Seven years ago I received an email. A day later I wrote:
People he loved and respected told him he was making an evil choice. He didn’t see it as a choice. He had wished for years it was a choice but he was being honest and being who he was. At 17 he told the world he was a gay man.
His family “disowned” him. Some people, mostly from his old church, “unfriended” him where it really matters: in real life. Haunted by the turmoil, kicked out of his home within days, mocked and ridiculed, he vowed to live an honorable and honest life like he had been taught from childhood by people he loved but who suddenly claimed they did not love him anymore. They said he had betrayed them and God and like God they needed to abandon him to his sin.
He found some solace in new friends but it was no substitute for the love of a family who taught him to love “unconditionally.” For years he had talked about becoming a U. S. Marine and shortly after graduating (with honors while homeless) he enlisted. The Marines didn’t ask and he didn’t tell.
Years passed and he returned to civilian life and tried to reconcile who he was in a nation that loved him in uniform but hated him in jeans and a t-shirt. For him it was an impossible task. What happened in Afghanistan and Iraq weighed heavily on his mind and he wondered if the people who called him “weak” and a “pussy” were partially (or maybe mostly) correct. Did he have a character defect? Had he been used by Satan and abandoned by God? Were the nightmares reliving his best friend’s death punishment for his being gay? Would his dad ever say he was proud of him? Would his mom ever tell him she loved him again?
On the night he killed himself I got an email. “I love you bro but I need it all to end.” He apologized for failing. He had lived as a gay man in America for 10 years and they only seemed to value him when he was wearing a uniform and they could pretend he was something he was not. The real person he was had no value to those he still loved or to the nation he had bled for.
His parents claimed his body and had a private service. Few people were invited and none of those who, as his father said, “encouraged his perversion,” were welcome. The service was a long condemnation of one aspect of his life and a lament about his being lost for eternity. There were no words about them shunning him for 10 years, of them putting their child, their son, exemplary honor-student and athlete out on the street. He was a warning, they claimed, that those who “choose” to be gay are accursed and live in turmoil moments from ending the lives they know are in rebellion to God. There was no music. There was no acknowledgement of the Marine who was decorated for valor in two wars. There was no mention of of his struggles, his questions, his model life, his heroism, his faith, his doubts, his hopes. And there were no tears shed for the little boy who loved his parents to the end and only longed for love in return.