"Bush needs to put some human faces on the AIDS crisis," Buonocare said. "Maybe if he held someone he knew and loved as they took their last breath, it would help." Since the AIDS plague began killing homosexuals, and occasionally others, in this country, Buonocare has personally nursed three men who died. But that does not begin to let you understand the path taken by this 38-year-old man. Understanding starts with Buonocare's lover.

"Six years ago yesterday, I lost Jeff. I laid in bed with him as he died. That was the beginning.

"When I first came to Phoenix, I had a circle of 10 to 12 men, and we were inseparable. We went out to dinner all the time. We did everything together. I'm the only one left. All my real close friends have died."
In fact, Buonocare has a scrapbook in which he pastes up the obituaries of his friends. There are two volumes of this diary. Following the meal at Casa de Cristo, about 15 people, homosexuals and lesbians, adjourned to the chapel.

We were given the hymnal number for "Amazing Grace." As I reached for the songbook, I also picked up a small hand fan. On one side of the fan was an illustration of the Last Supper; on the other side was a large advertisement for the Universal Memorial Center Funeral Home.

Pastor Pettison offered a tender bit of preaching.
He reminded us that God does not bestow guilt, but that religions bestow guilt.
The pastor told the story about the time Gandhi read the teachings of Jesus Christ and was so impressed that he sought out a Christian church in India. Gandhi was barred at the door because he was of the wrong caste.

Gandhi's response, as recalled by Pettison: "If it weren't for the Christians, I'd be a Christian."

"Well," said Pastor Pettison, smiling, "I'm a Christian in spite of the Christians."
Afterward, Pastor Pettison was joined at the altar by the lesbian minister, Sharon Busch, who shares his duties. People were invited to come forward to discuss in private whatever worries might weigh upon their shoulders.

For the next 20 minutes, people unburdened their hearts of troubles we all recognize, as well as miseries that only true outcasts endure. Off to the side, a black, albino lesbian, cross-eyed and legally blind and wearing a blond wig, played a guitar and sang with a voice that was sweetness itself upon the ears:

Oh, how He loves you and me
Oh, how He loves you and me
God is the one, He gave us His Son
Oh, how He loves you and me

On the way out, I picked up a flier announcing a church program for the children in the neighborhood. The weekly gatherings promise "singing, Bible stories, a puppet show, cartoons, movies and free food."

This is, of course, the nightmare of many Americans, not just fundamentalist Christian Republicans: homosexuals mixing with young children.

Pastor Pettison was patient in his response.
Many of the lesbians and homosexuals in his church are parents, and a score of their children regularly attend service, he said. The kids need Christian outlets like summer Bible school. Neighborhood children also need the word of Jesus.

"I'm a person who is not paranoid," he explained. "The neighborhood accepts us. The meetings with the kids are held outdoors, where parents can watch or join in.

"There is a segment of the heterosexual and homosexual population who are into children. We see that as an illness or a sickness. We will fight that."
Pettison's words are reasonable, but this is not about reason. When Woody Allen is accused of molesting his child, heterosexuals do not stand indicted as a group. But when a homosexual preys upon a child, all homosexuals are condemned.

By starting an outreach program to neighborhood children, Pastor Pettison is traversing emotional badlands.

He doesn't see it that way.
"I am a homosexual, and I had no more choice about that than I did the color of my eyes. You know, the church used to frown on people who were left-handed. It was considered the work of the devil. Think of homosexuality as the left-handed aspect of sexuality. I am not out to recruit anyone. We are not out to recruit children."
If Pastor Pettison is calm in the face of homophobia, it is because he learned early to deal with hysteria.

In the 1950s, when he was still straight, still a Baptist minister, the white Pettison had a church on Long Island that was overwhelmingly black. Bigots from both races threatened to kill him.

Today, Pastor Pettison once again is confronting common prejudices. He and his congregation refuse to be typecast as child molesters.

James Buonocare is one of the parents in Pastor Pettison's congregation.
He was not allowed to see his children for eight years after he told his ex-wife that he was gay.

"'Either you or some of your faggot friends will end up molesting the kids' is how she put it," said Buonocare.

Today, both of Buonocare's children know he is HIV-positive, and he has been allowed to reestablish ties with them. Though he talks of bigotry, the deaths of his friends, his own stark mortality, he constantly returns to the subject of his children.

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