People often ask me why so many LGBT people feel the need to “come out.” In honor of National Coming Out Day, here are two previous posts of mine to explain why I think coming out is important.
Why do you have to tell people you’re gay?
Too Much Information?
I’m working on a new blog post for you on one of my favorite topics (hint: it involves Disney villains), but while I put the finishing touches on it, I wanted to mention that the annual Gay Christian Network conference is coming up, and I’d love to see you there.
As I’ve mentioned before, the GCN conference is the world’s largest annual LGBT (and friends) Christian conference, featuring incredible worship, fellowship, speakers, workshops, entertainment, and more. This is going to be our largest conference ever, and we’re going to include special tracks for parents, pastors, and others, so whether you’re LGBT, know someone who is, or just want to learn more about how the church can support LGBT people, come to the GCN conference and see what God will do in your life!
The 2015 conference is January 8–11 in Portland, Oregon. Already, we have people registered from 41 states and 9 countries, and that’s only going to grow between now and January.
Don’t forget, prices will go up as the conference time approaches, so register now and I’ll see you there!
Also, here’s a PDF you can download to help us spread the word.
Last week, I posted a viral video of Daniel Ashley Pierce, a young man who recorded his family’s violent reaction to his having come out as gay—yelling about the Bible, physically assaulting him, and kicking him out of the house. Daniel’s boyfriend posted the video online, and people across the internet were horrified by what they saw.
In less than a day, kind-hearted people on the internet donated over $50,000 to Daniel for living expenses. That’s a beautiful gesture, and it warms my heart so see that kind of outpouring of generosity. But it’s also important to realize that Daniel is only one of the many, many kids in situations like this, and we can’t give $50,000 to all of them. Even if we could, money can’t replace love, security, or self-worth.
We have to stop this from happening. Unfortunately, much of the problem is religious in nature, and a lot of LGBT-affirming folks aren’t sure how to combat that. (As shocking as this may be, arguments about God and the Bible aren’t very effective in these situations.)
Here are five practical, effective things you can do to make a difference.
1. Donate to organizations that can change minds in religious communities. When many people think of donating to LGBT causes, they think of political organizations fighting for legal equality. But that’s only one side of the coin. There are a number of organizations working specifically to end religion-based homophobia and transphobia, and they need your support too. The Gay Christian Network, which I work for, is one of these organizations (and one I’m very proud of, having handled countless situations like this over the last 13 years), but there are many others. I’ve listed a bunch of them at the bottom of this post.
2. Donate to local youth shelters and organizations providing services to LGBT youth. Changing minds is important, but young people also need support in the here and now. LGBT youth make up a disproportionate number of homeless youth, and even those who aren’t homeless need support networks. LGBT youth without support are much more likely to turn to self-destructive coping mechanisms. Brandon Shire has a good list of organizations around the world, but you may also want to search the web to see what’s close to you.
3. Support local affirming churches. Many churches are afraid to take the step of being openly affirming of LGBT people, because they’re worried about losing donations and members. But local churches have the ability to do a lot of the key work from both #1 and #2 above. Your encouragement and support is crucial, socially as well as financially.
4. Talk to your pastor or religious leader. Tell them how important this is to you, and engage in dialogue with them about the treatment of LGBT people. You’d be surprised by how many pastors I’ve heard from who are privately supportive but are afraid to say anything because they don’t think their congregations are ready for it. They need to know you’re out there, and that you care. On the other hand, if your pastor isn’t there yet, you can help educate them.
(Also, if you are a pastor or ministry leader, please contact me. We’re working on ways of getting ministry leaders together to address some of these things, and I’d love to talk to you about it.)
5. When you hear people make anti-LGBT comments, don’t just dismiss them as bigots. Educate them. I know it’s hard; sometimes people say or do things that make it hard to see them as anything other than monsters. But I used to say some of those hateful things myself, and at the time, I honestly believed I was being loving. So much of what passes for hate is actually ignorance, and the best antidote to ignorance is a patient, compassionate teacher. Listen carefully to understand what they believe so that you can gently correct their misconceptions. I’ve been doing this stuff long enough to know that it really works.
If you don’t know what to say, give them your favorite blog posts or books on the subject—something appropriate to their level—and offer to discuss them. I’ve been part of helping to create a few resources aimed at Christians, including the Through My Eyes DVD and my book, but again, there are lots and lots of resources out there. If something has been particularly helpful to you, offer it to them for their feedback, and stay in conversation.
