Guest Column
I’m a gay retired professor who fears the ugly revival of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ | Column
It took me years to overcome the heterosexual grooming of a fundamentalist church and accept that I was gay.
A billboard along Interstate 95 in Hollywood, Florida, on May 26, 2022, is part of an 80 billboard campaign to combat Florida's new "Parental Rights in Education" law, labeled "don't say gay" by critics.
A billboard along Interstate 95 in Hollywood, Florida, on May 26, 2022, is part of an 80 billboard campaign to combat Florida's new "Parental Rights in Education" law, labeled "don't say gay" by critics. [ MIKE STOCKER | Sun Sentinel ]
Published Jul. 17

I grew up in a white fundamentalist Christian household where I was pressured to be heterosexual. Presents from my parents in my teenage years included a BB gun, a 22-caliber rifle, woodworking equipment such as saws and hand-tools and sports gear. I was pushed into playing football and encouraged to date girls.

Our church’s denunciation of homosexuality was couched in terms of “love.” While being gay was seen as evil, worshipers were told to “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Sins included homosexuality, pedophilia, drug addiction and kleptomania. Pushing young boys into the closet was viewed as an act of love — a way to “save” them from sin and eternal damnation.

William Felice
William Felice [ UNKNOWN | Photo: Courtesy ]

It took me years to overcome this heterosexual grooming and accept that I was gay. I didn’t “come out” until my late 20s, and even then didn’t really have “the talk” with my family until much later. But I’m lucky. My story ends positively. I’ve now been with my husband for more than 30 years, and marriage laws protect our legal rights and privileges.

But countless other gay boys in my generation weren’t so lucky. Being told growing up that their natural feelings were sinful and unnatural led many to depression, drug and alcohol addiction and, in too many cases, suicide. During my adolescence, continuous ridicule was directed at homosexuals. We were said to be weak, inferior, perverse and diseased. “Coming out” was risky as it could lead to violence in our schools and communities and discrimination in our jobs and housing. Hatred of homosexuals was often disguised with language of “family values” and “religious freedom.”

Tragically, led by Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill, America today seems to be turning back to repeating this repressive era. “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is back with a vengeance.

According to USAFacts, 16 laws restricting the LGBTQ community have so far been passed throughout America in 2022. Alabama, Florida and South Dakota passed laws prohibiting teachers and schools from instructing some students about issues of gender and sexuality. The new South Dakota laws applies to colleges, universities and professional training. Florida and Alabama’s laws include expansive language stating that instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity must be age appropriate (whatever that is).

The Florida law prohibits teaching issues of gender or sexuality to children where it’s “developmentally inappropriate.” Parents have the right now to file lawsuits against schools perceived to violate these vague policies. Schools can be subject to financial penalties, including attorney fees.

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During the Florida legislative process, Republican lawmakers claimed that the bill had a narrow focus and would not harm the LGBTQ community. Yet, the vague language restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity has already had a chilling effect beyond grades K-3.

Fearing the implications of the law, Palm Beach County has removed multiple books featuring LGBTQ characters. Districts through the state have removed references to LGBTQ advocacy. Conservative religious activists have successfully removed dozens of LGBTQ books in multiple school districts. Pride flags have been removed from school spaces.

Equality Florida has received more than 50 complaints of censorship aimed at the LGBTQ community since the bill was signed into law. It was shocking to learn that Orange County Public School teachers were told not to display pictures of their same-sex spouses, not to wear rainbows and to remove safe-space stickers from classroom doors. Gay role models for our children are being told to “get back into the closet.”

In addition, discrimination against transgender children has reached fever pitch. Alabama and Arizona passed laws this year preventing transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care. Both states prevent transgender children from receiving puberty blockers or gender-affirming surgery. Further legislation in Alabama and Oklahoma requires public facilities, including restrooms, to be used according to a person’s sex, and not their gender identity. Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Supreme Court “should reconsider” past rulings codifying same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.

The rolling-back of legal protections for the LGBTQ community, is not limited to the United States. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, vicious attacks on gay people have become a defining component to illiberal, autocratic governments around the world.

To consolidate power, corrupt leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian President Viktor Orban and former Tanzanian President John Magufuli have vilified LGBTQ people. These autocrats promote homophobia and transphobia as a means to rally public support and escape accountability for corruption and, often, criminal behavior.

The radicalized Republic Party has similarly rallied its evangelical religious base to undermine public support for gay rights and roll back our legal protections. It would be a huge error for progressives to underestimate the power of homophobia to sway millions of voters.

On Feb. 4, 2021, President Joe Biden released a “Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons Around the World.” The memorandum states: “All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.” Biden states: “I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure the United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

This admirable foreign policy initiative provides a blueprint for a domestic policy initiative. The federal government must ensure that basic human rights of all LGBTQ Americans are upheld and protected in all 50 states.

William F. Felice is professor emeritus of political science at Eckerd College He is the author of six books on human rights and international relations. He can be reached via his website at


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