Loading

LGBTQ+Faith HOW RELIGION + FAITH HAVE IMPACTED THE LIVES OF 5 queer people Through their stories

Introduction

In the LGBTQIA+ community, we have been shown more of the bad than the good. Historically, the struggles we've faced have caused an immense dent due to their negative nature. As a community we've been able to find new ways of breaking through the walls that we've been put behind and fighting for equality in an environment that had tended to bring us down. One of the biggest excuses that has been heard as to why people have been against our right to be equal is "because the bible says so."

We've learned that there is a lot more behind the bible and not much that ultimately proves against us other than people's own interpretations. Through queering religion, we've been able to form new communities of acceptance and love where we can maintain our faith and keep a healthy relationship with whatever higher power we believe in. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to live in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, where like in many other metropolitan areas in the U.S., we're more privileged as a community.

Why?

These five (and some) profiles are intended to give a breath of fresh air. I interviewed 5 people in my life who I believed all could contribute a different perspective while all coming from different lives. They're to show that we can be ourselves in faith regardless of how different we are. This is because I believe that we need to show those in our community that it is important to have hope in whatever way, shape, or form they want to follow their faith. It is meant to be used as a resource in which those who are not lucky enough to be able to integrate their faith or want for faith along with their sexuality deserve to know that they can. It's important to know that regardless of the current climate our country is in and regardless of so many pushbacks encountered before that there is still very possible ways to practice religion. Queering our religions has been one of the most powerful ways in which we take back our right to believe. Our beliefs are our own.

________________________________

June 27, 1969 — Because nothing would ever be the same again.

Madison: A lesbian looking for her new religious home

She/Her/Hers — San Francisco, CA — 19 — Cisgender Lesbian Woman — Former Presbyterian

Madison is 19 years old and currently lives in San Francisco to attend school at University of San Francisco but she is originally from North Carolina. She identifies as a lesbian. " I do not know how I identify religiously," Madison said, "but I am religious."

She believes in God and would like to identify with a certain religious group, but like many other members of the LGBTQ+ community, hasn't found the right one for her yet. She was raised Christian within the Presbyterian church, however her family rarely attended and stopped going when she was still in elementary school. She is currently not a practicing Presbyterian. Her parents are not very religious and she thinks they didn't want to force it on to her brothers and her. When she entered her adolescent years she stopped believing in God. She resented Christianity and its teachings because in her town she had been led to think she could not be both gay and Christian. "I think because of this widespread misbelief myself and many other LGBTQ+ Christians have; I led myself to further believe I did not believe in God, therefore I found no purpose to try and make my identities as queer and Christian work," stated Madison. Since moving to California and attending USF, she has been shown a whole new world; one where she can be any religion and any sexuality.

Since then she has been on a journey to find the right religion and religious practices for her. "I wouldn't say that I'm still practicing, rather that I'm starting to practice in a much better place than I was in before," she clarified. She owns her religious ideals and belief in God as her own because she understands her place in the church much better than she did when she was younger. She knows she is just as worthy of being in the church as those who strictly interpret the Bible and say that "her kind" have no place being there. She mentioned how meeting and hearing so many practicing queer Christians has shown me this and because of that, she has found a new appreciation for her identity as a lesbian woman and a believer in God.

Madison's Advice: "My advice to other religious members of the LGBTQ+ community would be to find resources and do research on their specific religion and the presence of LGBTQ+ identifying people in it - I can guarantee there is information and that there are others! In addition, the most important lesson I've learned on my religious journey is to be comfortable and confident with myself and my many identities, even if they might clash in a way that creates conflict for others. You know who you are and you know what you believe. At the end of the day all we can do is remain hopeful and look towards a day where there is no conflict between religious and sexual identities of all kinds."

Zachariah: A you perspective

He/Him/His — Oakland, CA — 25 — Cisgender Gay Man — Christianity

Zachariah is a Paid Social Media Manager at a marketing agency in Emeryville, CA. He attended Saint Mary's College of California, a private school in Moraga, CA. Zachariah would describe my current relationship with religion as "personal." "I no longer go to church every week or practice in a organized group setting, but still hold my relationship with God very close to my heart," mentioned Zach. He regularly practices prayer as a way of keeping to his religion. His father was raised Catholic, and his Mother was raised Christian. They raised all of their children in a Christian household, and while they become more lax about going to church over the years, it is still a strong conversation point among the family today.

