On Tuesday, Nick Crews of Plainfield, Indiana, penned a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star, praising the paper’s front-page editorial against Indiana’s new anti-gay “religious freedom” law. Crews’ brother, a gay Vietnam War veteran, died of AIDS in 1985, when homosexuality was widely condemned throughout America. In his letter, Crews describes buying two copies of the paper, taking them to his brother’s grave, and reading aloud “as much of the paper’s editorial as tears would let me get through.”
“Well, Charlie,” Crews said, “times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all.”
I spoke with Crews on Wednesday about his letter, his brother, and his state’s new law.
What inspired you to write this letter?
I was very saddened by the law. I self-identify as a straight guy, but I lived in the Castro District when AIDS was uncovered. I watched my friends and my brother die in rapid succession. So I have a little bit of historical context to this.
Was your brother openly gay?
Oh, yeah. He was involved in the White Nights riots in San Francisco. He was in New Orleans when he died. I went out to take care of him when he was dying. My parents were great people, but they could not emotionally handle the whole situation. For a while I couldn’t get them to visit him. My parents finally came down before he died. I guess I buried a lot of feeling about it.
How do you feel about conservatives, like Gov. Mike Pence, who claim they’re being targeted and misrepresented?
If you don’t want to be in a fight, don’t pick a fight. Folks I know in the gay community are very happy to coexist. But when this onslaught against your community is being brought to your doorsteps … Look, it’s better to go through life without having a hassle. But if you’re going to have to have a street fight, you’d better win it. I don’t see Sean Hannity extending any olive branches to anybody.
I’m all for finding common ground and coexisting. But the belligerence and aggression exists on the other side. … These people hate. I grew up in the church. I don’t go to church any more. My values are very Christian-based. That’s how I grew up. But I can’t stand that kind of assault, in the name of religion, perpetrated on people who only want to be left alone and love who they want to love and be recognized in valid and legit relationships.
How do you feel about the claim that these protests exhibit anti-Christian hysteria?
Historically, look at what people have gone through. Like my brother. He had to leave the state, had to be alienated from his family. Don’t compare decades of anti-gay hysteria to what exists on the other side. [Gay people] just want to be recognized as human beings with basic civil rights.
What would your brother think of the campaign against Indiana’s law?
He would love it. He told me on his deathbed—he was lying in bed at the VA hospital, recounting the role he played in the White Night riots. He talked about some of the stuff that was going on in streets. And he looked at me and said, “That was the only time in my life I felt like I was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.” He would say that for everybody who’s protesting this law today.
A lot of states have passed anti-gay laws in the past few years with little outcry. What do you think your brother would say about this sudden, widespread protest against anti-gay legislation?
He’d say it’s about fucking time!