A child of Anchorage Baptist Temple says: Vote for the children — Yes on 5
by RJ Haywood
RJ Haywood was raised in the Anchorage Baptist Temple, where he once underwent their attempt to exorcise “the demon of homosexuality” from him. He survived and now lives happily as a gay man in Anchorage, with a message for Anchorage voters: Yes on 5.
RJ was previously interviewed in-depth about growing up in the Anchorage Baptist Temple in the April 2010 issue of Identity’s NorthView; you can also read the interview “Breaking Free from ABT: One Man’s Journey” on Bent Alaska.
I am a 32 year old gay man who lives in Anchorage Alaska. It took many years for me to come out of the closet. I told my mother when I was 13. To this day I am so thankful that her response was a positive one. It was probably one of the only things that gave me the courage to continue on despite every obstacle that I faced growing up.
I was raised by my father and step-mother in a very religious home. We were in church every time the doors were open. I was also home schooled. I was raised in Talkeetna until I was eleven so my social peer group was very small.
My family moved to Anchorage in 1991 and joined the Anchorage Baptist Temple. As we always did, my family threw themselves into involvement with the church: Sunday school, two services on Sunday, Tuesday visitation, Wednesday night service, Thursday Bible study, Awana’s, Open gym and more. My father and step-mother taught Sunday school, drove the bus to church on Sundays, volunteered and gave service in the church whenever they could. They were leaders in basically every facet of church life that they could be. My siblings and I attended Anchorage Christian Schools which meant that, besides sleeping I was actually in the church more than I was at home most days.
From the time I can remember I always knew that I was different than my brothers. I always had more in common with my sister in the things that we enjoyed. My step-mother explained that it was only because I was left-handed. I always knew that it was more but because of the way that I was raised the possibility that I was gay had never occurred to me. This all changed due to one sermon that Dr. Prevo delivered one Sunday night.
I actually remember it quite clearly. I was sitting in the pew like every service. Dr. Prevo had decided to do a sermon that night on the evils of homosexuality and what good Christians need to do to guard themselves against the tricks and recruiting techniques of gay people. For the first time in my life what a gay person was clicked in my head. I knew that it was the reason that I was different. I knew that it was the reason the affection that I felt towards my male friends was different than they way they interacted with each other.
Over the next couple months several things started happening. The messages of hate and intolerance that were constant against gay people started weighing heavy on me. I realized that the messages against gay people were against me. I had been taught my entire life that homosexuals and sodomites were perverse and terrible people. The way that the church always spoke about gay people started to affect me negatively. I didn’t want to go to church anymore. I did not want to go to a Christian school. My entire life basically consisted of being surrounded by people who thought I was evil. Anchorage Baptist Temple began to poison my soul.
I had a hard time dealing with myself. My morals told me that pedophilia, and drugs, and promiscuity were all bad things, but I had been told my entire life that these were things that went hand in hand with being a homosexual. I didn’t want to accept the fact that to be who I truly was I would have to a bad person. I became suicidal. I left my family home and spent some time at Covenant House. I eventually returned to my father’s home.[caption id="attachment_7169" align="alignleft" width="318" caption="RJ writes: "This the man that I grew up learning from. Luckily I learned early on from other people in the community that is was ok to love myself and not listen to this rhetoric, but occasionally we need to be reminded of the disgusting things he says. Yes, they make you angry, but use that anger to become motivated, become involved, be open about who you are and what you support. We have been silent for too long." Poster by Glenn Harvey; used with permission."][/caption]
It all came to a boiling point when I was 13 years old. I started to act out both at home and at school. My father and his wife say that they had no idea what was going on with me. I am sure they were confused. I had told them that I refused to go to church and I refused to go back to that school. This ended up with my father locking me in a room and I proceeded to kick down the door. I was arrested for Malicious Destruction of Property and was placed into state custody. I spent some time in Covenant House and Laurel Shelter.
It was around this time on a visit with my mother that I came out to her. She said she had always known and loved me anyway. I spent the next few years in foster homes and bouncing around between homes. I tried when I was 19 to regain a relationship with my father. At this time my stepmother took me back to Anchorage Baptist Temple for a session of Deliverance, which when broken down is an exorcism to try and remove the demon of homosexuality within me. It was also around this time that I started to gain a very strong gay support group that helped me free myself from my father and encouraged me to avoid dealing with his church at all costs. I learned that unlike what I was taught by Dr. Prevo, the gay community was caring and loving and gracious and supportive. In fact, the lust-filled, child-hurting monsters that I had been taught led the community did not exist. It was simply a group of people who helped each other and the community through fundraisers,and family dinners, and kindness.
Since then I have been incredibly involved within the gay community in Anchorage through politics and fundraising. I work in a gay bar and I am lucky enough to have a support system around me that cares for me and supports who I am. I have worked in situations where I have been discriminated against by heterosexual employers because of my sexual orientation. Thankfully, I am blessed enough to be in situations where it no longer happens to me, but this doesn’t mean it does not happen. It happens to those I know.
The point of my letter is this. My mother always knew that I was gay. If you ask her she will tell you that she suspected when I was three. I believe my father and step-mother also knew very early. They knew when I was young. They had odd conversations with me. They had fear written on their faces whenever I wanted to do anything that was perceived effeminate or not explicitly masculine was obvious.
So to vote yes on Prop. 5 has a completely different meaning for me. I think of the children who are growing up in this city right now; who are becoming teenagers and young adults. The dialogue in this city is very anti-gay. They hear the words of ministers and city leaders telling lies about what it is to be gay or transgendered. I think of myself and how much healthier and safer it would have been to live within a city that I knew at least considered me to be an equal citizen.
That is what Proposition 5 means to me.
Voting yes tells all of those out there who were born this way this:
- You are valid
- You are an equal citizen, and
- if you can survive what you were raised in, you too can have a voice and be safe from discrimination.
My mom knew. Moms always know. Are you a mom? Are you conflicted about this vote because your son is gay? Are you related to someone who is gay or lesbian or transgender? You know what Dr. Prevo is saying is wrong. The bible commands us to love.
Vote yes on 5 for your son.
Vote yes 5 for your daughter.
Vote yes on 5 for your cousin.
Vote yes on 5 for your aunt or uncle.
Vote yes on 5 for your neighbor.
So Vote for the children, Vote for the future, Vote for Equality. Vote YES on 5.
Author’s note: This letter may be used in whole without consent. If any part of this letter is used without the complete transcript, and without the authors permission, permission is not granted. If, like Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Council, you can’t help yourself from twisting peoples words and breaking God’s commandment not bearing false witness, I can’t stop you.
Editor’s note: RJ wrote to us, “This was not easy to share, but my hope is that someone will read this and their heart will be changed to be more compassionate or care for those around them a little more. Please feel free to publish my email address in case someone out there needs someone to talk to.” RJ’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.