Merrell T. Dickey oral history interview

Merrell T. Dickey oral history interview

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Merrell T. Dickey oral history interview
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subfield code a L34-000152 USFLDC DOI0 245 Merrell T. Dickey oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Dr. Cyrana Brooks Wyker.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.Transcription and timecoding of this interview is underway and will be added when complete. At that time the audio link will be replaced with the OHPi player link (player supporting syncronized audio and full-text transcription).7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local710 University of South Florida.b Library.Special & Digital Collections.Oral History Program.1 773 t LGBT Oral History Project4 856 u

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text Cyrana Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Merrell Dickey at University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library. Today is October 29th, 2013. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History project under my direction. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
Merrell Dickey: Yes.
CW: Can you spell your first and last name for the record.
MD: Sure. Merrell, M-e-r-r-e-l-l.  Dickey, D-i-c-k-e-y.
CW: Okay, so lets start with the basics. When and where were you born?
MD: Hollywood, Florida. Thats easy. And when? Oh, gosh, September 18th, 1965.
CW: Did you grow up in Hollywood?
MD: No, I lived there sinceuntil seven years old and then we moved to Tampa, where my parents were born. So, they were born in Tampa, and they moved when they got married, and had me and my sister, then we moved back to Tampa.
CW: Oh okay. So, your parents were born in Tampawere their parents also from Tampa? Were your grandparents from Tampa?
MD: My grandparents were from Tampa at very young ages. So, they moved here when they were like, I guess, little kids, so not quite. My dads grandmother was from Georgia. And my momsmy dads mother and father were from Georgia, and my moms mom and dad were from Chicago. But my mom is adopted and we dont know what her biological background is. But, ah, we do know that.
CW: So where did you go to school?
MD: I went to Corpus Christi for elementary, Corpus Christi Catholic School in Temple Terrance, which is where I actually lived, and then Tampa Catholic High School, and then to the University of South Florida where I got my B.A. in communication, speech communication. And then I went to St. VincSt. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for one year of philosophy, and then I did five years at St. Vincent De Paul regional seminary in Boynton Beach to get my Masters degrees.
CW: What can you remember about Tampa as a young boy?
MD: Hm, well, um, its a lot different now. Its so much bigger and broader, you know, sprawled out. Some things are the same. I think Tampas always had kind of a neat little history. You know, and I know youre working on Ybor City and some things like that, and so some of the old historic Tampa has always been around, you know, somewhat in disrepair.
Im kind of glad that people have taken ityou know, taken the initiative to make sure that things like the UT minarets are still up, and that they werent taken down, and that theyve been restored and things like that. And that growing up in Temple Terrace, I remember, you know, there was a lot moreeven right here at USFthere was a lot more vegetation and less development.
And you know, when you went out north of what the Apex at 41 and Nebraska that was farm country, and then out east was a lot of farm country, orange groves, lots of orange groves in Temple Terrace. My house, the golf course, and Rolling View Drive is where I grew up. There was some development, very little. It was the woods. We used to ride our bikes back there and play next to the orange groves.
In fact, we used to take all the rotten oranges and grapefruits and throw them at each other, but then the freezes came and really killed everything, you know, it just kind of wiped out the citrus industry here for the most part and it moved further south. So, I remember a lot of that part of it. It was, you know, more hometown, much less transient in the sense of there were people who came down but they didnt stay.
Wed go to the beach every summer for a couple of weeks, and that was vacation, because it was like that was the beachthat where everybodyeverybody did that. It was kind of the getaway. Now its like, you know, the beach is so many people and so crowded, and its not like that anymore. It is still fun to go to, but its changed. I remember as a kid wed go there and the Canadians would come down and theyd, you know, they were always very nice. I like the Canadians.
CW: So you
MD: Plus, the men are very attractive.
CW: So, you lived in Temple Terrace. Would you say that that was like a suburban neighborhood back when you were growing up?
MD: No, probably not. Temple Terrace was the only other incorporated city in Hillsborough County, so it was like its own little city. It had a mayor. I remember the mayor, he would run, and hed get a dollar a year for his salary. It was kind of funny, but it was the only other city, so its weird that things have changed.
Now its kind of this big piece of everything. You know, but not back then. Busch Gardens was there. We used to go to Busch Gardens every summer, and get passes and hang out. And Adventure Island was built and that was fun. So those were the kinds of things we did over the summer. Wed go to Busch Gardens almost like, every day during the summer.
CW: So, this would have been mid-seventies?
MD: Yeah, probably more late seventies, early eighties, when we would do that, high school time. I dont think our parents let us run around Busch Gardens by ourselves until we were a little bit older.
CW: So, what was your family life like?
MD: I dont know. It was kind of, probably normal. Although Ive got to say, you know, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and you know part of my story, and knowing now being gay, and kind of growing up ineven though this was not the South, the South, it still was. People dont think of Tampa, the city, and Temple Terrace as the South, but when you got outside the boundaries it was.
So, um, my family life growing up is tainted by the fact that I knew there was something different about me. And so I look back at that time, and although I had a lot of really positive things and my parents did a lot of good things for me, and I had a sister and brother came along ten years later, and we had what would be called probably a normal family life, growing up in the Catholic Church and we went to church every Sunday and did kind of the family thing, white middle class kind of thing
So I had all that, but I know there was always this melancholy about me as a kid cause there wasnt something right. Something didnt fit in. So, I think in some ways I was always grappling and kind of sad, which is unfortunate. I had fun, you know, but I was overweight some. I got a lot thinner when I was in seventh and eighth grade, and then high school and had like lots of good things happen to me.
I was voted most likely to succeed in high school, and I was in student government. We traveled all over, went to all kinds of workshops. I was, you know, popular. I was model. We had fashion shows in high school and I was one of the models. You know, it was like that. Wed go to the beach every summer. My dad worked hard. He paid for us to go to Catholic school.
So, it was like I guess other than the fact there was something not right about me, that I knew all alongIm sorry I have a cold, or a bit of oneyou know, its different. So, looking back I cant say sometimes that I had a great childhood, because it was something that wasnt happy, you know, and I know that is what it was now. But I did things, you know, I mean Id mow lawns for people. Id clean pools.
I was the neighborhood, I had friends. The friends were weird too though. You know, I played little league baseball. I tried to play basketball. I did all those things, P.E. and things, but I always felt awkward. And I dont think I felt awkward because I wasnt athletic. I couldve probably been more athletic had I not been scared. I think I was scared what I would feel like around the boys, really, because I was around other boys.
Now I know that. Because I didnt know how to work around them, because I knew that I had physical attractions to them, you know, and things that even happened in elementary school that were tough. And we werent allowed towe didnt talk about gay or homosexual or anything like that back then. You know, it was like ____(??).
It wasnt that long ago but it is amazing how quickly weve come in such a short time, I think in my own life even. ThatI dont even think I grew up knowing what gay was. It was like there was somethingthat I was gay. There was something wrong with me because I liked boys. I liked people my own sex, and I was drawn by that, you know, visually, constantly.
So I struggled. Even like, I wanted to make the basketball team, and so there is this kind of thing going on where I struggled because I liked boys, and I was supposed to like girls, and how do you get to like the girls? And how do you get the girls to like you? Well, you get the basketball team, you play baseball, you do these things, you know. So, I tried to do those things, but I never made it. And, again, I dont think it is because I couldnt have.
I was awkward though, you know. So, it was this really weird kind of thing that went on in my background in this area. You know, and um, and this was not a place to even, like I said, I didnt even grow up with the knowing that, the word gay was never even raised. I dont even remember that word coming up until maybe at some point in high school or college it popped up. But I just remember this thing being there, you know? This thing you didnt talk about.
CW: So, what was high school like for you? Was this in high school that you were going out for basketball and
MD: No, this was elementary school.
CW: Okay.
MD: Grade school at Corpus Christi. And I played baseball for a while, but I never did real well, and basketball the same thing. I didnt do real well. And, you know, there were moments that were kind of weird in elementary school around that. I was very, very smart. I was valedictorian of my eighth grade. So, I mean, I wasntyou know, I had all this stuff going for me and I think I really learned to some degree to put on a great show.
You know, I became a great actor really to the degree that when I finally came outIm skipping aheadbut when I finally came out to my parents after I left the priesthood, which we can talk about later, they didnt know. They had no idea. Now there were several other people in my family who were gay and there were people in different places in my life that said that they knew, but by and large most people had no idea.
In fact, when I was a priest I had some good-looking women come on to me. Its amazing. Were not even going to talk about some of the stuff that goes on in the priesthood, but the idea is thatand even now. Ill go sit at MacDintons sometimes, have a beer and watch football, and the girls will hit on me, and then theyre mad, because I tell them Im gay. They get pissed off at me and then they go talk to somebody else. It is hilarious.
It justits a weirdgrowing up in my elementary school there was two things going on: I was at school, but then I also had my neighborhood friends. And it was during those times too between probably sixth, seventh, eighth grade and then into middle of high school I really startedit became more of a thing, because you are going through puberty and stuff like that, you know. I remember liking some of the boys in my neighborhood.
To this day, like, I think they were thinking the same things sometimes, but you just dont know. It just was very awkward. Things werent discussed. But it was a very odd time anyways in general, for example I remember my dad whomy friends across the street had a black friend, and growing up in the South there were things in this area, there was a lot of racism. There still is, but it was prevalent back then.
And it was no fault of, I dont thinkit was wrongbut they were raised, my dad and my uncles, they were raised, and my cousins, in a different era, so this concept of things were different. But I remember my dad, he slipped over across the street, said if you ever bring, I dont know what word he used, but Ill use the word black, he said, If you ever bring a black friend over to this house, Ill embarrass you and kick him out and you.
So, my dad was very much of that Southern white mindset, you know, and I remember my uncle, my moms dad and him, at Christmas time sometimes talking about black people and it was just like, wow. But it came out of the bible, they knew the story of Cane and Abel, and the concoctions, and I hear it still, you know. I teach world religions so you hearbut Tampa had a lot of racism even when I was in college.
The yacht club didnt allow black people into it until finally Gasparilla and the Super Bowl, you know, the NFL really, I think, pushed Tampa, which is good. But in college I had a friend, we had a friend who was Indian, darker Indian skin, and the alumni, Sigma Ki alumni, would have their luncheons over at the yacht club, Tampa Yacht Club, and we took this friend of mine down. He went with us one day to go to this lunch.
They wouldnt let him in because his skin was too dark. Now we didnt go back, but thats the kind of era we grew up in, thats just relatively recent late eighties, really honestly, you know. Thats not that long ago and, you know, you just didnt have stuffpeople didnt talk. This was the South and the whitewhite South, principally. We are fortunate with Ybor and, you know, places you had the Latino and Tampa Catholic.
It used to be funny. Wed call it TC, Tiny Cuba, because, you know, there was a lot of Cubans. And Iit was funny because a lot of my friends were Latino, you know, Hispanic. I hung out with a lot of people who are Italian and Hispanic. Its funny. You know, its kind of, um, Ive always been, Ive always liked mixes of people. Its never been a problem.
In fact, its been great. You know, even today people say like, What are you attracted to? What am I attracted to in men? Its across the board. It really just depends on myon the chemistry and the person. Yeah, grade school was weird in that regard and that time of my life was weird.
Theres often times that I remember just really, just really neat times, but now Ive been reflecting more as I grow, and I am kind of in a place in my life where Ive kind of finally come to peace with a lot of the decisions that Ive made in leaving the priesthood and things like that, just relatively recent, that one. And Ive been reflecting sometimes on the times in my life as a kid.
