My gay marriage mea culpa


It took almost eight years to realize I was a bigot. When I was just starting out in my journalism career, one of my first published stories was a 2015 feature about my sister, Lindsay, coming out and marrying a woman. The general theme was my reluctance and eventual grudging acceptance of her decision. 

I was wrong. It wasn’t enough to tell my sister I supported her. The right thing would have been to tell her — or anyone else who wanted or didn’t want to hear it — that I supported her unconditionally. I do now, no matter what.

That story, in the San Diego Reader, which like City Pulse is an alternative newspaper, was headlined, “My Sister is Gay.” I recounted my experiences, or lack thereof, of having interactions with members of LGBTQ+ community. At the end, I wrote that I wasn’t going to her wedding. It was a matter of principle. There was no way for me to reconcile that ceremony, conducted by my stepdad. He was able to obtain his ordained minister certification for about $11 online. Lindsay got married within days of the Supreme Court decision, I think fearing challenges that could have put the ruling in limbo. The point is that I wouldn’t attend, due to some religious “high ground” upon which I supposedly lived. More on this later. 

I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, moving around a lot. I lived with my Mom and Lindsay in Kansas, Florida, Nebraska and finally Michigan, in Ionia, population about 11,000, the biggest city in rural Ionia County and home of a maximum security prison with a population half the size of the town. 

I still remember the other boys on the playground playing “smear the queer,” where some random kid was chosen to be the “queer” and was then barraged by dodgeballs. I was probably 7 or so. I didn’t even know what a “queer” was. Someone with big ears? Were they wearing a certain color? Did they have a really nice skateboard or BMX bike someone was jealous of? 

Then it was on to middle and high school, where I eventually learned that some people, even some I might have known, may have been gay or lesbian. I didn’t know if I knew anyone who was actually gay. I held no animosity toward gay people whatsoever. But when I heard and saw some poor kid being called gay slurs, I was indifferent. I didn’t step up and stop it. And that was wrong.

I wasn’t like that when other kids were bullied. Any time I witnessed some economically disadvantaged or special-needs kids being picked on, it absolutely enraged me. Even though I was small (I’m 5’6” and about 140 lbs. now), I stood up for them when they were bullied. Miraculously, I never got knocked out. One of the things I’m MOST proud of is something my brother Matt said. He was working with a former special-needs student whom I graduated high school with. He found out that Matt was my brother and took him aside. He asked my brother to thank me for standing up for him many times in high school when he was being bulled — 20 years before. How he remembered that, I have no idea. 

What I should have done, though, was to also defend those who were being called gay slurs. But I didn’t.

After graduating from high school, I joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, near San Diego. I was completely apolitical during this time, but I was exposed to the gay culture in Southern California, which had been not only visible but accepted for decades. I got hit on by gay men and trans women at clubs and bars. I didn’t take it as an insult or an affront. 

When it happened, friends would tease me, saying that maybe I liked it or something. Again, I was indifferent.

When my time in the Marines ended, and being homesick, I moved back to Michigan. For about nine years, I worked in jobs that didn’t accomplish anything and made me feel like nothing I did mattered. 

I could have worked myself to death in a factory. It was time for a move, and San Diego beckoned me. So I dropped everything, went back to San Diego, and got a job, apartment, a girlfriend and went to community college.

I was exposed to many of my girlfriend’s LGBTQ+ friends, and always got along well with them. Later, after we broke up, I had gay roommates and friends. But I was still indifferent. I liked them and trusted them on a personal level, but on a political level, I stayed out of the entire debate. It didn’t affect me. 

In 2014, my sister, Lindsay, visited for a week to see the sights and do some exploring. She had recently come out as gay publicly, and family members first reacted with shock, then gradually came to accept it. A few months before in 2013, while I was visiting my family in Michigan, Lindsay blindsided everyone by announcing she was a lesbian at a birthday party for our grandmother. It was unexpected to say the least, because Lindsay had a then-10-year-old daughter. 

My reaction at the time was, basically, ”Hey, good for you, but I’m dealing with my own stuff right now.“ I put it out of my mind. I had enough to worry about with my job, landlord issues and my recent breakup with my girlfriend.

At the time, I had recently published my first-ever cover story, also in the San Diego Reader, about my roommate, another former Marine who struggled with PTSD and his substance abuse issues. That story was about 5,200 words and actually got a ton of positive feedback.

