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My Journey From Homophobia to a Supporter of LGBTQ People

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Recently, a friend of mine — also a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher — asked me about my journey from homophobia to a supporter of LGBTQ people:

How long did it take you to come around to your current views of acceptance of homosexual folks, not simply tolerating or being kind to them? Also, if there was one, what was the “catalyst” that led you to become as accepting and even accommodating as you now are?

I ask because while I no longer consider it damming or “evil” I simply have a hard time wrapping my head around it and / or not being grossed out by those I come in contact with who I learn are of that lifestyle.

My friend asks several questions I hopefully (and adequately) can answer. I will attempt to do so, as I often do, by telling my story.

I was born in 1957. As was common for men of generation, I was homophobic. I didn’t meet my first gay person until I was thirty-eight years old. Oh, I “knew” gay men in the sense that, based on their mannerisms, I considered them to be a fag, queer, light in their loafers. Polly’s single uncle was a gay man, as was one of my cousins. I knew these men from distance. As far as lesbians are concerned, I didn’t meet a lesbian until I was in my forties.

In ninth grade, we were taught how to square dance in gym class. My pastor threw a fit over me dancing, and this led to me sitting in the bleachers while my fellow classmates danced. Sitting with me were two boys who refused to shower at the end of class. It was assumed by me and my fellow students that these boys were “faggots.” I have no idea whether they were actually gay. Just being different was enough to get one labeled with the “faggot” label.

In the mid-seventies, I casually knew a man my age who was gay. It was believed that he was preyed upon by a much older gay man who ran one of the local funeral homes. This young man, in the 1980s, died of AIDS.

I never heard much preaching about homosexuality as a teen. Oh, I heard the typical talking points about “queers” or “sodomites” having tattoos or wearing earrings in their left ears — both stereotypes of which were patently untrue.

By the time I left Bible college in 1979 and started pastoring IFB churches, I was a full-blown homophobe, a man who reveled in his heterosexuality and excoriated LGBTQ people. On several occasions, gay people visited one of the churches I pastored. I made sure they felt unwelcome. I viewed them, at the time, as child predators — another untrue stereotype.

This brings me to 1995.

In March of 1994, I left a church I had pastored for almost twelve years and moved to San Antonio, Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church. This move proved to be a disaster, and in the fall that same year, we packed up our belongings and moved to Frazeysburg, Ohio. With the help of Polly’s parents, we bought a newish manufactured home — a $25,000 upgrade from our previous mobile home.

We lived in Frazeysburg for six months. Needing immediate employment, I turned to restaurant management. I was hired by Charley’s Steakery (now called Charleys Philly Steaks) to be the general manager of their franchise at the Colony Square Mall in Zanesville. I continued to work for this restaurant until March 1995, when I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette.

bruce gerencser pride

The restaurant I managed had a drink refill policy for mall employees. If employees stopped at the restaurant with their cups, we refilled them free of charge. Some employees would stop every day they worked to get their large plastic cups refilled. One such employee was a man who worked at a nearby store.

This man was in his twenties. The first time I personally refilled his cup for him, my infallible, never-wrong (I am joking) gaydar went off. I thought, “OMG, this guy is gay. What if he has AIDS?” Quite frankly, I am surprised he didn’t see the disgust on my face. Maybe he did, but ignored it. I dutifully put ice in his cup, filled it with pop, and handed it back to him. After he walked away from the service counter, I would quickly run to the kitchen and thoroughly wash my hands, fearing that I might catch AIDS.

Over time, this man and I struck up casual conversations. He was quite friendly, and truth be told, I liked talking to him. As I got to know him better, I found that I no longer was disgusted or worried about getting AIDS. I even stopped washing my hands after serving him. What changed?

My theology didn’t change. And neither did my irrational fear of gay people. Coming to where I am today, a supporter of LGBTQ rights with numerous gay and transgender friends, took years. What needed washing was my proverbial heart, not my hands.

My first step, then, in moving away from homophobia was actually getting to know an LGBTQ person. The more gay people I met, the less I could continue to hate them. I also learned that at least five children raised under my preaching were gay. These poor children had to listen to me rail against LGBTQ people. There was nothing I could do about the past. I apologized to them, and, thankfully, they completely forgave me. Does this mean I was finally free of homophobia? Nope.

