A Note From The Curator:
“The Other Side” is a blog series hosted here on Patheos which takes selected stories submitted to the “Our Witness” project and shares them with a wider audience. The purpose of this series is the platform the unheard stories of LGBT+ Christians experience at Christian colleges and universities, and how they have overcome great pain at the hands of Christian leaders with their faith intact. It is my hope that these stories will counter the all too familiar narrative that once a Christian comes out as LGBT+, they’re no longer true Christians, and to raise awareness about the harmful tactics Christian colleges and universities use to deal with their LGBT+ students.
Before coming out, things were immensely scary. I had two friends in high school that preemptively outed me and caused a plethora of drama around the school (it was a small inner-city school). My mother worked at the school, and my parents both worked on staff at the church we attended, so I had to vehemently deny everything. My church was one that celebrated the banning of gay marriage in the Texas legislature. The pastor celebrated it at the pulpit and the crowd rejoiced. This was not a place I felt I would be safe.
I had always been raised in church. My parents were very active on the leadership teams of any church we went to. We started non-denominational and then we moved to Texas and became members of the Assemblies of God, a very Pentecostal denomination. Being raised the A/G and not being able to “pray away the gay” left me feeling terrified and suicidal. I obviously wasn’t good enough, so why keep trying? What if everyone finds out? What if this looks bad on my parents? It was a life spent living in constant fear. I could play the heterosexual and super spiritual son well enough, but the façade was cracking and I didn’t know how long I could maintain it.
I had never really had an issue with whether or not God (or some sort of higher power) existed. I had a broken arm that was healed when I was 5 or 6. A week or two after the arm was broken, I was under the pews at church playing with LEGOs (how parents kept kids quiet back then), and I remember a distinct voice saying to me, “You know, you don’t have to wear that anymore.” Being filled with childlike faith, I was like, “OK.” I then put both of my feet on either side of the cast and pushed it off, came out from under the pew, handed the cast to my father, and said, “Jesus says I don’t have to wear this anymore. My dad freaked out and we went back to the doctor the next day and he said there was no sign that the arm had ever been broken. My parents still have the cast. So, my walk with God has always been an issue of theology. I like to joke that agreed on loving each other, but we fought over what exactly to believe in.
Again, with the vicious experiences of betrayal in high school, I decided that I would start college completely anew. I was going to be out and open so that nobody would be able to use it as a “secret sin” against me. I would not be blackmailed. I came out to my parents before I began college and, though they didn’t (and still don’t) support it, they said that they still loved me and would not be kicking me out. So within the first couple of weeks at SAGU, and later EVANGEL, I was out to all of my friends and most of the people around me. I did get labeled “the gay kid,” but most people were pretty chill about it. I didn’t experience any threats of violence during my years there. In fact, most people had plenty of questions and wanted to learn.
Being openly gay at a Christian college in the Deep South (SAGU) was something that a lot of people hadn’t had experience with, ever. There were a few other gays in the school, but they were fearful of being outed due to the threats of violence and general hostility towards the LGBT community at the time. There was a lot of language being thrown around by the heterosexual community against our people and nobody wanted to become an outlet for that type of rage and hate. Their fears were that their families weren’t supportive and would’ve disowned them (this happened to plenty of other friends of mine and is a fairly common story in the LGBT community, where religious families are involved).
However, in the midst of all the fear, there were plenty of bright spots. My best friend began his college career having come from a very conservative family. He, at one point, said that he had been raised with the violent attitude towards gays. In getting to know me, and see me as a person and not as an issue, we became great friends, roommates, and then I was in his wedding. We’re still very close and make it a point to visit each other at least once a year.
The staff at SAGU was a completely different story. Upon finding out about my homosexuality (I included it at the end of a rather large Facebook rant in which I tagged all of my pastors and program staff. This is 18 year-old bravado at its finest.) the program’s leaders pulled me into a meeting with all of them to discuss this. They threatened to kick me out of the program if I kept referring to myself as gay. I was to tell people that I was just a man “struggling with homosexuality.” “We can’t let a gay person graduate from this program.” I also had to agree to immediately attend counseling with the Dean of counseling at SAGU. At the end of our first session, he said, “Well, you’re smart and have a pretty solid hold on everything. You don’t need counseling for this.” We had a good laugh and he sent me off with a book that I could give my leaders as proof of my attendance.
Attending Evangel was pretty much the same story. The students were fantastic and I had only one meeting with the campus pastor where we discussed that, as long as I wasn’t having sex, I was totally within the scope of the rules and the “Community Covenant” we all had to sign before attending. There wasn’t really anything they could do and I maintained my agreement during all 4 years of attending Bible school. I didn’t rock the boat more than what was sometimes needed.
However, I did attend reparative therapy while I was there as a middle-ground for them. I hadn’t heard of it before and didn’t know what all it entailed. I was walking into the lion’s den and I didn’t even know it. The processes behind trying to become straight were things that I floundered with and I ended up being stressed out about whether or not my performance in these sessions would be used against me at a later time. If I wasn’t “straight enough” by a certain date, would my eligibility to stay in this school be called into question? There were a lot of unknown variables and eventually I just decided not to attend anymore and they seemed to relent. It was never brought up again.
My faith has been a roller-coaster ride since coming out. For a long time I was bitter against God. Being raised Pentecostal, there are certain expectations about God working that you come to rely on. “Knock and the door will be opened. Ask and it will be given unto you.” These were daily utterances in my community. So why wouldn’t God make me straight? Why wouldn’t he do this for me?! And after becoming affirming: Why isn’t he doing more to help me and my people?! Why is he just letting these awful things happen in his name?!
However, after coming to realize that I didn’t need to change, I was set free from the burden (and suicidal issues) of trying to change and not being able to. I was normal. I still had worth! Being gay was just another thing on the list of descriptors about me. I was still loved and there was a still a place for me at God’s table. Since then, it’s been a slow journey of coming back into the fold of organized religion. Rebuilding my faith and theology from the ground up, as opposed to just believing what I was taught from birth. Being wary of things and hashing them out in my own time and own arena.
This story was originally submitted to the Our Witness blog. To read more stories like Samuel’s or to submit your own, please visit Our Witness by clicking here.