Posted by: outandequal | June 19, 2014

There’s Room Under The Bus For All – A Modern-Day Pride Parable

Editor’s Note: This month, the Texas GOP added gay conversion therapy to its official platform, the Southern Baptist Convention gleefully threw the Transgender Community under the bus and Houston First Baptist Church is petitioning for the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance #HERO. So, we thought y’all would appreciate the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that and triumphed.

By Dr. Tim Seelig: Artistic Director – San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and, recovered Southern Baptist

Everyone’s story is unique, including mine. Both of my parents were professional Southern Baptists. My brother and I both followed in their footsteps. He is still following. My path took a dramatic about-face along the way.

The sub-text of my formative years was conformity. It was reinforced at every turn by the fear of being different. And yet, I knew I was just that. I prayed at every altar call for God to help fit in – make me straight.

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Tim Seelig, before

Other than that one small glitch, life was a perfect Christmas newsletter. Married with two beautiful children, I held two fairly prestigious positions at once: Associate Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of Houston and Associate Professor of Music at Houston Baptist University.

Life in the Southern Baptist workplace was a very difficult place for a gay man living in a huge closet and floating down the river of denial. But, I was a musician. I was obviously not the only gay musician working in a church, even though I felt so incredibly alone. I thought there might be other “gays” on the staff or at my university, but we dared not share even the slightest hint. In fact, one of the saddest things looking back is that we were required to join in the systematic discrimination and even bullying of people just “like us.” I went to work every single day with a knot in my stomach for fear I might “drop a hair pin” or give a lingering look at a handsome coworker or church member and be discovered. It was a strangling existence.

So, you see, the perfect life was far from perfect. The entire picture was built on a fundamental lie about who I was at my very core. I wasn’t arrested. I wasn’t “caught” in any act. But through a series of events and misguided Christian counselors, I simply realized they were lying, too. One of us had to tell the truth.

The very day I was “outed” to my wife by the counselor we were seeing, she shared the information with the pastor of our church. I was called to his office and given a set of requirements if I wanted to keep my job. A few of those included in-patient reparative therapy (an out of state location had already been chosen), provide a list of all of the other staff members at the church who were also gay, stand before the congregation and acknowledge my sin and repent publicly.

I chose “None of the above” and walked out. Out of life as I knew it.

The losses were great. I lost my children, family, both jobs, house, car and most of my friends.

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Tim Seelig, after

The gain was astounding. Truth. I had told the whole truth for the first time in my life and now had a foundation to build on.

The proverbial bus rolled over me and backed up – many times. I thought I was alone under there and everyone I had ever known were either passengers or driving the bus. Many years later, one of my daughter’s friends wrote me as an adult and described what it was like for her at church. “One day, you were gone and no one ever spoke of you again. In my child’s mind, I assumed there was something that you could do that was so bad, you would disappear.”

I found out there was actually a gay men’s chorus (who knew?) in Dallas looking for a director. I jumped on it and the rest, as they say, is history. I conducted that chorus, the amazing Turtle Creek Chorale, for the next 20 years before moving to my current position with the grandfather of all LGBT choruses, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Working in the church for all those years absolutely prepared me for the next quarter of a century I have spent as a musical activist.   Even my Mom and Dad came to acknowledge verbally that I had found a “ministry” far greater than I would otherwise have ever known.

I came out at the apex of the AIDS pandemic. We were, as the Holly Near song says, Singing For Our Lives – a song she penned on the night of Harvey Milk’s assassination – and the lives of others. At the same time, we were singing songs of protest and of enlightenment – serenading a huge and multi-faceted movement. It was and is an honor and a thrill and also, very difficult at times.

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San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

The hymn “There’s Room At the Cross For Me,” became “There’s Room Under the Bus for All.” That Southern Baptist, Republican, Texan bus is a big one. It casts a huge and very dark shadow. And it leaves a mark that never truly heals.

At the end of the day, the message is clear. I Am What I Am and no one can change that for whatever reason. Fear is our greatest enemy, not the bigots. Fear of rejection. Fear of what might happen if we tell the truth. Fear of loss. And yet truth gathers to itself the most amazing things, people and opportunities.

Today, I have found myself and in the process regained those things I thought I had lost: my children, my family, my career and a loving community, including my wonderful partner Dan.

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Tim with Dan, daughter Corianna and grand-daughter, Clara Skye | Photo Credit: Shawn Northcutt

From the song Everything Possible, “The only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re gone.” For me, that is the essence of what we are to do. Yes, we must fight and scream and yell and protest. But in the end, love is our strongest weapon and greatest ally.

Finally, from Stephen Schwartz’ song Testimony, all along the way, “there were loving arms I could not see,” and, when all is said and done, and my life over, given the choice, “I would come back as me!”

Life is amazing and astounding. And no more knot in my stomach going to work!

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Tim Seelig | Photo Credit: Shawn Northcutt

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Responses

  1. My dear friend, Tim. Thank you for this. I wish so that we had been better friends when we were both going through all of this way back then. We could have helped each other along this difficult road. Our parents would have found peace with it sooner too. I am so proud of you and what you have accomplished and how brave you have been. Congratulations. We have walked a long and arduous road…

  2. Here is the First Baptist Church of Houston:
    http://houstonsfirst.org/

    Here is the Houston Baptist University:
    http://www.hbu.edu/Home.aspx

  3. Dear Tim, I have always admired you, but now after hearing your personal story (I was a good little Conservative Baptist!) my affection and esteem has only grown. God bless men like you, Dennis, and so many others, reviled by their churches in which you served, to find a rich and full life beyond. Blessings!

  4. Tim,

    You are amazing musically and do eloquently described a journey that many take to acceptance. My son learned many lessons both musically and how to be a “real man” by working with you and the totally amazing choir. Thank you for sharing and all you do!!

  5. Dear Tim:

    Thank you for your eloquent story of your coming out. I, too, was deep in the closet due to my religious upbringing and beliefs. However, it was the Catholic faith that was a very strong deadbolt on the door of that closet. I, too, lived in Texas chasing after the American dream with a wife and family, trying to please everyone and loving everyone but myself. The “cross” that I had to bear ( in Catholic speak) of living a life meant for someone else finally became too great. I came out. I’ve had many obstacles to overcome that I did not see when I did this, but, all in all, I am a much better person for it. I believe that, when you reach the end of your life, it will be just you and you, alone. The question to ask is, “Am I who I set out to be?” May you do what you want to do, love who you want to love, and be who you want to be. Happy Pride.

  6. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good

  7. Dearest Tim,
    Another recovered Southern Baptist here – a little older than you, but went through the same experiences in those days – lost my marriage, thankfully not my kids (wish my wife and I could have remained friends) – have a wonderful relationship for 9 years with the love of my life – want to thank you for your life and example to thousands of us who have traveled this road – you have been and always will be a beacon of hope to all of us!

  8. It has been a pleasure to get to know you and sing under your direction in the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. This short retelling of your coming out story is inspiring to many of us, and thank you for your willingness to share and to show your vulnerability. It is an excellent lesson for us all to learn that even when you were at your darkest moments, you were able to find a community and a new purpose that not only changed your life, but the lives of many others. Thank you for your continued dedication to music and the GLBT community.


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