Chet and Gerry's Story

GERRY:

Almost 10 yeas go a friend and colleague of ours died of AIDS. About 9 years before that Chet had hired John. In those years he became a trusted colleague and a valued friend. He was not married, had not been married, and was a quiet, somewhat loner, type person. The three of us got on well at work, and it spilled over into a personal relationship. We celebrated birthdays and some holidays together. We met his friends, he met our families. We became family.

Several years before his death John was scheduled for elective eye surgery. We offeced to take him to hospital, pick him up, whatever - but he dedlined, saying all was arranged and he was fine. He would call us after the surgery. The afternoon after his scheduled surgery he did call me at the office, saying he was discharged and would we pick him up at 5 P.M., and maybe go out to dinner? I inquired about the surgery and he only said, "Well, that's a long story and I'll tell you about it tonight."

Well, he did. He learned he was HIV Positive, the surgery was cancelled, he was moved to a room of his own.People came to talk to him gowned up, masked and gloved. He had had quite a day! He said he had one more thing to do: He was offering to resign from his position. Of course, that did not happen. He was able to work a few more years. Finally though John began having sufficient problems that he could not work at all.

We remained in close touch. Once a week or so we would take in supper, eat with him, candles and all, clean up the kitchen before we left, and sometimes watch a movie or video together. John was not a "talker", especially about himself and certainly not about his health. So we talked carefully about his situation, especially when things were getting critical. His energy was declining and just the activities of daily life - bath, meals, laundry, etc. - seemed to be all he could handle, and that not well. In the midst of this, not speaking to us or anybody else we knew of, he sold his house, bought another, and moved! It probably was not a good decision and, unfortunately, he didn't have the energy to make this new house the comfortable home he was accustomed to and wanted to enjoy.

John died in January. The last week of November, during one of our dinners, he asked me to be his Executor. I fumbled a bit, being unsure why he would not ask one of his siblings, but said "of coucse" if that is what he really wanted. It was then he shared a bit about his family not being comfortable with his lifestyle, etc., and that it would be much better if someone outside the family would look after his affairs.

I learned to appreciate so much the community John had that we never knew about, the gay and lesbian community. Wonderful people, caring people. People came and called, arranged furniture and hung pictures, planted gardens and cleaned his house, and helped him finally with personal care. It was just wonderful.

John had a high moral code but not much time for organized religion. (His family was solid Methodist.) I think I know why, and it makes me angry. It adds fuel to the fire about my out rage and then fatigue with the way many churches, certainly the Mennonite Church, deal with situations they judge but do not try to understand.

This is one more time, one more issue, when my church (the Mennonite Church) disappoints me. It automatically shuns, so quickly and so surely, or calls wrong what it does not understand. People are hurt in the process. In my opinion, homosexuality is the latest issue of which the Mennonite Church is on the wrong side. I find more hope and "air" in nature and art and music, which are universal gifts, open to personal interpretation and enrichment,and without judgement.

CHET:

I grew up in a straight-laced pastor's home with the usual stereotypes and rejections of other religions and life styles. I have little memory of much gay and lesbian talk in school or home except occasionally the word "queer". I remember no incidents or hysteria, merely that "they were different".

My own sexual training consisted of reading "What a Young Boy Ought to Know and What a Young Man Ought to Know", with brief discussions with my father. There was no linkage to homosexuality that I remember. In college we had heavy duty discussions about sex but focused mostly on masturbation. During one college choir tour I woke up being fondled by my partner but I pushed him away and turned over. I didn't feel upset by this but avoided him and thought he must be gay.

During my training in Psychology the DSM labled homosexuaslity as a "condition" for thetapy. I don't cemember much discussion of this. Later, as I was counseling a gay man, I felt quite inadequate. He was trying to live with his gayness in a prejudiced wocld. I didn't help him much.

When we moved to Goshen IN in 1969, divorce was the hot issue at the College Mennonite Church where we attended. We volunteeced to be part of a group to bring a recommendation to the church about church membership being requested by the couple. He was a member of the congregation, divocced, and wanted to remarry an unwed woman who was younger than he by about 10 years. He, his children, and his parents wece members of the congregation, and his father a professor at the college.

We met regularly with this couple for about a year, and finally supported their membership. The hue and cry and emotional arguments were intense, prejudiced and full of fear and ignocance (as we saw it). As I recall, several people left the congregation in protest.

The homosexuality prejudice and emotional tone today is quite similar to that divorce scene 30-40 years ago. Similar biblical, theological, psychological and judgemental efforts wece exerted then as now. Similar fears and lack of information seemingly existed at the divorce debate then and the homosexuality debate today.

GERRY:

As I look back on my 70+ years I began by thinking I hadn't had many experiences with homosexuality. But one recall brought back another and that brought back another. My parents were mission workers and one of the "workers", married with childcen, was "different'. He was my S.S. teacher, was gentle, an able musician, enjoyed doing needlework. I liked him. The family moved after some years to another town where he was pastor, then on to another, and then still another. I asked my Dad what was going on and he mostly said, "Well, I guess he didn't 'fit in'." Period.

In high school there was a young girl who also did not "fit in". I didn't understand why she changed roomates several times in one year. Years later I learned she was married but only briefly. Never did I know, or even speculate, what might have been her situation. In Nurse Training we had no teaching about homosexuality, nor about heterosexuality for that matter. I can't remember any situations concerned with homosexuality.

As an adult it was different. Several of my good friends had children who were gay or lesbian. I visited the daughter of a good friend who had had surgery, and my friend was there. Her daughter was asleep at the time and this mother, my good friend, confided that she thought her daughter was lesbian. They were concerned and confused. I had no counsel but did appreciate profoundly my friend's trust. We are good friends to this day, including her daughter, who does quite well and has an adopted daughter.

Another very good friend had a gay son, a talented artist, a vivacious young man, outspoken, sometimes obnoxious, also very loveable. We, our whole family, loved him. His parents stuck with him, suffered through his many disappointments, and now share happily his success as an artist.

We were not part of a support group at AMC that surrounded Fern and Verne Glick when their son Carson was ill and then died of AIDS. We did feel involved however and had several occasions to converse with persons in our congregation who were having real sturggles with Carson's situation.

Then there was John. I only enumerate the above because it is pathetic that I was so ignorant and unseeing about what was going on all around me. This is not the only issue I was ignorant of! They go on and on. But I want to spend my remaining years and energy combating the same kind of ignorance, doing what I can, in my "own small corner".

SUMMARY:

We view the Mennonite Church scene about homosexualiity as a combination of our traditional posture of a closed community, and fear and ignorance of homosexuality. The fear seems to focus on the assumption that the church is to be "pure" so God will accept us into Heaven and not send us to Hell. The ignorance relates to lack of knowledge about the evolution of marriage from savagery, to slavery, to multiple wives and concubines. This evolution continues to the current one woman/one man basis, still focused on procreation, to future marriages based on spirituality. This knowledge and comfort will come in the future, but after much prejudice and pain to the innocent. It seems preposterous to claim to be a Peace Church when we make such unjust war against minorities within our own membership.