Ted Hayes – Baptist Minister, Married Gay Man, & Widowed Octogenarian Activist

Little closet gay boy ( about 1938) in Tennessee.

Little closet gay boy ( about 1938) in Tennessee.

Ted Hayes was born Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in East Tennessee in the 1930s and 1940s; Tennessee was ground zero for fundamentalist Christianity. After serving in the Korean War, he earned his degree in chemistry at the University of Chattanooga. When he announced to his family that he was going to enter Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, his mother was disappointed that he was not going to use his degree for a lucrative career.

Ted had a secret. He knew he liked boys the way that boys liked girls. He had known since he was eight years old that he was experiencing life differently, and he knew he had to keep it a secret. It was Tennessee; it was the 1930s and 1940s.

Ted went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and graduated in 1966. “It was a different time in the Baptist Church then. The love of God and the love of Jesus were evident.” Ted worked hard and avoided eligible women wanting to date and marry the minister of education. To cover up his secret, he told them, “I can only be involved in one thing at a time. For now, that is serving God.” The technique worked until, in 1971, while serving in Jacksonville, Florida, he was strongly attracted to a fellow staff member.

The Southern Baptist Convention was in its infancy stages of the now full-blown fundamentalist takeover. A core group of fundamentalist leaders created and enforced the “Bible inerrancy” litmus test. Every printed word they asserted was directly from God. Moderates had theologically allowed for errors by human participants in the work of God, holding that the Bible did indeed, contain all truths necessary for life and salvation, but needed to be read in context. There was a concerted and organized effort to replace the leadership of boards, councils, and seminaries with fundamentalist Baptists.

Ted recalls a “witch hunt” targeting the removal of gays. The stress of possible discovery and subsequent disgrace took a toll on Ted’s health. Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 11.13.35 PMWhile serving the Jacksonville church, he was hospitalized for three months. Once out of the hospital, he fell into a severe depression. He knew he could not tell anyone he was gay. Desperate, he took enough pills to commit suicide. Knowing he had been sick and just released from the hospital, a friend stopped by to visit him, found him and took him to the emergency room. That saved Ted’s life. He then entered counseling to deal with the stress of lifelong hiding as a gay man in the south. Ted knowing he would be “discovered,” left the ministry, and went back to school to earn a doctorate in counseling.

Ted still did not come out to his family. Who finally forced Ted out of hiding was Anita Bryant. Her anti-gay campaign was sweeping across America in 1978. Christians were rallying together to fight the dreaded gay invasion. Ted wrote to his hometown newspaper and likened Bryant’s attacks on the gay community to Hitler’s attacks on the Jews; the letter to the editor was published in the newspaper. While with his family for Christmas dinner, his Mom, out of earshot of Dad, asked him, “Ted, why did you write that? Now everyone will think you are a homosexual.” He replied, “Well, mother I am.” It was out. She was stunned. “If you had told us sooner, we could have gotten you some help.” At the age of 47, Ted Hayes told his family he was gay. He in fact, had just met his first gay person that year. His family did what lots of families do – they did not talk about it. Ted says, two years later, when the news of Bryant’s divorce was all over the news, he overheard his mother say, “Well, that bitch finally got what she deserved.” It was all good from then on with their gay son, Ted.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 11.12.49 PMTed moved to New Mexico for work. He read the personal ads in The Advocate, noticed Jack, and wrote to him. Jack knew he was a homosexual boy growing up in Montana in the 1920s. “In those days, in Montana or Tennessee, you could have gotten beaten to death for being gay,” Ted told me. Jack moved to Hollywood. Within a short time, he met a piano-playing fellow homosexual, Harry, with whom he relocated in New York after World War II. They were together for a total of 39 years until Harry died in 1979. It was while living in NY that contacted The Advocate and read the return letters of potential suitors. Two hundred men responded to Jack’s personal ad; he narrowed it down to four. Ted was one of the four. At the age of 52, Ted Hayes, for the first time in his life was hugged and kissed by a man who he loved and who love him in return. Ted and Jack spent the next 26 years together. “I was blessed,” Ted says about Jack, “I could truly say that I loved him more each day than the day before.”

In 2009, marriage equality started to become an issue in some states. Nearby Massachusetts allowed legal same-sex marriage, but Ted and Jack wanted to be married in their resident state of New York. It suddenly took on a sense of urgency; Jack had been diagnosed with inoperable and incurable cancer. While the hearings were going on in the NY Legislature in Albany, Ted made an appointment to petition his state senator. Ted left Jack at home with a caretaker. He did not meet with the senator; the senator cancelled saying he had a conflict, and never rescheduled. Three days, later Jack Waite died at the age of 95. In June 2011, marriage equality came to New York State.

