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Dave's Dilemma

By David Norlin
Profile | March 16, 2012

Let's call him Dave. Yes, that'll do. Dave, whose laugh always stayed with you.   Even today, it echoes in my Kansas Wesleyan hallway memories, resonant as Tom Durkin's lectures on John Locke or Ben Fuson's conjuring of Hester's Scarlet Letter.
 
Real life echoed the drama of our studies, and vice versa, as we returned to campus the fall of '63.  Our Methodist Student Movement got word of the Birmingham church bombing and the deaths of Addie, Carole, Cynthia, and Denise.  We decided our MSM should act.   Bob Blackerby took a plane South, but escaped Bull Connor's fire hose.   He was arrested the moment he stepped off the plane.   
 
No matter.  Bob's jailmates--and Stokely Carmichael--stoked our imaginations.  Our dedication to peace and justice was heightened by David C. Monk's presence in our Student Movement. 
 
Movement should have been Dave's middle name.  He brought unusual energy and laughter to every action.  Although quick to find humor, he was staunchly and loyally serious about our movement, KWU, and the Methodist Church. 

As a preacher's kid, he could have rebelled. But he embraced his unusual name, church history, and flamboyant personality. His light was not going to be hid under a bushel. But that light's very intensity hid something unnamed, bubbling out from under the laughter.

His edgy laugh claimed its own territory and stuck in your head, whether you wanted it to or not.

Graduated to other locations and lives, we classmates heard Dave's name from time to time. Two years of music mission as a music instructor at an academy, a summer in "Park Bench Ministry," then off to seminary at St. Paul's in Kansas City.

As I began college teaching, Dave returned to Salina. Though Time magazine had long since declared God was Dead, Dave was having none of it. He served as University Methodist Associate Pastor, KWU Chaplain and Alumni Director. He found time to be Conference Youth Ministries Coordinator and work on the Global Missions board.

Like all of us, he was sorting out this make-a-living-and-a-life thing, whilst staying true to KWU's liberal arts education. Yet it didn't seem to fit.

As we moved back to the Salina area, Dave headed for the Big Apple. Though he didn't get his Columbia PhD, he did get to UN headquarters, where he soon became UNICEF's Personnel Director. Still loyal to KWU, he recruited students and became active in the nationally-known Riverside Church.

Then, about 1984, he dropped from sight, only to reappear one sunny May 1989 day on the Salina Journal's obituary page. What?! Dead?

Yes. Dead. At age 45. Of AIDS. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, I was blinded by the light. Dave was, or had been, gay. Rumor was, the gay Dave had a funeral service in New York, the straight Dave a service in Kansas.

Here in Kansas, one Dave memory was about going with friends to a Chinese restaurant. He opened a fortune cookie containing words from Ephesians: "Wives, be subject to your husbands." Ever the rights-defending extrovert, he jumped up, running to every table and the manager, declaring loudly, "Look! You have a sexist fortune cookie."

Dave stood up for women's rights. Standing up for his own, at home, was more problematic.

Which is why Dave's laugh says more now than it said then.

It was humorous. But also a shield. His interior orientation was exploding through his exterior demeanor, if you had ears to hear. But we open-minded, liberal-arts-educated, social-justice-dedicated, progressive, loving people couldn't see, or hear, what was right in front of us. We didn't have the vocabulary for it.

How painful must have been David C. Monk's hidden life! How difficult to only be the Dave acceptable in the eyes of his classmates, his family, his Kansas Methodist Church, those closest to him! How labored to never openly be who he really was!

Now, in 2012, we Salinans can do the long overdue. We can banish that hidden hell. Our open acceptance can free not just LGBT folks, but we "straights" ourselves. No more prison cells of prejudgment. The same cells that compelled me to hide Dave's identity yet once more.

Different sexual orientation and gender identity do not make our brothers and sisters "abominations." Passing the Chapter 13 ordinance amendment frees ALL of us to be fully who we are, not what others might want us to be.

Now there's a truth worth praying for--and fighting for.

This piece was also published in the Salina Journal March 16 as part of the discussion about approving an amendment to include Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation to the non-Discrimination ordinance in Salina.


2 Comments

Thanks, David, for sharing the story of Dave. Considering homosexuality in the abstract makes it easy for straight people to deny gays and lesbians equal rights. When LBGT people become our friends or family members, that changes the equation.


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