Gay people are poisonous.
At least that's what I used to believe. As a teenager in the Mormon church, I was kind of scared of gays. Not in the "them homosexuals is ruinin' our family values, get the shotgun mama," kind of way, but more in the "these people are weird and there's something wrong with them" kind of way. I was scared to associate with them because it felt like associating with a drug dealer--why get that close to something that's so wrong? I didn't want to endanger my own worthiness.
The way it was taught to me, homosexuality was an aberrant behavior that some people participated in. They weren't born that way, it was something that they did. Homosexuality was a sin, and these people needed to repent and marry women and have kids like normal people.
When I was sixteen, I met my first gay guy. Or, to be more accurate, I met the first person who was comfortable enough with himself to let it be public knowledge that he was gay. He worked with me at a fast food joint, and he was a crazy, crazy kid. Always goofing off, singing popular songs, being loud. Most people liked him because his antics were entertaining and harmless. I didn't really know how to act around him. I didn't necessarily dislike him, but his gayness and his stereotypical "gay lisp" (if you can call it that) and his general friendliness gave me the creeps. He didn't hit on me, though, so I mostly got along with him just fine. But I was really worried whenever we interacted that he was going to start hitting on me.
A few months after he left the job, another gay guy joined our ranks. He was much more in-your-face about his sexual orientation to the point of being proud of it. He had a bumper sticker on his car that read There's a party in my mouth and you're cumming. It made me sick. I hated him a little for that public, crude display of his immoral lifestyle. He was a nice guy, though. He wasn't as popular as the first one, but he was friendly and easy to talk to...when I wasn't worried about him hitting on me. He used to complain a lot that his mother in particular didn't understand or approve of his sexuality. I thought he was stupid. If it caused so much family strife, why did he keep being gay? It didn't make any sense to me.
Sometime after this, I had a shocking revelation on the subject of homosexuality. I was involved in a debate in an online forum (for something totally unrelated to any of this) which discussed homosexuality. A gay poster was expressing disbelief that people could actually consider homosexuality a choice. He cited his own life as an example, saying that nobody would choose to be gay because of the family problems and societal prejudices they'd have to deal with. I suggested the only remaining argument that made any sense to me--that homosexuals subconsciously chose to be gay, if only to establish some kind of individuality. I think I went so far as to compare gays to goths, saying that they both displayed behavior that was radically different from what was considered normal to feel as though they had their own identities and could stand out.
And then a girl who'd struggled with bisexual urges earlier in her life changed my way of thinking entirely, claiming that, in her personal experience, homosexuality was a temptation. It was a sin just like any other, and like some people struggle with greed or pride, she had struggled with homosexuality. I couldn't believe I hadn't considered this approach, and I finally thought I'd found the answer that aligned both with logic and with the homophobic teachings I'd grown up with. It's a temptation--that explains everything! I used this as my explanation for my beliefs about homosexuality for years.
Then I went to BYU, and nobody there would admit to being gay anyway. When I came home from BYU three years later, a lot had changed. I no longer believed the church to be true. And a few months after my return, I stopped attending sacrament meeting and cut myself off from the church as much as I could without cutting myself off from my family.
A little over a year after that, I met my girlfriend. As we started dating and getting more serious, I began to meet her friends. And she had a lot of gay friends. And, having stripped myself of most of my Mormon prejudices, I realized--they were actually pretty cool. I wasn't worried about them hitting on me or somehow infecting me with their poisonous gay-osity. I wasn't busy feeling sorry for their sad, immoral lifestyles. I still thought they were kind of weird, but mostly because I still didn't understand how a guy can look at another guy and want to have sex with him.
But I also don't understand how people can enjoy country music, and I still associate with country-lovers. In my first interactions with homosexuals since leaving the church, I was surprised to find that the anxiety and confusion that accompanied my earlier interactions had disappeared. I could joke around with a gay guy like anyone else. I could be friends with these people--what a crazy idea! I've had friends who were blatant racists, arrogant pricks, and bullies. Homosexuality is actually less harmful than all that. The racists and pricks and bullies I'd known had done emotional damage to people. What did my girlfriend's gay friends do that was so horrible--love each other?
What's so wrong about that? Even assuming it's a crime, it's a victimless one. And each time I hung out with these guys, homosexuality was looking like less and less of a crime. I'd been conditioned to see these people as pariahs--confused, immoral, and disgusting. They didn't seem like outcasts, they didn't seem confused, they didn't seem immoral since they weren't hurting anyone, and the only thing I found disgusting was what they did behind closed doors. And, let's be honest, there are plenty of heterosexual fetishes that are pretty nasty. The fact that I found their private behavior disgusting was simply a difference of opinion, not a reflection on their value as human beings.
After a while, I began to understand that gay people aren't poisonous. They're just people, like anybody else, only with one distinguishing characteristic that has somehow been deemed notable and then blown totally out of proportion. Why did I waste so much time fearing these people?
Because I was taught to. Because Mormonism doesn't bother trying to understand who they are and dismisses them as a sinful faction of society.
And that does not seem right to me.