Happy Pride Month!
If you haven’t already heard, June has been designated to be a month for LGBT+ (or queer) people to celebrate their identities. What is there to be proud of? Society has for so long told people of differing sexuality and/or gender identity that there is something wrong with them, that they should be ashamed of who they are. Pride Month gives people an opportunity to reject this shame publicly. Why June? The modern gay rights movement started with the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969. The celebration of that date has eventually extended to the entire month.
Pride celebrates people with differing sexualities and gender identities. Here are some of the most common terms used. These definitions below are oversimplified.
- Sexual orientation: Who a person is physically attracted to, labeled in relation to each person’s gender (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, etc.). Note: please do not use the term “sexual preference.” It is a loaded term that can cause harm.
- Sex: The categorization of people as male, female, or intersex based on biological markers.
- Gender identity: The internal sense of femaleness, maleness, both, or neither. This may correspond with a person’s biological/assigned sex (cisgender), opposite it (transgender), a combination of the two (genderqueer, genderfluid), or neither (gender nonbinary). Some use transgender to encompass all non-cisgender identities.
- LGBT (or LGBTQIA+): An acronym that attempts to encompass everyone whose sexuality, gender identity, or sex differs from that of most of the population. It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, but it can be extended to Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual. The plus sign is intended to encompass anyone not represented specifically.
- Queer: There is disagreement within the greater LGBT+ community whether this term is still a derogatory slur or has been reclaimed as a blanket term for LGBT+. The difference is often generational. A piece of advice, if you do not identify within the LGBT+ community yourself, only use “queer” if you know the people you are speaking to use it in a positive sense.
The sad truth is that many LGBT+ people have been hurt physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually purely because of this portion of their identity. The even sadder truth is that a lot of this hurt has come in the name of Christ and directly from the church. In times past, the term “gay Christian” was thought to be an oxymoron; people had to choose between their identity and their faith. As more denominations and individual congregations have moved to a more inclusive policy and practice, this is changing and there are many who know that they do not have to choose.
If you are interested in helping LGBT+ people, great! However, while adding an inclusive statement to your church website and waving a rainbow flag is important, it is not enough. It is not even enough just to change the church culture, though that is even more important than the outward signs.
One of the important first steps of truly welcoming and integrating LGBT+ people into your church is to acknowledge the hurt and pain caused by the church. This is not acknowledging what you personally have done or what your specific congregation has done, although if there is a need, please do so. You are a representative of Christ and his church. Other representatives of Christ and the church have caused harm in Jesus’ name.
The second part of this step is repentance. If Scripture has taught us anything, it has taught us the importance of repentance. It is the call of the prophets, the ministry of John the Baptist, and half of Jesus’ first proclamation. Note that repentance is more than just feeling bad for past sins or just saying “Sorry.” It involves turning from our way and walking in God’s way. It involves changing your behavior. But the act of apologizing is important as well.
Some people may need to talk about their prior church experiences of hurt, and even show anger and sadness. The godly response is to listen. Listen and empathize. Do not try to defend or argue, even if you think the person is wrong. This is not about you; it’s about their experience. And, just as your experiences are valid, their experiences are valid.
Don’t force a conversation if a person doesn’t want to talk about their LGBT+ identity, or even bring it up. Someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity are only part of who they are. And—this is the most critical part—do not talk to other people about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity unless you are absolutely certain that that person is okay with it. Despite all the progress that our society has made in acceptance, the assumption people make is that a person is heterosexual and cisgender (for more on this you can search for heteronormativity). This means that “coming out of the closet” is a continual and repeated process for LGBT+ people. Each situation is different, and each is a very personal decision. “Outing” someone, even accidentally, can be personally hurtful as well as can cause personal, professional, or even physical harm.
As you probably already know, the phrase “coming out” or “coming out of the closet” is a metaphorical way of talking about a person revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. If someone comes out to you, please realize that this either indicates that person’s enormous trust in you or their comfort with themselves (I’m fairly sure you will know which it is in that particular circumstance). Here is some advice:
- Don’t react with hostility or otherwise negatively. This should be extremely obvious.
- Don’t dismiss it. The person is sharing something personal about themselves, and this is possibly very difficult for them. Don’t ignore that fact. It’s also possible to dismiss this positively. Stating “I already knew” can be a big comfort to some, but it can be experienced as a dismissal. Know your audience.
- Respond proportionally. Take a clue from their emotional state as they tell you. If it’s a big deal to them, then respond likewise, acknowledging their courage, thanking them for the trust they are showing, and reiterating your love and acceptance. If they just mention it in normal conversation, continue with the normal conversation (while not obviously ignoring it).
- Respond with love and acceptance. However you respond, make sure that the person knows that you becoming aware of this part of them does not change how much you love and accept them (but don’t overdo it).
- Again, don’t out someone without their permission. See above. This is really important. For example, if a youth comes out to you, they may not have yet come out to their parents. Don’t do that for them. This also applies to adults.
Represent Jesus Faithfully
While this advice (and more) is important no matter what, it is especially important as a faith formation leader. Remember, you are a representative of Christ. What you say or do can have wider consequences for the person’s faith than just you. Do your best to show people that they are each beloved children of God, their whole selves.
Share the love of God with all!
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
To change subjects, please download our free, weekly devotional resource The Word @ Home via the purple button below. This is a single sheet that includes a Bible reading plan, prayers, blessings, and conversation starters. It follows a calendar of Bible readings called the Revised Common Lectionary, which your church might use in worship. I hope that this can be helpful to you!
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