This evening, while perusing Facebook for far longer than I'll ever admit, I came across an article posted in my News Feed alleging that a popular R&B musician had recently used his Twitter account to come out as gay. The headline was even accompanied by a photo of said star kissing a man in a seeming selfie.
My eyebrows immediately rose to a position where Botox may one day freeze them; I was pretty shocked. But as quickly as I'd been taken by the headline, my gut told me, "Somethin' in the buttermilk ain't clean." I was almost certain that the story was a hoax, if not a remnant of an April Fool's Day gag. I continued to move down my News Feed only to see a myriad of comments left under the headline, and one jumped out at me, leaving me stunned and hurt.
"Just a waste damn!!" a black woman wrote in a short outburst that struck me as loud and directed at me, specifically. The woman went on in a second comment saying that she'd never actually seen the man in question with a woman other than his mother -- which will clearly be admissible in court as Exhibit B.
Scrolling beyond her comment, I came across another woman who had a similar feeling, shouting, if only to me, "Wow!!! What a damn waste; and and damn shame!!"
Almost instantly I'd gone from being shocked about the headline to being annoyed by the nearly clear Internet hoax, and now to feeling kicked in the stomach after seeing this kind of response in my timeline.
To be fair, there were voices that countered these women, but one of the women fired back at a white woman that the white woman "wouldn't understand, it's a cultural thing."
"What a waste. What a damn shame."
I couldn't help but think of a Lifetime movie I saw a few years ago called Prayers for Bobby. Sigourney Weaver portrayed Mary Griffith, the mother of Bobby, a young man who'd come out as gay to his very religious family only to face faith-based opposition from his parents and siblings. Bobby, a California Bay Area native, would later kill himself by jumping off an overpass into oncoming traffic because he couldn't reconcile being gay, being Christian, and being his mother's biggest disappointment.
In the film, after Bobby's death, Mary is racked with guilt, and after some time, much prayer, and discovery, she eventually comes to be a supporter of children like her late Bobby. Toward the end of the film, when the townspeople have a hearing to discuss implementing new laws that would negatively impact the local LGBT community, Mary goes before the city council and her fellow residents of Walnut Creek and makes a most moving speech.
She opens with some of the things often said of gays: that homosexuality is immoral, a choice, and something that should be corrected. She goes on to tell her story of losing Bobby:
I didn't know that each time I echoed eternal damnation for gay people, each time I referred to Bobby as "sick" and "perverted" and a danger to our children, that his self-esteem, his sense of worth were being destroyed. His spirit broke beyond repair. ... Bobby's death was the direct result of his parents' ignorance and fear of the word "gay." ... There are children, like Bobby, sitting in your congregations. Unknown to you, they will be listening as you echo "amen," that will soon silence their prayers -- their prayers to God for understanding and acceptance, and for your love. But your hatred and fear and ignorance of the word "gay" will silence those prayers. So before you echo "amen" in your home and place of worship, think, think, and remember a child is listening.
I'm an openly gay California Bay Area native who was raised Christian and spent more than one night thinking about how much easier it would be to just be dead, so this hit home for me. I've heard all kinds of language of hate and dissent thrown at and around me by schoolmates, my former pastor, and even members of my own family. I called my mom and insisted she watch the film immediately, because I could have just as easily been Bobby, jumping into traffic -- not because I wanted to die but because I wanted to end the pain.
"What a waste. What a damn shame."
As resolved and comfortable as I am in my own skin these days, hearing words like "what a waste" never gets any easier. While I decreasingly take it personally, I still take it very seriously. I think everyone should.
To the ladies who felt the man was "a waste" and a "damn shame" for possibly being gay, I pray that there isn't a child who will read your words online or hear them from your mouth. I pray that their prayers aren't silenced by the disdain, dismissal, and disapproval in your tone. I pray that they never find themselves on an overpass with your words echoing in their heads as they struggle with a final decision.
"What a waste! What a damn shame!"
I pray that you will remember the way your words will echo to a child who was indeed listening.
The film Prayers for Bobby is based on the book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms With the Suicide of Her Gay Son.
Follow Jarrett Hill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JarrettHill