20 Affirmations and Readings For Folks Raised in Anti-LGBTQIA+ Church Families
I recently wrote about my disappointment in a pastor I know who interpreted Romans 1: 26-29 in such a way that seemingly substantiated the claim that G-d hopelessly and impatiently “abandons” LGBTQIA+ folks for “vile affections,” “reprobate” minds and “self-delusion” akin to anti-mask COVID-deniers. In 2020 alone, there have been myriad examples of clergy scapegoating LGBTQIA+ people. Predictably, the Trump administration’s cabinet pastor blamed gay men for inciting “the wrath of G-d,” linking gay men to disease the same way evangelists did during the early AIDS crisis. And an evangelical group has spread a conspiracy theory that associates LGBTQIA+ people with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
But instead of focusing on anti-LGBTQIA+ spiritual leaders, I want to underscore that anti-LGBTQIA+ violence is a “sin.”
Just today at the time of writing this, I read a news story of two men who considered it their religious right to terrorize a gay couple holding hands. The attackers screamed that the couple would “burn in hell” as they beat them. If you reviewed police reports of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate crimes, almost immediately you would notice the pattern of attackers invoking G-d and scripture to justify their aggression and violence. I, myself, have filed three police reports for hate crimes. During one incident on the street, the perpetrator screamed that I was an “abomination” and spit at me.
Another time — in Philadelphia’s Dilworth Park, the night after the legalization of same-sex marriage — four drunk and high men nearly jumped me. These men also seemed to rationalize their bullying with dogma that pathologizes and vilifies LGBTQIA+ folks. And as the gang of four howled slurs and jeered threats, neither park security nor city police lifted a finger, and not a single person asked, “You OK? Want to sit here until they leave?” The Christian thing to do.
Yet, anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma kills straight folks, too. Never has a violently anti-LGBTQIA+ person ever paused to confirm the identity of whomever they attacked. Only stereotype-based assumptions informed their motives. This explains why in 71 countries — many which profess “Christian values” — a whisper is all it takes to imprison, exile or even execute people simply based on their rumored or suspected LGBTQIA+ identity.
So, let’s set the record straight: My critique of anti-LGBTQIA+ religious dogma comes not from a supposed sensitivity about the scrap of “rights” I have — it was only last month that the Supreme Court extended the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s employment discrimination protections to LGBTQIA+ people. It comes not from a supposedly popular, trendy “gay agenda” — when I came out at 15, sophomore year, I had none of the language, legal protections, media representation and role models that affirm LGBTQIA+ youth today. It comes not from a desire to try on a “rebellious” persona — I have intuited my queerness since age 3. And it certainly doesn’t come from sexual compulsion — as young as age 7, long before puberty, other kids and even adults mocked my queerness before I could even name it.
My critique of anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma comes from the full story that most clergy — but, again, not all — refuse to tell when they speak on LGBTQIA+ folks without having ever engaged any LGBTQIA+ clinic, civic/community center, cultural institution, family, youth group or nursing home of pioneering elders who shaped history. My vocal dissent comes from the fact that living in a conservative, anti-LGBTQIA+ region can take off 10 years of a queer man’s life expectancy, primarily because of a high anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide rate that rarely makes the news, and of course, disproportionate suicide rates traced back to minority stress and social stigma.
When Christian leaders teach that LGBTQIA+ people are inherently dirty, defective, delusional and damned, they convince believers that 750 million people worldwide, and over 14 million Americans, deserve dehumanization and persecution. Anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric desensitizes churchgoers to anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, and emboldens them to pathologize activists like me as “false prophets.” And when they’re not even aware of having been indoctrinated and socialized to see me as less holy, they can also feel sinful and “guilty by association” for defending me as an ally.
But is it not “sinful” to stage an unprovoked, bloody attack on a couple holding hands? In the aforementioned story, the homophobes are the real “sinners.”
So, if you use the pulpit to speak authoritatively on LGBTQIA+ people, tell the full story. Call out the delusion of those who distort and misconstrue scripture to rationalize torture. Condemn their “reprobate” minds. Use G-d’s word to denounce oppressors, as much as you do innocent people who are oppressed. To be clear, I’m not generalizing all Christians and all churches. LGBTQIA-affirming clergy certainly exist. There’s Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, author of “Activist Theology;” Kevin Garcia, author of “Bad Theology Kills,” as well as Dr. William Barber II, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rev. Otis Moss, Rev. Kyndra Frazier and Dr. Rudy Rasmus, to name a few.
However, the fact remains that few churches condemn anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, even when folks kill in the name of G-d. Attributing the LGBTQIA+ population’s high rates of addiction, HIV/AIDS, homelessness and suicide to a sinful “lifestyle” — that’s more commonplace. Blaming oppressed individuals, not the dominant culture or society’s inequitable systems, enables guilt-free complicity and allows one to delude himself into believing a Pride Parade is sufficient atonement for centuries of harm. But as Malcolm X once explained:
“If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
Moreover, sermons should not prompt preteens to frantically call crisis lines, hoping to be talked down from a suicide attempt.
From my perspective as a former crisis counselor for 1-800-273-TALK and the Trevor Project, every single anti-LGBTQIA+ sermon should be balanced with the fact that half of all kids kicked out on the street are LGBTQIA+, and half of all homeless LGBTQIA+ children come from religious families. Or the fact that a mountain of research on conversion therapy — informed by the testimonies of over 698,000 survivors, including 77,000 LGBTQIA+ kids experimented on annually — has resulted in 20 states outlawing it. Or the fact that until 1973, “homosexuality” — the humanizing terms “gay” and “lesbian” didn’t yet exist — was classified as a mental disorder akin to pedophilia.
