Recognizing humanity in ‘new’ identities

I was completing a survey one day, and when I reached the end, it asked for demographic data. Instead of a choice between “Male” and “Female,” there were eight options. I had never heard of these terms before, starting with “Cis male.” I wondered when we’d gone from two choices to eight and who came up with these terms.

The first time someone asked my pronouns, I wanted to respond, “What and why?” I became aware there were far more pronouns than I learned in English class.

I saw a man in a skirt one day, and after he held the door for me, I reflexively said, “Thank you, sir.” Then I wondered if I had just offended the person.

I’ve known parents who describe their children as nonbinary, yet I thought all children were either boys or girls. And I could never keep up with the ever-changing string of letters after LGBTQ. What in the world is LGBTQIA2S+?  — It meant lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or gender expansive, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual and two-spirit. What?

Like Rip Van Winkle, I had slept through a revolution and awakened to a new world of gender identities and sexual orientations. They were always there, of course, but until recently, people weren’t as free to express themselves.

While I had heard about gender-related controversies, I didn’t pay attention, because they didn’t relate to me — puberty blockers, gendered bathroom debates, who could play on which sports teams, whether same-sex parents could serve on the school board, banning books with characters in nontraditional gender roles or threatening doctors and hospitals for performing gender-affirming care.

These new issues had little connection to what I had learned in school and church, where the choices were binary, right, and wrong. We didn’t allow same-sex marriage or the ordination of gay clergy. We asked questions such as, “Can you christen or baptize a child with same-sex parents, or would that be condoning the parents’ activity? What roles can gay members play or not play in the church?”

Discussions I’ve had with evangelical Christians on this topic include one man who said that his pastor, who led a church of more than 200 congregants, had boasted that he didn’t know any gay or lesbian people. The person responded, “What does that say about you?” A woman shared that her best friend, who she’d grown up with in the church, had come out as a lesbian but still believed the same Christian doctrines.

Cornel West has highlighted the hypocrisy of Black churches which often preach against being gay while overlooking their gay choir director or minister of music.

I still didn’t “get it” until I saw a video about a group of white, evangelical, lesbian and gay Christians. They testified about accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior and said they still believed the Bible was the Word of God. When I heard their stories, along with the pain in their voices as they pleaded to be accepted, I thought, “Who am I to judge another person’s faith and Christian testimony?”

I went to hear a Black queer pastor preach at a traditional Black church. expecting to experience something different than a typical Black church service. But there was no difference. Same gospel hymns, same Biblical sermon.

But many conservative Christians just can’t get there.

In one study, Christian parents who learned that their children were gay described feelings of loss as well as shock, shame, anger, fear, and concern. They also experienced strained relationships with their children. One parent’s initial response was to ask why her daughter would make “that kind of choice” and “want to be like that.”

Many Christians have chosen the nurture side in the nature-versus-nurture debate because they believe that it’s what the Bible teaches. This leads to problems when their children come out as gay, transgender, or any other nontraditional identity. Parents of such children can’t help but think it has something to do with them, thinking it’s their fault, or their child’s way of rebelling against their teaching, or an effort by their child to make their lives miserable. Parents, it has nothing to do with you.

A Christian family had two sons who became priests. One a Catholic, and the other Episcopal because the Episcopal church allowed the ordination of gay men. The parents should be happy that both sons were committed to serving God.

In 2020, a study by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute found that almost half of LGBTQ adults in the United States considered themselves religious, with 27% saying they were moderately religious and 20% claiming to be highly religious.

The church ought to be the leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hate crimes are up against those in the LBGQT+ community (increasing more than 19% in 2022 over 2021, according to the FBI), often at the hands of Christian groups. How is that an expression of God’s love? A 2020 Southern Poverty Law Center report noted that most of the growth in new anti-LGBTQ hate groups comes from grassroots churches.

Do I long for the days when people were either male or female or straight or gay? No. I can’t imagine not being able to be all God made me to be or having to hide who I truly am. I am more than willing to go through a learning curve and some confusion so that others can be their authentic selves.

My worship experience wouldn’t be diminished if those who are not straight males or females were granted admittance, but my experience of heaven would certainly be diminished if they were excluded. I would know that people who wanted and deserved to be there were missing because of how God created them.

I am fortunate to be a member of two congregations, Temple Beth Elohim and Reservoir Church, that accept everyone. At Reservoir Church their theme is “Everyone is welcome, without exception, to discover the love of God, the joy of living, and the gift of community.” Awakening can be a little disorienting at first, but it’s better than remaining asleep to the changes taking place all around us.

Ed Gaskin is Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets and founder of Sunday Celebrations.

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