Focus on the Family Messes With Mine
My sister is six years older than I am. She’s my father’s daughter from his first marriage, before he met my mom. Given the age difference, you might think there’d be distance between us. But we were always close. She was an amazing older sister—a champion storyteller and game inventor, warm and affectionate. When I was severely burned at age five and had to stay inside all summer, Vicki stayed home with me rather than go to summer camp. When we’d visit our relatives in Miami, she’d put me in an inner tube, pull me around the pool and take me on a tour of alternate watery universes she’d create on the spot. My fingers would get all wrinkly from staying in the pool too long. I used to love to brush her long blond hair, and she never complained that I hung on her belt loops.
When she turned 14, things shifted. Her high school friends didn’t want a little kid hanging around. I mean, I had a pet turtle that I walked around the block. That’s not the kind of sister who ups your cool quotient. As adults, she went in one troubled direction, I in another. But when she released a CD, she dedicated it to me. Our bond was that strong.
This is all to say that it’s very hard and strange for me to feel the gulf between us now.
Several years back, Vicki joined an evangelical church and became born again. It led to a lot of humorous conversations between her and my father, a committed atheist. Once she said she was going to become a virgin again. “Oh, honey,” my father said kindly, “that’s going to take a lot of work.” She thought that was hilarious.
With me, she retained her sense of humor, and only talked about Jesus for about a quarter of our conversations. I didn’t care. I wanted her to be happy and sane, and the church facilitated that.
At one point, a close family member, a lesbian, held a commitment ceremony and my sister refused to go. She tried to downplay the reasons for her absence, and I didn’t press her. I figured that had to be some wrinkle I didn’t understand. After all, this intelligent, kind person couldn’t believe homosexuality was an abomination, could she?
My beloved older sister has just started a job at Focus on the Family, a right-wing Christian organization that has made fighting against homosexuality its defining goal. Focus is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the 12 most influential antigay groups that “drive the religious right’s antigay crusade.” Though SPLC stops short of calling Focus a hate group, it is frequently characterized that way in the press.
Focus has wielded considerable political clout in the service of destroying the lives of gays and lesbians, and bisexual and transgendered people. It has been vicious and retaliatory when former employees have spoken out. It is currently advocating a reinstatement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” It wants to repeal federal hate crimes legislation that protects gays and lesbians. It promotes an ex-gay ministry.
By taking this job, my sister is now actively engaged in a daily effort to curtail my human rights. I love her and I value the memories—but I feel like I can’t have contact with her until she’s in a different place.
This is the first time I’m saying that. It was hard when one of us was religious, and one of us wasn’t. It was hard when one of us was a Democrat and the other a Republican. It was hard when she thought I was going to hell, and I thought she wasn’t. But that was all relatively personal. Now she’s part of something larger—she’s on the front lines.
I hope one day we can come back together. I will always wish her well and will be eager to hear from my parents how she’s doing. But I can’t hang onto those belt loops anymore, and it makes me really sad to say that.