I’m From Raymond, MN.

by Brent Roelofs

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

In light of the recent tragic suicides as a result of gay teens being bullied, it has brought back a lot of memories of the struggles and pain that I went through when people found out that I was gay.

I guess the bullying began when I was in the 1st grade when I preferred playing with the girls to the boys.  I’ll never forget one cold winter day some of the boys in my class followed me home yelling “fag” at me and throwing snowballs at me with rocks in them.  Then one summer day while at the public pool, one of them stepped on my head as I was trying to get out of the pool and held me under. When I tried to flee the pool they followed me out and beat me up while I was trying to get away on my bike.  This was in Rock Valley, IA. My family then moved back to Minnesota where the happiest part of my childhood, the first 5 years, had happened.

I grew up most of my life in Raymond, MN.  The population at the time was 750 people, and my family belonged to the Christian Reformed Church. It was after being called a “fag” when I was 6 or 7 that I realized I was different and that I liked boys not girls. But I heard in church on a regular basis that homosexuality was an “abomination” and “sinful.” So I would pray every day for God to change me. I didn’t want to be the “fag.” I didn’t want to get beat up or teased anymore for who I was. But it didn’t stop. It continued right through high school. Even the seniors picked on me when I was only in the 7th grade. Neighboring towns’ boys would follow our bus back to Raymond after games and try to beat me up as I got off the pep band bus.

But in 1989, I joined a Christian youth singing group called The Carpenter’s Tools affiliated with West Central Youth for Christ. I had an epiphany at that moment, that God must love me no matter who I was. So I told myself I would bide my time and come out when I was in college and spare myself the pain of rejection that I knew would occur.

Later that year, I met a 24 year-old man who was sort of a “groupie” of “The Tools” and I fell in love for the first time. I wrote him love notes; we had sex and began a romantic relationship. He would then tell me we were going to hell and said we both should just kill ourselves. This roller coaster ride went on for about 3-4 months. During the summer before my Senior year of high school I was supposed to be leaving for Africa on a trip with “The Tools” when the director of the group and a fellow member came to my house and told me that they had called my mother to come home to talk to me and that if I didn’t tell them that I was gay, that they would. Oh…and that I would not be joining them in Africa all because Shawn had told them what had been going on because “he felt so guilty.”

What ensued in the weeks/months after this encounter was nothing less than hell. I was thrust into a world where EVERYONE found out my secret. My church, my family and my school; everyone in my life just disappeared. I remember my Dad saying, “You will NOT be gay under my roof.”  My mom said, “You’ll die of AIDS if you lead this lifestyle.”  They made me go to counseling to try to change me. My parents made me go and get the love letters I had written Shawn and then told me to burn them on the grill. I considered suicide, and honestly am really unsure why I didn’t do it. But some amazing inner strength kept me going and a belief that God still loved me at the very least.

Weeks later I ran away, I moved in with a friend’s family in South Dakota. He was gay as well and they were very supportive, even if the whole situation was extremely uncomfortable for them. I owe them my life because I don’t think I would be alive right now if they hadn’t been there. Shortly before graduation, my family asked me to come home to graduate. I did, and the day after graduation I moved out and I never looked back. I don’t think I spoke with my family until 3 years later.

It has taken me years to heal from that time and those experiences. In fact I’m not sure if it will ever NOT hurt when I think of those times. But now I know…that things do get better. And I am so glad that I am alive to share at least some of my story. The only frustrating part is that 19 years later it is all still happening. Kids are killing themselves because they are gay or being bullied at school.

There were funny and crazy times in my childhood too, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

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