Meanwhille, Lindsay’s revelation was gnawing at me. The best therapy, I’ve found, is to write and get it all out there — let the chips fall where they may. So, I asked my sister if it would be OK to write a story about it. At that time, there was no plan to submit it for publication; it would be just something between us. I just wanted her to know my feelings, and wanted to know hers. She agreed it was a good idea, even if no one ever read it.

Sometimes, these things are tricky between siblings and family members. For example, as kids we used to whale the tar out of each other, but if anyone messed with her on the school bus, they were going to catch an ass-whipping from me. But as her brother, I could kick her ass whenever. I wish I could say that I won all those fights against Lindsay when we were kids, but that would definitely be untrue. She’s a little scrapper and handed me my ass on several memorable occasions. How to approach the story? From a political perspective, or a personal one? I had to be careful. Just tell the story. 

At that time, I was conservative, but was branching out and listening to all possible views. Previously in 2012, I had attended a Ron Paul rally at the University of California-La Jolla, where the doctor explained his campaign platform — he wanted to repeal laws, not make them. Politics is mostly scenery for the rubes, but his message resounded with me. Let the people be free from government intrusion into their lives. About 13,000 people attended that rally.

Three years later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. That ruling re-affirmed my faith in the ideals that we are supposed to espouse. Finally, the Supreme Court has put our courts and people on the right trajectory. You don’t have to go to law school to understand what freedom means.

That decision took courage by the court to do the right thing, including the enshrinement in law of the right to gay marriage. Bush Jr. wouldn’t have liked it. Fuck him. Gay rights shouldn’t be a partisan or political, or even A religious issue. 

The Hamtramck City Council has permanently covered itself in shame after banning the Pride flag from being displayed on city-owned property. This is blatant discrimination, and we should call it as it really is. The story about Lindsay was a perfect project for a college class I was taking at the time. After class one day, my professor sat down with me to personally go over the story. He told me it was worthy of publication and urged me to submit it to the Reader. Despite my misgivings about submitting something that was never meant for publication, I said I’d reach out to Lindsay and see what she thought. She was not only open to it — I think she wanted to gain some exposure on how small-minded many Michigan residents were about LGBTQ+ people who lived with us, were our friends, co-workers. The story ran, and Lindsay was not happy. People read this thing. The Reader had a weekly circulation of over 50,000. It got more exposure than she was counting on. 

Not long after, I moved back to Michigan, and for the past five years, armed with an associate’s degree in journalism, worked for the Owosso Argus-Press in Shiawassee County. One duty was to edit letters to the editor. Some of the things and opinions I’ve heard defy logic and would make your blood boil.

It’s difficult to actually read the biases and built-in hate for any viewpoint that doesn’t align with theirs. And given that 63% of the paper’s readership was Republican, I challenge you to do that but five years and then ever vote for a Republican again.

In all honesty, working in Shiawassee County has left me with nothing but disdain for Republicans. Go ahead and Google “Covidville, USA,” on the web news site Bulwark.

But on the whole since publishing the story about Lindsay, LGBTQ+ issues didn’t come up when I was in Shiawassee County, and I haven’t touched the topic. The closest thing was last year at the Downtown Owosso Farmers Market. The county’s Pride chapter had a booth on Saturday mornings. Well, some of the county’s local religious zealots came out with bullhorns, saying completely inappropriate and unacceptable things. I did a story. The zealots said things about immorality, and all the rest of the drivel you can imagine. That’s what passes for “controversy” in Shiawassee County. 

My story about Lindsay and me in the Reader was published in 2015 — eight years ago. And it took far too long to realize I was wrong about not attending her wedding. I’ll admit it now, though it should have come sooner. 

Not that I’m alone in taking time to come around. According to a Gallup poll conducted this month, 71% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, and that number has consistently remained over 50% since 2010. In 1996, the number was 27%. Even in 2023, about half of Republicans believe gay marriage should be legal. 

Perhaps we’re evolving as a society in our beliefs, to accept others for who they are, and to respect human rights. Even in flyover country. 

As the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson once alluded to, perhaps we can defeat the forces of “old and evil.” Well, here’s where I say my actions were a half-measure. They weren’t good enough, and didn’t do enough. And that will never happen again. I support Lindsay and her decisions — fully and unconditionally.

And if Lindsay were to get married today, I would absolutely go to her wedding to support her and her wife. Because in the last eight years, I’ve realized that family only ever comes once. But it’s more important than that — we have one chance at this thing called life. 

Whenever the great scribe comes to score against my name, they will never call me a bigot. I love people. And that means my sister. I’m only sorry for not supporting her sooner. 


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