Coming Out in Faith
I grew up in a rich, white, Protestant church in Roswell, GA. My adolescent years were characterized by violent swings from biblical literalism to overwhelming guilt about how my sinful love of men was separating me from my Savior. After several years of running from religion, doctrine, and anything related to sin and salvation, I had preconceived notions of what Unitarian Universalism meant. I looked forward to a community where I thought I could believe anything I wanted or nothing at all.
But as I learned more about what Unitarian Universalism was, I realized that my initial desire to relax into a fun place to ‘network’ and commune over a shared loathing of Focus on the Family wasn’t really what UUism was all about. In my path to membership I attended ‘Exploring UUCA,’ where I came to understand Universalist history. I learned that ‘Universalism’ meant a belief in universal salvation, that no one could be condemned for loving someone else. I learned about the free and responsible search for truth and meaning that encourages us to stretch, grow, challenge each other, and become better people.
When my partner Michael and I joined an LGBT covenant group, I met other people who had experienced life journeys with similar themes. In this trusted, supporting community, I am routinely confronted with outstanding examples of people who live their lives in ways that exemplify their values. Thanks to this group, instead of sinking into a complacency characterized by inaction and apathy, I have been inspired to live out my own ideas of justice, equality, truth, and meaning.
Speaking of equality, I am proud to be a part of a faith community that is persistent and passionate about fighting for the rights of LGBT peoples. Having visible support from this congregation makes a world of difference. But UU communities do face challenges in the way they interact with their LGBT members.
One of the conundrums that UU Congregations face is how to speak to a variety of different people, from different backgrounds, in a way that does not exclude anyone. I recognize this in my own somewhat demanding views about my own membership at UUCA; I want people to acknowledge and accept that I am gay, but I don’t want to be singled out just because I am different from the majority. I want to be welcomed and affirmed, but I also want people to know that my sexuality is only one part of who I am.
This is true for every group within our congregation; we all have history and backgrounds as part of our unique and individual identities, that DO shape us, but in many cases do not singularly define us. Not all young people are the same, not all black people are the same, not all women are the same; we all have inherent worth and dignity.
To me, the nature of the LGBT community compounds the issue. Just take a look at our letters – we are gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and so on. Furthermore, while we in the LGBT community do share some common history and experiences, each group in our alphabet soup has its own needs and experiences. Yet we often discover that we become the spokesperson for our community as a whole. Consider the time when my mother, deep into the process of grappling with having a gay son, asked me what causes some people to be transgendered. I could only shake my head and say, “I have no idea!” Outside of my own feeble attempts to listen to others, learn from their histories, and empathize, I have little more experience with transgender issues than the next guy. I am reminded of the well-intentioned questions people of all minorities have faced at one point or another: “You’re Hispanic – what should be done about the drug violence in Mexico?” or even, “You’re a woman. How do women feel about Fifty Shades of Grey?” No one person can describe all the feelings and opinions of a group of different individuals.
These are all issues that are forefront in my mind as I take my faith into the wider world. I work in consulting and every few months I begin a new project with new colleagues and clients. As I get to know my new team, it can be daunting to breach the subject of my faith. But I have found that in making small talk about my personal life, my relationship with Michael, and my background, it is much easier to describe my beliefs and how they relate to my history. In a convenient connection that I had never anticipated, my experience as a person in the LGBT community has opened up new avenues for me to influence perceptions, denounce exclusion, and show others why equality, justice, and human rights should be important to every one of us. The scope of my influence may not be huge, and I am no Gandhi (or Garrison Keillor), but I am honored to be making a difference in the lives of the people around me, thanks to the support of my faith community.
When I first walked through the doors of UUCA, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of welcome. It wasn’t the people with which I interacted, really. It wasn’t the signs on the walls. It was just this feeling. This feeling that, here, I would be ok.
I’ve been to services at several UU congregations, and had been a member of one for years. But here, here, I felt that I was not a lesbian, and a single mom, and an activist, and a somewhat atheistic pagan. I was, I am, just Daniele. I am not just one part, or the sum of my parts. I am able to be who I am, in my own complicated way. I am learning from Unitarian Universalism that, regardless of my labels, I have “inherent worth”. I am also able to safely explore the meaning of my presence in this universe, and I know that it’s ok if that changes.
My faith journey hasn’t always taken me to places this welcoming. I have, (now prepare yourself), been: Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Wiccan and UU. Sometimes, I was a “holy roller”, and sometimes I was an obnoxious, shove-it-in-your face atheist. Neither of those roles fit me very well, but, I needed to conform to the expectations of the group to which I belonged. I didn’t stay long in those personas, as they weren’t truly “me”.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious home. My father is an avowed atheist, saying that “The Constitution provides me freedom of AND FROM religion”. My mother grew up Baptist, I think, but she must not have been very taken by that experience. I remember being dragged to a couple of Easter and Christmas services, dressed in fancy clothes with scratchy lace. I typically fidgeted throughout the service, waiting for the exciting part – Communion – where I had an actual reason to get up out of that danged uncomfortable wooden pew.
