Gay Pastor Comes Out and Other Evidence of It Actually Getting Better

There is nothing good about children killing themselves or the culture of rampant homophobia and self-loathing that facilitates that. But if there were hypothetically going to be a marginally positive side effect, it would be the increased awareness of the problem that incites people to action. In the wake of the recent tragic deaths, we have at least had the solace of watching people respond and thus our world becomes a slightly better, safer, more livable place.

This week pastor Jim Swilley of a Georgia megachurch came out, saying that while he’s known he was gay since childhood he’s hidden it his whole life – until the recent rash of suicides made him realize he needs to speak out. His story is actually incredibly sad – he says his wife and the mother of his children also knew he was gay when she married him, but the two agreed to keep it secret forever. After the two separated, and after the suicides of kids like Tyler Clementi and Seth Walsh, his ex-wife told him she thought it was time for him to tell the truth, and after some time he agreed.

“As a father, thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something,” he told WSB TV in Atlanta. “I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever. To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

Also doing their part: the British! In a pretty amazing display of Recognizing The Source of the Problem and Working Towards Systemic Change, this North London school has been including important queer historical figures in its curriculum over the last five years, and they claim that homophobic bullying has virtually ceased to be a problem at their school. Their subjects of study include people like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing, whose incredible contributions to the Allied effort in WWII were cut short when he was persecuted for homosexuality by the British government and subsequently committed suicide. It’s tragic but also feels appropriate that his life is now inspiring children to treat others equally and perhaps make suicides like his less likely. Nearly half of secondary school teachers in Britain say that homophobic bullying is common when polled, but Stoke Newington Secondary School is training other educators over the summer on how to implement their curriculum to help solve the problem of violence and bullying on their playgrounds.

As a sort of cherry on top, it’s been announced that although books dealing with queer subjects consistently top the list of books attempted to be censored, the American Library Association has added a prize for gay and lesbian literature to its annual awards for children’s literature. This means that far from having books about having two moms banned, authors can now be rewarded for writing them! The Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award honors ‘English-language works for children and teens of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience.’


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Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. There is nothing good about children killing themselves or the culture of rampant homophobia and self-loathing that facilitates that. But if there were hypothetically going to be a marginally positive side effect, it would be the increased awareness of the problem that incites people to action.

    I’ve been trying to look at this marginally positive side effect for weeks now, and am thrilled to see this article. Well done Jim Swilley and ex-Ms. Swilley for making that decision, and I’m glad to see the article about the North London school. Also, yay to the ALA!

  2. This rampant rash of recent suicides and violence spiking to highs I have never seen…and never covered so much in the media…I want to see the gay comm. and all that support and love us – stand up , and speak out loud and proud. It is time to do it today! too many have been hurt deeply and even lost.
    I have lived out loud and clear for a long time now. I have been fortunate enough to come through my own dark, dark times 25 yrs ago…and with some very hard work,knowing that my higher power had a bigger vision for me, getting and staying committed to my my belief in that vision until it became my own, and with a lot of hanging in there on the way I now have a happy peaceful and full life…I have 3 kids with my partner of 16 yrs. and have a supportive family and network of friends. And enjoy the normal ups and downs of a mundane routine life- one that I cherish!
    This is how it should be…and the more we speak up, the less scary it becomes for people…the more the laws will give us what should have always been ours, and those laws in turn will force the rest who are still stuck in the mud to have to treat us with respect and equality-
    The recent loss of Joseph Jefferson, young man I did not know but touched me deeply in his suicide has been the final straw for me…I can no longer sit idle and just be involved in my own life anc donating to GLBT causes when I can….now I must take action…no one should have to suffer because of the false sense of superiority of another- no one has the right to impose their beliefs on another in this country through their words or voiolence. Those who stand behind politcal platforms, religious doctrine, or just ignorance….they are pushing back loud and hard as they see the evolution of gay rights picking up speed and are using it to further their own agenda’s….It really does not effect their lives in anyway, except to validate their idealized misconception of how they think the world should look…..this is why people are being tormented to the point that they want to kill them selves….for some crazy unreachable ideal unreal utopia…..
    And these people speaking out irresponsibly with hate and disdain…bear nor responsibility for the way some of society forms their ideals…bully adults condone bully kids…
    and people like Clint Mcance, Fred Phelps, Carl Paladino…etc etc…
    These people speak and pretend their words don’t hurt and will someday form a happy wholesome society where they have stamped out all they see as less then ethemselves…
    It is time to stop tolerating it. Each word of hate hurts each GLBT person each and every time!
    Hope you take a look at my bloghttp://open.salon.com/blog/stephsalive/2010/10/26/joseph_jefferson_rip_10262010_nyc

  3. I think a better solution than inserting LGBT people into the curriculum would be to allow students to determine their own curriculum. That way, if you wanted to know about LGBT people in history, you could study it as you pleased. If you didn’t, you could study another topic of interest to you.

    If you delve into any topic deeply enough, you’re going to come into contact with LGBT people/issues at some point (as well as a lot of other topics). If you’re into computer history/mathematics/logic, Turing will pop up sooner or later. Same with English literature and Wilde, philosophy and Plato, art and Michelangelo, etc.

    Kids, like most other types of people, resent being forced. Some kids will come to see learning about LGBT people as part of the greater compulsory routine they are forced to participate in daily, not as a subject worthy of study, and they will resist the topic altogether.

    • I disagree. I think that certain LGBT issues or people should be required learning. The children whose parents have taught them that “gay is wrong” just might learn otherwise. It’s up to them to decide how they feel about it, but it shouldn’t be up to them to decide whether or not they want to learn about it. I mean, given the choice, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to learn most of the stuff I was taught in history classes, but now I know how important most of it was.

