The Night I Betrayed My Best Friend

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I would like to share a part of my coming out story I’ve never shared publicly. I will share this story in greater depth in my memoir.

The Night of the Betrayal

 

It was around 9:30PM on April 15, 2008 when I sent an instant message to my friend Hunter on AOL. I didn’t know it then but the conclusion from this conversation would change the course of my life

Azariahtn: I don’t think I can live like 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 for another season. Also, Logan doesn’t 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. I know I’ll lose the show and some friends but I can’t live this lie any longer.

Hunter87: They were never your friends to begin with if they abandon you now. 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 Google alert was for Out & About Nashville. The largest LGBT publication in Tennessee carried the story on their website. I could feel the anxiety begin to flood my mind and body. I started to doubt my decision to make this announcement. I dismissed the growing lump in my throat by telling myself, “Not too many people will read this, so, I’m probably fine.”

But after seeing the story published, I knew my train to living honestly had arrived. I was no longer going to be able to run from this truth. I could taste the fear. The fear and reality that I was going to lose everything I dreamt of doing since I was a kid. I was booked to emcee Cruise With A Cause for the second year that Fall. I was guest starring on other Christian TV shows. I was being invited to emcee events for EMI records. I was starting to make a name for myself. Sending out the press release was easy but getting on board with the train of truth – and realizing that the faith community I grew up in and was building a career in didn’t have any space for an openly gay man – was my challenge.

Within two hours of the story being published, I received phone calls and emails from around the country congratulating me. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) called to help me form talking points for the media. CBS Morning show called and wanted to have me on the next day. A producer for Fox News called to book me on the Alan Colmes show. 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. Maybe this would open doors for me that I couldn’t have imagined?

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.

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 my best friend – Logan. His message simply read, “I just feel like you totally betrayed my trust. It’s making me sick.”

After reading his message I felt guilt begin to set in. Had I betrayed his trust? After all, he did ask me to let him know first if I was going to come out.

Logan was my best friend while I hosted my TV show. We became friends after I did some camera work for his show. 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, got my show funded by the NRB Network.

horseandlion
Logan and I at TBN studios in Nashville.

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. It wasn’t the first time someone wanted to have a scheduled and serious talk with me. My pastor wanted to have this same talk when I was 13-years-old. That talk with my pastor was immediately followed by weekly exorcisms to expel the demons of homosexuality out of me. Once again I believed my sexuality was an affliction that would haunt me for the rest of my life. I wasn’t capable of seeing it as a gift yet. I was accustomed to living life as if my queerness didn’t exist. My true self worth had not yet been realized.

My friend, Amanda, comforted me that night as I cried and confided in her about the conversation I knew Logan wanted to have with me.

The Meeting

 

When that week ended, I made the eight-hour drive from wintry Indiana back to Nashville. I drove straight to Logan’s office. I was nervous but hopeful that maybe this was my chance to come clean and God would finally fix me. 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. He was the Christian version of Jay Leno except he wasn’t funny. I don’t say that to be mean. I honestly didn’t think his show was funny. I don’t think my show was good either but I digress. Logan had a large budget for his show. Somehow his dad was able take some of the $14 million he receives annually in donations to his Christian law firm, American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and funnel a fraction of it to Logan for his TV show. Logan’s budget allowed him to have his own TV set at NorthStar Studios and a beautiful, large office suite in the very wealthy town of Franklin.

After eight hours of driving, I parked my small, white Suzuki car in front of his two-story office building. When I opened the door to his building, I could still smell that newness of the building. I made my way up the stairs. A total of twenty steps. Logan’s office was in the very back.

He was already prepared for our meeting. I walked into his office and he was sitting behind his desk. On the wall behind him hung a painting of Alfred Hitchcock – one of Logan’s favorite filmmakers.

After a few minutes of small talk, Logan stated that an anonymous source told him I was seen going to some of the gay bars in Nashville. He then asked the question I was dreading but knew was coming, “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 and I was about to get exiled from his world.

182463_1631761191652_3566536_n
Logan and I stopped at Disney World while on tour with the Christian music festival, Shoutfest.

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 we queer people often face – lie and deny who you are to keep your seemingly good world intact or tell the truth and lose everything. At the time, I didn’t value myself enough to tell the truth and live it out, so, I told 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 continued, “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.”

He didn’t want to be the first to know for my best interest or safety – it was for his. What Logan didn’t understand that night in his office – or the night I came out and he text messaged me his disappointment – is that this was never about him or his dad. My decision to come out had everything to do with redeeming the boy who was forced to forget how to express himself freely. Redeeming the little boy who loved to play with Barbie dolls, makeup and prance around in his sister’s dresses. There was no strategy to betray anyone. I just couldn’t betray myself – that little boy – anymore.

The truth train has come a few times in my life. That night in his office was one of those times. Although I missed it that night I did jump on it the next chance I had. I’m forever glad I did because owning my truth has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.

What’s your truth? What will it cost you?

Her Name Was Stephanie

Driving to church was a dreadfully boring experience. There was nothing but corn fields and dirt roads the whole way. Occasionally, my sister Amanda would try to entertain us by singing, then, my other sister Sarah, would try rapping the song, “Jesus Freak.” I would join in on occasion but I spent most of the time staring out the window wishing the drive was over. Driving to Sunday evening service the night that Stephanie came was no different.

Every Sunday evening the church service was dedicated to congregants sharing testimonies of what God has or is doing for them. My dad was always the first to testify. He is a man of routine. Just like he would go through every room in the house praying the same prayer for each of his kids every weekend, he also gave the same testimony every Sunday. After my dad would speak then Carla would share. After Carla shared, a lady named Stephanie walked on the stage, she adjusted the microphone and began to speak.

Stephanie was not a part of the typical Sunday lineup. This was different, in more ways than one.

Stephanie had long brown hair and wore a floral print dress with tennis shoes. I don’t remember the words she spoke but I remember she reeked of sadness, fear, and desperation like heavy cheap perfume. There was an odd tension in the room when she took the stage, as if she didn’t belong up there.

When the church service ended, members of the congregation gathered around her in the back. At a young age I knew what this meant; they wanted to convert her. But, why? I didn’t understand.

As we drove the dirt roads home that night in our grey Chevrolet station wagon, Amanda didn’t sing and Sarah didn’t rap. Instead, we talked about Stephanie.

That night as I closed my eyes to sleep, Stephanie closed her bedroom door for the last time. A few days later my mom told us what happened.

Stephanie had just been released from jail. After Stephanie visited our church as a last attempt to find love and acceptance, she went home. It was there that someone tied Stephanie to her bed and murdered her.

The conversation we had about Stephanie on our way home from church that evening was how her birth name was Stephen. The tension in the church sanctuary that testimony night stemmed from the fact that Stephanie was a transgender woman. The reason why members wanted to convert her after the service is because they thought she wasn’t right with God.

It was us, the church, who wasn’t right with God.

On that testimony night, Stephanie spent her last evening in a place she hoped would show her love and acceptance. Instead, our testimony was one of rejection and hate for who she was.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, consider who the Stephanie’s in your life might be. Love them. Accept them. Make sure they know it.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth