The first time I remember a painful awareness of being different was when my parents divorced. I was 9 years old, in a small, southern town. None of my friends had divorced parents. In my young mind, everyone had picture-perfect-Norman-Rockwell families…except for me. I was different. My Mom and Dad didn't live together anymore. Matter of fact, they "liked" other people. They couldn't both attend my birthday party when I turned 10, which was the biggest deal because turning double digits meant something. I went to great lengths to hide the details of this difference to my friends. I lied about why my Dad wasn't seen around the neighborhood anymore. I lied about why this other guy in a white corvette was being seen more and more at our house. I lied to delay the inevitable day that my being different became common knowledge. I didn't want them to think less of me. I didn't want to suffer the ridicule. I prayed on my knees, every night for years, that my family would become whole again. In part because I loved them. And in all honesty, in part because I wanted to not be different anymore.
Can't we all remember some moment, some set of circumstances, where we felt different and how painful it was? And can't that simple relatable experience be enough to open our hearts to every other ostracized soul in this world? Although I am not LGBTQ, my heart is broken wide open with compassion and outrage for what they have to deal with by being considered different in our society. We make different, very, very hard. We ridicule it. We demean it. We do everything we can to delegitimize it. We quote scripture as proof that the different will go to hell. We are simply not kind to different.
Perhaps the pinnacle of my 9 year old different came when a "friend" taunted me with it in front of a group. She had just found out my shameful secret. And with all the gleeful cruelty that kids can muster she stood up and sing-songed to everyone "Which one of these things is not like the other?!" I can still feel the heat in my cheeks and the desperate, adrenaline-fueled prayer I sent up of "Please, please, don't let her say it."
She did say it. And I survived it. I lived another day to feel similar pains of being different on many more occasions. But most of those situations were of my own making. They existed largely, if not entirely, in my head and nowhere else. I cannot even imagine the torture of having my different debated and delegitimized in the media, in the courtroom and from behind the pulpit.
As I attend HB2 protests in Raleigh and see the bigoted signage and hear the hateful rhetoric, I marvel at anyone brave enough to stand up to that and fully be themselves in this world. Not just for a few months or years when you are 9, but every day forever. I'll never feel what it feels like to be LGBTQ, but I don't have to. Because I know what it feels like to be human and that's enough. I don’t have to feel what someone else feels to respect, honor and fight for their right to fully live it.