Ted Hayes

Ted Hayes

I asked Ted, “Could you have ever imagined marriage equality available in your lifetime?” “No,” he replied, “it is mind boggling what has happened in the past ten years.” Ted ended our conversation with two interesting thoughts. The anti-gay sentiment in churches that replaced love he experienced in the 1960s and early 1970s is the result of “the tail wagging the dog” or, a few people controlling the conversation. The other thought is a challenge I would like the reader to internalize, and consider as you think about extending Christian marriage parity to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian couples, “The trouble comes when we use the Bible to confirm our biases rather than to confront them.”

BE SURE TO GO TO THE END for a copy of Ted’s “coming out” speech given publicly in 2006.

[THIS the opening to Inclusion in Biblical Marriage for LGBT Christians chapter in my book Walking the Bridgeless Canyon — Repairing the Breach between the Conservative Church and the LGBT Christian Community. (May 2014) It continues:

Should the blessing of Christian marriage be extended to same-sex committed Christian couples? First, we need to understand a bit about the history of marriages in the church and what the Bible does say about what Christian marriages.

Marriage took on a sacramental character in the 13th century in the Roman Catholic Church. At the Council of Florence in the 15th century, it was adopted as a dogmatic truth and sacrament. In the 16th century, sacramental marriage required the presence of a priest in a public ceremony to ensure parental consent, and validate the contract between a man and a woman. After the American Revolution, in the 1780s, the states all recognized marriage as a purely civil matter. Marriages were performed by agents of the state giving the unions legal status as civil contracts. If the couple chose to register themselves on church rolls, it was a voluntary action.

Biblical marriage is a holy covenant before God; (Malachi 2:14) a covenant is a formal, binding agreement between two parties with or without conditions attached. The door to legally sanctioned marriage is opening to same-sex couples, yet the question remains in the conservative Christian community, “Can the principles of Biblical marriage be applied to same-sex couples, or are they inherently excluded from marriage in the eyes of God?  (continued  . . . )

This is Ted’s “coming out” speech which he gave in 2006 at a public event. Oh, get ready to SMILE:

You, who know me, know that I was a Southern Baptist minister for a number of years.  Baptists figure prominently in four recognized religious truths:  1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as the chosen people; 2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah; 3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the head spokesperson for Christianity; and 4. Baptists do not recognize each other in Hooters. (source unknown) Sadly, as a closeted gay man, I felt compelled to leave the ministry as the fundamentalists in my denomination were taking control.  I found them to be hate-filled, pseudo-pious, pompous and hypocritical to the point of my becoming an atheist.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God, but rather that I cannot believe in their god as the one in whom we must believe if we are to get to heaven – if, indeed, heaven exists.  I have long since resolved that if fundamentalists will inhabit heaven, I want no part of it.  Hell, if it exists, couldn’t be as unbearable as that.

In the last church I served, I had an obsessive attraction in every way to a deacon with whom I worked very closely and, secretly, with whom I fell in love.  You can only imagine how painful it was for me to officiate at his wedding.  But during my doctoral studies the couple divorced and he relocated in Honolulu.  In our correspondence I gathered the nerve to tell him of my strong erotic feelings.  He, though not surprised, invited me to come for a visit during summer break so we could talk face to face.  Our closeness and intimate conversation during those three weeks led to the end of my life-long celibacy.

Upon my return to campus, my counseling supervisor and I discussed the events of the last few years and months.  At nearly age 47, I finally said out loud to another person, “I am gay.”     The major question I had asked myself over and over during our sessions together was “Why?”  Why did I always have to hide the real me from the rest of my world, particularly those who were the dearest to me?  I could arrive at no satisfactory answer to that simple question.  I had allowed my imprisonment in the closet.  So I decided that now I would allow my life to change.

The pretense must give way to truth, and those who were nearest and dearest must become aware that their son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew and friend is gay.  I decided that, if need be, I would rather be hated for who I am than be loved for who I am not.  At least, I finally had owned who I am and had allowed myself to love me!

I was very anxious at the prospect of telling my parents!  While I knew I was loved, I also knew all the lies they had been told by their pastors, friends and the media.  So even at the risk of losing the love of those who had given me life, I had to come out.  I could not be responsible for their responses.

In 1977, near Christmas (a time today’s experts suggest that one should NEVER come out!  But what did I know?) I was scheduled to be in their home during the holidays.  It was during that dark period Anita Bryant was being used by the religious political extremists to sell their idea that homosexuals were trying to convert straight children to “the ways of the abominable.”

