first person

The Bus Stops Here: Driver Tells Teen His Gay Dads Will Go To Hell

IC_BE_First_Student_L50My husband and I live with our twin sons in rural New Jersey — the garden of the Garden State. We moved there shortly after we adopted them in 2001.  We don’t live in the mythic “gay community.” We live in a community. A fully integrated community. We attend the kids’ sporting events, drive the kids to and from basically everywhere a teenager would need to go (indeed the ol’ “sometimes I feel like I’m running a car service” applies). I’ve even ascended through the cutthroat ranks to become president of the PTA. Along the way, my husband and I have needed to constantly educate other non-LGBT people around us about our family, and we are happy to do it — to better the lives of our children.

We may not be throwing bottles and bricks in a bar in Greenwich Village, but we are on our own front line advocating for change right here, in suburban America.  Simple, small battles, year after year, like meeting with the superintendent ensuring all school forms from our district read “Parent and Parent” and not “Mother and Father.” Teaching that we should say “Class Parent” instead of “Class Mom” (which we’ve learned can be equally as offensive to women in a “women belong in the kitchen” kind of way). We constantly take pause before introducing each other as “husband.” How will it be received by our neighbors? — Always the ten-second feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as we “educate” and “integrate” our family into the community around us.

gay-family2Just this week our 15-year-old son’s bus driver was listening to her “Christian” radio station while driving the school bus, giving him religious propaganda — in the form of a comic book — with Jesus as Superman and the rest of us poor citizens of Gotham living a dark dreary life until we accept the Man of Steel as our Lord and savior.  Why has she taken it upon herself to volunteer this information? He already subscribes to all the teenage angst: attempting to fit in, questioning his parents’ beliefs and doubting his self confidence. As my son listened to the religious Sermon on the Mount…or rather the Sermon on the Bus, he discussed with the driver that he had two fathers. She imparted her wisdom unto him; she doesn’t have a problem with homosexuals, but “they are not blessed, and they will go to hell.”

So now it’s bus drivers who get to decide who goes through the pearly gates and who burns in a fiery doomed eternity?

I always find it helpful to apply the little substitution litmus test. Sub in “African-American,” “Jewish people,” or even “Bus Drivers”: “I don’t have a problem with the Bus Drivers, but they are not blessed, and they will go to hell!”

So again — I had to “rouse rabble,” teach and advocate for change. Our son’s bus driver has been swapped out, and she was given a slap on the wrist.  The very kind and helpful woman from the bus company told us, “She is not to listen to religious programming on the bus, discuss her religious views or talk about people’s lifestyle.” 

Lifestyle?

Next battle: Umm, It’s not a “lifestyle.” It’s not some choice like jetting off to Napa (maybe we have), baking like Martha Stewart (possibly we do) or keeping a regular yoga practice (definitely guilty).  But I’ll save that “opportunity to teach” for next week.

I am a lapsed damaged Catholic. I was raised Catholic:  Sunday School, Stations of the Cross, altar boy.  At 14, when I mentioned to my pastor that I was having certain strong feelings (it was way more than feelings, but I only told him it was “feelings”) about men, he told me not to worry. “You’re just starting high school. This can be normal at this age.  If you were starting college, then we might consider it a problem.”  Dear Father Herhenreader, it’s 30 years later, and I’ve still got what you would call a “problem.”

So, all my seasoned Catholic angst was twirling in my head when last week Santa Claus came to town in the form of Pope Santa Francisco. All through Pope week, with all of the good will he earned, I kept thinking — “but what about the church’s views on gays?” Then I was wooed. I let the pope woo me. I let him in. Wooed by the Fiat. Wooed by the words on climate change. Wooed by the English (it’s not his first language, you know?). It was a positive Pope week. I even found myself saying out loud that he was the best thing to ever happen to the Catholic church — and he may indeed be.

popeBut then came the news of the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis.  Then came the news that the Pope didn’t know who Kim Davis was. Then came the news that the Pope may or may not have known it was Kim Davis, in the library with the candlestick. The meeting might seem like a small issue to many.  To me it is not. At all.  Pope Francis was so incredibly politically savvy with all of his other choices on this trip. Every move he made was to send a particular, specific message — whether it was defending immigration, helping the poor, or compassion for prisoners.

I have seen friends online celebrating the fact that the church said just because the Pope met with Kim Davis, does not mean he endorses her viewpoint. It’s all incidental. The damage is done. He met with her.  Whether for a minute or an hour, private meeting or in a receiving line. Whether he said “be strong” or “Who are you?,” shook her hand or canonized her, he met with her and that simple action implicates him and those he chooses to surround himself with.  It was a homophobic act that emboldens people like Kim Davis and paves the way for more to discriminate — like my son’s bus driver!  What’s a more powerful way to fuel someone’s fire to discriminate then to make them believe they have God on their side?

No matter how much the church tries to distance themselves from this event, it actually begins to get ridiculous. How much homophobia are we willing to accept from the Pope and his church? What percentage is acceptable? How’s about none? None-percent? None is acceptable. Let’s start there.

LGBT people and our families cannot allow the Catholic church to willingly escort us to the back of the bus as second-class citizens. “Love the sinner, but not the sin” is not even a little bit acceptable. It also makes it difficult for me to make the kids clean up their rooms when the Catholic church is telling them they won’t see me in the afterlife.

And to anyone — whether a Pope, bus driver, butcher, baker or candlestick maker — who wants to begin a conversation where I or my family are second class citizens, My inner Dad voice says “go fuck yourself,” then I remember: this is an “opportunity to teach” right here. Pull this bus over.