A video like Daniel’s breaks our hearts because we don’t want to believe things like this happen. But they do happen, and the best thing we can do is to let that heartbreak move us to action. We can change the world; we just have to open our eyes, acknowledge the problem, and work together to fix it, not just for Daniel, but for everyone who suffers in silence.
Don’t be discouraged. Take heart—and take action.
P.S. Here’s the list of LGBT-affirming religious charities I promised. I’m sure I’ve left many out, so add your own suggestions in the comments, and let’s work together for a better future for all of us.
* The Gay Christian Network (This is where I work, so I vouch for it personally. I’m also happy to answer any questions about how we use our funds and what we do.)
* Affirm United (United Church of Canada)
* Affirmation (Mormon)
* Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
* Believe Out Loud
* Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
* CanyonWalker Connections
* DignityUSA (Roman Catholic)
* Evangelicals Concerned
* The Evangelical Network
* Fellowship of Reconciling Pentecostals International
* Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance
* Institute for Welcoming Resources
* IntegrityUSA (Episcopal)
* Keshet (Jewish)
* The Marin Foundation
* More Light Presbyterians
* Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist)
* ReconcilingWorks (Lutheran)
* The Reformation Project
* Room for All (Reformed Church in America)
* SDA Kinship (Seventh-Day Adventists)
* UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns (United Church of Christ)
* Welcoming Community Network (Community of Christ)
WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT & LANGUAGE.
This video of a 19-year-old being kicked out of the house (and physically assaulted) for being gay is extremely disturbing to watch/listen to, but it is the kind of story I have heard many, many, many times over the years.
This is why I do what I do and the reason I’ve worked so hard at The Gay Christian Network for so many years, giving up free time and a social life, donating everything I can back to the organization I work for. THIS HAS TO STOP, and we have to be the ones to make it stop.
A year ago, I went through one of the most painful experiences of my life when my mother passed away. She was an incredible person, and I miss her terribly. Now, a year later, I realize something about painful, traumatic experiences: They don’t really go away. The pain moves from public to private, but it doesn’t disappear; you just talk about it less, you learn to move forward with life, and people assume things are “all better.”
Time does bring healing, and pain becomes less raw. But what most people think is evidence of things being “all better” is really just the evidence that you’ve learned to cope with the pain and not let it rule you.
Yes, I’m fine. I still joke around and successfully navigate life experiences of all sorts. But just because I don’t go through every day talking about missing my mom doesn’t mean the pain isn’t still there. It is. It probably always will be.
That pain isn’t all-consuming, but it’s also not all better.
Everyone has their private pains and challenges, and most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the pain everyone else is facing. To be honest, it can be easy to assume everything’s great for them unless they tell us otherwise.
In some ways, that’s perfectly understandable. If we went through life feeling everyone else’s pain at every moment, we might find ourselves paralyzed, unable to move forward in our own lives. But we need to be careful, because this natural tendency of ours can easily turn into self-centeredness and a lack of compassion. The people in our lives may not constantly remind us of the pain and challenges they continue to face, but that doesn’t mean everything’s great, or that past hurts are all better.
And sometimes, the things that aren’t all better are things we need to be aware of. Like when an entire group of people is suffering from the daily impact of prejudice, while some of us remain blissfully unaware.
I’ve been reminded of that over the last few weeks, as news stories including the police shooting of Michael Brown have reignited a national conversation about racism. Michael Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, has become a symbol of a community’s fear: that in a world where racism is a reality, it’s too easy for misunderstandings or conflicts to turn deadly and for the victims to wind up maligned or forgotten.
It’s a fear that exists even when it’s not spoken. It’s a serious, serious problem, and I’ve seen many Americans—of all races—willing to continue this conversation and work together on what can be done to improve things. But I’ve also heard some people react as if this conversation were an inconvenience at best: “Seriously? We’re talking about race again?! Haven’t we moved on from that by now?” In their minds, racism is a problem that has already been “fixed,” something that’s “all better,” and bringing it up is only a way of getting sympathy based on injustices of long ago.
Those people couldn’t be more wrong. Racism is far from fixed. Racism continues to this day, and we have to acknowledge that. Those who suffer from it can’t ignore it; they face it constantly, though they may not bring it up. Only those of us in the majority get the privilege of forgetting about it.
Even if all racism ceased to exist tomorrow, it would still show its effects for many, many years to come. Just think: If a single traumatic event can affect the rest of a person’s life, how much more can someone be affected by a lifetime of poor treatment! Even with no more racism, the emotional wounds of racism would last for people’s entire lives. Those made to feel like second-class citizens would still struggle with feelings of inadequacy; they would still find themselves distrusting certain institutions and authorities, wondering if they were being singled out.
