Curt Peterson grew up in a loving family. His mother and father farmed sugar beets and raised sheep just outside Bridger Montana. In 1976 he told his mother, Joan, that he was gay and shortly afterwards moved to Denver Colorado where he “would be more accepted”. He never shared his sexual orientation with his father, Harold Peterson. Harold found out his son was gay only after Curt’s death on April 30th 1977. Curt was stabbed to death between 3 am and 4 pm on that day in Billings Montana.
It is hard to imagine a more peaceful place than Bridger, population 745 in 2000, where Curt was born and raised. His parents still live there. They still seek answers to his violent death. There are none.
Paul O'Reilly moved with his mother and eight siblings to New Brunswick, Canada, from Belfast, North Ireland `Eve of that year. It is hard for me to imagine a more violent place than Belfast in the 1970s. It was especially violent if you were Catholic living in a Protestant neighborhood. It is also hard, for me, to imagine how it would feel to be rejected at 16 by your father when your mother died. That was Paul’s early life.
Paul and his siblings were adopted by an aunt and uncle who had four children of their own. The love of that family shaped him and turned him from the path of bitterness, hatred and despair. Read about Paul here.
Two contemporaries, Paul O'Reilly and Curt Peterson, lived worlds apart. Curt died young and Paul is a college professor and administrator .But, both loved and were loved by family. Curt helped his father with the beet harvest (sugar beets not the kind you eat) the day before he died. Paul gives his family credit for steering him towards his calling. One gay, one straight, they followed different plans. Curt wanted to become a woman; Paul wanted a large Catholic family. Paul realized his dream; Curt died before his could happen.
Paul believes that God has a plan for him, even if he doesn’t know what it is. I don’t know. Did God have a plan for Curt that resulted in his violent death?
I have often heard that God has a plan for every life. The Christian, I used to be, would have said that obviously it wasn’t God’s plan for Curt to be a woman and that Paul was destined to become an administrator at a Catholic college. One was good the other not. My experiences have made me think about my beliefs.
I have known several women who were formerly men. Two were delightful women that I liked and admired. Rhonda, who I worked with, and Sarah from Asbury UMC, were pleasant and a joy to be with. Others not so much. College professors have affected me similarly. There was the one that read a poem that I had written as an example of how not to write poetry to over a hundred students (I was present). There is Michael Powell running for state senator against a woman who believes that life begins two weeks before conception. I could go on both ways. They are not good or bad because I like them. It makes them human, the same as me. Another might like the ones I dislike or vice versa. I may even feel affinity for someone that does not share my views and preferences.
God, I’ve heard, loves them all. I try but often fail. I believe God loved Curt as much as Paul. So, why did one die in violence while the other did not?
Thomas Aquinas College is on the road between Santa Paula and Ojai California on the edge of a National Forest with great hiking trails (there is one not far from the college).
Yellowstone River upstream (west) of Billings
Bridger, Mt. is not far from Billings and the Yellowstone River (where Curt died). I have been to all three places and remember them as beautiful, peaceful, havens from strife.
God’s plan? Curt’s parents aren’t talking about a plan for him. They just want to know who killed him. Paul talks about one for him but doesn’t have the foggiest what it is.
I don’t know what the one for my life is either. I just keep on traveling along, hoping that I am on the right path and doing the best I can. Same as Paul does. Same as Curt did.