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
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
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
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
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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