Editor's note: Jesse Klug is a sophomore soccer player at Division I Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
By Jesse Klug
An open letter to those who disapprove of homosexuality:
I respect you. I respect your opinion, although it differs from mine. I have listened to, digested, and have decided to thoughtfully respond to your arguments. I truly hope you do the same. If you choose to read this, proceed to think critically, and ultimately decide that you maintain your current opinion, I will respect that. Not everyone can agree, and I accept that as well. But I will try my absolute hardest to help you see homophobia through my perspective. I am simply attempting to write my personal opinion as plainly as I can, hoping that you can understand. I sincerely hope that this does not offend or insult anyone. As I write, I will use the word homophobia with no intention of hidden connotation. To me, it means the general opinion that does not approve of homosexuality. And I ask as earnestly as I can: please think critically. I beg that you do not simply disagree above the surface. Ask questions, dig deeper. Make sure of what you believe.
I feel compelled to write this letter with the intent of opening a dialogue. I am out to my team, family, friends, and now to you. I chose not to write the traditional “coming out story,” because although I certainly see the value of providing an emotional, personally supportive message, it does not actively target the larger problem. Being gay is still a divisive issue for many people. Too often I have been frustrated by seeing emotional and disdainful arguments that are completely useless and ultimately detrimental, because they only alienate and divide us further. Both parties usually listen simply to counter, rather than to understand, and no progress is made. It takes mutual courage, strength, and discipline, but we all must acknowledge that the only way forward is together. My hope is that this dialogue will allow both sides to understand the other, even if they do not agree.
Speaking from personal experience, almost all of the homophobia I have witnessed in our society is fueled by one simple notion -- being gay is a choice. As soon as this notion is dismantled, all angles on homophobia crumble. I am a gay man. I have always been gay. And I firmly believe I will always be gay. But I promise you, I tried not to be. We all have. We all tried to fight it, to convince ourselves that we weren’t. We tricked our friends and ourselves that we were straight until it was too much to bear. But then we realized that we are who we are, and that we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Society sometimes agrees, but it also often tells us otherwise.
I have heard of people talk about curing homosexuality. And of those who have claimed to have been "cured," they often discuss having the urges, but knowing how to resist them. That is not curing homosexuality. That is a gay man living a straight lifestyle. Sexual orientation is not defined by the behavior; it is defined by the desire. If, hypothetically, a heterosexual man were to be forced by society into a homosexual relationship, that man has not suddenly "turned" gay. He is still innately straight, with an internal sexual and emotional desire for the opposite sex. Nothing has changed, except for the fact that society now views that man as gay.
If you are straight, and someone sat you down and tried to turn you into a homosexual, could they? Do you think your sexual orientation could be changed? Or is it such a concrete part of your being that no matter what treatment they tried, you would still be attracted to the opposite sex? I firmly believe the latter.
When straight people are asked, "When did you choose to be straight?" they usually can’t answer. They say what we say: that it is just the way they are. Just like heterosexual people do not consciously decide to be straight, I did not choose to be gay. Why would I ever choose that? LGBT youth are more likely than their straight counterparts to be bullied, harassed, and kicked out of their homes. They are the highest at-risk population for suicide. So to those who believe it is a choice, I ask for an explanation as to why those children felt so trapped that they believed their only escape was to take their own life. No one chooses their sexual orientation. Search within yourself, and individually, you will most likely find that this is true.
A primary reason why LGBT youth are so troubled is because of harassment and the rampant incidence of gay slurs. Yes, I’ve heard them. And that is not specific to me being a gay man. We’ve all heard them: at school, at work, at home, with friends, online, everywhere. And at least for me, they sting. They are hateful words and phrases that are used to make a group of people feel inferior for something that they have no control over. And that is never OK. I will respect your opinion if you disapprove of homosexuality, but I will absolutely not respect you if you intentionally insult another human being or attempt to make them feel inferior if they have done nothing to hurt you. No matter what belief system you have, that remains the same. Treat others with love and respect.
Whether the slurs are intentionally discriminatory or absent-minded, it honestly doesn’t matter all that much. The end result is the same. I usually try to politely ask them not to say that, and people sometimes respond just as politely and say "sorry it slipped," or "it’s just habit, I didn’t mean anything by it". However, to me, those are just excuses. People often have a habit of using the term "that’s so retarded" as well, which is equally as degrading to that particular group of people. If you were in a situation where you were with a mentally disabled person, you would know not to say that. There is no difference. You control what you say, and therefore you should be held accountable for it. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to stop using gay slurs, or any slurs for that matter. When it comes to sexual orientation, there is no way to know who overhears whom, or whom you could be hurting. There is no need to degrade anyone. Build yourself up by building up the people around you. Once again, treat others with love.
