Updated: Oct 27, 2020
A little over a year ago, I attended a conference called Evolving Faith with my mom and dad, and I’ve written about an aspect of that experience before in regards to my personal faith.
One thing I have not shared about that conference is something that struck me when Jen Hatmaker shared her experience evolving her views on LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation. If you aren’t familiar with Jen, she is a thought leader in Christian faith circles and has been writing, speaking, and teaching for quite some time. Long enough in fact, for her faith to have evolved a bit from one that was more traditionally evangelical to what it is today.
I familiar with Jen in name and reputation through my mom, but I had not read much from her at that point. Her talk focused on her realization that her life experience was that of the majority within the traditional Christian faith, and her work at the time was shifting towards widening the circle and centering those with minority experiences. It became clear during the talk that Jen had lost a lot of readers and followers during this process with her publicly affirming gay marriages in 2016 being a catalyst for much of the backlash.
I was shocked.
Most of my work up to that point regarding religious trauma suffered from bad theology had been on unpacking my feelings and experiences on the receiving end. It floored me that the disdain, hatred, and “othering” that bad theology had produced also extended in some form to those who simply said they didn’t believe LGBTQ+ folks were abominations.
This seems to be the case for Jen, and many others. This realization helped me decenter my experience as being the recipient of direct hate for my identity within these circles to hold space for the fact that straight folks willing to speak up and speak out also experienced an “othering” of sorts.
On the second morning of the conference, I wanted to post on social media about the experience but I hesitated. Unlike me who had been living openly as a Queer man for the last 3 years, my parents had not yet been associated with anything that specifically mentioned my sexuality during that time. I asked my mom and dad to see if they would prefer me not to tag them on the post sharing about the experience, and they both said they’d like to be tagged. “I think it is past time for us to ‘come out’ ourselves,” my mom said.
My heart swelled.
Even writing about it now still makes me emotional because it meant so much to know my parents were not only unashamed of that aspect of my identity but rather proud of my Queerness as well.
This experience has sparked conversations that have allowed for a new dimension in my relationship with my parents. I’ve been able to listen and hold space for my mom’s authentic feelings about certain friends slowly fading out of her life since sharing her views more visibly, or the overall feeling of being “othered” by people simply for not being a parent of a gay son that is “asking for prayer,” that I’d be converted.
My work through BraveNewLove is focused on encouraging folks to live authentically and creating space for others. It is heavily informed by my own experiences with working to be my whole self too. Last year, I wrote an essay titled “Thoughts on Coming Out,” sharing what I had learned through my own coming out process up to that point for any LGBTQ+ folks who were searching. I explained that while I’m not an expert on coming out, I wanted to share what I had wish I knew prior to starting that journey.
In that same spirit of encouraging authenticity in others, my parents and I have put together a couple of thoughts for LGBTQ+ allies in training who are coming from religious or otherwise non accepting backgrounds. Heck, even if you have been an ally for quite some time, you might find some value in it too.
We think it’s most important to start off with a big thank you to any and all LGBTQ+ allies. It takes mental and emotional work to rethink our views — especially those that are formed in some way by theology or religious dogma.
Whether you have started the work of becoming an ally because of an LGBTQ+ person in your life, or simply because you are committed to honoring the humanity in all folks, your efforts are valid and they most certainly matter.
It can be hard.
As evidenced by the story above with Jen, there can be real consequences to becoming an open ally to the LGBTQ+ community. For many within religious circles, the act of honoring the humanity of LGBTQ+ people can be the cause of concern due to the fact that admonishing homosexuality has become somewhat of a litmus test of being a “true believer.”
In this way, folks who share their affirming views can be met with hostility and even be ostracized. Rather than try to minimize this experience of being “othered,” through some form of spiritual bypassing, we think it’s important to take note of 1) how this makes you feel and 2) the extent to which people treat you differently once they know you are an LGBTQ+ ally.
Taking the time to examine these feelings and the changes in how you are viewed can be very helpful in not only sympathizing with the LGBTQ+ community but building some level of empathy for the Queer experience as well. In this sense, the act of sharing that you are an ally can mirror many aspects of the ‘coming out’ experience of many LGBTQ+ folks.