A day or two after my arrival at their home, an article about Anita appeared in the afternoon newspaper.  I saw this as an opportunity to discuss with my family the issue of my sexuality.  So before I left on a short visit to a neighboring state, I sat down and dashed off a letter to the editor.  (I’ve been known to do that on occasion.)   I compared Anita and her exploiters to a new Adolf Hitler and Nazi party whose apparent purpose was to advocate the extermination of a group of people whose sole “crime” was that they were different.

The day after my return and just two days before Christmas, I saw a letter to the editor with a caption something like this:  “Anita Bryant compared to Adolf Hitler.”  I quickly looked below and saw MY name.  Who else did I expect?  My heart was in my throat!

Every evening, Daddy read this particular paper from cover to cover.  That evening I watched him.  From my vantage point I could even tell when he was on the editorial page.  He read forever it seemed, yet without a single comment or even a hint of having read what he could not have missed!

The next morning, Christmas Eve, as I sat with the morning paper, I noticed Mother pushing Daddy out the door for some last minute shopping.  She seemed somewhat agitated without apparent reason.  When he was gone, she came in to me and told me he had shown her the letter.  Deeply concerned, she asked why I had written such!  I responded that I simply was expressing an opinion contrary to Anita’s.  Mother was worried that people who read it might think I was homosexual.  My elusive reply was that people would think whatever they wanted.

That seemed to be a satisfactory solution — for the moment.  While away, I had decided that on Christmas Day, no sooner, no later, while we sat around the table AFTER dinner — with my favorite aunt and uncle in attendance — I would broach the subject.

At the feast that day, surprisingly, I was able to taste what I ate and I didn’t ever come close to throwing up.  After the meal, we had settled back to relax while finishing up freshly brewed coffee.

I now had the four dearest people in my life around me and the time for disclosure had come.  My aunt also was an avid reader of that same newspaper, so I took a deep breath and asked her if she had seen my letter.  She hadn’t, but she asked its content and I told her.   She always had large, expressive eyes, but at that point they made the saucer under her cup seem minute by comparison.  She was shocked, though amused, that I had dared to express such an opinion publicly.  Mother reiterated her concern that others might think I was homosexual as well.  I ignored her.

My aunt turned her attention back to me and I asked her what she knew about homosexuality.  With her trying to escape under the umbrella of “nothing, really,” I gently pressed her for an answer.  Soon she began to list the stereotypes that Anita used in her harangue.  I sought to de-myth-ify each of them.  When we had finished, I asked her how those descriptors could be applied to me.  In her firmest voice, she declared, “I could never think of you in such a way!”  As only a loving aunt could, she made several flattering comments.

Deep, deep breath time again!  All eyes and ears at the table were focused on our conversation.  I said, “Maybe now you can see why I was trying to help all of you understand the untruthful nature of these stereotypes about homosexuality.  Obviously, they can’t be true, if you believe the things you just said about me, because they are polar opposites, and since I am homosexual, either one set or the other is true.”

Have you ever stood outside at night during a winter snowfall and noticed how absolutely quiet it is?  Imagine that kind of quietness intensified tenfold!  I had finally unlocked the cell of that prison in which I had confined myself for nearly 47 years and had walked out into a world where it seemed, suddenly, that no one knew me and I was completely and utterly alone.  But-I-was-out!

First to break the momentary silence, Mother said, “Oh, Ted, you’re not!”  Lengthy discussion followed during which I assured all that it was neither my imagination nor a phase but that it was something I had known since I was a child.  I was asked the question of why I had not told them many years ago so they could “get me some help.”  I explained that the only help I needed was their support and affirmation.

The five of us talked until remnants of Christmas desserts had crusted on our plates and the last of the coffee in the cups was stone cold.  The session was concluded with guarded affirmation — certainly protestations of love, no matter what — but still, concern about “what Scripture says.”  We dealt with that in one final discussion later that seemed to put it all in perspective. It was touch and go with their acceptance for a few months afterward although the subject was seldom discussed.

A few years later, after I had begun teaching, I was visiting with my parents again.  One evening, I was dozing on the sofa in the den while they watched the late evening news.  I remember being partly awake and hearing a bit of the newscaster’s words.  Anita Bryant’s world was falling apart.  She was in the throes of a nasty divorce and the orange growers had removed her as the spokesperson for Florida orange juice.  (My orange juice has tasted better ever since!)  I didn’t open my eyes but I heard my mother’s comment after that segment ended.  Never one to kick a dying horse in the belly and never one for name-calling, she said something that endeared her to me more than anything else I had ever heard her say.   She said to Daddy, “Well, that bitch sure got what she deserved, didn’t she?”

I smiled to myself with the realization that the final affirmation had come.

They became my strongest allies and supporters before their deaths. In the year 2000, I wrote to Anita Bryant to thank her for what her lying had done for my life.  Not surprisingly, she never responded.

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