I delivered this message at Westside on March 10th as a part of a service about coming out and owning our truths. I realized today that I never got around to posting it here. That particular service wasn’t recorded, but I do have a super video of a late-stage run through, featuring a very cute distraction named Henry.
Note: I will be using the word “queer” to encompass the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender-queer, non-binary spectrum. This is for the sake of brevity and we should always be mindful to use the preferred identifiers for individual members of this spectrum.
Imagine this scenario: A young person walks into a church in the Bible Belt. They begin speaking with the minister and, in the course of the conversation, admit to the minister that they are gay.
What happens next?
What kind of ideas and images does that scenario create? How do they make us feel about the kind of society we live in?
Without any more information, we might assume that the situation goes poorly for that young person and could even end tragically. Unfortunately, some of history would support that assumption.
According to The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to queer young people, queer youth contemplate suicide three times as often as heterosexual youth and are five times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. The Trevor Project cites “lack of community support” as a serious risk factor for suicidal ideation and attempt.
A 2009 report by The National Center for Cultural Competence states:
“In families [and communities] that are not at all accepting of [an] adolescent’s gay or transgender identity, only about 1 in 3 young people believes they will have a good life as a [queer] adult. But in families [and communities] that are extremely accepting, nearly all [queer] young people believe they can have a happy, productive life as an [queer] adult.”
So, let’s go back to that scenario we started with, but with a few more details.
A young person walks in to a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee. They begin speaking with the minster and, knowing they are in a safe and sacred space, they admit to the minister that they are gay.
What happens next?
Next, Reverend Carol smiled at me and said, “Congratulations.”
I spent the next several months coming to terms with my truth and deciding how I wanted to live and own it.
I briefly considered throwing myself a coming out party or making a big announcement, but nothing seemed quite right.
In the end, I bought some t-shirts with rainbows on them, downloaded a queer dating app, and started mentioning my truth when it was relevant, once I was ready.
Once I was ready, my friends told me they love me and want me to be happy no matter what, and my spiritual community barely even blinked. Y’all already loved me for exactly who I am – for every bad joke, misstep, and half-baked mission to save the world. And you loved the queer part of me too, without hesitation.
I have been shown more love and support in this community than I ever was by my own parents; being loved and affirmed by this community filled the gaps that could have left me as one of the gruesome statistics I mentioned earlier.
Because of my support system, the hardest part of my coming out process was admitting the truth to myself. Affirmation allowed me to own my truth – to realize that there is nothing wrong with exactly who I am, that I am loved, and worthy of love.
With that realization, there was never a question about if I will live a happy, productive life as a queer adult – I already am.
While my coming out experience was somewhat uncommon, the amazing power of love and affirmation is anything but. It is a privilege to own my truth and have it honored unconditionally. It is liberating, and I hope for a society where all of my fellow travelers are likewise empowered to own their deepest truth -whatever that might be – confident that they will be supported in doing so.
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