Again, I ask you to think critically. To those who use religion to condemn homosexuality: blind faith is dangerous. Please do not simply accept what you hear. Question, educate yourself, criticize, and dive below the surface. I do not wish to criticize religion. But I do disagree with people who use religion to justify homophobia. I do not consider myself a Christian, but I do consider myself a moral and spiritual person.
The Bible states that homosexuality is an abomination. I agree. It does say it, black and white. And I will not criticize the Bible either; your faith is up to you. But look closely. The Bible also condemns divorce, round haircuts, tattoos, working on the Sabbath, wearing garments of mixed fabrics, eating pork or shellfish, getting your fortune told, and playing with the skin of a pig. It states that a marriage is only valid if the woman is a virgin, and she should be executed if she is not. It states that women should have their heads covered and that adulterers should be stoned to death. It states that slavery is natural state of being, and therefore that it is okay. It clearly says those things as well, black and white. So my question is: How do you choose which sections of the Bible to take literally, and which ones to overlook? The Bible is a book that can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. All I ask is that you actively interpret it. You decide for yourself what you believe.
Religion is organic. The specific practices and beliefs change with the time, but the core principles generally remain the same. And from my understanding, a core principle of Christianity is love. Yet somehow, the few passages that condemn homosexuality are viewed by some as more important than the fundamental principle of love. The Bible was written millenniums ago. Religion has been used to support segregation and slavery, because race was something that society did not completely understand. Now our society looks back at that history and feels shame, because we know they let prejudice guide their policies and religious beliefs. We now understand much more about sexual orientation, and I hope you can recognize that. We are who we are, and we love who we love. I do not see why there is anything wrong with that, and why we have laws that intentionally discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation should not be a defining characteristic of a person. It can certainly be important and should not be ignored, but it should not be overemphasized either. One perk of being an gay soccer player is that my teammates don’t really have the option to see me any differently. While being gay could have a larger impact on friends outside of the team (who aren’t by nature forced to spend copious amounts of time with me), most of the time I spend with my teammates is on the field. In that context, sexual orientation holds absolutely zero significance. My teammates view me as an athlete; as part of their team working towards the same goals. We struggle and succeed together. And although this might be specific to teams (athletic or otherwise), the notion doesn’t need to be. Being gay is part of who I am; it is not what I am. Too often we see people as their labels. Try see beyond that flat impression, to the parts of their being that truly define them. What are their interests, fears, worries, and hopes? What is their perspective? Recognizing everyone as an individual person worthy of love is a vital step in treating people equally and respectfully.
So I ask you one last time. Think about it. Try to listen to my perspective, digest what I have just written, and think critically about your own beliefs and values. What opinion forms after that is entirely up to you, and I will respect it. Just as I hope you can respect mine.
Lastly, I would like to extend a message of hope and motivation to those who are fighting in favor of equal rights and acceptance. Nothing happens overnight. I think we are all aware of that. But we must all remember that everyone, on all "sides" of this conversation, deserve to be treated with respect. Because calling people heartless bigots does not accomplish anything.
Forcing opinions on other people is remarkably unsuccessful. I think we are all aware of that. We must recognize that everyone is entitled to their own educated opinion, regardless of whether or not we agree with it. Arguments get nowhere unless both parties are willing to listen and respect one another. Conversations create change. Yelling at people for being hateful makes us just as bad as them. We often preach love but then hate those preaching hate. We must love our enemies like our friends because that gives us strength, and because it forces them to acknowledge us as equals.
We can’t demand respect unless we give it. And we can’t demand acceptance unless we manifest it in everything we do. Speak loudly but kindly. Give them no excuse not to listen.
With love and respect,
Jesse Klug, 19, is a sophomore (class of 2016) playing Division I soccer at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a major in the School of Management. "I came out to my team when I first arrived on campus, simply by saying that I had a boyfriend when they asked me if I was in a relationship. They reacted splendidly, and I have received an incredible amount of support from the team and from the program as a whole," he says. He is originally from Seattle and played on the Seattle Sounders FC Academy Team in high school. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.