Justin Wise

Justin Wise

My name is Justin Wise. I’m in my early 20’s and was born and raised in Calhoun County, South Carolina. Calhoun County is located about 45 minutes south of Columbia, our capitol city, in a very rural part of the state. I was raised in a Christian home with a loving mother, father, four sisters and a grandmother.

I knew at an early age that I was a little different from other boys. I had feelings for other guys, but I thought I was the only one like that. I attended a Christian School and Church which was Independent Baptist and affiliated with Bob Jones University. The school had about 42 students, including pre-school through the 12th grade. I attended this school through the 4th grade. I was home schooled in the 5th grade, and I started in the South Carolina public school system in the 6th grade. I graduated from the South Carolina public school system in 2007.

My first year in public school, I felt that I was different from the rest of the kids. I was picked on most every day. I was bullied and many times it turned into a physical altercation. I remember reaching a point where many mornings I did not want to go to school. On the way to school I would get sick and have a headache. Many days I would end up in the nurse’s office — the result of being bullied.

During my middle school years I became very depressed. I would come home and sleep all day. I didn’t want to be around anyone. Many times I thought about suicide. This was the loneliest time of my life. I turned to my faith and I would often pray for God to change me. Many nights I found myself lying in bed crying. I was holding this deep dark secret from my family and friends. I would attend church and listen to the preacher preach against “homosexuals,” knowing that he was talking about me: “If I am gay, does God still love me?” I had nobody to speak or to turn to other than God.

As I entered high school, I was hoping life would get a little better. I gradually started to come out to a few of my friends. Many days I heard my classmates making anti-gay slurs toward me. I tried to be the bigger person — to just ignore them and move on. I met a couple other gay people around school. I even had a lesbian teacher who was kind and who would talk to me many days after class. I guess I knew then that I was not alone, but I still was not comfortable labeling myself as gay.

“I realized I was holding two secrets from my family: I’m gay and I’m in love.”

I found out about the SC Pride event in 2008 and attended. That was a scary but amazing experience for me. Finally!!! I realized I was not alone. To make this an extra special day, in a crowd of 8,000 people or so, I met a wonderful guy with whom I fell in love, and we started dating shortly after that. As the months passed, I realized I was holding two secrets from my family: I’m gay, and I’m in love.

In July of 2009 I decided it was time to come out to my parents and one of my sisters who I knew would not accept me. That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. There was a lot of yelling and a lot of crying. It was a difficult experience for my whole family. I hated putting them through this, but I could no longer hide my secret from them.

During this personal and painful experience with my family, my youth pastor saw some pictures of me at SC Pride on my Facebook wall. He pulled me into the pastor’s office one Wednesday night after Bible study. The pastor stepped into the office as well and threw the Bible in front of me. He told me I was going to hell and that he was ashamed of me and my actions. He quoted Bible verses… and so did I. After an hour of debate he told me I had two choices. The first choice was to turn away from my gay friends and never speak to them again, to repent of my “sinful ways,” and to delete my Facebook account. My second choice was to walk away from the church. The pastor wanted me to make a decision that night, but I responded that I would have to think on this. He escorted me out of the office and told me he did not want me to come back.

That following weekend I drove to Charlotte to see my partner. I received a phone call on Saturday from my father. He wanted to let me know that he had signed for a certified letter for me from the church and wanted to see if he could open it up and read it to me. It was a three page letter written in first person reading as though I had written it. At the end of the letter they again gave me two “choices,” really a Catch-22 situation. The first choice was to sign it — saying I was gay — and return the letter via certified mail to the church. The second was to not sign, and that would also indicate to the pastor that I was gay. I did not sign the letter, but either way the pastor would have eventually held a church business meeting (which he did), out me to the entire congregation, and call for a vote on my church membership.

The pastor held the business meeting, to which I was not invited, one Sunday night. To make a long story short, the congregation that I grew up in voted me out of my own church either for being gay or for supporting LGBT rights. I’m not quite sure since I never came out to them as being gay. I’m proud to say that one of my sisters, her husband, and my father all left the church that night as well.

This expulsion from my faith community hurt me more than anything I had experienced so far. I knew that God still loved me. I also knew he created me just the way I am. But people I had known and respected my whole life chose hatred and bigotry over love and compassion and they continue to shun me to this day.

The painful reality is that my story is not unique for many gay teens struggling for acceptance. The details may be different, but the pain is very much the same.

In October of 2010 I was asked to organize and speak at an event that SC Pride and the LGBT Center of South Carolina were holding. The event was The SC It Gets Better Candlelight Vigil for the seven LGBT teens who had committed suicide within a short time frame across the United States earlier that year. I was honored to do so, and I wanted to invite my parents.

