A few weeks ago a friend who is active in the local LGBT activist group called to ask me whether I would be willing to come as a guest speaker for a youth group composed of LGBT youth and their allies.
"Sure," I said. "What do you want me to talk about?"
"They want someone to talk to them about religion and spirituality," she said. This friend, by the way, knows about me, that I am a closeted lesbian. (Maybe that was self-evident, maybe not.)
About a day after I said yes, I contacted her by email. I asked, "How do I negotiate my being in/ out with these kids? I don't want to present them with an unhealthy role model."
She reassured me quickly that this group, of anyone, knows full well the complications/ implications of being in and out. She also reassured me that my choices are not "unhealthy" but simply my choices, and that the group has a strong understanding of confidentiality. So, ok. I went.
I met on a balmy Wednesday afternoon with about ten young people, all identifiying either as gay or transgender or both. There were also two adult mentors (my friend and another woman). I hadn't given a lot of thought to what I would say (because I was assured that they would have questions). To get us started I held up my bible and said, "So, what's a word or phrase that comes into your head when you see this book?"
A young man said, "Confused."
A young transman said, "Angry."
A young woman said, after a minute of body language that showed fairly significant distress, "Don't even get me started."
What followed was an hour and a half of some pretty hair-raising stories. Many of them were about ministers threatening kids that they had to come out to their parents immediately, that they were going to hell, that they were not loved by Jesus if they persisted in their "sin." Many of them were about kids deciding (correctly) that there was nothing for them in those churches. Many of them were about getting kicked out by parents, having plans for education derailed, getting jobs at fast food joints in order to pay rent on crappy apartments.
At a certain point I held up the bible again, and said, "I apologize to each of you, on behalf of the church, for the violence that has been done to you by the misuse of this book." I went on to tell them, possibly not very articulately, that when I read the gospels, and see who is in Jesus' entourage, and who Jesus chooses to be with, I see a great deal of hope in the bible. I see a God who is constantly siding with the underdog. I see a God who says, the crappier life treats you, the more beloved you are to me. But I also see a God who doesn't use platitudes to keep people down... in other words, it's not ok to be treated crappily because of some afterlife hope. I see a God who says "You.... yes, you... you are welcome at this table. You are welcome now, as you are."
I didn't say a lot of stuff that occurred to me later... stuff, for instance, on re-naming. Scripture is full of people whose names change when their relationship with God grows or deepens. With a room full of trans kids, that might be good to talk about. We'll do it next time.