Or, why not use the pulpit to mention the fact that 40% of gay Black boys reported attempting suicide in 2012, and nearly all cited religious homophobia as a major stressor? Or, that without gay Black pacifist Bayard Rustin, Dr. King’s right-hand-man who organized the March on Washington for the “I Have A Dream” speech, neither the Voting Rights Act of 1965, nor the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, would exist. Or, that two of the three Black Lives Matter founders are lesbian Black women.
Clergy can argue until they’re blue in the face that the Bible contains the one and only truth, and any evidence of religious-motivated hate crimes is deceptive, secular or worldly. But these facts about people killing in G-d’s name, and distorting scripture to rationalize the sins of oppression — they’re undeniable, verifiable and well-documented.
And as for LGBTQIA+ people’s supposed “sensitivity,” I’ve never heard it expressed more eloquently than this: “No, people aren’t more sensitive now … We, as a people, know better now. Therefore, we, as a people, are trying to do better now.”
If you believe LGBTQIA+ overcomers are hypersensitive, perhaps you actually just dislike getting corrected with constructive criticism and feedback, and feel entitled to a pass. Perhaps you can’t see how your own sensitivity leads to backlash and consequences, by refusing to empathize with the oppressed, unless you’re affected. Perhaps people are mirroring your attitude. Writer Amy Dentana once said, “People often say ‘stop being angry and educate me’, not understanding the education is in the anger.” As I described in “6 Ways the Church Can Take Accountability for Their Part in the High LGBTQIA+ Suicide Rate,” perhaps you aren’t truly listening without centering your ego and privilege over others’ pain.
In actuality, folks trampled on most by society often possess deeply profound insight on forgiveness, healing, hope, patience, perseverance and resilience. The most Spirit-filled believers typically have “seen it all.” They don’t pretend to be perfect or to have never struggled. These survivors-turned-healers are mischaracterized as false prophets, only by the dismissive, holier-than-thou, willfully ignorant folks committed to misunderstanding them.
Christians raised on anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma should always remember that “agreeing to disagree” over the best gospel singer isn’t the same as standing on the wrong side of history. At some point, one must acknowledge the hypocrisy of believing a rapture will spare them, while creating hell for LGBTQIA+ people right here on earth. If having been raised in an anti-LGBQIA+ church family is your current struggle or past trauma, keep reading.
I wish you the best along your journey toward healing and reclaiming your divinity.
1. I am not a bad person for needing to cut off or distance myself from willfully ignorant childhood friends, family members or spiritual leaders.
2. I am not defined by my ability or willingness to “reproduce” and I don’t owe older generations godchildren, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.
3. I am not defined by the “gay agenda” conspiracy theory used to hypersexualize, scapegoat and stereotype LGBTQIA+ people.
4. I am not “easily offended” or “sensitive” for calling out those who masquerade anti-LGBTQIA+ bias as “agreeing to disagree” or “playing devil’s advocate.”
5. I am not “forcing” myself on kids by living openly and being public about my relationships.
6. I am not obligated to downplay the toll of religious trauma or spiritual abuse on LGBTQIA+ people’s mental health, to spare the feelings of family members who are in denial about church homophobia.
7. I am not obligated to follow in the footsteps of anyone who raised me, to fulfill their dream for me.
8. I am not obligated to shoulder the burden of educating relatives who refuse to proactively Google free, accessible resources on allyship, or LGBTQIA+ culture, history, identity, politics or social services.
9. I am not obligated to wrangle with anyone whose insight is limited by confirmation bias — favoritism for prejudiced misinformation over credible, valid sources that challenge, debunk and invalidate biases and stereotypes.
10. I am not paranoid for perceiving and calling out passive-aggressive disrespect (e.g., backhanded compliments, sarcasm and snickers, sermons that disclose private information “accidentally,” etc).
11. I am not “sinful” for seeking out LGBTQIA+ friends and role models who share my life experiences, nor am I wrong for wanting to escape abusive and controlling relatives who misconstrue this as “lust” or “temptation.”
12. I am not “too much” for openly discussing hate crimes and other forms of oppression I’ve overcome.
13. I am not unreasonable for expecting family to extend their acceptance to the entire LGBTQIA+ community for the sake of affirming my dignity, honoring my healing and protecting my safety and welfare.
14. I can and will be an attentive, empowering, supportive adoptive parent whose kids appreciate my commitment to offering the unconditional love I was denied.
15. I do not need to overachieve or overcompensate to prove my goodness or worthiness to those committed to invalidating or mischaracterizing me.
16. I may feel confused while navigating society’s heteronormative, heterosexist, patriarchal dominant culture, but I am not confused about who I am as a gender nonconforming and/or non-heterosexual person.
17. I reject the misattribution of my depression or poor coping mechanisms to my identity itself rather than the cultural, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized oppression I was socialized into since childhood.
18. I reject the generalization that all LGBTQIA+ spaces are drama- and drug-filled, hypersexual and party-centric, and know that internalized oppression and shame often causes in-fighting and maladaptive coping.
19. I repel closed-minded people by embracing my authenticity and unique essence, instead of assimilating my mannerisms or presentation, compartmentalizing and conforming my politics, and/or shrinking my personality.
20. I will thrive without an apology from relatives who have gossiped about or teased me about my gender expression, whether during early childhood, my preteen or adolescent years, or young adulthood.
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Damned to Hell: The Black Church Experience for College-Educated Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals
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How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth
HRC Report: Startling Data Reveal Half of LGBTQ Employees Remain Closeted At Work
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Killing Spirits: How Black Churches and Families Harm Through Homophobia, Transphobia, and Heterosexism
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Mom, I’m Not A Girl: Raising A Transgender Child
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Photo by J’Waye Covington on Unsplash