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APRIL 11. 2003
A new war,
a new me
Eleven years ago, when bombs fell on Baghdad,
I was singing the national anthem in support.
This time around, coming out has changed my view.
By MILES CHRISTIAN DANIELS
WAS ON MY WAY HOME
from 7-Eleven when a song was
interrupted with news that
America was bombing Iraq. A
nervous reporter gave play-byplay commentary. Bombs and
bullets exploded in the background.
I had just turned 14 and remember the
sense of pride I felt that night. In somewhat silly fashion, I joined a few of my
friends in placing our right hands over
our hearts and singing together. "Oh. say
can you see by the dawn's early light what
so proudly we hailed?"
I was still in the closet in 1991. And I
would stay that way for nine more years,
both in terms of my sexual orientation
and the way I thought things were supposed to be.
But a few details from Operation
Desert Storm are still fresh. Peter Arnett
and Bernard Shaw became household
names. That ghostly green night-vision
camera, which brought the bombing into
our living rooms, still occasionally
emerges in my dreams. And I fondly
remember Mom hanging the American
flag on our front porch post and tying a
yellow ribbon around the rusted anchor
in our front yard.
That war lasted less than two
months, and Bush Sr. declared victory.
Years later I would learn we didn't even
come close to winning, and that hopeful
Iraqi citizens, who had welcomed our
troops with song and dance, were later
slaughtered as they tried to finish what
we had started. I also learned that all we
did to help was toss stale bread from a
THOUGH WANCHESE, OUR SMALL
fishing village in coastal North Carolina,
had sent no troops, the community rallied
behind George Bush Sr, much like it's
doing today with his son. And I stood
behind them — not only on the issue of
war, but on other moral issues.
I believed abortion was murder, with
no exceptions. I believed that gays went to
Hell, even though I battled those "demons"
myself. I believed Bush Sr. was seated next
to the Father's right hand and that listening to liberals would poison my thoughts
and hinder my walk with God.
I guess, in a way, being gay has
been good for me. And being
gay and from Wanchese even
belter. Though I'm still loved by
many there, even more consider
me a depraved sinner and
Even in high school and early college, I
held onto my beliefs. I wrote a newspaper
column for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk
about how wonderful Newt Gingrich's
"Contract with America" would one day
be for my generation.
I became a licensed minister in my
denomination, and served for a year-and-
a-half as a full-time youth minister. Life
was on-track and Wanchesers, as they're
known, couldn't have been more proud.
Until I came out.
AT FIRST, I WONDERED IF MY MORAL
metamorphism was a sort of inner revolt
— a way of coping with the fact I was now
deemed a sinner — an immoral enemy —
in the eyes of those I had loved and grown
up with. 1 started writing newspaper
columns about gay issues and accepting
and loving all people regardless of their
differences. The beliefs I once held so dear
had seemingly deteriorated.
A few nights before our current
president announced our invasion of
Iraq, I stood in downtown Wilmington,
N.C., holding a lit candle poked through
a paper cup holder. Crowded around
were a couple hundred people who —
like me — did not think we were doing
the right thing.
There were Catholics from the downtown parish, activists from the Green
and Democratic parties, a handful of
local college professors and students,
and a healthy representation of gay men
We silently prayed for peace and then
we went home.
Though I tried to conjure up the emotions I had felt during the first Persian
Gulf War, they just weren't there. In fact,
at that moment, I would have been lucky
to stumble through that first line of the
"Star Spangled Banner."
And, in addition to my prayer for our
brave troops, I added a few others to the
list, like those Iraqis whose lives would be
lost in the line of erroneous bombs and
bullets — those civilians who had asked
for none of this.
I even offered a prayer for Saddam
Hussein. After all. I was taught that
Christ came for the most grave of sinners.
While standing silently at that vigil, I
also thought about how my life has
changed in these brief years since
America's first war in Iraq. How only a
few years ago, I would have been on the
other side of the street waving our flag,
holding high my sign proclaiming
Hussein a devil, and shouting at those
who were not being patriotic.
I guess, in a way, being gay has been
good for me. And being gay and from
Wanchese even better. Though I'm still
loved by many there, even more
consider me a depraved sinner and an
So, I've had to learn the hard way what
it's like to be thrust on the other side of
enemy lines. And I've felt the pain of
those who are hated, spit upon and — for
some — even murdered for simply being
who they are.
il Daniels is a freelance writer and
in Wilmington, N.C.
He can be reached at