As gay man, writer finds ‘Post’ article on target

To the Editor,

I think the (Washington Post) article was pretty much spot on!

I am a gay man and growing up in Dobson, I was a minority, but did not realize that being gay was a minority. I was considered a nice young man. I had a lot of friends and was considered in the “in” group. I discovered that I was gay at 13 years old – simply by just that – discovery through reading and being educated. I did not have sex until I was in my 20s, my choice – so as many of your readers actually believe – all gay men are not sex driven perverts!

In high school I had to hide this fact from even my closest friends, because I would have been humiliated and bullied (I could give you hundreds of examples of the horrible things that my friends said about gays — which is one reason that I kept the secret.)

I was in the Scouts — and fit in well — because I would never disclose my sexuality. It was a tough secret to hold, often wondering if I was actually a pervert or a weirdo, based on all the gay bashing I heard around school, and even at church. The minister at the time preached on how horrific a sin homosexuality was. I attained my Eagle Scout, I did well in school — I was a student athlete track and basketball. However, I knew I could not come out to my team because they would have considered me more like a “girl” and “weak” and a “fag.” You can’t be those things and be a leader on the men’s basketball team.

I went on to graduate from NC State and I now work a good job. I am lucky because at the age of 13, I felt so horrible when I discovered that I was gay — so scared and alone — I felt that I had to keep it secret. I felt as if I was a murderer or a thief. Unless you or anyone can actually identify as a minority, you do not know what it is like.

From that tender age, through my NC State years, I held this secret. It took its toll on me, slanted my opinion of those that I was close to. Did they really feel those things that they said about gays? Would my best friend at the time really throw his kid out of the house, if they found out they were gay?

This is why it is so important to educate and teach our children to treat all people equally, we are all in this life together. I, at 13, would have loved to have known that even though I was or will be gay, I would still be your friend, your teammate, your scouting partner, your church friend, your son, your daughter. I can only image all minorities feel this way, especially other ethnic groups.

I only came out and accepted myself after visiting the minister at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh when I graduated from NC State, Rev. Mahan Siler. I went for one reason, to find out if he believed that God (and those that I love and will love) would still love me if I were gay. I will never forget our conversation that we had that day in May of 1992.

Rev. Siler told me, “God loves all his children and He has a special love for those that have taken on so much burden as you have, in holding such as secret in that you did not want to hurt others.” He was referring to me in telling him I did not want to hurt my parents and family by disclosing this fact.

Mahan went on to tell me that I was welcome in Pullen Church and that they were actually performing marriages of gays as they had recently gone through the process of accepting this very topic into their church dialogue. This church and Mahan became my family away from home! They essentially saved my life and allowed me to be accepting of myself and of all others, no matter if they were different or not.

So, when I think of my growing up in Dobson, of Mount Airy, of Surry County, I do remember the darkness of knowing I could not be myself at 13 or any age, for fear of not being accepted and loved, for fear of evil that lurks — bullying etc… In moving to Raleigh, I found acceptance and I found educated, church people that were not afraid to discuss and accept gays.

So, in this regard, I agree with the Post’s article. Ask yourself, if you were different, any minority, would you feel comfortable living in Surry County? In Mount Airy? In Dobson? Ask a minority, and see what they say. As a gay, young person that grew up in Surry County, it was difficult. I cannot imagine that has changed. For this reason, I feel the area has a long way to go. It has to start with education, then acceptance, then admit that we all are in this life together. Let’s make it a loving and happy all inclusive life. Not an evil, dark, and accepting one.

It should be a goal in the local area to make all people including minorities and gays feel comfortable, included, and loved. It starts with listening and ends with not judging. I can only imagine a world that accepting. Can you imagine a world in which a 13- or 14-year-old kid discovers that they may be gay, and they run and tell their parents and friends their great news? How about a “gay” team captain on the basketball team or a Senior Patrol Leader in the Boy Scouts openly sharing their information on their “first date” or their “first prom” with their friends and being respected!? Just the same as sharing with their parents that they are dating someone of a different religion or ethnicity.

It is when this goal is discussed and eventually reached that I, and other minorities, would feel comfortable living in Mayberry. It is then that our view of Mayberry will change.

My parents were always great. I knew that they would accept me, no matter what, but they had to learn themselves that being gay is not the same as committing sins or being some evil person. They had to listen, not judge, and re-educate their earlier teachings on the topic. Once they did this they learned that I had not changed. I was still the same loving and honest person as before they knew my secret. However, they had changed, they learned what it was like to be in the minority and how difficult that it really is!

Phil Badgett


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