It all started with a bit of dorm-raiding. For those who didn’t spend their teen years at boarding school, dorm-raiding is a silly school-boy game played after lights out when one dormitory raids another, trying to claim as many pillows and duvets as possible. There was one occasion when we were raiding another dorm and one boy, trying to defend his bedclothes shouted out ‘Get off my bed, Porter, you queer’ or something like that. At that moment a prefect came in and the game was over. We were all sent back to our bunks and our dorm got suitably punished. It had all been a bit of school-boy fun.
Next morning a few folk from the year above began to tease me with phrases like, ‘Hey Porter, we hear you like to get into bed with other boys’. I brushed it off thinking nothing of it, but then it began to escalate. Not just amongst some of the lads in my house, but across the school. And for a number of months lots of people – including some I didn’t know – would walk passed me calling me ‘homosexual’, ‘gay boy’, ‘bender’ and worse. There were even occasions when people would name-call me from across the street.
This was the early 1980’s in an all-boys public school. There wasn’t a lot that could be done really and so I’d smile and put a brave face on it, but of course it really hurt. It felt so unfair. It felt like persecution.
In the end it died down and went away, but I’ll never forget it. In fact this episode caused me to ask lots of questions. As I went through those confusing days of adolescence trying to work out my own identity it made me ask whether everyone was right: was I homosexual? It also helped me think through what it must be like to be genuinely gay and for this kind of thing to happen. Because even if the accusations were true, they’d still be unfair. It would still be persecution. It would still be unkind and wrong. And so I came to sympathise with the plight of so many gay and lesbian people who’ve suffered from cruel jokes, heartless name-calling and sadistic persecution.
This is one reason why I’m vehemently anti-homophobic. I won’t stand for it. On the odd occasion my kids have come home with an anti-gay joke from school I’ve been very clear there’s no place for that in our house. And usually it’s opened up a conversation about sexuality – gay and straight. Sam and I have tried to be as open as we can about these things with our boys, recognising that they pick up all sorts of mixed messages from school and they need guidance.
So before I even open a bible and try to uncover what the word of God says about sexuality and homosexuality, I come with much sympathy for the gay community. I know a little bit of what it’s like to be persecuted for being gay. It’s unkind, unfair and unacceptable. No-one should have to go through that kind of thing.
As a starting point in the emotive area of sexuality, followers of Jesus must speak kindly of all people, especially those who are gay. There’s no place for homophobia.