Small minds can't grasp gays' role as Big Brothers

August 21, 2002|By Steve Friess

LAS VEGAS -- I walked into the Big Brothers Big Sisters office for the first time in 1996 and came right out with it.

"I'm gay," I told the caseworker assigned to interview me. "If that's going to be a problem, let me know now and we can save everybody a lot of wasted time."

Kelly Stidham blinked twice, laughed once, told me to have a seat.

"It's not a problem for us if it's not a problem for you," she said.

That end- ed up costing my Little Brother and me a lot of time. Wonderful time. Time swimming. And riding roller coasters. And eating salty french fries. And watching movies. And telling stupid jokes. And playing catch. And talking on the phone. And washing cars. And celebrating birthdays.

Insidious, evil stuff, all of it. Or, that's what a group of gay-baiting bigots want you to believe.

This month, Focus on the Family launched an all-out attack on local chapters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for allowing homosexuals to serve as mentors to fatherless boys and motherless girls. Chapters from Arizona to Philadelphia have received hundreds of calls and e-mails in protest.

Mind you, most BBBS chapters have been doing this for a quarter-century. This is not news, no matter how breathlessly these alleged Christians insist that Rome just started to burn. But now the national organization recently reaffirmed its own policy of not discriminating in picking volunteers, so the religious right sees its opportunity to butt in.

In doing so, they've trotted out old canards about gay men having a propensity toward recruitment and child molestation, pointing to the Catholic priest pedophile scandal as proof.

Funny how with little girl kidnappings all the rage in the news these days, these same people haven't thrashed all straight men for their obviously uncontrollable compulsion to snatch children off their front lawns and mutilate them.

Big Bro- thers Big Sisters of America has always been hyper-aware of the potential for a molestation case to devastate a child and humiliate the whole organization. They're matching adult strangers with someone else's children; caution is key.

That's why they run their mentors through a battery that includes an exhaustive personal background check. You must sit for a lengthy and probing psychological examination, permit a caseworker to determine whether your home is a suitable environment for children and put up with an intense interview in which they quiz you about everything from your sexual experience to your views on parenting and discipline. The Vatican should take notes.

In the end, my partner Jim and I were each matched with a 6-year-old boy who is now nearly 12. Their mothers were told in advance that we are gay and given the right to reject us as matches if they wished. Considering there were 200 boys waiting for mentors, these mothers were simply grateful for the offer of our time.

My Little Brother's biological father lives nearby, but sees him once or twice a year. He flits in and out of this child's life capriciously, routinely disappointing him and constantly giving rise to torturous self-doubt in a boy who must ponder what he did wrong.

From me, this child sees an adult male who consistently and unfailingly loves him, is in constant contact and attends his school plays. He sees that responsible men honor their commitments, work hard to pay the bills, keep clean homes, run errands and know right from wrong with a certainty that provides him both structure and comfort. Dare I say it, too, that as a child of divorce it has even been good for him to observe my healthy adult marriage.

I've never had a conversation about being gay with my Little Brother. His mother and grandmother must have explained it to him, or perhaps he came to understand it because he spent lots of time with Jim and Jim's Little Brother. I do remember my Little Brother once remarking that he's lucky because he got two Big Brothers.

But the Focus on the Family folks aren't really scared that I'll molest my Little Brother. They don't even know us, and they'd likely refuse to spend an afternoon with us even if we offered them the chance.

No, what they fear is that we'll show, by example, that gay people are normal, caring, contributing members of the community who live in stable relationships and fulfill their civic and personal duties. They're afraid these children will grow up tolerant or, in the sneering parlance of bigotry, that they will "come to believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle." What they miss is that Jim and I don't need to "advocate" for acceptance; our behavior earns it.

They also miss the glaring truth that straight men, not gays, cause far more destruction and instability in our culture. If those who breed would take responsibility for their progeny, there wouldn't be any need for Big Brothers in the first place.

Steve Friess is a free-lance journalist based in Las Vegas.

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