The Death of Brent Dugan – Please Don’t Overlook the Homophobia

The City Paper's Melissa Meinzer offers us a peek into the world of Brent Dugan's flock after his tragic suicide, fueled in part by KDKA's planned story on his homosexual activities.  To put it bluntly, a lot of people over there hate Marty Griffin for his role in this story and view him as completely responsible for Dugan's death.

What you don't read in the article is much reflection on the part of his congregation about Dugan's struggles with his homosexual identity.  Outsiders like Pastor Janet Edwards reflect on the larger struggle of the Presbyterian Church with the issue, but this is what you get from his congregation:

After the first time [Jane] DeSimone and her husband met Dugan, she says, they briefly and privately discussed their impression that he might be gay. “Who cares?” she says with a shrug. “I definitely didn't care. I just dismissed it.”

That strikes me as so sad.  Not caring or dismissing sexual orientation is a far, far cry from accepting, embracing and affirming people with diverse sexual orientations. 

Brent Dugan was on a collision course with disaster far before KDKA poked into some of his activities. He dedicated his life to a faith community which imposed conceptions of sexuality that did not fit his identity.  Clearly,the fear of being labeled “gay” in a gay-dismissive environment can push someone to secret sexual behavior much like Ted Haggard. 

Its an interesting comparison between Haggard preached in an environment that was much more openly hostile to gay people, yet he pops into rehab, declares himself cured and is back in the limelight.  Dugan obviously struggled deeply with his sexual identity in a faith community that prefers to sidestep the issue if at all possible, yet sought a solution much more final that Haggard.  Haggard compounded his sins with infidelity and drug abuse (not to mention hypocrisy in the pulpit).  Dugan was an unmarried man whose relationships hurt only himself.  No evidence of drug use and certainly no reports that he preached hate from his pulpit.

The problem is not the media's investigative journalism.  Its not the risky behavior of individual pastors.  The problem is the heteronormative culture that pervades mainstream Christianity, imposing a rigid sexual conformity on everyone in its wake. 

While the anger and despair of Pastor Dugan's congregation is understandable, it would compound the tragedy of his death if they failed to examine this aspect.  Perhaps blaming KDKA is part of the healing process (and certainly KDKA will capitulate on their demands), but if they stop at that point then Brent Dugan's life as a man of faith struggling with his sexuality is effectively dismissed once again. 

Hopefully, Jane DeSimone does care this time.


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  • Brent Dugan was a caring soul. He taught love for all. The church that he represented so well, loved so well, taught compassion for all. Please do not pin this tragedy on a church or a God who condemns.
    I grew up next door to Brent and consider knowing him the single greatest blessing of my life. I beat myself up daily knowing that we did not do for him what everyone deserves: listen. Listen to a man that I have known for years was lonely. A man that would have been embraced had he had the courage to be honest.
    I am pissed at him for not standing up and saying that he was gay. His one main fault was pride. I do not, nor will I ever believe, that he would have killed himself had he not been betrayed and his own embarrassment of the way that it was going to be portrayed. Let's not forget that embarrassment was a large part of his death but so was a broken heart.
    I am so sorry that all of the people who loved him, including myself, failed him.

  • Kelly,
    My condolences on the loss of your friend. From all accounts, he seemed to be a wonderful human being and I am very sorry that his life ended so tragically.
    It was certainly not my intent to blame God for this tragedy, one that replays itself across the country on a regular basis. But with all due respect, I do not believe that your faith community has created an environment of true compassion for LGBTQ people. Sadly, the fact that Reverent Janet Edwards was on trial for performing a lesbian wedding illustrates that point far too well.
    While I don't profess to know what was in the heart of Brent Dugan, I can tell you emphatically that being gay in a heteronormative culture is very lonely — even for those of us fortunate enough to live openly. Because there are far too many moments when we must call upon great reserves of courage to be true to ourselves and challenge those who would deny our very humanity. Living as “other” can be exhausting. I have far too many friends who spend time in adult bookstores and internet sites and so forth because they are unable to unveil their true selves in their “real” life, forcing them underground by necessity. Whether its their parents or their employers or their children, they are unable to integrate their identity as a homosexual with the demands of these relationships, but equally unable to deny who they really are.
    My wish for you and your church is that this tragedy would lead to a deeper connection with your LGBTQ members, a recognition that “not caring” about the sexual orientation of another human being is not caring about a deep part of their very identity and to some extent their humanity. They do truly deserve the compassionate response you describe. We all do.

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