Yeah, I know it’s OLD news, but it’s been on my mind for some time now, and in light of recent suicides in Utah, I’ve decided to say something. Better late than never, I hope.
Despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of Chicago, I am inexorably linked to Utah and its culture due to the fact that I was raised there, and that I lay claim to membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons). When I first moved to the Chicago area, I moved into the city itself. Specifically, the neighborhood of Edgewater. I very quickly discovered that Edgewater lays claim to the largest concentration of homosexual individuals in the nation. I honestly had no problem with that.
Given my past experience with with the GLBT community, I was feeling comfortable with the prospect. I had a very good friend in college who was gay, and I hoped to find another close friend like him amongst my neighbors (cute male friend–no pressure). I didn’t think there would be any problem with my religion, after all, it was not my intent to convert anyone, just to get to know people. It wasn’t long, however, that I discovered that the cultural bonds of my home state had become a stranglehold in places where my religion is widely (and wildly) misunderstood, and I felt myself caught in a noose created by the cultural ties that bind, leaving me unwittingly alienated by my neighbors.
I lived in a newly rennovated condominium where I met Darren. He lived a floor above me, and was outgoing and friendly. Darren lived with his husband and their “kids” (a couple of schnauzers), and was happy to introduce me to his friends and family. They seemed like nice people, and I looked forward to getting to know them better.
Our building was shaped in a U surrounding a courtyard, with our back porches facing each other; his looking down on mine. On my back porch sat an old church pew which became the focus of our first conversation. “You are not conducting church services in this building, are you?” Darren quipped. I quickly assured him that I was not looking for converts, although the conversation also presented an opportunity to share my religious background. I explained that the old pew came from a church where my father once presided as a Mormon bishop in a small Utah town. The bench was a family keepsake–and yes, I told him, I am a Mormon.
For a couple of weeks, Darren was very friendly in our comings and goings from the courtyard. One Sunday after church, I sat out on my old church pew and teased him: “Services started at noon, where were you?” He had an easy-going banter making our burgeoning friendship quite comfortable; but not long after California’s Proposition 8 passed, the banter disappeared behind a slammed door every time I poked my head out the back door. A few weeks after our first meeting, I walked through the courtyard with my scriptures, all dressed for church, and saw a glowing cigarette butt pass within a couple inches of my face and hit the ground in front of me. I looked up to see where the cigarette had come from just in time for Darren’s back door to slam again. Continue reading