My journey to LGBTQ affirmation began long before I really knew or cared much, honestly, about the lives of LGBTQ people.
(Affirmation for me simply means that I accept the gender identity and sexual orientation of LGBTQ people just like I accept straight people: no need to change identity or orientation in order to be an acceptable, regular person to hang out with.)
The LGBTQ community was just not on my radar. Never had been. I had no reason to consider that it ever would be.
Which just goes to show, once again, that all the best things happen to me by accident.
And all my gratitude grows out of a recognition of my total inability to be control, and yet to receive freely and fully, all the gifts of Love.
I grew up with a magic-wand view of Christianity. The stories that stuck with me were the ones of miraculous change: the person who was a drug addict, a prostitute, a terrible sinner. The person who "met Christ" and suddenly had no desire for drugs or promiscuity or stealing.
In fact, some of us who grew up good tended to feel ashamed of ourselves for not having a great testimony to share around the campfire.
On the other hand, there was all the punishment--The Wrath of God--that we avoided by being good. I personally wasn't willing to be bad enough to have a good testimony.
Of course, I had been saved by grace just like the other sinners.
All the good things I did were done out of holiness, and not, say, out of any desire to avoid punishment. Or, God forbid, the need to earn God's love.
Of course not.
So I became a missionary and I was so damn good that I gave myself a nervous breakdown in the process.
And slowly, slowly, slowly learned to see that goodness doesn't buy anything.
Goodness isn't a magic shield against the pain and sorrow of life.
Goodness isn't a way to avoid God's wrath.
Goodness isn't a way to buy God's Love.
Love just IS. And LOVE IS for all of us.
That's what Jesus came to show us: Love is for us all.
Love is even for the religious people like me, when I could let go of religion and fall into Love.
(Much more of that story here, in my memoir, As Soon As I Fell.)
So, with my personal goodness dead, and Love growing inside like a little bulb out of the winter ground, I went off to get my masters degree in counseling.
At this point, I vaguely knew what “the Bible clearly says about homosexuality” and I knew that there were people in ex-gay ministries who said they would help clients pray the gay away.
I attended a Southern Baptist university for my master’s in counseling, and we had ex-gay promoters who came to campus and told us that their system worked.
This was good to hear.
I felt comforted that I'd be able to refer any clients to this wonderful ministry which would help them.
About this time, a dear friend came out to me. As that friend spoke those words to me, I knew without a doubt that "gay is choice" was not true. Having watched my friend suffer over many years, I knew that this suffering was not by choice. But I didn’t know where else to look for ideas, and neither did my friend.
So the narrative of "gay is a choice" was dead, but I was holding out hope for "pray the gay away." I wanted my friend's suffering to stop. Maybe my friend hadn’t found the right ministry. Maybe this local ministry really was finding success, as they claimed.
Then, as I began to work with clients, two things happened.
First, I worked with a client who presented with severe depression, and who had been involved in an ex-gay ministry: the exact ministry that came and spoke at my university, the ministry that told us how successful their methods were.
My client was devoted to the ministry, deeply interested in changing to a straight orientation, and still gay, after nearly a decade of work.
This did not look like the advertised success to me. In fact, it looked a lot like the experience my friend had endured.
I still didn't know where else to look for answers. Maybe this local ex-gay group wasn't doing it right either.
That, however, was starting to look like a disturbing trend.
Then, Exodus International, the Titanic flagship of Christian ex-gay therapy, closed their doors, confessing that their methods had never worked. In fact, 90% of their clients were still gay. Many had made straight marriages, but they were now honest enough to say that they still had same-sex orientation. In one of the most courageous moves I've ever seen a Christian ministry make, they apologized to the LGBTQ community for the harm they had caused.
When Exodus shut down, that was a paradigm-shifting moment for me. I realized then that I had been working with clients and living alongside friends who represented the 90%: still gay despite their best desires and efforts, and deeply harmed by attempts at “reparative therapy.”
I knew I had to find a better, more truthful way forward.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since.
THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE SHOWS: BABY, YOU WERE BORN THIS WAY
In direct contrast to the narrative I heard in the conservative Christian world, there is NO peer-reviewed science to support the idea that sexual orientation is a choice. There is NO peer-reviewed evidence to show that sexual orientation is the result of abuse or bad parenting.
