In honor of National Coming Out Day, I would like to share a part of my coming out story that I’ve never shared publicly. I will share this story in greater depth in my upcoming book, My Gay Agenda.
It was around 9:30PM on April 15, 2008 when I messaged my friend Hunter on AOL Instant Messenger. I didn’t know it then but the conclusion from this conversation would change the course of my life.
The conversation went something like this…
Azariahtn: I don’t think I can do this anymore.
Hunter87: What do you mean?
Azariahtn: I think I’m ready to come out. I’m tired of living a double life. I have nothing to lose. The show hasn’t been renewed yet for another season. Also, Logan doesn’t really talk to me anymore since I told him I “struggle” with my sexuality. Maybe that’s why they haven’t renewed the show?
Hunter87: What are you going to do?
Azariahtn: I think I’m going to come out tonight. I think I will draft a press release, send it out and just see what happens.
Hunter87: I get it. We all have to decide not only if but when we are going to come out.
Azariahtn: I know I’ll lose the show and probably some friends too but I can’t live a lie anymore.
Hunter87: I support you.
Azariahtn: Thank you. 🙂
After my conversation with Hunter, I drafted a press release which I sent out the same night. “Christian TV Host Announces He’s Gay” was the headline for the release. I didn’t think anyone would care enough to publish the story. I was wrong.
When I woke up the next morning, I had one Google alert.
The local LGBT news outlet, Out & About Nashville, carried the story on their website. I dismissed the lump in my throat by telling myself, “Not too many people will read this, so, I’m probably fine.”
After seeing the story published, I was having second thoughts about coming out publicly. I thought, “I may be able to just brush this off and continue with the show.” After all, I was set to host Cruise With A Cause for the second year that Fall. If the show didn’t get renewed, I could at least still do that. Sending out the press release was easy. Having to engage with the truth, now that it was public, was my challenge.
Within two hours of the story being published, I received phone calls and emails from around the country congratulating me. CBS Morning show called and wanted to have me on the next day. Larry King’s producers were interested having me on the show. A friend told me even Lance Bass was asking about me.
I was beside myself.
I was excited, overwhelmed, and nervous.
Even though people around the country were congratulating me, the news didn’t reach people within my immediate circle, yet.
Around six o’clock that evening, I received a phone call from a producer in Los Angeles. At the end of the call he said something I will never forget, “By the way, did you see yourself on the front page of Perez Hilton?”
That’s when I knew there was no going back. I had to engage with the truth.
Emails and text messages started to pour in by the hundreds.
One text message read, “Father, I pray for Azariah. Be with him Lord and show him your will. Take away any confusion. Make yourself TRULY known to him Jesus. Amen.”
Then, after not speaking to me for nearly three months, I received a message from someone I considered my best friend, Logan. His message simply read, “I just feel like you totally betrayed my trust. It’s making me sick.”
Truth be told, I felt guilty. I felt like I had betrayed his trust. After all, he did ask me to let him know first if I was going to come out. What I know now is he didn’t want to know first for my best interest or safety, it was for his.
Logan was my best friend while I lived in Nashville hosting my TV show. However, the only reason I had a TV show was because of Logan and his dad, Jay Sekulow. Logan helped me create my pilot and his dad, Jay, as a board member of the NRB Network, got my show funded.
Logan and I hung out almost everyday. That all stopped in January of 2008.
While I was visiting my parents for Christmas that year, Logan messaged me on AOL Instant Messenger…
Lunarpunk: When are you back in town?
Azariahtn: I get back at the end of this week. Why? What’s up?
Lunarpunk: I think we need to talk about something.
I immediately knew what he wanted to talk about and I felt like it was the end of my world. Why couldn’t I just stop being gay? It felt like, once again, homosexuality was ruining everything I valued. Only if I was more disciplined. Only if I was more in tune with the Holy Spirit. Only if I had an accountability partner.
A million different ways of how I could have been a better Christian and human flooded my mind. I remember my friend, Amanda, comforted me that night as I cried and told her that I was about to lose everything. Because that’s what a good friend does. They bring comfort, not ultimatums. Certainly not stones.
When that week ended, I made the drive from wintry Indiana back to Nashville. I drove straight from Indiana to Logan’s office. I was scared but determined this could be fixed. The only thing that needed fixed was my ignorance to the depth of my own worth and value as a gay man.
Logan had his own TV show titled, The Logan Show. Because Logan’s dad is Jay Sekulow, Logan had a large budget for his show. His budget allowed him to have his own TV set at NorthStar Studios in Nashville. His budget also afforded him to have a beautiful, large office across the street from the Christian record label, Providence Records, in the very wealthy town of Franklin.
I parked my small, white Suzuki car in front of his two-story office building. When I opened the door to his building, I couldn’t help but revel in that new building smell. I made my way up the stairs. A total of twenty steps.
Logan’s office was in the very back.
Already prepared for our meeting, I walked into his office and he was sitting at his desk. Behind him hung a painting of Alfred Hitchcock, one of Logan’s favorite filmmakers.
After a few minutes of small talk, Logan disclosed an anonymous source told him I was seen going to the Nashville gay bars. He then asked me the question I knew was coming but was dreading. The question I always feared being asked, “Azariah, it’s okay if you are but I need to know. Are you gay?”
Isn’t that how it’s usually prefaced, “It’s okay if you are.” The truth is, it wasn’t okay with Logan and I was about to get exiled from his world.
My mind quickly raced for an answer. An answer that would allow me to keep my friend and my TV show. This is the reality LGBTQ people often face – stay within your torture chamber or leave everything you’ve ever known and start again. At the time, I didn’t value myself enough to leave. I didn’t have the strength to leave. So, I chose to stay in the torture chamber this world was determined to keep me in.
I settled with telling him as much of the truth I could bear to tell.
“It’s something I struggle with, yes.” I replied.
That’s when he gave me the ultimatum.
The young 20-something-year-old Logan then continued to state, “If you choose to get help, you can keep the show. If not, you will need to go behind the scenes or we will have to find someone else to do the show. Since my name and my dad’s name are attached to your show, I need you to tell me first if you choose to come out.”
What Logan didn’t understand that night in his office or the night I came out – this wasn’t about him or his dad.
For 20+ years, I was physically abused, spiritually abused and emotionally abused for one thing – being gay. To muster the strength I did and fight my way out of that torture chamber was no easy task. For years, I often found myself back in that torture chamber. Every moment of everyday, I still fight to not go back. The door to that chamber creeks open when a family member says, “God is going to change you, Azariah.” Or when a stranger asks, “Do you have a girlfriend?” In those moments, fear tries to reach for me and pull me back in.
There are countless people living in our world toady who will never escape that suffering.
That must end.
That’s why it’s important to have National Coming Out Day.
That’s why it’s important to celebrate Pride not every year but every damn day.
We will never be able to forget the world of suffering we’ve escaped as LGBTQ people. But we can heal from the pain. That, my dear friends, is possible.
Logan, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry you felt betrayed but you were asking me to betray myself.
I’ll end with a quote from my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, “Understanding and love aren’t two things. When you understand you can’t help but love. And when you love, you act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.”
May we all choose that path. May we all find that path.
If you’d like to connect and share your story, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org