How to Reconcile Your Religion With Your Sexuality

There’s a huge misconception that you can’t be both religious and queer—that all religions are against LGBTQ+ people, period. So what happens if you’re raised in a religious or spiritual family and you believe in those values, but then come to terms with the fact that you’re queer?

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: of course you can be religious and queer. It may be a difficult road, depending on the belief system you were raised in, but you just need to follow your heart and do what’s right for you.

Can I be both religious and queer?

Many LGBTQ+-identified people have a moment of realization after they come to terms with their queer identity, and wonder, “Can I still belong to my religion? Does my religion believe that my sexuality is inherently wrong?” It’s normal to have these questions, especially if the belief system you were raised in teaches that same-sex relationships and non-normative gender identities are wrong.

It’s perfectly healthy to take some time to reconsider your beliefs, and decide whether or not you want to stick with the religion you were raised in. It’s also completely possible to stay in the same church and practice the same beliefs if that’s what feels right for you.

Alyse Knorr, an editor for The Parents Project, attended a non-denominational church while she was growing up in Georgia. “I thought my church was the way all churches were,” she says. “I felt kind of alienated. I thought there was no room for gay people at all in Christianity.”

It's easy to feel that way at first, but even if your church isn't accepting, there are others that are. “I definitely consider myself a gay Christian and I've reclaimed that label,” Knorr says. She started attending an all-queer Bible study, and also went to the Metropolitan Community Church in Fairfield, Virginia, where LGBTQ+ identities were more than welcome. She says the church stayed away from gendered language, such as referring to God as a man, and allowed all families to come and feel welcome.

Dana Piccoli, a pop culture critic and entertainment writer for AfterEllen, also agrees that if queer people want to remain in touch with religious beliefs but don’t feel welcome at their current church, they can always seek out inclusive communities. “Do some research and you will find queer-friendly churches, synagogues, mosques and temples,” Piccoli suggests. “Finding like-minded people of faith is another way to experience your spirituality.”

If you’re interested in finding more inclusive ways of thinking about religion, you can start by reading some feminist Bible companions, or Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers. You can also use to find an LGBTQ+-inclusive church in your local area and attend a service to see if you like it.

It can be very hard to break down what you’ve been taught about religion, especially if you grew up within a church system that was unaccepting of queer people. It can feel as though your entire world has changed—and in many ways, it has, but not necessarily in a bad way. “Feeling like I literally had no one I could turn to, not to mention I was going to burn alive in the pits of hell, was such an inner battle,” explains Erin Faith Wilson, a writer for The Advocate, about her experience coming to terms with her sexuality.

If you've grown up with these beliefs and these are beliefs that a majority of your religious community shares, this can make the process of coming to terms with yourself even harder. Heather Hogan, the senior editor at Autostraddle, says that it can be a daunting task because you’re reconsidering beliefs that you may have held your entire life. “I think people, for the most part, are scared to start unraveling what they've been taught, religion-wise,” Hogan says. “If your religious leaders believe so strongly and they're so wrong, what else are they wrong about? What can you even believe? It can lead to a real crisis of faith.”

The important thing to remember is that you’re not wrong for existing and being queer. As confusing as it can be to reconsider what you know about your religious beliefs and the spiritual community you’re a part of, you’re also very brave for being true to yourself.

Do I have to leave my religion or spirituality behind now?

If you realize that your church doesn’t support queer identities, you might feel uncomfortable attending services and community events. You might not feel wanted or accepted. But there are ways to manage being in situations where LGBTQ+ identities aren’t accepted—and if church is important to you, it’s definitely possible to continue attending even if your church doesn’t accept your sexuality or gender identity.

It can be hard to put yourself in situations where you know others are opposed to your sexuality, so it can help to be prepared first. If you can't seek out an accepting ally to come with you for the situation, you can mentally prepare by talking to positive allies before going in alone. Hogan says, “I think you have to mentally counteract that by also surrounding yourself with knowledge and people who know the truth and can reaffirm to you what's real, even if the only safe space for you to do that is online.”

Online communities can be a safe haven for queer people who are faced with the daunting task of surrounding themselves with an unaccepting environment. You can meet other people who are going through the same experience as you are, even if you can’t find someone in that situation in person. You could join The Gay Christian Network, the Jewish LGBT Network, the Imaan (Muslim LGBTQ+ support group), the Gay Buddhist Sangha, or search online for forums that cater to your specific faith. 

If you're having trouble finding a queer-friendly forum aimed at your religion, or you'd rather just join an overall LGBTQ+ safe space, you can seek out a general LGBTQ+ forum aimed at people similar to you and then start a thread about religion. There's the Empty Closets forum, the Queer Youth Network forum, the LGBT Community Forum, and many others. 

