Each community has its own taboos, practices and interests that people don’t always discuss openly, and for some it’s sharing that they are both gay and religious.
As the executive director for the MEGA Family Project, Kathy Kelly is one of the most well-known names amongst Georgia’s gays with kids set. She’s helped couples adopt children, conceive them, and talked people through the thorny issues of gay parenting in the Deep South — but one thing she doesn’t often share is her faith.
“I find that I’m somewhat closeted when I’m out in the community… it’s not something that I bring up or find the need to talk about it. Even though faith is a very important thing in my life I don’t talk about it,” Kelly said. “I think that faith in the gay community is like being bisexual — people don’t like to talk about it because it’s not politically correct.”
Faith & Religion: Coming out of the religion closet
A member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church, Kelly was raised in a religious family and wants to instill her children with her faith. But she has been careful about sharing it in public.
“I just think it’s interesting that faith is something that we have to hide in our community, and keep on the down low as it were. I just think that’s an interesting experience and a very unfortunate one,” she said.
Charone Pagett of Atlanta started a group called Queer &Atheist of America. She’s found that being openly atheist often conflicts with both church-going gays and those who express a less organized faith.
“I find the community is wrapped in silence. I find that even if folks feel the same way they don’t say anything. It’s a weird, eerie sort of silence,” Pagett said. “It’s like having to really read through what the silence it.
“I find that a lot of people are agnostic, or a lot of people believe in a lot of non-traditional, non organized religion, and they may be put off by the word atheist,” she said.
Changing churches ‘from the inside’
There is a subculture of gay men who work as musical directors, choir leaders and organists across Atlanta’s churches. Often their orientation is an open secret, but an increasing number like Jeffrey McIntyre don’t hide anything. McIntyre is the founder and a former artistic director of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus.
“I’ve been fired from a church job before for being gay, and that was the only job that I omitted the Gay Men’s Chorus from my resume,” McIntyre said.
Currently McIntyre plays the organ for a Catholic church in metro Atlanta, a fact that doesn’t sit well with a number of gays. The Roman Catholic Church has taken a hard line against gay issues and has been criticized for seemingly blaming gay priests for an ongoing pedophile scandal.
“Sometimes it’s awkward, but more likely it’s people who have strongly held beliefs about the positions the Universal Church has taken on various issues, and they want to hear my side of why I could work for the church, and it’s usually with some sort of horror, like how can you work there,” McIntyre said.
“From my side, it is that when I was younger I spent a lot of time trying to change things from the steps outside of these organizations, but there are people like me who are changing them from the inside,” he continued.
McIntyre has found a congregation that welcomes him despite the views of the Vatican, a thread that’s common among gays who still count themselves as faithful. Scott Lutton of Snellville grew up in the conservative Pentecostal Church and still identifies that way.
“My Christian family is more accepting of my sexuality than my gay friends are of my Christianity, if that makes any sense. I’m very upfront and very honest about. I came out when I was 16, I was very active in the church,” Lutton said.
Instead of being castigated for being gay, Lutton said his church embraced him, while he hasn’t found that acceptance in the gay community.
“I don’t go out that much anymore due to my past addictions I’ll say, and I’ve found it very hard to find a very supportive gay, I don’t want to say community, but group, that will accept me for who I am and will continue hang out with me,” he said.
“I firmly believe that we’re not a gay community,” Lutton added. “My definition of community is one that supports people regardless of what they do and I don’t see that happening in the gay community.”
‘A loving God’
Opponents of LGBT equality often use religious arguments, and religious organizations — whether advocacy groups like the American Family Association or religious denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Mormons and the Roman Catholic Church — are on the frontlines of fighting against LGBT rights. That can lead some LGBT people to assume that all religions are hostile, and that all LGBT people who grew up religious must have been hurt in some way.
While conservative theology creates a sense of internalized homophobia in some, others walk away unscathed. Both Lutton and Kelly grew up in conservative churches, but came away whole.
“My church has embraced me from the beginning, from the very beginning, I guess its not your average Pentecostal church, they’re a little more liberal,” Lutton said.
As a child Kelly said she developed her own image of God.
“I grew up in a large conservative church in Florida, but I don’t know, I didn’t take away anything negative from that,” Kelly said. “I sort of came to my own beliefs, like I believed in a loving God, and so I didn’t think that God was the sort of person who would send you to hell for being who you were.”