I’ve been out as some form of not-heterosexual since I was 18. I’ve built my professional and personal life around affirming LGBTQ identity, finding joy in queer community and creating chosen family. In my adult life, my queerness has brought me closer to people with shared identities. It’s helped me connect with people who share my interests, my understanding of the world, my vision for family and future.
Except in one area: religion and spirituality
I was raised as a staunch Catholic in a small, conservative town off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I’ve been involved in some sort of social justice activism for the past decade, and I like to say that my activism was founded in the Catholic Church. Watching the priest interpret the readings into meaningful homilies every week was my inspiration for going into teaching, and resonates with me now when I give a keynote, training, or workshop: How will I take what I know, what resources we’ve read together, and help guide this conversation to benefit this group?
I also like to say, as with all of my past loves, that the Catholic Church lost a good one when they lost me. In my own coming out experiences, I quickly noticed a pattern. The people in my life who were more Catholic were having a much harder time accepting me than people who weren’t. Watching the realization of my queerness shove a wedge between me and people who I loved and depended on dearly, family who I’d known my entire life, was a really painful experience. I was hurt, and angry, and I turned that anger towards the Church. They were the ones telling my family and friends that there was something wrong with me. They were to blame.
I quickly went from being an altar server, eucharistic minister, lecturer, youth ministry leader, religious education teacher, and regular Sunday mass attendee to rejecting the entire institution of organized religion and everyone who still believed and followed in these traditions. I built myself new core principals, new community, new rituals and traditions. Pride became my holiday, Full moon ceremonies and reading new Chani horoscopes became my traditions.
It was easy to carry that anger and ride that division in my adult queer life, to fuel my disappointment and feelings of rejection as I learned more and more about institutional oppression. What I didn’t realize at the time, and what I am still wrestling with today, is all that I lost.
As a person of color and a first-generation American, I have roots in generational trauma and hardship that religion and belief have historically been used to address. As a queer person of color, I deserve every strategy and support available to my mental health that allows me to feel connected to a greater purpose and some type of higher power(s). As someone who was raised Catholic from a young age, my experiences and interpretation of the world and my presence in it in this lifetime have been irrevocably shaped, and I no longer see that as a hardship. It is a gift to be able to believe, and in my darkest, hardest, times, I have a tool that I can use to make it through.
As LGBTQ activists, educators, and advocates, we need to stop perpetuating the myth that there is an inherent division between LGBTQ people and religion/spirituality. Perpetuating this and highlighting disdain or stereotypes of religious people or people of faith only supports the message of the small percentage of people in this group who are driving anti-LGBTQ advocacy. There is work being done in every major organized religion to work on LGBTQ visibitliy, acceptance, and education. Yes, organized religions and the Catholic Church especially are institutions that are built on and reinforce white supremacy, patriarchy, and with it sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. So too, are our institutions of government, medicine, business, and education. Why then it is socially acceptable to participate in all of these systems, while fighting within them and advocating for change, except for religious institutions? What are we saying when we make that distinction between faith-based institutions and other institutions? Who are we benefiting and what are we losing?
As adult leaders in schools, I urge us to create supportive and affirming spaces where students can show up as their whole selves, including their religious background, regardless if they are also queer. LGBTQ youth need to know that they don’t need to throw away their community, their rituals, their families, and their belief systems in order to share realities about their sexuality or gender. This can be especially critical for queer youth of color who’s culture, family, and communities are often intrinsically and generationally linked to religion. Today my spirituality exists with a combination of beliefs that currently include astrology, tarot, Buddhist practices, connection to nature, understanding of the moon and its cycles, prayer and occasionally going to Church. If we want to serve queer youth, we need to give them the space to have their own spiritual journey, to develop and maintain the communities that they need, and stop giving them the messages that they have to lose their faith in order to gain acceptance.Becca Mui, she/her, is the Education Manager at GLSEN.