The past decade has brought numerous LGBTQ people into my life, forcing me to confront what my friend called “wrapping his head around it [gay lifestyle] and/or not being grossed out by those he comes in contact with who are LGBTQ.” First, I had to learn that being gay was not a “lifestyle,” any more than being heterosexual is a “lifestyle.” We are who we are. A decade of intense counseling has taught me a lot about “self.” Good, bad, and downright ugly. Second, I came to believe that ALL people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were deserving of justice and equal protection under the law. Thus, when it came to same-sex marriage, I found that there was no rational, ethical reason to prohibit gay people from marrying. Not one. I also realized that I had to make my pro-same-sex marriage view public. Public sins require public penance. I did so by writing letters to the editor, publishing blog posts, and putting LGBTQ-friendly signs in my front yard — a heavily trafficked state highway.

Over time, I became more and more open about my unreserved support of LGBTQ people. I even offered to perform same-sex marriages. Over the weekend, Polly and I attended Defiance’s Pride Walk, proudly walking with LGBTQ family, friends, and acquaintances.

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What a day! Does this, however, mean that I am finally free of homophobia? While I am not far from the kingdom, I know that buried deep in the recesses of my mind rests bigotry of all sorts. As is common for all of us, we struggle to understand people “different” from us. I am an alpha male, 100% heterosexual, a Type A workaholic and sports addict. I am a typical man for my generation. However, I know I don’t want to be a “typical” sixty-five-year-old man. People like me ARE the problem. Quite frankly, we need to die off, and soon.

The struggle that remains for me is truly, without reservation, accepting and embracing people who are different from me. I must work on this every day, pushing my bigotry farther back into the recesses of my mind. I will never “arrive.” All I know to do is to be better today than yesterday.

I would encourage my friend to genuinely befriend LGBTQ people — without reservation. When homophobia rears its ugly head, ask yourself, how would you feel if gay people treated you this way? Confess your “sin,” and do better. Practice what you preach. Participate in groups and events that challenge your bigotry. This is hard work, and you will fail many times. If, however, you believe in justice and equality for all, then you must try again.

I’ve been blogging for fifteen years. I have met countless LGBTQ people. Some of them I consider friends. Listening to their stories — the harm caused to them by homophobic preachers (seeing myself squarely in the mirror), churches, and families — helped me not only confront my own bigotry but also develop genuinely empathy for LGBTQ people. Understanding someone’s journey will go a long way in combating homophobia

Here’s what I am saying to my friend: becoming a tolerant, accepting man requires a lot of pain and struggle. We must not rest until we have rooted every last bit of bigotry out of our lives. While we will never “arrive,” we can be better men (and women) than we were yesterday.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    I am related to several gay family members (not in my house). Also, I have a dear trans friend. And it turns out that the more we see LGBTQ people in life, on media, etc, it becomes easier to accept. I’ve been catching up on Star Trek: Discovery and there is a non-gender person, plus a gay couple. Seeing affection between 2 people is sweet no matter what gender/lack of gender they are. It has taken the better part of 15 years to get to this place, though.

  2. Avatar
    Matilda

    True anecdote: Yesterday I lunched with my dear but fundy friend. We got talking about a deaconess who helped pastor a church we both attended in the 1970s. She was such a sweet person. She had resigned her anglican job and moved away and I’d vaguely heard it suggested she now lived with a female ‘friend.’ My lunch-mate said she was still in touch with this ex-deaconess and she and hubby visit her annually when they’re in her area. ‘It’s OK’ said fundy friend. ‘We don’t feel it’s wrong to see her and the ‘friend’ she lives with, cos I’m sure the lawd brought them together as both were single and lonely and I’m sure they’ve never had sex.’ Sigh from me….yet another example of fundy twisty reasoning….”We don’t understand same-sex attraction so we’ll say that the lawd did it….so it must be OK…. and we’re kind of embarrassed and in denial that we know a x-tian lesbian couple who are on their way to hell….but we like them, they’re nice, we’ll suspend the idea of hell for all other gay people, god’ll surely forgive them and let them through the pearly gates.”
    It’s absolutely none of my friend’s business what consenting adults do in their bedrooms…it’s voyeristic to think about it so much. Don’t recall anyone I know wanting to discuss with me the sex that any het-couple has in their home!

