All in the Family
The image is as clear as a bell in many people’s minds. Picture Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton sitting at a piano, singing the opening theme song to the classic television show, All in the Family. “Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade. Guys like us, we had it made, those were the days. And you knew where you were then, girls were girls and men were men. Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again...” (Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, “Those Were the Days”).
The show ran for nine seasons, was the first to be televised in front of a live audience, and broke almost every rule there was in acceptable television programming. The subjects broached by Archie and Edith, their daughter Gloria, and her husband Michael (aka Meathead) included racism, antisemitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women’s liberation, religion, rape, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, menopause, impotence, and the Vietnam War. Did they miss anything?
The show’s title is universal. All of those issues, in some way and at some point, lie somewhere in every family. This rings especially true when the discussion turns to LGBTQ topics.
A retired pastor and his wife in central Pennsylvania recently contacted me because they had heard from a friend that my daughter transitioned a few years ago. The situation they are now facing is that they have a 50-something nephew who made the decision to transition to become their niece.
That would be less of a problem if not for their nephew’s/niece’s wife and children who are affected and involved. This couple wanted to know what all this transgender talk was about. They knew nothing.
Sharing with them the journey I took, difficult as it was, helped them to understand that each person’s transition is unique to themselves. Journey is a very appropriate word, as those who are “all in the family” with someone who is transitioning have a journey awaiting them. The road to understanding, acceptance, and advocacy can be a long and winding road indeed.
There is a conservative rural church in central Delaware where members have made it clear that their pastor will not preach or teach acceptance of homosexuality. An aging congregation, almost all members of this church have their beliefs set in cement. Yet behind their veneer, there are incredible instances of family connections to gays. One outspoken leader of the church had a gay brother who died of AIDS in 1992. Another key person in the church has a son in his twenties who lives further north in Delaware with his partner.
Yet another active couple in the congregation is involved with family members twice over. The husband of this couple—who are in their seventies—has a brother who is gay, and they share a nephew who has come out. This nephew is the same age as their own children, and the cousins spent a lot of time together as they were raised. The wife shared recently how much she loves her nephew, but still cannot accept his lifestyle. As she confided, “The Bible says….” She shared this on the verge of tears. And so the walls of separation remain firmly intact.
This begs the question, can someone “love the sinner, but hate the sin?” The question is hypothetical. We must not take the question literally, for this writer does not believe for a moment that being gay or transgender is a sin. But can someone love a gay or transgender person—be it a brother, son, nephew, sister, daughter, niece—but hate their lifestyle?
If it is possible, then it is an utterly incomplete love. There is no easier or safer place to reinforce one’s biases against being gay than in a church or synagogue with fundamentalist beliefs.
Eliel Cruz wrote an article for the Huffington Post on “Gays in the Family.” This was a review of a conference with the same title, conducted by a certain church group. The purpose of the event was to give church people the proper tools to enable them to “fix” the gayness out of their relatives. Cruz shares, “I read a moving letter from an older brother to his younger gay brother, who attempted suicide this last fall, overwhelmed by what the church said about him. In the letter the older brother pleads, ‘Please do not ever give up on your Jesus. You may have brothers who turn against you...and churches that can’t legally bar their doors yet still bar their hearts against you. Please do not let these people dictate the character of your Jesus.’”
In only its fifth episode, All in the Family introduced television’s first openly gay character, Steve. Archie was quite disbelieving, since Steve was a former football linebacker. But Archie was left speechless when Steve told him he was gay. There are many more untold family ties to the LGBTQ community. Don’t be left speechless. Love. Simply love. It’s what families do. ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter. Email David Garrett