The tragedy of the closet

Posted on 04 Dec 2008 at 4:15pm
By Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

As murder retrial gets under way, story of a clandestine gay love affair and a young man’s tragic death should serve as a cautionary tale


Former Columbia Police Officer Steven Rios breaks down in tears after he was was convicted of first-degree murder in May, 2005, in the death of gay college student Jesse Valencia with whom he had an affair. ED PFUELLER/Associated Press

For some people, being "in the closet" is a personal hell. But it often affects others, too.

Take the case of Steven Rios, a married police officer from Columbia, Mo.

According to prosecutors, Officer Rios, when faced with the possibility of having his gay relationship revealed to his wife and family, decided to reach into his closet and pull out a knife — a knife he used to slash the throat of Jesse Valencia, a 23-year-old student attending college at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Officer Rios began the relationship with Valencia in 2004 when he arrested the student for interfering with a police call about a loud party. Rios told the court that their sexual relationship began that very night.

Rios was convicted of the murder three years ago, but an appeals court ordered a retrial, saying the trial court allowed inadmissible hearsay testimony the first time around.

The new trial began Monday, Dec. 1, and Rios faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole if he is convicted. Court officials said they expect the trial to end by Friday, Dec. 5.

The story is a graphic example of how the closet can kill. It should be a wake-up call for every LGBT person that is trying to hide their sexual orientation.
The struggle to keep stories straight and live in the lie takes a great toll not only on the person hiding, but on his family and friends when his true self is revealed.

Everyone has to face coming out of the closet at some point. For some it is a slow process, with a lot of starts and stops. My own journey was like that.

But eventually I accepted my sexuality and embraced it. From that time forward I have never regretted it. The freedom of not having to hide myself was much more preferable than the alternative.

The killer closet usually claims its victims from the inside. Many LGBT people never manage to open that door and eventually die, usually at their own hand.
There are others who manage to live in a strange limbo of a double life, but they are the exception.

I once had a friend who was very closeted. He even sought the camouflage of a wife and children to disguise his real sexuality. I suppose you could consider him bisexual, except that I reserve that term for men and women who are honest and open about their orientation.

His story ended with a messy divorce, a custody battle and children who have very mixed feelings about their father and his dishonesty toward them and their mother.
It isn’t pretty, and it happens all the time.

The moral to the story is simple, but for some it will be a bitter pill: Come out!
It is a rite of passage that will free you and help you grow as a fully actualized human being: Come out!

Open the door and step into the light of the 21st Century: Come out!
You have thousands of men and women who will accept you and befriend you in your journey.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 5, 2008.

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