I joke. One of my favorite rides at Magic Kingdom is Winnie the Pooh. And I go on it and people laugh at me. But, is it Winner the Pooh that says Im going to go find my happy place? Yeah, right. I think what I did as a kid, Id find happy places, you know, because, maybe thats why I like Winnie the Pooh, because I can relate to this wholeI did as a kid love Winnie the Pooh.
They used to have Winnie the Pooh cartoons on all the time at night. They were specials. It was a lot of fun. But there were things I would do, you know, Ive got a real creative side of me that I feel like in some ways Ive explored, but I havent been able to explore it like I would love to, you know. My dad, my mom and dad, used to take us to Disney World every summer, and I go there all the time now.
I have a pass. And its like again, its my escape, but its because I think what it does is it allows me to tap into my imagination and my playfulness. You know, my theme song is Toys R Us __(?) plug, I dont ever want to grow up, Im a Toys R Us kid, you know. When I go places I go swing on the swings, you know, its not because Im some weird person. Its cause I love to play. I love to have fun.
You know, I went andwe went to Disney World a few weeks ago, my friend and I. I went to the Toy Story right across, theres parachutes and I went and bought one and I was throwing it up in the air and playing with it. Theyre all like, Oh my God, you know, but, thats me. And I think that when I was a kid I loved that stuff. Wed play, they called it Ghost in the Graveyard and you know, at night wed all play hide and seek at night.
And you know, I remember big wheels and skateboards and roller skates, and all kinds of fun stuff. So, I really did have a lot of fun. Unfortunately, all of that that was so good, I think now, Man, if at the same time I knew that it was okay to be gay, and that this thing that I was, was brilliantly wonderful, that ten percent of the population or six percent, whatever we are, its good. Its valid. Its okay. I mean, what else could have happened?
You know, that would have been so much more full and robust. But because that part of me was constantly there and not okay, you know, it was like I grew up with this idea that God had made a mistake, you know, because we grew up in a more religious household obviously. And thats damaging, you know. People say, why is it all about your sexuality and sex life?
You think about it: You know, nowIm flashing forward againbut, you know, now right, and now Ill go to family events, and Ive shared this with my sister and mother and different ones when they are trying to understand my experience, and I say to them, they go, Why its not all about sex and sexuality? I go, Well think about this, when we sit down at family events, youre talking about your husband, youre talking about your kids, youre talking about all the things youre doing with your kids. Everything you talk about is straight.
I said, You dont sit across the table from me and say, Who have you gone out with lately? How was he? Did you enjoy it? Why arent you with someone right now? You know, whats going on in your world? You dont ask me those questions. Now, part of its because theres fear, you know, I know that. Theres that homophobia still, but another part of it is its not part of the culture sometimes.
And so even today when we are in these environments where its not okay to talk about these things: We love you but you know, its still uncomfortable. Its still not a place where we can be totally okay with who we are, and thats unfortunate, you know. Now thats not the same with all my peers and everybody. Some people have oppositeother people have a lot worse than my situation.
My parents love me. Theyve not kicked me out. None of my family members had disowned me like some do. They talk to me. They invite me to go to dinner with them, and lunch. They still want to be around me. In fact, my nephew, seventeen years old, you know, is the one that called me and said, Hey have you heard the new song Same Love? I think youre gonna like it, my seventeen-year-old nephew.
You know, so I can have conversations with them now about somebody that Im interested in or just about what I do with my life. Theyre cool with it. So, thats making now much better, but its new, its new, you know. So, go back to that feeling, you know, as a kid and then high school where you know the pressure is even stronger to like girls, and to have a date, and to go to beach week.
And wed go to beach week and all the guys are hooking up with the girls and Im totally turned on by all the guys. Its very uncomfortable, you know. And Id try to fake it, but I couldnt. I remember we went to beach week, which was in high school, you know, the couple of years your junior, senior year when the drinking age was still eighteen or nineteen, and you could get away with drinking.
It wasnt twenty-one, so it was different, and people were more laid back, back then. Today people are much more pent up about everything, I think. Rules. And I was Sigma Ki at the time and I thought, man, if I had to live by all the rules today, itd be a disaster, because there are so many rules. Rules for this and rules for that, because everybody sues everybody, you know.
Playgrounds you had sand, you know, if you fell off the ladder, you know, to the slide it was your fault. You know, you got hurt, you stubbed your toe, now its the citys fault. You know, so growing up in my time at that time, its not that long ago, again there werent all these things. There werent rubber things on the ground. You didnt take the swings out because someone might get hurt on the swing.
You cant have swings anymore. Im like, I would have died without swings. I still go on swings. I jump off the swings and do parachute jumps, you know, but the idea is that in grade school and high school, especially I got to saythis is catholic. Its not public. I dont know that the public school system at the time was any different.
In fact, when I go to P-FLAG meetings today, you move east of Tampa into Hillsborough County, and I hear a lot of times its not that different, but my experience is Catholic in the school system. Its like at USF. But, I had by that point in time made it my thing that I had to prove that I liked girls, and do everything I could to get girls to like me, and bend over backwards for it.
It never worked, and I would get frustrated with myself, which was a double whammy, right. I couldnt like the guys I liked and sometimes the guys I think things were going on, but you couldntI mean, I couldnt even explore that, because that would have been devastating had something happened.
So, youd play around with it and things would happen, and youd think, Okay, this guy might like this, this mightbut it never happened, nothing ever happened like that. And with girls: trying to do it, but never really liking it, always feeling awkward.
CW: Was
MD: Some of the best looking girls I could hang out with. I mean, at beach week I was hanging out with the best looking girls in the class, but there was nothing going on. And I think deep down they probably knew something too. People that youre gut instinct say somethings not exactly right. We dont know what it issome may have known and a lot of us still see each other.
I mean, I go to reunions and I have a great time. Many of my friends from high school are some of the greatest people. I still see them around and as a matter of fact, many of them now that they know about me have been 125% supportive, which is kind of cool. Its just too bad we couldnt do it in high school.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Because imagine, you know, what it would be like. But again, thats only a few years ago, so things have moved pretty rapidly in that area.
CW: So what years were you in high school?
MD: I graduated 83, so 79 to 83.
CW: Okay.
MD: Yeah
CW: Did you
MD: And then USF 83 to 87.
CW: Okay. Did you seek out any type of gay culture in high school?
MD: There wasnt. I mean, if there was, I sure didnt know where it was. You know, Id hear rumors, or I would see a couple of guys together once and awhile and Id thats that. But I wasI didnt go near it. I was scared to death. I did want it, but I didnt. I was so scared someone would find out.
What would happen if they would find out? Something told me in my history that if anybody ever found out anything about me, who I really was and that I really liked boys or men, boys at that time, that I would beit would be the end of the world. That somehow became engrained in me very deeply. I am sure there are some things along the path that did that to me.
You know, there were a couple of things happened to me when I was very young when I was still living in Hollywood, where I was found experimenting with other boys and the consequences by my parents were very negative. And I am sure that that played a roleyou know: How dare Dont ever I cant believe this, disgusting, aghast. Were never talking about it again.
I think at that age, at five, six years old, whenever that was happening, you know, you talk about kids playing doctor, experimenting, people say its natural. The experience I experienced was negative. I am sure that psychologically caused me to shut down and it was bad, but as it was bad, I still had it.
Thats what makes me so adamant aboutthere is not a time in my life that I can remember that I was not attracted to men from the get-go. It is engrained, and if it wasnt, why would I choose it? Because the pain was just way too difficult, so this nonsense of reparative therapy is just nonsense and the people that go through it theyre not changed. Theyve just pushed things aside. Im sure of it.
Few people, because of sexual abuse issues and things, that have issues around sexuality and preference or whatever, its not even preference or what they are doing, but thats different in my opinion. Yeah, so back then, gosh, when I was in high school and grade school, yeah, I wouldnt even seek that out even if it was available to me.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know, um, I didnt even tell anybody that I had attractions to men until the year before I got ordained. I had not told a single person. I was about twenty-eight years old. Thats how deeply it had been engrained in me that I was not to tell a person. And the thing that is interesting in that regard is that really, because I thought it could be fixed, I was convinced that whatever was going on with me was wrong and it was going to get fixed.
So, Im not going to tell anybody because it will get fixed and then it will be okay. See? So, high school, um, again there were things that I did that wereyou know, I would have probably played more sports and done more things. Again, I struggled, you know, I was struggled when I was in the locker room, because it was very awkward for me. What do you do?
You know, and it was more I think of the secrets, and you know, the catching a glimpse or feeling like Im going to get aroused in the locker room around another guy, and that happened a couple of times and that freaked me out, because it was natural and sometimes it is just because youre in high school. It just happens. So, high school was very interesting for me in that regard. I did really well.
Like I said, I was in student government, voted most likely to succeed, I was like fifth in my class, you know, but the things that I wanted to do that I think would have made me feel more alivelike even play basketball, I wasnt that tall, but had felt comfortable around other guys I think I could have, or run track, I run now, I do cardio.
I couldve done that, but I didnt know how to interact with those people. It scared me to death, so it was kind of debilitating. Now as Im telling you this, I am telling you this many years after that, I can reflect on the whys and the hows. At the time it was very mixed up.
Even things like my last name, Dickey, people would make fun of me because of that name. And I took itit was all mixed up. Its just one thing to have somebody make fun of your name, now I laugh about it, but I still cringe, because it goes back to my sexuality stuff.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Its not justI had a coach one time in high schoolactually, its inappropriate he said this to me. Now he probably could have gotten in a lot of trouble had I thought about it, and if I ever see him again, Ill probably tell something. A few choice words for him, because I am angry with him still probably need to go through some kind of forgiveness session with him.
But he said to me one time, he goes: Who would name their Merrell Thornwell Dickey? How horrible!like that, a coach. Now, you know, instead of a coach helping a young man do well, he put that on me. You know, when youre fifteen or fourteen and struggling with stuff anyways someone saying that it was debilitating. In fact, ever since that time in P.E., I had problems. I never told anybody.
Again, because see every time I had something like that happen I felt like if I told somebody, theyd have to say, Why? and I didnt want to explain why, because I like men. I like boys. I dont know how to do this, and that was really the bottom line, is I dont know how to do this. I remember saying often times, even growing up with my dad, Id say, I really wanted to learn how to do things.
So, my dad would be fixing under the car or the hood, and hed have me hold a flashlight and I wanted to learn how to do it, but my dad wasnt real good at that. He didnt help me learn how to do things. Like I wanted to go to the batting cages. He wouldnt pay for me to go to the batting cages, you know. Now, he did coach us in little league baseball, but it wasnt comfortable a lot of times. Because it was a lot of times, and I was probably a tough kid cause I was upset, I think I was angry over my stuff. I lashed out. Theres no doubt.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: So, I was, you know, type A, but tough and probably mean in some ways, because I think that stuff was coming out and misappropriated. But so, I think I grew up, I dont think, I grew up wanting like, I just want to know how to do it. And even today people say to me things, How does it work? How does it work? Show me how to make it work? because I think growing up and not knowing how my sexuality worked.
CW: Um-hm. Right.
MD: You know, my dad told me one time, and talk a lot about my family as far as things, and I dont want to be negative, because my parents in general have done a great job with me, but theres certain things that are said that affect me. And growing up I remember when the time comes that you start asking questions about your sexuality, you know, and at some point I did.
