Who deserves respect?

By Charles Karel Bouley II

Originally published on Advocate.com April 06 2005 11:00 PM ET

Run from it. Integrate it away. Homogenize it. Back-burner it. Do what you will, but it will always come back. It will always rear its head, coming directly from some unknown place inside, a place you might not even know exists or a place not often visited.What is this force that can work either for or against you at any moment? Your gayness.I know. It’s happened to me several times in the past year, and I’m still paying for it.I’m a talk-show host on major-market radio. As such, I have to appeal to the broadest audience and talk about things that are inclusive, things that matter to the most, not the fewest. As such, I often have to overlook gay issues. I can’t spend hours on this or that gay issue, because for a majority of my listeners (and my employers) I’m enough of a gay issue. It’s not that I shy away from the major issues, like same-sex marriage, but I couldn’t pick four stories from The Advocate each week and make them into topics. My audience just wouldn’t care.Also, an important part of what I do has been moving beyond being seen just as gay and showing the audiences and management alike that gay men think about everything their straight counterparts do when it comes to the world, including politics and current events, and that we have opinions that vary, that don’t toe some party line. I speak to my audience as a member of society first—a guy who’s trying to make it, just like them, dealing with the same things the world throws at them from a human point of view, not a gay one.Then something happens to remind me that I am in fact gay. Try as you will, you can’t escape the history, the responsibility, the struggle—and all that goes with it.Twice I have brought myself great professional grief because “feeling gay man Charles Bouley” went on the radio instead of “thinking talk-show host Karel.”The first was when Ronald Reagan died. All day long I heard everyone make this man a saint on TV and radio, and I couldn’t stomach it. I had a very different experience of this man, and that experience was most decidedly as a gay man. His disregard for AIDS, the tone he set in the country about how it was OK to let us die, the lack of resources that he provided, and the overall response of his administration to gay people were abhorrent.So when I went on air, all that came to mind was “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead,” so I played a piece of the song. I went on to speak of all the problems I had with Reagan and his administration. It was a spirited two hours. It was also on the day that he died.The following Monday there was hell to pay. Complaints rolled in. I was classless. I was evil. I was way off base. I brought disrespect.Now, maybe all that was true. But the fact is that as a gay man, I shed not one tear for Ronald Reagan. And as an American who had to live under his trickle-down economics and social conservatism to the nth degree, I shed no tear for the cowboy gone Washington. To say anything else would have been a lie, and I cannot lie to my audience. And yes, much of that opinion was forged in hospital rooms time after time in the 1980s, watching my friends die. Not hearing about people dying, not reading about them, but there, watching them, and having to deal with the prejudice, the lack of resources, and so much more that were a direct response of the tone of the Reagan administration.I ended up apologizing, not for what I said but for when I said it. I even wrote an open letter to Nancy Reagan, which is in my book You Can’t Say That.That incident was a definite case of Charles Bouley, gay man—with all the pent-up anger and frustration building from the 1980s coming out.After that, I reacted “normally” for most major events.And then the pope died.For two weeks the television cameras had been camped out in Florida in front of a hospice where Terri Schiavo lay dying in a vegetative state. Every religious nut in the country had jumped in front of a camera to talk about the “culture of life,” and the U.S. Congress, in my belief, broke the law by creating legislation to extend federal court jurisdiction into the personal decision-making of one family (which is constitutionally wrong). The president signed it and then the battles began—religious battles, it turned out, not legal ones, because the courts, both state and federal, stuck to the law and refused to go against existing statutes. Every judge refused overturn rulings in favor of Terri’s husband’s right to make her medical decisions.

