On June 30, people across various faiths and identities will come together to celebrate and encourage the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth, regardless of whether they’re religious or not. It’s a day during Pride Month that almost seems contradictory, given the long history of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in traditional religions — to join in prayer for the LGBTQ youth who consider suicide each year in the U.S.
It’s important to acknowledge that religious LGBTQ youth in particular are suffering. Queer youth experience higher rates of suicide attempts compared to queer youth who have no religious affiliation and heterosexual youth.
Beloved Arise is the first national organization dedicated to encouraging LGBTQ youth to embrace both their identity and their faith. It comprises a multi-faith community that has built a support network for queer youth, especially those who feel marginalized by their own faith communities.
Some mainstream religious groups have a history of using anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in their practices and excluding LGBTQ people from religious spaces. While some of those anti-LGBTQ dogmas are evolving in various religions, GLAAD reported that there’s a disproportionate number of religious voices that oppose equality, which can sometimes obscure the idea that religious belief and the LGBTQ community cannot coexist.
“Anti-LGBTQ activists are not the majority of religious Americans,” GLAAD wrote. “Anti-LGBTQ activists often claim to be representing the only religious or Christian view, while working to exclude religious voices that are in favor of LGBTQ inclusion.”
Sid High, a 19-year-old from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told In The Know that when he came out around the same time as he started to form a connection to Christianity. He said he felt his LGBTQ community looked down on him for being Christian and his Christian community looked down on him for being LGBTQ.
“It was definitely hard, especially when I was in my freshman year of high school,” he said. “There weren’t really any local resources for queer Christians when it comes down to it, unfortunately. Specifically in Iowa, a lot of my community — specifically those who are under the age of 18 — are getting targeted.”
Cedar Rapids happens to be one of 120 cities in the U.S. to score a perfect score on the Municipal Equality Index. A 2021 report found, however, that Iowa hate crimes spiked during COVID.
Studies have found that some LGBTQ young adults who continue practicing religion have had to deal with the hatred fomented by extremist religious figures and have reported a higher incidence of suicidal ideation.
But the issue isn’t so black and white; another study found that LGTBQ adults who left their religion because of conflicts over their sexuality reported higher odds of attempting suicide. For example, many people who left their religion felt like they had lost a major support system, according to the report.
Unlike High, 17-year-old Roswell Grey grew up religious. They attended Mormon schools and Mormon churches and even looked at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) website when they started to question their sexuality.
“It was called ‘Mormon and Gay,'” Grey recalled about the website section they came across. “It showed me that you can be LDS or Mormon and queer at the same time.”
Grey also acknowledged the LDS belief that acting upon same-sex feelings is a sin. But in their experience, their church community has continued to welcome them as an active, bisexual member.
“My bishop has been really, really supportive,” they explained. “There’s a lot of queer youth in my area and my bishop has been really supportive of that. But I know in some areas that isn’t the case.”
Grey lives in Sherman, Texas, which has made strides in recent years to embrace the LGBTQ community. In May, Grayson County, which includes the town of Sherman, announced that its Pride celebration would feature “family-friendly” drag shows in opposition to the Texas House passing a bill that many believed “criminalized” drag performances.
The Trevor Project, another LGBTQ-focused organization dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth, reported in 2022 that one in five LGTBQ adults between the ages of 18 and 29 in the U.S. said that religion and spirituality are important to them. The same report found that younger LGBTQ youth had higher rates of prioritizing religion and spirituality in their lives — with Native and Indigenous LGBTQ youth reporting the highest rates.
Sabrina Hodak, 20, like Grey, also had a comprehensive religious background, in her case, Jewish. She grew up in a religious neighborhood and home environment and attended a Jewish school. When she was 17, she began to struggle with her sexual identity and debated about continuing to participate in her Jewish youth group.
“I had several conversations with my mentors from my Jewish youth group and it was interesting because I felt like in some ways I wanted to defy them,” she said. “They were essentially saying you have to choose between [queerness and religion] because they’re contradictory ideas.”
It was online that Hodak found an entire community dedicated to queer Jewish youth.
“Online spaces were a bigger resource to me,” she explained. “[In my youth group] I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of straight, cis-gendered religious people. … They just weren’t really educated.”
Now Hodak tries to leverage her Instagram to bridge the gap between faith and queerness. She uses her platform to push back against the idea that people have to choose between the two.
“I was able to feel more like I was supported and connected to both identities,” Hodak added. “There’s so much out there to connect people to each other and also help some connect to themselves.”
When Jacob Feldon came out in seventh grade, he described his parents as “wholly unfazed.” What shocked them was when he decided to pursue a more traditional form of Judaism.
“I think religion and the LGBTQ community can really be pushed to the side as very opposing identities,” he said. “I was not interested in compromising either part of my life — I found a calling to faith and religious practice. But I also had my values, I knew what I believed.”
The various strains within Orthodox Judaism have different attitudes towards the LGBTQ community, in accordance with different interpretations of the Torah. But as with Grey’s situation with their bishop, there are definite signs of acceptance. For example, the Human Rights Campaign reported that in 2010 more than 150 Orthodox rabbis signed a declaration saying they’d welcome LGBTQ Jews into the community.
At only 18 years old, Feldon is trying to foster the intersection between identity and faith, and has organized a study group for queer Jewish youth.
“If I wasn’t religious, it’d be a lot less stressful,” he said. “But I’d also be a whole lot less fulfilled.”
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