And my dad something about how it works, and what it does, and it was really kind of a biological explanation, but it was tagged on by Dont ever get married, just do good in grades, schools, make money, and marriage isnt worth it. I remember my dad saying that to me. Um, he may not remember saying that to me, but he did, because I was a little kid.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: I dont know, we were talking about stuff, and I remember that too, being just for me like, wow! And looking back, again, its kind of like along the way when I asked how things worked, why they were good, why would you do this, it wasnt explained to me that way. It was keep quiet, like that comment. Its not worth it. Dont do it. Just do this.
So, I was given this trajectory, you know, go to school, make good grades, and get a job, and dont get married. And that didnt have as much to do, I dont think, about my sexuality of men or women, it had more to do with the relationship component. It was like, okay, then how do I do the relationship stuff? You know, how do these things? How do I date?
If I cant go to my dad, and I cant go to my friends because I like men, so I cant go to the men and ask them how to date girls, which is what I did, Id go to the guys and say, How do you do it with the girls? but I didnt want to, you know, what I mean. Its weird.
Its just so, its very mixed up in that regard. And then in the Catholic schoolfunny thing is we had this guy, one of our faculty members at Tampa Catholic, who was a great guy, kind of took a group of us under wings in student government, and took us on some trips for leadership training. And they were great memories too, you know, great opportunities.
And many, many years later I found out that he was gay and I had no idea. I had no idea, because you didnt talk about that stuff. And he said, yeah, I knew all along. And Im like, a few people that said this to me, so I said, Why didnt you say something to me? Why didnt you come to me and saybut, you know, back then that wasnt something you did.
But Ive encouraged parents and other adults: open the door for young people to ask questions about how to be gay, because I think a lot of them desperately need that. Open the door, as an adult you have the responsibility to help coach people and mentor people, so give them the opportunity. I wasnt given that opportunity.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And thats the one thing I miss, that I wasnt. Do I blame anybody? Nah, because you know. But so go back to high school, and we when on this trip to Reno, Nevada, and then we went to California, which was a blast with about four, four or five of us, and again though, went to this conference.
I ended upit was one of these things where the parents host you, ao there was three of us, two guys and myself in this house. And the two guys that were in that house, to this day, I can still see them; they were hot, hot. I was totally turned on by them. You know, Im seventeen years old.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And were at this conference, we get on a bus, and theres allyou know, guys that age, you know, youre seventeen. You change in front each other and all this stuff, and Im just dying, dying. They want me to go to the gym with them. I didnt go to gym. At the time, I didnt go to the gym, again, all this weird stuff. I go to the gym all the time now.
But then I didnt do any of this stuff, because I was scared to death of what would happen. I didnt know how to handle it, and I didnt know how to talk about the guy talk, you know. So we get on a bus. Were on a bus and there are these hot girls. Again, this hot girlI got a picture. I was looking at this picture awhile back, and this picture, this girl sitting next to me.
She tries to kiss me on the bus, and I didnt go for it. And these other guys are out making out and all this. And I think after a while, she thought I was weird, and I was. I was gay. I didnt like her, but I couldnt tell her that, but instead I acted like some kind of nerd. You know, so here I am with all these good looking people, and I have this opportunity and stuff, and it doesnt happen. And that was an example of, you now, that trip.
CW: Right.
MD: So, I have these great memories of that trip, in the sense of there were so many good things that happened, but theyre all clouded by these things along the way that were devastating to me and very hurtful. Every instance that I think of a happy time, I have this negative, unfortunately.
Now, the good thing is as I worked through these, you know, times. Im talking about them, or Im journaling about them, and they are taking their proper prospective, and Im kind of saying, This is my life. Now, how do I use this stuff for positive instead of it being something thatyeah, it hurt. It was painful. I was like, this kid, but I go back to when I was in, before high school, in elementary school, I told you about happy places.
And I said, I would go in my back yard sometimes and just play in the mud, or make things in the mud or water, or I would create these scenarios. I would go in my home and, you know, take my characters and make things. I remember those times being by myself doing that.
And it kind of, being now, those places where whatever was going on with me, I had learned how to create these creative safe places for me to go into this fantasy world, that I think helped me get through some of those times of not knowing how to be. You know, its really, um, really good, because instead of me looking at it saying, I was just so sad. Why didnt I, you knowwhy? Why?
No, Id actually learned for myself how to do things that would help me. I didnt know that is what I was doing, but I did. But I was you know, also a rough kid, you know. I mean, I got mad at my dad one time, I remember, and slammed the towel against the shower, breaking the shower thing, you know, screaming, slamming the door, and you know, IdI was a kid.
Id get, you know, love bugs and pull their legs off, and I get other bugs and throw them in the spider webs and watch the spiders eat the bugs. You know, it wasnt like I was a perfect kid. I like was mischievous too. We get muddy and sandy, and play. But you know, I think those are the things that we do growing up here. And thats probably, you know, as far as grade school, and high school, and growing up in Temple Terrace, it was aTemple Terrace was a kind of a isolated world too.
Not until I went to college did I start opening my horizons beyond Temple Terrace. It was pretty cloistered. Tampa Catholic was there, but we would go to school, wed come home, and were still in Temple Terrace, you know, it was that kind of divide. And so its interesting to say you grew up in Tampa, but it is Tampa.
Temple Terrace was a separate city. Its still the area. Outside Temple Terrace and Tampa, when you get out further, that was rural farm. And I had family out there. Weyou know, Id go to my family things, lake in Odessa, Thonotosassa and stuff, have a great time. I mean, they had chicken farms and wed ride horses.
And its funny, my family, and the ones that lived out in the county, you know, sometimes the people in the counties are labeled the bigots, but what I found with my family, at least toward me when I came out, those family members were very, very receptive and supportive of me, which really was wonderful again.
Like I said, its just been amazing to see the acceptance in general of me. And its kind of unfortunate, again, that that didnt happen earlier. It didnt for whatever reasons, but it didnt. But its been nice to have that in general, you know.
CW: So umand then you come to USF for your bachelors.
MD: And thats when things changed.
CW: So, what was that transition like?
MD: Well, USF at that time was a commuter school, and if you didnt join something it was like horrible, really, it was horrible. Youd work and go to school. There wasI remember my first semester just thinking, Oh my God, what did I do? Because I could have gone somewhere else, I had gotten a full scholarship to University of Tampa. I didnt go. I went here instead.
I lived you know a couple blocks from my parents house. It was easier. I dont know, you know. I shouldve gone away, but, I mean, at USF I wentbut again, my family dynamic wasnt pushing us to go out of state, or to do something different. It wasthat was different.
CW: So, why did you decide to go to attend USF instead of University of Tampa?
MD: USF was cheaper, even with the scholarship.
CW: Oh, okay.
MD: And at the time it just seemed like the thing to do, and I knew people that were coming here, so it seemed a little bit better. I am a fifth of my class in my SATs, I could have gone other places, but, again, too part of it was economics.
CW: Um-hm. Okay.
MD: You know. So, my parents were middle class, but they couldnt afford to send me to Stanford orbut there werent those aspirational things either, that wasnt part of our family dynamic, you know. I just didnt haveand I, you know, I probably miscalculated too with my career trajectory and my class work. I get in liberal arts, which were okay, but from a financial perspective and academics, I was confused.
I just was confused. I didnt know where I was going, and I attributed a lot of that to my sexuality stuff. I did not have a clear path, and I know I didnt have a clear path because I didnt really know who I was and where I was supposed to go. I knew I wasnt supposed to go get married. I really did in the sense ofwell I shouldnt say that.
I didnt know what my direction was. It was like I was ambiguous. Weird, its weird, you know. I look back now and say, man, my brother and sister both went into the sciences. My brother is a research scientist. I love chemistry and biology, loved it, you know. If I was going to do it all over again, I was thinking about law school, things like that.
Id probably go on to do something more like that, but I went liberal arts here at USF. I goofed off some. I think its partly because I had to work. I was working thirty, thirty-five hours a week, and because of that first semester and feeling miserable, I ended up joining a fraternity, Sigma Ki, and um, that became the community here.
Sigma Ki. And I hadI did that when I was with some friends who introduced me to another friend and we all cliqued and then I joined Sigma Ki. And Sigma Ki was like really on a roll at that point in time. The pledge classes were way up, and it was one of the best fraternities on campus, and it was good for me in that regard. It brought me community.
Again, I was still dealing with my sexuality issues. So, it was always a struggle for me, because I had to play this role that I was looking for girls and trying to find girls, and as a matter of fact, I couldthere were good-looking girls around, but I was never turned on by them. And so I think, I dont know, I didnt get a reputation, but I justit just never worked.
So, that was very challenging for me, because the other guys were getting girlfriends, and Id, you know, play the role. I may make out with somebody, or Id do something, or Id pretend like, but it just didnt fit. So, Sigma Ki was good. I went, I was president and vice president, communications guy, went to workshops all over, went to Canada, and did very well.
You know, I was outstanding Greek. You know, so again, I exceeded and excelled where I went, but it was that part of me that excelled. The other part was always like just desperate to find out what was going on, always that that undercurrent, which was horrible, really was.
CW: So, then after USF you go to seminary school?
MD: Yes. Well, I took a year off after USF when I graduated. I was working in retail and I was just not sure. There were a few things I thought about doing. One wasI love Disney World. I really wanted to work for Disney, which is what I really wanted, to work for Disney. And I thought about law school.
I had an aunt in my life, A-U-N-T, not the bug. And she was missionary in Honduras, Pentecostal missionary, lived here but in Honduras. And she used to say to me, Merrell, you have a very special call on your life. From the moment I was down there in Hollywood with youwhen I was a little boyI knew you had a special call in your life. Well, I remembered that moment.
When I was six or seven years old, I was with Aunt Gene, in this place somewhere, and she was up there, preaching, and I remember that moment. And thats the moment that she said that she knew I had a special call in my life. Now, thats weird. So, you know, that always, for some reason theres something in that. Now, it could be that there is a special call on my life.
You know, I mean, I do have a spirituality still. I do believe that theres a God and that there is energy and this stuff. I dontIm not atheist. I dont believe theres a God that is just a God one way. I believe its a lot bigger and, you know, she/he, the energy, the love, the being is huge. There is something in that, in my opinion.
Is there room for a Jesus Christ in that? Absolutely. Is there room for what Buddha teaches? Absolutely. You know, so I dont have any issues around that. So, the reason I am saying that is because, yes, thats what led me to the seminary, because I was also a priest when I was a kid. Because thats the other thing, when I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time at the church with my mom.
I was the good boy. I was the alter boy. I was the reader at church. I was thethe nuns loved me, you know, all this stuff. So, I had all that going on too and so I was the good boy, part of the whole deal, but this priest, the pastor, who I stillI like him. In fact, I saw him not too long ago. He used to say, Merrell, youre going to be president or pope someday. Youre going to be president or pope someday.
So, between him and my aunt, I kept thinking, okay. And its funny, because now that I am doing fundraising in the library, I was thinking about my librarian experiences, and this librarian in grade school, she used to give me books to read that were about people who were leaders, biographies. So, I read every single book.
They were like books geared toward eighth or ninth graders, at the time, seventh or eighth graders, that were about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, you know, and I read every single one of them to the point that I said, Are there any more? No, I had read them all, you know. So, I was going back thinking of this recently what books, what kind of books did I go read when I was a kid.
And it was the books likeI loved Dr. Seuss. See, I think that was the creativity part of me, but I also think it was the morality part, the ethics, cause Dr. Seuss stories always had great things. I loved the Disney books. My mom and dad had this whole volume set of all these stories, Peter Pan, and, you know, I loved all those biographies.
