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Hugs

hugsFrank was my first gay friend. Of course Frank is so much more than that, but it was his being gay, and my friend, that had a lifelong impact on me.

I was in college and working at a local computer store when Frank and I first became friends. He was in his late twenties, and he was our best computer salesman. I was a computer tech, working during my summer breaks. I think I always knew Frank was gay, but it didn’t seem to be a big deal, or at least it wasn’t a big deal to me. During our breaks from work, Frank and I would talk about computers and all of the latest and greatest programs and games for the Apple IIgs, and the new Macintosh computers. He was a jovial, fun, and energetic guy who loved everything about Apple Computers.

One day, at the end of our work shift, Frank walked back into the store after helping a family load up a shiny, new Apple Computer into their car. I was cleaning up around the showroom when I noticed Frank seemed quieter than usual.

“What’s the matter Frank?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” He replied as he tried to busy himself with paperwork.

“I can tell something is bothering you, dude. Tell me or I’ll have to beat it outta you,” I said jokingly.

Frank looked up at me and tried to force a smile. “That woman and her kids were so excited about their new computer, so much so I threw in some free educational games for them.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Well, the kids were so happy that they asked me, if they could have a hug.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

“I told them I couldn’t do that, and I had to walk away. It broke my heart.”

Frank looked down, as if he had done something wrong.

“What?” I said, “Why couldn’t you give them a hug?”

“Because I’m gay.”

“What does being gay have to do with giving kids a hug?”

“Glen, you don’t know what it is like to be a gay man,” he said as tears began welling up in his eyes.

“Being gay means that anyone who hates you will find any reason they can to hurt you. I love kids, but I can never allow myself to hug them, for fear of being accused of being a child molester.”

As I listened to Frank’s words, my initial reaction was one of shock. It was a feeling which quickly became one of anger.

“What? No one would buy that!”

“People would, and they do Glen, that is just how it is.” Frank grabbed up his papers, “I have to get ready to go home.” Frank took off his wired framed glasses and wiped his tears with the back of his hand. He was done talking.

It’s been 30 years since that day and the image of my friend, a kind, sensitive, funny, and good man, who could not risk showing kindness to some grateful and happy children still sits heavy with me. I will never know what it is like for Frank, and for all of the other gay men and women who for years have lived in fear of being assaulted, degraded, and falsely accused of things they did not do. My resolve to try to understand and to make a difference only became stronger as I grew up and moved into a career in law enforcement. There I experienced the real child molesters. There I interrogated the real criminals who hurt our kids for their own self-centered sexual satisfaction. I learned, first hand, how the vast majority of sexual assaults against children are done by people who are closely related to them, and how most of the predators are, in fact, heterosexual. I have come to believe that it is those kinds of people, the ones who hide their sexual predation, who would be the first to accuse a man like Frank of wrong doing, when they are, in fact, the ones we should be afraid of.

Frank’s legacy, his friendship, and his positive influence continued to affect me, even as a young police officer. While still a rookie on the streets, my police training officer, Dan Nix, had me conduct an interview with an assault victim at a local hospital. I was told the man had been attacked by his roommate. The victim had clearly been punched multiple times in the face. His nose was broken, and his left eye was swollen completely shut. As I conducted my investigation, I asked the man a standard question about his relationship to his attacker. The question was an important one in that it could substantiate if the incident was domestic violence under state law. Upon hearing my question, the man sheepishly said, “He is my boyfriend.” The man looked down at his feet and readied himself for a reaction. He got none. I concluded my interview and I explained to the victim what his boyfriend did to him was not only wrong, it was criminal. After arresting the “roommate”, my training officer took me aside. He stood close to me and demanded to know why I never flinched when the victim admitted being gay.

I told the senior officer, “No one, white, black, gay, straight, or anyone else deserves to be beaten by someone who is supposed to love them, and it is my job to investigate it, no matter who is involved.” Officer Nix patted me on the back. “Good job, and you are right, that is your job,” he said as we began walking back to our police car. It’s been 30 years since two friends exchanged words in a small computer store in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. Gay men and women have made great strides over the years, but there are still many who are not treated with love and respect, not because they aren’t people good character, but simply because they are gay.

I recently had the honor of reconnecting with my old friend, Frank. He is still jovial, fun, and I have learned he eventually went to work for his favorite computer company, Apple. Although Frank lives far away, I want him to know that as his friend, he will always be in my heart, and he is always welcome in my home. And as a father, if my son, Evan, ever asks for a hug from him, Frank should know that it is more than all right with me.

In fact, it’s about time.