Because of the film Pray Away, I get emails or messages over social media from people at various places in their journey regarding the pain they have suffered due to religious stigma against LGBTQ+ people. For example, yesterday, I got a heartbreaking message from a person of faith (not a Christian) whose family has shunned them. After watching Pray Away, he reached out, and I am so glad he did. Here is part of my conversation with him (edited for context and grammar):
I am very sorry for all the pain you have gone through. I am glad you know who you are and hope that your family and community will come around to support all of who you are. Just remember, the LGBTQ+ community is here for you with support and resources.
In my situation, my closest family members are my chosen family. As for God, I agree with your (spiritual leader) saying to hold onto your faith if you so desire. Not being (of the same faith tradition), I don’t think anyone loses their connection with God because He is the author of every breath. God loves His creation, His children. A good father never abandons his children. And, being gay is not something that would even come close to challenging that. Be encouraged (my friend). You are brave and strong. You did the right thing by being honest with your family. Hopefully, someday they will come around to realizing your courage and embracing you for who you truly are and not who they want you to be.
This person’s faith is known to be very sensitive to referring to God as Father so that is why I stayed with the masculine pronouns. I don’t believe it is out of line to do so even though I believe our Creator, The Divine, transcends gender and is non-binary. Male and Female are but two mirrors in a universe full of reflections of God’s Image.
In the United States, we (white, privileged, Christians) tend to get myopic and only talk about how western Christianity has facilitated the abuse of conversion therapy. We do not highlight how religious stigma (in many faiths) harms and destroys LGBTQ+ lives every day. For example, in some Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries, the only reason they don’t have conversion therapy is that they murder LGBTQ+ people if they come out or are “caught” being themselves.
The conservative Jewish community in the states is just as difficult and politically conditioned and the Christian religious right. In addition, the Black, Latinx, and other communities have various forms of religious and cultural bias against LGBTQ+ people that need to be confronted and corrected with love and truth.
I am so glad Pray Away has been and is streaming internationally, and I pray it will continue to reach those who feel shunned and isolated regardless of religion (or no religion) and circumstance.