As the state of Indiana struggles with the balance between religious freedom and discrimination, I am taking a walk in the past…
In 1976 I hopped into my dad’s brown cutlass supreme and hit the road. It’s no coincidence that I chose a college 5 hours away, on the edge of Illinois. It was as far away as I could get at the time. In my heart of hearts, I was leaving my home town, my family and my friends not so much because I was seeking the invaluable knowledge of higher education, but because deep down, I knew I was gay.
With no idea how to share this secret, no understanding of why I was this way and no clue how to live among my family honestly and at peace with myself – I made the intellectual decision to escape. All I could think about was the shame I would bring them if they found out.
In the 1970’s, society was arguing about homosexuals – yelling out in the newspapers and TV news that “people like me were an abomination.” It was uncomfortable and embarrassing and I couldn’t own up to it. I didn’t know how.
At the time, there was no p-flag (parents and friends of lesbians and gay), and there certainly were no laws protecting me. However, there was big mouth Anita Bryant, religiously campaigning about the “sinfulness of homosexuality” while kindling a national movement that banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Uh-oh, guess what my college major was? More reason to stay away.
I was a wimp and struggled tremendously with being gay. Not in terms of “am I?” but… “how will I ever go home?” “how will I get a job?” “how will I live without my family?” “will I have a normal life?” It was a lot to think about.
As the noise and the worry got louder, I chose the easiest route – drugs, alcohol and apathy. Yes folks, I experienced a momentary lack of hope. My story is not unique, there were plenty of us out there trying to figure out how we were going to create lives. Many chose activism to find their substance – kudos to them because that’s why my life is pretty good today. I was incredibly lucky to survive it all – and it did get better.
Which brings me to my point…kids need to have hope. They need the support of parents, schools, and communities which offer them a way to fit in, even and especially when they don’t. How many kids will see the stickers on the doors of the businesses and ask “What does that mean?” How many of them will feel shame for being who they are? News flash…even one is too many!
I am thrilled to see businesses and corporations boycotting Indiana because money talks, but, I really wish someone would think about about the harm this will do to all of the young, proud baby hoosiers living in the state today. How many will run from their state as soon as they can? They will leave behind families, friends and their future; a future that might contribute to the growth and potential of Indiana. How many will stay and live in the state while forced into the duality of a secret life? Without the means to leave, what unhealthy choices will they make in order to cope with it all? Finally, which young hoosier will choose the ultimate escape? We know the answer to this one…the one too sensitive to deal with all the loud arguing, the secret life, the shame and embarrassment, the unhealthy coping? Talk about lost potential Indiana.
So, legislators! Forget about the LGBTQ people you are so afraid of and think about those baby hoosiers. Money and economics have an important place in all of this, but people, well, people still are the ones who make it all happen. Who speaks up for the next generation? Who considers the needs of the ones without the means to influence? At this point in time, someone needs to think about those little hoosiers because they are your future, they’re the ones who can grow your proud state’s dreams, they are, after all the…