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This piece has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Washington Blade, New York Blade, Southern Voice, Gay Chicago Magazine, Las Vegas Weekly and the Houston Voice.

What the religious right fear about gay Big Brothers

An occasion for tolerance

By Steve Friess

I walked into Kelly Stidham's office in 1996 and came right out with it. "I'm gay," I told the caseworker for Big Brothers Big Sisters. "If that's going to be a problem, let me know now."

Kelly blinked twice, laughed once, and told me to have a seat. "It's not a problem for us if it's not a problem for you," she shot back.

That ended up costing me - and my Little Brother - a lot of time. Wonderful time. Time swimming. Riding roller-coasters. Eating salty fries. Watching movies. Telling stupid jokes. Playing catch. Talking on the phone. Celebrating birthdays.

Insidious, evil stuff, all of it. Or, that's what a group of gay-baiters want you to believe. Recently, Focus on the Family, a conservative religious-based organization, launched an all-out attack on local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for allowing homosexuals to serve as children's mentors.

Most Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters have been doing this for a quarter-century. This is not news, no matter how breathlessly these alleged Ch ristians insist that Rome is burning. But now that the national organization has reaffirmed its own policy of not discriminating in choosing volunteers, the religious right sees its opportunity to butt in.

They've trotted out the old canards about gay men having a propensity toward recruiting and molesting children, pointing to the Catholic priest-pedophile scandal as proof. Funny how, with little-girl kidnappings in the news, these same people haven't thrashed all straight men for their obviously uncontrollable compulsion to snatch children from their front lawns and brutalize them.

Big Brothers Big Sisters always has been hyper-aware that molestation would devastate a child and humiliate the organization. It is matching strangers with someone else's children. Caution is key.

That's why their mentors undergo an exhaustive personal background check. You must sit for a lengthy and probing psychological examination, permit a caseworker to determine whether your home is a suitable environment for children, and put up with an intense interview in which you're quizzed about everything from your sexual experience to your views on parenting and discipline. The Vatican should be taking notes.

In the end, my partner, Jim, and I each were matched with 6-year-old boys who are now almost 12. Their mothers were told in advance that we are gay and were given the right to reject us if they wished. Considering 200 boys were waiting for mentors, these lucky mothers were simply grateful for the offer of our time.

My Little Brother's biological father lives nearby but sees him once or twice a year. He flits in and out of this child's life capriciously.

From me, this child sees an adult male who consistently and unfailingly loves him, is in constant communication, and attends his school plays. He sees that responsible men honor their commitments, work hard to pay the bills, keep clean homes, run errands, and know right from wrong with a certainty that provides him both structure and comfort.

I've never had a conversation with my Little Brother about being gay. His mother and grandmother must have explained it to him, or perhaps he came to understand it because he spent lots of time with Jim and Jim's Little Brother. I do remember my Little Brother once remarking that he's lucky because he got two Big Brothers.

But the Focus on the Family folks aren't really scared that I'll molest my Little Brother. No, what they fear is that we'll show, by example, that gay people are normal, caring, contributing members of the community who live in stable relationships and fulfill their civic and personal duties. They're afraid these children will grow up tolerant or, in the sneering parlance of bigotry, that they will "come to believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle." What they miss is that Jim and I don't need to "advocate" for acceptance; our behavior earns it.

They also miss the glaring truth that straight men, not gays, cause far more destruction and instability in our culture. If those who breed would take responsibility for their progeny, there wouldn't be any need for Big Brothers in the first place.

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