As soon as this was finally ending and Terri was irrevocably dying, the pope’s condition worsened. When Terri died, the cameras moved from Florida to Vatican City. Suddenly CNN became the Catholic News Network. Every body function, movement, or burp of the pope was reported. Around-the-clock coverage.As when Reagan died, people were falling over themselves to go on TV and praise this fallen icon, hailing the pontiff’s love, his courage, his dedication. Talk was already swirling about making him a saint once he passed. And when he finally did, on every news channel in America a cardinal came on and said the archangel of the Lord swept through Vatican City and brought the pontiff home, where Christ had opened the door to welcome him.I wondered how people of other religions were taking it all in. We do still have a few of those, non-Christian or non-Catholic Americans.First, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God as written. Doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual, but that’s another editorial. Second, or maybe first, I’m gay. And this man, this soon-to-be saint had written and said that homosexuality is, “part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”So I am part of the new ideology of evil. According to him and his church I should not get married, ever, to the man I love. And the church loves me, the gay man, but as such I can never have sex if I want to be in the church.Sixty-two million Americans are Catholic; 230 million Americans are not. But don’t think the attitude of the leader of the 62 million doesn’t spill over onto many of the 230 million others. If it didn’t, why have three U.S. presidents viewed the pope’s body? Why will born-again Baptist George W. Bush be attending the funeral with a bevy of other non-Catholics? That’s clout. And I know, as does any gay person in America, that when you have one of the most influential religious leaders in the world categorize you as “evil” it has side effects.It’s wrong; it’s divisive; it can lead to hate crimes, prejudices, discrimination, and yes, death.The pope also compared abortion to the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. And because of the church’s prohibition on condoms, millions in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere have died of AIDS when they didn’t have to. If this saint-on-earth would have led the charge to education and condom use, he could have saved millions of lives.The MSNBC show Connected is in the background as I write this on Wednesday, April 6, 2005. It’s hosted by Ron Reagan and an Ann Coulter wanna-be. Friar James Lloyd, a Catholic Church representative, just said about the priest abuse scandal that there is a direct correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia. He said 98% of those doing the molestations were gay and the church acknowledged this correlation and as such was troubled on the subject of homosexuality.Great, we’re all child molesters. Thank you, Friar James Lloyd. Bless Ron Reagan for coming in and saying there is no evidence to support such a correlation and that in fact a majority of molesters are not gay. Thanks, Ron.Meanwhile, Friar James Lloyd, still speaking for the church on Connected, said, “God did not create gay people. Same-sex attraction is an intrinsic disorder, but with God’s help we can lift you up. Sexuality is a great gift of God to be used in a certain way—to be used in marriage. Chastity is about courage. We don’t want to change gay people; they’re children of God, but they must be chaste. No exceptions. Under no conditions can homosexuality be approved, so says the Vatican.”OK, between the pope and Friar Lloyd I get the idea. And that’s the point, I get the idea. And the idea is a dangerous one for gays and for an enlightened world. The Catholic Church is an archaic cult, with thinking caught somewhere in the 13th century. It was the earliest form of government and theater and should be retired like the monarchy in England. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the pope is a bit extreme for a “man of God,” since scripture tells us that it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of needle than a rich man to get into heaven. Wonder how Jesus would feel about the pope’s finery, about the images broadcast on giant-screen televisions throughout the world, about people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a pilgrimage to walk by John Paul II’s dead, deified body. What would Jesus do?Well, I said all these things the day he died and again and created for myself a great deal of professional grief. Again, I was off in my timing. I should have waited a week—or two. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the day’s events, a reaction rooted firmly in the fact that I am gay and that as a gay man I feel this man and his organization are trying to keep millions like me in the dark—or the dark ages.I wonder if there would have been such an outcry if those so passionately condemning me were gay. At least I could have expected some understanding. I wonder if any of them had been told that their relationships were invalid under the law, if any of them had to stand in front of a judge to just get some basic human rights, if any of them had been beaten just once for a lisp or had a gun waved in their face just once because “God doesn’t like fags like you” (yes, it’s happened to me). I wonder, if they had experienced what gay people experience, if their opinions would change. Maybe, maybe not.I wasn’t wrong for expressing an opinion. Everyone agrees with that. It’s when I said it they have a problem with. Well, what about my problem? What about the respect due to me? Did this church or this pontiff give me any? And don’t give me any watered-down catechisms about loving the gays but hating the sin. That’s a slick way of saying “We don’t accept you.” Oh dear, me, me, me.As a gay man I had every right to detest Ronald Reagan and the pope. The question is, as a talk-show host, did I have the right to say it on the day of their respective deaths? Well, yes, I have the right, but like any speech, it’s not free. And I did myself more harm than good professionally. Why? Because sometimes I simply can’t take it anymore and my anger comes out.People have spent their lives telling me how intolerant they are of my lifestyle. This intolerance is allowed; it’s accepted. A gay man dies and it’s OK to go on TV or radio that very day and talk about the scourge of AIDS or how it’s God’s retribution. No one says a thing. A man in a black outfit with a white collar goes on TV and says homosexuality is a sin punishable by burning in hellfires, and everyone’s fine with that. A pontiff writes that I and many like me are part of the ideology of evil, and then we’re supposed to wait until the dust settles to bring that up.Well, I’m sorry. For once, I’m gay first. I’ve never wanted to be. I’ve struggled not to be. I’ve tried to be the good little gay boy they want me to be and merge it with who I am, not let it dictate who I am. But twice in the past I’ve let it dictate. And twice I’ve paid a price.

