'Take a Marine Like Me'

I found myself weepy as I read that the Senate had voted to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." I wished that my father, Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal bishop of New York from 1970 to 1992, were alive to hear the news.
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I found myself weepy as I read that the Senate had voted to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." I wished that my father, Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal bishop of New York from 1970 to 1992, were alive to hear the news. An activist for social justice and equality throughout his professional life, he was also a highly decorated Marine in the Pacific in World War II. As a bishop, he ordained the first avowed lesbian, Ellen Marie Barrett, in January, 1977, a decision he wrote about in a book called Take a Bishop Like Me. I am sure that he would have been vocal and public about the need to make the military a place as free as the country it defends. If he were a Marine in Iraq or Afghanistan today, he would be affected by the repeal: In 1990, my siblings and I were stunned to find out, and to have my father confirm, begrudgingly, that he had had a secret life as a homosexual, at least throughout his adulthood. Suddenly the quaint title of his book seemed apt.

In his very public ministry, my father repeatedly took public stands for civil rights: fights with landlords as an inner city priest in Jersey City in the 50's, excoriating corporations for leaving Manhattan in the 70's, publicly debating Cardinal O'Connor over gay housing rights in the 80's. He taught us to take stands too. He even supported me when as a 14 year-old I refused to go to church on Sunday mornings. "How can I go when I don't believe in God?" I asked him. "I don't want to be a hypocrite." Not ordaining Barrett would have made him a hypocrite. Barrett was fully qualified for the priesthood, my father reasoned. She should not be turned away from her vocation for her honesty. He knew only too well how many priests were closeted homosexuals or bisexuals, many of them husbands and fathers.

He hadn't wanted us to know about his sexuality, and once we did, he asked us not to tell. Not only was he not who I thought he was in the most fundamental human way, I was now expected to keep his secret -- and I was the one who hated hypocrisy! The military's mixed message -- you can be gay, just don't talk about it or act on it -- has surely affected not only gay and lesbian soldiers themselves, but also their comrades, their commanders and their families. Opponents of repeal worried about unit cohesion: don't they know that secrecy too bears a cost? As a therapist, I am well-schooled in the havoc wrought by secrets in families. And when a secret comes out into the open, whether an affair or an addiction or a sexual identity, one's world turns upside down. The world will turn upside down in a much better way for many gay and lesbian soldiers in coming days and months. Finally the psychological gymnastics it takes to conceal so much of themselves day after day will no longer be necessary. They can finally stand proud. My father hid his identity from my mother and after her death, from my stepmother, from his children, from his fellow clerics and staff, from his "flock." I can only imagine his private torment and guilt. Born in 1919, he kept his secret even as society grew more accepting of homosexuality. Why?

Candor would have cost him his career in the ministry. We fought about many things over the years, including his choice not to write about his double life when he wrote his autobiography, Presences. I thought he missed a great opportunity to talk about the personal cost of the choice he had made, above all to himself, but also to his children, his wives, his friends and colleagues. Deeply religious and responsible, my father was a man who stood up for others. The rules of the Church -- another version of 'don't ask, don't tell' -- made it too costly for him to stand up and be himself. Were he alive, I'm sure he'd be standing proud.

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