The night of the vigil, roughly 400 people showed up with candles on the lawn of the SC State House. My parents, my partner, and my lesbian high school teacher and her wife showed up that night. I stood on the steps facing Main Street along with the Mayor of Columbia, LGBT-affirming pastors and other LGBT leaders of the community. It was a night that I will never forget. Looking out that night I saw my parents with tears streaming down their faces. After the event they ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug ever and told me they were very proud of me. It was a turning point for my parents, and they began learning how to support me even more.

I shared my story to show others that anyone can survive the tough times — the taunting, the bullying, even being kicked out of church — to tell others they can make it and enjoy all the wonderful things yet to come in life because I did… and It Gets Better.

Since that night in October of 2010, my parents have opened their hearts and minds to accept me and to embrace all my friends.

Justin Wise cheering in front of the SC State House at the October 20, 2012 SC Gay Pride Parade

I currently work for the City of Columbia Police Dept. I’m very active in my community volunteering many hours a week. I currently serve on the Board of South Carolina Pride, the Advisory Board of the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, and YEAH! (Youth Empowered Against HIV!). I am a Peer Leader, South Carolina Pride Parade Coordinator, and a member of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Business Guild. I have served on a few diversity panels for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s Diversity Training Program. I have spoken at school board meetings and to groups of future teachers and counselors about bullying. I really enjoy giving back to my community.

Though I have yet to find a new church where I feel comfortable, I still hold my faith in the Lord Jesus. I know my God still loves me and He made me who I am. I have learned of and am happy to have found that there are so many supporting and LGBT-affirming churches around the South.

I was bullied growing up for being different, and I lost many of my friends and some of my family members by coming out. Many times I considered suicide. But I’m happy I never went completely to that dark place inside. I love my life. I’ve met so many wonderful people, both gay and our straight allies.

Please reach out to those you think might be heading to that dark place and PLEASE let them know they have so much to look forward to. Let them know… IT GETS BETTER!

 


Justin shared his story with www.imfromdriftwood.com in June of 2011

 

Here is a prayer I often share with others:

“A Prayer When I feel Hated”
by James Martin, SJ

Loving God, you made me who I am.
I praise you and I love you,
for I am wonderfully made,
in your own image.
But when people make fun of me,
I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed.
So please God, help me remember my own goodness,
which lies in you.
Help me remember my dignity,
which you gave me when I was conceived.
Help me remember that I can live a life of love.
Because you created my heart.
Be with me when people make fun of me,
and help me to respond how you would want me to,
in a love that respects others,
but also respects me.
Help me find friends who love me for who I am.
Help me, most of all, to be a loving person.
And God, help me remember that Jesus loves me.
For he was seen as an outcast, too.
He was misunderstood, too.
He was beaten and spat upon.
Jesus understands me, and loves me with a special love,
because of the way you made me.
And when I am feeling lonely,
help me remember that Jesus welcomed everyone as a friend.
Jesus reminded everyone that God loved them.
And Jesus encouraged everyone to embrace their dignity,
even when others were blind to that dignity.
Jesus loved everyone with the love that you gave him.
And he loves me, too.
One more thing, God:
Help me remember that nothing is impossible with you,
that you have a way of making things better,
that you can find a way of love for me,
even if I can’t see it right now.
Help me remember all these things
in the heart you created,
loving God. Amen.

Editor’s note:  Unfortunately, just last evening, Justin’s mother, who bravely refused to choose between her children and her church, was forced by her BJU alumnus pastor to resign from a ministry that was important to her because she loves and supports her gay son.


12 comments

  1. Marty White says:

    Awesome, Justin. May your message reach those hearts who need to hear these words. I am so VERY proud to call you my friend, and I support your mom in whatever decision she makes. Because I know she’ll make the right one … She has you, kiddo. Love ya. Marty White.

  2. The one who should take the prize for ignorance and hatred is the Pastor….I just know he is certain that he will be going to heaven….I have news for him and his followers, the pearly gates will be firmly closed to all of them….

    • Jeffrey Hoffman says:

      We’d rather not speculate on someone’s eternal destiny here at BJUnity, but we do know that Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners” and reserved his harshest criticisms for the religious leaders of his day. Regardless of one’s theological position on whether it is possible to be both gay and Christian, it is very difficult to square an approach that shuns vulnerable people with the example the Lord Jesus Christ sets for us in the gospels.

      Jeffrey Hoffman
      Executive Director
      BJUnity

  3. Ben says:

    Justin, thank you for sharing your story. I’m in a place of sorting these things out, and I’m learning a lot about how to respond to family members who surprise me. Statistically speaking it’s likely one or more of my children is gay, and I’m working to provide a loving and safe environment for them, no matter where and how their lives go. Your story of your family’s love means a lot to me.

