Facing family values out of the closet

When senior Angelo Williams realized he was gay, God wasn’t the higher authority whose approval he feared losing – it was his parents’.

I was born in Baltimore, the first of three and the eventual “good child.” From a young age, my siblings and I knew one thing above all else: God should be the center of our lives.

I loved wearing my whitest, crispest shirts and perfectly ironed dress pants for worship services. But what I loved most was the sense of belonging within my church family and the knowledge that someone who loved us unconditionally was watching over us all.

Soon, puberty and hormones came, and as sex education became part of the school curriculum and abstinence talks found their ways into Bible study topics, a change in my friendships’ dynamics emerged as well. I saw my best friends – mostly girls – getting boyfriends. Group dates turned into couple dates, and suddenly, I was the odd man out.

I started feeling resentment toward my friends for what felt like abandonment. That feeling quickly morphed into a cocktail of animosity and jealousy. Then, I was just confused.

I knew I had no desire to date any of my girl friends; in fact, the idea kind of repulsed me. It was then I realized I wanted the attention my friends were getting from boys.

As a teenage boy surrounded by girls 24/7, surely I must have been dating one, right?

“You’ve certainly been spending a lot of time with (arbitrary girl’s name here),” my parents would say. “She’s really pretty. Is that your little girlfriend?”

Eventually, I gave them the answer they yearned for.

My one and only girlfriend was Amanda, who couldn’t have been more of my opposite. I’m a black kid, who used to dress in baggy urban labels that were fashionable then. She, on the other hand, was a pale-skinned white girl, who wore brightly colored make-up, ever-changing hair colors and parachute pants with metal chains.

We kept the charade up for a month before one awkward kiss too many pushed me over the edge, and I confessed that I thought I was gay.

For the first time, I felt I had been honest with someone and honest with myself. I began telling friend after friend, to pretty universal reaction – they already knew.

The ease of coming out to so many people encouraged me to do so with my parents too – until the following Sunday.

That morning at church, my pastor entered the pulpit dressed not in his customary black robe but a simple white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up at the wrists. Stepping up to the podium, he said, “I had to dress lightly today, y’all. It’s gonna get heated in here. I’m gonna talk about something ya’ll don’t want me to today.”

The church congregation yelled words of encouragement:

“Preach, pastor.”

“Speak on it!”

He stepped away and paused to let the comments subside.

“The Lord does not condone anyone saying they’re a Christian and then laying in bed with someone of the same sex.”

The entire congregation, including my parents, erupted in applause and words of agreement. My mother, who had been holding her Bible, placed it on my lap so she could stand and make her applause louder.

It felt like someone had stripped me naked and exposed me. It hadn’t occurred to me that something like whom I loved could stand in opposition to my religion. I was thrust into a state of confusion once again, but I knew I had to tell my parents the truth about me.

One evening, I sought the advice of my friend Erika through the Internet about the best way to come out to my parents. I briefly left my spot at the computer, but when I returned, my father was anxiously pacing the floor.

He said he’d read my conversation.

“I still love you,” my mother first said, after not speaking to or looking at me for two days. “I’ll still support you. But I want nothing to do with the lifestyle.”

I decided I just wouldn’t bring it up again, and slowly, things went back to normal. Eventually, my sexual preference became a topic to stay away from.

It was never discussed, until one night, when my parents called me into their bedroom and asked me to sit. After seeing a man on a television show who had become an alcoholic because his family disapproved of his lifestyle, they feared the same could happen to me if they didn’t alter their perspectives.

After hours of the three of us talking and shedding tears, I was able to show them my lifestyle and my religion weren’t in opposition with one another and that I loved God no less because of my sexual preference.

I can’t say the story ends perfectly, with them saying they’ll walk me down the aisle for my wedding to the man of my dreams, but at least I know they’re more accepting because they know I haven’t compromised my beliefs.

Angelo Williams can be reached at angelo.williams@temple.edu.

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