Skip to comments.Intersection of identities : LBGT community members merge spirituality, sexuality (Propaganda)
Posted on 05/16/2005 9:46:29 PM PDT by Dan from Michigan
Intersection of identities
LBGT community members merge spirituality, sexuality
By AMY DAVIS
The State News
Only two years ago, the thought of stepping into a church was enough to send Christopher Greene-Szmadzinski into a panic attack.
With a racing heart and clammy hands, he would often stand outside the church doors unable to breathe and unable to enter.
He said he experienced paralyzing fears that people, "acting in the name of God," would hate him because he is gay.
"It was horrible," the 2004 MSU graduate said. "That was not my idea of Christianity."
It was enough to make him lose faith in a religion that had been a part of his life since he was a child.
Greene-Szmadzinski, a 24-year-old Lansing resident, said he spent several years reclaiming his spirituality. His story is common among members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender, or LBGT, community. In fact, nearly 60 percent of gay people say they don't practice their faith or don't identify with a religion, according to the Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census.
Some homosexual students say they've disconnected with their faiths as a result of a lack of acceptance because of how they identify themselves and who they love. Others, who have reconciled the intersection of their sexuality and faith, said the road back to religion was difficult but was made easier through LBGT-friendly support groups and places of worship.
Question of acceptance
Among the world's major religions, denominations are re-evaluating their views on homosexuality, said Melissa Wilcox, a visiting assistant professor of religion at Whitman College in Washington.
In the 1960s, she said, mainstream culture in the United States shifted from viewing homosexuality with a medical to a moral lens. Today, she said, many religions support gay rights, but still others continue to differ on the Biblical passages used to condemn homosexual behavior.
"It varies immensely depending on religions and regions," Wilcox said. "Some people will come out in liberal religions, and sometimes they feel rejected by that organization."
Catholicism, she said, is one of the leading religions opposing homosexuality, which could be a reason for the sect's dwindling number of LBGT members.
In the survey, of the LBGT members who identified themselves as Catholic, only 29.5 percent said they actively practice their faith - the lowest percentage of all major world religions. Many LBGT members say they are discriminated against and labeled as sinners because the church only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman.
Diocese of Lansing spokesman Michael Diebold said the Catholic Church doesn't distinguish between homosexual activity and heterosexual activity - it's the sexual contact outside of the sacrament of marriage that is deemed sinful.
"A homosexual orientation is not sinful in and of itself," Diebold said. "We've been called as Catholics not to discriminate against anyone."
In addition, many members of the of the gay community are upset because Pope Benedict XVI, who was instated as pope last month, is known for his conservative views. In the past, the pontiff released several documents condemning homosexuality and same-sex families. These included a 1986 Vatican letter calling homosexuality "an intrinsic moral evil" and a 2003 battle plan guiding Catholic politicians to oppose gay marriage and adoptions.
Diebold said it's the pope's duty to carry out the teachings of the church.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the new pope, the old pope or any pope," he said. "We're talking about 2,000 years of church teachings and the expectation with any group or any particular pope that there will be wholesale change in church teaching - that wasn't going to happen in any case."
Triangle Foundation spokesman Sean Kosofsky said the church is losing followers within the LBGT community due to discrimination.
"Religious leaders have adopted this 'hear no evil, see no evil' mentality," Kosofsky said. "Essentially, what the church is saying is that if you're honest, you're not welcome here."
Don Stevens, who is a group coordinator of Courage, a spiritual support group for homosexuals within the Catholic Church, said the focus is not on change of orientation. He said it is the "change of one's spiritual life so that one's sexuality can better reflect an 'image of God,' rather than reflect one's concern about sexual orientation or sexual activity."
Greene-Szmadzinski winced when he pointed to an advertisement on the back of his church program to cure "homosexual tendencies" because he voluntarily sought a semester-long treatment when he was a freshman to "become heterosexual."
"I certainly didn't feel more connected with God," he said of the counseling, which he only halfheartedly attended. "It hurt my spirit more than it helped."
Greene-Szmadzinski said he's been able to find solace with others who have felt the same feelings of alienation from the church as he has. His boyfriend and MSU alumnus Daniel Stone said he has battled both the teachings of the church and his inner struggles with addictions to drugs and alcohol.
When Stone was a 16-year-old high school student struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, he believed that a "punishing God" would refuse acceptance of him because he is gay.
He said he was confused with his sexuality, and when he asked his mother for help, she told him, "We can fix it; we can fix you." Stone said his life spiraled downward during the six months he attended weekly therapy sessions to "correct" his homosexuality.
Stone said he felt like he had no one to turn to and relied on alcohol and drugs to mask his depression.
"I just assumed I'd be dead by 30," Stone said. "Religion and God had nothing to offer me."
