After surviving a childhood of secrets, shame, and lies, truth is very important to Micah Meredith. “Be truthful and honest, for the truth will indeed set you free,” says the easy-going, confident young man with a warm smile. He speaks from experience.
Meredith’s father, a charismatic pastor, hid his homosexuality from his son and congregation but later came out and left Meredith’s mother for another man. Lydia Meredith chronicled that experience in her book, The Gay Preacher’s Wife.
Meredith also came out gay — and HIV-positive. Looking back, the preacher’s son says, “My advice is, the sooner you learn how to articulate who you are, the better.” Meredith says that being honest and letting go of fear is especially important to those who are poz.
“HIV-positive men have a tendency to live in the shadows from fear of their truth,” he says. His advice? “Flip your perspective. Negative thoughts will come, but rage against them. Surround yourself with positive energy.”
Meredith says that he’s proud to be someone who has “perseverance, even when the odds are against me,” and says being HIV-positive has made him brave. “Ironically,” he says, “it’s the truth that one must run to — call it out, get comfortable saying it, and [talk] about it. Once exposed, the shame will have no more power over you, and what once was your prison becomes your playground.”
Reaching this place of truth wasn’t easy, nor was growing up in an environment where gay men were forced into the closet, in fear of being “discovered.” Yet, despite its demonization of homosexuality, and the fact that he was sexually abused by a prominent member of his church, Meredith says it was the place he felt most comfortable as a child.
“Because I was so gifted at music, church was one of the few places I could be celebrated,” he explains. “Most of my suffering was derived from TV comedy that made fun of homosexual lifestyles, school playground bullying, radio slander of gay men, and negative comments made by family and friends about my demeanor. However, when I matured as a man, I began to realize religion was the sole reason. My parents would not have done this to me if the church hadn’t educated them to be prejudiced.”
Meredith says he knew he was gay “when I was in kindergarten. I was rather fond of my best friend, Andrew,” he jokes. But he learned early on it wasn’t okay to express his feelings (or gender differences).
“There were incidents when I was shamed for non-typical boy behavior, such as wearing my towel like a female when I got out the shower, or my speech, or being made fun of for being too sensitive.” Meredith says this type of negative reinforcement held him back from talking to his parents: “I already knew I embarrassed them. Confiding in them would have made it too real. I wanted them to be proud of me.”
His mother Lydia admits her part in perpetuating what she now calls the “toxic theology” that preaches against homosexuality. “He didn’t feel safe to tell us,” she says, and remembers telling him as a young child “not to act like a girl,” because people would tease him. “I wish I knew then… how to be a better, stronger parent and how to be an advocate for my child.”
By the time Meredith came out to his parents in college, they were deep in their own struggles — dealing with his father’s closeted sexuality and their crumbling marriage. But at least the subject of gayness was no longer taboo. Their “immediate acceptance... surprised me. I think they saw it coming.”
Despite the pain that religion inflicted upon them as a family, the Merediths have all found their own ways to stay connected to faith. Meredith’s father, Dennis, is still a pastor but is now open and comfortable with who he is, and preaches at a LGBT-friendly church. In an interview with Rolling Out, Dennis said he consented to his ex-wife publishing her book because, although he doesn’t agree with everything in it, “I felt it would start a conversation that was necessary in the faith community [and] just to people in general.”
“Jesus doesn’t say anything about LGBT people — not one thing,” Lydia declares with a joyful confidence. “Jesus only taught love and tolerance. God is a God of diversity.”
As for the preacher’s son, Meredith says he believes that “religion is a helpful reminder that life is bigger and more important than our perceived shortcomings… I let go of [the] faith that oppressed me and reconstructed my faith to benefit my own esteem."
Photographed by Jon Dean
Styling by Kimberly Coulton