[Ed. note: Here's an important personal reminder of the toll that anti-gay electoral politics and policies have taken on fellow citizens.]
By late 2004, I was out of my parents’ house. I’d just barely gotten the hell out of there not even a full year before. And I was happy to leave. Flash back two years to 2002. By that time, 9/11 had happened, yet instead of going after Osama bin Laden everyone was discussing war with Iraq. You know this already. I lived with my very conservative, very religious family. And they were all ready to blow the fuck out of some innocents. Needless to say, they didn’t like it when I became very active against the war. They didn’t like that I talked about it all the time. They didn’t like when I’d go to school wearing pins and stickers saying "How many Iraqis per gallon?" and other slogans.
I’m telling you this so you know I was already on their bad side. My stepdad hated me. I mean that. He actually hated me. He threatened to kill me… but we’ll get to that later. At the time, he was just mad because I’m a crippled intellectual type instead of a "manly" man who goes out and does yard work all day.
Flash forward a year, I outed myself as gay.
Actually, I didn’t even really out myself as gay to my parents. I’m not that stupid. No, instead, I wrote a letter to a friend telling them all about it because it was killing me. I couldn’t keep it in anymore. Well, the pillow your head sleeps on at night is not a good hiding place for a letter, it turns out. My stepdad came home drunk the night I wrote it, and it had slipped out of the pillow. He read it. . . .
From that point on, until I moved out, my life was hell. I couldn’t tolerate anything. I’d just gotten paralyzed a year and a half before this happened, you know? I spent an entire year just making my family feel better about my paralysis. I had to work to get them through my problems. I’d subsequently lost all my friends post-paralysis, except those who were friends with me through my cousin. I lost my friends because my paralysis made some of them "question God". It made others just plain uncomfortable around me.
Anyway, I had a rough time. My mother informed me that I was not "allowed" to "be that way" in her home. She asked how I could do that to God. She said she didn’t know if she could love me the same. My stepdad, who hated me enough already, openly called me queer and faggot all the time. Just to try to get under my skin. Then he threatened to kill me. I left some dirty clothes on the floor. He said if I ever did it again I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. When he and mom fought, he’d threaten to leave her, and he’d always mention I "thought I was queer".
My conservative Republican parents bought into all the anti-gay lies. They believed every bit of propaganda they ever heard. They listened to Limbaugh and others who were boldly discussing their hatred for gays.
By 2003, gay people had started to become a wedge issue. This was while I still lived at home. In fear of being killed. All alone and friendless. With no support. And then these people in this Republican party started to demonize gays. This was discussed in our household – before and after the outing incident. My parents called around asking about different mental hospitals or "conversion camps" where she could send me to change or just disappear. Eventually, when she started getting return phone calls, I told her it was a phase. Who wouldn’t?
I was stuck in my home, living in fear of my parents. Sitting with them, tensely watching some Republican politicians and party leaders talk about how disgusting gays are. Listening to my parents talk about how right Falwell and Dobson were to blame 9/11 on the fags and women. This was what my teenage life was like.
And you know I owe it to people like Ken Mehlman. This guy helped engineer the vicious anti-gay campaign that started sometime around 2003, so it could be fully developed by the 2004 election in which eleven or so marriage amendments passed in states. In 2006, another crop of amendments passed, including in my state, Alabama. This guy didn’t back off from using fear-based rhetoric. He didn’t tone any of his words or his mailers down. He and his party were as disgusting as ever and they hurt people. I spent so many years of my life being scared, not of what someone might think, but of actual death. At the very least, actual hospitalization for something that did not deserve it.
I didn’t start coming out to most people til I was twenty. And not to my parents (again) til I was twenty-one. I couldn’t, though. I live in a conservative area. I was going through all of this during a time when people were stoking the dangerous fears of uneducated and ignorant people. Hate crimes increased. After I finally moved out, a kid was killed about fifteen minutes from where I live just for being gay. I knew people brave enough to come out in high school who had their cars and houses trashed on a regular basis. When gay people talk about coming out of the closet, it’s not all easy or safe.
To hear Ken Mehlman tell it, though, all he needed was a direct phone call to the former President of the United States, and a press team to field inquiries about his revelation. Mehlman will never have to face the consequences I had to face. Or others whose fate was much worse. People died for this. People were tortured for this. The guy who was killed near me? He was beaten, stabbed and burned to death by "friends" who lived with him.
While I’m glad that Mehlman has had such a good time with his coming out, and while I await his best-selling book, the profits of which will no doubt never fill the coffers of pro-gay organizations, it is not the same for all of us. And our pain and our struggles can be directly linked to his actions. And he doesn’t care. He offers no sympathy, no apology.
He, like any other Republican, is not in the business of identifying with everyday Americans. He’s not interested in connecting with us, nor is he interested in hearing what hurts us. They live inside a bubble in which the only thing that matters is their self-interest. They are out of touch. He risked nothing coming out. He was never in any real danger. In fact, it’s probably only opportunism which is causing him to come out now. He’s probably being paid handsomely by the GOP to make them look more gay friendly, after they learned that the electorate is increasingly gay friendly.
These people are monsters who just don’t give a fuck about you. They never have, they never will. I’ll stand by the real LGBT community’s side against people like him every day of my life.