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In 2011, my two best friends decided that they were going to take me to a Church Youth Group. I was desperate for somewhere to belong, and I already believed God, I'd read the bible, I was raised Catholic and, I had no reason not to believe in what I had been taught. I skipped merrily along with my friends.
At first, it was a happy, bright, accepting place. We were young, we played volleyball, and basketball, and my friends and I would help out the volunteer moms and teachers in the kitchen. We'd talk about God and it was always very positive. God was love back then. They told me that he loved me unconditionally, no matter what, and that he would always be my friend. For a little girl, who grew up Fat, Friendless and Fearful, being told that there was someone up in the sky who didn't care what I looked like, who knew my whole life story, who had a plan for me, and who would always love me... well that was just incredibly enticing.
They wanted to save me, my family didn't go to church, they believed in God and religion but they were black sheep, not traditional Christians. The people at this youth group fed me dinner, they prayed for my tests to go well and for my friends to stay safe. I loved to talk to this one lady in particular, she would paint my chewed up fingernails and listen to all of my problems, and we'd talk about God and love and how we wanted to help people.
I trusted every single person, I still sat alone most nights at dinner, I didn't talk to the other kids, I talked to the volunteers and the moms because I felt like they were listening.
There was a pastor there, he was big and imposing, and he talked about God as a life saver. And once, during a bible study, he was taking questions, and one of the older girls asked about her gay friend. She said that he loved God, and he was kind, and virtuous, and charitable, and he put others before himself in every circumstance. By all accounts, she said, her friend was the perfect Christian, why then, she asked, should he be condemned to Hell, for the simple matter of who he loved?
The pastor pursed his lips and read that bible verse that has been used to damn us so many times. Man shall not lie with man. That was the end of the story.
I didn't know, at that time, that I was gay. But I think that experience set off the first alarm bells in my head. Christians were not gay, gay people were going to hell.
I let myself believe that.
When I went to school, I did what the bible said, I preached, I wanted everyone to come to heaven with me and all the good Christian people.
I thought I was doing the right thing.
I told people at every opportunity there was. I cried when I found out that my beloved drama teacher was gay. It came up on the playground sometimes. Surprisingly, nobody punched me in the face, I wouldn't have blamed anybody if they had.
There was one girl, we were talking once, about how statistically, there must be at least a few gay people in our little 8th grade class. I said, if there were, that they could be saved, because all gay people were sinners. She looked very sad, and she said that if anyone in our class was gay, that people like me would make it very hard for them to be.
She has a girlfriend now.
To her, I am so sorry. I didn't know what I was doing at the time, I didn't know that I was building a wall between myself and my own sexuality by preaching bigotry. I didn't know that I was doing that at the expense of your comfort and self esteem, and maybe I'm being a bit presumptuous, assuming that you remember, that my words hurt you. But if you do remember, I'm sorry. I was young, I was scared, I felt different, I felt like I was hiding but I couldn't figure out why. I tried to protect myself, and in the process I hurt you and any other queer person in that classroom. And that was not okay.