Celebr8ing The NOH8 Campaign The Journey From Anti-Gay Activism To Being Healed Of An Estranged Heart

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

"On May 9th, I got up early and went to Target to find a plain white t-shirt. As boring as shopping for a plain white t-shirt sounds, I was nervous browsing through the various displays. My mind was full of thoughts about going to get my photo taken at NOH8 Campaign’s Orlando photo shoot. This would be a symbolic culmination of ending years of estrangement; estrangement from myself, my heart, and a community I truly love.

The Importance Of People Like Ben

My friend Ben Patrick Johnson and I started following each other online somewhere in the midst of the ongoing Prop8 battle. I am sure I caught wind of who he is (a respected activist within the LGBT community) and just started following him online. One friend said, “You only follow that Ben guy because he’s always naked and HOT!” Well, to be clear, Ben is only sometimes naked, but most of the time only halfway naked. And well, even clothed he … maybe I should stop there. In response to this friend, at the time, I said “OH Noooo… he’s just an interesting person who does the gay activist thing in a different way; a way that will actually work to their benefit.”

The very first time I messaged Ben, it was some weird little greeting. I loved his response. It’s still my favorite response from a gay activist ever. With a very gracious intro he went on to say something along the lines of, “I have nothing but antipathy for what you are doing at Exodus and what Exodus stands for.” He then of course, being him, ended the message graciously.

Being a word person, I can’t tell you how happy I was because he used the word antipathy to begin with, and ecstatic he used it correctly! Wasn’t so fun to be a part of the receiving end of Ben’s “antipathy” but this is indicative of why I am drawn to follow his life online. He is fair, purposeful, eloquent, and thoughtful. He contributes to the overall discussion instead of consuming and regurgitating it as infotainment activism.

Plus, you get all that AND he is allergic to wearing shirts. He also has a handsome husband, TJ, that just adds to the mix another level of approachability. I like these guys a lot.

Last year, I interviewed Ben for a book I was working on (shelved until after my memoir book proposal is done). It will be included in a compilation of stories about love, relationships, life….that kind of stuff. During that time, we talked a lot about Prop 8. After hearing his heart my own was stirred up with deep emotion as years of questioning turned into my change of heart about marriage equality and being open to that possibility for myself.


Of H8 and Prop8

When Prop8 passed I was boasting online that what we, religious activists, had done was the right thing to do. I was so cheerful that it and other anti-gay marriage amendments I had lobbied for had passed that evening. I talked a good game online but when the gay community, including Ben, took to the streets in protest, my big mouth was forcibly shut by my stunned heart. I didn’t say anything at the time but looking at the grief and anguish on their faces, really took me by surprise. It was a moment that made me question for the first time in years if what we had just done was wrong… very wrong. A voice inside my spirit asked, “how could you do that to your own community?”

As the thoughts of the many trips I had taken to various states to lobby against marriage equality, the visits to Capitol Hill and the White House in DC, all the myriads of interviews about it … I had to shove it out of my head at the time. It was too much and didn’t fit the legalistic culture vulture framework I had willfully forced myself into.

You know what happens when you try to channel a force of nature through a weakly constructed framework? The flimsy framework, like wet cardboard, will erode and break; the force of nature, the reality of what has been created WILL take its natural course and place among Creation. As the unnatural walls, created and embraced by weak men like I was, came crumbling and crashing down in light of God’s grace and love … my repentant tears poured out and eventually helped me back to the course I was created for as a gay man.

Many events, people, and I do believe God worked to erode the ex-gay ideology/theology I had worked myself into believing. When it comes to marriage equality, the gay community being honest, forceful, non-violent, and direct was incredibly important. What lodged in my heart and stayed there were the humanizing opportunities that a majority of the LGBT community took. Two examples:

Personal: Ben being honest yet approachable and gracious.

As a community: NOH8 campaign; literally putting a face to the issue, many many beautiful faces to the issue.

I love people. I love words. Being an artist, I love art and symbolism. I can’t tell you how many times I have privately welled up with tears looking at various NOH8 portraits. The beautiful lighting, the simple innocent symbolism of white bring the viewer’s eyes into focus. But the grieved/angered faces, and the duct tape over people’s mouths literally rips my heart out. The thought that I contributed to silencing the gay community on such a heart level… it’s a deep regret, shame, that I carry with me. I have apologized to the gay community (here and here) but don’t think I have fully forgiven myself for my anti-gay lobbying during that time. I can understand why some won’t and will never forgive me. It hurts but it is a hurt I inflicted. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Mr. Future Thomas-Husband – NOH8 Becomes Personal

Two nights ago, a romantic interest I had dated for around five weeks let me know that he was going to pursue a relationship with someone else. Someone he had been upfront about from the beginning; a man he had met about a month before me.

I was heart-broken. This guy is a great guy. He handled everything very well. He was and is honest, above reproach, and humble.

