a view from the margins: gay + “the church” = a lot of damage

kathyescobar a view from the margins, church stuff, crazy making, incarnational, injustice 21 Comments

well i don’t think it would be possible to focus on a view from the margins without offering some perspectives from a group of folks who tend to be the most marginalized of all when it comes to “the church”-the gay & lesbian community.  i recognize that people who read this blog may be all over the place on this issue; in this moment, that is not what is on the table. what is? the opportunity to listen in on my friend’s perspective of what it feels like to be young, gay, and connected to christianity.  a lot–and i do mean a lot–of damage has been done to the gay community by conservative christians (a movie worth seeing:  for the Bible tells me so).  i am not even sure what can be redeemed in the years to come, but i do know this:  those who aren’t gay need to listen.  we must pay attention to the subtle & direct ways our brothers & sisters have been & are currently being hurt by others in the name of Christ. we are called to radically love people; and no matter how you slice it up, these are our sisters, our brothers, our daughters, our sons, our friends who are being mistreated.

i hope that you all know by now that the safety of this blog is over-the-top important to me. when my friends share their hearts like this, i am exposing them to potential harm. and like i mentioned in an interview with a different friend about the same subject last year-no more lepers— i am like a mama bear protecting my cubs.  i have no doubt you will respect this space.  i would like you to meet my friend “taylor”.  we met five years ago when she was just coming out; it’s been a wild ride & i have a lot of respect for her courage to tell it like it is.  right now, she’s pretty mad. and i’ll be honest, i don’t blame her.

share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, what your entrance into realizing you were gay looked like for you.

Wow, family background, hmm….very religious parents, very hypocritical in my opinion, but, just my opinion.  Orange County upbringing of “Image is everything”.  Definitely suffered from the damage of conditional love, which is big in my house..  If I failed, I felt I was not loved so I succeeded at everything, no matter the cost.  I got good grades, was very involved in church and ministry, played 4 years of varsity basketball, never went out, never partied, never drank, never smoked.  I founded Fellowship of Christian Athletes with a few friends at my high school and looked to be on the right track.  While I mastered the ability to make things look good on the outside, I knew something was not right, but couldn’t pin point what–how can you as a child? You know no other reality.  I left for Colorado on a basketball scholarship at a Christian college when I was 18.  It’s amazing how things hit the fan once you’re out of a bad situation.  I started counseling and began the horrific realizations that childhood was not anywhere close to normal for me.  I was overwhelmed in more ways than one; to make a long story short I was not greeted with the kindness and loving care that a Christian organization claimed to have.  It hurt a lot.  I began to realize I was gay my freshman year of college, and though I did not act on it while at the university (per university rules), my scholarship was revoked anyway and I did not return the following year.  My anger towards Christianity as a whole grew very strong because of my parents’ hypocritical example and the treatment I received from the school and many other Christian organizations I had contact with.  I attended every seminar possible, went to counseling, passionately tried to not struggle with homosexuality, and I ended up being shunned anyway.  I remember countless nights falling asleep crying in the prayer chapel on campus begging God to take this away from me, terrified I would be going to Hell for feelings I could not control.  I’d never put so much effort towards beating something in my life, because I was a Christian and that’s what I was supposed to do.  And despite all my effort, and open-hearted attitude to multiple methods of making myself straight, I was thrown out and led to believe I really was going to Hell, I didn’t pray hard enough, I shouldn’t call myself a Christian anymore, and I didn’t deserve my scholarship from that school because of who I was.  I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights that cost me…

can you think of the first time you noticed being somehow marginalized, thought less of, discriminated against, because you were gay?  what did that look like, feel like?

