In April I posted about the public expression of bigotry by Michelle Shocked at a concert in San Francisco where she made anti-gay statements, and about the Westboro Baptist Church, which makes no bones about its hatred of the queer community.
I also delved into a more personal kind of homophobia, after having read a blog post by a woman who claimed to love her gay friends dearly but then stated that God never created a homosexual and that reparative therapy should not be ruled out as an option. Some who commented on the post felt that this "love the sinner, hate the sin" bigotry was worse than the straightforward bigotry of the Fred Phelpses of the world. However, one person felt that the movement away from tolerance of outright hate speech and the expression of this quiet type of homophobia was a step forward in the evolution of the church (whatever church) toward finally accepting the LGBTQ community.
Here I share a story about a friend who loved me but who thought me a sinner. I want to know which kind of homophobia bothers you more: the loud, sign-carrying kind, or the more intimate kind?
In 2003 I stood in the windowless basement of Gloria's house. She had become one of my closest friends, and I was visiting her with my other best friend, Laura. Both of these women are straight. The subject of my photograph came up because I was in between girlfriends and was venturing into the land of online dating; such a venture required photographs. I take horrible photos, but Laura took a great one of me.
"That picture would get me a date!" I laughed, spinning around on my heels.
"Ssssssshhhhhhhhh!" Gloria hissed. I looked at her. I squinted my eyes in confusion. She shook her head, as if I'd done something perverse. She pointed at her two young children playing with dolls on a card table.
For two days anger mounted inside me as the confusion cleared. By Monday I was livid.
"I need to ask you something," I said into the phone as I drove home from work. "If Laura had made that same statement about a photo getting her a date, would you have silenced her?"
"No," Gloria said. "I wouldn't have."
I breathed deeply and finally said it: "Do you realize what a homophobic act that was?"
"I am not homophobic!" she exclaimed angrily. "They know you're a lesbian. I didn't want them to hear you use the word 'date' because I don't want them to think about what that means."
"You can't see how homophobic that is?"
"You are my best friend," Gloria responded. "So how can I be homophobic?"
I had met Gloria at work, and we'd hit it off immediately in the way that you do when you meet someone with whom you share so much chemistry. She was funny, fun and lively. She was also a big flirt, despite being straight and having narrow religious views that defined homosexuality as a sin. We both enjoyed our harmless flirtation. We became best friends despite our differences, and it appeared that we would overcome these differences because of the love we had for one another.
She explained to me that in her religion (which I won't name, so that I don't offend others who may not think as she does), homosexuals are sinners.
I said to her, "Your religion believes that homosexuality is a sin, but billions of people around the world do not follow your religion." She ignored the statement.
A few years later, Gloria's sister met a woman at their church and ended up in a serious, committed relationship with her. Prior to any state making same-sex marriage legal, Gloria's sister and her partner went to Vermont for a civil union. Gloria did not attend the ceremony but would not admit that she'd avoided it because she disapproved.
"It's too far, and I have the kids" was the excuse she used.
"Your sister is a lesbian, and your best friend is a lesbian," I reminded Gloria. "Don't you think God is trying to tell you something?" She did not respond to my question.
Much earlier, I had discovered the gay folk singer Lucie Blue Tremblay, who has one of the purest and most beautiful voices I've ever heard. I'd also discovered the late Eva Cassidy, straight, I believe, but also with a beautiful voice. I gave Gloria homemade CDs of each. After she had listened to each, she said, "Eva Cassidy is amazing!" She never mentioned Lucie Blue Tremblay, the lesbian who sang love songs to other women -- homophobia by way of omission.
Before graduating from an MFA program, I did a public reading of my work. I read on the same day as a very talented classmate whose essay was a strong statement about her experience as a black woman. My essay was about a failed romantic lesbian relationship.
After the reading, Gloria said to me and to my other friends who'd come to listen, "Kerry's essay was amazing!" Gloria had nothing to say about my reading. I looked at her and said, "I guess mine sucked?"
She hesitated and said, "No, yours was good too." That was it.
Although Gloria would never hold a sign saying "God hates fags," she would always vote against same-sex marriage; she would always see my lesbianism as a sin. She would never be able to make a compliment about a lesbian singer or about an essay about a lesbian love relationship.
My friendship with Gloria ended without conflict, but I walked away mainly because I could no longer accept the friendship of someone who believed the purest part of me -- my love for women -- was a sin.
Personally, I feel more endangered by people like Gloria than I do by the loud bigots carrying "God hates fags" signs. Which brand of homophobia bothers you more?
A version of this blog was first posted on Lesbian.com.