It’s not the exact same as the act of coming out as LGBTQ+
While there are many similarities in these experiences of sharing that you are an ally, it is still important to understand why they aren’t the exact same and why becoming an ally is still not ‘coming out,” in the traditional sense.
We feel the best way to understand why these experiences are not the same is to understand that we live in a heteronormative world, or a world that assumes that everyone is straight and cisgendered (when our gender identity matches our gender assigned at birth) unless otherwise stated. None of us, choose our sexuality, and none of us choose our gender identity. This is true whether we are straight, homosexual, cisgendered, transgendered, or gender non-conforming.
The act of ‘coming out’ is when a member of the LGBTQ+ community tells the world that they are not heterosexual and/or not cisgendered.
Get familiar with the terminology
It may take a little homework, but it is a small, very important thing a parent, or ally, can do. More importantly, it is the least we can do. There are countless resources for this, and here is an essay that covers some of the basics in case any terms in this essay are unfamiliar.
Once you build understanding in both the similarities and differences in the LGBTQ+ experience and that of LGBTQ+ allies, you will become even more adept at identifying homophobia, or queerphobia, in the world around us. Queerphobia is a broader and more encompassing term for homophobia because it is inclusive of all acts of dislike or prejudice against any identity within the LGBTQ+ community.
One easy example of queerphobic rhetoric is referring to sexual orientation as “sexual preference.” This seems to only happen when discussing the LGBTQ+ community and asserts that their identity is somehow a choice. The simple act of calling out when “sexual preference” is asserted by sharing that “sexual orientation,” is a more correct term will help reduce the queerphobic rhetoric in the conversation at hand. If someone pushes back, simply ask when they have referred to their attraction to the opposite sex simply as a “preference.”
Every Act Helps.
We also think that it’s important to be clear that there is no one correct way of expressing that you are an ally. Some folks might feel led to be very visible on social media and in-person by adding rainbows to their profile picture or wearing some type of pride clothing.
These folks are needed because they can serve as beacons of hope in otherwise unaccepting communities for LGBTQ+ people who do not feel seen, or queer youth who are not yet out.
Other folks might tend to keep their affirming views to themselves for the most part but speak up when disparaging things are said about LGBTQ+ people in daily conversations.
This is also helpful because each challenge against the ‘othering’ and ostracism of the Queer community will help us create a more accepting and inclusive world.
The takeaway here is that there is no ‘right’ way to be an ally. There is no doubt there will be discomfort as you begin to make your thoughts known in whatever way you choose to support the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important to honor your own authentic emotional and spiritual needs in that process.
Be a good friend to parents with LGBTQ+ children.
It can be hurtful when friends and family stop asking about your child. Check on those parents and ask about their child. Call them by their name.
The very act of saying their name is validating to parents who may feel like their list of friends who love and care about their child is short.
We think it’s important to accept that becoming a strong LGBTQ+ ally is a journey and constant work in progress. As a gay man myself who now identifies as Queer due to the fact that I no longer want to suppress aspects of my identity that are outside of traditional gender norms, I’ve had to constantly learn and grow as I better understand what it means to fully express my authentic self.
That act of constantly allowing room for personal growth is a form of creating space. We believe that it is so important to find resources and communities that will allow you to share your thoughts and where you are at in your journey without ‘getting blasted’, as my mom puts it.
My mom has benefitted a lot from joining Serendipitydodah — a private Facebook group for mothers of LGBTQ+ children. We also recommend Kathy Baldock’s work with Canyonwalker Connections for those with Christian conservative backgrounds. Another helpful resource is Susan Cottrell’s work with Freedhearts.
Once you’re comfortable in your footing as an ally, you can start identifying ways of creating space for members of the LGBTQ+ community as well. Simple acts like checking to see what faith leaders say about the LGBTQ+ community before you share their work, and voting for candidates who are committed to equal rights for Queer citizens are great ways to create space through action.
What resources and groups have helped with your transition to becoming an LGBTQ+ ally? We’d love to compile and add them to this essay for others.
Also — if you’d be willing to share your experience of broadening your views on the idea of LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation, I would love to hear from you.
My authenticity work has led me to believe that sharing our experiences fortifies the personal work we have done to better understand our whole self and ultimately to live more authentically. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a conversation. Looking forward to hearing from you!