To the editor:

I love Auburn. I love it so much, I opened a coffee shop here, Jeremiah’s, and then went into local nonprofit work in the community after I sold it last summer. I’m forever grateful that I did!

But, even the best things aren’t perfect. As much as I love this community, I have been through some major personal struggles here. You see, I’m attracted to men. I’ve known this about myself pretty much since the moment I understood what attraction was, around 11 years old. This small facet of who I am has caused great suffering in my life. I’m a pretty upbeat person, so I don’t dwell on those things … but, I’d like to share one with you.

In the fall of 2018, I was unloading some groceries for the shop when a letter fell out. I opened the envelope to find a white piece of paper with a note typewritten that went something like:

“Jeremiah, your evil will be your undoing. None of your good deeds will cover up your disgusting homosexual evil. We hate what you stand for and we want you to leave.”

I rolled my eyes and threw the letter away, dismissing it as some bad prank. At least, until I found a second letter a few weeks later. It didn’t scare me, but it did give me pause. Fast-forward one year, to fall of 2019, and 13 letters later, the most recent letter actively threatening my life. Each letter slowly chipped away at my self-worth, and left me afraid to leave my home. I found myself hiding in the kitchen at the coffee shop. I was nervous about going to the store, or to dinner with friends. I was scared to be outside after dark. It could have been anyone: a customer, an employee, a friend, literally anyone. I didn’t know who to trust or what to do.

One day I woke up and decided I was done living in fear, and went to the police. Those amazing men and women, along with my close friends and family, helped me navigate this situation safely.

In that moment when I decided I was done living in fear, I realized that I had to replace the fear with something. So, I decided I would replace it with the very thing I knew had helped carry me through those long hard months: Love. My friends and family surrounded me with love and encouragement, and it kept me going.

I’d like to take this space to say something to whomever wrote those letters (and to the person who assaulted me in a dark alley 15 years ago, and to the person who screamed “fag” at me and threw a beer bottle at my head, and to the many other people who have treated me poorly as a result of my sexuality): I LOVE YOU!

I don’t understand. I simply don’t comprehend how one human being can treat another in such a way. But, I don’t need to understand you, or even agree with you, in order to treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve as a fellow human. Nor do I need to understand you in order to choose love over hatred, anger or fear. Choosing love also means that I will maintain healthy boundaries, and I will protect myself from those who want to cause me harm. However, I choose to do so in ways that respect their humanity, and without hatred.

Won’t you join me in making our community a place that continues to be built on love?

Jeremiah Otis

Auburn

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