We may have won the battle for same-sex marriage in the United States, but we are far from realizing full equality. And sometimes, it's our family members who are our worst enemies.
If I ever needed a reminder of that fact, it arrived with guns blazing -- almost literally -- in my Facebook feed early last week. Jutting out between photos two friends shared of their 9-month-old son, and a silly cat meme in which my partner tagged me, was a fear-mongering video rant by former pastor Joshua Feuerstein. In the clip, he brandished a semiautomatic assault rifle while he encouraged Christians to "take a stand" for their "First Amendment" right to discriminate against LGBT people. And it was shared by my own mother.
My mother wasn't forwarding the post to highlight the violent intolerance that is still so prevalent in our world. She was supporting Feuerstein's message, and this wasn't the first time I'd come across an antigay message my mother felt compelled to share with her Facebook followers -- a group of people that includes family members like cousins, aunts, uncles, my step-grandmother, and my lesbian sister, among others. It was only the latest in a string of homophobic posts she had fired off in the days following the Supreme Court's historic ruling in favor of federal marriage equality. Those posts ranged from completely false reports about ministers being arrested for refusing to marry gay couples, to videos of right-wing extremists claiming LGBT civil rights signaled the beginning of a Christian holocaust.
I had mostly ignored these ravings, not wanting to set off another round of fighting. We had just recently buried the hatchet -- after a year of not speaking to one another after she'd posted a different homophobic message on social media. However, when a wave of goosebumps tingled across my arms as I watched this fire-and-brimstone-filled preacher pull a gun into the frame of his 2-minute, 36-second rant and boast, "It's time that we finally take a stand and say, 'No more!'" I knew I wouldn't be able to let it go. I also realized I'd been making a colossal mistake in how I interacted with my mother and other homophobic family members.
You see, I've been out to my family since I was 18 years old, and because I so desperately wanted their approval after I initially came out, I excused what I had come to label "mild homophobia" in favor of maintaining a relationship with them. After all, what real harm came from occasional comments like, "I don't approve of your lifestyle," or that same-sex attraction is sinful, disgusting, immoral, and my personal favorite, "a stench in the nostrils of God"? They were devout Pentecostal Christians, and I excused this language because it was their opinion and their religious belief. I downplayed their abuse, because it wasn't physical. Hell, they even greeted my partner of nearly 12 years back in 2011 with a smile and a hug, after I insisted we both visit them at their home in Oklahoma for the first time.
However, when my younger sister told me about the horrible reaction she'd gotten from my mother and stepfather after she came out to them a few years ago, I began to realize that my family's level of homophobia was far from "mild." She told me about how they literally fell to their knees and screamed, and then forced her to undergo days of emotional turmoil.
Our mother attempted to frighten her into heterosexuality with ignorant tales of how she would contract HIV, that our middle brother would never let her see our niece again because he'd think she was a pedophile, and how all gay people were terrible -- even me, her big brother. My sister also revealed how, numerous times over the years, our mother would make disparaging comments about me, because I had "chosen to live like that," and how she'd witnessed our mother's behavior encouraged by preachers.
Ridiculous and infuriating.
Even more upsetting was the fact that my mother, aside from the rare occasional comment, hid the full extent of her antigay attitude from me. She even went so far as to tell me a story about how she had "stood up" for me and yelled at one of her co-workers when she overheard him making homophobic comments -- as if that somehow made up for all the antigay tirades she was making behind my back, and the emotional stress she was routinely causing my sister by insisting hardships in her life were a result of her lesbian "lifestyle."
That's the heart of the problem with people like my mother. These are people who believe, because they maintain some type of a relationship with us and aren't out beating up queers, they couldn't possibly be homophobic. Furthermore, they feel selective bigotry can be excused when it's wrapped in religion and served as "my opinion." They can't see how hollow they appear when they conveniently overlook the sexism, slavery, and polygamy that's outlined in the Bible.
Meanwhile, these same people hurl misquoted verses about "man shall not lie with man" and ignore the following verse, "Ye shall not... print any marks upon you," when they proudly show off tattoos emblazoned across their skin. They can't wrap their head around why others would label them hypocritical when they, as divorced and remarried people, claim same-sex marriage destroys the foundation of a sacred institution, and they actually believe they're furthering God's will when they spread fear-mongering messages that make the world a more dangerous place for LGBT people.
These people are the worst and most dangerous kinds of homophobes, because they believe their opinion is righteous, which allows them to demean our lives, demonize our community, and devalue our relationships.
These are the people who will tell us to our face that they love us, while behind our backs they eagerly spread lies and misinformation about the LGBT community to our extended family and friends.
These are the people who will claim they wish us no harm, while they take their bigotry to the ballot box and vote to pass laws that keep us from life-saving legislation.
These are the people who perpetuate attitudes that are the root of why we can still be kicked out of our homes in many states, why people like Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and Lawrence King were brutally murdered, and why LGBT teens like Leelah Alcorn, Carlos Vigil, Jamey Rodemeyer, Josh Pacheco, and Tyler Clementi felt the they only way to escape the hateful environment in which they lived was to commit suicide.
These people may be our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends, but we cannot allow even their "mild homophobia" to go unchallenged or unchecked - regardless of whether it comes in the form of snide comments, religious bigotry, or degrading social media status updates. To borrow Feuerstein's words, "It's time that we finally take a stand and say, 'No more.'"
This type of poison has no place in our lives - or our Facebook feeds. That's why I unfriended my homophobic mother, and why I'm thankful I have a platform as an editor at The Advocate, where I'm able to shine a bright light on hateful, fear-mongering messages like the one she shared to expose this kind of bigotry that masquerades as opinion.
I encourage others to likewise use our influence and platforms whenever we can in order to combat this hatred.
Because we aren't fighting over a difference of opinion. We are fighting for our very lives.
JASE PEEPLES is The Advocate'sentertainment editor and a contributor for Out and Gay.net. He lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @JasePeeples