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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, an internationally observed day offering support for members of the LGBT community who want to publicly disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends and family.

The implication in setting aside a day for coming out is that it takes some courage to do so, and that's patently obvious. Not every gay person is lucky enough to have parents who will greet the news with a hug or friends who will just smile and offer a warm, "Yeah, that's cool."

For others, coming out means having a very difficult conversation with people who may not want any part of it. It's a conversation that can be alternately awkward and hurtful, depressing and terrifying.

It's against this backdrop that I talked with Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center.

Jones and about a couple dozen members of his congregation held an "anti-gay pride parade" to protest the Gainesville Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday. The protesters held up signs emblazoned with slogans like "Homo leads to Hell" and "Jesus is not liberal," and, at least while I was there, marched more or less peacefully outside the perimeter of the festival.

Our conversation was mostly what you'd expect. He said homosexuality is immoral, noting that he believed Jesus would be "very happy" with his parade and "very sad" with the Pride Parade. But one of the more telling exchanges occurred when I asked Jones if he believed two gay people could love each other.

"Honestly, I think gayness is mainly rooted in a very strong spirit of rebellion," he said. "I think that the more rebellious a society gets, the more homosexuality grows; that it's a fruit of rebellion. They're rebelling against the norm and going that direction."

I asked him if he was suggesting that gay people are gay because they have a rebellious streak.

"I think a lot of them, yes," he said.

That's among the more insidious arguments against the acceptance of LGBT people and advancing their rights - that what they feel for the one they love isn't really love at all. After all, it's a lot easier to dismiss people and the plights they face if you can reduce their feelings to a mere fetish, a miscellaneous kink or - as Jones put it - a fruit of rebellion, no more meaningful than getting your nose pierced.

And this isn't just wrong. It's inhumane. Anybody who's spent any amount of time looking for someone to love knows that it can be awful out there - a remarkable bouillabaisse of hurt feelings, embarrassment and unreturned text messages. What keeps many of us trudging on is the simple belief that we're all dealing with this together and that all of us have love that's worth offering. To take that away - to question the very legitimacy of someone's love - is a small but very real act of cruelty.

Pastor Jones, please believe me when I say that I genuinely appreciate you talking with me - I can't imagine you expected a vote of support when I said I was an Alligator opinion columnist. And by no stretch of the imagination am I telling you what to believe or what you can or cannot say.

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I'm not asking you to support gay rights or slap a PFLAG bumper sticker on your car, and I don't expect you to make the lives of those in the LGBT community any easier. But I don't think it's unreasonable to ask you not to make their lives any harder.

Oct. 11 should just be another Sunday, just like holding the hand of someone you love should be a cute display of affection and not a political statement or an act of courage. And it will be eventually. You don't have to help make it so, but please don't get in the way.

Joe Dellosa is an advertising senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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