I slept with a gay man for six months in Afghanistan.So begins A Marine silent no longer on gay marriage, a Washington Post op ed by Roger Dean Huffstetler, a former Marine Corps sergeant, who is also a serious Southern Baptist.
No one asked. He did not tell.
He talks about TWO men who he thought he knew well who are gay, a fellow Marine Sergeant and a childhood friend.
Of the first, Sergeant Santiago, he writes
I believed I knew the men in my B-hut better than I knew most of my friends at home, yet the man sleeping next door had a secret he dared not reveal for fear of being removed from active duty. It never crossed my mind that he was gay — or that I could have done so much more to be his friend.And of the second, he offers this in the next 2 paragraphs:
Even as a kid, Andy was exceptionally affable, the kind of person who could talk to a trash can. He never met a stranger, and he unfailingly seemed to know where he was going. Andy was surrounded by a close group of friends, always together, always laughing. It’s fair to say everyone enjoyed being around him.I am going to push fair use a bit - please follow me beneath the cheese doodle.
In our teens, Andy and I would go on mission trips around the country, helping to clean or build homes, with a little vacation Bible school on the side. Perhaps Andy knew then that he was gay — it seems likely — but he flirted with girls, same as the rest of us. If he did know, he kept it to himself, and I lived in ignorance about it.
No, I never gay-bashed. I didn’t bully, I didn’t hate, I didn’t torment.Reading those words reminded me of these by Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
But I did say “fag” to a fellow Marine in front of Sgt. Santiago. I did stay seated in the pew when my minister challenged, “Don’t let anyone tell you that this church is soft on homosexuality.” Silence is a most powerful consent.
They also reminded me of these by Martin Luther King Jr.: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter
Hyffstetler writes that he had imagined had he lived in the time of the Civil Rights movement he would have been the exceptional White Southerner who would have spoken out, that he would have taken action, even it if put himself at risk.
But I didn’t do those things. I watched the fight right in front of me without question, inactive and accepting — just like the generations before me.By now you are getting a sense of why I consider this op ed so powerful.
Well, no longer.
He writes about how he sought out both men to apologize. You will want to read that. In his penultimate paragraph he points out
We don’t need to look backward for a chance to stand up for principles. Life isn’t about always being right — I was wrong for a long time — but about learning from mistakes and making amends. So I started with those conversations and writing about the effect these two men had on me, about how someone raised a Southern Baptist can love everyone equally and can advocate marriage equality.I remind people of three notable former Southern Baptists who have spoken out on issues like these - their names are Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
We all may hesitate to do the right thing.
We can always make amends.
We can, as Huffstetler opines,
Write. Speak out. Find the Andys and Sgt. Santiagos in your life and make amends.This is an issue that those here understand.
There are enough in this community for whom this is very personal, even if they themselves are "straight," because it affects those for whom they care deeply. I count myself among them.
Which is why I will end with the final words of the op ed, offered in bold:
There is still time to be on the right side of history.