Johnny Dean McCurry forgot his rewards discount card at a grocery store in Burnsville and said he asked a woman if he could borrow hers.
“She looked me up and down, and it brought back so many memories,” he said. “She hesitated and then she just turned away.”
The snub made him feel ostracized, the way he felt growing up in this rural corner of Appalachia where he was taught that homosexuality is a sin. When he got home from the store, McCurry, 52, said he wept. The depth of his feelings surprised him.
“I realized all the anger from childhood, I’d not outgrown any of that. I’d not healed any of that.”
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As he meditated that afternoon in the quiet of his grandfather’s cabin, an image came to mind. It was a summer day in 1969. He was 5, attending Vacation Bible School. As part of an art project, the kids got their pictures taken.
In the photograph, he is sitting on the church steps, his hands folded in his lap. He’s dressed in shorts, argyle socks, navy blue sneakers and a T-shirt with stripes at the neck and sleeves. His hair is buzzed short. On his face is a big smile.
But what he remembers most about that day happened out of the camera’s view. He said the other boys at the church told him he couldn’t play with them. They called him a “pussy.”
It was the first time he was bullied for being gay.