William: “I knew in first grade that I liked boys.”

William remembered exactly where he was when he realized he liked boys. It was a cool winter’s day in first grade, and he was tussling around near the heater with a girl and a boy classmate. “I remember rolling on the floor and I remember distinctly that I liked touching the boy better than I like touching the girl, and it was as clear as day,” he said. William said there was no attraction; he did not feel any shame or sense of identity, explaining, “It’s just that I knew that I wanted to touch Andrew more than I wanted to touch Meg.”

William grew up in a well-respected family in the rural South. His family was known as a “good family” with a solid reputation in the small southern town. “You didn’t mess with who I was,” he said. “My father was known as a good man. I was treated, therefore, the same way.” Because of that status, William felt like he was protected from a great deal of harassment arising from his sexuality, but, of course, he was still teased.

William feels he has “never not been gay.” In high school, he never dated girls. All of his peers knew he was gay. He never pretended to be anybody else, even when he told his mother that he was moving in with a man. He said:

She feigned shock, and I called her on it. I said, “Mother, you know as well as I do that I’ve been gay as long as I’ve been alive,” and she was forced to say, “Yes, I have known that.” I said, “Well, I’m tired of not having to talk about it. My partner and I are going to move in together, and I want you to know that. And I want you to be a part of our lives, so let’s not pretend.”

A self-described bald priest, William always believed that God made him this way. He did not have any tragic coming out stories or childhood trauma associated with his experience of his sexual orientation. Thus, when asked about his experience coming out of the closet, he did not have a frame of reference: “I’ve never had a coming out. I don’t know what that’s like. I can imagine that would be a fabulous party and maybe I should have one now, but I never came out.” However, he admitted to having a moment of doubt, noting:

“I remember, I guess it was in high school, praying one night saying, “You know what, God? This is it. So if this is not who you want me to be, then let me know, because otherwise I’m pretty sure this is who I am and I know I haven’t made a choice about it and I know that you made me, and know that you made me who I am, so if I’m wrong about this, do something about it.”

That was the only time he wondered. He really did not question it; he just wanted a sign from God. God showed up with affirmations of everyone who was placed in his life. William noticed people telling him he was loved, that he was beautiful, and that he was different. He said, “It’s the South. We never said, ‘We love you because you like men.’ We said, ‘We love you because you’re different.’” He continued:

“I was lucky. I never got the messages that most Southern kids did. I never got the message that it was bad. I never heard it preached from my pulpit. All I knew was that God loved me, and that was a beautiful message for any Southern boy, any Southern gay boy, that God loves you. That’s the only message I heard.”

William carries that message of love and acceptance into his teaching. Having endured a childhood as a gay kid makes him sensitive to creating a safe environment for all students. In chapel, he speaks about his partner—“because what priest is not going to speak about her husband or his wife? I’m no different.” He hopes that his students hear that and realize that LGBT people—like all people—are the work of God. He said:

“They see me because I’m more than just the teacher. They see me in chapel. Once a week they see me, I lead the prayers. I offer them communion. I offer them the Grace of God, the hands of a gay man.”

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