The soft trickle of water fountains, the scent of a pungent simmering stew, the glow of oil paintings in the Cape Cod style and the warm embrace of two handsome men of a certain age will envelop you upon entering the gates of the gracious and elegant Fort Lauderdale residence of Brian McNaught and his husband Ray Struble.
Although Brian was the focus of this particular visit, distinguishing him from his spouse is difficult given their identical heads of enviably thick salt and pepper hair that partially explain the title of the sixth and newest of Brian's books, Are You Guys Brothers?
Their similarities go much deeper and contain startling revelations, given the peaceful and comfortable life they share today. Both were altar boys drawn to Catholic religious vocations in a church that rejected them. Both were victims of childhood sexual abuse. Both have parted ways with alcohol and drugs. Both have attempted suicide. Both are now highly respected and prosperous professionals. Their shared life of thirty-two years, described in unusually frank detail by Brian in his books and trainings, is remarkably inspiring. From the sidewalks outside their homes here and in Provincetown, you would see only their financial success, but once inside the warmth of their hospitality, you learn that what they now enjoy has been hard earned and are reminded that the lives of the men around us are not always as they seem.
With Ray upstairs in his office attending to his work as a financial advisor, I sat with Brian who could barely contain his excitement about a forthcoming trip to Tokyo, Mumbai and Delhi where he will deliver his signature training to some large corporate clients. Brian is considered the world's leading corporate diversity consultant dealing with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues in the workplace, and has been referred to by The New York Times as "the godfather of gay sensitivity training".
"My invitation from Merrill-Lynch and Goldman Sachs to train their senior managers in Tokyo in April is unprecedented and historic. From there, I go to Mumbai for a presentation to Merrill senior managers, and then to Delhi.
"Merrill Lynch brought me to Hong Kong in 2007, and to Sydney, Melbourne, and Singapore in 2008. Both trips were "firsts" for the region, with the presentation in Singapore being extraordinarily significant because the laws there prohibit homosexual behavior."
I asked Brian to describe his objectives when training employees in foreign countries.
"When I was brought to Hong Kong, Singapore, Melbourne, and Sydney, it was also a first time experience for those countries, and was of particular significance for Singapore because of its laws. My approach is that a country's laws on homosexuality are about behavior and the company takes no position on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior. My audiences have been very receptive. The employees leave work and talk at home about what they learned. These presentations, then, are impacting local cultural attitudes toward gay people little ripples at a time."
Brian laughs about the many gay men and women he encounters who claim to be qualified to deliver this type of training because of their life experiences.
"They actually tell me that they want to be the next Brian McNaught. I don't think they understand the extremely careful approach needed to correctly convey to heterosexuals the truth of our experience as gay men and women in the workplace."
I wondered how Brian became a trainer.
"In 1974, I was fired by the Archdiocese of Detroit from my job as a reporter and columnist at The Michigan Catholic for being openly gay. I've been working fulltime as an educator on gay, and more recently, transgender issues."
While Brian's spirituality is no longer bound by the rules of Roman Catholicism or by the exclusively Christian and western notions of God, he remains comfortable using the language of Christianity to express the deepest truth about himself.
"Years ago, when I was asked 'Are gay people part of God's plan?' I said that when I die, I imagine I will be asked "Did you sing the song I taught you?" I respond, "For the first 26 years of my life, I didn't. The song I sang was, 'I am Brian. I am heterosexual.' I was so afraid of losing people's love that I lied. After drinking a bottle of turpentine and taking a vial of pills at age 26, I began to sing, 'I am Brian. I am gay. Won't you accept me today?' I let people know that I was gay but I was still eager for their approval and acceptance. At about the time I turned 40, my song changed one last time. I began singing then, 'I am Brian. I am gay. I'm God's gift to you today'. My concept of God has changed dramatically since then. I no longer believe in traditional Christian theology. But I do believe in myself, and I no longer look for people's approval or acceptance. My life as a gay man is a gift to others."
Brian worried that I might find this metaphor a bit too sugary. I did not. The integrity of the life he and Ray have built infuses those words with admirable strength. Add in the fact that Brian is into nude yoga, motorcycles and leather, and any taste of sugar disappears.
For more about Brian McNaught, visit his website www.brian-mcnaught.com.
(This profile of Brian McNaught appears in the current issue of the South Florida Gay News.)