LGBTQ+ Oppression: Oh Let Me Count the Ways

I can’t believe I have to do this, but over the course of the past year (you know, while surviving a pandemic), I’ve had a number of straight friends/family ask, “How is the LGBTQ+ community oppressed in the United States?” And there’s always a tone with this question. It’s RARELY asked with genuine curiosity (because if there was genuine curiosity, they would do research and educate themselves and quickly learn there’s a lot of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the United States in spite of legislation). It’s ask with accusation.

The conversation has really come to a head in conversations around race. In fact, I recently saw a TikTok video where a black man said, “Being Gay Is A Choice. Being Black Isn’t. So Stop Comparing LGBTQ+ to BLM.”

Let’s put all the cards out on the table.

I was raised in a white, middle-class, conservative, Christian, evangelical family, which basically means I got all the privilege as a white man, minus the part about my sexuality and also means that my family likes to pretend white privilege doesn’t exist. So I spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate them about white supremacy because I do believe silence is violence.

But in these hard, needed, critical conversations about privilege and oppression, the topic always eventually comes up about my own identity, an identity that includes one place of oppression — me being gay.

I will own my privilege as a white cis man. I don’t have to worry about how me arguing with the police can result in me being shot at and killed. I don’t have to worry about gripping my keys in white knuckles as I walk to my car in the middle of the night. I don’t have to worry about meeting up with someone on a date, and that person reacting violently when I share my gender.

I carry a lot of privilege. This piece is not meant to say, “I’m hurting just as much as my BIPOC friends, my women friends, my trans friends. This isn’t a game of “who has the worst oppression.” My gaol is to simply explain that just because LGBTQ+ U.S. Americans got marriage rights in 2015, doesn’t mean oppression stops — the same way that desegregation of schools didn’t stop oppression of BIPOC people in the public school system.

Below you will first find stats, data, and stories from other people who have recently experienced oppression for being LGBTQ+. Then I will share elements of my own story and how I have experienced oppression as a gay man.

Oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the United States:

  1. LGB youth are five times as likely to commit suicide in comparison to their straight peers.
  2. Forty percent of trans people attempt suicide.
  3. If a person who is gay or lesbian comes from a religious background, they are more likely than their non-religious queer peers to attempt suicide.
  4. Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth are forced from their homes after coming out.
  5. LGBTQ+ people are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than their straight peers — of those that are homeless in the U.S. 40 percent are LGBTQ+.
  6. Thirty-six percent of LGBT people do not reveal who their partners are in the workplace for fear of people’s reactions.
  7. Sixty-six percent of trans individuals experience sexual assault in their life that is often coupled with physical violence.
  8. Trans individuals are banned from the U.S. military, a strategy that is labeled as not discriminatory because trans people are not “mentally stable” for service and cause an unnecessary “financial burden.”
  9. Hate crimes, murder, and violence against queer people continue to occur in spite of hate-crime legislation.
  10. Even though the FDA has recently changed its position on gay and bisexual men from giving blood, gay and bisexual are still banned from donating if they are sexually active, regardless of if they are monogamous or not.
  11. In spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2020, religious organizations can still fire someone for being LGBTQ+ due to protections under religious liberty.
  12. Depending on what state an LGBTQ+ person lives in, they can be discriminated against and barred from adoption.
  13. LGBTQ+ people are viewed as sexual deviants and child molesters when a recent study showed all offenders were either straight (the majority) or bisexual (severe minority).

The list could continue, but I think you get the point.

LGBTQ+ people are still marginalized and discriminated against for something they cannot change. But these are not just data points. Behind each percentage and case are real people — people experiencing oppression on a daily occurrence.

To get an understanding of how this may play out, here are some pieces of my story — pieces that if I were straight, I wouldn’t experience.

Moments of oppression I have experienced as a gay man:

  1. When I was outed by my parents, I seriously considered suicide and was threatened with being ousted out of my parent’s home at the age of 16.
  2. Before coming out, I knew I would lose a career I had been working on since I was 16 — ministry. I left youth pastoring and missions work and needed to start over at the age of 25. I’m now graduating college at the age of 31 because I had to find a new career and education that would support that.
  3. The majority of my support system was found in the evangelical world. I went to Bible school, worked with churches, did YWAM. After coming out, I had to rebuild my support system. I couldn’t go to my parents about my relationship problems — they would be silent. I couldn’t go to most of my old friends — they would say I would need to repent to be saved. I was alone.
  4. As a gay person, I always have to monitor my behavior. Growing up, I couldn’t “look gay” for fear of being bullied. When in a relationship, my boyfriend and I couldn’t kiss, hold hands or even sit to close to each other for fear of ridicule. One time, when walking down the street, not even holding hands, we were called “Faggots!” for walking too close to each other.
  5. I have to reconsider my entire wedding. My parents will likely not be attending. Most of my friends who I grew up with will not attend as well for fear of “endorsing my sin.” If they do come, I have to wonder if they ACTUALLY support me. For example: if I have a marriage problem down the road and I come to them for help, will they actually fight for my marriage? Or will they secretly be hoping I’ll divorce my partner to save my soul?
  6. I must monitor/research my travel. I love traveling, but there are certain countries I simply should not go to for fear of my life. There are even certain parts of the U.S. I wouldn’t travel to with a future partner for fear of my safety.
  7. I have to be mindful of where I receive health care because I’ve been shamed for being gay and I have been more knowledgable than my provider about resources for my wellbeing as a queer person.
  8. While working for a Christian software company (yes… they exist…), I had to hide my sexual identity for fear of how my boss would react or how people would interpret me. And while I can’t confirm this suspicion, straight peers were able to support their spouse and kids while working at this company, when my salary would not be able to do that. I couldn’t even buy a home on that salary, let alone provide for dependents. Even though I was the highest producer on my team, I was receiving one of the lowest salaries.
  9. As a future English teacher, I have to be mindful about which district I choose because I have friends who have faced discrimination for their sexual orientation. Most of my friends who are educators are forced back into the closet, whether explicitly or implicitly for fear of how parents or faculty would respond.
  10. Because I’m gay, I’m viewed as a sexual deviant. I have multiple friends who were serving in youth ministry or working with kids who were called pedophiles and told to die by parents (yes, you read that right) because there is a false misconception that LGBTQ+ people are all child rapists when most child molesters are actually rarely gay. In fact, in this study, none of the sexual offenders were gay.
  11. I have to hide my romantic life. Period. The other day I mentioned a cute boy to my parents. My dad left the room, and my mom deterred me, rather than getting excited with me (which I know she would with a girl because she had in the past). One time I got into an all-out screaming match with a friend because I made a comment about not being attracted to women.
  12. I will never be able to have my own kids. This one is kind of a given, but it’s something that people forget. I will never have a mini-Brandon running around that is also the DNA of my partner without a TON of money and nerve-wracking science. So the solution to having kids is adoption. But if I do decide to adopt, I have a sinking terror that my children will be bullied or that they will be broken in some way because they don’t have a mom and dad (compliments of the rhetoric of my parents and upbringing in the church), even though the data out there doesn’t support this belief.
  13. No matter how much work I do on myself — no matter how much therapy, no matter how much social advocacy, no matter how much theological research — people will always think my soul is tainted and that I’m going to hell. And this is probably the one that hurts the most because this transcends my physical experience — this touches my eternity, my inherent value. It touches the very substance of who I am am as a human, a substance God calls REALLY GOOD, and twists that narrative to call me evil, twisted, perverted, wrong. From the same voices that tearfully sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” come the voices of “love the sinner; hate the sin;” voices that bar me from grace and love. That’s the one that stings the most. I could take the harassment, the barring from adoption and job opportunities, even the opportunity to marry, if I knew my spiritual family — a family who proclaims love — would love and support me in spite of what the world says. The shame here is that the “world” has been doing a better job of loving than the church has, and it’s pushing queer people and allies alike from her arms — arms that should be embracing and holding and proclaiming the Father’s eternal love over His beloved children, queer and straight alike. Those are the arms that I wish most would hold me close, but instead turn me away, and that is the greatest oppression I have ever felt.

How Can I be Gay and Christian — A Look into My Methodology

In recent news, there’s been a convergence of two major groups: Christians and the LGBTQ+ population, two groups that are normally at odds with one another. These animosities are beginning to reach a boiling point as more and more entities are choosing to create space for both identities, challenging the conception that they are incongruent.

An openly gay Christian man is hoping to become the Democratic party’s presidential candidate for 2020; a gay Christian dating app is hitting the market this year; and some Methodist churches are fighting against a recent vote within their denomination, a vote which labels homosexuality as a sin.

As I share these stories, I know there are individuals and communities alike who are angry. The reason I know this is because I’ve experienced it. As I came out as a gay Christian, friends threatened hell, parents left the room, and strangers blasted me about how I’m not actually a Christian. Even with the launch of this post, comments have soared on social media with people arguing vehemently their point and how they’re right.

When Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay Christian man, announced his intention to run for president, crowds screamed “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and major Christian figures like Franklin Graham demanded his repentance. Side note: why hasn’t Graham demanded repentance from other presidential candidates for fraud, embezzlement, infidelity, lying, or pride? I digress.

It’s as if the words “queer” and “Christian” are combustible, but instead of a chemical reaction, there’s an explosion of emotion and opinion.

But why? Why the knee-jerk anger, especially from a people whom Jesus said are supposed to be known by their love? Why is it that I’ve seen multiple YouTube videos of Christian parents throwing out their gay children, while I’ve never seen a Christian parent throw a coming out party for their child? Why is it that, according to San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, highly religious homes are far more likely to kick their kid out for being gay than non-religious parents?

One reason: the Bible, more specifically, how Christians relate to the Bible.

