“At times, just as a junkie needs a fix, I’d find myself in the desperate position of craving sexual contact with a man. Any momentary enjoyment, though, was quickly replaced with feelings of disgust, self-loathing and repentance. The battle to resist was torturous, the aftermath depressing, but no one could know about the battle inside me. I was the pastor, the one who should have it all together.” – Anthony Venn-Brown, “A Life of Unlearning: a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith”)
When you have a reputation for opposing the religious right, people tell you things.
Sometimes, I’ll get a tip about something that can be verified and written about. Mostly, the more delicious the gossip, the less likely it is to be true – or, at least, unlikely to be provable. Much of what I hear behind the scenes I write off as improbable, or wishful thinking. And so, it goes no further.
I relish gossip as much as the next person. But, I don’t publish scuttlebutt because I believe that even those we disagree with most vehemently don’t deserve to have untrue (or at least unproven) allegations thrown at them.
Regular readers will know I often warn, “Do not become the monster you are fighting”.
No matter how dreadfully our opposition acts, – no matter how they lie and cheat and dissemble – we must not sink to their level. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high”.
But, recently, a rumour has come to my attention which I cannot prove; and yet I cannot let go of it. I’ve thought long and hard about the ethics of writing about it and my motives for doing so. Ultimately, I hope that in writing this article I can head off a disaster at the pass and encourage someone to take their destiny into their own hands. My chances of succeeding are small – and may even be misdirected – but perhaps this article will speak to more than one person and do some good. I hope so.
“I’m getting some information from a very good source,” came the message, “X isn’t as ‘faithful’ as they could be.”
What followed was a salacious allegation that a prominent supporter of the “No” campaign has been sighted behaving ‘recklessly’ in a manner starkly in contrast to his publicly stated views on homosexuality.
“Do you have evidence about ‘X” being gay?”
“No. But he’s been seen and he’s being watched.”
Despite this information coming from a usually trustworthy source, my inclination was to dismiss it as wishful thinking. There is a great temptation to believe what you’d like to be true. A revelation like this about a high profile supporter could bring the whole “No” campaign house of outrageous propaganda crashing to the floor. But, obtaining evidence would be a grubby business. Publicly ‘outing’ someone – even someone who has done tremendous harm – presents a huge ethical dilemma.
Nevertheless, the information niggled at me, so I contacted someone who knows ‘X’ and people in his circle.
Is it possible, I asked, that ‘X’ is gay?
I honestly expected to be told, “No way! Absolutely not!”
Instead, the response was, “Yes, that’s probably true.”
My contact says they know of at least one homosexual ‘incident’ involving ‘X’ and ventured that such ‘incidents’ don’t tend to be isolated. To protect the other party, my contact is unwilling to provide more information, and I respect that completely.
Now, I feel a little like a cartoon character who’s been thrown a bomb with a fast burning fuse and can’t work out what to do with it.
I’ve pondered on this for a few weeks now. And, to be fair, I must disclose that I contacted another person who knew ‘X” many years ago. They said they had no inkling then that ‘X’ might be ‘that way inclined’ and thought it was possible, but unlikely.
I could keep digging. But, to what purpose?
On the one hand, it would be a fine thing to expose a “No” campaigner as a hypocrite and a fraud and wreak untold damage to their grubby and dishonest campaign .
On the other hand, I can’t help but have sympathy for someone who has been made to feel their natural sexual inclination is something to be hidden, denied and fought at all costs.
I may hate the harm ‘X’ is causing others, but I cannot ignore the harm they are doing to themselves and, undoubtedly, those close to them.
It the rumour is true, it is not surprising ‘X’ is becoming more reckless at a time of high stress. If it is true, ‘X’ must be going through a desperately sad period of internal torment.
The tragedy is that, if it is true, he is channelling his own self-loathing into a campaign that redirects that hate on to adults and children who do not deserve to be shamed and vilified.
I need to make this clear – I do not know for sure if this rumour is true. My sources are good, but there is certainly no evidence I can present, and no first-hand witnesses have come forward.
It’s not surprising. The circles in which ‘X’ mixes have a long held ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding those who battle ‘the demons of homosexuality’. If a person is valuable to the cause, it’s better to blame Satan and keep the occasional transgression ‘hush hush’. Better to deal with these things ‘in house’.
And yet, the conspiracy of silence is notoriously bad at keeping a lid on the homosexual proclivities of anti-gay activists and politicians. Indeed, high profile fundamentalist Christian lobbyists and politicians seem to be particularly prone to being outed in the most humiliating ways.
- You may remember Baptist Minister, and founder of the Family Research Council, George Rekers, was exposed disembarking from a flight with a travelling companion he’d found at RentBoy.com. According to Rekers, the ‘boy’ was engaged to ‘carry luggage’, although his CV at RentBoy.com pointed to his “smooth, sweet, tight ass” and “perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)”. He was, he said, “up for anything” – including ‘carrying luggage’ it seems.
- Republican anti-gay campaigner, Steve Wiles, was ‘outed’ as having been a drag queen in a ‘past life’.
- Pastor Ted Haggard was outed by the sex worker he’d been seeing in a ‘professonal capacity’ for three years.
- Republican Bob Allen was an avid anti-LGBTIQ campaigner, but came unstuck when he offered an undercover male police officer $20 for a blow job.
