Steve Grand, a formerly unknown singer/songwriter from Chicago, hit a nerve of longing and reconciliation with his County Music ballad of unrequited love, “All-American Boy.” In less than two weeks since Grand put the video up on YouTube, the song has received nearly a million hits, measuring up favorably against the offerings of some of the most recognizable names in American music. What makes “All-American Boy” so compelling at this time in our culture is the way Grand’s breathtaking roll-of-the-dice for love, approval, and self-acceptance touches the nation’s soul.
Betting everything on one video, Grand maxed out his single credit card and drew on the kindness of friends to put together the story of a campfire crush that leads to a single kiss, and then to a gentle, heartbreaking rebuff. All the elements of the familiar story of unreciprocated love are there: desire, forlorn hope, vulnerability, the awkward kiss, rejection, and then the disappointment and the aching hurt that go with it. But Grand injects the story with a crucial twist that only could work today: the unrequited lover and his object of desire are both men.
Grand’s back story provides the spiritual energy that connects his song with the life experiences of so many people. The child of a Catholic Midwestern family who discovered his attraction for his own gender at age 13 in Boy Scout Camp, Grand came out to his disapproving parents who put him through several years of “straight therapy.” It didn’t work. Closeted but gay, Grand struggled with shame and self-doubt into adulthood, feeling like a disappointment to his parents, and led a furtive life so many gays and lesbians can relate to. Music gave him joy and passion, but to make ends meet, he took odd jobs, modeling stints, and, ironically, singing gigs in churches. Finally, unable and unwilling to endure the self-betrayal of the closeted life, Grand came out as gay in one, stunning moment, telling his story to the world in “All-American Boy.”
The soul of America is responding to Steve Grand in a powerful way, searching for reconciliation between LGBTQ people and a heterosexual majority who are striving to understand them. Spiritually, reconciliation is more compelling than rejection, since its motive energy comes from love. It is the power that drew pagan Ruth to Hebrew Naomi, the force that reconciled the Prodigal Son first to his father, and then to his older, disapproving brother. It is the way of justice the prophets walked, paving the way for estranged humanity and a seeking God to reach out to each other and embrace.
In a time of seemingly hopeless political gridlock in Washington, war fatigue at home and anxiety over Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East, not to mention frustration with the NSA’s invasion of personal privacy in the name of national security, Steve Grand’s gracious, plaintive song cuts through the defensiveness and aggression of this age. It is the pure invitation of a son to his parents, of a lover to his beloved, and of millions of oft-rejected citizens to their country: “Be mine.”
Hundreds of thousands have taken Steve up on his offer so far. He has remained humble in his newfound success. The only thanks he says he wants is in the email messages from people who recognize their story in his. His greatest moment so far is the admission of his mother that she and his father are finally proud of him, just the way he is. The “All-American Boy” is reconciling with himself and his world, and now Steve says he is truly happy and at peace for the first time in his life.
Steve Grand is no media messiah, no lawyered-up diva . . . yet. May he never be. He is enough like most Americans that we feel the pull to reconcile at least some of our differences with each other when we hear him sing. His heartfelt cry awakens something in the American spirit Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature.” Perhaps songs and stories like Steve’s will prompt more healing and understanding between gays and straights than any legislation or court ruling ever could. Of course, there will be losses. Unrequited love does not have to end in bitterness and despair, however. It may become the engine of a future reconciliation, an invitation not to settle with failure, but to get ourselves up, reach out again, and pursue the peace we all long for.
Yorkville, Illinois- An 18-year-old man was sentenced by an Illinois court to two years in prison for his role in a violent attack upon a gay man. Marquitte West was found guilty of hate crime related to sexual orientation for participating in a gang attack against 29-year-old gay man Bryce Stiff in June 2010. Both men are from Oswego, Illinois, a city of 30,000 in the northern part of the state. Two other Oswego men, Jabari Tuggles and Robert Franklin, are being held in prison awaiting their trials for the same offense. A third man is still being sought by the police.
Stiff suffered severe injuries in the attack, leaving him with nerve damage to his face, and a lip so harmed that he has required reconstructive surgery. He has lingering psychological problems since the savage assault, as well. In a letter to the court prior to West’s sentencing, Stiff wrote, “I used to be a happy, caring and loving person who would do anything to help anyone. I was happy about me being gay … but now I’m filled with so much bitterness, hatred and I’m very depressed. I don’t like leaving my home. I don’t like doing things that excite me anymore. I feel like everyone is out to get me.”
According to Chicago Pride, West will serve out his sentence in conjunction with a theft charge. He is required by the court to pay his victim’s medical costs. The Kendall County District Attorney told Chicago Pride that this is the first hate crimes prosecution he can recall in county history.
Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT. In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States. Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage. According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion. GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess. Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military. We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services. To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.
Chicago, IL – A predominantly gay and lesbian synagogue in Chicago was specifically targeted for a terrorist attack this past weekend. Though the plot was foiled by law enforcement, Chicago’s Jewish community is on alert. The terrorist plot, originating in Yemen and thought to be the work of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, involved explosive-filled packages to be delivered to Or Chadesh, a congregation of around a hundred gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their families, that worships in space rented from Emmanuel Congregation, on the north side of Chicago. According to WLS Radio reports, a highly placed Jewish source informed Emmanuel’s Rabbi Michael Zedek that the LGBTQ synagogue his congregation housed one of two Jewish houses of worship to be targeted in the Chicago area. Zedek, in turn, communicated with the spiritual leader of the Or Chadesh congregation, Rabbi Larry Edwards, to let him know about the plot to attack the LGBTQ congregation. Rabbi Edwards told WLS that members of his flock took the news “rather calmly,” saying that their identity as an LGBTQ synagogue may have been an added reason for terrorists to choose their congregation for an attack. Rabbi Edwards said to The Advocate: “Immediately, you kind of think, ‘well, [representing the gay community], maybe that makes us an additional target…. It could be totally random, somebody went on the Internet and picked a couple of synagogues.” The FBI has affirmed that religious institutions in the Chicago area were specifically chosen by terrorists in the Yemen-based plot, but the FBI has refused to confirm that Or Chadesh (and another, predominantly heterosexual Jewish congregation) was singled out for the attack. Rabbi Edwards says he is puzzled that he and Or Chadesh had not been informed by federal officials. Edwards told a reporter for WLS: “How did you find me? If you could do it, the FBI could do it. … I haven’t heard anything (from the FBI).” Still, Rabbi Edwards and his congregation are “grateful that the system worked in this case and law enforcement tracked [the plot] down.” Press and police came to the Friday services at Emmanuel Congregation, as well as supporters from the community. Rabbi Zedek said that Emmanuel routinely provides a security service whenever anyone is in the building, and has done so for a long time. He did not plan for extra security measures to be implemented at this time. “We’ll operate as business as usual,” Rabbi Zedek said. “That is part of the usual business that has come to our world.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Zedek and other leaders at Congregation Emmanuel discovered that the syangogue website has been visited “dozens of times” by sources in Egypt. Zedek has informed the FBI, and leads are being followed. Prior to nesting with Emmanuel Congregation, LGBTQ-predominant Or Chadesh rented space from Second Unitarian Church in the Lakeview area. Pastor Adam Robersmith of the Unitarian congregation told reporters that he had heard of the possibility that Or Chadesh had been selected by the terrorist in the failed attack, but he also said that he had no reason to believe his congregation was in any peril.