And I remember a book that I read too at that age called Black like Me, which was about a young person who wanted to see what it was like to be Black in the South, and made himself become Black through alland it was for me like this cathartic book. So thats me though too. You know, I go back and look at the books that I was reading: leadership, people who made a difference, Pope or president, creativity, Dr. Seuss, Cat in the Hat, those stories were all a part of my reality, you know.
The sports part werent. I liked to go out. I still like to get out. I play tennis. I play racquetball. I play baseball. I loved to play basketball. Im not good at all of it. Im decent, but you know, sobut I didnt excel. So, at some point I went to this thing at Corpus Christi, this prayer group thing from this group that had come in of young people, and I was searching at this point.
I was out of college. I wanted to work at Disney. I wanted to go to law school. I wanted toI was considering going with this retail operation to Atlanta. So, these three options. Disney said no. Now, I know for a matter of fact that had I had the right kind of support network, I could have got a job Disney, you know, but when I got declined I just took it as thats it, devastating, you know, that was it.
Which is crazy, because I could probably be CEO of Disney at this point. Thats a little ambitious, but I mean, I could be doing well if I had started back then. The second was law school, and I got enough, I got decent enough grades to get accepted to a couple of law schools. I didnt end up going because, again, the money.
And also, I want to say that my parents werent real good at helping me with this stuff. My mom didnt go to college. My dad was not good at helping me; he didnt help me maneuver through the system. So, I didnt have help on how to do it, so when I got defeated, I stayed defeated. Again, I think thats part of the whole thing. So, I was in this place then that I just said, Im not happy. Im going out all the time.
I dont really want to go into retail to Atlanta. I dont want to go to Atlanta. I was just searching for something. This group of young people came to church and did all these songs and music. Song and music, and they were charismatic, and they were very energetic. The girls were pretty and the men were handsome. And I just like, Oh. They sang these songs.
This one particular song struck me. And I just felt this love that I had never felt before, never, this kind of unconditional love. It was weird. You know, some people refer to it as a born again experience, baptized in the Holy Spirit, a conversion. You know, I think all those things are valid.
Because what it is, and I know now in some point in peoples lives when theyre looking for this place of acceptance, forgiveness, ability to move forward, and you find it in this wonderful place with these nice people, with beautiful music, thats appealing to your senses, that allows you to be who you are, and doesnt judge.
Wow! What a world, right? And thats what I found. And so these church and these experiences became the place for me to start to explore love, unconditional love. And what happened is I just said, Wow, God loves me. See, and thats the first step, because remember to this point what did I think? God had made a mistake.
So, I think growing up all along, if Ive got to change, then theres something with me and God must have something to do with it, but now God loves me. Wow, its okay, and I didnt know that before, you know, really. I had not really experienced unconditional love. The only person that Id experienced unconditional love with that I can liken it to is my grandmother on my moms side, and my mom and my dad to a degree, but not the same way as my grandma Steel.
And I told my mom this one time, I said, Had I shared this with grandma Steel when I was eighteen, I think she would have totally been okay with it. No one else could I say that about. Why? I dont know. Its not because my mom doesnt love me unconditionally. I know she does, but there was something about my grandmas aura.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: That was just, it was okay. There was no judgment. I never got judgment from her and I cant say that about a lot of people, you know, which is kind of cool. So, yeah, I mean that led to me saying, Okay, well maybe this is where I am supposed to go. Maybe the priesthood is right. I went back to that pope or president thing, and I went back to my aunt saying a special call. She wanted me to go to law school.
She didnt want me to become a catholic priest, because remember theres evangelical Pentecostal. They dont like the Catholic Church. So, my role was not Catholic priest that was for sure. She was for sure it wouldnt happen. She said, Judge, you need to be a judge. And I thought a judge would be kind of cool. That was appealing to me too.
And I kept going back and forth saying, What do I do? What do I do? And the network here was conducive to my moving into the seminary, and everything led one thing after the other. Now, all the whole way, remember, I knew that I was supposed to be celibate and I knew that it was not okay to be gay, but I also knew that it was okay to like women, but I also knew you couldnt have sex with women either, okay.
What I know too is that I did not do this to make my mom happy, because my mom and dad were not happy I was doing this to start out with. They thought it was a mistake, but they werent sure what I was supposed to be doing. And my aunt wasnt happy. So, it wasnt this mother stuff or whatever people say, You know, you did it for your mother.
No, you know, it was me doing it, because I was in this place now that I finally felt like wow things are clicking, and I think its going to work for me, and it feels right, and everything is falling into place. Thats what I did. So, because that I went into the seminary and I had, you know, an amazing education, I was exposed to amazing things.
But the entire time I am going through the seminary, the entire time Im going through and becoming a priest, is I am thinking to myself, Okay, its going to work. God called me, because the teaching in the Catholic Church is that when God calls you, God gives you the gift of celibacy.
Now, I know I couldnt be out. I couldnt be gay in the sense, you know. I needed to a priest and I needed to be nonsexual. Thats the goal, and be good priest. And that isso my prayer was constantly, God, take away my desire for me, make me like womensounds convoluted, doesnt it? And give me the gift of celibacy, and let me be a good priest. That was it.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: A holy priest, you know. And thats what I did. I mean, I still had the attractions, but I was able to keep them at bay for the most part. Theyd bother me, but Id go back and Id pray and Id fix it, and whatever, you know. But just meanders and so you go for a year a Miami, and four and a half years in Boynton Beach. I had a great education.
There was a couple, couple of faculty that were jerks, but for the most part there was some amazing faculty that really gave me great expertise and great insights, and I draw on them today when I teach my world religions class. I draw on them today when I do my readings and my own personal interest in religion and politics. You know, Im still interested. So, that priesthood thing, that seminary time, and then I got ordained.
Not before the year before I got ordained did I tell anybody that I had had relationships or interest in men, because I got ordained I wanted to make sure that I had gone to confession and shared it with the right person and done the right thing. And I went to this priest and I talked to him, told him what was going on. He says, Well do you feel called to be a priest? Says, Yeah. He said, Do youare you sorry? Yeah. What do you think?
He says, As long as you went to confession, you did your right thing, you go
CW: Right.
MD: You know, and so thats when I went into the priesthood. And thats when I came back to this area, because obviously I waswell, in the summer time I was here. I worked in different parishes and did different things, which was fun. I mean, I had a great chance to work at St. Peter Claver, which was great, which is the Black parish, loved it, worked on the radio station.
I had the opportunity to do my own radio programming, my own promotions. I learned the radio business. You know, so the breadth of my experiencesI went to the Dominican Republic for over a month to do a Spanish immersion program. So, the Catholic Church afforded me some amazing, amazing opportunities that I am very fortunate and thankful for to this point, and Ive never had a beef with the Catholic Church.
Some guys leave and they go on tirades. I wont do that. I mean, I will call out what I think are injustices toward the gay community. You know, the current pope, Francis, who is pope right now. Whoever is listening to this twenty years from now, it may be different, but you know he is much morehe has been much more open than the previous pope to gay people, which is the way it should be and it should go that way. I hope it continues. But thatsand to women. So, you know my struggles in the Catholic Church and in the seminary were really eventually around the sexuality stuff.
CW: So, you were ordained in what year?
MD: Thats what Im trying to think now to go back.
CW: (laughs) Sorry.
MD: Heres what: I think I graduated in 87. I think I went into the seminary in 87, 8in fall of 88. So, it would have been five years after that, which makes sense. Five, 88 and five is three, so, 93. I think thats when it was, 93 to94. And then I was in for seven and a half years, so 93 or 94 to seven, thats about right.
About two, yeah, because I left rightI was in Clearwater at the millennium, 2000, then I went to north Tampa for about a year and that would have been about the same time. So, about 2001, 2002 is whenactually, no, thats not right. Nine-eleven was 2001, right?
CW: I yes.
MD: So, it was probably 2003.
CW: Okay. So, then this is
MD: Its been about ten, eleven years since Ive been out.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Yeah.
CW: But this at this time it would have been after HIV/AIDS really becomes publicized on the news as the quote unquote gay disease.
MD: I wasactually when I was in seminary in Boynton Beach, I worked in an AIDS clinic. So, interestingly enough too throughout my time, I was drawn and worked with the AIDS crisis in my priesthood and in the seminary. Yes, so it had just becomeand there were no treatment at that time. People were dying.
And I remember meeting a guy in a clinic in West Palm Beach and it wasI spent a lot of time with him, nicest guy, nicest guy. He died, you know, pneumonia, I believe at the time, so that wasyou know. And then I remember going to memorial hospital here in Tampa, which is where a lot of people living with AIDS would go.
And it was just horrific sometimes to see, because the pain and even people screaming, you know. And I umI remember one instance that was really something. And this one of the reasons I stayed in the priesthood as long as I did, because I really was feeling like I was doing a lot of good in peoples lives and I was, you know. I was a very caring, compassionate personthe bottom line is I was teaching people to love themselves.
Love your neighbor as yourself. I was helping people love themselves and I was dying. I wasnt loving myself, and it came to that point that I decided that there is a breaking point here, that I am not loving myself, and I need to move, butand people ask me that. They say, Youre like not the normal priest. Youre like other people. Youre more human. I go, Well, because probably because I am working through my shit.
Excuse my language, but thats exactly what it was. I was doing my own stuff and working through my own stuff, and dealing with my own demons. And so, therefore, I could be really empathic and understanding of peoples issues, and I think thats why I resonated with everybody. In fact, when I left people were upset, you know, and I was too. It was a hard decision.
But this one instance, it has to do with the AIDS. I had forgotten about that. Im glad you brought it up. I got a call fromI was at Christ the King, Tampa. I got a call and I was on duty, from a sister, a sister of a person, not a nun, that had a brother. And she said, My brother has AIDS. Hes here. Hes been in bed for, I think, its been well over a week, and he wont die. He just keeps hanging on.
She goes, Weve tried everything. Weve tried everything. Weve done this, this, this, and this. She goes, The only other thing I can think of is hes Catholic and he needs to see a priest. So, I said, Ill come over. And this is whereyeah, I said, Ill come over. So, I get to this place. I go in the door. She says, Here, go in the bedroom. I open the door. I go in the room. The guy looked likeI mean it was just, you know, this disease was horrible to people.
I mean, it still is, but it is manageable now you know compared to what it was. I mean, I know people now that are living with HIV that are just, you know, they look fine. But this thing ravaged peoples bodies. This guys eyesjust the whole thing was just notand you know, at the time tooand Im embarrassed to say it, but there was still debate on what was and what wasnt. You know, you talk about germaphobes and things.
There was a bit of me that was scared, because when I was at the clinic in West Palm, I mean, they would wash everything down with bleach and theyd do all this stuff. So, it was also that environment that were like, okay, what do you do? But I had come to the decision at times that you know people are people and Im going to do what Jesus would do, you know, be with the person.
Its up to God, or whatever, to let the chips fall as they may. So, and its silly now because nothing could have happened, except I didnt know. So the reason I am saying that is because I knelt down and got close to him, and touched him, and put my hands on him. People back then would say, dont touch people. And Im like, Im not doing that. And I justI remember all I said to him was, because I know what was going on.
We were told, the Catholic church in the catechism of the Catholic Church, it still says, its still thereand this will be to me when Francis is serious and the church is serious they will take this out of the catechismthat homosexual persons are inherently or objectively disordered. So, I mean, thats huge statement about a group of people, that you are objectively or inherently disordered, that means that youre a mistake.
