[This was the worst kept secret ever when it happened. I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to talk about it now. So for the sake of not offending anyone by sharing *my* experience, I’ve changed names and associations. It’s just easier this way . . . maybe.]
I pride myself on not having closed-minded, intolerant friends. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone close to me wasn’t necessarily tolerant of gays. I’ve seen this person interact with my gay friends. There’s never been a time when this person behaved inappropriately around my friends or said anything to make them feel uncomfortable. (I don’t play that. My friends don’t have to be friends, but they have to be respectful to one another.) So I was shocked when during a conversation a couple of years ago it was revealed that they weren’t particularly supportive of gays or gay rights. As the conversation went on, I was asked “Why are you so supportive of gay rights?” (for those who don’t know, I’m not gay). I explained it the best way I could . . .
Growing up, we had a family friend who visited frequently. He would play with us kids, bring us cool gifts for birthdays and Christmas and buy us ice cream off the ice cream truck when the parents wouldn’t. He was cool and fun and we all loved him. He always had some story to tell about his adventures. He was one of those grownups you wanted to hang out with when you grew up because you just knew you’d have a blast. Of all of the family and friends that visited, he was our hands-down favorite.
When I was 14 he became terribly ill. There was always some new ailment that I’d never heard of with a name I could barely pronounce. Even though I didn’t know what was wrong with him, it was abundantly clear that he wasn’t long for this world.
He died in August of 1990.
As we prepared for the funeral, I began to hear whispers about his death. I tried to figure out what really happened from these conversations, but it was difficult to say the least. I was a child and children were to be seen and not heard. We were also often told to “stay out of grown folks’ business!” If you know black women, particularly old, black women, you know that they like to whisper the worst parts of gossip. This made it even more difficult for me to determine what happened. One day, as I sat in a corner, I overheard a conversation:
“You know he had . . . [whispers] . . . that AIDS.”
“I heard! You know, he was . . . [whispers] . . . that way.”
“Giiirrrllll, I know!”
If you didn’t know, “that way” is a colloquialism for “gay.”
I had no idea that he was gay. All I knew what that he was cool and fun, told great stories and brought me gifts. I also knew that he’d gone to bat for one of my family members when he thought they’d been wronged by someone. (I wasn’t supposed to know this. It’s one of those stories that got told without the teller realizing that children were nearby.) I’m not sure that at that point I fully understood what it meant to be gay. What I did understand was that lot of adults weren’t okay with it. I wasn’t sure why they weren’t ok with it. I was, however, sure that these adults thought that gays were bad people and destined for hell. I was sure many of these people were going to hell too. I thought maybe they were upset with the fact that they’d have to spend all of eternity with people they didn’t like.
By the time I realized he was gay, I already loved him. I already knew he was a good person. Because I knew these things, was absolutely certain of these things, I knew that the adults who’d labeled all gays as bad and destined for hell, were absolutely, positively, dead-ass wrong!
So that was my explanation as to why I’m supportive of gays and gay rights. Although I grew up hearing (not from my parents) that gays were bad I had first-hand information disproving this theory. For me it was that simple. I could prove that not all gays were bad people. I further explained to my friend that what other people did, or who they loved, was none of my business. I asked the questions: Does someone being gay impact your life in any way? Does them being gay cost you any money? Does someone else’s homosexuality adversely impact your ability to provide for yourself? Does it adversely impact your ability to find happiness? If the answers to all of these questions is “no,” then why do you even care?
There was silence.
The person then said, “I guess you’re right.” A mind was changed that day. We’ve had subsequent conversations over the years about this topic and I’ve since learned that not only was a mind changed, but a heart was changed. That’s why I’m sharing this story. Hopefully, it will help others to change their hearts and minds.