I was defined by being an Evangelical Christian. That identity permeated every moment of my life. At a very young age, I remember coloring in the pews as my dad played the drums and my mom led the Children’s Ministry.  As I grew up, I started volunteering with children and youth at a very early age. I was at church at least three times a week. But I was just getting warmed up. Following my high school graduation, I attended a Christian leadership academy, became a youth pastor, served as a missionary in Europe, and led worship at multiple churches. All of my immediate friends and family were and are Christian. But when those closest to me were confronted with my existence as a gay, Christian man, the majority felt torn, torn between obeying a book or loving me.

“Brandon, I’m trying to love you and your brother,” my mother said through tears, months after my younger brother came out, “but I’m caught between obeying the Bible or loving my son. It’s so hard!”

Without this book, my mom would have no problem loving her sons. Without this book, my friends would not be apprehensive about standing with me on my wedding day. Without this book, people wouldn’t feel pulled in two directions, unable to decide, and scared to form an opinion.

What does this mean? Is the Bible a bunch of garbage written by European men to manipulate and control the populace? Some would argue this opinion. But that is not what I am arguing.

As I said above, I’m a gay Christian man, and many would challenge my existence, claiming those two identities cannot cohabitate one body. But my argument is that they can. My argument is that Christians have been relating to the Bible poorly and that there is a relationship we can have to scripture that allows mothers to love their kids and sanctions peers to stand by their gay friend’s side as they declare their vows. And just as many of my opponents would start with scripture, asking me, “But what about Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the two verses in Leviticus? What about Romans one?” (As if they are the first person to introduce me to these scriptures, which I’ve been aware of for the majority of my life because they directly affect me.) That’s where I would like to start — scripture.

There are six verses in the Bible concerning homosexuality. Six. For comparison, according to Blue Letter Bible, there are 16 passages on divorce, 62 verses about pride, and 111 verses concerning money.

For those of us who are gay and Christian, we call these six passages, the “clobber” passages because most Christians use these verses to clobber us. Regarding these verses, many publications and organizations, such as The Reformation Project, QCF, Unclobbered, God and the Gay Christian, Torn, Bible Gender Sexuality, Changing Our Minds (to list a few), all talk about how these verses are contextual and are actually not talking about homosexuality how we think of it today. They are either talking about idol worship that included using boys for prostitution, pedophilia, or a lack of hospitality to the foreigner. They were not talking about loving, committed gay relationships.

But people would argue, “You can’t read into this. You have to take the Bible for face value. It says what it says.” If that is the case, women should be silent in church (I Corinthians 14:34). If that is the case, we should not allow divorce on any grounds but infidelity (Matthew 19:9). If that is the case, we shouldn’t have tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), we shouldn’t eat meat with blood in it (Acts 15:20), we should yield to corrupt government (Romans 13:1-7), and we should cut off body parts when they cause us to sin (Matthew 5:29).

My list could continue for far more than a paragraph, but I think you get it. What’s my point? My point is that we contextualize all the time.

How is it fair to contextualize certain parts of the Bible and then not others? We have to look at what was applicable for ancient Israel or the early church and translate it for those of us who live in a modern world. Scripture cannot stay locked in a cultural vacuum, and I’m not just saying this because it benefits me. I’m saying it because it’s exactly what the early church did in Acts.

In Acts 15, there’s massive dissension concerning Gentiles (non-Jews) who are being baptized. Many are saying that they should be circumcised and follow the Jewish law in its entirety, a list of over 600 commandments, including two of our “clobber” verses about homosexuality.

In the end, it is determined by the 12 apostles that the Gentiles shouldn’t be forced to obey the law. They scrap it altogether. Instead, they gave them four rules: don’t eat meat offered to idols, don’t consume blood, abstain from sexual immorality, and don’t eat meat that was strangled.

In one meeting, the whole law is ruled inappropriate to a different culture and new instructions are given to non-Jews. Why? Who gave the apostles the right to change the rules?

Jesus.

“Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” Matthew 16:19.

So where’s the law? Should we just scrap all forms of morality under the grace of Jesus Christ?

No. Instead, Jesus gave us a new law. Well, two, actually.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” John 13:34.

Not some of the law. All of it.

The apostles gave instructions that would help the Gentile believers serve God, to help them obey the first law. They did this from a place of love, obeying the second law. They were obeying the teachings of Christ.

In spite of the six verses in the Bible about homosexuality, Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality once during his time on Earth. Instead, he talks about love — about loving your God, about loving your neighbor, and about people knowing you’re one of his disciples because of your love.

Can we say that this is true? Do people call Christians “the most loving people”? Are we known by this today? No, instead we’re known as judgmental and ignorant and hypocritical, picketing queer political candidates and abortion clinics.

Is this love? Or have we done what early enemies of the church did — reimplementing the law out of fear?

As a gay Christian, I know I can exist and hold to my faith because, one, there are contexts to the verses we use to batter LGBTQ+ people that need to be considered, and two, Jesus’s commandment to me was not to be straight. His commandment to me was to love my God and to love people, that’s exactly what I intend to do.