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Your friend might start first by thinking long and hard 😉 about why he feels things inside when pondering sensual attractions. I would hazard that the discomfort felt regarding others’ sensuality is in direct proportion to this individual’s internally tenuous grip his own well-being in this area. The same goes for you, Gerencser. The more addled the attitude in families and societies, the more ‘important’ this whole issue becomes and so it is that we find ourselves confronted by frothing evangelical preachers decrying the end of babies because some men adore the sight of a tight hard ass on a man rather than the singing curves of a female form. Sweet Jesus convicts these poor obsessed preachers with ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ that make the poor fellows feel sick in their tummies and have to focus on the ‘sin’ of same-sex attraction. “Just imagine!!!” they cry from the pulpits and I suggest they do a lot of imagining with their hands in their pants.
    Human sexuality (and any other sexuality) has never been as simple as the straight hard thing finding some hole to poke. There ain’t no proverbial black-and-white sex. Kids play with their peepees because it feels good and they play with each other’s peepees too for the same reason. Some people tend more this way or that and that is all there is to the matter. Haters who claim from pulpits to love all, vilify and cry out against others because they are haters wearing Jesus clothes and the evangelical church is designed to harness hatred while calling it love: ‘God made us all ONE way and people who wear rainbows are fooled by the evil one (and so forth)…’
    We are all sensual creatures with bodies that benefit by being fully so…. Personally, I feel rather odd and ‘funny’ when I force myself to imagine any stranger in an intimate position. I would rather not… that goes for Brangelina and Lady Gaga….. BUT when Lady Gaga sings, well then, I live on those lips… I (forgive me) tingle. It takes all kinds, while the evangelical church of hatred runs to the closet/pulpit to pry…

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I grew up with the massive fundagelical hemophilia that we are all familiar with here. Labeling it as a lifestyle or choice, saying men became gay because tpredatory gay men molested them.as boys, that pesbians are just that way because they want to hate men or were abused by men, that transgender people are just seriously confused or corrupted by Satan or whatever. Fortunately, I befriended some gay men in college and found that none of that was true, and that they were mistreated just for being themselves. Also, one of my psychology major courses mentioned that sexuality was on a spectrum upon which we all fell rather than being strictly binary. That madd so much sense to me.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    When I was starting my gender affirmation process, I had to unpack some of my own homo- and trans-phobia (though my fear and hatred, interestingly, didn’t extend to lesbians)). My attitudes were formed by my Catholic upbringing and tuned by the environment in which I grew up (where most people were Catholic) and my later involvement in a church in which I “gave my life to Jesus.” Even after I moved away from religion and faith, I still carried—yes, actively—my phobias. Much of it was an assertion of the cisgender heterosexual male I presented (or tried to). But I also believe that being inculcated with fear and hatred at such a young age can affect us for the rest of our lives. Could it affect us neurologically, or even genetically, in a ways similar to the ways scientists tell us other traumas* affect us?

    *—I am not a neuroscientist or psychologist. So some may take issue with the way I’ve used the word “trauma.” I take that liberty, however, because it seems to me that anything forced upon a person who, for whatever reasons, cannot resist, is traumatic.

    P.S.—Bruce, you don’t need to “die off.” Young people, even those who are being brought up in the most accepting environments, need to understand where hatred comes from and how to undo it. Plus, they and everyone else needs to see a true ally.

  6. Avatar
    sjl1701

    Wonderful piece, Bruce. It’s the strategy that people in Minnesota used to counter the ballot issue to ban gay marriage and then get it into Minnesota law. The gay group had people get to know others on a one to one basis and use those relationships to then talk about the marriage issue. It work wonderfully. This was done back in 2016. There is a documentary on it called; “How Love Won”.

  7. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    It might be somewhat of a self-protective human visceral reaction to feel, wait, they want to do WHAT with WHOM? The way many people have a visceral reaction to the sight of lots of blood. (I took once took my husband to Urgent Care to get his fierce road rash cleaned up after a bicycle accident, my stomach betrayed me, and I had to leave the room.) We are complicated critters with lots of reactions to things, that don’t necessarily make sense.

