I worked my way through college and seminary as a Methodist student pastor. When I finally admitted to myself that I am gay, I knew a career change was inevitable. Thirty-five years later, that is one thing that hasn’t changed. Knowing I was about to lose my career, my friends, and all of my colleagues, Jimmy Brock, who had just been kicked out of ministry by the Southern Baptists, and I decided to volunteer as helpline counselors for the Atlanta Gay Center. We went on Saturday, October 18, 1980 to their offices for training. Thom Coates and Bill Eure were the instructors that day. Today, Thom is an active member of the United Church of Christ in Jackson, Mississippi.
A couple of weeks after the training, Bill asked me out on a date for November 7. He had season tickets to the Atlanta Ballet, which performed at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Afterward, we went to a French restaurant for dinner. The combination of those two things–the ballet and French food–on a country preacher from South Georgia should have doomed this relationship from the start. For some reason, though, we had a second date and never looked back.
A year later, Jimmy Brock married us at the Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, and Thom Coates was one of our best men. Together, Bill and I were earning $17,000. We rented the two cheapest tuxes we could find, and I took a part-time job at Elman’s Jewelry so we could afford to buy rings (at a discount). Fortunately, Bill’s ring size is so small that we were able to buy him a woman’s wedding band, which saved us $50. We bought single yellow roses as boutonnieres, and were blessed to have friends host a reception for us in their apartment. Our honeymoon was to Chattanooga and Nashville to attend a church conference.
Tomorrow, we will sign a marriage license and have a party just blocks from the Methodist Church that kicked me out, the former site of the Atlanta Gay Center, and the former site of the Metropolitan Community Church. Virginia-Highland Church has brought our lives full circle, and we are thrilled to celebrate it with people we love. I can’t wait to see what changes the next 35 years will bring. The one thing I’m pretty sure won’t change is the fact that I love Bill Eure with all my heart.
Rev. Michael Piazza