If you are a self-loathing gay man and you put yourself into the public spotlight as an anti-gay activist, you are playing a high stakes game. The odds of ‘winning’ are against you. People are watching. People are chattering behind the scenes. People know your secrets. Someday, someone will break the silence and you will be publicly humiliated – not because you are gay (there is nothing humiliating about being gay!), but because you are a liar and hypocrite.
Yet, there are evangelists who have come out with dignity, maintained the love of their families, the respect of their communities, and even made a good living out of preaching love and inclusion instead of hate and fear. There are many LGBTIQ people and clergy who have found ways of reconciling their sexuality and their faith. Indeed, they say being true to themselves has enriched their faith and affirmed their family values.
Reverend Mel White, formerly a ghost writer for televangelists Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Billy Graham, came out publicly in 1994 with his book Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. As a closeted gay man, White says he felt “condemned by God and alienated from his family and closest friends”.
After coming out White was inundated by thousands of letters from people saying, “No-one has ever said to me before, you can be gay and Christian.”
Let me say that now to ‘X’. You can be gay, a Christian, and hold a respected position in the mainstream community. Others have done it. You can too.
As a child, White was taught that a man who lies down with another man is an ‘abomination’.
He didn’t see himself as ‘gay’, he saw himself as ‘a heterosexual with a ‘problem’’.
It’s a common story, but, try as he might (and he tried everything) , White’s ‘problem’ didn’t go away; even with a happy marriage, children and stellar career.
The inner torment made him suicidal. “I was slashing at wrists with bent coat hangers”, he says in an interview with 60 Minutes.
Now, White says, “Thank God I can say at last who I really am. I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation.”
Mel White talks about the horrifying cost of the Christian right’s hardline stance on homosexuality. He speaks of young Christians, rejected by their families, churches and Christian communities, killing themselves at alarming rates, because they believe they can never be ‘redeemed’. Or, doing as White did in his early years, they act out recklessly and promiscuously followed by periods of deep self-loathing.
“The closet is a place of death for gay people,” warns White, “Coming out is a place of life, even if it costs you.”
Now, White feels compelled to speak out against those in the church who condemn homosexuality:
“I have to do everything in my power to stop them. Because, for their own soul’s sake, they’re doing terrible damage. And if I’m to be a responsible Christian brother, I need to say to them, ‘Look what you’re doing! You’re doing wrong!’
And one day, I really believe that God is going to say. ‘… guys, don’t you know what you did to my gay and lesbian children?’
And that they’re going to suffer for it!”
In Australia, Anthony Venn-Brown’s story is similar. He, too, was married with children with a thriving ministry.
Venn-Brown fought against his homosexuality while building a wildly successful career as an evangelist.
Coming out was painful and difficult, but he did it on his own terms, and has been rewarded with widespread acceptance and respect.
As a former evangelist, Venn-Brown has carved out an alternative career as a ‘gay ambassador’. Now he says:
“I know who I am and what I’ve done. Most of my life was spent pleasing others by saying and doing the things they wanted, but I was living a lie. Finally being honest with myself cost me everything I held dear: my marriage, family career, business and friends. Facing the truth meant I would hurt people I loved the most and become an object of embarrassment, ridicule and shame.”
But, in his book, A Life of Unlearning: A Preacher’s Struggle with Homosexuality, Church and Faith, Venn-Brown speaks of:
“The wonderful place of integrity, peace and resolution I now live in …”
As much as I may abhor the actions of “No” campaigners and their leadership, I cannot demonise and dehumanise them as they seek to humiliate the LGBTIQ community. Many are victims of early indoctrination. Others found much needed solace and healing from a church which tells them they are ‘special’ and ‘chosen of God’. Sadly, some churches do this by defining the ‘chosen’ against a demonised ‘other’. Love and healing is for those who pay their tithes.
Our opponents – even the malicious, lying, hateful ones – are humans. It’s important to remember that.
Whether or not the rumours about ‘X’ are true, it is inevitable that some of those who so ardently oppose marriage equality are simultaneously struggling with their own sexual identity. That is not to say every homophobe is a self-loathing gay; simply that history shows there’s a fair chance there are some in that cohort.
I cannot wish that any LGBTIQ person should be publicly outed, ridiculed and shamed. But, I can say with certainty that, if ‘X’ is gay, that is what will happen; if not now, at some point.
The centre will not, and cannot, hold.
If the rumours are true, if ‘X’ is wise, he will follow the lead of those who have controlled their own destinies; he will bite the bullet and out himself with as much dignity as he can muster. There lies the path to peace, salvation, and self-respect and an end to a life of endless torment and self-blame.
If there is an ‘X’ (or a ‘Y’ or a ‘Z’) supporter of the “No” campaign reading this, I hate everything you stand for, but I do care for the human being beneath that carefully constructed facade you present to the world.
LGBTIQ people throughout the world are suffering as a result of the actions and propaganda of people like you. The idea that you may be one of the people you vilify is difficult for both of us to reconcile.
Come out! Do it of your own accord. Don’t wait to be exposed. Be the master of your own destiny, don’t let some tabloid newspaper take control.
Come out. You will find a community of people ready and willing to assist, support and sustain you and, in doing so, you will find not only the respect you have struggled to obtain your whole life, but the self-respect you will never find while you deny who you really are.
Don’t be the man you’re expected to be. Be the man you’re meant to be. You.
And, if you do it, you may be very surprised to see who your friends are.