He says that being raised religious is the reason that he came out “later” in life, at 21 years old. That was when many of his peers had already embraced their sexuality; whatever it may be. Other than that, he would say religion has only had a positive impact on his life. It has given him strength and guidance in times of need, as well as a foundation to find answers through God, when they aren’t always clear to him.

As previously mentioned, he makes it more personal. His relationship with his religion is not something that he shares with a lot of people or practice in a group setting. Even though he may not be vocal about it, he does use the Bible and the teaches he gained as a younger child as legitimate resources in his life. He mentions that he is aware that many use Bible scriptures as “paper bullets” and pick and choose which parts they want to focus on in order to discriminate or condemn, but he choses to focus on the fact that we are all made in His vision, and regardless of our race, sexuality or any other identifier we were made to be who we are for a reason. Religion and being gay hasn't made a huge impact on the way he interacts with his family, He will speak about religion sometimes with the family, but rarely brings it up in social settings with others outside of my family.

Zach talked about how religion can be a good thing in the LGBT community by saying, "Many people in the LGBT community are turned off by religion, and rightfully so in their own experiences, but it does have a stigma around it in our community has always a bad thing even though I think it is a great source of light in my life when I chose to focus on the positive teachings rather than the extremist trying to use God and Jesus to judge others."

Zach's advice: "Others might not understand why you believe in a certain religion, but remember perspective. Many of these people faced cruelties at the hands of people who used religion as a weapon. Consider yourself lucky that you did not have to live through this, and use your positive energy and faith to shed light with others that religious people don’t have to be crazy or angry people. Let your relationship with your religion be about you and that religion, don’t seek validation from others."

Dilpreet: Breaking Barriers

No pronouns (refer by name) — Davis, CA — 20 — Gender Fluid Gay Person — Sikh Punjabi

Dilpreet is a second year scholar at UC Davis double majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies along with Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies. Dilpreet is Sikh Punjabi, Gay, Genderfluid, and Polyamorous. Dilpreet practices Sikhi, a faith that started in the 1700s to bring peace and hope to an area in northern India diaspora.

There is a difference between a Gursikh and a Sikh, a Sikh is someone who practices the teachings of Sikhi while a Gursikh is a devout Sikh who follows all the rules set in place by the Guru Granth Sahib (the religious text which is also referred to as the 11th Guru). Dilpreet was raised in the central valley, which has the largest Sikh population outside of the state of Punjab. Religion was always a way for Dilpreet to feel connected to their* rules and have a community in which their family was a part of. "It has brought peace to me in ways that I did not know was possible in organized religion." Dilpreet has still been practicing their religion. Being that they go to a University that has a large Sikh student population, it has helped Dilpreet create a sense of validity of their culture and religion outside their family life and even outside of Gurdwaras (the place of worship in which Sikhs practice Sikhi).

The Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) [left] and Dilpreet and Dilpreet's mother in traditional Punjabi attire which is highly associated with their religion (right).

When it comes to typical religion practices and being LGBTQ+, Dilpreet mentioned that it differs from the institution of religion. The toxic masculine punjabi culture that surrounds the politics of the Gurdwaras remains to be very queer antagonistic as well as discriminatory towards those who are gender nonconforming. Being that they are genderfluid, they do not subscribe to the gender binary, however, most Gurdwaras do. Having separate places for men and women to sit and pray has forced people like Dilpreet to end up having to choose a side in the binary just to pray. This distinction in text, however, is not mentioned at all and only emphasizes that everyone must sit on the floor together to validate the teaching that everyone is equal.

Dilpreet's family actually asked them to turn to God and our religion to "pray the gay away." However, in Dilpreet's efforts to do so, they actually learned many languages in order to learn the teachings and find out that there really is not mention of being queer and Sikh. If anything it has helped them further grasp how Dilpreet identifies with their gender as well how to prioritize their queer experience in their life to be a driving point for inner peace.

