Can You See Me Now? How Trinity Broadcasting Tried To Erase Me

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Paul & Jan Crouch pictured on the set for TBN’s flagship show, “Praise the Lord!”

Samantha emailed me from the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), “Paul Sr. told him to pull your show from the air immediately.” Everything I dreamt of doing since I was a kid was coming to a forced end. Not by just anyone either. It was from Paul Crouch Sr. himself. Someone I grew up watching on TV and idolizing. Most evenings, after dinner, our family would tune in together and watch TBN’s flagship show, Praise The Lord! Hosted by the founders of TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch.

On this show they would showcase the biggest names within the Charismatic Christian movement – Benny Hinn, Karen Wheaton, Jesse

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Left to Right: Jesse Duplantis, Benny Hinn, John Hagee

Duplantis and John Hagee were some of the biggest crowd pleasers. Benny Hinn and Karen Wheaton were my personal favorites. My sisters and I even played a game we called, “Benny Hinn”. The rules were simple – if you’re Benny Hinn you get to make the other person fall over by waving your hand over their head. We played as if we possessed the same powers we believed God granted to Benny Hinn. When you live in the middle-of-nowhere and you’re a devote Pentecostal family, these are the games you come up with. Everything else is too worldly.

 

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A separate email from another friend I had at TBN read, “They edited you out of the episode you starred on.” I was a guest on one of JCTV’s original productions called, Cruise With A Cause. This was a reality show that was taped onboard of a one-week Christian cruise to the Bahamas. I was the emcee for the cruise and was also onboard filming for my own show that week. This reality show was as dry as the Christian cruise. It was painfully vanilla. Being edited out of it should have come as a relief.

It didn’t hit me how much the news from that email would hurt until I saw the newly edited episode myself. This wasn’t just a horribly vanilla Christian reality show. For me, it was directly connected to the faith community I grew up believing in and loving. A community I desperately sought acceptance from.

About two years after coming out, I was back living in Indiana. It was the Spring of 2010 and I had just moved into my then boyfriend’s apartment in downtown Indianapolis. I finished setting up my TV in the living room, plugged in the antenna then turned on the TV. As I flipped through the over-the-air channels, JCTV flashed on my screen. I’m not sure if I believe in coincidences. Looking back now, this definitely was not one. Not only was that horrible reality show Cruise With A Cause streaming on my TV that very moment, so was my episode. The episode I was edited out of. My immediate thought was, “No way.” Stunned by this happenstance or perhaps Divine appointment, I decided to make myself comfortable. I sat back into the couch and watched to see if they really did edit me out.

On this episode, they were setting up one of JCTV’s staple on-air female personalities on blind dates with some of the other Christian entertainers on the cruise. I was one of her four blind dates for the episode. Sure enough, they edited me completely out of the entire episode. They wanted to erase my existence from their network. That was painful for me to accept. The leaders of the world I grew up believing in and loving intentionally chose to forget I ever existed since I revealed I am gay.

This wasn’t the last time something I loved tried to erase me. It’s something that has been happening to me since I was a kid who liked playing with Barbie dolls and putting on my sister’s dresses. For me, it was fun to play pretend, but, to the adults around me, it was a threat. A threat to their social status. A threat to their hard earned position in heaven. A threat if anyone else found out this child is queer.

I know I’m not alone in this.

There are countless other stories, like mine, about LGBTQ people who have been erased from the memories and archives of their faith communities. The deletion of our queer existence doesn’t occur only after we leave our beloved faith communities. It happens while we’re there. It starts with trying to get us to forget who we are. This is done through ex-gay counseling like I went through. It’s also done through what seems like normal correction. For example, I was physically and verbally disciplined every time my dad caught me playing with my sister’s dolls. Playing with my sister’s dolls became an act of defiance and great courage.

From a young age I was taught through physical, emotional and spiritual abuse to hide the most honest and genuine parts of myself. The unhealthy habits this created in my life are still unfolding and I’m learning to identify them. However, as the unhealthy habits reveal themselves through these stories I’m sharing and the book I’m writing, one question keeps emerging: Can you see me now?

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 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 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 set in. 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.”

After seeing the story published, I realized my train to living honestly had arrived. I could board the train or I could miss it by back peddling my way out of this. I began to feel the fear of everything I was jeopardizing. Everything I dreamt of doing since I was young. I was booked to emcee Cruise With A Cause for the second year that Fall. I was guest starring on other 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 I would have to leave these things I worked hard for behind – 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.

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Logan and I up to our usual antics 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 used to living life as if my queerness didn’t exist. My true self worth had not yet been realized.

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

When that week ended, I made the 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.

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Logan and I toured together in 2005 with the ShoutFest Tour. On one of our days off, he treated all of his friends to Disney 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 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?