In fact, the reputable evidence is exactly the opposite: sexual orientation is programmed before birth.
You can read a summary of many relevant research articles here at Joani Lea Jack's website. If you do click over, plan to stay a while and read a bunch more. You'll want to hear what a Christian pediatrician has to say about all things LGBTQ. Her article, Unfolding Miracles of Human Sexuality, is one I've shared so many times that if you type "un" into my search bar, it comes right up. No thinking Christian should ignore what she has to say.
ACCEPTING OUR LGBTQ KIDS IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24. At this already vulnerable time of life, LGBTQ youth are figuring out that they are different, that they’re part of just 4% of the population, a population that’s regularly been characterized as an abomination and blamed for everything from the decline of Christian marriage to Hurricane Katrina.
LGBTQ adolescents are FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide than their peers. Even more disturbing is the fact that LGBTQ youth from highly rejecting families are EIGHT TIMES more likely to attempt suicide.
For example, after the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in the summer of 2015, the LDS Church in Utah clarified that, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling, the LDS church would not solemnize same-sex marriages. In the two months following the LDS announcement, 32 LDS LGBTQ youth committed suicide.
Every therapist knows that hopelessness is one of the greatest indicators of risk for suicide. When your church says you won't be accepted as you are, hopelessness follows. And so does a greatly increased risk of suicide.
“family acceptance in adolescence is associated with young adult positive health outcomes (self-esteem, social support, and general health) and is protective for negative health outcomes (depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts).” Source
It is also worth noting that family rejection has been shown to increase sexual risk-taking. Just in case any Christian parents are interested in that part of the picture.
Want to save your child’s life and help them make safer sexual choices?
Accept them as they are.
Love them unconditionally.
Which means: competely without condition.
Just like I found, so many years ago, that God already loved me.
When God loves me unconditionally, how could I not extend that same Love to others?
How could I, as an ethical therapist,
- promote "reparative therapy" when it had been so thoroughly and publically debunked?
- ignore the medical evidence for the biological links to sexual orientation?
- ignore the links between rejection and suicidality in the adolescent LGBTQ population?
The answer was, I couldn't.
You'll notice that in my journey toward LGBTQ acceptance, I haven't mentioned the Bible at all.
That's because I was born into Christianity and grew up in it, and over the years, I've become fairly cynical about the church's ability to use Bible verses to validate its persecution of other people. I'm always aware that "what the Bible clearly says" may or may not be exactly as clear as we think.
Slavery, segregation, and white supremacy, for example. All supported by the majority of churches in America at some point, with Bible verses in support. Abolitionists struggled to gain support in the churches specifically because there was so much evidence for "what the Bible clearly says." Slave owners had the "theological advantage."
But my friends, when we know better, we do better.
And we repent of our misinterpretation of the Bible accordingly.
(Or we fight a civil war and continue in racist behaviors for another century or two. Whatever.)
A bunch of people have written good books on how to know better and do better when it comes to the LGBTQ community and the Bible (those six whole verses). Here's a short list.
So that's about where I was when our son came out to us in February 2014.
And I cannot begin to express how grateful I was that I had already begun to walk the journey toward LGBTQ affirmation when our son told us his story.
Because of the suffering my clients and my friends had shared, we were ready as a family to say, "We love you. We are with you."
The three years since have been quite a journey.
Since my son was courageous enough to be out, I figured I needed to be also. Coming out LGBTQ affirming has had some negative consequences.
I've been told that I'm going to hell, which is a chance I'm willing to take.
I've been told that I'm a heretic. Me and Copernicus, we're buds.
I've been told that my problem is that I don't preach the wrath of God enough. I'm too accepting. I love too much.
I take that particular criticism as the greatest compliment of my life.
WRITE IT ON MY TOMBSTONE:
SHE LOVED TOO MUCH.
Being out has been overwhelmingly positive, though.
I've connected to a whole secret world of Christian parents who love and support their LGBTQ kids.
I've discovered community resources and activists who are doing amazing good in the world.
I've been inspired by the huge community of gay Christians here in Dallas, friends who have taken us in and showed us the joy in the way, including the amazing and wonderful Cathedral of Hope, where Love pours down like rain in seasons of darkness and despair.
And so, here we are, in a place I never planned to visit, much less come to live my life.
But I am so endlessly grateful that Love brought me here, to the family and the friends who make Life the best gift of all.