After my first two weeks as a freshman English teacher (I was brand new to teaching and my students were brand new to high school), I witnessed a disturbing trend by my students. Homework, tests, quizzes and projects, as it turned out, were gay. Any time my students wanted to share their complete disdain for any type of work, they would immediately proclaim or mumble, “this is gay.”
I took offense to the statement and not because I had a special place in my heart for gay rights. I have a special place in my heart for the rights of people and when young kids on the precipice of adulthood used gay as the term to describe something displeasing or unfavorable, the visceral reaction I had to students surprised me. “Find another way of saying you don’t like something, people! If you want to be viewed as adults, it is time to start acting like educated adults.”
After a few weeks of working on the abolition of “that’s gay” in my classroom, the turning point came once I put it into perspective. I only had a few black students but in one particular class, I used race to put “that’s gay” into perspective. I remember asking my students, “would you say, “that’s black,” if you didn’t like something?” Immediately the lone black student in my class turned his head quickly and violently around the room to see if anyone would agree to that particular usage. All of the students avoided eye contact and either looked down at their desks or as if they had never heard the question.
Thankfully or coincidentally, the quick lesson worked and when students would use the term in class, they would often correct themselves and even ask for a pardon from the universe as they would say, “sorry, I meant to say…”
Ignorant speech and views starts when we are all pretty ignorant to the world around us. Kids, especially, are rooting through this world trying to understand how life works and where and how they fit in. Hell, a great many adults are still searching for themselves; I know I am. All of this is anecdotal and germane to one incredible experience that came to full fruition this past Saturday.
A friend of mine a few months back came to me, after finding out that I was ordained and could perform wedding ceremonies, and asked if I would officiate her wedding. Her fiancee is a wonderful person too. Together, they exude the kind of love and passion for each other that so many people pine for in their lives. The way they look at each other and how in a crowded room, you can see them searching for each other in order to just share a smile. They are sentimental, emotional, dedicated people that love each other in a profoundly inspiring way. Oh, right, I almost forgot, they’re gay.
Regretfully, when I was twelve years old, my friends and I would prank call a gay bar where I lived. We would ask, “Is Phil there? Phil MyButtUp!” Things that, even though I was only twelve, still bother me that I ever existed in a place where that seemed comical. Luckily, I had the kind of relationship with my Mom where I would tell her about all of the things I did: good, bad, sensitive, insensitive, and even outright ignorant.
In one of her many sage like moments, my Mom turned to me and asked, “would you want to be something where people would be ignorant towards you? Would you choose to be something where others would make fun of you, act differently towards you, or discriminate you?” She looked at me and immediately I understood her point. “No, I wouldn’t,” I replied. “Then think about what you think is funny and then really think if it is funny or you’re trying to be funny at someone else’s expense.” Damn, I thought. Moms always have a way of putting things into perspective.
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to act as the officiant in my first wedding ever. I did not lament over what I was going to say, though I did fret over the words because I wanted my friends, Sarah and Katie, to have a ceremony that they would never forget. Standing before her friends and family, I felt that lump begin to swell in my throat. I was far from nervous; I was moved.
When Katie and Sarah finally made their way to where I was standing, I could see their eyes filled with palpable passion, love, and of course, tears. They could finally do the one thing that this country, a country that prides itself on individual freedoms and liberties, fought so long and hard to keep from happening. Passion beat policy and over a hundred people bore witness to the power of love and resilience. As a heterosexual male, I do not and cannot imagine what it would be like to be told I could not love someone because others had an issue with whom I directed my affection and adoration.
We all play a part in how effective love and kindness can be in this world. Ultimately, there’s a lesson to be learned in how we treat those that do not follow the scripts that we follow in life. Homophobia is not bred through one particular sect of thought. Its genesis is in ignorance begetting ignorance. It manifests when the company a person keeps continues to drive home a point of intolerance and the inability to differentiate between their life and someone else’s life. When people decide that love provides not only a safe place for individuals to lay their hearts but a place where people can simply be themselves, we take steps in battling the provincial thoughts of those that appear to need more love in their life.
I will never change anyone’s views by saying what I believe. I will change minds by living out my views. Sarah and Katie asked me to be part of a moment that, as I said to those in attendance, could not be justified by any words that I spoke that day. We needed only look at Sarah and Katie together and to witness the truth in what we believe. While I often wish the world would stop long enough to admire each moment as unique and authentic, it may play a little part in what made Saturday so magical. Outside of the Autumn oasis that Sarah and Katie created for their family and friends, was a world waiting to remind us of the long road so many people must travel.
However, tucked away in the Germantown section of Philadelphia are fifty five acres of endless memories. We need only return there in our thoughts to have all of our senses brought back to life and to remind us of what perfect looks and feels like. I will never forget my two friends; surrounded by bales of hay, loving family and friends, and an infinite supply of hope and victory to fuel us for a lifetime. I may never change someone’s mind by what I’ve said or written, but if I lead through my experiences in life, September 20th, 2014 marks the day when I witnessed hope evolve into reality!