The South Is My Home, Too

We went to Seasons 52 off of Sand Lake Road in Orlando. Every time I looked at him, I felt an incredible connection of love flowing between us. I will never forget the evening light coming in through the windows illuminating his joyful countenance, lighting up those gorgeous blue eyes. I felt at home in his eyes. I was safe. We held hands across the table; we seemed always to be holding hands. We told jokes, talked about life stuff, and said I love you more than a few times.

We had wine and an incredibly delicious meal. After, we held hands out the door of the restaurant to the car. I stole a quick kiss just… you know… because… Then we went to the Orlando Eye, and did the cheesy tourist couple photo even though I live here. It was late, so it was easy to get our own carriage on this huge Ferris wheel. I forget what we were teasing each other about; teasing is another one of our love languages. I remember laughing and laughing. We took plenty of photos with our phones, too. When our carriage reached the very top, we shared a long romantic kiss and a heartfelt “I love you…”.

And like any couple in love, we just enjoyed the evening and each other. We enjoyed an excellent meal and the life-giving mutuality of discovering each other and enjoying a night together.

Not once during that splendid evening, or several others we had, did I spend time worrying about being a man in love with another man. I was simply in love. I wasn’t self-conscious about being on a  “gay” date or that we were a “gay” couple. We were simply a couple, in love, enjoying the evening like millions of other couples that same night.

I grew up in the south. I LOVE the south! There are many good, wonderful things about the south!! We have great food, culture, stories and more stories! There are many endearing qualities to embrace and celebrate. We have art, education, beautiful environment and many good-hearted amazing people.

Yes, we have had a horrible and bloody history. We still have huge problems, like the rest of the country, including situations in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee. These states recently passed legislation that willfully disenfranchises LGBT people from equal protections and benefits within those states. Last year, on my memorable date, we didn’t have to hide our affection and pretend to be just friends. We didn’t have to avert our eyes to avoid sending non-verbal cues to the other tables that we were romantically interested in each other. We didn’t have to worry about possibly be physically assaulted or thrown out of the establishment. We didn’t have to worry about being refused entrance to the Orlando Eye because we held hands or took a photo together as a couple.

As men who are many things including gay, we need to be careful, even today, even here. What I experienced that night is the way any couple should be able to be free to enjoy each other in safety and with the same access to services and opportunities in our community.

I have dated both men and women. I should not have to be hiding, guarded and reserved with an amazing man just because some in the community would be more comfortable with me doing the same things with an amazing woman.

The first time I came out was in Nashville Tennessee. For me, it was a much scarier time to be gay back then. When I came out, I got thrown out. I suffered being homeless then transient as a 19-year-old. I was physically assaulted many times growing up there. One severe time happened when I was around 20 years old. When the cops came, they laughed at me. They took my attackers word for it and didn’t even ask me for my version of events. As they walked back to the police car, they were laughing at me. They said I deserved being beaten for “flirting” with those guys.

Y’all, I would never have flirted with those guys … trust me.

Later when I had moved back to Texas, a group of guys and I were leaving a gay nightclub called “Britches and Bloomers.” Not kidding! That was its name! But as we were leaving, a truckload full of guys in a beat-up truck pulled up. They were brandishing rifles, cursing us in Spanish and English, and threatening to kill all of us “fags.” We all dove under cars or ran. I fell on top of my date that night shoving him under the car we were next too. All these years later, remembering that moment still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I could go on and on, but the point is, my experience dating this wonderful man last year was so different from what I experienced 25-30+ years ago. It is such a relief to be free and who we are without fear in our local community. It’s a no-brainer that sharing a kiss at the top of the world (in Orlando) is MUCH more preferable than being targeted, beaten, and diving underneath cars to escape the line of sight coming off the end of a rifle.

When I see legislation being passed that in effect equates trans people to predators (NC), allowing licensed professional counselors to refuse professional help for LGBT clients (TN), and saying that somehow my fellow Christians deserve a right to discriminate in any and every way they see fits within their religious beliefs (MS and everywhere)… Well, that’s not acceptable.

These terrible policies harken back to a time when cops laughed at me as I bled into the snow after being beaten by homophobic bigots. It does so by enlivening a state willing to stigmatize innocent people in the name of protecting the rights of a particular group that were never in any danger to begin with. The policies are a mask. They aren’t protecting anyone from any real threat and instead empowering an unaccountable climate of fear and discrimination against the LGBT community.

Plus, I know the folks who are behind these bills, Liberty Counsel (LC). I worked with and met with them on some projects during my conservative years. Their animus toward LGBT people and false persecution complex is well documented. I know from personal experience that they are not simply interested in protected religious freedom. They want to shut down and silence the LGBT communities voice and influence. During my time as a conservative activist, I heard LC representatives, Matt Barber specifically (he was with them at that time), say that stigmatizing the gay community had to be a top priority. They had to “expose” us in unfavorable ways to advance “pro-family policy,” win back the culture, and deter people from entering into or condoning a destructive “lifestyle.”

Even back then I didn’t agree with Mr. Barber’s demeanor or focus and opposed stigmatization.

From my experience, I believe they are legalists so they will do whatever they can to craft the language in manipulative ways to appear righteous yet set up legal precedent to silence and disenfranchise LGBT people.

We have, can, and will do better than succumb to fear and manipulation. Repeal anti-LGBT laws and defeat proposed new ones.

When I read of Jesus feeding the 5,000. He didn’t say, “Now, before we get started, all the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people need to leave quietly and go to some other luncheon. There are plenty of options over yonder where they have their ‘Samarian values.’  Unless you are with the catering crew, y’all just need to take your gay pride on down the road. Go ahead; we are going to wait till you are gone. Peter! Do NOT pass out that bread or the LGBT’s might think we condone their lifestyle!”

Nope, Jesus never said anything like that.

The Savior I know would give not just food but Living Water to LGBT people. He would lift the chin of the scared Trans person, look them in the eyes and say, “I see you. I know and love you. You do not have to fear Me.” I see Him shielding the group of gay guys outside of Britches and Bloomers from the rifle-wielding bullies. I see Him, with an understanding look, wiping the tears and blood from my face after my assault…

And you know what else? I see Him smiling as I steal a kiss from my date… just cause…  I can easily imagine His delight as I allowed myself to love another soul, truly and honestly, maybe for the first time in my life.

The South is my home, too.


Note: The photo in this photograph was taken at a local favorite restaurant that specializes in southern comfort food. I didn’t get thrown out of it :). I think the photo represents this topic, symbolically, perfectly.