Disclaimer: I wish I knew more about Judaism, Hinduism, and other major religions so I could include them in this post, but I don’t want to misinterpret their beliefs. Please know that this message of love and support extends to followers of all religions and not just the ones mentioned in this post.
I want to start off by saying that I’m not the most Christian person you’ll ever meet. If you’re one of those people that has a checklist of criteria for how to be a good Christian, you’d say I’m pretty bad at it. I’m not even the most religious person – I’m still trying to figure out just what it is that I believe. A lot of people like to point out that fact when I talk about belief and religion, so I’m starting with it as a way to say yeah, I know, find a better argument. The point I want to make has nothing to do with being “good” at a religion, so I ask that you move on from the fact that I’m a flawed person and pay attention.
I wasn’t exactly raised Christian. My parents weren’t the type to go to church all the time, so I wasn’t exposed to religion at a young age. I didn’t truly get into Christianity until middle school, when a friend invited me to her youth group. I chose Christianity, instead of being raised into it, which is why I value it so much.But despite the good messages about faith and love I was getting from God at that age, I was a pretty terrible person. I was gathering opinions from the adults in my church and incorporating them into my belief of what Christianity truly was. I judged people a lot at that age and held a lot of opinions I now detest. I internalized the sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other problematic beliefs that I learned at that time so much that I’m still struggling with them as I head into my junior year of college.
I’m currently trying to figure out my beliefs by looking at a multitude of religions, one of them being Islam. In the light of all the Islamophobia being fueled by the Pulse shooter supporting ISIS beliefs, I can’t help but worry about all my LGBTQIA+ siblings struggling with being both queer and Muslim during this time.
Months ago, one of my good friends, Eleanor Nolan, led the Tuesday Reflection in the Founders Chapel at Augustana College. Funny enough, her speech was titled “Being Pious Is Being Socially Just” and I think this writing could easily work well with that, but that’s not the reason I bring this up. I’m bringing this up because as I was walking into the chapel, I talked with a professor about how the reason why I hadn’t gone to any of the religious events or services on campus before was because, using my exact phrasing, “I’m queer as s***, so I’m a little afraid of churchy people.”
Now, you might say that’s harsh, but you have to realize that it’s hard to be both religious and a part of the LGBTQIA+ community in a world where many, many, many religions condemn those who are LGBTQIA+ for being so. When you’re constantly told that you’ll go to hell for being anything but straight and cisgender, you start to struggle with your faith. Yet on the other hand, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community look down upon religion, and so trying to find a religious space within that community can be discouraging as well.
A while back, I read an article where at one point the author wrote that she believed “coming out” as Christian in today’s society held more of a stigma then coming out as gay. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes and groan about the complete lack of education on LGBTQIA+ subjects leading to people thinking the LGBTQIA+ community has it easy now that gay marriage is legal in all fifty states. But then it got me thinking.
I don’t go to church anymore because people cut me off when I came out as trans. One of the youth group leaders that I used to admire attacked me online for talking about the suicides of transgender youth and told me I was wrong for being who I am. I tried going back to church this summer and I made my mom stop at a Walgreen’s on the way there because I was afraid to use the bathrooms at church. The religious people who didn’t completely cut me out of their lives still use my birth name, as if they have some sort of right to do so just because they don’t approve. No matter what I do, they won’t call me Jackson.
One of my best friends can’t come out as asexual to her step-mom and her family because she’s mentioned asexuality off-hand before and they thought it just meant being a lesbian (a stupid assumption, but annoyingly common). If she were to come out, they’d throw her out of the house (something that has happened before for lesser reasons). There are countless stories of homeless youth that were thrown out for coming out, or LGBTQIA+ youth being forced to undergo damaging “correctional” treatment by their families.
Just recently, 49 people were killed because of homophobia. People are blaming Islam and ISIS but that’s not the truth – the shooter was an American born homophobe, unaffiliated with ISIS.
And as for blaming Islam? One of my closest friends, Fathima, is Muslim and she recently shared some information on Islam with me and one of the verses she listed as important was “If a person commits murder ‘it’s as if he’s murdered all of humanity, and if he saves a life, it’s as if he’s saved all of humanity.'” The Pulse shooting was not an Islamic attack because violence such as this is not at all the part of their faith. One of the sayings from the Prophet Muhammed that Fathima shared with me is “Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it.” THAT is what I think of when I think of Islam, not terrorists.
When you hear stories of religious-based violence against LGBTQIA+ people, you start to wonder how it’s even possible to be religious when you’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Yet so many people are.
The flaws aren’t in the religious beliefs themselves. It’s in the people who act as if they know what’s right and wrong. But in the end, how do we know? Regardless of religion, we all agree that kindness and love are good, so why show such hate and intolerance?
To all my fellow religious LGBTQIA+ siblings, stay strong in the wake of this violent attack and take advice from this Muslim saying: “There will come a time when holding onto your faith will be like holding onto a hot coal.” This may be that time, but I believe in you all and I’ll do my best to help you hold on if you need me to.