It is My Joy to Introduce You to My Uncles
I got to know my uncle in my childhood when he would come to Pittsburgh from his home in California. He would arrive in the Fall with his friend, who my grandmother adored. Telling stories is an art form in my family so many October afternoons, year after year, were given to listening in as the adults swapped stories on my grandmother’s side porch or sitting room. My uncle and his friend would stay for some days before traveling in the East, enjoying the change of season. Nothing was said beyond how much my grandmother appreciated these opportunities to catch up with her oldest son and with his friend.
In college I began to connect the dots, putting together that my uncle was probably gay and his “friend” was his partner. Still, nothing was said, and this idea wasn’t something I could run by my family.
Then, in the mid-1990’s when I was middle aged, I was visiting with my aunt. She told me the story of her brother, my uncle: How his father had ridiculed him for being gay; How the family had twice sent him to a sanitarium in New England to be “cured” to no effect; How his effort to enlist in World War II had failed because he was gay; How a small inheritance allowed him to move to what, for this family, was the edge of the world, Southern California.
It was there that my uncle met his partner, years before I was born. They bought a house in 1955, which his partner still lives in to this day. My parents visited them a few times, but I did not go there until a few years ago. When I did, I came home with a large stack of family photographs, wedding pictures and framed Christmas card family pictures, saved over seven decades. My uncle’s partner still has the best recollection of family history of anyone in our senior generation. I am sure he heard about all these relatives over and over through the years.
My uncle grew up in a Presbyterian Church. He was a devout man but he did not go to church. Though the Crystal Cathedral was nearby, he was certain he would not be welcome and, sadly, he was probably right. So he would watch church on TV instead. His partner would slip in and out of Mass at the Catholic parish church, until he stopped doing that too. The church failed them both.
I confess to them and to the millions of LGBT people like them that we, the church, have sinned against you and against God who made you good.
My uncle suffered from what is common in my family: strokes. For most of the 1990’s he was bedridden. When his partner could no longer care for him at home, my uncle moved to a nursing home where his partner came to care for him and be with him every day. My uncle died at age 89 in 2000. He and his partner had been together 52 years.
I don’t share their names here today because I still am not sure they would associate themselves with being gay. I never talked with them about it. They were a couple committed to one another in a time where they faced severe stigma. And I know that they were for me the single most important thing to open my eyes to God’s full love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If truth is in order to goodness and the goodness of these men is proven by their fruits then they are good and worthy of full participation in the life of the church.
I am very grateful this perspective on God’s will for us was in place so early in my life.
If you say you do not know of any LGBT people, you can say it no more. It has been my joy to help you know a little about my uncles. And I encourage you to read through the great conversations I have been privileged to have with lovely LGBT Christians over the past two years. When we know LGBT people as Christ does, we will be with them as Christ is. And we will sin no more.