Modesto is a great place to live, as long as you fit the proper profile.
Why would you want to go THERE!
Look, buddy. We won't ask and you don't tell and everything will be OK.
I mean, we're still going to make fun of you — mostly behind your back, of course — but it's your own fault. That's what you get for looking THAT way, talking THAT way and acting THAT way.
One more thing.
Don't go around flaunting your lifestyle. We find it offensive.
How dare you hold hands or kiss in public. If you keep getting in our faces, we'll have to call you out or beat the snot out of you or both.
Now, some of you — especially the Christians out there — probably will find that characterization a bit harsh.
Try telling that to Amanda Francis.
The 16-year-old Modesto girl has endured more than her share of "gay-bashing."
"I've been jumped," she said. "I've been stabbed. They beat you up because of your sexuality."
Granted, not every Modestan reacts like a boorish thug when confronted with homosexuality.
But looking the other way or refusing to believe such problems exist aren't acceptable alternatives, either.
That's why Edward and Elizabeth Plata took matters into their own hands, founding a gay and lesbian support group aimed at teens.
The Platas were appalled by the city's lack of resources for homosexual young people between the ages of 14 and 19.
"We have a gay son," said Elizabeth Plata. "E.J. is 17 and because of his experiences as a gay youth, we felt our son needed some support. We needed some support."
So, the Platas turned to Modesto's religious community.
Only one church, however, was willing to accept them without judgment or conditions — the College Avenue Congregational Church.
The Modesto church, affiliated with the United Church of Christ, is an "open and affirming congregation."
"It's not a gay church," said Edward Plata, "it's a Godly church."
They began attending services there in June.
In January, with the help of the church, the Platas organized a support group for gay youth and their parents — known as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning youth group, or GLBTQ.
Though it meets at the church, the group is secular and doesn't espouse a religious point of view.
Instead, the church provides a safe environment and confidential forum for gay teens, a place where they can discuss ideas and thoughts, as well as the broader issues affecting their lives.
"We teach acceptance," said Elizabeth Plata. "People don't like to talk about it, but it's everybody's issue."
Acceptance. Tolerance. Unconditional love.
"Jesus spent his entire life with people on the fringes," said the Rev. Michael Schiefelbein, pastor of the College Avenue Congregational Church. "He welcomed people who were considered unworthy."
But don't get the wrong idea.
Gay men and lesbians are not unworthy.
If anyone is unworthy, perhaps it's the so-called Christians who shun homosexuals.
Nothing good, however, comes from that kind of rhetoric.
Too much time is wasted on ridicule.
Too much energy is spent creating rules meant to divide us.
After all, didn't God create ALL of us in his image?
"Some people believe homosexuality is a choice," said Edward Plata. "That perception is wrong.
"Murder is a choice. Rape is a choice. Sexuality is not a choice. We want to educate people."
Plata knows what he's talking about.
He admits he was as ignorant about and intolerant of homosexuality as the next guy, until his own son broke the news to him.
"It was very hard for me to come to terms with it," he said. "I was raised to be macho; I'm an ex-Marine. My dad was a Marine. But I love my son."
The Platas worried that societal pressures would lead their son to abuse alcohol or drugs. They cited statistics claiming 60 percent of homosexuals have drug or alcohol problems as adults.
They also worry about their son being subjected to verbal or physical assaults.
While high school can be difficult for heterosexual teens, it's even more problematic for gays and lesbians.
"It's way worse," said E.J., "especially when it's a little obvious. Your (peers) can be so cruel."
E.J. said he's already lost friends, children that he grew up with, for the most part, because they now realize he's gay.
"It's just hard," he said. "(But) it makes you stronger as a person when you have to endure a lot. I'm just so blessed and lucky to have parents like
The GLBTQ youth group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday every month at College Avenue Congregational Church, 1341 College Ave., Modesto. For more information, contact Ed and Elizabeth Plata at 524-1169 or online at www.stanpride.org.
Mike Mooney's column appears each Friday in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2384.