“What does pride mean to you?”
This was the question asked, as I walked in the room of my first PFLAG meeting in eight years. Back then I was the outsider. An “enemy in the camp.” I was the leader of one of the largest “ex-gay” organizations in the US, that I’m sure haunted the local gay community. That is, until November of 2017 when I turned in my resignation letter, siting burnout, but there was more to it than that.
As people were answering the question, it seemed that they either knew the question was going to be asked or they’d been thinking about it a long time. It was Pride month after all. Here I was, sheepishly coming out to this group. Not public yet. Not knowing how to answer the question. What does pride mean to me? I didn’t know, not then at least.
A journey that led to finding the meaning of Pride.
Ever since November of 2017, I’ve been painfully silent, maturating on what I was going to do. What was my future going to look like? This past winter I decided I couldn’t take it any longer. I decided to come out to some of my friends. They were mostly all very loving and encouraging. It was an incredible blessing to have this group of people that I could, for once in my life, be authentically me. I’d never known what that was like.
I’d always been completely honest with my wife, even before marriage. She always knew when I was struggling, who I was attracted to, and when I’d fallen. I leaned on her for support over the 24 years of marriage, but now I’d decided I could not continue as is any longer. What would that look like? I’ve always taken it one day at a time. I don’t know what the future holds.
In April (2019), I sent PFLAG an email. I felt it was only right that I contact them to let them know what was going on with me. I remember Deb Foreman calling me. I was on vacation and I remember walking on the beach talking with her. It was a long talk. I’m not known for my brevity.
Back from the beach, we arranged a meeting, me, Deb and Eric from PFLAG Spartanburg. I told them my story and how I’d gotten to where I was that day. I admitted to them, “I’m scared.” It was the first time I’d said those words out loud. They both understood completely. I didn’t know how Julie, my wife would respond. I didn’t know how my family or employer would respond. I wasn’t sure how my some 3000 followers on Facebook would respond. All I could imagine was the very worst.
I told my son a few months earlier, my wife knew a lot, my daughter and most of the family knew nothing. It was very scary to contemplate. Fear covered me like a cloud.
Here I was the author of The Transparent Life, now pulled by the Christian publisher. I guess because I’m no longer “that guy.” For the 18 years running the ministry, I’d always had same-sex attractions, but I was living a lie. I was hiding behind religion.
The coming out.
One day I read a friend’s post. Michael Bussee spoke of an attack he and his partner endured, where his partner died! It really triggered me.
Someone had recently asked me if I was now “pro-gay?” Triggered by the post, I shared it with the words,
“Am I pro-gay? I know I’m not anti gay. I am gay.”
That was the very first time I’d ever said those three words in public. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, thinking not that many would read it. Wrong. It was seen by many. Messages started. People started trying to intervene. I became emboldened. It was pride month after all. I thought of all those men and women at PFLAG. I thought of all those I’d known over the years in ministry and friends that hated themselves for their gay attractions. I was not going to now back down and cower. This was a big part of who I was and I was not going to be silenced.
Today, we’re having my coming out party, where we’ll be sharing a Pride cake that Deb’s daughter-in-law made for me to share.
What does Pride mean to me?
I now know, that for me, Pride means to be me. To not cower away. To stand and boldly proclaim that I am a gay man and I’m not going to cower in fear of what everyone may think of me. I don’t care what they think any longer! I love myself. And, I’m thankful to have found a community of friends through Deb and Eric and others that love and support me.
And my wife? She loves me. She and my family are trying to understand. My Facebook followers, well some I’ve said good-bye to, while gaining even more new ones.
Pride means to me—liking, loving, accepting myself. How can I truly love others until I can truly love myself? I can’t.
I’m thankful for Pride month, for my courage to have come out, and for my support that I’ve found.
What does Pride mean to me? It means, I like me.