The practice of faith can be such an intimate experience. Being honest about who you are is important, especially among those with whom you worship. When you are a churchgoer who happens to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community, though, disclosure about your identity can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you have decided it's time to come out to your church leaders or some of its members, these tips can help make the conversation go more smoothly.
Self-disclosure begins with self-awareness. Before you share this part of yourself with others in the church, it's helpful to reflect on a few key questions that may come up in the conversation:
- How does your LGBTQIA+ identity intersect with your position as a believer?
- Why have you chosen to come out to them at this particular time?
- What are your boundaries for the discussion?
- What are the deal breakers that would prompt you to leave the church?
Understanding exactly where you stand increases the likelihood that you will communicate clearly with the leaders or members you choose to address. It also can protect you from any undue influence they may try to exert over you.
Know Your Church
Many denominations and congregations are committed not only to LGBTQIA+ inclusion but also affirmation. If this describes your church, you can reasonably expect that your coming out conversation will be mostly positive. Other churches, however, may be technically welcoming but not affirming, and still others may denounce any identity other than cisgender heterosexuality as sinful. If you don't know where your church falls on this spectrum, it may be helpful to read the bylaws on the website for the denomination or ask a trusted friend who has been a member for a long time. That way, you are better equipped to understand what you may be walking into when you broach the subject.
Clarify Your Intentions
Many people choose to come out simply because they want to be more honest with the people they love about who they are. If this is one of the reasons you are coming out to your church leadership, make it clear from the beginning. Starting the conversation from a place of love and caring can go a long way toward putting them at ease. Ideally, they will reciprocate, but if they don't, this red flag at least provides valuable information about whether this church is the right fit for you. If you know that the denomination is not affirming but that several leaders and members are, you may also want to appeal to them as allies. Whether your intention is simply to be open with them or to ask them to take certain steps to be more inclusive, communicate what you want clearly.
Be True to Yourself
No matter what happens during this conversation, keep in mind that the person to whom you owe the most loyalty is yourself. While you may decide to hear any concerns church leaders or members have, it's important to stand firm in who you are and not let anyone else dictate your identity for you. Coming out is a brave choice even when you expect the response to be positive, and you have a right to feel proud of yourself for your honesty. Consider telling a trusted friend who already knows your story what you are planning to do so that he or she can follow up with you after the conversation is over. It's always good to lean on your support system whether you do so in celebration or commiseration.
Coming out to people in your church may make you nervous, but you will probably be happy you took the risk. Even if they don't respond the way you want them to, there is still worth in sharing yourself with others when you're ready to do so.