COLUMN: Michael Hand- It’s OK to be gay

I WAS speaking with a young man in his twenties recently who is gay and could not accept it; in fact, he said that he hated being gay and regrets that he is not heterosexual.
This was not an isolated incident. I have come across quite a few gay people who struggle to accept their sexuality, yet I have never come across a heterosexual person with the same problem. It got me thinking about what kind of messages we send out that make people feel like this.
Despite all the progress made in recent years, with gay marriage and equal rights for people who are LGBTQ, I think that we still have a long way to go before they will feel fully accepted in our society.
When I was a teenager one of the worst things you could be called was ‘queer’. Guys who were any way different or effeminate were sneered at and looked down upon. I was guilty of this kind of attitude myself as I had to show that I wasn’t soft or I could be picked on.
When I was in the seminary there was a large number of effeminate students studying for the priesthood, perhaps it was a safe place to hide their sexuality. I certainly kept my distance from them and was guilty of making jokes about them, which I’m ashamed of now.
Then in my late twenties, a good friend of mine who was a priest told me that he was gay. He shared with me in detail his painful journey.
He had denied his sexuality for years and with a lot of help, while studying in America, he had come to accept his sexuality. He asked me could we still be friends? That gave me a different perspective, having listened to his story, I saw the person and not the label. He was still the same person that I had known and liked for years, except that I admired him even more now that he had been so open and shared his journey in such an honest way. After that encounter my whole attitude towards gay people changed.
I am convinced most Christian churches have played a large role in the negative attitudes that exist towards homosexuality.
Jesus never mentioned homosexuality in his teachings, in fact, a core value in his teachings is being non-judgmental and accepting people as they are. There is no mention of it in the New Testament, yet down through the centuries all churches have condemned homosexuality as evil. While some Christian denominations may have softened their attitude in recent times, they have not fully embraced it on totally equal terms as heterosexuality.
Being gay invariably brings a lot more challenges and pain than being straight so why would anyone choose to be gay if they were not created that way?
Those churches who believe that God is the creator of the world and all that is in it are in denial of God’s creation when they reject part of his creation. Do they believe that God makes mistakes?
I firmly believe that in time to come, the Church will come to realise that they have made a big mistake in this regard as in other areas and they will come to embrace people who are LGBTQ as equal to everyone else in God’s creation.
But that will be too late for a lot of people and untold damage has been done by their teaching on this subject.
Thirty years ago, when gay marriage was not conceivable in Ireland, a man in his 50s that I knew from Amsterdam was getting married to a much younger man in his 30s. The older man’s mother, who was quite a traditional Dutch lady in her 80s, was a little concerned about the wedding, because of the age difference!
The fact that he was marrying another man was of no concern to her. I admired her attitude at the time and her open spirit was a blessing because a few years later when her son took a heart attack and died, it was her son’s gay friends who cared for her in her final days. I remember thinking at the time that we have a long way to go before Irish mothers would think like that.
We have come a long way in the past 30 years in embracing people who are LGBTQ and most parents are very accepting of their children, whatever their sexual orientation.
Despite that progress, it is still not easy to come out as gay, especially in rural communities. I think we have work to do before LGBTQ people can feel fully accepted for who they are. We need to educate our children about homosexuality, as untold damage occurs at a very young age by cruel comments made by children in the schoolyard. It is important to encourage difference and to embrace the great rainbow of God’s creation so that in the future nobody will be uncomfortable with their sexuality whatever shape it takes.

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