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Desiree Sansing in front of the GLSEN logo

Have you ever heard the phrase, pray the gay away? Well, that about sums up my entire religious experience as a teen. I grew up in church and loved God with all of my heart. I sang in my church choir, played clarinet in my church orchestra, and served in church mission trips. I even joined Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school and sang praise songs at our flag pole early in the morning while other students were arriving at school. I was a self-proclaimed “Jesus freak” until I was 17 years old when I started struggling with my sexuality.

Reconciling my faith and my attraction to the same sex was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I spent the better part of my college years forcing myself to have boyfriends I wasn’t really into, while praying to God to cast “the demon of homosexuality” out of my body. I stayed in the closet throughout my teenage and adolescent years because I was scared of religious-based organizations and therapists who believe they can change a person’s sexuality through a practice called conversion therapy. That kind of therapy is wrong and dangerous, and can lead to terrible things like depression and suicide. Even without this horrific practice, I was already depressed, because I didn’t know where I fit in or how I could belong.

Like many young people in the church, I was so deeply indoctrinated by my religious beliefs that I was fighting the very core of my humanity: the way I love. I now realize that praying the gay away is about as useless as praying for my brown eyes to turn green, or for a tornado to come and whisk me away to Oz. If only someone had told me then that I could reconcile my spirituality and my sexuality, that I could both believe in God and be gay, then maybe I wouldn’t have suffered so much.

When my church took a harsh stance against homosexuality, I was devastated. I thought God loved all people--but when my college youth group outed me, I had to leave. This led me to turn my back on my faith for a long time, because I felt that God didn’t love me, all because that church didn’t accept me. Looking back, I wish I didn’t let people get in between me and my relationship with my God, but I truly believed that I was an abomination and that I was choosing to live in sin. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of trying to change our sexuality, we need to re-examine how our sexuality fits within this beautiful and diverse world.

Because I am Christian, I wish someone told me about The Reformation Project or The Q Christian Fellowship. These organizations are working hard to spread the message that LGBTQ people should be fully included in the Christian Church.

In a world where religion is being used to perpetuate division and chaos among people, there are many religious and spiritual organizations, from all different faiths and backgrounds, that are fighting back and working hard to be better allies to their LGBTQ members.

If you’re Hindu, the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association is a nonprofit religious organization offering positive information and support to LGBTI Vaishnavas and Hindus, their friends, and other interested persons.

If you’re Muslim, there are groups out there like Muslims for Progressive Values that envision a future where Islam is understood as a source of dignity, justice, compassion and love for all humanity and the world.

If you’re Jewish, look into organizations like Keshet, a national organization that works to create full LGBTQ inclusion and equality in Jewish life.

If you’re Mormon, there is a group called Affirmation, which provides a loving, inclusive community for all LGBTQ/SSA people, and those who love them, regardless of how they identify in their sexual orientation, gender identity, or faith.

If you’re Christian, you can find an LGBTQ-affirming church near you or join Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay and Transgender Justice.

After ten years of struggling, I found a community of people who believe like I do and love like I do, too. I know who I am and what I believe, and I know that my God isn’t a God who rejects people.

If you do believe, no matter what religion or spirituality you subscribe to, one thing is for sure: your God, your Creator(s), The Divine, The Universe or whatever you call it, is bigger than our human understanding can ever comprehend. I believe you are beautifully and wonderfully made by your Creator(s) and he/she/they made you just as you are.

No one should have the right or the power to come between you and your faith, so if you’re struggling to walk the path between your spirituality and your sexuality, reach out to organizations and find those online communities who are working to be your ally. There are tons of books, Youtube channels, and people just like you in the world, who believe and love just like you do.

Desiree Sansing is a member of GLSEN’s Educator Advisory Council and currently teaches high school English in DC Public Schools, where she serves as an LGBTQ Liaison and GSA Sponsor.