I recall one instance when I was about 6 years old. My great-grandfather had just died, at the ripe old age of 97. They say “only the good die young”, and in this case, they’d be right. Anyway, my mom came and checked me out of school, about mid-day. I wasn’t really sure why, but I guess my mom needed someone to be with her. She drove to a church, and I couldn’t figure out why, but we went in, into the sanctuary, and sat down. There was no one else there, and it was kind of creepy, and I was sure we were going to get in trouble for being there.
But, my mom didn’t seem to be aware of her transgression, or maybe she just didn’t care. So, there I sat, again in a wooden pew, while she cried. I couldn’t wait to leave, really, it was so uncomfortable. I mean, we didn’t BELONG there. We were just visitors, borrowing the safe haven of other believers.
I held that feeling of being outside, looking in, for decades. In every part of my life, whether it was my faith, my sexuality, or something else, I was seeking my place of belonging. Within the realm of Unitarian Universalism, and UUCA specifically, I feel that I have found a place where I truly belong; that I have come home.
But as in all homes, there are imperfections. I offer this quick critique, because it is important to acknowledge where we are, and where we can be. Because of the belief in social justice, UUs tend to carry many banners. It is crucial that the work towards full acceptance of LGBTQ persons does not become a pet cause. While we are working towards equality for the group as a whole, we must continue to support the individual path of each member, regardless of their gender and sexual identity.
As a UU, I take what I have been given out into the world every day. I try to show compassion for each person, acknowledging their inherent worth, and respecting their path.
I don’t live my faith on just a one-to-one basis. Within our congregation, I am working to re-establish a CUUPS group. CUUPS, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, has been stagnant at UUCA for several years. I believe that it is crucial that, according to our last source, we acknowledge the “spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” I wholeheartedly believe that acknowledging and encouraging the contributions of pagans will strengthen our congregation.
I also strive to embody the second principle, working for “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” within several organizations locally, specifically for members of the LGBTQ community. I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend a Pride reception at the White House last summer, and am now one of the go-to people in Atlanta for the various White House endeavors.
My faith journey as an LGBT person, as a UU Pagan, as an LGBT parent, as a lesbian who is engaged to another woman, continues to evolve and I continue to grow. That is because here in this place, UUCA, there is room for me to do so and there is support. I am glad to make my spiritual home here and I’m grateful to feel like I finally belong.
Until a few years ago, I did not know anything about Unitarian Universalism. I was raised going to Baptist churches. My father was in the military, so we moved often. During my teen years, I noticed I was attracted to other boys. In the Baptist church, I was taught homosexuality was a sin. As I was struggling with my sexuality, I started withdrawing more from church. I stopped going to church all together until about 5 years ago. I tried different churches but there was always something missing.
Three years ago, I met Daniel. After dating a few months, we started talking about our religious backgrounds and the different churches we attended. Daniel suggested we check out the Unitarian congregation. After reading about Unitarian Universalism and UUCA, we decided to go. The service was different from any church I have been to. After the service, we walked into the social hall. I guess you could tell we were new because the first person to welcome us was Babs. After talking to us, she realized we were a gay couple. She took us to the Interweave table, 20/30’s group, told us about PFLAG and invited us to the monthly meetings.
While searching to find a church, I have talked to other gays and lesbians about how they fit into their churches. They are somewhat welcomed, as in, everyone knows about their sexuality but it is something they do not talk about, so they exist in silence. Or the congregation is welcoming and has support groups but the church does not officially support them, so they do not have a positive experience about their sexuality in the congregation. Unitarian Universalism, unlike other denominations, supports the LGBTQ community. UUCA has groups such as PFLAG and Interweave, and there are services like this for others to learn about and show the LGBT community in a positive way. The congregation has been welcoming to Daniel and me. We became members and we are involved in some of the groups and committees here.
UUCA is very welcoming to LBGTQ members and this pride services is an example. I never thought about members struggling with understanding LGBTQ issues. That was until one of our friends from 20/30s said he was a gay ally. He wanted to know where he could go to learn about and support the LBGTQ community. I told him how PFLAG supports the community, along with family, friends, and allies. Going to PFLAG was an eye opening experience for me. I met others, like me, who were in the process of coming out to their family, friends and parents. I liked listening to parents tell how their children came out to them and the process of them coming to terms with having a gay child. Listening to the parents helped me understand what to expect as I came out to my parents. Even though we have a monthly PFLAG meeting here at UUCA, very few members of our congregation who are gay allies attend. All the other members are there because they are LBGTQ or have a family member who is. This is also the case for Gay Pride Parade and the booth at pride. I also ask myself the question: are we as LGBT members actively talking about our issues and letting others know how they can support us?
I have struggled with being gay since I was in high school and while I was in the military. I did not think you could be gay and out to family and friends. It took being comfortable with myself as a gay person to finally realize family and true friends will love you no matter what. My faith has helped me with my relationship with god, my partner, family and friends. With the help of friends I have met here, my parents now know that I am gay and about my partner. This has made our relationship stronger now that I do not have to hide this part of my life from them. I never knew I could be in a loving relationship with another man. I am now in a relationship with Daniel and know it is possible to be gay and happy. I have come a long way as a gay person and I am ready for the next part of my journey.