I was raised homophobic. Yup. A full-on gay basher by the time I was in third grade. I didn’t even know what homosexuality was, other than something to be reviled as the most horrible of things.
My parents didn’t teach me my bigoted behavior. Rather it was the time in which I lived. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was just plain wrong to be gay.
Looking for a fistfight? All it took back then was to level an anti-gay slur against another guy and it was on.
Later, I would learn that the fight was on even if the other guy really was gay. Such was the social stigma that even closeted gays were frantic to prove themselves “normal.”
In the seventh grade, I called a good friend named “Gordy” a homophobic name because he couldn’t climb the rope in P.E. class. We got into a fight that a gym teacher had to break up.
I was over the clash by day’s end, but Gordy was still livid. We got into it again at the bus stop, where he ended up hitting me in the face with a rock. Ten stitches’ worth. Still got the scar. Gordy never talked to me again.
Imagine how I felt when, years later, I found out through others he trusted that Gordy had come out to his friends and family. He had a partner and everything.
What I didn’t have was a good friend. Gordy and I had everything else in common, save our sexual orientation. What a dumb reason to lose a friend.
I remember when my views changed. I wish I could claim that I was smart enough to have realized on my own that such behavior was patently wrong and even harmful. But it took another friend to get me past it. And Ralph didn’t have to slam me with a rock.
Ralph wasn’t gay, but his older brother was. Bradley was the epitome of cool. He looked like a young Clint Eastwood and drove a Triumph sports car. He also had a boyfriend. One day I pointed this out to Ralph.
Me • “Your brother likes guys.”
Ralph • “So? He’s still fun.”
Couldn’t argue with “so?” Bradley told great jokes, took us places and bought us stuff. We would go to the pool, where he would point out cute girls and dare us to talk to them.
Him • “That brunette is hot. Go talk to her.”
Me • “No.”
Him • “What? You like boys? OK, try that chubby kid in the cutoffs.”
You see, someone had to teach me to stop being homophobic. They had to undo years of shaming people because other people thought it was funny or appropriate or even doctrinally sound.
Bradley is 70 today. Last I heard, he’s still with his boyfriend. All these years later, I understand that they were the ones who gently shamed me out of my prejudice.
It wasn’t other people screaming profanity or sending me nasty posts. Rather it was someone who was brave enough to be himself and show me that we had far more in common than not.
Today, I don’t require a policy or a revelation to tell me how to choose or even treat my friends. All I care is that they’re interesting and fun.
Boring? Now there’s a real sin.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.