LGBT issues are finally seeing the light of day and the fight for equality has forward momentum. But again and again, we are reminded that horror stories are happening every day to those unfortunate individuals trapped in rural, conservative parts of America.
Meet Brandon Wallace.
Brandon is young, attractive, musically talented and intelligent. He's a hardworking teacher and a devout follower of his Christian beliefs, but it wasn't very long ago that things weren't going so well for him, and he chronicles the journey of his reconciliation between his faith and sexual orientation in a provocative new memoir entitled, Straight Face.
I sat down with Brandon to find out where he believes the LGBT equality movement is headed and to learn more about his deeply touching story.
Brandon, we see marriage equality gaining traction all over the world, and the numbers of supporting Americans are on the rise. How have you seen things change for the better in the past few years?
I remember being about 12-years-old and crying out to God, "Why can't I just live in a world where people -- and You -- wouldn't hate me for being gay?" At the time, I had no idea that He was actually going to allow me to see this in my lifetime. Over the past few years, things have snowballed towards equality. It's going faster than some people can keep up, and honestly, that's where some of the current problems are coming from. In just the last ten years, we have seen marriage equality in 18 states, the fall of DOMA, and even Christian denominations becoming open and affirming. It's been quite amazing, to say the least.
But your story is still kind of shocking. Tell us about your own coming out experience and how that watershed event has impacted your perception of faith and culture.
Well, just a few short years ago I was working in a very conservative Baptist church. I was watching the news one day and a breaking headline came on the screen about a 15-year-old kid that committed suicide because he was gay, and he couldn't reconcile it with his faith. This story broke me, and for days I couldn't get the kid off my mind. Finally, God confronted me about it, and about as clearly as God has ever spoken to me, He said, "If you don't come out, you're part of the problem." We fought it out for a while, but finally God won, and that was only the beginning. My own coming out was very tumultuous. I completely moved out of the town, because the drama and potential danger was too much. I received so many bitter messages -- even threats -- that I had to change my phone number and stay out of town for months. At first, it really made me angry with God, but after a while, I realized it was all part of the plan from the beginning. A long time ago, I asked God why I couldn't live in a world where people wouldn't hate me for it, and over a decade later, he's allowing me to see that unfold.
You had to flee and move to another city?
I had to make a new home for myself, definitely. In the South you don't just, "come out" because coming out can get you killed... I had already planned on moving, but after receiving threats I felt like getting out of town was the only way for me to have peace of mind.
Your new memoir is called, Straight Face. Could you explain the significance of that title in your day-to-day life before you came out?
I've known two things since I was very young: I was supposed to spread the Gospel, and that I was gay. I couldn't really reconcile these two things, since I was very deeply inside the Evangelical church. So, I spent my entire life trying to convince everyone -- including God -- that I was not gay, so that I could continue the call I know is on my life. This was a whole alter-ego that the world got to see; they never got to see the real me. I called this alter-ego Straight Face, and I pretty much let him run my life. Everyday was a constant struggle of trying to hide behind Straight-Face without losing myself completely. Straight Face, the book, is a narrative about the relationship between Jesus, the mask and me, and it chronicles the psychological side of someone trapped inside the closet in the conservative church. It shows the daily battle that takes place to simply survive.
You're crowd-sourcing the money needed to hire a publicist right now on Indiegogo.com. Why do you feel it's so important to get your story and your message out to the world?
I feel like my story -- even though it's my story -- is not unique to me. There are thousands out there still stuck inside the closet in the conservative world. Even though along the coastal regions LGBT issues are decades old now, in middle America, they're still brand new, and there is still a lot of people trapped, scared, and sometimes even in danger. I feel like personal stories are one of the most powerful tools we have in making change in our world. This story will be a tool, not only for those that are still trapped in the closet and trying to make sense of the world, but also for the families and friends of those that have come out, because it will give them an inside look of the inner-hell that many LGBT have to go silently through every single day. But, ultimately, my purpose in this memoir is specifically for those people that are at the end of their rope -- much like that 15-year-old kid was, and much like I was a few times during my own adolescence. I want them to know that there is hope, there is grace, and most importantly, there is love for them, too.