Jamiel Terry: A Rising Son

12.2.2011

By Jamiel Terry

When your father is famous for fighting abortion and same-sex marriage, how can you possibly come out?

Jamiel Terry, the adopted son of Randall Terry, founder of pro-life organization Operation Rescue and a virulent opponent of marriage equality, died on Friday December 2 after his car was involved in a crash in Gwinnett County, GA. In 2004, Jamiel wrote a frank and powerful account for Out magazine of growing up gay and closeted, and of his shame at working alongside his father to fight civil unions in Vermont. His father responded with a lengthy essay of his own that reiterated his fierce opposition to homosexuality, and described Out as “committed to the homosexual agenda – homosexual marriage, special ‘civil rights’ for homosexuals, promoting the fallacy that their sexual activities are normal and even laudable.”

Read Jamiel's piece from the May '04 issue of Out:

It’s hard to point to one moment when you begin to come out to yourself, but if I had to, I’d go back to a night seven years ago, when I was 17. I was home from boarding school in my old bedroom at my parents’ house in Windsor, N.Y., where my friend “Johnny” and I had just finished fooling around. Suddenly he asked me, “Do you think we are bisexual or gay?” The question so stunned me, I didn’t know how to respond. I mean, we had been having sex for ages, but I’d always believed I couldn’t be gay: I was the son of Randall Terry, a major leader of the Christian right’s antiabortion movement and now a leader in the fight against marriage for same-sex couples. I’m 24 now and I’m still figuring out my own story.

My father founded Operation Rescue, which became well-known for staging mass demonstrations next to abortion clinics and sometimes flooded an entire city to hold it “hostage.” Growing up in my house was anything but boring. And it was made even more “interesting” because from a very early age I knew I was different. When I was 4 my favorite female was Miss Piggy. That alone was probably not much of a giveaway, but my soft voice and my mannerisms turned out to be signs that I was gay. However, when you grow up in a house where to be the thing you are is an abominable sin, you tend to try to shed those behaviors. I would try to be more masculine in every way I could. My father would rarely say something derogatory about gays around my mom or my sisters, but he would around our male friends and to me. I guess it was the usual stuff you hear, but it hurt me sometimes, and I would ask him not to say those things; I felt that for Christians, it’s not right to mock people, even in their sin. My father knew I was right, and he would apologize. One thing about my father: We kids could certainly tell him what we thought, and we usually wouldn’t get in trouble.

In 1992 my father resigned from Operation Rescue as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the National Organization for Women. Though he could still protest abortion, he couldn’t block access to clinics. Around this time, he began attending gay pride marches in protest and going to Hawaii to fight same-sex marriage. As I understood it, he’d come to believe that in order to stop abortion the country had to get to the roots of the other national “sins,” like homosexuality.

Growing up, I was very sheltered from all this, since I wasn’t allowed to participate in my father’s activities—my family regularly received death threats. When I was 14, I went on an “Impeach Clinton” tour with my father all around the country. For a kid like me, everything about being on the road—the crowds, the hotels, eating out—was a thrill.

The tour only confirmed what I’d already felt: My father is probably one of the most engaging men I have ever met. He is witty, intelligent, and funny. I remember watching him and Patricia Ireland, former president of the National Organization for Women, in a heated debate on CNN. He’s so charming, you could tell that even the icy Ms. Ireland melted. But charming as he is, I knew that as his son, I could never consider living the “gay lifestyle.” I was resigned to the fact that in order for me to achieve the goals I had set for myself and to avoid hell, I had to squelch these feelings. I did everything from participating in charismatic deliverance meetings to fasting; many nights I literally cried myself to sleep while begging God to take these feelings from me. I kept all this to myself; no one had any idea that I was going through this struggle.

But while I was going through all this alone, I did have numerous sexual encounters with my friends, usually during sleepovers at my parents’ house. I didn’t consider myself gay; I just thought it was experimentation or an outlet because none of us had any way to fool around with girls. (I turned out to be wrong on that count, too. Two of my sisters ended up unmarried and pregnant by the time they were 17. One miscarried; the other eventually married, had a second child with her husband, and then divorced.)

None of this interfered with my father’s plans for me or with my sense that I had a certain role to play as Randall Terry’s son. Ever since I can remember, my father pushed me to be a lawyer and then a judge. He often joked that he hoped he could appoint me to the Supreme Court one day (I guess he had great ambitions for both of us.)

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