Photo memories of Miles Christian Daniels’ childhood at the Outer Banks conceal the harmful effects anti-LGBT religious bigotry had on him throughout his youth. Photos courtesy Daniels and Corey Banks (via Flickr)
It started with a blog post from Charles Tyler, pastor of Roanoke Island Baptist Church in Manteo, the birthplace of Virginia Dare and home of actor Andy Griffith. When Tyler caught wind that David Miller, who lives less than a mile from his church, was planning the area’s first-ever gay Pride celebration this summer, he took to the blogosphere.
“I know of no greater threat to the family that exists today than the homosexual agenda,” Tyler wrote on Jan. 26 on his church blog, “Pastor’s Corner.” He then called homosexuality “aberrant” and implied that homosexuals “persuade and influence” children. “I would recommend that families who love their children, keep them far away from the event OBX Pridefest,” Tyler admonished.
Miller immediately took his rebuttal to his Facebook wall. “We are particularly upset over the accusation that we are providing children’s games and activities at pride fest as a means to lure children into our ranks,” Miller wrote.
Miller’s supporters, too, were outraged. “I’d be willing to bet that man (Tyler) doesn’t know a single gay person personally,” wrote one Facebook friend. The exchange, at times harsh, continues to play out within the “rant and raves” section of Craigslist, a popular online community. “Outer Banks Scumball Gays” read one recent headline.
I heard about the story after it had gone viral late last month and was picked up by several mainstream media outlets including United Press International.
For me, it hit especially close to home.
Although I live in San Francisco, arguably our country’s most liberal city, I spent my childhood and teen years in Wanchese, a conservative community that borders Manteo. Most of my family still call the Outer Banks home.
I was eight years old and at a summer church camp when I first knew something was amiss in my own life.
His name was James. He was from another youth group. It was nothing more than warm fuzzies, puppy love from a distance. No one “persuaded” or “influenced” anything about the situation.
I was gay.
Like most, I tucked it away and throughout my teen and most of my college years pretended to be just like my straight buddies. When “it” showed its ugly face, I dealt with it in secret, usually begging God profusely to take the “sinful” desires away.
Nightly panic attacks became so severe that the walls in my bedroom seemed to move in and out as if they were taking deep, long breaths. I heard hissing and ringing noises. I was mentally melting.
It wasn’t so much my sexuality that tormented me, but rather the fear that had been instilled from “men of God” like Tyler who stood behind a pulpit and preached sermons far scarier and damaging for a child than the puppet shows and sing-alongs Miller and his team have planned for their pride celebration.
After my sophomore year of college, I worked as a youth minister at an evangelical church in New Bern, N.C. I spent that year-and-a-half reading books and articles on how to not be gay and would sometimes phone Trinity Broadcasting Network and ask prayer counselors to perform the equivalent of an exorcism. Each morning, I went into the sanctuary and pleaded, usually with tears, my case before God.
After my time in that little church, I went back to school at UNC-Wilmington. It was there, in an internet chat room, that I met my first boyfriend. He was a freshman. I was a junior. He lived his life openly. I did not.
I began to see my sexuality in a different light. What I had thought to be a perversion was now being lived out as a loving connection between two people. The fact we both were male, had little to do with any of it.
I’ve been open about my sexuality for over a decade now. My partner, Luis, and I have been together for three years and are in the process of adopting our first child.
Being gay has not been easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truth is, I don’t know any other way. It’s as much a part of who I am as my blue eyes and long, piano-playing fingers.
“It is not a healthy nor happy lifestyle,” Tyler concludes on his blog post.
I beg to differ and welcome him, or anyone else who shares this belief, into our home to see for themselves.
According to Miller, the show will go on.
Pride is the opposite of shame, shame that has been used to control and oppress LGBT persons throughout our history. That shame, unfortunately for many of us, first took root in local churches, lead by ministers like Tyler whose sermons caused years of heartache, anguish and, in many cases, ostracism from family, community and friends.
It was Mother Teresa who once said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” If only Pastor Tyler, and others like him, put these words into practice, they might just get their wish. Replace hurt and shame with love and acceptance, and the very need for gay pride events could very well cease to exist. : :
— Miles Christian Daniels is a writer, filmmaker and blues pianist. He directed “Dixie Queen,” a 2003 documentary featuring Wilmington, N.C. drag queen Tara Nicole and explored her life, as well as that of other Southern drag performers and gay life and culture on North Carolina’s coast.