LGBTQ / all

Balancing Religion & Sexuality — I Am Who God Made Me

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In middle school, I was starting to discover who I was, and I didn’t know anything about sexuality. I fell in love with my best friend, but I didn’t know that being a lesbian was actually an option. No one ever told me what being gay was, much less that a girl could like another girl.

Z*, my friend who was raised Muslim, faced a similar problem. She attended Quran classes almost every Saturday in elementary and middle school, in which she learned to memorize verses of the holy book. However, lessons were restricted. “We had this anonymous question box, and one of my questions was about the LGBT community,” she said. “It got shut down quickly.” The Muslim community, in her experience, has not been supportive of queer people, and that is something she has struggled with.

Now, we both attend the same Catholic high school. High school was always intimidating to me, especially the one I go to, which is sizably larger than my middle school (which had a class of maybe 70). But it wasn’t just the size that worried me. For Z and me, the restrictive environment at school threatened to suppress what we were already unsure about — our sexuality.

Our school is relatively progressive. Last year, I led a school-sanctioned National School Walkout, which became a reverent time to remember the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. ther private schools might see that and scoff, even though it was respectful. But they still have a long way to go, especially to those of us who are minorities. That being said, I do understand that most of the administration does the best they can with what they’re given — they largely have to abide by the rules of the Catholic church.

However, that does not mean I won’t try and help my school become better.

In Catholicism, there’s something called Catholic Social Teaching — basically, a set of guidelines for how to live your ethically best life, and my school integrates these principles into the curriculum. Fundamentally, I don’t have an issue with it. Some teachings include caring for the poor, respecting the dignity of every human being, and protecting the earth, God’s creation, all of which I stand by. However, it gets tricky when it comes to the LGBTQ community.

A general Catholic belief is that homosexuality, or “homosexual desires,” is not a sin, but acting upon those desires is. So, in essence, you can be gay, but you can’t act on it. My school’s president is fairly accepting of our LGBTQ students — he’s all for us having meetings —we just can’t have an official club, because apparently gay people meeting is considered acting on our homosexuality, and therefore that cannot be allowed. Similarly, gay faculty members are hired, but they are not allowed to bring their partners to any school-sanctioned parties or meetings, all of which essentially sends the message: We know you exist; you just have to pretend you don’t.

So let me ask: How does pretending someone doesn’t exist respect their innate dignity?

Personally, I’m not Catholic (shocking, I know), but I am Christian. I’m relatively religious, too, on more of an individual level. I have preferred to build a personal relationship with God instead of attending weekly masses and just simply going through the motions. Even so, it can be hard to balance my religion and my sexuality, because I’ve basically been told since I came out that I’m going to hell because of who I love. In my opinion, that doesn’t exactly follow the Christian teaching that God loves and accepts everyone. That’s why I still accept religion and believe — because I know that my God is loving and compassionate, and He made me in His image. God made me who I am, and I am gay. Why would He create me to be someone He’s ashamed of? I am what God made me, and I’m proud of who I am.

Z, who was raised Muslim, says she has never felt a relationship with God. She now identifies as agnostic, which essentially means she neither believes nor disbelieves in God. She said she feels disconnected from Islam and religion as a whole. “I would say a lot of things, but I feel like if I start talking I’ll get really emotional,” she said when asked about Islam and sexuality. “I don’t think I will [come out] in the near future, because my parents are pretty homophobic. We never talk about it.”

She is from Bangladesh, where she said there is actually a third gender called Hijra — essentially, those who identify as transgender (or eunuchs or intersex). Z noted that this is a big issue in her community, as Hijra people are “pretty common but shunned from society” because of the strict Islamic culture.

I also asked what she would say to someone who is Muslim and also supportive of the LGBTQ community. Surprised, she said she feels that’s fairly uncommon and “if you are [supportive], you should be very vocal about your support.”

It’s similar with Catholics and even with some Christians — many are not vocal about their support, if they are supportive, so young LGBTQ people might feel isolated.

Z and I are both seniors, which means we have been at our high school for nearly four years and are ready to move on. We have both applied early decision (which is binding) to schools in New York, where the LGBTQ community is prominent and people are extremely accepting, and we are both ready to start this new chapter of our lives. My school has taught me many things, but I am ready to move on and out of the Southeast to a place where I can truly be myself — a Christian who loves girls.

I am who God made me, and I am good, no matter what anyone says. The journey to this point has been rocky, and I know it is not finished yet, but I’m prepared. I know I will persevere because God is on my side.

Eliza is a senior in high school who plans to major in journalism.

*Z’s name is withheld for privacy.

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