Dilpreet's advice: "Don’t listen to the people around the religion as much as trying to get to understand the religion from your own perspective. Also, this religion encourages everyone to pick and choose teachings to further bring peace to the world so people do not even have to subscribe to this religion. Conversions is not the main focus of the religion, it is more about creating safety internally as well as spreading peace of mind."

* Dilpreet gave me the OK to use they/them in certain instances, but still prefers to be referred to by name.

Highlight: A very special story about Janine

"It's just that I don't look like Janine yet..."

She/Her/Hers — Point Richmond, CA — 50s — Transgender Woman — Former Episcopalian, Current Humanist

Janine is a Freelance writer whom is balancing jobs between social-media ghost-writing and popularizing tech issues writing with what she calls "a ‘job-job’" in retail. She is a transwoman - “of a certain age,” who’s been medically transitioning for a mere 7 months. Before acknowledging her true gender, she had lived a life of a gay man for decades.

In terms of sexuality and gender, her's is anything but a linear path. She was always one of those ‘sensitive’ children, a boy who liked the friendship and company of little girls, slight in build, almost always buried under a mop of long and curly hair, and, tellingly perhaps, with remarkably few of the interests that boys her age were expected to have. Growing up in the starchy and morally conservative environment of a Boston suburb, she assumed she was simply "somewhat odd" and settled into a comfortably introverted existence from Middle through High School. University years came and she discovered that being gay was the closest thing to being a correct identifier of who she was - and began her 20s as a sexually active gay male.

A nagging suspicion that she was still ‘different’ from many of my fellow gay friends led to periods of quiet introspection punctuated by equally long sexually promiscuous times. Her search to discover her true self had to wait a very long time, until gender fluidity was finally seen as something real and not as some aberration or eccentricity that would be outgrown or clarified as something else.

After decades of not knowing who she really was, or not allowing herself to acknowledge what she hid from the world (and myself), she began male-to-female gender transitioning about 7 months ago. It has been, according to her, "with no equivocation, the finest, the best, the most transformative decision of my life." Her community of friends and lovers, sympathetic physicians and supportive gender therapists have given her a new calm she hadn't experienced before.

Her parents were “non-attenders,” at formal religious institutions but early on in her life, an English relative convinced her parents that a ‘young boy’ should attend church, and that it would have to be Episcopalian. She enjoyed those years of regular church attendance. It was a “High Episcopalian” church, she enjoyed the pomp, the religious garb, the choir, and, truth be known - albeit decades after the fact - her first kiss and "first fumbling" awkwardness at a physical relationship. His name was Peter.

She had never thought about it in these terms til this very moment, but involvement with the church gave her a way to forgive herself for things she felt were wrong (memories of playing dress-up with other little girls, having girl friends style my hair, my infatuation with Peter). Being at Church gave her a sense that all guilty things can be forgiven. She mentions how to her it seemed like it was a ‘permission slip’ to be a little more of who she really was.

She was an alter boy who was responsible for some of the flower arranging, for lighting and extinguishing candles, for arranging the ‘hosts’ (the communion wafers) on silver plates, etc. She was also, for a while, a member of the choir. She remembers being pleased at herself for being such a good student about the fundamental tenets of the faith as she prepared for her confirmation service and she remembers being in awe of the visiting Bishop who presided over the confirmation ceremony.

Janine states that her early involvement with the Episcopal Church helped her learn how to ‘compartmentalize’ her existence. Unfortunately, the flip side to that ability to isolate sin from redemption was equally a reminder that what she was doing was a sin, an abomination. Yes, she could be forgiven for what she did, but the moral burden of knowing that she was sinning became intolerable to her.

In retrospect, she thinks the lasting effect with years as a practicing Episcopalian was that it gave her a yearning for larger truths. She genuinely felt the presence of more transcendent realities when I was involved with the workings of the Church, but she also felt the condemnation of other parts of her life and her reaction was to look to other spiritual traditions. It was a decades-long journey through Taoism and Buddhism, and from Friends (Quakers) to Universalists.

