I’m From Burr Oak, MI.

by James Schwartz

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

I have read many “True Tales of the ex-Amish”-esque tomes and found little to identify with, with no LGBT stories. I took a half-hearted stab at explaining the religious repression in an ’05 essay, and re-edited it in ’08 to little avail. It seems underwritten, overwrought with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I do not dislike the Amish but have hopes the Amish will change. The Mennonites, founded before the Amish, have a gay youth group. The Old Order has a clear lack of sequined role models.

Once upon a time (1978) in the quiet kingdom of Michiana, the Schwartz Dynasty faced scandal. By “Dynasty” I mean the pressure to produce an heir, not royalty. It was an unwanted heir that was the source of scandal: myself.

Mother: Peggy Carpenter.
Father: Amos Schwartz Jr.

I am adopted by my paternal Amish grandparents, Amos and Wilma Schwartz and raised Amish. Now–on paper–Jr. becomes my brother in addition to Robert Schwartz, Marlene Stauffer, Martin Schwartz, Mary Bontrager, Dorothy Yoder and Henry Schwartz. An idyllic sun-dappled country childhood follows.

By age eighteen even I couldn’t deny the screamingly obvious: I was a big queer! Biding my time. Like Robert, Marlene, Jr, Mary, Martin, Dorothy and Henry, I leave the Amish church. Mom (Wilma) passes away when I am nine, a trauma I never recover from. Mary passes on too, the Schwartz family scattering to the winds. By twenty, I have it all worked out in therapy. I’m a quick study.


I am out to all by my early 20s–further scandal. A career in drag and endless nights out in discos didn’t help. Despite the seclusion and repression, Amish is a religion and people are people. The Amish rigidly follow Scriptures, Leviticus being a favorite. Like all hypochristianity, being true to yourself is at odds with dogma, traditions and teachings.

I take an official stand against the Amish to protest. Homophobia stems from ignorance and is used to justify lack of change. No more. Too many Amish are repressed or exiled. Lives are at risk. Dialogue is needed. It is time for the Old Order to take responsibility on LGBT issues and take a first step towards equality. It is time for Robert, Marlene, Jr, Martin, Dorothy and Henry to come out and support their gay brother. There’s a new Queen of Burr Oak! Where’s my tiara?

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