How can someone be inherently or objectively disordered, but created by God? That means God makes mistakes. They dont think through things when they are saying it, because theyre not those people, right. And so what irritated me about all that is thats what we feel like in the Catholic Church, you know.
And so I just told him, I saidand so, you know, anytime if youre gay and you had any kind of sex or if youre straight and you had any kind of sex or married; or if you are single and you do anything personally, its all a mortal sin, you know. And if you dont confess youre going to go to hell, I mean, thats the teaching.
CW: Right.
MD: Which is just, you know, I think a bit much, but that is what it is.  So I told himand I knew that. And I also knewI had dealt with enough with death and dying, people in the hospital. I did huge hospital visitation ministries and things like that. So, I putI just said to him, I go, Listen, I dont know what youve done in your life. I dont whats going on. I dont know what you think, but anything you feel like that you are guilty over or that you did wrong, I said, God forgives you. God loves you no matter what. Its all okay.
Remember the guy is not open, talking to me. Hisin fact, he is doing nothing except breathing a little bit, so I just said that to him. I said, God loves you. And I said, If it is time for you to go, you need to go be with God and be a peace, and go do that. Its okay. And do you know I saw his eyes move toward me when I did that.
And that hadnt happen the whole time Id been in the room. So, I just did that. I stayed for a little bit and then I left. By the time I got back to the house the sister called me back and said, Do you know, he just died. She said, Thank you. I dont know what you did, but he died.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: So, theres something out there, or in us, that has the power to heal, love, and give peace, and he needed to hear that, but the power, the power that the Catholic Church had on him, that that would go on. Now, someone else would say, well thats God, because he was a sinner.
Oh, thats ridiculous. But the fact is he needed to know he was loved, and to go in peace, and know that. I think if theres nothing other worth the seven and half years, someone died knowing they were loved and at peace, wow, and I was able to be a part of that.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Thats Tampa.
CW: Right.
MD: I also know I played a role in the countys decisions on ordinances and things with advice Id given to people, you know, so I did have a role. I also know I could play a role in the negative flip side, because I was pent up about my own sexuality, and so sometimes I would rail against stuff, and thats something I noticed about priests. We get tied up, we get tied up in things, and wed preach about them.
And youre coming out with your own issues, and thats what happens, you know. And I think that its unfortunate, but I know for example I had an experience when I was at one of the local bars after Id left the priesthood and come out, and I met a guy who had been in the young adult group at one of the churchs I was at and was very angry at me.
Came up to me at the bar, said, I was very angry at you. I basically had told him he was not okay being gay, you know, and I didnt remember that, honestly. I didnt remember being that harsh, but evidently I could be harsh. You know, sometimes I dont think we realize how harsh we can be, and then sometimes too its people going through what they are growing through, that they hear it more harshly than its intended.
I know that too. I had a student recently say something to me about I thought you were mad at me. Im thinking, maybe I was a little mad. Maybe I need to go to class tonight and tell my students, you know, Im sorry if I was a little angry last week. So, its good to hear that once in awhile, and say, You know, maybe I was a little pissy with yall, and I apologize. Im human, you know. Call me out on it when it happens even though its embarrassing.
So, you know, I think thatI told, I evidently said that this guy couldnt be gay, and that he couldnt be a part of the group, and he felt isolated and devastated and hurt and traumatized. And I said, You know, (sigh) Im sorry. I said, I dont know. I was going through my own stuff. I was repressing my own homosexuality, you know, my own gayness, and so I was probably a bit of an ass to other gay people.
Because thats usually what happens, you know, its like love your neighbor as yourself. Well, hate your neighbor as yourself. Its same thing. You talk about peoplethe buzzword projection, or whatever, that people would do. So, that was another time when I didnt contribute, but I think that I prayedit was funny.
After that experience, I said, God anybody that Ive hurt along the way, please do like you did with this guy and bring them through my path so I can ask for forgiveness and apologize. And, you know, there was a couple other people that I was able to do. Again, I believe in this serendipity stuff. And I was thankful. I said, Thank God that I was able to, and this person had the guts, to say something to me. So, you know, when people talk about what happens in the gay bars in Tampa, some good things can happen.
CW: (laughs)
MD: You know, its a place where we meet and talk and do things, and call people out, and you know. And its challenging, because, you know, I would see other people there that I knew from the priesthood, and, you know, its sad. Its sad. You know, I see guys with just sad eyes sometimes. And its a shame, because a lot of people that I know that left the priesthood were damn good priests, but its all around sexuality. Its crazy, really.
CW: So, what were your reasons for leaving?
MD: That was mainly it.
CW: What brought you to that moment?
MD: What brought me to that moment? Um, I think a realization finally. I had some eye opening experiences along the way, in particular, this awareness at one point in which I read that scripture I had never read before the way I did. And I had not realized it was there, and I dont know that Id ever heard it talked about in a sermon or in Catholic school.
Do good to others, I heard. But I remember sitting in the chapel, which Id love to do and just meditate. I love to meditate still, quiet time. I wish I hadI need to make more time for it. Its just nice to be able to journal in front ofwhat we would do, in the Catholic church theres a tabernacle, which is a box with the bread in it, which they consider that Jesus, the blessed sacrament, the host. And so, you know, there is a Jesus presence.
So, you are sitting in front of Jesuss presence with the spirit, and its a quiet room. Its pretty. The one I was in had a cute, pretty stained glass window with a dove on it. It was kind of like, in a basement. I would go down there and justId take my coffee. Id have coffee with Jesus, you know, I didnt care. __(?) coffee. Im like, yeah, Id be in my flip flops and coffee, but Id spend my hour.
And Id get all my stuff done. Id get my thinking, and thats where Id prepare for my sermons, because it would be where my ideas would generate. Id jot them all down. And I was like freaking out about stuff, Id have thisId start thinking about all the things Ive got to do. Id just keep writing them down. It cleared me. It prepared me. I should do that every day now. I dont know why I dont because it was great.
Butand thats where I had the awarenesss that really were life altering, you know. And people say they need to meditate today. Theres a lot of value in that and journaling, you know, just writing things down. And so Im in there, and its so funny cause I dont hear voices, but I do believe theres these things that happen to me where I feel like deep down something says something to me or something leads me.
I just have that intuition, gut, Gods voice, the spirit, people can call it whatever they want, but its there. I had my bible, my Christian bible, and it says, open the bible and read Genesis. And I said, read genesis. Im like, read genesis. So, reading genesis. Ive read Genesis a gazillion times, Genesis I. Read the story ____(?) Well so, but Im hearingIm literally having this argument with myself in the chapel.
Read it. Read it. Read it. Im like, no. So, I finally read it. Well, I come across the part that says, God made them male and female in Gods image and said it was good. Okay. Well, you know, you always hear the story of God made Adam and made Eve out of a rib from Adam, right. Rarely do you hear the other one. Theres another one; there are two stories. Some people say its building on each, but theres another version. God breathed into the dust and made male and female in Gods image and said it was good.
Period. Male and female in Gods image, which I had not thought about before either. So, female in Gods image, which means what? When I asked one of my confirmation students, Whats that mean to you about God? And shes sitting there with her pierced ears and pink hair, and funky clothesGods a woman. I said, Yeah, logically. If God made male and female in Gods image then Gods a woman. Youre right.
So awhile later I was talking to a counselor, because I went counseling about all this stuff. I was telling him the story, he goes, And that means Gods gay too, right? Cause if youre gay and God made you in Gods image then that means part of God is gay, part of God is bisexual, part of God is transgender, part of God is Asian, part of God I started thinking about that thinking, wow, how powerful it that? Gods not a man.
You know, poor women who are just less than all the time because God is man. You know, just the thought of that alone was to me like, wow. Think about that for a minute. What that could mean for people if they all felt like they were really made in Gods image, which is what it says. The other story, God taken Eve out of Adnow of course they are both storiesIm saying intellectually and thoughtfully if God is all loving and all creator it makes a lot more sense that this works than
CW: Right.
MD: than poor Eves pulled out of a rib, because thats all subjugation, you know. That, and then I did this thing, and I would do this where I would open up the bible and just come to where I was. So, I opened the bible. So, I closed it and then I was praying a little bit and thinking about that. Im like, wow, this wasso there was another part to this though. So, that parts kind of cool, and I dont know why It was so big to me, because I hadnt read it that way before.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know, all theseso then I open the bible again, and I come to this part, and its the part about what is typically referred to as the Golden Rule. Butand it says, Read that. And I said, Oh my god, Ive read this a gazillion times, because in the new American bible there is a heading, so I saw the heading and said, I dont need to read this again. Here I am arguing after I just had this one thing, right.
And it says what you need to do to go to kingdom and heaven. Well, do-do-do, love God with all your heart __(?), and love your neighbor as yourself, as yourself. Now, I had been going to some counseling, and wed been talking about me and things, but when I read that I sat there stunned. And I remember saying out loud, I believe out loud orand I think I did say it out loud.
I said, God, I dont ever remember seeing this, and I am twenty-eight years old at this point in time, twenty-nine, thirty, whatever I was. And this is like, a priest, Im Catholic all my life. Love your neighbor as yourself. And then the next line says, do this and you shall live. So Im thinking all of a sudden, Pro-life. Heres the pro-life statement.
Now whens the last time you heard the pro-lifers use this verse on anything. Its all about the babies, which I appreciate peoples perspectives, but its like, okay, this is aboutso I, at that point, said, Okay, I dont even know how tothis is what I said, I dont know how to love myself. I realized that. I dont know how to love myself. Twenty-eight years old, like I told you.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Right, so I, umthis is probably closer to 2000. No, this was more closer to 2001, 2000 to 2001, when I was deciding to leave, because this was one of those cathartic moments. So, for the next couple of, for the next year, year and a half, I said to God, Now, heres what I want. I want you to make that my reality. I will pray that verse. And I still do it today. Love God with all my heart, ___(?) and love my neighbor as myself, make this my reality. That and the wisdom of Solomon, give me wisdom.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: So, that when someone comes with something that I can reallyand when I have things I can deal with it in a very wise way, and then, of course, the whole thing of God making male and female in Gods image. So, those two things together were like revolutionary for me, and it was at that moment that I said, Okay, among other things, that I think, okay this is where Im not loving myself.
So, this began this journey, you know, and thats whereI went to this guy who I knew at the time was gay and a priest, and a counselor, and I decided to go to him. To this point I had not talked to him. See, I was afraid to talk to people, you know. So, at this point I started talking to other priests that I knew that I could talk to about this stuff. And I went to this guy and he looked at me, and he knew. He knew I was gay.
Im like, Oh here is another one. But he looks at me and he goes, Youre homophobic. Thats what he told me. He goes, Youre homophobic. You know what I said, I go, No, Im not. What is that? (laughs) I was so defensiveI am not. That sounds bad, Im not that. What is that? He says, Youre homophobic.
He means, you dont love yourself. You hate yourself. Well, that was happening at the same time Im getting this verse. Well, of course, Ive been told to hate myself all my life, you know, thats what was engrained in me. And so, you know, sure, but it was like, oh wow.
But you know when someone says something to youdo you have this happen? I do. You know someone says something to you thats real, because it like goes into you. Its not just a thought in your head that can bounce out. Its like in there, and youre likenine times out of ten its cause you really dont want to hear it.
CW: Right.
