Mark Zmuda, 1983, and Me

Dear Mom,

I’m going to take you for a little walk down memory lane back to the year 1983. Ronald Reagan was president (I know…deep breath), in September I started my sophomore year at St. Joe’s, and you were teaching high school English.  That fall I was cast in Annie, my first play at Mt. St. Mary’s, and with my new friends Sue and Denise and Jim and Anthony, I started attending the all-ages Sunday night disco dances at that nightclub near the University of Buffalo.  In my preppy button down shirts and corduroy pants, I danced to “Lucky Star,”  “Come On Eileen” and “Karma Chameleon” and I thought to myself that I might be gay.  I was terrified.

It was during those early and mid-80s that you proudly told me that you were watching MTV to “keep up on the videos.”  Did I laugh out loud? You, an old geezer in my eyes at 40, what could you possibly know about Madonna, Dexy’s Midnight Runners or Culture Club?  Now, some thirty years later, I am teaching high school English and getting ready to parent two teens of my own.  Driving to and from work, I tune in to top 40 radio stations, and listen with interest when Isabella tells me about new singers and groups she likes.  I get it now. An old geezer myself, I spend the day working with teens and nights with a tween, and in an effort to seem not so much like a dinosaur, I too am trying to keep up.

In the fall of 2008 my students first told me about a local rapper named Macklemore.  This was years before he burst onto the national scene, and although I took note of the name, I didn’t bother to track down any of his music.  It was October of that year that you and dad came to Seattle to stay with the kids while Patrick and I got legally married in California.  Of course it was also the year that, just weeks after signing our papers, voters in California passed Proposition 8 reversing the law that allowed us to get married.  That same night, Obama was elected president.

When I was at St. Joe’s, I did not know, or know of, one openly gay or lesbian adult.  There were no politicians, Hollywood stars, or sports figures, no teachers, doctors or lawyers who confidently and unequivocally came out publically and said “I am gay.”  The good Christian Brothers at Joes taught us that homosexuality was a sin, an abomination. Looking around, I was convinced that if I wanted to fall in love, get married, and have kids, I best not be gay.  And so I prayed, and tried, and hoped for it not to be true about me, because boy, did I want the spouse and the family of my own.

Today, there are some lucky young teens who attend Eastside Catholic High School, just outside of Seattle. They have a wonderful role model in Mark Zmuda. News reports have detailed his popularity as both an educator and coach; his sexual orientation seemed to have been, in the best possible way, an afterthought.  Having found the love of his life, he took advantage of Washington’s marriage equality law and tied the knot this past summer.  I cannot imagine what that must have been like for a pimply young sophomore boy or girl to find out. “It’s possible,” she must have thought.  “Love can happen for me,” he probably said to himself, “regardless of which sex I fall in love with.”

The world has changed so much for LGBT and questioning youth since 1983, and thank God for that.   It has even changed since 2008.  Prior to his re-election in 2012, Obama stunned the country by proclaiming his support for marriage equality, after saying during the 2008 campaign that, due to his religious beliefs, he could not.  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis rose to national and international fame, and their song “Same Love” became the anthem for the marriage equality movement across the nation. On the night of Obama’s re-election, you and I chatted on the phone (me shaking and near tears), incredulous about the impending victory for marriage equality in Washington, Maryland, and Maine and the defeat of the same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota.  Then came another elated call this last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and denied standing to the proponents of Prop 8, effectively overturning the law.

The gains are tremendous and stunning, and more and more young people will wake up day after day believing that a future of love happiness and (possibly) kids is in their future.  They will be spared some of the turmoil and indecision and pain I faced. Maybe I should reconsider my disbelief of miracles.

Zmuda spoke to the media about feeling overwhelmed by the support he received from the Eastside community, and in particular the vocal and persistent support he received from students.  After the 2012 election, more than a few of my students congratulated me on the victory, and several pressed me repeatedly for details on Patrick and my plans to get married.  I shared, tentatively at first, as I knew that a number of these students (all girls, truth be told) were a part of a Christian youth group.  As a recovering Catholic and a skeptic of organized religious organizations (particularly those, like the one my students belong to, that appear to be conservative and evangelical), I had a preconceived idea of what these young women believed, and was taken aback by their interest and support. When I finally had the courage to thank them and ask how their religious views impacted their enthusiasm for same-sex marriage, they boldly dismissed me with “Oh, we don’t care about that.”

My students, not unlike Zmuda’s at Eastside Catholic, give me hope for a better, more accepting future for those who identify as LGBT or those who are questioning.  I can’t help thinking that these students, Zmuda’s and mine, are carrying out the true message of the Bible.  This is, at least to some extent, what society and religion in 2014 looks like. It’s a far cry from 1983. Thank God.

Love Christopher

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