Alice*, a junior at DePaul University who is a lesbian, says that she doesn’t feel uncomfortable at her Catholic school or church. “Going to the church the school is affiliated with feels just as comfortable as walking around the school: open, accepting and welcoming,” she says.

Just because a church or community is religious doesn’t necessarily mean that queer people aren’t accepted. It’s worth asking around to see how your identity would be received before making the decision about staying with the church or seeking out alternative religious communities.

Can I come out to my religious community?

If you know that members of your faith, including family and friends, believe that same-sex marriage and non-normative gender identities are a sin, it can be a struggle to come out to them. Ultimately, it’s your decision whether or not to come out, and how to do it. “You have to sort of gauge what's true for you,” says Lianna Carrera, a lesbian comedian from Los Angeles.

Carrera suggests listening to those in your life who may not be supportive, in the same way you’d want them to listen to you. It can be a struggle, because your first response may be, “But they don’t accept me! I don’t want to understand why they feel that way.” But it’s a two-way street, and in order to get acceptance and understanding, you should also be willing to give it.

“Try to get to a point where you're not learning on the defense,” Carrera says. You might be racking your brain for things to say when an unaccepting community member tells you that queer identities are wrong, but Carrera says you should resist this urge. Instead of fighting back, she suggests responding to their prideful remarks with peace and silence.

If you’re planning to come out, you can also consider setting people up for how to react. Knorr explains it this way: if you sit your family down and tell them with a grave tone that you’ve got something to tell them that they’re not going to like, you’re setting them up to feel that way.

Instead, you might try an opposite approach. Before you come out, tell the person that you’ve got something personal you’d like to tell them, and that you trust them and really want to share this. Still, "you have to manage your expectations," Knorr warns. "You have to be open and prepared for anything."

This might even mean that people you expect to react badly might not. Hogan suggests giving the person you’re coming out to a chance to react on their own before assuming the worst. “Honor them by giving them the intellectual and emotional benefit of the doubt, and give them a chance to love the truth," Hogan says.

Although this doesn't guarantee that the person you're coming out to will react the way you want them to, it does keep you from over-thinking the situation and getting anxious before you've even given them the opportunity to accept you.

Can I keep people in my life who don’t accept my identity?

The short answer: absolutely. While this is definitely a personal decision, and it's based on so many complicated factors, it is possible to keep those in your life who don't accept your sexuality—especially family members. You have to keep in mind other factors when making this decision. You might ask yourself, "Does this person love me, but just doesn't accept LGBTQ+ identities? Is there a way that I can be comfortable with the fact that they don't accept this part of me, but still love me? Will they be respectful about the fact that I'm queer and not make me feel ashamed and afraid?"

It's really important to consider whether or not the relationship with this person will become toxic because of your identity. Some people who are against queer identities will make you feel as though you don't deserve the same equal rights and respect as others, and that's not okay. The bottom line is that if someone isn't treating you fairly, you deserve to speak your mind and leave behind that relationship if you need to.

However, most LGBTQ+-identified people have at least one person in their life who isn’t 100 percent on board with queer identities. Sometimes this person is older or has a strong faith-based belief system that doesn't support queer identities. Although it can feel extremely personal and upsetting at first to realize that someone you care about doesn't accept queer identities, you might not want to lose them completely. If it's the only way to stay in one another's live, it’s perfectly fine to have mutual respect about the fact that you disagree. 

“I don't care what they think about it—I'm living my life and they're living theirs,” says Knorr about her family members who don’t agree with her sexuality. “You can't control what they're going to think, but you can expect them to treat you with respect, and dignity and love.”

As long as the people in your life aren’t treating you badly, it’s okay to disagree on the subject of queer identities. “I still love them and respect their opinions, just as they have loved me and respected me,” says Wilson about her unaccepting relatives. “Do I wish they were supportive of me? Of course! But if I carry around the hate that they encourage, I am no better than they are.”

Just because someone isn’t originally accepting also doesn’t mean they won’t come around. There are there people who never reach a point of accepting LGBTQ+ family members, but so many people also find a way to unlearn what they’ve been taught about queer identities, and come to accept and understand.

“Truth shines really brightly,” Carerra says. “Truth attracts people. It might be a slow battle, but it'll attract them back into your life eventually.”

It can be hard taking what you’ve known your entire life and rethinking it, but you’re not alone; Queer people have been attending church services and practicing religion for all of history. Try to seek out like-minded people, online or in person, to connect with in case you’re faced with situations where you’re in an uninclusive community. Most importantly, make decisions that feel right for you. If you’re not in a religious community that makes you feel safe and comfortable, you have the option of taking time to yourself to figure out what it is you want from your spirituality and then seeking that. It’s your decision, and only you know what will make you happy.