When my husband died, who waited a respectful amount of time before commenting? No one. The next day articles were written about AIDS, even though he didn’t die of it. The next day a radio commentator went on the air to comment on his death and talk about how the “gay lifestyle” can lead to such things. That morning in the emergency room the doctors and police called me his “friend.” Later lawyers stood up in court and called our relationship nothing, not giving me any legal standing (they lost that argument on appeal, by the way).A generation of young gay Americans died on Reagan’s watch, and it was OK because basically they deserved it for living the “lifestyle.” Millions of gays are openly shunned because the pope called them evil and because they don’t want to be celibate, and that’s all right. A reportedly devout gay man in San Diego couldn’t be eulogized in his beloved Catholic Church recently because church officials found out he owned gay bars. The family, at the last minute, had to move the body and find a new church. But that’s OK.Say something against the person that is partially responsible for those attitudes before he’s put in the ground, and that’s classless. Let the gay man inside of me out in his righteous indignation, and he gets slapped under the guise of propriety.I do not mourn the pope. He was a man. An old man with old ideas leading an archaic institution that acted like a crime ring with abusive priests, an institution that maintains opinions that lead to separation and pain. Yup, that’s the gay man talking. But as I get older, I can see now how wrong I was to assume my gay man wouldn’t come out. That’s what being out at its core is. It’s not just living an open life, it’s letting that gay man out to say what he feels in times of crisis, in times of world events. I may think “normal,” but I feel “gay.” At least at times. And I grow weary of worrying about how I feel, and how I seem to be the only one worried about it.Yes, I’m a gay man. And as much as I’ve tried to deny it, I’m a gay talk-show host. I don’t host a gay show, but there’s a gay guy doing it. And that brings new experiences to the table and new points of view. Ones even those claiming to be tolerant don’t seem to want to hear because they upset their idea of propriety.Was I wrong in my opinions? No. Was I wrong in the timing? Perhaps. But maybe the next time the Vatican wants to issue a statement condemning me, maybe the next time the president wants to go on TV to talk about how I don’t deserve equal rights, the Vatican and the White House will check with me or you to make sure nothing bad has happened in our lives that day. Maybe the Vatican and the White House won’t make hateful announcements on days someone is dying from AIDS, on days someone is in the hospital for being beaten or attacked for being gay, on days someone goes to their work locker and finds the word “fag” written on it only to have the bosses do nothing, on days when boys are tied to fence posts or dragged behind cars, on days when people have to go before judges or legislators to fight for the same rights everybody else has…But wait! If they had to wait for a day like that, they’d never be able spread their hatred. If the Vatican and the president had to wait for a day that some gay person didn’t suffer some terrible indignity, they’d never get to deliver their harmful speeches against us.So they don’t wait. They just go out and say what they want, having no idea what is happening that day to a gay person someplace because of bigotry or prejudice.So I didn’t wait either. And there’s the truth of it.Now, two wrongs don’t make a right. I was in fact disrespectful that day, those days, and there’s plenty of time for that. Next time I will let the dust settle. But when it settles, beware. The gay man inside of me won’t be quiet anymore.