- A new study explores the challenges and victories faced by LGBTQ + people in search of faith communities.
- The study describes the experiences of 30 people who eventually found their way to affirming communities.
- The study authors say that while the fear of rejection can be painful, there can be an equal amount of joy and healing when one finds one’s community.
As a former fundamentalist Christian, Dr Megan Gandy was aware of the research describing the benefits of faith communities for their members.
Additionally, she knew that few of the communities studied included LGBTQ + people and that there were studies documenting the negative impact these communities can have on LGBTQ + people. For Dr. Gandy, a lesbian, some important parts of the story were missing.
“I was interested,” said Dr Gandy, “to conduct peer-reviewed research that shed light on the healing story divide on how LGBTQ + people engaged in faith communities across the country. way that has benefited them ”.
The study she authored attempts to provide general and useful information – it does not attempt to document the personal experience of every LGBTQ + individual.
Dr. Gandy’s study describes the main challenge that people of the Christian faith who are members of LGBTQ + communities may face: the fear of rejection versus the joy of inclusion.
The research describes “how much psychological stress is involved in the fear of rejection for LGBTQ + people who choose to stay in faith communities,” said Dr Gandy, who also noted, however, that “the joy of l inclusion was one way to change that. stress, eliminate it and even cure it.
Dr Gandy and his colleagues collected the stories of 30 people associated with the association Christian community Q, an organization formerly known as the Gay Christian Network.
Although many of the stories ended well, participants encountered significant challenges along the way.
Dr Gandy is director of the Bachelor of Social Work program at West Virginia University School of Social Work in Morgantown. The study she wrote with Anthony Natale and Denise Levy appears in the newspaper Spirituality in clinical practice.
Medical News Today speak with Victoria Kirby York, Deputy Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition.
When someone tells their family that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual, the loss of their faith community may be just one side of a social explosion that also includes the loss of family and friends, ” and it’s really hard to mentally bounce back. and emotionally.
“This is partly why so many economic and health indicators for the [LGBTQ+] community are so much lower, “said Kirby York,” and even lower for those of us of color. “
“It really shakes your confidence,” they added, “because once you lose the support of the people who you think are always going to support you, it’s much harder to believe that strangers are going to support you.”
Some people interviewed for the study recall being concerned about the level of acceptance of their faith community. They said they were frequently questioned by other members and worried about being asked to leave or being publicly “exposed” and forced to find a new community.
Kirby York warned that there may be a difference between the attitudes of clergy and parishioners, as they themselves have experienced in a place of worship:
“You know, after about 6 months of visiting, I learned it only goes so deeply. I was not going to receive the painful messages from the pulpit, but I was not going to be fully welcome in church life.
According to Dr Gandy, fear of rejection “can have adverse effects on the physical and mental health of LGBTQ + people in the form of what is known as ‘minority stress’.
Given the diversity of people in LGBTQ + communities, these stresses can even occur in organizations that accept gay and lesbian members. This was the case for a priest who lost his post because his community had no policy regarding transgender or mixed leadership.
“Had she turned out to be gay or lesbian,” explained Dr Gandy, “she would have kept her job and most of the extreme hardships associated with unemployment that she has faced since would never have happened. “
Dr Gandy noted that this individual’s story “struck me as a punch because sexual minorities don’t often see themselves as privileged in the church, but compared to transgender and heterosexual people some apparently have more privileges than they. realize.”
Kirby York said MNT that they make it their duty to “make known to the greatest number” the communities that welcome all members of LGBTQ + communities.
Some people described starting or joining social media groups where they could discuss their faith with like-minded people.
As Dr Gandy explained to MNT, “The use of online spaces was an important aspect for many people who could not otherwise find a supportive community in their area. “
Fortunately, said Dr Gandy, participants interviewed for the study eventually found their communities asserting.
“LGBTQ + people who were fully included in their faith communities experienced a joy they didn’t know was possible. “
“It was part of the research that really lifted my spirits,” she recalls, “and it was even something that many participants wanted to share with other LGBTQ + people who weren’t involved. in a denominational community but who wanted to be. “
“They wanted to send the message that it is possible to find a home and a family in a faith community, even though you have experienced the rejection and shame of other faith communities. These words “home” and “family” were important in the stories told by the participants and were important to the depth of connection felt for these LGBTQ + people. “
– Dr Megan Gandy
While Kirby York said things have gotten easier over the past few years, they noted that for many older members of LGBTQ + communities, the road to acceptance has already been long and has taken its toll that never ends. are not easy to cure.
When MNT asked Dr Gandy how a person of LGBTQ + faith might find their community, she replied:
“I would suggest that people start by doing a web search engine for a community that asserts itself. Second, I would suggest to people […] look for a theology / belief statement that clarifies their position on LGBTQ + people, or an affirming statement. Third, people can always call or email a faith community office and ask questions they want to know, such as if the community has LGBTQ + worshipers, if they allow LGBTQ + people to take the Holy -Cene and if a community allows LGBTQ + people to take on leadership roles. “
Kirby York suggested that when evaluating a potential online community – they mentioned accueilresources.org – or in person, there are clues that reliably indicate a welcoming community.
These include the display of a rainbow symbol or flag and the use of certain phrases: “all are welcome”, “love is love” and “we all welcome. the children of God ”.
It’s also a good idea, suggested Kirby York, to study the programs they offer. “The thing that actually made me aware of the church that I am a member of now [was] […] they had a weekly bible study on human sexuality In the church, especially in a black church.