of counter protesters. I was able to watch all of this through my Instagram as new friends posted updates. After about 20 minutes the agitators were dismissed from the property.
I have a strange relationship with these types of encounters. On the one hand, as a queer transgender man, I’m deeply offended by the hateful rhetoric spewed from the mouths of anti-LGBTQ bigots. And on the other hand, I’m reminded of the part I played myself almost a decade ago. On my social media I am very open about the fact that I grew up in a fundamentalist cult; however, I don’t think people truly absorb what that all means. Yes I’ve dealt with years of spiritual trauma, religious abuse, internalized homophobia and transphobia, PTSD, decades of intense misogyny, and more. But on the flip side, I must always remember and admit that I was also a perpetrator of these abuses.
In reality I have countless moments where I brought harm to the LGBTQ community through my words and actions. There are bills that I supported which stripped or further denied my queer family their rights. There are hateful slurs I cast at individuals who crossed my path. There are pamphlets I passed out that warned of the dangers of the LGBTQ uprising. The times I exclaimed with such intensity and ferocity, “I HATE f******. They’re disgusting!” No, I am not innocent and my ignorance does not excuse my hate. But one thing has come from this past, I realize that these anti-queer demonstrators are human. Possibly just as lost and broken as I was when I was drowning each day and hoping I would find salvation. Not the salvation of my church or my soul, but the salvation of my truth and who I was at my core. The following is a story from the most prominent anti-gay rally in which I took part.
The air was crisp and chilled as a winter wind swept through Baptist City, the name given to the land which held the Church’s school grounds. Roughly 300 high school teenagers stood huddled in groups, fidgeting back and forth attempting to stay warm as a blistering, February day in Northwest Indiana dawned bright. “I need homerooms 11A and 11B on bus 40! 11C you’re going to join 12C over on bus 53” A groan passed through the crowd of those of us who would be forced to join the seniors. The only person excited to ride with the older and rowdy classmen was Hannah who had a boyfriend in 12C. We shuffled over to our transport still trying to block the wind. Climbing on board we felt a relief from the harsh chill, yet knew that there would be no heat on the 3 hour ride and this was as warm as things would get.
Two of my friends and I crammed ourselves into a seat hoping the overcrowding would provide some warmth. Snow began to fall outside and I shifted closer to the window, trying to give Kat* some room as she hung off the edge of the bench. “Can’t someone else protest against these homos” Kat grumbled in frustration. “Wow, we haven’t even started yet and you’re already complaining” Monica* quipped, as Kat flashed her a razor sharp look. “Personally I’m happy to get rid of these f***,” I said, pulling my hat lower and my scarf tighter, “Would you rather freeze or have a bunch of sodomites ruining our country?” Kat rolled her eyes “I’d RATHER not have my butt cheeks frozen to a bus seat. Besides, who cares? I mean I don’t like gay people either but just let them do their thing”.
I let out a sarcastic laugh “Pretty soon “their thing” will be to persecute us every time we try to preach the truth. I heard about a pastor in California who went to prison because he was preaching against sodomy” I hadn’t heard that, but I needed my friends to understand the urgency of the situation. And anyway, I’m sure it would be true one day. That’s what Preacher had said. Preacher was our current leader, Jack Schaap. He liked that we call him Preacher instead of pastor or reverend or Brother Schaap, a term we used to refer to all other male leaders in the church. He told us that one day Christians would face a persecution like never before simply for standing for God’s word. He warned that the homosexuals were fighting to take over our government and schools. And he explained that eventually we would be forced to attend classes taught by pedophiles because Christian schools would be closed down and homeschooling would be eliminated. And of course it wouldn’t be long before Men of God would be imprisoned for even speaking negatively against sodomy.
One of Preachers good friends was a man named Eric Miller. He had spoken at our church many times and lead a group called Advance America which was fighting to preserve marriage and protect Christians from discrimination. In fact, he was the one who had organized this rally down at the Indianapolis statehouse. Thousands of Christians across the state would be coming to the rally today to support Senate Joint Resolution No. 7, which clearly stated that marriage was between a man and a woman. The hope was to further insure that same-sex marriage could not be legalized in the state. A year earlier the state of Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage and word was that other states planned to follow soon; we must stop this poison from spreading.
