I think I've been lucky in my life.
I have always been a big guy, looked older than I am and what would be called "masculine". So I never get much crap thrown my way. Partly, I'm more a peace-maker and a thinker than a someone who gets in the middle of things. And, yeah, my size and gruffness intimidates some people. I'm okay with that.
But what that means also is that I never caught much guff about being gay. Early in my life, it was all internalized, and I did a much better job beating myself up than anyone else could do. Then I got over it, accepted it, made my peace with it. I also decided to adopt an attitude of "Don't Tell Unless Asked".
That served me well for many years. I was out at work from about 1992, when I worked for Grady, the indigent care hospital here in Atlanta, until today. Never caught shit for it - and I made it a point to only work for gay-friendly organizations. With my passion for non-profits, it's been easy.
But I had one experience that totally shattered me for a day and I still look back on it and remember I am not safe. No one is safe.
My partner, Sam, and I took a vacation and drove to Florida, and we invited my friend Bill to go with us. Now Bill is not the most butch guy. He wears many many rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Flips his hands around when he talks, and rolls his eyes on average a hundred times an hour. He's about ten years older than me (I was about thirty-five at the time, and never paid much attention to how we acted when all of us went out), a big guy, and has a mouth on him that I admire.
Anyway...on the trip, I was driving, Bill was in the front seat with me and Sam was in the back. We were singing along to a Patsy Kline CD and having a good time. The windows were open, and I didn't have any rainbow flags or anything on my car, but Bill was making kissy faces out the window at passing cars and generally just being himself.
Then it happened.
An eighteen-wheeler was beside us, looked down and glared. Then sped up and cut in front of us, clipping the right front bumper of my car.
I slammed on the brakes, immediately pulled over on the interstate and sat in shock. None of us could speak. Then Bill jumped out of the car and threw up on the side of the road. We finally pulled ourselves together and made it to Orlando, but it put a damper on the whole trip.
It was the first time I ever felt personally threatened for being gay. That someone would actually try to harm me and my friend and my partner because of my sexual orientation. Yeah, I've mouthed off to straight boys and taken verbal shots back and forth a couple of times, but never had I ever had that uncontrollable fear, that "Oh Hell I am going to die!" sickening feeling directed at me.
Homophobia kills. Fear, misunderstanding, loathing, hate, ignorance - whatever it is, it is deadly.
Ask Matthew Shephard's mother.
Ask Darnel "Dynasty" Young.
Ask Jonah Mowry, Jay 'Corey' Jones, Jamey Rodemayer, David Levitt.
Ask the young man Mitt Romney attacked.
Stop the hate. Stop homophobia.