When the leader of a Winchester Masonic lodge recently told members he was gay, he said one man called him "a flaming faggot," insisted that he resign, and led several members in a walkout.
But John Wright refused to resign. Later, he stood firm when a Frankfort lodge proposed a change to the group's state constitution that would have prohibited openly gay men from being Masons in Kentucky.
At an annual statewide meeting in Louisville Monday, attendees turned down the proposal.
Wright said he believes this is a critical moment in the history of the Masons, which is said to be the world's oldest and largest fraternity.
"They said with a strong voice that they are not going to discriminate," said Wright, 26, master of the 151-member Right Angle Lodge in Clark County.
"I do think that there are a large number of them of a newer mind-set that they can put these differences behind them and work toward the goals that the fraternity has. They can become better men and make our communities better places," said Wright, who works for a military defense contractor.
The Masons are a worldwide fraternity of men who believe in God and work to help people through their charities, according to the Web site of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. In Kentucky, they support homes for the elderly, a rehabilitation hospital for disabled children and other causes. There are 408 chapters in the state with more than 54,000 members.
The Masons, according to the Web site, teach that a person has a responsibility to make things better in the world.
Each state has a Grand Lodge that is the administrative body in charge of the Masons.
"With any organization, you are going to have differing views, but we have learned to settle any differences amicably so that all may go with their heads held high and everyone satisfied," L. Todd Eastham, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, said after the vote. Tuesday was his last day in the position.
Eastham said he was prohibited from providing a specific tally of the closed vote.
Wright, who was at the meeting where the vote was taken, said that judging from the comments of members who wanted to expel openly gay men, he expects there will be other attempts to change the constitution. It has no prohibition against openly gay men being members and does not mention homosexuality.
"Being a member of this fraternity is something that is extremely important to me, and I am willing to fight to keep my membership," Wright said. "My father and paternal grandfather were also Masons, and I know they would want me to fight for what I believe is right. I will also fight for the other gay Masons in Kentucky so they can be themselves without fear of harassment from lodge members."
Masons must be at least 18 and believe in God, according to the Web site. Disciplinary actions can be taken against a member who "habitually takes the name of God in vain" or engages in drunkenness.
'Hostile toward me'
When Wright became a member of the Masons in 2007, he was married, he said. In December 2009, he was elected to serve as the Master of his Winchester lodge.
Wright and his wife filed for divorce in March 2010 because he realized he was gay, he said. In May, when some members of the Masons found out, "news of my sexual orientation spread ... like wildfire," he said.
Since the meeting where he was asked to resign as Master of his lodge, some members "have been hostile toward me and my sexual orientation, but the majority have been accepting and tolerant,'' he said.
In June 2010, Hiram Lodge No. 4 in Frankfort proposed to change the state constitution, he said. The proposed change, which Wright provided, said: "Freemasonry is pro-family and recognizes marriage as between one man and one woman. Any other relationship is a violation of the moral law and therefore unmasonic conduct. Homosexual relationships, openly professed and practiced, are a violation of the moral law and therefore unmasonic conduct. No openly homosexual Freemason shall be allowed to retain membership in this grand jurisdiction."
The Master of the Frankfort lodge could not be reached Tuesday.
Wright said that before delegates voted on Monday, he spoke to the group, saying that "discrimination whether based on gender, race or sexual orientation is wrong and goes against everything that each and every one of us was taught."
Despite the move to expel homosexuals from the fraternity, Eastham said, he has not received any official complaints about Wright or requests that Wright be removed as master of his lodge. Wright said he has two more months left in his term.
Josh Back, a member of the Right Angle Lodge, said he remains supportive of Wright: "He's still the same guy that I've always known."
Back said, however, that he could empathize with members who had a difficult time making a decision.
"It's sad that it had to come to a vote like this," Back said.
Wright said he also holds a leadership position at Lodge No. 25 in Richmond, where he attends Eastern Kentucky University, and some members there have told him he won't be able to move up because he is openly gay.
"I think it's not over by a long shot," he said.
Wright ran for Madison County constable in the May primary and lost.
Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, 3409.