This is hard for me -- because, in a way, we are like brothers. (Cain and Abel kind of brothers, but brothers nonetheless.) You see, I was raised by my grandparents, who were old and cranky and brought me up in the best way they knew how: by outsourcing me to be raised by the television and by the families that lived inside it.
I had a lot of families to choose from -- including the Huxtables, the Taylors and the Bradys -- but I chose to be a part of yours. This was partially because, as a pre-pubescent band geek who, one day, hoped to blossom into a secret swan, I identified with Carol: the kind of girl whose glasses were always too big, who gave herself extra homework, who wasn't popular among her peers (but beloved by an audience of adoring fans). I, too, wanted to be admired for my prepubescent nerdiness and my esoteric taste in British literature; I wanted a mom who would kick up her feet with me and talk about the future, just like Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment.
And I always wanted a brother like you. In the show, your Mike Seaver was the Ferris Bueller surrogate, the mischief with the heart of gold, and I loved the way you always stuck up for Carol when she needed it most. Because of your God-given looks and effortless charm, you were born to be one of the popular kids and you knew how powerful that was, using your wiles and way with people to get out of class and cheat on tests. However, every once in awhile, you could be so giving toward those around you, an ambassador to the bullied and disenfranchised, and you always stuck up for Carol when she needed it most. We knew you cared, or you wouldn't have kept that dweeb Boner around for so long or taken in that homeless kid -- who grew up to be Leonardo DiCaprio.
Because you were someone who -- on television, at least -- stuck up for people who were bullied, it pains me so much to see what's become of you, to see the washed-up bigot that you've become. This week, you've stepped into a firestorm of controversy regarding your recent comments about LGBT people, and I can't say I'm surprised about it. Kirk, you've been spiraling downward for a very long time; if not, you would have never made any of those terrible Left Behind films or agreed to be the heartthrob of TV evangelism.
This isn't a knock on your religious beliefs, Kirk, because I know a lot of wonderful, affirming Christians, and you don't deserve to represent them. Whenever I hear someone attack religious people for being anti-gay, for being crazy, for being idiots, I remember that people like you exist, people who send a terrible message about what it means to be religious. Whenever we see people like you on TV, they are always espousing messages of exclusion and hate, and it's easy to believe that Christianity is only here to divide us, to say that some are worthy of love and others scorn, to say that God reflects our own biases and discrimination.
Kirk, I don't believe in God, and I especially don't believe in your God, a God that could inspire people to espouse such venom, a God that could teach people to publicly demonize people they have never even met. Last year, I was the lone queer atheist in the Vincent and Louise House, a faith-based co-op at DePaul University. I lived with nine Catholics, and from the love of my community, I discovered a love that confounded any previous notions I'd had of religious people, a love that taught me what God is. God is the community that surrounds you: that which challenges us to awe at the wonder of life, to be greater than ourselves, to achieve what we cannot possibly fathom. God is so much bigger than anything you can possibly imagine, bigger than your hatred, bigger than your sexual preoccupations.
Faith and spirituality can be forces for such good in the world, ones that unite us and empower us, and I don't have to believe in God as a person to know that you are not doing anyone's God concept justice. In your response to the backlash against your hateful comments, you mentioned that it's your "life's mission to love all people," but I don't see how calling 5-10 percent of the population "destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization" furthers the cause of love. I get the "love the sinner, hate the sin" thing, and you're entitled to your own views on homosexuality or any topic you want. Free speech, as they say.
But destroying society as we know it? That is another thing entirely, and it doesn't fit any definition of love or mindful ambassadorship I've ever heard of. The queer folks I know who have worked so hard to have the same rights as you do, to have their own families or to be even be able to kiss in public, aren't destroying society. Words like yours are.
I know your remarks technically don't matter -- because who gives a flying nun what you think about anything? -- but as someone who has dealt with bullying because of their sexual orientation, who battled thoughts of suicide for most of their life, who still struggles with issues of Low Self-Esteem because of those inflicted wounds, it matters to me. It matters because I grew up looking up to you as a brother, a friend and a role model, someone I thought would have my back when the bullies came after me at the playground, when the other kids at school made fun of me for the way I walked, for my "weird" fashion sense and for my "girly" voice. I always thought that you would protect me.
But you're just like the bullies you were supposed to be against, and that matters. It matters to the LGBT youths that commit suicide every year; to the kids who face discrimination, bullying and violence; and to those who struggle just to be themselves without fear. In March 2011, the Trans Murder Monitoring project reported that over 500 transgender persons had been murdered globally in the past three years, largely due to cultures that promote discrimination and intolerance of trans people; 38 of those murders were from the U.S.
Kirk, I know that you aren't personally responsible for those murders. However, the comments you've made and the mindset you represent reflect that hatred and help perpetuate a culture of intolerance. Even though we think no one is listening to what you say about LGBT people, there are people listening; there are people who still care what you think, or Fireproof wouldn't have done weirdly well at the box-office -- for an independently-released Christian film, anyway.
However, you are correct in asserting that you are allowed to say whatever you want about whatever minority group you choose; it's your choice to be on the side of exclusion and hate. But I am encouraged by the number of celebrities who have stood up to criticize you for your words, some of which include your own on-screen family. Your ex-sister, my beloved Tracey Gold, affirmed her belief in "equal rights for all." However, it was Josh Charles, of TV's The Good Wife, who said it best: "I know Growing Pains was only a TV show, but I have to think both Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns must feel they failed as parents." Both of those parents stated that they don't feel like dealing with your comments, and Kerns hasn't spoken to you in years.
But I'm speaking to you now -- brother to brother -- because I believe that, as someone in a position of relative power, you have the ability to affect change, to make the lives of LGBT persons better by using your celebrity for outreach. You can start by practicing the love that you preach, by taking a stand against your own hate. Just ask yourself: what would have Mike Seaver done? He would have expected better than this.
Follow Nico Lang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GidgetLang