More importantly, the toll of racism extends far beyond emotions. There are social consequences of racism that would persist long after the racism itself ended. There would still be inequalities in who had been promoted to high positions, which families had more money, which neighborhoods had more resources, which kids could afford to go to nicer schools. Those inequalities would breed more inequalities, even in a world without racism.
The impact would remain even if the prejudice disappeared tomorrow. But it hasn’t disappeared. The situation has improved, yes, but it’s not fixed. Racism isn’t gone. It’s just become less overt.
I’m ashamed to admit how often I forget that.
As a white man in America, I don’t think about racism much. When I do, it’s usually as something in the past—Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Hairspray fighting to keep her 1960s TV show segregated, as Queen Latifah bravely leads a march for social change. (Yay, feel good movie!)
But that was before I was born; that’s not now. Today, my circle of friends is racially diverse, and I can’t imagine any of my friends disparaging another person based on their race. I mean, really, who does that anymore? As an employer, I’d never make a hiring decision based on race, and it’s hard for me to imagine a police officer, salesperson, landlord, or government agent treating someone differently because of their race. I mean, I’ve never seen it happen. Surely, I think to myself, that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore.
But then, as a white man, how would I know if that kind of thing still happens? Of course it doesn’t happen to me; I’m a member of the white majority. I could look at how the world has changed since the 1960s and say, “Thank goodness! Racism has been eradicated!” but that would be a lie. A glance at world events should instantly tell me that racism is a very real problem around the globe (yes, even genocide still exists), and a brief conversation with any person of color should instantly tell me that they experience racism on a daily basis in ways that I can’t even fathom.
Take, for instance, this recent story of a woman who was stopped on the highway and handcuffed in front of her young children for no apparent reason other than her race:
The video is worth watching, but in case you’re not able to play it for technical reasons, here’s what it depicts. Police in Forney, Texas, had received a tip about a reckless driver waving a gun out the window. They were given a description of the vehicle: a beige Toyota carrying four black men. Instead, they pulled over someone entirely different: a law-abiding mother in a red Nissan with four young children. In the video, we see the woman, Kametra Barbour, forced out of her car at gunpoint and handcuffed. She is clearly terrified and confused, as are the children, but the police won’t explain what this is about or why she’s being handcuffed. Eventually, once they realize they have the wrong person, she is let go—after the crying children ask if they’re all going to jail and a six-year-old comes out with his hands up.
If you’re like me, your first reaction to a story like this is to want to believe that race wasn’t a factor: Maybe it can all be explained as a misunderstanding, and it could have happened to anybody. Okay, maybe. But even I have to admit that it’s hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening to a white mother with four young children. Ms. Barbour wasn’t a criminal; she wasn’t resisting; she wasn’t even driving the right kind of car. She was just black. And while we could debate the details of any specific situation, there’s no question that my black friends have way more stories like this than my white friends do. Like it or not, racism is still a factor in American society.
I try to imagine being a child and seeing my own mother pulled out of the car and handcuffed at gunpoint, and I just can’t. When I try anyway, I’m left wondering how it would affect my view of the police as I grew up. I wonder how well Kametra Barbour’s kids will remember this incident years from now, and how it will affect them. The incident itself is over, but how long will its impact last? Will it ever be “all better”?
Because of their direct experience with racism, my African American friends have a very different response to the Michael Brown shooting story than I do. As a white man, I hear the story as just another news event: A guy was shot by a police officer. Maybe it was justified; maybe it wasn’t. The truth will come out eventually. I can be patient. It doesn’t really impact my life much one way or the other.
But to my black friends, this is a very scary story. They’ve experienced racist treatment over and over at the hands of supposedly impartial institutions. Many of them have experienced racism at the hands of police, as hard as that is for white guys like me to understand. Now here’s a story—not an isolated incident, but the latest in a long line of such stories—of someone being killed by the very folks we rely on for protection, for no apparent reason other than judgments made based on his race. If that race is also your race, that’s frightening.
My friends don’t hate the police, or government, or laws. They’re not criminals or thugs. They’re not whiners complaining about past injustices. They’re reasonable, law-abiding citizens who want to know that incidents like this are taken seriously, that there’s transparency in the process, and that the same thing couldn’t happen to them or their loved ones. Because their own life experiences—experiences I have never had—have proven to them that when someone with a gun is making a split-second decision, race matters.
