At the time, there was nothing funny about his situation. In grade school, he endured regular homophobic taunts. Older boys made sexual threats. At home, even family members mocked him.

Mostly he just wanted to be left in peace. What he really enjoyed was church.

He was raised in a Baptist family that read the Word. Even as a child, he loved the feeling of community at church services, the uplifting choir music and the sense of brotherhood the Bible seemed to radiate. Being a Christian seemed a good way to be humane. But not every aspect was fun.

His pastor often cited portions of the Bible like Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 ("Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable") and I Corinthians 6 ("Neither the sexually immoral nor … men who have sex with men … will inherit the kingdom of God").

As often as not, he'd round out his readings with homophobic slurs. The other churchgoers hollered "Amen!"

"I never heard anyone, man or woman, question that," Thomas says.

The hatred even seeped into his family. His own older brother, a macho type, often smacked him on the hands and face and told him to "man up."

His father, a drinker with a bad temper, took things even further.

"I'm ashamed of you," he'd say, disparaging what he saw as his son's homosexual behavior. "Do you know you're the black sheep of this family? I'd rather you were dead."

The boys' mother moved them to Washington, D.C., but if Harris thought God would rescue him, he was in for a surprise.

Men's clothes, cute women

The pressure on Grace Harley mounted more slowly. As a child growing up in South Carolina, she had less sense of her sexual identity.

She, too, grew up in a religious family. Her grandfather had moved south to plant churches. Her father was a Baptist deacon, her mother so devout she held services in the home.

The family loved worship so much that they found time to attend both Baptist and Pentecostal services. "I was a Bapticostal," Harley says.

To Grace, church mainly meant something that kept her parents so busy they sometimes missed meals. And it probably was a factor behind the way they avoided talking about an uncle who had moved away (he later came out as gay) and warned her away from her strikingly masculine female cousin. "They thought she'd rub off on me," Harley says.

In retrospect, she believes the signs were evident. She disliked her mother and adored her father, to the point of wanting to wear his clothes. She developed a crush on a female teacher. By the time she and her mother moved to Washington, D.C., when she was in middle school, she realized she lacked any attraction to boys.

She did date a few, she says, to conform to intense social pressure. By 17, she had two sons. But mostly she remembers feeling adrift. "I had relationships with boys and men, but it was going through the motions," she says. "You knew you weren't loving it, but what was loving it? You had no idea."

What brought things together was a TV show.

It was 1973, the year the board of the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders. A local TV station ran a five-part documentary on Washington's gay subculture.

"I had never heard of any of this," she says. By series' end, she'd met a cast of characters who reminded her of herself.