MD: But you know its right, and then its like, if you are smart enough, you take it and say, Okay, the persons right. Im pissed off about it right now, but let me think about it and Godif you believe in God. I pray, God, well then show me. Do it in a loving way, cause I dont want do it in a harmful way. It hurts. Im like, say, God, teach me a lesson I want to learn, but dont teach me a lesson like
One time I said, I was praying, said, Teach me humility God. I want to be humble. I was such the good little seminarian. And the next day I was playing basketball and sprang my ankle, and had to be off my ankle for like a week. And so now when I pray for humility or I pray for something: Okay, God, help me with this but do it in a way that is gentle and loving and I dont get hurt. (laughs)
So, you know, I doso here is what Iso that was really a journey. And then I started using that in my sermons. That became the crux of everything, and I started asking people, Id go, cause I was on a, like, Id be ask to speak all over Tampa and St. Pete. I was on TV, you know, so I started doing these things at these events Id have.
Id go, How many of yall know what the Golden Rule is? How many of yall know what this verse is? And do you know, I would say, now this is not a scientific experiment, but I would say ninety to ninety-five percent every time Id go into a group of people that were Catholic did not know the love yourself part.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And so I started doing it in confession, because I said, If it saysif this is the whole thing, love God and your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you shall live. Thats pretty much it, right?
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Because thats what were all trying to do, live life, and for people that are Christian or believe in heaven, to live a life in heaven. So, you do all this and youre going to go to heaven, and thats the goal. We come to confession. And theyd say all these things they did wrong that nine times out of ten Im like, Oh my god, you know, really, okay, some of this stuffjust, Im doing an oral history.
There were some things that were said that I cant believe that people were at ninety years old worry about things like this. And its terrible, but thats another reason I stayed longer, because I knew I was having an impact. So, Id tell somebody that would come in with these things that were beating themselves up over, and Id say to them at the end, You know you havent said to me? You havent told me that youre not loving yourself. And you know this is what it says in the bible.
And do you know Id have people break down and cry. I said, So what youre penance is going to be is to go back in home and look in the mirror and say that you love yourself. Or, go home and do something for you, like go buy yourself some roses and do it because youre going to tell yourself, I love you. Theyd cry. Thats a set of ten Hail Marys.
CW: Right, right.
MD: Say ten Hail Marys and your sin will be forgiven. Well no, I told them to go home and do something that would show they love themselves, and you know, thats to me going to change someones life. So, thats what I was doing, but at some point, you know, I would look around and I would see other priests. And there were some priests that I saw that were, just it seemed in my opinion, they were miserable. They were closeted. They were miserable; or they were with a woman and they were miserable.
Or they were justand I was like, Im looking at this thinking, Okay if I stay for the next thirty years and I dont deal with this stuff, Im going to be like this, and I dont want to. And the other thing that was happening at the same time is I was having these awarenesses about women in the priesthood and women in leadership. And after I had read that and had someand I started to think more broadly.
Because see, youre also pounded in and you cant think outside the box, right. You think this way and thats it. And although I had some great professors in the seminary, I had some that were like that. And again, Merrell, hes going to take the stuff, the negative stuff, because thats the way it was. Youre bad so take the ones that tell you, you know, youve got to follow the rules, because you certainly cant think, because what youre saying isnt right.
Youre messed up sexually, whatever else is going on, you know. So, I startedyou know we went to Alaska with a group, with a family. I love this family. They were great, great, great to me. They were wonderful people in my life, and they are still are in my life to a degree, not as much. But we went to church in Alaska and there was no priest, so the woman, a woman got up and led the service, you know, and preached.
Im listening to this woman give this homily thinking, There aint no guy priest that can give a homily like that, because she could talk about stuff. She talked about her grandkids from a grandmother perspective. It was amazing. And I went back thinking, Okay, now why in the world cant she be a priest if she wanted to?
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Shes better than half the guys Ive heard. I was a pretty good preacher, you know, but shes like That was one good thing, USF gave me a great education in communication. My communication background was amazing, that made me a really good communicator in the Catholic Church. I was really good at that. Toot my horn in there. But, um, so think about that.
So, Im thinking aboutokay, this organization is great, theres is great people, the bishop was really good to me, there was so many good people in it, but Merrell is dying. And Im helping all these people love themselves, but Merrells dying, and thats not what God wants.
And it doesnt intellectually make sense to me that God would say, Go be a priest, because I made you good in my image and likeness gay and now for the next eighty years, if I live that long, or sixty years, you cant enjoy that part of who you are, because the only way to be holy and pure is to negate that part of who you are and never to share that love with someone else, and you cant be a priest and do that.
Intellectually, it does not make any sense, any. So thats where I came to a conclusion and said, Im going to choose not to do this anymore, because I could choose to stay for the next forty years and either hide like some people do or try not to and make mistakes and go to confession. Or, do something different, believe that Gods calling me. God gave me this awareness.
God pulled me through this, gave me this wonderful education, put me in this incubator of a church for twelve and a half years that did many good things for me that I continue to benefit from today. Im not bitter. And move on, and say, Okay, now whats the next step. And thats what finally led me to say, Its time to move. The stuff around the sexuality and the women, and some of this stuff about its only the Catholic way.
You know, nobody else is going to heaven, this sense of like, this aristocracy, that to me was just too, too much to deal with. It doesnt meanand I didnt disinherit my Catholic-ness. I still have that, because its like, I think its almost like Jewish. You know, Catholic, it almost like a genetic thing, you know. When youre raised in a Catholic family its kind of like there ritual and stuffand I have Catholic friends.
And I appreciate that, I really do. I have chosen not to go right now, because of that line in the catechism. I cant sit in a church that says that I am inherently disordered, because its a tremendous outrage to me, and its a fallacy, and its intellectually incorrect. And its created by people who I think are typically having their own issues and are probably a bit bigoted. Its wrong and it should be taken away.
If that were to change and there is an acceptance of women in leadership position as priests or in some similar role, and if there was the ability for the church to look at gay relationships as a loving, honest, good relationship, and encourage monogamy instead of oppressing a percentage of the population and making them feel like shit their whole life, then I think you would probably have a lot of really cool people in church.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: I mean, the history of the church has a lot of great artists that were gay, you know. Michelangelo didnt paint that pretty picture of Adam, because he was straight, Im sure.
CW: (laughs)
MD: And Im being serious, so I think theresthe David. I mean, theres all these things. So, its unfortunate, because I go back to the idea too that theres a lot of priests who have been here in this area who have left, and if things were a bit different theyd be great. But again, its not my job to change the organization.
CW: Right.
MD: And that was something that I had taken on, you know. I think that because of my aunt and the priest, and saying pope and president, and great call in your life, I still believe that, but there was a sense of narcissism in that, that Im going to change the world. But I dont think thats wrong. I think we have heroes. I thought of Francis of Assisi, you know.
I do think that there are people that change the world, and I guess if you dont believe you can, you wont. So, maybe its not wrong that I thought that, but I thought, you know, I could go and help reform the church from within, and I think in my own way I did in many ways.
I still have people tell me what an amazing influence that I had on them in a positive way, and they thank me. And Im still involved in their lives. Some of them, not as much, because I just, I dont go to church with them, and its a little bit more awkward, so Ive chosen not to. So, thats kind of when I left, and I left Tampa for nine months, and went to California, and went and lived in San Francisco, the Bay area.
CW: Okay.
MD: Yeah, so thats where I left. And up until this point I had been somewhat involved with USF still, but I kind of broke ties, all ties with the area for about nine months. Because remember up until this point there was nothing here that made it okay for me to be gay, but I went to the bishop one day and the bishop was amazing. He, you knowits a hard job being a bishop, but he was really good to me across the board with everything he did.
And probably I must say that, because I think bishops sometimes get bad raps, but with me he was a like a big brother figure, you know, in my ways and so was the archbishop of Miami, in Favalora. Both my experiences, Bishop Larkin, who was retired, Favalora and then now is ummy mind just went blank. Thats terrible. Anyway all three of them were very, very good to me.
And actually bishops in general when Id meet with them, and be with them, I enjoyed their company. I dont envy their positions, but I also think that they could collectively some of them get together and I hope at some point with this new pope, you know, make some significant changes in some areas that I think would benefit everybody and not hurt anybody.
But theres a lot of homophobia in the Catholic Church among the laity as well not just the priests. So, just as you see playing out in this country, youve got that constituency that, you knowSo I went to the Bishop Lynch, thats who it is, and I said, I made this decision, and he said, he goes, Well I really dont want you to leave but I guess I can tell youve made up your mind. I said, Yeah, Ive got to do this.
I had been going to counseling and I had decided it was time, and it was what I was going to do. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; maybe I could have sucked it up for another two years, and saved some money, and bought a house before I did it, but at the same time I was dying.
I was dying. I had become more anxious. It was harder for me; the more I knew what was going on, the less easy it was for me to play the role anymore. I had been really good at playing the role, you know. I told you my whole life. So once I started this whole uncovering experience I just couldnt keep faking it.
CW: Right.
MD: And that was something I never wanted to be. Even when I went to counseling, I used to tell the counselor, I said, a couple of times, I said, I want to be authentic. What is authentic? I said, Well I know Im not being authentic in the sense of this. But it was my sexuality.
It wasnt my other stuff I wasnt being authentic. The people who knew me as a priest and who worked with me, it was authentic. It was just I wasnt telling them who I was and it was such an important part of my life that I felt like I wasnt being
CW: Um-hm.
MD: when in reality I really was. You know, just that part wasnt there, but that was key for me obviously. So, thats what I decided to do. I decided to leave. I came out. I wrote a letter to a ton of people. I told them why I was leaving. I told them what happened. I told them who I was. So I cameso when I left, I came out at the same time.
CW: Okay.
MD: And that was about thirty-two years old.
CW: Wow.
MD: Yeah, all at the same time. Wham, bam, thank you, maam.
CW: (Laughs) And then you decide to go to San Francisco.
MD: Yeah, I had been looking for a job. During this time that I was trying to decide whether or not to move on from the active priesthood I had read some books by a guy named Matthew Fox. Matthew Fox was considered very controversial in the Catholic Church because he believed in this thing called creation spirituality, which was lumped into this new age thing that was supposedly demonic.
Now, I was also a part of that new age hysteria for a while, because when I first got converted I bought into a lot of things, because it was all a part of the picture and I was just in euphoria. But, as I said, I started reading things, because I wasnt getting the answers I needed here because they werent making sense. Im not disordered. Im not loving myself. Women are in Gods image.
So, there were things that I was finally feeling like I could question. So, it was valid for me to read somebody who was questioning or looking at something from a different lens. So, I actually went and met with him, and said, This is what is going on and Id like to move. Im wondering if there is anything that youre aware that I could do Actually, he said he wanted me to come work out there for him.
And so what happened is I ended up going out there to work with that organization at the time with him, and I met some amazing people, and the actual job didnt work out. It was nine months only. But the experience with the people there, with the women who were there, and the men who came to this university of creation spirituality, the openness, the freedom, the searching, on their part, for this kind of spirit experience that for often times was called demonic that I saw nothing demonic about.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know, there was nothing evil. It was all very good people. Now, not everything was my cup of tea, but it was good stuff. They werent malicious. They werent Satan, you know. If these people are going to hell, were all in trouble, you know. But what was the best part of it was I was in the San Francisco Bay area.
The opportunities to discover myself and to heal, and to do what would be hands on therapy in nine months would have taken me ten years to do in Tampa, because Tampa is nowhere as open. Now, South Tampa and Hyde Park and that area, is it getting to be a lot like San Francisco in some Yes, theres a lot of openness.
There is still though, prejudices. I was at MacDintons the other day and there was somebody found out that I was gay, and their attitude changed. I was shocked really, because the people were young, and its amazing to me too how different ethnicities will have you know aversions to gay people in Tampa. And Im like, really you all have an aversion to me, and you have the same thing happen to you so stop it.