She never found a spiritual home for herself. She never found a tradition that could move her emotionally and simultaneously offer sincere acceptance of who she was. Or better yet, who she knew she had to become. Not Episcopalianism or any formal religious organization. She'd say she's settled into the general belief often called Humanism. She believes in the innate goodness and capabilities of people. She believes that people can do a lot of things but that the measure, the true measure of a human being is how they treat others.

She often thinks she has made her personal commitment to a Humanist perspective on two Christian attitudes. One is the ideas that “we are ALL broken people,” and the other, “we shall know them by their works.” She does believe we all do things that others may not understand and will therefore condemn. But she also believes that knowledge of doctrines will always be trumped not by what we say, but by what we do.

Janine on her faith today: "Being regarded as a gay man in these early years of this century, here, in the San Francisco area, is as nearly a non-issue as , say, having red hair. I know this is a bubble of a cultural milieu, but its what I’ve come to expect as what’s right. And expected. Being transgender is still something that goes beyond the comfort level of a lot of people. And being in transition makes it even that much harder for many people to come to terms with. My religion is my personal business. I don’t share it with others, nor would I care if they either lauded - or condemned - it. For whatever reason. I think for those that want to believe in something bigger than life, something transcendent, something that reminds us of the potential of the human spirit - there’s a lot to be said for picking and choosing - selectively - from a number of traditions. Religion - at least as how it is to me - becomes something intensely personal."

Hayley: The Ideal Ally

She/Her/Hers — Manhattan, NY — 23 — Cisgender Straight Woman — Presbyterian

Hayley grew up as a regular attendee of the First Presbyterian Church of San Leandro, CA. Neither of her parents are deeply religious. Her mom grew up in a Mexican Catholic Church, and while her mother was very devout, she enjoyed the community aspect more than the discipline. Her dad did not attend church at all in his youth. All this goes to say, all my life, religion and community have been tied together, but not in the strict sense - more like church was an opportunity to develop new relationships and explore my relationship with God on her own terms. She mentioned how she cannot speak for all Presbyterian churches, but "First Pres SL" was much more open minded and accepting than most churches in her former area. She says that they were all encouraged to think creatively and freely about God and the Bible; there were no strict interpretations that we were required to believe to be accepted. "I remember my youth leader even saying it was okay if we didn’t believe in God. So long as we were all respectful of each other, any opinion was welcomed," she mentioned.

She has been lucky enough to have many of her closest friends be members of the LGBTQ+ community. For her, there has really never been a question of choosing religion vs being an ally. She has always known in her heart that the people closest to her who identify as LGBTQ+ are just as loved and valued by God as anyone else, and to assume they aren’t is really doing a disservice to the lessons Jesus himself taught. Jesus only ever wanted to cast out hate and greed and evil. "None of my LGBTQ+ friends are hateful or evil, and I am far from sinless, so who am I to judge anyone at all? This was never an issue at the church I grew up in, there were even several LGBTQ+ people who attended themselves."

However, it became more difficult for her once she left for college in Boston to find a church that shared the same values and practices as her home church. Many of the churches she attended were contemporary in their service - rock music and full bands instead of organ and choral music, blunt pastors who seemed more like rulers than leaders, weird metaphors comparing sin to cell phones and God to co-signers. While contemporary in style though, the beliefs were far more conservative than what she was used to. She never felt comfortable in these settings, knowing that her beliefs directly conflicted with theirs, and saying as much only to be confronted with either willful ignorance or indifference. What she missed about "First Pres" was the sense of tradition, combined with a willingness to grow with the times in terms of beliefs. She never heard her pastor, George Swanson, condemn anyone. Not gay people, not Muslims, not one group of people, "because we all have faults and we are all trying in our best. It’s surprising how difficult it is to find a church that feels the same way. I did not continue to attend these churches and whenever anyone asked me about them, I shared my distaste honestly."

Hayley now lives in Manhattan, and has found a more accepting and open church, where any and all people are welcome. She finds herself trying to never cast judgment on anyone for anything they can’t control. When she is speaking to someone she knows who is religious and homophobic, she reminds them that Jesus never condemned gay people, and being homophobic almost seems to directly contradict the love and generosity he preached.