    Healthy adults get over thinking that sex which doesn’t work for them is somehow gross. We take ourselves out of the room when our stomachs threaten to betray us at the sight of blood, and we know that the problem is us, not the blood. Likewise, we take ourselves out of any graphic conversation that makes us uncomfortable, without whining about it. We keep our noses out of other people’s business, and that absolutely includes what they do in their bedrooms. I am the daughter of very conservative parents who were uncomfortable at the thought of two men or two women having sex, but they would absolutely never have shared that perspective out of family. That would have been extremely impolite.

    There was a time when my husband’s family speculated that one of my nephews is gay. He might be bi, but he eventually chose a woman as his spouse. But the damn speculation! The kid got interested in cooking early on, and could throw together chef-quality meals by the time he was in college. Male chefs are all gay! He must be gay! He also chose to study physical therapy. Wait, that’s a helping profession! Kid must be gay! I’m waiting to hear that he must be gay because he’s a damn good dad. Fresh manure, straight out of the backside of the cow. Not that I would have a problem with him being gay at all (though his wife might 🙂 ) It was all this gossip garbage about stuff that was nobody’s business, and meanwhile the kid was doing such great things with his life. I was proud of him, though it wasn’t my doing. Most of the rest of the family could do nothing but gossip.

  8. Avatar
    Howell J Wilson

    “Woe unto you that call evil good and good evil that put light for darkness and darkness for light “ Isaiah 5:20

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Please read comment guidelines. No one is interested in quotes from an ancient religious text. Besides, Jesus was 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈gay. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈 Prove me wrong. 🤪🤪

    • Avatar
      Sage

      Um..yeah.. this phrase has no real power over me. The only way it has power is when you believe. Or more specifically, believe like you do.

      Go watch the Skeleton Key. It’s a great allegory’s about the dangers of religious indoctrination and living a life of faith.

      I am sure you will miss the point, but it’s still a good movie.

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      Teensy litle hint Mr Wilson, many of us here read the bible daily for decades, studied it, have theological degrees etc. We know its contents as well as you do. Doncha just love the barbaric Psalm 137:9? And that’s just one of many, many stories about a genocidal god-monster, who is, fortunately, fictitious but if he/she/it were real, then no thanks, not someone I’d ever want to get my moral code from about anything, let alone who I choose to share my life with. None of your damn business what consenting adults do in bed together.

  9. Avatar
    BJW

    It’s funny. 20 years ago, the sight of 2 men or 2 women holding hands etc would’ve made me uncomfortable. I decided I didn’t like feeling like that, and I decided I wanted to change.

    I have family who are LGBTQ, and seeing their interactions (2 women) with each other, how hard they fought to get married, and how devoted they are to each other, certainly played a role in my change of heart.

  10. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    Howell: ” ““Woe unto you that call evil good and good evil that put light for darkness and darkness for light “ Isaiah 5:20”

    Zoe: Back atcha Howell.

  11. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Zoe—If we follow the logic, woe should come to anyone who worships a god who murders innocent people (e.g. the flood).

    • Avatar
      Howell J Wilson

      MJ Lisbeth,
      They were not innocent and they were given the chance to repent and be saved just like those today.

      Rainbow is God’s promise to never destroy the world again by water next time will be by fire.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        You don’t seem to know your Bible very well. Let’s take Genesis 6-9 — Noah’s Flood. Millions of people died in the flood, including zygotes, fetuses, babies, children, and developmentally disabled people. This is God’s handiwork. Innocents died. Same goes for the trillions of animals that died. Unable to “sin, “ they were innocents. Yet, God slaughtered them anyway.

        You also show you don’t have a proper, comprehensive grasp of Christian soteriology. People were saved in the OT just like they are today? No they weren’t. Using only the OT, provide (any) evidence for your claim. That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. There is none. Nada. Zip. Zero. Again, I’ll educate you on this if you are interested.

        🏳️‍🌈Did you jump 🏳️‍🌈up and down, 🏳️‍🌈scream, and foam 🏳️‍🌈at the mouth 🏳️‍🌈when you said 🏳️‍🌈 “[the]Rainbow is 🏳️‍🌈God’s promise to 🏳️‍🌈never destroy the 🏳️‍🌈world again by 🏳️‍🌈water next time 🏳️‍🌈will be by fire”? 🏳️‍🌈

        Please answer my questions.

