Tom O'Toole, Jr.
I came to Christ at the age of 14 after attending a Christian boy’s camp in Maine. Within a year of accepting Christ, I was affirmed by people in my Conservative Baptist church as a “natural leader” with potential to do great things. At the age of 15 I began serving each summer as a camp counselor at various Christian camps in New England. I was also very active in my church’s youth group and began expressing my love for music by playing guitar and singing in church. I attended Bible college in New Jersey and a Christian liberal arts college in New York.
At the age of 23 I began working at a Christian school in Massachusetts, and I served as principal of that school for 7.5 years. My spiritual and intellectual gifts were always noticed by others and I never had trouble finding opportunities to serve God in fun and challenging ministry roles. But I had a secret…While my life as a natural-born Christian leader was moving full-steam ahead, my identity as a gay man was also moving forward, keeping pace with my outer successes in ministry.
Same-sex attraction has always been a part of my life, as far back as I can remember. I began acting on those attractions by “experimenting” with childhood friends as a young teen. It wasn’t until I was about 15 years old (the same time that I began growing in my faith) that I realized I might be gay. When I was 16 my mother became suspicious, confronted me and asked me if I was gay. I broke down crying and confirmed her suspicions. My parents took me to see a local pastor to see if he could help me. The pastor showed compassion but recommended that I see a Christian therapist.
I can still remember sitting in the office of that therapist. He was behind his big desk, and although I sat just a few feet in front of him, I felt like I was hundreds of miles away. It was my first encounter with feeling shame in the presence of a faith-based caregiver. After telling him my story, and sitting there in awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity, he said, “Do you want to change?” In the moments before answering his question, I remember thinking, “Change? Change what? I’m not sure I really understand what this is, let alone whether or not I want to change…” I told him that I did want to change, but I never met with him again. I proceeded to convince my parents that my “gayness” was just a phase. “I can change this with God’s help!”, I told them. And thus began a 24 year journey of repression, costly pursuits of healing and repeated disappointment. I never changed.
Unable to sustain the conflict raging within me, I left my ministry as a Christian school principal after 7.5 years. On one hand I was a successful, respected, young leader in the Christian community. On the other hand I was a closeted gay man, pursuing anonymous sexual encounters and experiencing secret affairs with men. I began doing research to see if I could find a “cure” from homosexuality. I was making phone calls all over the country. I attended week-long conferences focused on healing of sexual and relational brokenness. I spent thousands of dollars to attend these conferences.
After leaving my ministry at the Christian school I began attending a small church in Boston where I decided to be completely honest about my sexuality. I began meeting with the pastor weekly and also received weekly counseling from a Christian therapist who specialized in treating homosexuals. I spent over $3,000 on this therapy over the course of 2 years. At the age of 30 I attended my first Exodus affiliate ex-gay ministry program in Boston. I worked through the 40-week program 3 times, the 3rd time as a leader. I led worship for the program and attended 2 Exodus conferences. I had some of the biggest names in ex-gay ministry pray over me and even prophesy about my healing.
But my same-sex attraction never diminished. I never changed.
I began serving as a worship leader at my church. God began using me to lead His people in greater understanding, experience and expression of worship as a lifestyle. Before long I was leading worship at city-wide gatherings and concerts of prayer. I was invited to teach about and lead worship at other churches, Christian retreats and coffee houses. I began another wave of participating in ex-gay ministry and attended a 40-week Living Waters Program twice, the 2nd time as an assistant leader. Again, I was succeeding in ministry, but my same-sex attraction was very much alive and well. I guess I really believed that if I stuck with it, cooperated with caregivers and with God, I would eventually be free from homosexuality or free to live a celibate lifestyle. I was wrong.
At the age of 34 I joined Youth With A Mission (YWAM), graduated from YWAM’s Discipleship Training School and School of Worship in Hawaii and began traveling to many nations as a missionary worship leader. Although I did experience some wonderful adventures with God during those years, the conflict within me mounted. In 2000, at the age of 40 after spending about $25,000 for therapy, conferences and programs, and after 24 years of fighting, I became very depressed. I gave up ministry and trying to change my sexual orientation. I left my church and isolated myself from the Body of Christ for 6 years.
In March of 2005 I fell down stairs at my home while doing laundry. I fractured my ankle severely and needed 9 surgeries. I contracted osteomyelitis (infection in the bone) and almost lost my foot. I just started walking without crutches in January of 2007. Although the past 2 years have been the most lonely and challenging years of my life, somehow God used this time to draw me back into relationship with Him – but this time as a Christian gay man. I re-established relationships with dear friends at my church. Although they do not support my decision to live a gay lifestyle, we are able to share common ground based on our faith.
Recently some Christian friends approached me. They are a young heterosexual couple who happen to have several gay friends. They are not convinced that loving, committed, monogamous relationships between people of the same sex are forbidden by God. They invited me to join them in starting a small group that reaches out to people who feel completely alienated and estranged from God and His people, offering them hope and a path to intimacy with God, regardless of their sexual orientation.
So here I am again, exploring ministry opportunities after a long and lonely “desert” season. Now I’m moving forward as an openly gay Christian man. I’m dating guys again, and for the first time in my life I feel a deep sense of freedom to be the man God created me to be!