My earliest memories about this subject was that "queers" (one of the derogatory terms of the day, since picked up proudly by some gay folk) were bad people and completely abnormal and probably mentally ill. My first experience with someone who was gay was very negative because he attempted to have unwanted sex with me, which I managed to avoid. It was not violent; but it was very much not what I wanted; and it was an attack. That colored the subject for me for decades afterward, along with the locker room attitudes of most men, and probably women as well, of my generation.
On top of that, of course, as one who was regularly in attendance in a Protestant Church, I had the Bible supporting my attitude toward those who were not heterosexual. I knew those places in the Bible where it seemed obvious that God was against those things.
I questioned the Bible a lot as a late teen and young adult; but I never quit questioning my beliefs or the beliefs of others in this area as I got older. The fact is I still question constantly what I believe, what others say about their beliefs, the world around me; but probably most of all human behavior in the context of morality and how we treat one another.
In the midst of my questioning as a beginning middle adult, I attended seminary at a United Methodist Seminary where I learned a lot more about how to properly question the scriptures including not just the translations (which, as a young person I thought was literally correct in the King James Version) but also cultural setting, the way the author or authors of the particular section of scripture edited it, and others. I thought I was "getting there" when it came to understanding the Bible; but I still had a lot of fundamentalism left in my "bones" from my upbringing. It was hard to escape that because it was almost like changing not just my beliefs, but the core of who it meant to be Mike Mansfield.
I continued in what I refused at the time to call homophobia. I had the scriptures to back me up; and it couldn't be a literal fear of homosexuals that was at the core of my beliefs about being anything but heterosexual. All of that was abnormal. "How do I know? The Bible tells me so," as the song goes.
Then something happened. Someone whom I dearly loved, someone who was an amazingly gifted preacher, singer, guitarist, and ordained Elder in my Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church and whom I had expressed my attitudes about those who were not straight during a support group meeting a year or so earlier decided that, essentially, he could no longer hide who he was. Allan was gay; and this gifted, loving man was out of the ministry. I was sorry for that. He had moved outside of the area where I lived; but I still missed his presence and the interactions we had at retreats and other avenues where we were both present. That probably put a question in the back of my head; but, if so, I managed to avoid it at the time.
Then, a few years later, I was able to access the internet and became part of the Protestant Revised Common Lectionary discussion list. On that list was a gay young adult whose father was a United Methodist pastor. He engaged me in a discussion of the biblical texts from which were drawn my "biblical" understandings of homosexuality; and he showed me alternative understandings of what the Bible was saying about it. I realized that I was very much just picking and choosing which of the First Testament lessons, in particular, I liked when so many of them were just absolutely crazy in modernity and more like "cave man" thinking. He also pointed out inconsistencies in how we interpret even New Testament lessons to the point of getting my questioning mind going rapidly.
Then it happened: I discovered that another gifted pastor whom I knew was gay; and the questioning got even stronger. I now was internally becoming very convinced that gay people were not defective but just different. My understandings were my own, though; and I didn't share them with very many people at that time.
I cannot give you a day or time when I actually completely (and religious folk forgive me for using this term; but it is the right one), a day or time when I actually completely CONVERTED, to the place where my mind and heart and spirit realized how precious LGBTI folk were in God's sight and should be in mine and also in the eyes of the legal system of the United States. It happened, though; and I have gone from this internal belief to the point where I feel like it is one area where I must speak out. As a retired pastor I don't have to worry about losing my job nor my pension; but I understand those who might be afraid to speak out who are still serving in a local congregation. I feel pity for them, though, as I feel regret for my own pathetic fear in being vocal about this.
Since then, though, I have met face-to-face with my friend Allan who left the ministry, hugged and been hugged, and continue to communicate my love for him and vice versa. He was and is an amazing and wonderful man. If you knew him, even if you are still against homosexual ordination or against homosexual rights, I am sure you'd like him. He was a gift to the United Methodist Church that was removed by our refusal to give full rights to those who are not heterosexual, just as women were at one time excluded from the full life of the church.
Jesus said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another." I attempt to live this out; but, in the meantime as I continue to learn and grow:
"Father, forgive me, forgive us, for we know not what we do."