Hayley on continuing to spread positivity: "We are all made perfectly by God, I don’t think (s)he accidentally messed up and made a whole population just to condemn them all, especially now when we are no longer a persecuted minority’s religion struggling to continue the population. To think that being a Christian and identifying as LGBTQ+ are mutually exclusive is just ignorant on the end of conservatives, and I hope to continue to let members of the community know that those who truly strive to love as Jesus did fully understand and appreciate them for who they are, and love them with no ulterior motives."

Other mentions:

Rabbi Angel + Queering Religion

She/Her/Hers — San Francisco, CA — Cisgender Lesbian Woman — Jewish

Rabbi Camille Shira Angel taught my Queering Religion class at University of San Francisco. Without her I would have never opened my eyes to how important it is to see faith through queer eyes. I never necessarily thought I would look into religious traditions or try to identify with them. It was extreme interesting to learn so much about so many different kinds of views through the perspective of the various speakers we had in our class. Before the class, I didn't even know what a Rabbi was. I didn't know anything about the Jewish faith, Islam traditions, Buddhism, or even things within the Roman Catholic Church that I was raised in.

Rabbi Angel has an immense passion for making her students aware of the endless amounts of things we can learn about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and being religious. The open circle of continuous conversation and encouragement to queer gave an atmosphere of constant positivity. There isn't enough time in a class to learn about all of this, but her want and efforts for change were extremely noticed and should not go without acknowledgement.

ff

and finally me, Pete

He/Him/His — Oakland/San Francisco, CA — 23 — Cisgender Gay Man — Former Catholic, Currently pending faiths

I've lived my life in a gypsy way since I was 15. To finally be at a more stable place in my life that is allowing me to learn things I had never learned has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of faith. Faith something that is still very personal to me. I will always have those teachings from Catholicism alive within me. There are values within the church that I will always automatically thing because it is how I was brought up. However, my view today is new and different and very much pending.

I've been challenged to learn more. I now have more knowledge to seek more about what it is I can believe in. I've always believed in a higher power. I've always believed in the power of prayer. I've never believed that somebody from "above" is telling me that who I am is not OK. I've seen Catholic traditionalists in my family change their perspectives on my gay lifestyle before my very eyes. I've received a great deal of support when I didn't feel like I always deserved it.

When the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence visited our class, I felt something. I left the class feeling empowered and new. They made me feel like my beliefs of simply giving good energy into the world can be enough. They showed us a completely unconventional way of seeing faith and it was beautiful. The East Bay Church of Religious Science visit taught me that God is everywhere. They taught me that God can be anything. They, most importantly, accepted me in their church without an ounce of judgement. They showed me that all the answers are truly within ourselves and that we don't always need to look out to something else for aid.

I believe that my pending faith is going to grow into something that is perfect for me and it is all thanks to the experiences in this class.

This is for hopeful futures...

Special Thank You's

I want to thank everyone who helped me with this project. It sincerely would not have been anything without you all. I needed people like you because when compiled into this page, true diversity is shown. None of you are the same, but all of you are a part of this colorful and beautiful community. You're all extremely special and wonderful. Thank you for gifting me with your stories and allowing me to share this gift with those who will be able to one day use a tool like this. It is important to let those who are not able to have the privileges that we have while being a part of this minority that they are not alone. That there is hope and a place for all of us within whatever way we want to interpret our faith. Faith and religion is for anyone and everyone.

(Full names of interviewees [references])

Thank you Madison Grainger for sharing such a personal side of yourself regardless of our simple relationship as classmates in our Queering Religion class. Thank you Zachariah Christensen-Mohammed for sharing an intimate side that I do not generally get see regardless of you being my boyfriend. Thank you Dilpreet Kahlon for showing us that unconventionality can open doors and how important it is to stay genuine. Thank you Janine Portante for being so extremely vulnerable and raw and for allowing me to follow you along this journey. It is truly an honor to experience you turning into your authentic self. Thank you Hayley Mason for being an aid to our community and showing us that we can trust those outside of the community to have our backs. Thank you Rabbi Angel for your incredible vision and deep care for making a difference in your students' mind—it doesn't go unnoticed.

Created By
Pete Mancilla
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with images by msandersmusic - "stained glass spiral circle pattern glass religion"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.