A Rally for Ryan

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Originally published in Alliance Magazine. June 2005

I can’t use Ryan’s last name. He asked me politely, I obliged. The 19 year-old Fort Collins closted-teen hid all day, from the cameras, from his father. Perhaps, from himself?

His friends, Kyle Lopatowski, 17, and Tyler Jordan, 16, helped him avoid media: reporters; photographers and microphones. There was another teen, Chris, 18, who didn’t want me to use his last name either. He might be going into politics.

But Ryan, only his mother knows, a friend outed him accidentally. His father doesn’t, he can’t. “He’s for everything we’re against,” Ryan said, quietly. “I’ve heard him talk about fags…”

His friends by contrast, especially Kyle, were loud, proud. There was a part of Ryan, I’m sure, that was proud too. But fear dominated his heart, his voice.

The four teens, along with a thousand other GLBT people and allies, rallied under a gray sky. They came to speak to James Dobson, a child psychologist turn evangelical powerhouse. They came to tell him his hate has to stop. They came to Explorer Drive, Dobson’s headquarters, Focus on the Family, in Colorado Springs. They came to the “Ground Zero of anti-gay rhetoric and politics,” to a rally sponsored by SoulForce.

“We are here to say, Jim, we love you enough to stop you from doing the damage you are doing to families across the nation,” said Mel White, executive director of SoulForce.

White is pretty old. So were most of the people there. Ok, so not old, but not young. Some may say SoulForce protested Focus on the Family and Dobson because of his stance on homosexual marriage. Others would say his political profile is getting too high. But in the end, Sunday’s protest wasn’t about either issue. It was about my generation, the next generation.

SoulForce and White want things to be better. They want all children, gay or straight, to be loved and accepted. They rallied so Ryan wouldn’t be afraid of me using his last name.

“James Dobson was a wonderful family counselor,” White said. “Now he is a danger to himself and the nation… I’ve buried more young people then I’ve ever wanted to. You are the source, Jim.”

Jacob Reitan, director of youth services for SoulForce, walked with his parents. All three were arrested, but that’s a different story. “We’ve got to get the youth out,” he told me as he marched hand in hand with his parents. “We’ll be the change.” Reitan was excited about the number of young adults at the event.

He said there was a good group of students from colleges across the country. The 23 year-old spoke out against Focus earlier in the day. He held the microphone tight and close to his mouth as he blasted, “Focus is morally bankrupt. The reason why they (GLBT teens) are rejected is because of Focus on the Family,” he screamed and pointed to the campus. “It has to end. They cannot go on destroying families.”

Focus, along with other Christian organizations, have developed programs for “rehabilitation.” Parents can enroll their children to help them become “straight.” Focus believes with time and their help, young children can live a heterosexual lifestyle.

Dobson isn’t about the truth, but his truth, Reitan said. Reitan was born and raised Lutheran and still practices Christianity. After all, his grandpa is a minister in the church.

Remember Ryan No-Last name? We spoke at the end of rally. I had been watching his little posse all day. Tyler and Chris walked together, holding hands. But they aren’t dating. They’re just friends, all of them.

“We go to these things together,” Kyle said. He smiled. Kyle too had a hard time coming out. His father, much like Ryan’s is a man’s man. “He works out everyday. My brother was the same. I was just the track star… He called me every name in the book, when I came out.”

“It hurts a lot. It makes me scared,” Ryan said of his father’s disgust of homosexuality. Ryan said his father’s hate mainly comes from sources like Dobson. “They will judge me.”

Luckily, Kyle tells me, something changed for his family. They got away. They took a break and everything is better now.

In the end, maybe I should reflect on the beginning. A prayer, read by Laura Montgomery Rutt, director of communication for SoulForce, called “Envision a World,” began the rally.

“Envision a world where all children are wanted … Envision a world where each and every person who passes from this earth is given the respect and dignity they deserve … Envision a world where hate, fear, and violence are replaced by the Spirit of Love …”

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