Coming out gay in the Church (lessons learned)


This is a note, a long one I grant you, which I sent to an online forum in response to a woman’s powerful “coming out”.

I hope it might serve as an introduction to any new readers.

Dear A:

Thank you for sharing, yes “exposing”, your very personal and courageous journey here. I am indebted to you, and so many others along the way, who have done so much theological homework.

As for me, and I share my story more explicitly precisely because you have so bravely done so, I grew up in a very liberal, mainline Protestant Canadian denomination (The United Church of Canada). If only my own homophobia and, thank you for this, my “feminophobia” had not overpowered my integrity.

When I left home to go to college, in the late ’70s, a cousin and her husband convinced me that their fundamentalist way was my only hope (and they didn’t even know I was struggling with my sexuality). For a few years, the very same years that my United Church was discussing – and ultimately permitting – the ordination of lesbians and gay men I railed against this ground-breaking move.

A couple of years later I quickly drew in my horns, however, after my pastor wrote an Op-Ed piece in the local newspaper where I lived at that time in which he supported a brutal police raid in Toronto’s gay community in 1981 (the largest peace-time arrest in Canadian history; most charges subsequently dropped). I was outraged by my pastor’s not-too-difficult-in-his-church “witness”.

At one of many demonstrations in response to the police action I found a church, M.C.C., which proudly proclaimed its belief that one (read I) could be gay and Christian. As you have done, they presented compelling ideas of biblical misinterpretation and the wider Church’s selective targeting of homosexuality.

Convinced, I “came out” – first to myself, then to my family, and beyond. That was in 1981. My mother, by the way, said that my baptism-by-immersion in that conservative phase had upset her more than my coming out. “Dad and I will always love you, unconditionally,” they told me (and wrote) after I had mailed a well-thought out letter.

I don’t need to tell you what was happening in the 1980s in the gay male community, and my previous double life had brought about problems with alcohol (to say nothing of making real friends), so it was not surprising – but still very upsetting – when, in 1989, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.

I sought help for my drinking and, in the process, became part of a wonderful community of fellow gays and lesbians who were seeing so many of our fellow thirty-something men die.

For whatever reason I was snatched from the jaws of certain premature death after a long,debilitating illness myself. Then the new antiretrovirals came along and I have been bouncing from one treatment to another, buying more time, a year or so at a time. (Now longterm side-effects of the meds have added diabetes to my list of ills.)

By the way, six years ago I returned to The United Church of Canada during a spiritual drought and have been an active member in my community-of-origin, albeit now in Toronto, ever since.

Two years ago I survived a pedestrian-taxi collision, which put me in hospital with a broken femur and radius (forearm), at the same time Toronto was in a health crisis you may remember as SARS.

Now I am pampering myself, a little. Beginning September 21, I am taking my first real vacation in about nine years (a tour of eastern Canada).

I have lost track of how many ways I have experienced resurrection!

Thank you again, (A.), for your powerful words. I salute you – in the most non-militaristic way possible.

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