On Saturday, April 16, Guilford College hosted an LGBT symposium that shed light on the different experiences the LGBT community has had with religion and health.
The first panel explored the topic of religion, largely within varying Christian sects, and how things like the Quaker lifestyle and the Nigerian Baptist Church had an impact on their experiences with certain hallmarks of coming of age as an LGBT person. It was an unflinching look that often came with pain and other times with laughter and sarcasm.
Amesi, a bisexual girl from Nigeria, talked about the differences between her upbringings in both the Black Southern Apostolic Church and the Nigerian Christian church, and about her relationship with her mother in relation to this and her coming out at the age of 16.
“My experience with the Black Southern Church…there’s so much I could say. I had two experiences of apostolic faith…I would say that the Nigerian Christian Church [that I went to] was more intense. Southern Baptists like my mother…she was a bit less structured. I called her a ‘fake Christian,’ an Easter Sunday Christian. My grandmother and aunts took me and that gave me a more structured upbringing,” said Amesi.
Hayden, a transgender man, talked about how being a Quaker influenced his life.
“The two people I was with were [raised] Quakers like me, and we all attended meeting at some point in our lives, but we didn’t talk about spirituality very much. One of my old partners, they didn’t believe in God. The Quaker testimony was upheld in my raising. Between my parents and I, I don’t believe in God, but they do. My mother believes in the universe as a form on the divine, which to me is the same thing. Everyone that I cared about had different beliefs than mine, and luckily it didn’t affect our relationships really,” said Hayden.
A quote that stood out, from someone who didn’t have a gender identity, which seemed to underscore a huge elephant in the room was, “My experience is…people who are godly can often times be non-affirming.”
“It’s powerful, as an adult, to be able to say to your parents, ‘hey what you think you are doing out of love is actually hurting me, and if you loved me, you wouldn’t hurt me.’ The Christian, and especially Baptist culture, is something that expresses itself outside of the church,” said Amesi.
Amesi continued in her testimony about the church life.
“I haven’t lost any friends. In a spiritual way, we don’t talk about sexuality because they know it all comes out of love. The first time I came out was when I was sixteen, a girl in my class wrote me a love letter, my mother found out and decoded that it was not heterosexual in nature. She thought it was a phase for a few years and was very condescending about it. People have more sense when they’re younger than older folks realize,” said Amesi.
Amesi continued, “Mother is affirming now, but initially it wasn’t quite that way…we had to build towards it because there really are levels to complex matters like coming out to your parents and how they deal with it and reach that place of acceptance. People who have my kind of experience can often be up against violent reactions from their parents after they realize that it really isn’t a phase. Mine was luckily calmer, she said ‘ok do what you want to do.’ She tried to throw scriptures at me but it didn’t work because I called her on her hypocrisy like, ‘Girl that’s cute.’ Then the avoidance thing with my father also factored into the way I came up and out…my journey was interesting in that way,” said Amesi.
Another girl named Ashley shared a more light-hearted experience.
“My experience was smooth but funny. When I came out to my parents I just watched a lot of LGBT documentaries and films until my mom found out and she just kind of accepted the fact that I’m bisexual. Coming out to church was another issue. I wanted to for a long time; we were in a ‘young adults Sunday school class’ but most of the members in there were in their 50s. I said ‘Before we disperse I have an announcement: I’m bisexual. It doesn’t mean that I’m promiscuous…[though there’s nothing wrong with that] If you don’t like it, it’s okay, I still love you.’”
“Some of the men were visibly uncomfortable and made excuses to leave, but I got a bunch of hugs and people saying that it didn’t matter…which made me kind of sad because I wanted it to matter. I think there’s a lot more work to do as a church to talk about. I felt overall supported and safe… [but] I think that language like that can be a form of silent control. People say things like ‘don’t talk about it or don’t act upon your homosexual desires; if they don’t see it, of course it doesn’t matter’,” said Ashley.