Instead of Praying the Gay Away, Can We Just Celebrate Being Gay?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, all week long you've probably been seeing a million and one video responses to Andrew Caldwell, the young black man from last week's the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) convocation who announced on camera that he is "DELIVERT" from his homosexuality and that he will "love a womens." And while the video has understandably garnered a lot of hilarious laughs, jokes and video spoofs, including one hilarious R&B remix - Seriously, I can't even count how many times I've pressed repeat on that one - there is a deeper social matter to be discussed about the topic.

It's safe to say that most people have heard the phrase "pray the gay away," a phrase as old as time that promotes the idea that men and women of the gay and bisexual communities somehow chose to stray from the norm of heterosexuality and choose a deviant "other" sexuality.

And watching the original COGIC video with Caldwell, we see many in the congregation, including the pastor, praising Caldwell for "delivering" himself, sans the "t," from his sinful past of loving men. 

But seriously, in these modern times where we have countless personal accounts from the LGBT community, scientific support of diverse natural sexualities and growing public support for the LGBT community, why is it still hard to believe that homosexuality and bisexuality are natural yet so easy to believe that one can simply choose to be gay/bi and then the next day choose/pray it away. I's as though people see being gay or bi as if it's some easy tough greasy stain that's easy to catch but tough to get rid of without church shouts, some prayer, and maybe even exorcism.

More than a stain, it feels like homosexuality and bisexuality are treated as demonic.

So what does that do to person in the church when they're seen as the embodiment of hell's evil roaming the Earth? What kind of emotional demons are birthed inside of the person wanting to be accepted in their church and receive God's love but feel they are undeserving because they have a demon inside? What does it do to a community of people to feel that internal struggle inside to choose between loving themselves and living naturally or (attempting) to change themselves to be loved by others?

As the grandson of a pastor of my family's church, I was lucky enough not to be subjected to fire and brimstone sermons about the evils of homosexuality - or perhaps I missed it while I lay asleep on my mom's shoulder - but I remember the personal conversations held on those hallowed grounds in which homosexuality was mocked.

More than that, I remember the time when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and I asked my mom about homosexuality and hell. I remember my mom had just picked me up from school and driven us to the store up the hill, and as we sat together in her car, unbuckling our seatbelts to leave, I stopped my mom and asked her "Why do people say that gay people are going to hell?" Even at that age, I knew I was one of those gay people and I wanted her to reassure me that she didn't think anyone like me would go to such a horrible place. Sadly, without batting an eye, my mother simply responded "because they are."

For me, that one single response changed the nature of our relationship for the next 20 years, leaving me with the mentality that my own mother was my enemy. And it also led me to believe that anyone who was religious in my life would be left with a choice to either choose to love me or their religion. And in my mind, I figured they would always choose their religion. 

Because of that, I grew a strong sense of disbelief and disinterest in Christianity, as well as a strong sense of self-hate because I thought I was unworthy of being loved by my own loved ones. I never tried to be straight, but for years I never felt proud or comfortable about the idea of telling people the truth of my sexuality because I "knew" that, to them, who I was was something less than hum and not at all lovable.

It took me two decades to reconcile those feelings and come to my own conclusion that love, for me, must be unconditional and all accepting. Otherwise, I just don't want it, whether it be from friends, family or a god. 

But I understand that that's not everybody's thought or life experience, and I can't preach that my way of working things out would work for everyone. But what I will say is that there are clearly countless numbers of gay and bisexual people in religious communities who feel that same sense of self-hate, hurt and anger that I felt. 

I can only imagine what kind of identity struggles and crises that Caldwell must have gone through over the years trying reconcile his belief in Christianity and its doctrines with his need to love himself. And, though I may not like it and, like most people I don't believe him, I understand why Caldwell would want to claim straight and stop feeling the ridicule, the shame, and the pain of not being accepted by his own community.

I understand the feeling of just wanting to be loved, even if it's all a lie.

But with all that THAT experience encompasses, I wonder why people still think it's okay to promote the idea of praying the gay away? Why do people think it's okay to ridicule someone for being gay? Who do people think it's okay to tell someone that who they truly and naturally are is a problem and a sin?

If at the end of the day all straight people want to do is be loved by those around them and their gods, why is it so wrong for gay and bisexual people to want the same thing? Why must WE change ourselves to be happy and prosperous?

Why should we endure so much struggle and pain just for being born, or created by a god?

Can we gay and bisexual people just BE who we are and be loved and celebrated in our truth? Because it takes a lot to be us and it sure as hell seems to me that loving yourself and others is the most powerful and godly thing you can do.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK

Posted on November 16, 2014 and filed under religion and culture, race, sexuality, personal stories, LGBT, Identity, Homophobia.