"A year of living dangerously" by Chris Crain in Southern Voice
After almost a decade of editing gay newspapers, this was the year that our struggle against ignorance and intolerance for me became personal — really personal.
For most of my thirties, covering our fight for equality and fairness, from government and from society, was more a matter of principle. If you believe in American and Judeo-Christian values, and I do, then you believe that informing people about the injustices of the world is the first and most important step toward correcting them.
I have never approached this task with rose-colored glasses. I have lived almost all my life in the Deep South, and I know a thing or two about how misguided even good people can be about our lives and our "agenda."
But each and every week, as we reported about hate crimes and unjust laws, I felt mostly empathy. Not anymore.
On April 30, 2005, the same month I turned 40, my boyfriend and I were beaten by seven young Moroccan men on the streets of Amsterdam, of all places, because we were holding each other's hand. And because we had the temerity to stop and ask why one of them had spat in my face for doing so.
I wrote about that experience on this page, and since then my boyfriend and I have both been gratified by the overwhelming support we received from gay and straight alike, over in Holland and back here in the States.
My broken nose and black eyes have long ago healed, and the city of Amsterdam invited us back for a truly wonderful Gay Pride celebration in August, but the emotional scars remain. Like any victim of a violent crime will tell you, there is a certain amount of involuntary recall, where time and again, when I least expect it, I relive every moment of what happened, and its aftermath.
I also learned the hard way how the impact of hate crimes is felt different, and more broadly, than other violent crimes. Not only do I use extra caution on the streets, but I often flashback to that night in Leidseplein when a male friend gives me a public peck on the lips hello, or when my boyfriend reaches for my hand on the sidewalk.
We weren't just beaten up for being gay. We were beaten up because we were gay and so nonchalantly open about it, with the expectation that we could live our lives under the same rules of social conduct as any straight couple would.
The message from the men who cowardly attacked us was to go back in the closet where we belong, or face the consequences, even in the "gay capital of the world," in the first country to open up civil marriage.
But a beating on the streets of Amsterdam wasn't the only lesson my boyfriend and I received this year about homophobia. Our very relationship is challenged by homophobia and intolerance.
We are citizens of different countries, and he cannot move to the United States because this country does not recognize our relationship. In 1996, a Republican Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, and "gay-friendly" Bill Clinton signed it, and as a result, our relationship works against his ability to come to America, even as a tourist.
He lives in a developing country, and any proof of ties to the U.S., especially a romantic relationship, would be viewed as evidence he will overstay his visa, and it would be denied.
But the irony is even more twisted than that. He lives in a country where in some places hostility toward gays is so great, and the fear of violence is so real, that even the Bush administration regularly approves asylum applications for gays from his country already in the United States. At the same time, the government in his country is enlightened enough to be one of 17 worldwide that would recognize our relationship for immigration purposes.
So I could move to his country, an involuntary exile like countless other gay Americans in binational relationships, and risk reliving Amsterdam in all too vivid detail. Or I could remain here in the U.S., and live the daily struggle of an intercontinental long distance relationship.
It's not just my relationship to my boyfriend that was dealt a personal blow by intolerance and prejudice this year. My relationships with my faith and my family were impacted as well.
This was the year when I officially renounced my membership in the United Methodist Church, the faith that was so central to my childhood and my upbringing. I had not been a regular churchgoer for years, but I maintained my membership at my last "church home," the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
I had long been bothered by the hypocrisy at Peachtree Road and other mainline Protestant churches, welcoming gay couples to fill their pews and offering plates, and enjoying the church leadership of gay members, all while maintaining an official policy that treats them as unrepentant sinners, and their relationships as fundamentally wrong. But I also saw other Methodist churches that more warmly embraced their gay parishioners, and so I had hope.
Not after 2005. The denomination that markets itself in slick television ads as the church with "Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors," is none of the above for gays.
On Halloween appropriately enough, the Judicial Council of the Methodist church played a double trick, no treat: defrocking one, and restoring the credentials of another.
The defrocked pastor was Beth Stroud, who had been welcomed by her Germantown, Pa., congregation after she went public about being a lesbian in a long-term relationship. The reinstated pastor was Ed Johnson, who had refused church membership to a gay man unwilling to repent the "sin" of his homosexuality.
Those were the Methodists' "Open Doors" we heard slamming shut in 2005, and frankly I'm OK about being on the outside. I want no part of a faith that embraces hypocrisy and exclusion while shunning honesty and compassion, and I can't imagine Christ would either.
But the most painful blow of 2005 for me was within my own family, which has long struggled with my homosexuality and, for the last decade, gay-focused journalism. Writing about those struggles on this page has already cost me dearly in those relationships, so I don't feel at liberty to offer much by way of detail.
This year, someone very close was taken from us, perhaps forever, and the pain that loss caused me was amplified by the fact it happened without any reconciliation on the issues between us, which all revolved around my being gay.
I am sure we both believed we had years ahead of us to work through our differences and find common ground, but none of us knows just how much time we have, and now I will live with that never-resolved wound.
Still, even as I happily wave goodbye to this year of living dangerously, I welcome 2006 with the hope that with time will come progress. I for one will redouble my efforts to be a part of changing the future for the better.