Tampa has that. The Latino and the Black and the white that whole mixthere is still stuff going on, which is unfortunate, but I think were moving in the right direction. So anyhow, that was a great thing about San Francisco. It was justit was amazing. I met great people. I did things. I mean, I pierced my ear. I did all the things I wanted to do as a kid, you know. Really what I did was I made up for my twenties.
CW: Right.
MD: Really positive, positive ways. I mean, I camped it up. We did the thing. But, you know, and so it was just a fun, fun time. And really I look at that and think, Man, you know, it wasnt to go work at that place. It was to go find me, and celebrate me, and I can really say thats a time in my life when I just really, really did celebrate me, which was cool.
CW: (laughs)
MD: You know, really cool. And then I decided it was time to move to Tampa again. Not, back to Tampa, but to Tampa again. Thats what I called it. So, then I came back andor Im here. I dont know what else, you know. Theres a couple things that I didnt tell you about my experience here that I could go back and talk about, in particular, because its I do think its important, I hit on it, was the reparation therapy stuff.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: If youd like me to discuss my experience on the reparation therapy stuff.
CW: Go ahead.
MD: Especially when I was a priest.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: There is that underlying current that were supposed to be fixed. And here in TampaI got to say I was in the charismatic __(?). I went to the Pentecostal churches. I went Assemblies of God. I went different places. So, remember, when I was in the seminary and a priest I was asking God to take it away. So I did think, I didnt use the word fix, I just wanted GodI never said, God, fix me. I never liked that.
I just wanted God to take away my desire to like men. It wasnt gettingI never phrased it that way. I dont know why, maybe because I never really thought I needed to be fixed. I didnt think. Maybe I never bought that lie that there was something wrong with me. Finally, I finally started to realize it, but lets make me like women so I can be a good priest. It wasntthat was really the reason.
I dont know why that would have helped, because then youre still have sexual urges, I mean, it doesnt go away. Its just different, different place and time. So thea few things happened: the reparative therapy stuff was out there, __ (?) Church, Focus on the Family, American Family Association. I was on the radio, and I actually was an advocate of Focus on the Family at the time.
And I dontand I think people thought, some people thought I was attacking gay people, but I dont think really think I ever wanted to attack gay people. I think there was things with Focus on the Family that I liked that were interesting to me that they were dealing with that wereIve never been like, people say republican, democrat. People say Im liberal, progressive. Im probably more pragmatic, you know.
If someone talks to me about a solution, and there is some things that have validity, and youre saying something thats, you know, youre republican and youre saying something thats valid. And youre democrat; youre saying something valid. Im kind of the kind of guy that will take it together and see if we can do something with it. To say, thats republican, Im not going to do it. Thats democrat, or thats tooIm not like that.
So, I think people sometimes misunderstood me. I might have liked parts of Focus on the Family because I thought there were things that they talked about that were pragmatic on how to deal with real life issues, not so much because they were railing against gay people. I missed that. I was sometimes oblivious for stuff like that, because I was looking for things that had meat and statistics and things, and I missed sometimes the power of the cause.
CW: Right.
MD: In peoples lives, which is my fault; I mean, not a fault, it just it wasnt my thing. So, many people got mad, because they said I was running against gays to Focus on the Family. Im like, Man, maybe not, but I can see where that would be the case. Because Im not a mean or prejudice person. I was trying to follow the party lines.
Its like I told somebody before, if I work for Pepsi, but I like Coke, you know, Im going to have to make a decision, you know so. Maybe thats not the best analogy, but its kind of like that, you know, what I mean. So, for me, so I was in that world, so I went to counseling. And I found a counselor who was, what I was told, Catholic and would help me with the masculine stuff.
CW: (laughs)
MD: So, I went to the counselor who is going to help me with masculine stuff, point out the fact that I was narcissistic, and I had father issues, and what happened with my father and mother that would make me be gay, what are things that I could do that would be more masculine and make me be straight and feel like a man, and I tell you, I hung out with football team players. I did this, I did. I still do. I still like all that stuff.
It doesnt make me less gay. (laughs) Ill go to MacDintons and have a beer and watch football, and Im gay. Im looking at the guys, you know; it doesnt go away. So, its funny, but I went to him for a while and I finally got frustrated. I said, This is stupid. I dont have these issues with my dad. In fact, if I had issues it was around my mother, and it wasnt mother issues. It was because I struggled with femininity, because of the whole gay thing.
CW: Right.
MD: I was scared to death of women. I didnt know how to do it. Now, Im like, Oh my god, I love women, you know, its great. Were going to have fun together. Its not like __(?), because every time I wanted to, like, with a woman, I felt like I had to somehow be sexually attracted and I wasnt. So, I was scared to death of it all. And it was all mixed up. It was goofy, you know.
So, that waswith the mother, with the God, male or female, and started calling God mother, I started realizing, Oh my Gosh, Ive got all kinds of mother issues that have to do with femininity and sexuality. It was all a mess. It was so funny. Its like thats another I think we should do a Broadway musical about it.
I ___(?) a Broadway musical about the mess of sexuality. Make it fun; dont make it like some of these sad ones. Make it likeget Cher to do the music for us. Itll be fun, so, but maybe it will still happen. You know, so I wantI went to him. So I went through this youve heard of individual counselors that will help you with your masculinity issues and that will help you become straight.
CW: Uh-huh.
MD: So, I went to him. That didnt work, right. I went toI met another guy at a gym, and we started chatting, and for some reason I opened up to him. And he was another denomination. He was a minister, another denomination. He says, you know, I told him about the gay thing, and this was before Id left again, both of these, because this precipitated me leaving again.
Because part of this is that homophobia, I mean, the reparative therapy stuff. This has played a role to me deciding to leave. He said, Im going to this group in east Tampa. Do you want to come? And it was the reparative therapy group, and I always thought I should go.
I thought maybe theres something to it, maybe they are going to figure something out for me, maybe I should see what its all about, you know. I was willing to try everything, because I wanted God to make me fit the priesthood thing, so that I could be a priest and do good at it. So, I wanted to exhaust all avenues before I decided to leave.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know, I went to the group, and I looked in the circle. Im with these people, husbands and wives. Theyre telling their stories. Theyre miserable. There was not a smile. It was horrible. If you want talk about evil, it felt evil.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Far more so than the spirituation, university of creation spirituality out in California.
CW: Right.
MD: And I thought how horrible this is, how horrible is this that these people are miserable and theyre forcing this thing. Things like: This is going to fix you. Dont go down the road where there is an adult bookstore, that will help you not be gay. That will help you not fall into the temptation of wanting to have sex with a man, because you know what goes on in those bookstores.
Dont go by a gay bar, because youll want to go in, and that will make you want to be gay. Im like, Really? Just like you driving by Hooters makes you want to be straight. Its the dumbest thing in the world, but thats what they were saying, things like this. And the wives were sitting there, miserable, because their husbands were out there doing this stuff, and theyre in there trying to make this thing work because God is going to fix it.
Im like(sigh). I went like three or four times, and I said, Nah, I am not going to this. This is ridiculous, ridiculous. And so, you know, not long after had that happened I was with this person again, this guy, went to lunch, because I wanted to see where he was at with things. It was awhile backsee where he was: Oh, Im doing fantastic, Im doing fantastic. He had been fixed.
So, we are sitting at the booth at the restaurant, right, hot guy after hot guy that walks by guess who is looking at them. Him not me. Every single time a hot guy would walk by he is looking. It was crazy obvious. Im a communication major. I watch non-verbals. I see what is going on. Im like Im thinking to myself, This guy has not been fixed. Like the man in the moon, he is worse than he was.
Sitting here telling me he is perfect, hes happy, his marriage is great. And he is looking at every guy walking by. Thatsit was sad. Sure enough later on at the gym where we were, that gym, there were signs up all over the gym in the locker rooms saying, If there is any inappropriate behavior going on, you will be prosecuted. Those signs were up. Guess who had started working at that gym. That guy. Isnt that weird?
CW: Um-hm.
MD: So he puthe goes through this reparative therapy, right. Hes looking at guys at the restaurant. Hes putting signs up about inappropriate behavior in the locker room. Now, Im thinking, Youre fixed? Youre worse.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Youre worse, and I feel bad for your wife, but thats the reality of reparative therapy.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And people can tell me all they want about it, but its nonsense, its nonsense. There are those I believe that have been abused in life and are challenged with where they fit. Thats different. Thats counseling for serious issues that you are dealing with. I know someone who was sexually abused as a child, and that issue was different than what being gay is.
CW: Right.
MD: Totally different, and its not fair to put the two together.
CW: Right.
MD: So, um, I went to that, and then I went to a couple of counselors who were gay, and you know, saw the difference. And what a difference, a place of learning to love yourself and a place of learning to accept who you are and saying, Wow, this is God, this is the freedom, you know. Because one of the verses I used when I got ordained from one of the letters of Paul was beautiful, it saysits patriarchal to use the word lord, but you get the point
CW: Right.
MD: Where the spirit of the lord is there is freedom. All of us gazing on the Lords glory with unveiled faces are being transformed from glory unto glory by the Lord who is the spirit. I love it. Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Well how is that all free, right? So, I started to feel free. You know, Im saying, Wow, this could be true. This could happen. So, thats important and later on when I came back from California, the reason I shared this reparative therapy, is the same thing happened with my sister.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: My sister says to me, she called me up, she says, Theres a guy out in California that Ill pay for you to go see. This is after I got back from California. And I said, Is thisI looked it up. This is one of those reparative therapy things, and I said, Im not going. I go, Im not changing who I am. Im gay. Thats the way it is. And that nonsense out there, well, thank God these people around the country now are starting to recant the validity of it, the harm theyve done to people with it.
CW: Right.
MD: Its bad stuff.
CW: Um-hm. So, reparative therapy focuses on behaviors and actions rather than
MD: Well, theres beenno, theres been some that have gone to those camps where theyve been shocked and everything else.
CW: Oh, okay.
MD: Theres all kinds of things. I happened to go to the ones that, you know, theres all kinds of vehicles. The counselor who helps you deal with your father issues and your masculinity issues, and if you go to enough football games and drink enough beer, and you know, jock it up with a bunch enough guys, youre going to all of a sudden like girls.
No, the worse is going to happen if you are gay and you jock it up with a bunch of guys, youre going to like them. (laughs) Its dumb. Its just dumb. You know, again, I do think theres people that are bisexual, or theres people that sway. Somebody could say, Well, I like men more than women now, or I like women more than I do men. Theres that little part of me. Thatsbut thats playing with words and games, you know.
So yeah, reparative therapy can be across the board things. The camps that you here some of these horror stories, people were shocked and things that like. And mine, which wasmine was minimal in that sense. It was just more psychological damage, and, fortunately, I was smart enough at that point in time to see the nonsense and I saw the signs. I was very lucky to be around this guy after he says hes fixed and hes looking at the guys.
You know, its justits just the way it is. And I dontI also believe there is people at times of their lives sometimes guys like guys and guys like girls. People do go through phases thats true, so somebody could at some point in their life like girls more then all of a sudden like guys. Thats like, so, that fluidity, you know. Im not fluid. Im pretty set. I havent been fluid in a while, but Ive been around enough people that are that I dont argue with that.
CW: Right.
MD: And I just think thats them, and God. You deal with that. So, the repyeah, thats the reparative therapy and Im using that in a very broad
CW: Right.
MD: In fact, that guy who just recently denounced reparative therapy, the one that, locally, and it was in the papers and stuff, that he, one of the organizations, that advocated for it around the country.