As the buses rolled down the highway we sang songs, chatted among ourselves, and drove the bus supervisors crazy as students repeatedly attempted to cross the imaginary line that divided the boys from the girls. “Steven I won’t tell you again, sit down and do not come past the emergency door. Next time its demerits!” Mr. Williams screamed to the back of the bus. I laughed and quickly covered my mouth. The man was tall, lanky and pale white from head to toe. When he got upset his face turned a bright red and contrasted sharply with his light blonde hair. We continued on our way and the minutes ticked by slowly, I wondered if I should eat the bag of chips I had packed in my lunch. The overcrowding in the seat didn’t seem like such a good idea now. Between the multiple layers of clothing and a bus crammed with excited teenagers the temperature was rising. Monica struggled to pull off her coat as Kat and I ducked a flying fist. Finally the city came into view and we all cheered when a supervisor confirmed it was Indianapolis.
Hurrying off the bus I looked around taking in the view as best I could. There were thousands of people surrounding the Statehouse. Most of them were people from our church or similar churches marching into the magnificent building or holding signs that read Marriage = One Man and One Woman, and, Support SJR 7 , and also, Protect the Sanctity of Marriage. Across the wide platform that stretched out before the Statehouse steps, another group of people rallied. There were far fewer of them than us but they were just as passionate. They held signs that read Gay Okay, and, Equal Rights for All, and, Jesus Loved Us Too. Dozens of small rainbow flags were being waved with a much larger one held by several protesters in the center.For a moment I think I felt compassion, or maybe it was a connection. I’m not sure, I just remember pausing and seeing real people feeling real pain that I was helping to cause. But I had to, it’s what God wanted. At least that what Preacher said and he knew God better than anyone.
As we entered the building a teacher filed us up a set of stairs to a balcony that overlooked the lobby below. I made sure I was right against the banister so that I could get a clear view over the railing. Once the high schooler’s were in, young adults from our Churches College lined the walls of the lobby and finally, pastors, teachers, church members and more filled in the center, many sitting on the floor so that those behind them could see. There were only a few hundred people allowed in the senate chambers and we hadn’t arrived in time to get in there anyway. But that wasn’t our purpose, we were just here to show support in numbers. Later we would find out what was said by those who supported SJR 7 to keep marriage between a man and a woman.
Senator Waterman, a blowhard and therefore a favorite of Preacher’s, would go on his “Homosexuals can’t reproduce therefore they must recruit!” tangent. He was notorious for that phrase and convinced that gays only wanted to marry so they could adopt children and convert them to homosexuality. Eric Miller would make an impassioned plea for the amendment, point to Massachusetts as a warning, and state clearly “Traditional marriage is the foundation of every society. Banning same-sex marriages and civil unions will prove to be the greatest moral battle of this generation.” Several more people would come forward in support of the bill. Only one Senator opposed it, Anita Bowser, but no one seemed to pay her much mind.
Outside the chambers we waited and listened to our own speakers. Pastors urging us to stay vigilant in the fight, House Representative’s that thanked us for coming and assured us we would see victory, a trio of men who were apparently brought in to sing to us. And finally Eric Miller walked out and prayed with us, then we all sang God Bless America and felt like good Christians protecting ourselves by denying others the same rights we enjoyed. It was all pretty anti-climatic in my opinion. From the way homosexuals had been described in our church services I had expected them to attack us. I thought we’d have a riot and maybe I’d get to throw some rocks at some homos, all in self-defense….of course. Yet none of that happened; we did see a few protesters and anti-protesters getting into a heated debate as we exited the Statehouse, but nothing physical. Some of the guys in our group yelled slurs at the gathering of queers and were met with a wall of middle fingers in response. Nothing too exciting and I was disappointed, especially when I realized I had to climb back on the bus and ride 3 hours back home. I much preferred harassing people in my own area thank you very much. Some of us talked about protesting at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade that summer and that sounded like fun. Maybe then we’d get some real action.
As for amendment SJR 7, it never passed but continued to come back again and again in various forms over the next several years. Every time it seemed the bill would pass, we prepared to celebrate, and every time it would drop in the last moment. Of course all of this constant opposition to gay marriage made it hard for any support of same-sex couples to get through. Finally in October of 2014, nine years after I had boarded a bus and ridden three hours to protest, gay marriage was legalized in Indiana. Some saw it as a victory, other’s saw it as simply reading the writing on the wall. Just eight months later on June 26, 2015 same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states. By that time I was living as an open lesbian and already beginning to look into how I could come out as a transgender man. I guess I fit the tired stereotype of the angry oppressor who secretly wants to be with the oppressed. While I am happy to be free today, I am always aware of the pain I brought to others in many ways at various times. My hope is to be better and to help others to be better as well. Before you write off the demonstrator you’re angrily staring down from across a tense line of protest, remember that many of us were once on the other side.
*These names were kept anonymous. I did not keep “Preacher’s” name anonymous. Google him. Wonderful chap 😉