Zach Harrington, a 2009 graduate of Norman North High School, took his own life last month. The week before his death, the 19-year-old Zach attended a Norman City Council meeting featuring a three-hour debate over a proclamation to name October Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month.
Video of the Sept. 28 meeting is available on Norman’s website. Self-proclaimed Christians took to the microphone to elucidate their opposition to the proclamation. They spoke about morality and families, expressing fears that kindergartners will be shown photographs of sex acts. Some said they’d chosen to live in Norman because they felt it would be a place where the GLBT community wouldn’t be welcome.
It’s hard stuff to watch. Or ” it should be, if you can put yourself in Zach’s shoes, sitting there listening to and internalizing it. Feeling that ” when someone said, “It’s a sad day when people turn their back on what
they know is right,” ” they were talking about him.
Are the people who voiced opposition to the proclamation at that meeting responsible for Zach’s death? No, of course not, but they missed an opportunity to treat him the way Jesus would’ve. They weren’t practicing Jesus’ Golden Rule, elucidated in Matthew 7:12.
I can’t speak for Zach; nobody can. I can only speak for myself. I was bullied as a kid. From kindergarten on, I was called every name in the book, including “faggot.” I was beaten up and threatened. Much of this came from Christians. It took my entire adolescence to realize that their feelings toward me were not God’s.
I fell in love with Jesus at 17; about the time I was coming to the inescapable conclusion that I was gay. For years, I wrestled with despair. For entire days, I would shut myself in my room and pray against my desire. I went to counseling. I did missions. Like Jacob, I battled with God.
When God did heal me, it wasn’t of homosexuality ” it was of fear. I came out of the closet because the Holy Spirit led me out. Coming out for me was turning toward what I knew was right ” not away.
Listening to the Norman City Council meeting, you hear all the old tropes ” homosexual recruitment, morality, family values. They strain the microphone with their vehemence. But you don’t hear the Gospel. No one said, for instance, “I don’t think the Bible condones homosexual behavior, but I do think the Bible says that God loves us all.”
I didn’t hear that. Neither did Zach.
I created a happy and well-adjusted life for myself. I have a husband, a family and friends who love me so much I sometimes wonder if they’re being paid. I’m OK, being me. It makes some of my evangelical friends run for their cute little lives.
Zach doesn’t get to have that. I don’t know if he’d still be alive if someone at that meeting had shown him some of the grace Christians believe in. I do know that almost no one took the opportunity to do so.
It’s too late for Zach. But it’s not too late for everyone. So if you’re a gay kid, please know that it does get better. There are people out there who will love you no matter what. You don’t have to hurt yourself. God doesn’t hate you. It gets better.
Gunter holds a degree in religion from Wake Forest University. You may follow the metro-based writer on Twitter at @okaycitynate.