Was race a factor in the treatment of Kametra Barbour, the killing of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell, or the trial of George Zimmerman? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine otherwise, but I wasn’t there and I can’t see into the minds of the people who were. What I do know is that these are traumatic events for an entire community, and traumatic events leave scars that may never heal. We have to take them seriously, to continue the conversations about how we can do better as a nation, and to remember that when it comes to life-altering events, the past is only truly past for those who didn’t live through it.
Because it’s not all better. And understanding that is key to moving forward together.
Christians disagree on many things: How should we interpret Paul’s comments on gender roles? Is the Adam & Eve account history or metaphor? What is the “unforgivable sin”? Which biblical rules apply to us today, and which ones are cultural?
But with all the places we may disagree, one thing in the Bible is indisputable: Jesus taught us to show love and grace to one another. If you can’t do that while arguing your point on something else, you’ve missed the message entirely.
In response to my article yesterday on a Christian perspective on transgender people, perpetuallurkernazanin writes:
My girlfriend wrote a synopsis of Bible verses and Christian denominational policies in support of trans people…please take a look, and share if you find it helpful!
This is helpful, because I didn’t get into the Bible passages in my post yesterday. Thanks for sharing!
Hey Justin I was wondering from a christian perspective what is your opinion on being transgender
Thanks for the question! The answer could get complicated, though, because “transgender” is a broad term, and transgender Christians have many questions to consider about how they will live their lives.
Since I’m not transgender, I haven’t had to wrestle with all those difficult questions, and I wouldn’t dream of pretending to have all the answers. I do have a Christian perspective on transgender people, though, and it’s the same as my view on all people: God created us all, God loves us all, and if God loves you, then it’s my job to love you too. That means treating you with respect, kindness, and compassion, just like I’d want to be treated. Period.
At least, it should be that simple. But this is a subject that makes a lot of people—even a lot of gay people!—feel confused and/or uncomfortable, so let’s talk about it.
“Transgender" is an umbrella term for various situations in which a person’s gender identity or expression differs from what is typical for their birth sex.
This can sound confusing, because many of us use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably to mean whether you are male or female. But for students of gender, these words actually have different meanings.
“Sex” refers to your biology: When you were born, the doctor looked at your genitals and announced “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” That’s your sex.
“Gender,” on the other hand, is largely in your brain: It’s that internal sense you have of your own masculinity or femininity.
A transgender person’s internal gender identity and/or outward gender expression can differ from what is typical for someone with the sex organs they were born with. And yes, the word “transgender” (not “transgendered”) is an adjective, so you would refer to someone as “a transgender person,” not as “a transgender.”
Readers, is this discussion already starting to feel a bit overwhelming to you? If so, you’re not alone. Most of us aren’t used to thinking about things like “gender identity” and “gender expression.” For us, the world is simple: You’re male or you’re female. Men have XY chromosomes, facial hair, deep voices, and penises. Women have XX chromosomes, breasts, higher voices, and vaginas. Simple, right?
So when someone starts talking about how their “gender identity” is different from the sex they were “assigned” at birth, or when we see someone with an obvious Adam’s apple wearing lipstick and a dress, or when someone says they’re “genderqueer”—it’s easy for us to think they’re just ignoring the obvious realities of the world. “Stop playing this game,” we may be tempted to say. “If you’re male, you’re male. If you’re female, you’re female. There’s no middle ground.”
We may be tempted to say that. But as hard as it may be for us to realize, the world isn’t quite as simple as we think it is.
Sometimes, for instance, a baby is born with genitals that aren’t typically male or female, so the doctor can’t easily say “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” This condition is called “intersex.” (The old term “hermaphrodite” is no longer considered appropriate.)
The Intersex Society of North America’s website includes a breakdown of various types of intersex conditions and how common they are. Genitals, secondary sex characteristics, and chromosomes don’t always line up in the ways we expect. Bottom line: Although these conditions are rare, they are a reality for millions of people in the world.
And if we know those things don’t always line up, then what about our brains? Men’s and women’s brains are different, on the average. So isn’t it possible that some people’s brains might not be fully in sync with their bodies—that someone might, in a very real sense, have a male brain in a female body, or vice versa?
I’m oversimplifying, of course. There are transgender people who describe themselves as being “trapped in the wrong body,” but for many others, it’s far more complex than that. Just for the sake of argument, though, let’s consider that idea as a simple illustration. Suppose someone is born with a body typical of females and a brain typical of males. Is it fair to call this person “she” even though he has a male brain? Isn’t your identity more in your brain than in your body? And if someone’s body and brain are out of sync with one another, isn’t it reasonable for them to consider physical modifications to help bring them back in sync?