        Thanks.

        Bruce

      • Avatar
        Sage

        There won’t be many people left in the world if your jealous god destroys all the non innocent people.and since your gods judgement seems somewhat flexible, based on the situation and individual, you may want to tread carefully with this conversation. Otherwise you may find yourself standing with people on the left and asking why.

        And that’s not my opinion – that entire paragraph is based on your holy book. I have to point this out because too many Christian’s miss the point. If you know your Bible then you will know.

      • Avatar
        ... Zoe ~

        Rachal was a good swimmer. Excellent actually. She enjoyed her baths at the lake and her parents loved watching her float along, truly buoyant. How she loved the water. What would she do without it? Pure joy.

        The day Noah and his family closed the ark door, Rachal wondered at such a big boat. I wonder why Noah built it? There was no water here, away from the lake. How could this boat float? How very strange.

        Disappointed by the rain, and her mother’s words that they wouldn’t be going to the lake today, Rachal stood in the doorway, watching the rain, and thinking about Noah’s big boat. Such a strange thing. She thought maybe she’d ask Noah about it, but since he’d shut the door, she simply had not seen him again. Curious about this god of Noah’s, she wondered if Noah’s god loved her? Her family didn’t know anything about Noah’s god except from what they overheard from those who watched the ark being built. It all seemed new to them. Strange really. They tried to understand.

        Waking up from her day dream, Rachal realized her feet were wet and her mother was calling out her name. The grain was in danger of being soaked by today’s torrential downpour. Mother needed her help to move the food to a higher place. This had happened before, so Rachal went about her duties willingly, while hoping the rain would stop soon and she could run outside and play again.

        Father came home from work and he was wet from head to toe. Rachal’s dad was a fisherman and though they made their living around the water, there were days when the rain was so heavy it made his occupation next to impossible. He would wait until this rain ceased before returning to his boat on the lake.

        When evening came, mother tucked Rachal into her bed, Rachal giggled about the rain and that maybe, just maybe, she’d get to go swimming soon, if the rain didn’t stop. Her mother smiled an urgent smile as she laid her little one to sleep. Sleep now. In the morning, we’ll have much work to do in cleaning up the mud seeping into the court-yard and our home. I love you.

        I love you too mother. Rachal shivered. The dampness of the night was more than she remembered in her nine short years of life. She pulled up the blanket mother had made for her and slept.

  12. Avatar
    Emersonian

    In the context of your friend’s comment about being “grossed out,” I’ve always found it bizarre that so many conservatives immediately think about sex when talking about gay folks, as if that’s all we spend our time doing. When you’re introduced to a cis-het couple at a party, do you immediately picture them having sex? I’d assume not–but apparently lots of people in the evangelical community go straight to imagining homosexuals in the sack together doing the deed. They never seem to imagine us grocery shopping, going to baseball games, watching our kids’ band concerts, going on bike rides together… Just us having gay sex all the time, reveling in our abomination before the lord, and that makes them go ewwwww. eyeroll

    • Avatar
      Sage

      Well, Emersoinian, I think the answer to your rhetorical question is yes, they do think about sex in all contexts.it seems to be interwoven at the heart of their belief system..

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      Another story. I still move in fundy circles and they find it hard to accept I’m deconverted and chuck ‘spiritual’ topics into our conversations. Probably they think that putting jesus or god’s name in our chats, a lightbulb might come on in my heart and I’ll come back to the fold! Anyhow, conversation recently with an 80yo fundy who is a self-confessed daytime TV addict cos she’s lonely. She loves quiz and reality TV shows. But, she said she hates it when a contestant/participant talks of his ‘husband,’ or a female about her ‘wife.’ She said ‘I can’t get my head round it, I mean, how they do sex, and how 2 women do that I can’t begin to imagine.’ We were volunteering together at a community cafe and had to serve customers for the rest of our shift. But if I get rota-d with her again, I hope to be able to tell her other folks’ sex lives are none of her damn business!

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Bruce Gerencser