I’ll never forget the time a resident of my hometown told me I should jump off a bridge with a heavy rock tied around my neck. Okay, he wasn’t talking directly to me. But he did mean me, and he was serious.
In 1999, my small hometown debated an ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Predictably, it caused quite the stir. Press conferences were held where the local dry cleaner opined on the Constitution, large assemblies were held in junior high gyms where people prayed and chanted about protecting the family, and some neighbors talked to each other for the last time, to this very day. Three members of the five-member city council supported the measure, and, after multiple meetings and hour upon hour of impassioned pleas from all sides, the council passed the measure. My little town would not discriminate. If you listened to most of the loudest voices, you knew life itself was coming to an end.
All these years later, I don’t remember a lot from those days. Flashes here and there. With unfettered clarity, however, I recall sitting in my junior high school auditorium one night as a large man clad in camouflage sauntered to the microphone to share his views on the nondiscrimination ordinance. Spoiler: he wasn’t a fan. His rousing finale was: “[This town] would be a better place if all the homosexuals here would tie heavy rocks around their necks and jump off the bridge.” At the time, the violent sincerity of his words made the biggest impression. Now, I’m haunted by the fact that I cannot recall him being rebuked or denounced. I can’t recall boos or hisses or gasps or any other reaction. Maybe every one of the hundreds gathered was in shock. Maybe lots agreed with him but didn’t have the guts to unsheathe their prejudice quite so proudly.
I know the man was an idiot. I knew it at the time. But I still remember his words. I thought of them the day I graduated law school. I thought of them the day I was married. I thought of them every time I came home for the holidays. It’s not post-traumatic stress. It’s how you know some people truly, deeply, greatly, wonderfully hate you for no other reason than who you are.
It’s a different time now, but I’ll never forget my camouflaged friend. If hubby and I have a large wedding ceremony one day, I already know my toast. After thanking so many wonderful people for being in my life, I’ll share this story. How, to come from sitting in your junior high school and being told, in effect, you are worthless, to being married, having a family and amazing career, living openly and honestly, well, it doesn’t get any better than that. And I’ll mean every single word.
My hometown quickly repealed the nondiscrimination ordinance when new commissioners were elected. Families were spared the evil of equality, the “right” values prevailed, and morality was maintained. But I didn’t jump. I didn’t jump.