Which for some reason makes the rejection worse! He is just the kind of guy I am looking for. Hopefully there is more than one guy like that in this world!

After coming out again on January 12th of this year. It took almost three months to be willing to date. I have been on a few dates, but this guy was the first person I had been on more than two dates with. During this time LOADS of insecurity and fear came rushing back. It was overwhelming and inordinate. After much journaling and talking with a few friends, I remembered that I hadn’t dated men in over 25 years. I had only seriously dated two women during that time so… my dating experience is pretty much reset to zero.

Plus, 25 years ago, I didn’t really date so much as I just partied. The three men I fell in love with as a teen/young adult are:

R – I was 17 and he was 36 when we first “got together.” That should be enough said. But, he also passed away from AIDS a year after we stopped hooking up. How I am HIV negative is a mystery to me.

J – was with him for 18 months and he was incredibly abusive emotionally and physically. We were constantly drinking and doing drugs as well.

Michael – romantically with him for just a few months but he was actually a very kind and healthy person. After deciding we were better friends than boyfriends, we remained friends for 23 years but he shockingly committed suicide in January of 2013. This was devastating and a grief that still haunts me.

So the three men I had been in love with, to date, all have ended tragically. No wonder there is an undercurrent of fear to overcome.

Other than these men, my “dating” experience was random party dudes discovered via the magic of bar light. Not a huge long list but because my relational history with men had been so incredibly bad (except for Michael, back then) it was easy to project my hurt and disappointment on the gay community (as a whole). It was a trip going from gay bar culture to church culture. Nonetheless, as a truly messed up young man, it was a relief to not wake up on Sunday morning with a hangover, worried about where my boyfriend ended up last night, and trying to remember the name of the guy lying next to me.

I did meet other wonderful gay and pro-gay people before becoming a Christian but that is where my dysfunction kept me from seeing that you could be gay and whole. After entering the church, I eventually bought into the legalistic and cultural shame and condemnation of who I am as a gay person.

I was taught that it was ok to objectify and transfer all my hurt and personal dysfunction onto the gay community, so I did.

Today, I know that God created me to be who I am. And as a personal force of nature, that shame fueled ideology could not stand against God’s grace and love for me as His son in Christ; who happens to be a gay man (among many other attributes.) That weak ideology of cultural stigmatization can not possibly stand in the light of God’s love and grace for the gay community.

Today, at 47, my emotional maturity and coping skills are definitely age appropriate. I humbly assert… I got this. However, my heart is catching up. I had shut off the dream, and joy, of looking for my future husband from 1992 until I came out again this year. Yes, today my heart hurts for the man that is pursuing someone else. Yet, I am still joyful; my heart is still open.

I will never shut down my heart again.

You see, I am already in love with my future husband. Not sure what he will look like or his name. Not sure when I will meet him, or even if I have already met him… don’t know. However, I do know he is safe in God’s care and our Good Shepherd will bring us together in due time.

And he better have a LOT of energy. I have a lot of time to make up for … :) !

The past is not on repeat. My eyes are clear and my spirit hopeful. The future is bright.

My Common Unity, My Community

As I stood in line at the NOH8 photo shoot event pulling the “inspected by” sticker off my new white t-shirt which somehow survived the laundry, I wept, again. Watching a smiling lesbian mom chase after her rambunctious toddler who grabbed my pant leg wanting me to pick him up; seeing a group of friends on the stage (where the photo shoot was set up) support each other with a clever group photo; witnessing a “moment” where an older gay male couple with emotion in their eyes held each other’s hands; and even listening to an obnoxious queen complaining about everything… I was so glad to be there and my earlier nervousness evaporated.

I love my Grace church family and I know that they love me. They are always going to be my church family, my spiritual siblings. That said, my community/home has to include the LGBT community. I haven’t been a good brother in the past, but I am here willing to contribute positively and make amends where impactful and appropriate.

I had texted Ben the night before about a friend being concerned that the NOH8 folks might not appreciate me being there. I wasn’t too concerned, but thought I would check with him. Ben is on the Board of Directors for the NOH8 campaign so of course he knows Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley (NOH8’s leadership) and texted them. He said they would be welcoming and they were. They were incredibly kind, gave me hugs, and seemed genuinely glad for my change of heart. As they both said, “This is why we do what we do. It’s about changing hearts so of course you are welcome here.”

So as the flash went off on the camera, and I followed Adam’s instructions for posing, I felt the duct tape on my mouth and was humbled by God’s grace to liberate my heart and lead me to this act of repentance. I was also proudly conscious of the NOH8 temporary tattoo on my cheek, and feel incredibly positive about who I am, and where I am at.

My heart is an open book and door for my entire community (LGBT, Church, …everyone willing to be “family”) but it is also being held for the one man I joyfully long for. The one man I will someday embrace, look in his eyes, and know I am home.

I am finally living and speaking an unhindered truth. I hope you are too."


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