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I like living in a country where equality wins the fight over misguided religion.

Monday, 27 July 2015 Written by // Felix Garmendia Categories // Activism, Felix Garmendia, Gay Men, Current Affairs, International , Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific

New Yorker Felix Garmendia on the recent Supreme Court decision that legalizes same sex marriagee in the United States - and on how he deals with naysayers

I like living in a country where equality wins the fight over misguided religion.

In light of the historic decision of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding marriage equality, I have found myself tangled up in a serious conundrum.

My initial reaction was one of absolute pride and a very deep sense of accomplishment. I was walking on clouds, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.

I have been a gay activist since I came out of the closet in 1982. I comprehended the importance of fighting for my civil rights and I identified in myself the need to join those soldiers of justice and equality. Since those days I have been advocating for LGBT rights passionately.

In order to achieve the highest goal possible in this existence regarding my passionate feelings for the fight against LGBT discrimination, I had to make serious changes in my life. I’m sure some of you will be able to relate to these choices I made. I was a Christian, to be exact a Roman Catholic, like most people from my native Puerto Rico. One day on a prayer circle with my eyes closed, as it was customary, I started to listen to testimony from a very tortured young man. He was sobbing, so intensely that it was difficult to understand his prayer. I remember perfectly what his struggle was about. He was terrified and broken in fear by his conflict between being attracted to men and being a Christian.

He started to beg God to heal him from his homosexuality, to make him stop liking men and to place the “right woman” in his path which whom he could build a loving “God fearing family”. Those words stayed in my head. I thought about them all night and after a lot of personal examination, I decided I DID NOT ever want to be that young man. 

In those days, I was already doubting the existence of a god. However, I was more of an agnostic back then, so I left the church. By giving God the benefit of the doubt, I came to the conclusion that I was not sick and I needed no healing or the “perfect” god fearing loving straight family. I believed I was born gay, that my sexuality was a gift and that somewhere in my future, I was going to find the man that would heal all of my sadness and fix my broken past. That man was somewhere out there and I remember in my lonely moments while I was laying on the green grass at night, I was consoling myself thinking that the man I will love and I were probably looking at the same star.

Returning back to the conundrum caused by the joyous decision of marriage equality in USA, I would have to identify my struggle as one between self love versus. tolerance. I spend most of my day on Facebook. I’m connected to over 500 people, and most of them are very supportive liberal minds that were elated with the legalization of love in USA.

Others, mostly for religious reasons, were very upset and regurgitating Bible verses left and right that we all have heard a zillion times. Those were easy to erase by clicking “Blocked”... I don’t have time for bigotry wrapped in prayer at this point in my life.

If you appeared on my wall predicating hate and disrespect for people like me, I have no other option but to get rid of you, because I respect and love myself too much to let anybody castigate me with their negativity and lack of love.

I will not be tolerated, I will be respected.

There is another group of friends, those who remained silent, maybe because they disagreed with the new law and in a way they were avoiding the subject out of respect. My first reaction was one of being betrayed by those I thought would identify with my happiness vs. those that distanced themselves and never acknowledged that finally, my people were granted civil rights that society owed us for quite a long time. Should I stop talking to them? After all, I do believe in my heart that if you want to deny me the right to love as freely as you can, that by itself, would be enough reason to terminate our relationship.

Then I started thinking about tolerance, and I realized that even though these negative people were messing with my most precious crusade, the fight for civil rights, I should use tolerance to resolve this issue I was facing. But how? To which point can I use tolerance without forgetting that the lack of understanding from these people is indeed enough reason to send them to” hell”... What about respect? Respect for me? Respect for them? Where can I meet in the middle in order to save some of these friendships, some of them from high school? Is it possible to convince myself that at least they are choosing “respect” instead of spreading hate?

There were so many questions so I went out to clear my mind and think about this whole situation.

On our way home we ran into Liz. Liz is a fascinating character; she’s a highly intelligent, lesbian episcopal priest. She was talking about one of her new books that was going to be published very soon. One conversation turned into another and I ended up asking her opinion about my situation.

I told her that as an atheist, I valued very much some of these Christian/atheist relationships that I have developed with some of these people who remained silent and never acknowledged my happiness about the marriage equality ruling in USA. She was full of insight, very smart, compassionate but had clear points of view regarding my issue. I listened carefully, came home, and here I am sharing with all of you my very personal conclusion.

After thinking about it very carefully, I realized that like the god I used to believe in, these people were never going to be the closest of friends, but they were teaching me a lesson. Once again I saw myself in that prayer circle mentioned at the beginning of this piece and it was my time to talk.

I realized that these people were my opposites in many ways. I wanted to love freely just like their god asked them to do, but they weren’t willing to give me that freedom. They were using their god against me and my people and I definitely didn’t want to be like them either, just like that confused young guy that was begging for healing about his homosexuality. I was clear once again and made the decision to understand that maybe in their very stuck ways, these people were showing me a path of light that led to the centre of my happiness, to my reason to exist. They were reminding me of all the murdered victims of hate, the suicides of adolescents because their parents rejected their sexual identity, the uncountable lives lost to AIDS and the lack of empathy of the government, the sour lives damaged forever for the lack of love. The ridicule, the hate, the tears and the pain we, the LGBT community, have endured to get here.

Yes my friends, I know exactly where to place you in my life, right on that tall shelf where things remain in their place but ignored, untouched and full of dust.