The short version of the story is that Ronald got HIV from his drug-addicted lover in New York City, and he returned to Louisiana shortly thereafter to be taken care of by his mother. The Rude Pundit had known Ronald since he was 13 and Ronald was 18. Our mothers had been friends and co-workers. Then in our 20s, when the HIV became AIDS, the Rude Pundit was always bringing him to K-Mart to get his drugs, which included the just-approved AZT. This did not go on for long.
Dee, Ronald's mother, called the Rude Pundit one Saturday morning to tell him that Ronald was gone. Ronald had been getting weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner. The Rude Pundit drove to their clapboard house in a neighborhood that was worn out and, frankly, had been that way for decades, what we politely referred to as "the black section of town," as if that made it okay. He walked in to see Ronald's peaceful-at-last body. He waited with Dee until the funeral home came to pick him up.
Ronald's funeral was rather extraordinary. It took place in a medium-sized Baptist church with a primarily African-American congregation in that same neighborhood. If you don't know black Baptist churches in the South, they can be intensely narrow-minded and conservative about many things, especially about gays. But Dee and her family had attended that church for years.
The Rude Pundit thought that no one was going to say how Ronald had died, that everyone knew and understood, that everyone knew who Ronald was but kept it quiet in that quaint way people in the South sometimes do. But Ronald's sister got up to give a eulogy and the very first thing she said in that Lafayette, Louisiana church in 1989, during a time of continuing paranoia about the disease and a rising number of deaths and infections, was "Ronald was gay and he died of AIDS."
And no one, not a single person in that church, which was filled with people of all ages, offered anything but sympathetic "amens" and "mm-hmms." If you are too young to remember that time or weren't even around, you cannot grasp how amazing this was, considering the sheer amount of fear and bigotry that surrounded the disease and gay people in general. It would not have been surprising for the church members to fear that the body itself would spread AIDS, even though that's idiotic. But there were no protests at the church. There were only sadness and tears for the loss of Ronald. And the pastor of the church blessed him and all of us for being there.
The Rude Pundit was moved to think about Ronald by a story yesterday, out of Tampa, Florida, about another dead, gay, black man and another black church. It seems that the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church canceled the funeral for Julion Evans, who died of a rare disease, when members of its congregation saw Evans's obituary, which said that Kendall Capers was his husband. The two had been together for 17 years, married for 1. Here they are, looking menacingly gay and happy:
Pastor T.W. Jenkins couldn't abide such an abomination in his church. He told Evans's family, which includes members of his church because, Jenkins said, "Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church...I'm not trying to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles."
Even if those principles are as ungodly and anti-Christian as they can possibly be.