  4. Jeff McCoy says:

    Great testimony Justin! I hate that you were so persecuted and shown so much hatred from your pastor and church but that unfortunately seems to be the norm in fundamentalism. Your work you do with students and anti-bullying will undoubtedly make a huge difference in their lives!

  5. Nathan Ohm says:

    Justin – you have a beautiful and courageous spirit. You are doing the work of love and living the gospel. God be with you and I look forward to meeting you someday.

    Nathan Ohm
    Vice President
    BJUnity

  6. MaineGeezer says:

    I think your job is to be the best YOU that you can be, not to attempt to live up to somebody else’s notion of what you “should” be.

    There are plenty of churches that will accept YOU and not demand you be something that you’re not. I am not a fundamentalist and have no real concept of what your church ties mean to you, but (easy for me to say) I don’t think your present church is where you should be. Find another one.

    I am a very active member of my church, which happens to be Unitarian Universalist. I can imagine how devastated I would feel if I got kicked out. Your church is not healthy for you (in my opinion). A UU church would accept you warmly and gladly, but I suspect it might not be a good fit for you theologically. But there are more Christian churches that would also accept you as you are.

    I hope I’m not being too “helpful” with my comments. Ultimately you need to find your own answers. What I want to convey is support for you and your family as you seek a more supportive spiritual path. There are many paths to the top of the mountain. Don’t be afraid to try another one.

  7. I am a 32 year old man living in Chattanooga, TN. I knew from a very young age, before I knew that it was wrong, that I was different from other children. I grew up in a fundamentalist home as well, though my parents were less strict than the church would have liked. I was adopted. My real mother is supposedly a prostitute. I was told this as soon as I could understand what it meant. From this tender young age, I felt disconnected from even family. My brothers reminded me constantly that I was an intruder to their family. I would seek every opportunity to be by myself so I wouldn’t be judged. Books became my best friend. I was first and foremost a nerd. I rarely heard modern music (I still collect classical, contemporary instrumentals and film soundtracks.) and am a classically trained musician. Against my parents’ wishes, I became a fan of science fiction, cementing my nerddom.

    When I left the christian academy, I was persecuted for not being more stylish or hip. I was accused of being Amish more than once. I kept quiet about sexuality, standing up to people saying that I wasn’t at all interested in sex.

    I began working at the age of 16. When I was 19, I had a job in a hospital, in the dietary department. I had planned on moving away from my dad in that year, and I got a job in a town over 100 miles away. My last week at the hospital was my first week at my new job. I requested my first day at the new job off at the hospital. It was denied. I refused to go in because that meant I couldn’t get to my new job in time. My department manager was very upset. Apparently she had heard me talking to a co-worker (we thought we were alone, having the conversation) and she put A and B together. While I was at my new job, she called my parents and outed me to them.

    My life has been one little slice of hell since then. People have told me for years that it will get better, and it has not. I am starting to think that it never will. I cannot afford to be self-sufficient and must always rely on a roommate or a partner to afford to live. I feel like I belong no where. There is more to tell, but I’ll leave it here for now.

    It gives me a false sense of happiness to see someone accept themselves for who they are. I find myself completely unacceptable, but I have always felt that way. Maybe one day I can change and actually know what happiness feels like.

    • Jeffrey Hoffman says:

      Jason,

      BJUnity is here for you. Thank you for sharing a part of your story. We can relate to your pain and we are here to affirm that you are not alone. Your sorrow is our sorrow. We love you.

      Jeffrey Hoffman
      Executive Director
      BJUnity

      • Jeffrey Hoffman says:

        One more thing, and to quote Bishop Gene Robinson: “God loves you just the way you are. You don’t need to change a thing.”

        Jeffrey

  8. Bill Skipper says:

    So beautiful and sincere. I too am trying to serve God as a 64 yr. old gay man and I realized a long time ago to keep my eyes on Jesus and not on those who claim to follow him. He chose you and loved you long before you chose him. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. We are saved by grace and God made us just as we are. God does not make mistakes. There will be lots of LGBT people in heaven. Love and prayers, Bill Skipper.

  9. Mike Bernard says:

    Thank you, Justin, for your courage and your service to your fellows despite the persecution of these alleged people of “God.”

    I wonder if those in that church will ever let their hearts thaw enough to truly realize what they have done to you and other gay and lesbian people in their condemnation in the name of their religion. I’m not optimistic, but miracles could happen…who knows?

    Best of luck to you, Justin!