Yes.  The biggest example I remember is working at a Christian athletes camp.  This is what I wanted to do with my life since I was 15–to be a youth counselor and be in full-time ministry.  I wanted to travel overseas to the places no one else would go and touch lives for Him.  This was my first chance!  I considered my sexuality a struggle.  I wasn’t decided either way, but I knew God had a purpose for me.  I went down to Texas to volunteer at some summer camps for high school kids at several Christian colleges.  I was excited and determined to make a difference.  There’s something that rings home for me in helping troubled teens not feel alone, the way I did growing up.  However, after three camps, a lot of the counselors had grown close.  We all shared our struggles.  Two of us had the same struggle.  We were told we could not return to work with the kids the following year if we were still struggling with being gay.  Counselors who were sleeping around, getting high the day before camp, on drugs, etc., were allowed to come back and work with the kids, but I was not worthy.  It felt devastating.  The hardest thing I have ever had to deal with was when the kids I kept in contact with all year long wanted to know why I was not returning to camp.  Hearing how abandoned they felt by me and not being able to give them a solid reason why really broke my spirit.  I didn’t feel as a representative of of the organization, despite their hypocrisy, that my sexuality or struggle was up for conversation.  I know God’s purpose was for me to be there.  I never shared my struggle of sexuality with any of my campers.  I was extremely careful to make sure I handled the situation well–any campers who came to me with that struggle (and can I just tell you there were too many to count) I set them up with another counselor who I felt could answer their questions better then me.  Regardless, in their eyes, I am not capable of helping troubled teens because I was gay.

what have been some of your experiences with christians?  with “the church?”

Well, honestly, when I think of Christians I think of the idiots I see downtown with their picket signs, or the bumper stickers I read as I get cut off on the freeway and I’m so close their bumper I can read, “Jesus loves you”, ha! Or out in Orange County, there are license plate covers that say “Saddleback: You matter to God” on an $80,000 Infiniti.  What a great ministry to the starving children in Africa!  I try not to judge because I make a lot of financial mistakes and I am no where close to perfect.  There are just a few things that really get under my skin. I guess in short, the Bible says to Love.  Not hate, or picket, or judge, or shame, or control, or manipulate, or shoot at, or throw something at!

how have these responses hurt you?

They have demolished my ability to call myself a Christian.  At first, I had a lot of hate towards Christianity and Christians as a whole; but I am trying to not  let them get the better of me (which I feel is what they want, to push gays so far away they have no where to turn but to unhealthy coping mechanisms).  Then they can blame those coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. on the gay lifestyle and reaffirm their negativity towards homosexuality (hope that makes sense because it feels really real to a lot of us). I don’t think most of the things people associate with homosexual lifestyle has to do with being gay; it has everything to do with how gays are being treated.  I would say 9 times out of 10, if my gay friends are having a hard time, it’s not because they are gay. It’s because people they love refuse to love them in spite of it (parents, friends, family, siblings, bosses, teammates, coaches, coworkers). It’s hard enough to be gay in the world, but trying to survive as a gay in the church, a forever second class citizen, a leper, well, that’s what it felt like.  I used to think that’s all I deserved because I was gay; I actually let the church manipulate me in to thinking that was all I should be.  How ridiculous…I deserve so much more…

what do you wish “the church” understood about homosexuality?

I don’t think too many people, especially Christians, wake up one morning and decide, “God, ya know what would really help me out in life, if I could just be gay…can I struggle with that for a while? ”  It’s not a decided struggle, it’s not something you go try like alcohol and then can’t get a grip on it.  It’s a part of who people are…most want nothing to do with it at first…I fought it with everything I had…it’s not an easy life to live.  For some it’s easier to fight than others. I have no decided theory on what causes it.  I’m no expert nor have I arrived on my journey.  I just don’t think you can know or understand anything until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes. That’s what I wish people considered.

have you ever been called derogatory names concerning your sexuality?  what?

Well, let’s see, here’s just a few: I got called a “f-ing dyke” in Sports Authority last year during christmas shopping, (wearing a pink girls sweat suit, mind you) because I was shopping with my girlfriend.   I have had bullet holes put through my front window and been threatened countless times by guys telling me how they can make me straight.  One of my best friends was just jumped leaving a bar about a month ago; I woke up to her phone call and had to pick her up and take her to the ER to get her face sewn back together.  13 stitches between her nose and mouth.  There are worse things than words going on here…We are not safe.  But again, the worst thing, over any fear, or wound, or name, is being denied my ministry..as though I am not worthy to love others…

what are some messages you’ve picked up along the way in your church experiences about your value, your voice as a homosexual?

