In true hypocrite fashion, until recently I had been showing members of the LGBTQ community the same hatred I saw growing up as a little Black boy in the South. I displayed the same discrimination and displeasure that many in society now display toward me — a convict serving a 60-year prison term.
Who was I to judge?
Who was I to frown upon these people who had the gift of love?
I am ashamed. I had no right to think the way I used to. I chose to persecute LGBTQ people because I was blind. My physical vision was perfect, but the eyes of my heart — the eyes that are vital to a man’s existence — had been blinded by years of misguided judgment and opinions.
I can recall when I would join in on trying to “beat the gay” out of homosexual men. My language towards lesbian women consisted of slurs. At my worst moment, I did the unforgivable. In my teens, my friends and I brutally beat a transgender woman so badly that she was unrecognizable.
Tears well up in my eyes when I think of it now.
Often, one’s perspective on a situation doesn’t ever beget a second thought, until that situation hits close to home. This was the case with me. In the span of a year, my older sister came out as lesbian and my niece was beginning to transition.
What was I to do with my hate now? This was my family.
I was in for a long journey. What helped lead to my change in thinking was the story of Paul in the Bible. Paul hated Christians. He was one of the worst persecutors of his time until the same people he hated and harmed took care of him in his hour of need.
Like Paul, the news of my family sickened me at first. I loved my family, but I refused to condone their identities. I planned to never speak to them again.
But after my sister and niece came out, it felt like the LGBTQ community magically appeared in my life. One person who had the greatest impact on my thinking was a transgender woman at Menard Correctional Center, in southwest Illinois, who was in the cell next to mine.
In the beginning, I barely spoke to her. When something needed to be passed from cell to cell, I would say, “Hey! You in 50 cell, pass this!”
As time went on, however, I began to notice that my neighbor was no different than I was. She was persecuted for how she looked and was stigmatized by society for living authentically.
A seminal event for me occurred when she was being mistreated by a corrections officer. I spoke up. Other cisgender inmates joined the stand with me. I understood then that things were OK — we could be different and still co-exist. I began to accept the LGBTQ community. Opening my arms to a stranger made it easier to embrace my own family members’ identities as well.
I called my sister after not speaking with her for about five years. We had one of the most tearful and heartfelt conversations we’ve ever had. I told her I fully accepted her living authentically and that she had my support. Today, we talk once a week.
My relationship with my niece, who is trans, also changed. My first correspondence with her was through a letter in which she thanked me for my support. The thank you was nothing compared to the photos she sent me, though.
Look out, Laverne Cox, because my niece was beautiful. I now stay updated with her life and am delighted that she’s engaged. Opening up the doors to my heart has allowed two special people to walk into it, making my world a better place — one filled with true, unconditional love.
In many ways, the LGBTQ community continues to nurse me back to health. The same people I was quick to persecute now play a pivotal role in my education, my mental health and me regaining my freedom.
Having let go of my past judgements and misconceptions, I am able to appreciate the entire prism of the rainbow-colored world that I had shunned because of my dark and blinded heart. As I like to say, I have been transformed.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.