08/03/2012 10:05 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Being Gay in Tucson Hurts

Free speech. Freedom of religion. I understand it and I support both, which is why when the Chick-fil-A publicity over Dan Cathy's anti-gay remarks came out, I didn't shoot off a post or add my voice to the uproar. Cathy's entitled to express his views, I said, and I don't take them personally. The other day, I made the remark on Facebook that I may not eat there, but other people might, and that was fine by me. I genuinely believed that when I wrote it, but tonight my heart turned.

I drove by the Chick-fil-A on Broadway Street in Tucson and the drive-thru line was backed up to the street. I've never seen more than five cars in their drive-thru before and now, at 9:00 at night, there were dozens and dozens of them.

My reaction surprised me. It felt like all those people -- young men in pickup trucks, moms with kids, older couples -- were stepping on my chest. It felt like hidden bigotry had come out to make itself known. It felt like hatred and rejection. It felt like go home, you're not wanted here. My response was visceral. My gut ached, a sob caught in my throat, and my eyes welled up with tears. I couldn't drive away fast enough. And I'm not a person who cries easily, at least not usually, but I cried all the way home. Just those couple of minutes of seeing how many people are anti-gay, anti-me, hurt more than I could have ever expected.

I've lived in Tucson since last August. I've been fairly quiet in my new city. I rent a cottage, work from home, go to the dog park frequently, shop when I need to, and have a couple of close friends, but otherwise I haven't ventured out into the community much. I recently explored the possibility of joining a women's social group, and was going to attend an event soon. I was excited about it until today.

Perhaps because I am something of a hermit -- and maybe because my sexual orientation isn't blatantly obvious to most people -- I felt pretty safe here.

I don't feel safe here anymore.

That line at Chick-fil-A touched me like a banner of unwelcome, like a vigilante caravan of people who could hardly wait for the opportunity to openly express their belief that I was an enemy to be conquered -- someone they longed to see be put back in her place as an anamoly, a threat to society, a pervert, a half-person.

It broke my heart.

Part of me wanted to scream my pain at the crowd. To reach into those cars, extend my hand, and somehow convince those Chick-fil-A supporters that I didn't deserve this -- that I'm a good person, a good neighbor, someone worthy of equality. The wiser, more experienced part of me knew that nothing I might say -- no quality I might hold, and nothing I might actually be -- would matter. The marrow of hate is rarely extracted by reason, or quelled by consideration. Hate exists, as thoughtless as any desert viper, ready to deliver a painful, poisonous strike against anything that feels like its opposite.

I drove home, closed my gate, and for the first time since I've lived here, locked it -- another visceral response I didn't expect. Much like someone who has been robbed and never again fails to check their doors and windows, tonight was a brutal lesson in loss. The loss of delusion, of feeling at ease, of innocence, of acceptance, of feeling like maybe, just maybe, I might be welcome in this largely conservative, but seemingly nice community.

I don't feel that way anymore. Being gay in Tucson simply... hurts.