I have been asked more than once why I take homophobia so much to heart despite not being gay. That's a complicated issue, but here's my answer.
When I was a kid I had a tough time socially. I was awkward and didn't handle teasing well and growing up I felt really alienated and unwanted by my peers. You can imagine what feeling unwelcome for months and years at a time does to a kid's self-esteem, or maybe you don't need to imagine it.
But when I was twelve I got into a local karate school and it was one of the things that got me through that very long rough patch. Every day I would go to school and feel like an outsider. It was like most people didn't care if I was there or not, except the few who went out of their way to be cruel. But at least when the school day was done I had a place, the dojo, where I didn't feel so weird. There I was welcome.
Two of the most important people I knew from there were the head instructor, Paul, and his son from his first marriage, Jim. Jim became a close friend to me and Paul was almost like a second father. I looked up to and admired him deeply. They lived close to us and I visited their house frequently as Jim did mine.
Then along the way Jim announced, after spending some time with his mother and her family, that he was gay and didn't want to hide it any more. That's when things turned sour. Paul was very conservative, religious and strict. His son's sexuality was something he couldn't accept and it affected them both profoundly.
Jim couldn't handle his father's disapproval toward him and he started to self medicate with booze and drugs. Meanwhile Paul grew cold and distant and the whole temperature of the dojo changed. Before all this happened (and maybe there were other factors going on behind the scenes I don't know about) training was fun. He trained us hard, but we could still enjoy what we were doing. After that the joy just kind of drained out of it and Paul became hard and humorless and the whole atmosphere of the dojo followed.
I stopped going to the dojo after my junior year of high school, and Jim, a year older than me, went off to college. I still saw Jim from time to time over the next few years but he was kind of on a downward spiral that whole time. I only saw Paul once or twice after. It's been over ten years since I've seen either of them. They were two of the most important people in my life and my friendship with both just sort of disintegrated.
That's why I go so hard against homophobia. I've seen what it does to everyone around it. It harms, dehumanizes and tears apart. It's just a form of bigotry like any other and all bigotry can do is tear things down. It has no other power. I just hope both of them have been able to move past it all and find some peace with it.
At a time when I had few friends to spare and few places to go where I felt the least bit welcome, I lost a friend, a mentor and a safe-haven all because one man couldn't get past his own prejudice, and what I lost is nothing in comparison to what Jim and even Paul himself must have suffered. I missed them both dearly senior year.
I still miss them. #homophobia #LGBT