CW: Wow.
MD: Yeah, yeah, so. It insinuates that you are repairing people.
CW: Right.
MD: Thats where it comes from, repairing them.
CW: So, what year was it that you moved back to Tampa? It was recently?
MD: So yeah, probably about, I would say, about eleven years ago. So, thirteen2012, 2011. No, it cant be that long, because what year are we, 2013?
CW: Yeah.
MD: Gah, you know, time, it seems like its been longer.
CW: Were in 2013, almost over, 2013.
MD: I know. So, it hasnt been that long, so maybe umbut it seems longer.
CW: So, youre involved
MD: So, around the early part of the millennium.
CW: Okay. You came back to Tampa. Or, moved to Tampa.
MD: Ill be at USF nine years in February, and then I was in
CW: Oh my, gah.
MD: The numbers dont add up, right now. Im trying to figure out what I did wrong.
CW: Well
MD: I do know for a fact, going back, I was in Clearwater when 9/11 happened.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And that was 2001.
CW: Right.
MD: In then I had gone to North Tampa for about nine months, so thats when I left. I was only in there forI was only in California for nine months, so yeah probably about 2002.
CW: Okay, and then since then youyou mentioned PFLAG. So, you attend PFLAG meetings, thats parents
MD: Parents for Lesbian and Gays.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And yeah, Ive started going to them, mainly really because USF is building its archives and one of the key archives we want to be able to obtain is PFLAG, and Tampa, the Tampa PFLAG, just opened, but really also becauseI shouldnt say that. I went, because I wanted to go. They were right down the road and I had never been, but then the symbiotic relationship of having the archives and me going is kind of nice. It works well.
And they started just recently, and they were right down the road from USF. Now they have a place in east Tampa and they do one in South Tampa. And its been amazing. Nancy and John Desmond started this thing back up. I guess it had been in existence way back at some point and then went defunct. Its been incredible for me to be back in that world in the sense of the awareness among young peoples lives and what is still going on out there.
You know, it doesnt surprise me because in the age of Ronda Storms, and the age of Hillsborough County just bringing back the ability to have Pride as a legal, you know, thing in Hillsborough County, that there is a lot of mean, bigoted, scary people out there. And unfortunately 99.9% of the time, that there is an issue raised in these meetings religion plays a role. And so, I feel like my role continuing to be a priest, I still feel like Ive got a role in that, because I have a perspective that I think is unique.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Ive gone through reparative therapy. Ive gone through these things. Ive lived it. So, I know, you know. I can tell somebody says to me, my sister, I told her one time, I going to heaven. I have no issues. I have no guilt. No issues around the fact that I am going to heaven. I am good with God. I am better with God and feeling like that than Ive ever felt in my life.
And I think there was somewhat of a surprised response, because its like thats not how we are raised to think. Theres got to be something wrong with you that God has got to fix. Im like, No, there is something good with me that is good with God and were going to make it together. I dont needIm not running around getting scared all the time.
So, yeah, so the PFLAG, its been great, because its also allowed me to share when theres been some challenges. The other thing that, right now, there is a predominance, and I think its just because of where we are in history, is a lot of people dealing with transgender. So, youve got a lot of young people and middle aged people who are discovering that they are, you know, needing to become a woman or a man and transition, and the parents are coming with them sometimes, or their spouses, or their children.
And that has been phenomenal for me to experience, because its something that I dont know much about. And to be honest with you I have, um, I have a lot to learn and a lot to understand so that I can have a respectful conversation with people and do the right thing. In fact, for Halloween this year we went out with transgender person, and, who is a woman, who is transitioned from a man, as a father, has kids, and we went out as a group and she was with us with her wife.
And you know, I mean, three to four years ago I would never thought that I would have been about to do that. Not because I would have been prejudice, but because I dontfirst of all, it wasnt there. I wouldve felt very uncomfortable in how to have a conversation, but Ive made a conscious effort to learn, to ask, to be respectful, and to try to use the right language.
And its great, because its opened my eyes to a world thats just kind of fun. Its another piece of, you know, Gods, you know, painting, you know, not pieceits not a puzzle. Another part of that great thing thats there, just more neat people to learn about, just you know, cool.
CW: So, transgendered people also attend the PFLAG meetings
MD: Yup.
CW: So, PFLAG has sort of expanded.
MD: Yeah, well it started before you had a lot of these other letters.
CW: Right, right.
MD: I mean, we could have, you know, its like there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, you could have twenty-six letters in the acronym for LGBT P-Q-R-S-T-U-Z-W-X-Y-Z. I think some people just finally said, Im just going to do what I got to do, yeah. So, thats whatso yeah, it would involve anybody, and straight allies.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Nancy and John Desmond, who run it, their son is gay. Theyre straight, but they do it because their son is gay, but hes grown up and married to man, you know, doesnt come to the meetings, but they still do it.
CW: Right.
MD: So, its great for that, you know, and thats a good thing. Yeah, its a great, great vehicle right now thats available to our community. Thank goodness for it. And its obviously helping a lot of people know how to deal with things that, you know, cause the grieving. You know, coming out, something that, kind of, PFLAG is the grieving and the fear, and we all go through that. Ive gone through that.
You know, and like here at USF, one of the things that I had decided was wherever I go next I am going somewhere where I can be out. Im not hiding; Im not hiding. But even when I came to USF nine years ago, or eight and a half years ago, I was afraid to tell certain people especially in the athletic community and in some of the more affluentor I shouldnt say affluent, thats not rightin the more conservative white communities, and Black communities, and Latino communities of this area, because I am working in a public role at USF.
But I stopped doing that. I stopped being afraid. Part of it is because the president has created a culture here that is very, very open so kudos to her and her team. Part of it is because I am part of that group, you know, the committee on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. I have sat on that for the entire time I have been here. We started a scholarship here for LGBT. I started that with seed money from two donors.
And then some other people came on board and have taken it over, and made it soar. I believe we are the first one in a public institution in Florida to have that. We, the group as I was coming on, non-discrimination for LGBT, for gay and lesbian was put into the non-discrimination clause at USF, that happened eight years ago, relatively recent history. That was good, because it helped open the door.
We are nowtransgender was just put in, I think, last year. We are now building a huge LGBT initiative resource center here at the library. You have the president standing up to, I think, the American Family Association when they wanted them to shut down the womens studies, women and gender studies program, and they said, No, we are going to keep it, academic freedom and the right to be able to do this.
They are looking at gender neutral restrooms for people right now. And the Pride group, our programs are very well attended. We had Alex Sanchez up here one time, a writer, LGBT writer from Miami, had over a hundred people. Weve had Disney diversity here, hundred people, attended by the leadership of the university. So the University has done an amazing job at creating a place thats welcoming and safe.
Now, theres still issues. Youre still dealing with prejudices and bigotry, and I dont really it will always go completely away, but its getting better and better and better. And its because people have made it a safe place, and have stood up, including me, and weve put things in a place that work. So, weve become kind of like, I think, in many ways a real beacon for diversity and LGBT issues, and people are looking at that. It helps that the mayors in Tampa have been proponents of LGBT rights too. All those things work together.
CW: Right.
MD: But that is the reason that Im here. I wouldnt work for an organization And Ive told people when I meet with them and they ask me questions. I tell them, you know I do fundraising. I do alumni relations. And I say, I tell them, once I get to know them and I feel like, not right when I meet someone, Hey, Im gay, but when we get to know each other well enough, and if someone starts to ask me things like, you know, You have a wife?
And I say, No, Im going to tell you what the deal is, and I would say 99.9% of the time there has not been one time when someone has not been okay or at least respectful of what I have shared with them, which is pretty cool.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know. Now, it doesnt mean that I do it with everybody.
CW: Right, right.
MD: So, I would say with the USF, and the history here in Tampa, and the city of Tampa proper, theres been a really amazing history in the last nine to ten years. And I would say even more immediately the last five or so years
CW: Right.
MD: Its really kind of just, you know, gone in really good places. So, and Im happy to have been a part of that and continue to be a part of it. I think, um, thats a good role. Its the right place to be, so its good. So, its been a good fit. You know, right before this I worked in retail for a little bit.
It got the bills paid, and thats what I had done when I was in college. So, I did that in luxury retail items, and that was fun, but it was cut throat, and I dont Its not my thing. Although, I did like the clothes. (laughs) Yeah, yeah, great discounts at Neiman Marcus. You cant beat it.
CW: (laughs) No. Well do you have any closing remarks? Anything to add for the official record?
MD: I dont know. Let me think.
CW: (laughs)
MD: Yeah, probably not. I think thats, you know, youre really looking at Tampa too, and I think from a Tampa perspective, I think for me living here all of my life since I was seven and my parents growing up here, in general I think Tampa is a neat place. I love what is going with Ybor. I love whats going on in Hyde Park. I love whats going on even in the suburbs to some degree when you hear of the kind of gay communities, Seminole Heights.
I love that I can go out now, and I can even go to Disney World, and hold a guys hand. A couple people look, but for the most part its great. Go to international plaza, and Ive seen guys and girls walking down the mall holding hands and nobody looks. Yeah, you get the random dingbat who makes a smirk, like the guy and girl at MacDintons the other day that made some face at me, but no one else flinched.
It was just the two of them, thats their issues. But thats the minority now, you know, I think thats cool. So, I think Tampa, and St. Pete too, and those pockets, theres been some amazing progress and openness. And look at my nephew seventeen years old and hes out there, you know, promoting who I am to his friends.
That says an awful lot about where weve come. And hes straight, you know. I think thats important for us to say with Tampa. And I think that the history of Tampa has been one that has, you know, the Ybor community, and the amalgamation of the Black and Latino and Cuban and Jewish populations in this melting pot, Tampa Catholic, this melting pot of people. There is a uniqueness to that, in that regard.
CW: Right.
MD: You know, now I would say that theres still some separation among ethnicities in the Tampa area that is what it is. And I think its growing. Its getting better in the sense of not having the separation, but its funny. Well look at USF and then the library, eighteen thousand sometimes twenty thousand a day, you look across the library and man, there is all people from all over the world. Its like being in New York City.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: Really, its amazing. So, this is a microcosm of Tampa, USF is. Its in the city. And so, again, USF playing a role in the growth, in the diversity, and the inclusion of Tampa is kind of cool. So, in that regard, I think Tampa has that wonderful character.
CW: Right.
MD: You know, theres not too many other places Id live besides here. In the sense of if I had my druthers, you know, Manhattan, D.C., maybe San Francisco Bay, although the weather is very cold all the time. Because theres not too many places where theres like this melting pot kind of concept, and plus its urban and welcoming. And probably the Northeast is a bit more intellectually stimulating, although when you are at USF, you get that.
CW: Right.
MD: You know, I wouldnt say that Tampa proper is, you know, intellectually stimulating sometimes as D.C. or New York, but there is still some of the weird And you know, unfortunately we do have people like the county commission or the people in the, um, Ronda Storms era. Not county commission all the time, but people in the county that you know struggle with issues, but thats that religious component.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: And that influence in Tampa, Tampa Church of Christ, Baptist Church, very, very strong in this area, and theyve played a role in the bigotry, but, again, thats part of their heritage and thats part of Tampas heritage, and I think its changing, but thats weve got work to do there still, because kids are still hurting.
CW: Um-hm.
MD: You know, and we dont want that.
CW: Right.
MD: So
CW: Well thank you so much for letting me interview you.
MD: Thank you. Thanks, thank you.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201 5 University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 42 02 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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