It wasn't until Stone sought treatment in a 12-step program for his alcoholism that he found a "loving God."
"I became more at peace with myself and my relationship with God," said Stone, now a 39-year-old substance abuse program director.
Many members of the LBGT community say they have yet another battle they must overcome after coming to terms with their sexual identities - finding a place to worship with unconditional acceptance.
But this problem is not only an issue in th e Catholic faith. Many homosexuals say they are seeing the problem in almost every other religion.
Social science junior Lajoya Johnson left the Baptist church because she didn't think the members of the congregation accepted her and because her father was a pastor there.
"He's always had a problem with it," said Johnson, who no longer attends church.
Johnson said it's hard to be both a lesbian and a Christian.
"It's difficult for me, but that's who I am and I can't help it," she said. "I've been questioning myself a lot lately, but it's not something I'm going to change. It's not easy, but hey, life isn't easy."
Jewish transgender student Caiden Marcus said he is searching for a place to belong.
The communication junior said he's tried out several synagogues and LBGT groups but has yet to find a place where he feels comfortable. He said several conflicts arose when he identified himself as transgender.
"There are a lot of gender roles in Judaism, which is something I found to be problematic," Marcus said.
Lesléa Newman, speaker and author about the intersections of identities such as, "How Can You Be a Lesbian - You're Jewish!," said she went through a period in her life when she rebelled against both her religion and her sexuality.
"I was very young back then, and I was rebelling against everything," said Newman, who is Jewish. "Part of what I was doing was pushing everything known to me as far away as possible."
Michael Zimmerman, a rabbi at Kehillat Israel in Lansing, said there are different sects of Judaism, which have different opinions of homosexuality, and some are more accepting than others. He said stricter sects of Judaism condemn homosexuality. He cited Bible passages from Leviticus, which states, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
But some say that certain aspects of the Bible are outdated.
"The people in the church have a long way to go," Greene-Szmadzinski said. "They seem to be holding onto horse-and-buggy ideas."
Microbiology junior Caitlin Hansen said she found spiritual support and acceptance as a lesbian in an LBGT-affirming Episcopalian church.
Among the first non-family members she came out to was her openly gay priest.
"I was an emotional wreck," Hansen said. "He was one of the few people I felt comfortable talking to.
"He hugged me, and he laughed and he cried - he was there for me."
Carolyn Chial-Telder, president of PFLAG Lansing - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays - said a church congregation can choose to become LBGT affirming if its faith leaders go through a process of studying homosexuality. The Lansing area has about 10 LBGT-affirming congregations.
Rachel Alexander, an openly gay director of music at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, 855 Grove St., said there are advantages for LBGT community members to belong to a welcoming congregation.
"It means that there is very much a palpable sense that we are absolutely welcome," Alexander said. "It means that being open about being queer is completely welcome, and no one is going to get in trouble or kicked out or looked down upon."
A positive experience
Now, members of the religious and LBGT communities at MSU are beginning to bridge the two communities together with support groups.
Ron Elkus, director of the Hillel Student Jewish Center, said he felt like he had no one to talk to about being gay and Jewish when he went to college.
"Breaking down a large campus to a smaller niche helps people of faith come together for a positive coming-out experience," the MSU alumnus said.
In March, Hillel and the Office of LBGT Concerns partnered up to create a student focus group for students who were both Jewish and LBGT identified.
"It was time to reach out to a community on campus that we had not reached out to before," Hillel Director Cindy Hughey said.
Greene-Szmadzinski said he was able to overcome his fear of attending church through a weekly LBGT support group called One Spirit. The group, held at St. John Student Parish, 327 M.A.C. Ave., discusses Bible scripture and comforts students who are in the process of coming out to their families or religious congregations.
"Being lesbian or gay is not wrong," said Mike Liberato, the church's director of student faith formation. "They are beautiful people because they are God's creation."
Greene-Szmadzinski said it's been a difficult journey, but he's finally come to terms with the intersection of his sexuality and faith. He works as a sign language interpreter in his parish and said he hopes that others who have stories similar to his will find their way back to their faith.
"Some people are so deeply injured by their church, and that's sad to me," said Greene-Szmadzinski, as he sat on a wooden bench outside of his church after a Sunday mass. "I was really bitter for a long, long time, but I've reconnected with the spiritual nonviolence side of myself."
Wanting certain decisions to be acceptable in the Church doesn't make it so, and there's no exception in the Bible for homosexual acts.
Christ forgives all; murderer and saint alike.
"It was horrible," the 2004 MSU graduate said. "That was not my idea of Christianity."
Notice that this drama queen is just envisioning all this in his head? His idea of Christianity would probably be queer to you and me.