DALLAS (Christian Examiner)—Last summer, a simple photo of a young boy weeping on a step in New York City posted by the popular blog "Humans of New York" went viral. The caption underneath the photo simply read: "I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me." The photo had more than 500,000 "likes" and 45,000 shares on Facebook in the first day. That's despite Facebook administrators removing the image for a short time.
Controversy swirled. When some looked at the picture, they saw a cry for equality. Others saw an example of a sexualized culture where children were feeling compelled to make statements about their sexual identity years too early. Charley Hott saw something different.
He saw himself.
"As early as first grade. I was attracted to other guys," Hott said. "At swimming lessons at a public pool, in the showers, I was amazed. During 7th-grade gym-class showers, it was clear. I was sexually attracted to guys. Then came the dreams every boy has going through puberty. It was never a choice."
Whatever others may say about the mysteries of sexual orientation, Hott says with clarity that he never chose to whom he was attracted. Yet despite those same-sex attracts, he has chosen to pursue celibacy and follow Jesus for more than three decades.
Hott decided to go public with his journey after seeing the photo of the young boy on Humans of New York.
"There are thousands of little boys in that predicament—many in the church," Hott said. "There is a neediness that was not met at a very early age. This is a very delicate situation. By 12 or 13 years of age, the damage is done and very difficult to reverse."
Hott said when children's emotional needs are not met, they become vulnerable to various onslaughts.
By the time Hott was a senior in high school he had first sexual encounter with a male. Later that year, he told his mother he thought he was gay.
"You know what the Bible says about that?" she quickly asked.
Yes, he did. Hott had grown up in a small, conservative Southern Baptist church in Arlington, Texas. He made a profession of faith before leaving elementary school.
"It was there at church and in Sunday School I would learn a healthy fear of God and would accept the absolute truth of Scripture," said Hott, as he shared his testimony in September at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. "Without that early instruction, this story may well have had a different ending. Mom and dad, thank you for your faithfulness."
Hott felt conflicted. He says he "experimented with guys" as he dated what he calls a "lovely Christian girl" while in college. Yet sexual temptations were not his only vice. After watching the movie "The Godfather" in March of 1972, Hott began imagining himself as the "consigliere," the Tom Hagan character in the movie.
"I walked out of the theater that night with a mission," Hott said. "That mission was to get rich and powerful."
A week later he met Frank Caven, whose partnership would help make that dream a reality. When Caven discovered only three gay bars in Dallas in 1969, he had seen a future booming market. When the two connected in 1974, Caven saw in Hott an honest and responsible partner and eventually would entrust his books to him and would become full-fledged partners. The two opened numerous gay bars in Dallas, Houston, Arlington and El Paso. The one in Arlington was in the same location where his childhood church had been.
"It was the most profitable time to be in the whiskey and dance hall business since the roaring twenties," Hott said. "We would routinely have clubs in the top-10 grossing monthly liquor sales, as reported by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. There was always one major bar in each city. I would work the Houston club on the weekends and fly back to Dallas via Southwest Airlines with a briefcase full of cash."
But danger quickly followed the money. An arsonist burned down one bar. Death threats hidden in the Sunday morning newspaper were frequent. Air conditioning units were shot out by high-powered rifles.
Hott and Caven began using the money they had earned to purchase political influence—from the police department to city council to the mayor's office and beyond.
God continued to pursue Hott even as his lifestyle moved further away. The Holy Spirit brought biblical truth to his mind and heart in all kinds of situations. In a conversation with a gay friend who called himself a Christian, Hott asked, "But what if it's wrong?"
"I don't care. I'm going to do it anyway," his friend said.
To Hott, it was like the man was shaking his fist in the face of God. A year later the young man was in a plane crash. His body was never recovered in the plane's wreckage. Proverbs 10:27 came to Hott's mind: "The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short."
"I never saw [him] as wicked, just that his attitude toward God scared me," Hott said. "As I drove home from his memorial service, I wept realizing what I was doing was no different."
A devastating motorcycle accident and narrowly missed legal issues added to Hott's sense that God was chasing him. He also heard sermons by Jerry Fallwell and Jimmy Swaggart during this period that confronted his sin with the Word of God. He called the conviction of the Holy Spirit "relentless."
"The reason those events meant something was because of the early, early exposure to the gospel," Hott said. "Without that, there is no reason to get out of that lifestyle. Without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, none of those events would really mean anything."
Through it all, Hott had the faithful prayers and presence of a God-fearing mother. He notes that his mother never left his side. Her love and prayers were a key part of God's process of bringing Hott to repentance.
"She loved me even when she saw me in some pretty ugly situations," Hott said. "And she never, ever stopped praying for me."
Hott experienced more than God's judgement during this period. He also experienced his divine protection. He spent Memorial Day weekend of 1981 at the famous Fire Island, N.Y., a legendary vacation spot for the gay and lesbian population. Unlike past weekends at Fire Island where he had been with many men, he could find no one to be with that weekend.
Not recognizing the hand of God, Hott felt the stinging rejection he had experienced for most of his life. According to Hott, many of the early cases of HIV were traced back to sexual encounters at that location during the summers of 1980 and 1981.
"Coming home on the plane, I began to pray, 'Lord, get me out of this,'" Hott said.
Hott started attending First Baptist Church of Dallas and putting $5,000 checks in the offering plate hoping someone would call him. Recognizing that joining would bring much attention to the church, he wanted to make sure they were ready for it. He scheduled a meeting in the final months of 1982 with the famed FBC Dallas pastor W.A. Criswell to share his story and ask if the church could provide the kind of support he needed as he attempted to leave the gay lifestyle.
"Lad, you came to the right place," Criswell said as he came around his desk to pray with Hott. After the prayer Criswell admitted that he didn't know much about what he was dealing with but that he knew the solution would be submission.
"I accepted it, but walking down the stairs I thought to myself, 'That doesn't sound like much of a solution,'" Hott said "I was wrong. Submission is the solution."
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The following Sunday, after Criswell's invitation, Hott walked the aisle of FBC Dallas. Two men were waiting at the front of the church to support him in the decision. Paige Patterson, who was already a leader in four-year-old Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, told him about his experience ministering to homosexuals through a coffee house ministry in the French Quarter of New Orleans. D. August Boto, who would become the attorney for the SBC Executive Committee, told him, "Most of these folks are not going to understand, but don't let that get you down."
It didn't take long for the word to get around Dallas that one of the leaders in the gay bar scene in the city had become a member of the city's most prominent church and was leaving the lifestyle—and the business. The man who had feared rejection his entire life would once again face an avalanche of it. His old partner was furious, so was the city's gay community. He was called a traitor—and worse.
"When I got out of the lifestyle, I was overwhelmingly rejected by gays," Hott said. "Gay leaders came to me and demanded I give back the millions I made off the gay community."
Rejection came even from the church. Sometimes that rejection was real—other times it was imagined.
The next three decades of dealing with same-sex attraction in the midst of a commitment to stay within the Bible's guidelines for sexual intimacy wouldn't be easy, but it wasn't a journey he had to make alone.
For more about Charles Hott, please be sure to read Prayer, love and listening key to helping friends with same-sex attractions.
This article was based upon a testimony shared by Charley Hott at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a later interview with him.