Posted by Sarah Self-Walbrick
“Any sort of, like, outward expression of our love for each other, like, heads turn, and it’s a huge deal,” Chris Wheeler said. “We’ve never even held hands in Lubbock.”
“We’ve never even held hands in Lubbock.”
Wheeler and Richard Shaver, two South Plains College students from Lubbock, have faced adversity while growing up in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The gay couple have happily been together for almost four years. But not everyone has been happy about their union.
“Coming out was a tragedy,” Wheeler said about telling his religious pastor father that he is gay. He said he now talks to his father occasionally, but has no contact with his mother.
“My experience was completely opposite,” Shaver said with a laugh. “My parents were so open to it. My mom’s a member of PFLAG. We live with her.”
The couple said they live with Shaver’s mother, Chris, in an elite neighborhood in Lubbock. They said some of the neighbors are very nice, and some are very traditional. Shaver joked they live with the “Grand Old Party” that constantly whispers about the Shaver residence.
Wheeler said he has always been different. He said he always knew he liked males better, but just thought it was in an inspirational type of way. Around age 13, Wheeler said he had a definitive moment where he realized he was gay. He said it was hard to come to terms with at first, but he adjusted well. Wheeler said he was one of the few openly gay males at Coronado High School when he was there.
“If I would have chosen to be different, I think things would have been easier on me. But I didn’t really give a shit what anyone thought about me, and I still don’t,” Wheeler said. “So, that was what made it hard, because people weren’t ready. I think people were, like, ready for someone to be gay, but not, like, someone to be really gay out there.”
Lubbock High has a reputation of being a more liberal school. In 2003, the notorious Westboro Baptist Church came to protest the “gay culture” at the Lubbock school.
Shaver said he was not mistreated by most people, but there was an incident that still bothers him. At one point, several older classmates wrote homophobic slurs on Shaver’s car. He said he felt the school could have done more to bring him justice, but did not because of the sensitive nature of the issue. Wheeler said he feels Shaver’s case would have been a bigger issue if he was heterosexual.
“they accused me of raping somebody because I was gay.”
“I can’t express enough how awful, I mean, like, they accused me of raping somebody because I was gay,” Shaver said. “And I mean, nothing was done about it. So, I don’t really know. That’s really the only instance I can think of. And I think that happened twice in high school.”
Since graduating from high school, Shaver and Wheeler agreed things have improved. They are both members of the Gay Straight Alliance at South Plains College, where Wheeler serves as historian for the group. They are also a part of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, here in Lubbock. They said groups like this help bring the gay community in Lubbock together, and helps people realize they are not alone.
Shaver said another group that has supported him is his church family at St. Stephen’s Episcopal, where he sings in the choir every Sunday. Shaver said his church is very accepting and supportive. Wheeler said he does not support organized religion, and believes people should just be nice to each other, no matter what religious affiliation you subscribe to.
“My dad was a pastor, so I was brought up a pastor’s kid. For me, being gay and coming out made me question my faith, because of the things I was taught, and then through that opened my eyes to the sham that organized religion has become,” Wheeler said.
The couple originally tried attending Experience Life, whose slogan is “no perfect people allowed.” Wheeler and Shaver found out that was not true. Shaver said they were very accepting at first, but that quickly changed. They decided it was not the place for them.
Wheeler and Shaver said even though not everywhere in Lubbock is gay-friendly, there are numerous places that are. Their biggest piece of advice for young or still struggling homosexuals is to find a support group, such as PFLAG or GSA.
“It’s almost like a cliche; it gets better after high school.”
“It’s almost like a cliche; it gets better after high school,” Shaver said. “But it really does. I really cannot stress that enough.”
Shaver and Wheeler will both transfer to Texas State University in the fall of 2014. They recently bought a house seven minutes away from campus, and they both light up when talking about the future. They think San Marcos will be more tolerant of their relationship, so they can finally hold hands in public. They hope to get married in Santa Fe, N.M., within the next few years.