Two Degrees off Center: Hero Worship

This post is also available in: Spanish

Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience.  Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.

Illustration of hands releasing butterflies.

By Rich Keys

September 22, 1975—an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary man, Oliver Sipple.  Even his name sounds ordinary.  But after this day, his life would never be ordinary again.

Oliver was one of about 3,000 people greeting US President Gerald Ford on his visit to San Francisco when Sara Jane Moore, a radical political activist, aimed a gun at the president and fired.  She missed.  Sipple, an ex-Marine, happened to be standing next to her and deflected her arm as she fired again.  Ford was safe, Moore was captured, and Sipple became an instant hero.  Suddenly the media descended and dissected every part of his life:  A Clark Kent, minding his own business in the middle of a crowd, who suddenly can stop bullets and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Sipple’s friend, Harvey Milk, an LGBT hero in his own right, mentioned to the famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen that Sipple was gay—and why not?  Here was an opportunity to break down stereotypes and let the world know that gays can be heroes too.  But this was the 70’s when Queer was still a dirty word.  Sipple was still in the closet from his family, his employer, and all but his closest friends.  First, he tried to remain anonymous.  Then he asked the media to keep his sexual orientation private.  But the press smelled a great story and went full speed ahead.  Instead of his family honoring the hero, they totally disowned him.  In the Gerald Ford library, there’s a letter written by Sipple to the president begging him to call his family and help mend things.  The call was never made.  He died in 1989, alone, with an empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s next to him.  Ten days passed before anyone found his body.  He was 47.  Only 30 people attended the hero’s funeral.[1]

In the LGBT community, there are millions of Oliver Sipples, ordinary people leading ordinary lives but hiding in the dark, afraid to come out into the light.  Some are LDS.  Some are in Affirmation.  Some fear their own family or losing their home or job.  Others live where being LGBT can get you imprisoned or killed.  Each of us is on our own individual journey, and we need to respect everyone’s timetable.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Faith in God includes faith in God’s timing.”  The same is true with heroes in the closet. Those who are out and proud can let their light shine for others who are waiting for the right moment.  Each of us knows when the time is right for ourselves, for the moment when our higher power tells us to shed our cocoon and become the beautiful butterfly we are.

In this Christmas season, whether your higher power is God, or Santa, or somewhere in-between; whether it’s a He, or She, or Them, ask that higher power to bless the Oliver Sipples in the world, and to help us let them be ordinary…until they decide the time is right.  And while we celebrate and pray for Peace on Earth this season, may you all have peace within yourselves—the greatest peace of all.

[1] Out magazine, Dec 2017, p. 16

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.

 

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