      • I completely agree. One could say the same about math – I completely hated it, but while I rarely use pre-calc in my day-to-day life, basic arithmetic is good stuff to know.

        I think student-led curriculum is a great idea, but there are still some core subjects that need to be taught to all.

        • This reply is to both Heather and Dina. I think your perspective is based on a few concepts that I don’t feel are true:

          1. That most people must be compelled to learn, and without compulsion, they wouldn’t learn.
          2. That things people learn because they are forced will be retained and usefully accessible to the learner to the same degree as things learned out of necessity or personal choice.

          I absolutely don’t think that people should be forced to learn about LGBT people if they don’t want to. As for the basics (reading, writing, math), not only do I think people don’t need to be forced in order to learn those, but I think those things are practically impossible NOT to learn, because they are such an obvious part of daily life. For evidence of this, see the information about the Sudbury Valley School below. Learning those things is an inevitable byproduct of living a life that makes sense to you.

          Schools go to tremendous lengths to disrupt this utterly natural process. This doesn’t mean the individuals working within schools are somehow bad, or even doing this knowingly or intentionally, but it is the undeniable outcome of what goes on in most schools.

          If you make a kid repeat some info about Alan Turing so that he can get a particular score on a test, what have you accomplished?

          There is a school in Massachusetts called the Sudbury Valley School. The students completely determine their own curriculum and how they will spend their time, as long as they don’t interfere with others’ rights. Every single kid who has ever graduated from there has learned to read, and it has been in operation since 1968. This article about the school was written in the nineties by John Taylor Gatto, a former New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year:

          http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/3d.htm

          This is the school’s online library. It features essays, video clips of alumni, etc.

          http://www.sudval.com/05_articles.html

          My basic premise is that compulsion is not needed to learn things, including LGBT history. There is only one thing that is truly needed: the learner must CHOOSE to learn. By compelling people, you take away that essential element – choice.

          • My concern here isn’t necessarily whether a kid is tested on his knowledge of Alan Turing, but whether the curriculum presented includes information on him and/or other queer folks (which the current curriculum does not).

            Personally I feel like if I’d gone to a Sudbury school, I’d be completely numerically illiterate, such was my deep and abiding hatred of math. (And before you say it – yeah, my mom always tried to get me to help her half recipes and such – “So if we want half of half a cup, Dina, how much would we have?” “GAHH I DON’T KNOW STOP ASKING ME T_T” It wasn’t for lack of practical opportunities, either.)

          • But in schools, it’s all about the test. They don’t do anything that isn’t hinged on that test, because the test is the evidence of whether or not you are being properly obedient to the school routine. So by virtue of the fact that the info is being processed through the school machine, Alan Turing and all his insight would be reduced to the slavish filling in of a bubble. Conversely, I would say that most people who know who Alan Turing is, who have been inspired by his work, and who elaborated on his ideas didn’t learn about him at school.

            Again, I think it would be impossible for you to be numerically illiterate. Numbers are everywhere. Your mother was doing what she thought was the right thing, but the bottom line is you grew up, and had to deal with money/be places on time/know how far it was to blah blah blah, etc. I’m assuming you, like most people, don’t stand there and cry when you want to know what time it is. I’m going to venture a guess that your deep and abiding hatred of math comes from being forced to do it, perhaps in a way that was nonsensical to you – not from math itself.

          • Fact is, it’s impossible to know now! And yeah, I have the ability to tell time and buy groceries and all that. Partly because I had to learn in school? It’s possible.

            I actually have a cousin who *is* numerically illiterate, although in her case it’s due to learning disabilities.

          • It is impossible to know.

            Haha, I won’t recount the details of my life here, but I’ve known lots and lots of people who were numerically illiterate due to learning disabilities. I question it. I don’t question that they have problems dealing with numbers – they do. And I don’t think they’re “faking” it. I question where their problem came from. I’ll just reiterate that if you removed a lot of what goes on in the schooling routine, I think the problems would diminish significantly. I think schools sometimes produce these kinds of pathologies in people.

            And to bring it back to the topic at hand, I’m glad my LGBT history education was self-administered, and not state-administered. If I left the responsibility of making a curriculum about the history of others like me up to the state, or even to most of these schools out here, I would be completely ignorant.

            If anyone else is interested in embarking on (or continuing) an education in LGBT history, here are a few links:

            http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/index.html

            http://www.glbthistorymonth.com/glbthistorymonth/2010/icon.cfm?id=66
            (For reasons that go beyond the scope of this comment, I don’t agree with the idea of having an LGBT history month, but this site can be mined for names to google)

      • Have you ever been forced to, say, go to church?

        The gay-is-wrong people think you might benefit from a little of their “enlightening.” It’s up to you to decide how you feel about it, but it shouldn’t be up to you to decide whether or not you want to learn about how homosexuality is wrong.

        • Church and school are different (or at least they’re supposed to be). children aren’t required by law to attend church. And I agree that our schools’ standardized testing is flawed. I just think that it would probably do more good than harm if a few key LGBT issues were inserted into certain lessons in our public schools.

  4. “Some 98% said the word ‘gay’ was used as a synonym for ‘rubbish’.”

    I heard it five times today. I want this programme in my school, I am petrified to talk about anything remotely gay at the moment.

    Top three insults in my school:

    1)Spaz/spastic/retard or some similarly disablist shit.
    2)Douche/douchebag. I support this one, douches aren’t healthy.
    3)Gay/faggot/lesbian.

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