I have a lot I want to say to you both. For a number of reasons, I’m choosing to say them to you publicly. First and foremost, I want to say that I’m sorry. I'm sorry for leaving the online LGBT alumni community out of anger and frustration. I'm sorry for unfriending you. Anger in itself isn’t wrong or bad, but giving up on you and the community was a mistake. You've not been perfect (no one is!), but you've been authentic and you've shown grace ever since I've known you. You've been honest and you've done your best to listen, learn, facilitate, and lead. I was wrong, and I hope that you will consider allowing me to come back to the online community.
Since this is a public letter of apology, let me provide some details. D. and A. are current, active members of an LGBT alumni group for a liberal arts Baptist university in the Midwest. (D. is also a founding member of the group.) I don’t remember exactly how I found the group—perhaps I was on a Google binge—but I remember being surprised to see the name of my conservative Christian alma mater and the LGBT acronym in the same description.
I entered the site and found many personal stories of men and women who struggled with their sexuality and faith. Each story had similar themes of doubt, struggle, and shame; but each story was unique. Some fully embraced their Christian faith; some had rejected it completely. All of them shared openly about their struggle and wanted readers to know that they weren't alone in their struggle.
Browsing through the site, I found an address for the group and composed an email. I wrote how thankful I was to find the site, and shared a bit of my own struggle. The next morning I received a reply from D., who encouraged me to write my own story for the site and invited me into the community on Facebook. I accepted the invitation and was connected to the group of people who had shared their stories online, along with others who were also graduates and a few more who were current students at the university.
The group had two primary goals. One goal was to provide a safe space for LGBT alumni (and allies) to connect. The other goal was to reach out to the university and nearby community to create a dialogue around LGBT issues. It was the first experience I had with LGBT-affirming believers reaching out to other believers. I thought that this outreach was (a) extremely courageous and (b) extremely hopeless. Remembering the voices from my past about the "abomination of homosexuality," I had no interest in going anywhere NEAR non-affirming Christians. The stories of attempted outreach that D. and A. would share in the group sounded horrible to me, but they saw progress and hope. I was too blinded by my own hurt to see what good it would do. What I didn't realize was that the outreach efforts weren't necessarily meant to change minds. They went in order to reach LGBT youth who are inundated with messages of shame about their sexuality and/or gender. It was important to become visible, to make their voices heard to those who were hurting, suffering, or even considering suicide. To reach those who feel there is no hope and no alternative. All these efforts were being done before gay bullying and suicide were being reported in mainstream newscasts. D., A., and others were reaching out before Dan Savage started the "It Gets Better" campaign. These people were literally doing the work of Christ.
As D. and A. (and other members) continued to reach out to the university, the online community itself (on Facebook) was active and engaging. My favorite part of being in the community was the camaraderie and support from others who knew what it was like to struggle with the shame and fear of being gay while growing up evangelical or fundamentalist. There were those who shared their excitement with finding a new love, and those who shared the heartbreak of a relationship ended. Often the community was the only place some of us had to share these stories. There were those who asked for prayer because they were ready to come out to family members. When they did come out, most (unfortunately) dealt with rejection, anger, and even disgust. A few did experience family members willing to give grace, and we celebrated those occasions.
Here was also a place for us to feel safe enough to lash out at God; sometimes we lashed out at each other, too. There were heated discussions, arguments, and a few grudges. There were antagonists, peacemakers, theology students, atheists, moms and dads, and snarky hipsters. We were a group of people broken, hurting, and healing. This group encouraged me and challenged me to be authentic. Authenticity may come easily to some, but those who grew up surrounded by a conservative evangelical environment know how difficult it is to actually "be yourself." It was a necessary part of my journey to experience the feelings that I had suppressed for so long. Many of these feelings, particularly anger, were finding an outlet within this group.
At a particularly dark point in my journey—a time when I wanted nothing to do with God (or god or higher power or whoever the hell he or she or it was)—I lost my temper and wrote something particularly mean-spirited toward someone in the group who had irritated me. Very soon after that, A. wrote me an email, asking that instead of using the public forum to curse the guy out, I needed to email the guy personally and hash it out. I read that email in a state of fragile defensiveness. My reaction was one of intense anger. I had been judged! I was being shamed for expressing my feelings! This is just like being in church!
Of course, he had done nothing of the kind. As a facilitator, he was doing his best to help create a safe place for everyone, not just me. He thought it was more appropriate for me to say these things in a personal email, not in front of the whole group. Even if I disagreed with him, he wasn’t shaming me. He wrote his feelings to me in an email. And he didn’t threaten to expel me, either. He just told me what he thought.
But I was having none of that. In my anger, I promptly replied to A.’s email and copied D. as well. I’ll show them. I told them to take down my story from the public website. After I clicked Send, I unfriended both D. and A., and removed myself from the Facebook group.
D. replied quickly and asked me to reconsider. He asked if he could please keep my story up on the website, and if we could still be Facebook friends. I told him that he could keep the story up, but that was it. I never contacted him or A. again. That was over a year ago.
Today, I’m writing this letter to both D. and A., and sharing it on my blog as part of my confession and part of my story. Why publicly?
- I want people to know the great work they are doing.
- I want each reader to know that if you, too, find yourself on a similar journey--a journey where you are leaving shame and fear behind--you are going to experience some dark places. Anger is going to be a reality, and sometimes you may find yourself using it against the people who most want to help and support you.
Update: Well that was fast: apology accepted! So glad to be a part of the group again!