Today I’m going to talk about something rather controversial — the wacky, love-hate relationship between religion and the GLBT community. Why do so many GLBT people leave religion, and how do those that don’t, make peace with it? From my experience, many of us leave religion because we are tired of feeling hated and hating ourselves. If you grow up in a conservative form in one of the Abrahamic religions, as I did (Catholic), you are taught that homosexuality and bisexuality are major sins, and ‘choices.’ If you discover when you are a teenager, that you are gay or bi or transgender, you feel a big feeling of shame — and then you try to hide, and step into the closet, where you can remain for years.
Some people can’t step out until after they loose their faith. Another reason is because so many religious leaders preach homophobia and do everything they can to block GLBT rights, such as gay marriage and other equal protections under the law. They seem to somehow think that equal rights will lead to total decadence (like it has in Europe, oh wait, it hasn’t!) Others are just tired of the hypocrisy — for example the Catholic church (especially this latest pope) routinely preaches against GLBT people — yet it’s a not very well kept secret that there are many closeted homo[sexuals] and bisexual priests, as well as nuns, who also have been blamed for the pedophilia scandal. It’s somehow their fault that the church seems to have a hard time protecting children and prosecuting those that would harm them. This is true in many other religions as well.
How do those who manage to stay religious do it?
In my experience, they either go to religions that don’t have a problem with non-straight sexuality, such as Unitarians and Buddhists, or they form their own congregations and churches that are GLBT friendly, and throw out the homophobic parts of their religions. This is true for allies as well; I’ve met many straight people with GLBT friends who are liberally religious who just disregard [with] part of their religion. In some cases, certain sects of religions do evolve to accept GLBT people, as in Reform Judaism.
I think though, one of the main reasons is how many GLBT people are personally affected. Not that long ago, someone I dated and I broke up, and one of the main reasons was thate she feeling conflicted between her religion and her sexuality, she felt that “God did not approve of the relationship”. I asked her if she planned to stop being bi, and her response was “no, I can’t stop being it, but I can stop acting on it”. Oh, brother. This is something people in the GLBT community often hear-both from conflicted people they date and from many religions — “well, maybe science says this how you are born, but you don’t have to act on it, because it’s a sin.” I admit that part really doesn’t make sense to me. I can understand, even though I don’t agree with, right wing people who say it’s a choice, at least then it becomes a “sinful choice”, like lying or a lot of the other “no-no’s” in several of the major religions. What is hard to get is the faction of the religious population that believes you are born gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, yet insist you don’t act on it. Why would an all powerful and loving God make you one way, and then want you to be the complete opposite of who he (or she!) made you, cut off a part of yourself, and make yourself and possibly many other people miserable?
Bisexuality itself, presents another conundrum for the whole issue — it’s been used by both sides both to prove same-sex attraction is a choice and to prove it isn’t. It drives me nuts when I hear some religious leader say “if you like both sexes, it’s a choice, and you should only act on one”. And unfortunately, some gay and lesbian people sometimes believe that too, and then say bisexuality doesn’t exist because otherwise it would mean homosexuality is a choice. Neither is true!
It’s my hope that eventually the right wing religious groups can live and let live. I am seeing a bit more tolerance, so that is hopeful, and more laws being passed to protect GLBT people. I think a good way to help start the process is if, you are a parent — don’t expose your kids to homo, bi and transphobia in the name of religion. Teaching about God’s love is one thing-but please, leave the ancient ideas in the past, where they belong, and hopefully this can add to breaking the cycle of self-hate and coming out that many GLBT people experience. Maybe one day, the GLBT community and the religious communities can coexist more peacefully. Now that’s something I could definitely pray for.