On my way home from the state baseball playoffs, I passed two young, twentyish guys walking down the street in Charleston, holding hands. It warmed my heart! I wanted to drive around the block and just give them a thumbs-up. I thought how brave for them to do that in this community. But then, I also thought what a heritage that allowed them to do that.
When the Stonewall Riots happened in June 1969, I had just finished kindergarten and was getting ready to start first grade. I had no idea what was happening in NYC, but I knew what was going on with me. I had a crush on the neighbor boy who was in my grade. I didn’t know I was “gay,” but I knew that I liked him. I always wanted to be playing with him. He was cute. He was athletic (as athletic as a first-grader could be).
As I progressed in school, there were a number of boys that I had crushes on. I can name them today, very fondly remembering the details that caught my attention. I even remember older, high school boys from church who would catch my eye, and I would think how lucky those girls were that they dated.
But unlike those two boys that I passed today, I would never dream that I would be able to walk down the sidewalk, holding the hand of the guy that I liked.
Like so many gay guys, we were trapped. In our day and time, it was only in hushed tones that you might hear about that guy in town who hadn’t married yet, or that unmarried male teacher who dressed to the nines. There were guys in my high school that I would have liked to have just asked out, let alone, hold their hand.
Growing up in a fundamentalist church, I was the good boy. I did what was expected. I said and did the “right” things. I secretly wanted more. I attended and worked at the self-proclaimed “bastion of fundamentalism,” Bob Jones University. I wanted more, but I was trapped.
After 35 years, I came out, one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life, being married with three children. It was hard on everyone. But I finally came to the point in my life that I had to be authentic; I had to be true to myself. That was 15 years ago this summer. Even then, hushed tones about “those guys” still prevailed.
June is Pride Month. At the end of the month, I fly to NYC to participate in the NYC March as a member of BJUnity, an affirming alternative for lgbt+ alumni and students of Bob Jones University, that I helped organize and incorporate with some of my BJU brothers and sisters.
In a way, I not only came “out,” but I also became an “activist.” Each day, I rejoice when I hear of another state whose same-sex discrimination has been overturned for the equality of all. I want neighbors and colleagues to know that equality is right. I want students to know that they have safety in the schools for being who they are.
So, yes, I get excited when I see that young people (and us old ones, too) can walk hand-in-hand with the person they love, no matter what the gender.
I also get excited when I think of what those drag queens did back 45 years ago by standing up against discrimination and how far we have come in my lifetime. (I also learned to never underestimate the power of a queen.)
Happy Pride to all my gay, lesbian, and transgender friends, and to the many straight allies!
Steve Shamblin, of Charleston, is a teacher and member of Riverside High School Respect and Protect Team and director of strategic partnerships for BJUnity.