Some transgender people go through hormone therapy and surgery for that very reason. Others don’t. Just as there are many types of intersex conditions, there are many different situations that fall under the transgender umbrella. One thing they frequently have in common, though, is struggle: Transgender people are often misunderstood, ridiculed, or even feared by others. Something simple like using a public restroom can be a nerve-wracking proposition for them. And if we keep them at a distance because they’re different from us—or worse, joke about them behind their backs—we’re contributing to the problem.
The confusion many of us have felt is understandable: Most of the time, we instantly identify the people we meet by categorizing them as male or female. When you see someone and can’t tell right away if they’re male or female, your brain isn’t quite sure how to categorize them, and it feels weird, right? Years ago, Saturday Night Live had a recurring character named Pat built on this premise; all the comedy revolved around the idea that no one was sure if Pat was a man or a woman. We joke about things like this because they make us uncomfortable.
The joking is understandable, but it’s wrong. Jokes like this are actually very hurtful to a lot of people. Someone may look to you like a “man in a dress,” but if she presents herself to you as female and wants to be called “she,” common courtesy says that’s how you should refer to her. You don’t know her story: She might be intersex; she might be transgender; she might be neither. It’s not your business or mine what she looks like under her clothes, and gender is way more complicated than that anyway. All you need to know is that she is a human being, created and beloved by God. Whether she chooses to share more of her story with you at some point is entirely up to her. If she does, listen. If she doesn’t, just love her the way Christ would.
I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, but I have seen how depressed someone can be when their body and brain are out of sync, and I’ve seen how much happier someone becomes when they’re able to be honest about what they’re experiencing. I don’t have to live their experience to see the impact it has on them. And in the end, I find that very few transgender people are interested in my personal opinions about how they should live or identify themselves. They’ve already made their decisions; what they want from me is the same kindness and respect I’d want from anyone else, whether or not that person agrees with everything I believe or do.
Basically, the Golden Rule.
So maybe it’s really not that complicated after all.
According to this article from the New York Times, Amazon is currently delaying shipments of certain books—including mine—as part of a battle with my publisher, Hachette Book Group. (Sigh. The publishing industry is weird, you guys.)
Anyway, if you’re trying to order a book and Amazon shows it as having a 2–3 week wait, check other sites like BN.com, which is currently shipping many of the same books within 24 hours, and often for less.
Update: Stephen Colbert is having the same problem, and he talked about it on his show:
Sadly, he didn’t mention my book at the end there, but Powell’s does carry it, and you can also get autographed copies from The Gay Christian Network.
On this blog, I write a lot about how both sides can have more gracious dialogue in the debates about homosexuality and Christianity, but I don’t often spend time making arguments for my own personal view. (Anyone can argue for a position; showing grace to your opponents is harder.)
So for those of you who have always wanted to hear me make a passionate argument for my side, drawing on history and Scripture—followed by a passionate but gracious rebuttal from the other side—here’s your chance, because last week I made that argument in a way I’ve never made it before.
Background info: My friend Ron Belgau and I often speak together on Christian college campuses. We’re both gay (same-sex attracted) Christians, but we have opposing views on marriage and the morality of same-sex sex.
Usually, we speak for two nights: one night about how we agree, and one night about how we disagree. Last week at Seattle Pacific University, though, we tried something new: We condensed it all into one presentation.
Because of the change, I decided to present my view a little differently, combining Scriptural analysis with historical perspective and cramming it all into a short period of time. I’ve made some of these arguments before, but never all together in rapid succession.
I didn’t know how it would go over, but I think it went really well. In fact, I think the entire presentation was awesome. You should totally watch it.
So here it is: Two friends making an audience (and each other) laugh, talking about Christian grace in the midst of the gay debate, telling stories, and passionately debating each other about whether churches should support same-sex marriage. This is loving dialogue in action.
For your reference, the presentation went like this:
After that, we took Q&A from the audience.
If you’ve heard me do a presentation like this before, you can skip ahead to marker 47:47 to see the new stuff; you’ll get to start with the last tip, which helps to set up the “disagree” portion of the presentation. (If you’ve never heard me speak and haven’t read my book, though, I strongly suggest watching from the beginning. I know it’s tempting to jump to the disagreement, but trust me: A lot of the best parts are near the beginning!)
Enjoy! And please share!
If you would like to have a presentation at your church, school, or group, contact GCN at 919-786-0000.