Being a gay person growing up in Arkansas in the 1960’s was pretty tough. Gay was not even the common phrase used in that era for homosexuals, which in itself is a bit of a misnomer. A friend once told me an asexual is a person who “entertains themselves”, a bi-sexual was a person who “entertains themselves, and others of either the same sex or the opposite sex“, and a tri-sexual was a person who “entertains themselves and persons of both sexes.” Either way you look at it, the nomenclature is kind of set in stone at present and for purposes of this blog, I’ll stay with the current one.
Growing up gay in Arkansas is not much easier now, but there have been great improvements. Gay Pride Parades in multiple cities (including Conway), and a broader understanding and acceptance of gay people has come about especially in the younger, millennial generations. Unfortunately because there are so many religions which disdain the very existence of gay people, there is still a lot of intolerance and acceptance. Intolerance and acceptance itself is even a subject of great discussion and denial. It is hardest to be gay when you are young and have no one with whom to discuss your feelings. I, among others, came out to my parents when I realized at a young age I was not the same as most people. They refused to accept it, and insisted they would not even discuss the matter as they had never discussed sex with anyone before and would not do so with me. They were confident I could “pray the gay away”, so to speak. It was a great disappointment to me as they had always insisted they were my best friends in life, no matter what. Unfortunately the disappointment and pain felt by many gay young people ends in suicide. The waste of a young person’s life is so heartbreaking. But it has been and still is often the result of rejection, especially the rejection of ones’ own family once they “come out”, let alone the rejection of your peer group and friends you have had all of your life. Do not take this route. You are a good, valuable, loved person, even though those around you cannot understand you at the moment.
This rejection is promulgated very heavily in many major religious brands. Some congregations, including Lutherans and Methodists have begun to accept gay people, not only in their congregations but in their clergy. This is not true of every instance of these churches, but many have. The Metropolitan Community Church is one which accepts people of all genders and sexuality without discrimination. Unfortunately, most young people are brought up in the church of their parents, many of which do not hold tolerance for gay people and do not accept them in their congregation or clergy. Many young gay people attend these churches and quietly hold their peace, as I did for a long time as a member of a Missionary Baptist Church.
Soon enough though, I found someone , who felt as I did and we could discuss it openly. It helped but neither of us really could imagine the future, being gay, since it has a lot to do with major decisions one makes in life. Especially in the 1960’s and early 70’s since marriage, children and such could not even be considered. Having a confidant kept us grounded and lead us away from the choice of ending our lives. In our discussions we realized we would not have to stay where we were and once you become an adult, how you live your life, is your business, no one else’s.
Today, things are much better than the 60‘s and 70‘s, even here in Conway, where there is a small but outspoken gay community. There are more adults who do not disparage gay people, and even businesses which seek and attract the gay community. There are also those businesses which decide to discriminate against gay people, not only in hiring, but in the operation of their business. In the larger cities, where many if not most gay people eventually migrate, you will find acceptance and often even disinterest in the fact you are a gay person. For many people, it just doesn’t matter, but for many here, especially those who attend the “evangelical” churches and proselytize to the young, (even at school), there is total intolerance of your existence as a gay person. If you are a young gay person here in Conway, and you are “under the thumb” so to speak, you will be OK. Just hang in there. Do your best to find a confidant whom you know you can trust and who will accept you for who you are. This must be a careful decision on your part, because trusting people is difficult and you risk exposure should you choose wrong. If you do choose wrong, and become exposed, you may feel you have lost everything and find it hard to continue. But you can. You are just as good, if not better, than the rest of the citizens of this town and state, regardless of what you are told and taught at home, in school or church. You are a valuable member of this community and you must not accept the judgment of others who will condemn you in many ways, as those who read this blog will me shortly.
The constitution gives you the freedom of religion and the freedom of choice. Both of those freedoms are very important to every person, especially those of us who are gay. God gave you life. Yes, gay people were created by God, just like everyone else. Believe it. It is true. Even the intolerant churches will tell you, God has a purpose for everyone. He has a purpose for you too. Live your life and find your purpose, and if you begin to doubt, always remember you were created equal to all persons and you still are!