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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ANN ARBOR – Jeremy Merklinger is a recovering “monster.” Or, at least, a recovering Baptist.
Raised by a conservative Baptist family in Grass Lake, Merklinger came out – or was forced out – when his mother went through his belongings when he was about twenty-one years old.
Prior to that, Merklinger, who says he has known he is gay since the age of ten or eleven, was educated in a private Baptist school and attended a Baptist college in Indiana.
“My parents wanted me to be a minister,” Merklinger said. “I tried, it just wasn’t working because I didn’t really agree with religion.”
Ironically, a counseling session with a Baptist minister helped Merklinger come to terms with his orientation.
“I was engaged to a woman … that was kind of my last ditch attempt to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’ and when it wasn’t working I decided to go to counseling,” he said.
“His reaction was … the fundamental Baptist belief that gay people are monsters, and so he told me that I must have done something evil to turn myself into this monster.”
“I started racking my brains to figure out what I could have done that was so evil to turn into a monster, and my logic just kind of kicked in. I started realizing that I’m not a monster,” he recalled. “And I realized that at ten or eleven you can’t do things that are evil, to turn into a ‘monster.'”
Merklinger broke off the engagement, and about a year later was forced to tell his parents when his mother violated his privacy.
But while he hasn’t realized his parents’ dreams for him, Merklinger is busy realizing dreams of his own. Merklinger’s “ministry” is activism.
“When I came out there were only a couple places that I was able to get help from. One was the MCC [Metropolitan Community Church] and the other was WRAP [Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project]. So as I continued to come out I just realized that WRAP was there for me, so I needed to help WRAP to become better so that it was still there for other people after me.”
Merklinger is serving his second year as president of WRAP. Prior to assuming the post he served on the board of directors for “about a year,” and had been a WRAP volunteer “for about four or five years.”
His commitment to activism, and to WRAP, is as bright as his smile. Asked about his profession, Merklinger said, “I am a hair stylist. I love it. It’s fun and free. And it actually gives me a lot of time to devote to activism.” And asked about his hobbies, he responded, “I do like to work in my garden at home, but I think WRAP is my big hobby.”
“I do want people to know that if they do have questions, or concerns, or ideas to help WRAP to be better that they can always come to me,” he added. “I’m okay with all that, because I want WRAP to be better and it’s for the community. So if I don’t get feedback from the community I don’t really know what they want.”
Merklinger also had advice for recovering “monsters” like himself – young LGBT men and women who are deciding if, and when, to come out.
“My advice would be to do what is right for you. Don’t let people tell you, ‘You have to do this,’ or, ‘You have to do that.’ I didn’t really have a choice in coming out to my family because of the way it happened, and I feel like everybody deserves that choice to come out when they want to come out, when they feel ready for it. My big advice is don’t let anybody push you into anything you’re not ready for. And be careful!”