What I have to say or contribute is void if it comes from a gay mouth…I can’t be trusted.  I tried for a while to hide my sexuality and continue ministry, but my integrity level would not support it very long.  I also felt it violated my integrity to associate myself with groups of people who were so judgmental, not just towards gays, but every other sub-group the church has categorized in their attempt to play God.  One of my best friends back home describes being a gay-couple in the church today like being a bi-racial couple 50 years ago.  The church would throw black-white couples out, have sermon’s on Bible verses claiming this was against God’s will, pity the poor kids that were a result of the union, refuse to include them on church events, pray for their salvation.  This gives me hope, as ridiculous as it sounds, because today no one cares what race you are married to.   Maybe 50 or 100 years from now, we’ll finally get the same respect.

 

how has being marginalized by “the church” or christians affected your faith?

I won’t call myself a Christian…I think I am more loving than that.  I spend my time helping others the best I can. I do juvenile delinquent counseling for teen male offenders of every kind.  They are challenging, but not hard to love.  They have done some horrific things in their early years of life, but I don’t feel that deems them unworthy of anyone caring.  I work as a caregiver as well, mostly with Alzheimer’s patients.  I volunteer when I can. I work to be the best person I can…but not because I am a Christian-I’m not.  I am just a human being trying to make the world a better place.  I think that’s possible without a Bible.

in the middle of the night, what are some of the things you cry out to God?

I don’t.  I have a relationship with God that actually holds a lot of joy. Despite a lot of hardship, the quality of my life is pretty darn good. Each day matters, each day is another opportunity to make a difference.  God and I have really developed a sense of humor about certain things.  Sometimes there really isn’t anything else to do but laugh at how out of hand people can get when they’re up on their religious pedestal. It bothers me and can cause a lot of anger in the moment sometimes, but as a lot of gays today, I’ve learned to brush it off with a giggle or two and thank God I’m not stuck in such a pathetic religious entanglement.  That’s one thing he has rescued me from.  But I guess to answer the question, as soon as I rejected the church and religious rules and Christian hate for homosexuality, the more I started to feel at home with God.

what are some of the things you are learning about yourself, God, faith, in these past few years?

I like myself a lot better and feel a lot better away from the control and manipulation of Christianity as a whole.  There are some Christians I know that are amazing people.  I don’t think every Christian out there is out to get the homosexual population.  I just don’t think religion is required to love others, if that makes sense?  The Christian people I do have in my life are a part of my life for the same reason non-Christian people are.  They love me, I love them, and there is a mutual respect and common goal of making the world better.

what does it feel like to be part of a faith community that doesn’t discriminate against you?

hmm…well, i am discriminated against less…I don’t think that every person sitting at the Refuge thinks homosexuality is ok, so I am still reserved around people I don’t actually know.  I respect others opinions a lot, and I like to listen to where people are at.  I think a lot has to do with how you go about things.  I have one very good friend of mine who thinks homosexuality is very wrong.  We can discuss our opinions here and there, but we still love each other and that one disagreement does not affect our ability to have a strong friendship with each other.  I love listening to her reasoning, because she communicates it in love and sets no expectation of me changing anything.  I can’t begin to tell you the influence she’s had on my life…and how much damage control she has done in the area of religion.  At the Refuge, it’s nice to know I can come in with my girlfriend, sit down, and enjoy some community without being handed an Exodus ministries pamphlet or being stared down (which happens sometimes but i just tell myself its cuz we’re so good-looking, not cuz we’re gay LOL, just kidding).  It helps heal a few wounds of feeling unwanted, but the damage is still very real.  I appreciate them trying and that’s good enough for me.  I just hate the huge divide.  I found a place where gay people can come hang out, and I cannot get my gay friends to join me, because the hurt is still so strong in them.  That makes me sad, but I so understand their hesitation.  They have good data.

 

any other thoughts you’d like to add?

just LOVE…it’s not that complicated…and it’s easy to remember…nothing else should really matter, right?

thank you for your honesty, taylor!  we need to hear it.  i thought i’d end with an excerpt from the reverend joseph lowery’s beautiful prayer at the end of president obama’s inauguration last month. it’s my hope for all of us:

“…and now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations,

help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate;

on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.”

amen.