I ate my lunch alone in high school. In a huge cafeteria with hundreds of other kids, I had my own table. It was the 1970s, and I was gay.
I was not one of those people who was ever confused about his sexual orientation. I knew from early adolescence. Nor was I at all self-loathing because of it, as many assumed one must be. For me, sitting alone at the lunch table was more an act of defiance than anything. I knew that I was homosexual in a society that considered homosexuality the most unacceptable thing possible. So I separated myself. From everyone. I rejected everyone else before they could reject me.
I hoped that my college years would afford me an opportunity to meet other gay people. And they did. High school was just this miserable-but-necessary ordeal of waiting for a better life. Though the gay rights movement was slowly gaining momentum, in the 1970s it had yet to reach my working-class Baltimore suburb. Coming out was not an option. At the time, I don't think it was even an expression.
This country's recent past is littered with the casualties of homophobia, many of them teenagers. There were too many young men and women who killed themselves, finding society's hatred and misunderstanding unbearable. There were too many young men and women who were beaten badly or murdered just for being who they were. There were too many young men and women who turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with the relentless pain of living in a society that openly, sometimes gleefully, despised them.
I was one of the luckier ones. I escaped the worst of these outcomes. And yet, I ate lunch alone in high school. No one lives thorough an experience like that without some scars. Some demons perhaps not fully vanquished. Some pain not yet acknowledged, or put to rest.
That's why to me, Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, is a very dangerous figure. She has become a hero to many who oppose gay marriage, but to a young gay person struggling with his or her sexuality, she is yet another voice of hatred in a world already too filled with them. Many of those in the anti-gay movement have toned down their caustic rhetoric a bit, some even claiming to love gays, just not their lifestyle. How disingenuous. You cannot love someone and deny them their rights at the same time. When the Supreme Court voted to uphold gay marriage, the justices sent a message to the country: Enough discrimination, enough bigotry, enough injustice. Kim Davis and her fans clearly disagree.
I wonder if she has stopped to consider the effect of her selfish spectacle on the thousands of gay teens who must live in her state and countless more across the nation and the world. Sure, many have likely dismissed her and her antics as trivial. Good for them. But what about the ones whose families or neighbors or teachers or pastors are supportive of Ms. Davis' misguided crusade? It is those kids who I worry about deeply. Their worlds today are much like mine was in the 1970s.
Ms. Davis claims to be a Christian protester of conscience who's fighting for religious liberty. But what she's really doing is what the bigots have always done — throwing stones. In the name of Jesus Christ, who implored us not to throw stones in judgment against our neighbors, Kim Davis and her ilk are out in full force with buckets of them, defying the law, defying majority opinion, even defying the Supreme Court in their self-congratulatory attack on gays.
She should be ashamed.
If Ms. Davis truly had a conscience, she would cringe at how the sight of her triumphant posture and cheering supporters looks to a troubled 14-year-old gay boy or girl faced with coming out in a hostile community.
And if she were truly Christian, she would apologize to all gay youth for implying by her actions that they are less then fully entitled citizens worthy of equal treatment and respect. And she would welcome them into society with open arms and wish for them acceptance and happiness and love.
That, Ms. Davis, is what Jesus would do.
Louis Balsamo lives in Baltimore. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.