Several weeks ago I found myself sitting on my couch, overcome with emotions, riding through a low I had not experienced since I was eighteen. There was a difference this time, though: an amazing feeling that would take me not to an emergency room to be woken by a yelling doctor but to a series of wonderful experiences (including the chance to speak personally with a Bishop). The difference was my overwhelming need to write.
You see, I had just ended a relationship that absolutely took my breath away. The sort where catching your breath forces you to look at everything about yourself. I needed to express my struggles with being gay and with trying to have a relationship with God.
What was to be a private journal to myself turned into a letter to Pope Francis. Once I had put my thoughts down I found myself mailing it to the Vatican. I thought this was for my own internal cleansing, but as soon as I put the letter in the mail I realized I wasn’t done. I thought, I need to send this to all Cardinals that have shown compassion toward gays and lesbians. I translated the letter into Spanish, Portuguese, Indian, Arabic, Italian, German, Dutch: basically every language spoken by cardinals and bishops across the world. Then I emailed my letter everywhere.
I didn’t think anything would come of it. Days went by and I heard nothing. But on the third day I started to receive replies: emails, calls and letters from Bishops and Archbishops around the USA. The correspondence was so kind and loving and compassionate that I wanted to share some of the responses (these are excerpts):
“I believe it helps to know that we have a very compassionate and loving God who does not judge or distance himself from us. In fact, as I often say, when God looks at Jesus at least twice in the Gospel, God say, “this is my beloved – in whom I am well pleased.” When God states this, I believe God is saying this about each of us.” US Bishop
“Please know that you can be a disciple of the Lord Jesus and there is a definite place for you in the heart of Christ.” US Bishop
“Please know that I have read your letter with deep respect and reverence. Thank you for allowing me to share in your journey as well as in the pain in which you have experience in your life at times. I also respect and appreciate the struggle with faith that you have had because of the issues that you raise in your letter.” US Archbishop
“I believe you will be blessed more than you know for trying to help people.” US Bishop
“I hope you know God loves you very much.” US Bishop
“The origins of homosexuality are a mystery. We know so little about human sexuality, don’t we?” US Bishop
“I promise to remember you in prayer. If there is anything that I can personally can do to be of support to you or through any of our ministries in the archdiocese we stand ready to do so.” US Archbishop
“Though the origins of same-sex attraction can be complex, the Church welcomes all efforts by clergy and psychologists to shed light on the subject.” Archbishop’s Assistant.
“We reach out to you without judgment, but with the care of Christ and the care spoken about by Pope Francis.” US Archbishop
The support was amazing. I was welcomed to come and worship at different Archdioceses. In one email that was so kind, a Bishop offered to personally counsel me. Without thinking I responded:
Thank you for your kind words. I admire you and your commitment to God.
Thank you for the offer for spiritual counseling, but that’s not what I’m trying to do with these emails and letters to every bishop and cardinal here in the US and internationally. I’m trying to help gay and lesbian youth from committing suicides because they are told the way they love someone is, “intrinsically evil.” I understand the churches stance on gay marriage and I get where the church is coming from. I’m not trying to change church teaching, nor would I try to prove your beliefs wrong. I’m trying to save the youth that is sitting in front of a mirror with a gun to his/her head because they don’t fit in the churches they were raised in and it had nothing to do with them doing anything wrong, just because they were born gay.
I’m just trying to find that one person who is strong enough to say, “Hey why don’t we start a dialog with gay and lesbians and try to understand these enormous suicide rates among gay and lesbian youths, maybe we are off the mark calling gays and lesbians intrinsically evil for loving someone. Thanks for listening and I hope you have a wonderful evening,
When I hit send, even after all the positive responses I had already received, I was convinced that this particular communication would be over. To my surprise, while I was still sitting at my computer, I received another message from Bishop Hying:
“Thank you for your desire to help others who are in profound pain. We all need to be doing more than we are to reach out to anyone who feels marginalized. How would you see such a dialogue take place?”
At that point my eyes probably looked like they were going to pop out of my head. Holy canoli, I thought, a Catholic Bishop is asking me how we start a dialogue about gays and lesbians being marginalized. What in the heck have I gotten myself into? It wasn’t long until my phone rang and it was the Bishop.
I admitted to him that I didn’t know what I was trying to accomplish, but it became clear as the conversation progressed. I started by stating honestly that I respected his commitment to God, and I reiterated that I was not going to try and change his beliefs about Catholic doctrine, nor was I going to tell him he was wrong. I only wanted to start a dialogue that could help save lives.
I spoke about studies that indicated gay and lesbian youth were four times more likely to kill themselves than straight youth. I explained that I did not believe the Catholic Church understood how many gay and lesbian youths were killing themselves because of the views of people in the Church. I told Bishop Hying that I knew this was not what was intended, and that if the Church understood the reality that they would try and change this.
Then I told him about another time I had ended a relationship. I was 18, and I had just broken up with my first love. In the course of that experience, my grandfather found out I was gay and disowned me. My mother found out as well and refused to talk to me. My father stopped taking my calls. Everyone in the school knew I was gay and all I heard was, “Kellie’s too pretty to be gay–what a waste. And she’s going to hell.” I sat in a college dorm room with one week to go before summer, no money and no home to go to. So I went to 6 different pharmacies and purchased twelve bottles of sleeping pills. As I poured the pills into my hand I said to myself, “I’m going to hell anyway and God doesn’t love me.” The next thing I remembered was a doctor lifting me off the hospital bed, yelling, “Who are you to decide when you die kid? That’s not your choice, it’s God’s.”
Looking back on that experience, I said to the Bishop, I realized I didn’t have my legs. I was not old enough to be able to reason with myself and figure out what path in life I wanted to take. I discovered that I just want to figure out a way to help gay and lesbian kids get their legs so that they can get to the other side — so that instead of ending their future, they can decide it with life experience.
After my 30 minute rant the bishop understood where I was coming from. He realized we had more to do, and asked me where he could start. I asked him to pass the letter along to Cardinal Dolan. He assured me he would do everything he could and praised me for moving forward with this.
I’m so impressed with the response of the Catholic Church, and I wish that every gay and lesbian person could have this same experience. I commend the care, the love, and the concern I have found in every conversation as a result of that initial email I sent out.
Below is the full original letter. I also started a petition to open dialogue about this topic, and if you feel compelled you can sign the petition here.
Dear Pope Francis,
Please read with love, you have no idea how many lives and souls you can save if you read this with openness.
I’m confused and I’ve been my most of my life. I have always felt a pull to God even though I was raised in a home without a Christian upbringing; I always longed to find God. I also have always thought of this pull as a calling or something I was supposed to do regarding God. This pull has always been there even as a child. I tried to find God in my adult life, but I’ve always been pulled down by people always telling me that I cannot be a Christian. This comes from straight people and even gay people. I have heard over and over again, “you can’t be a Christian, you are a lesbian Kellie and gay people are either agnostics or atheists. I’ve battled such rhetoric for years, but at 40 I feel like they have won. I’ve lost my faith in God and I have finally given in as if to say, “Ok everyone you have won, the lesbian is broken, I am agnostic / atheist. I don’t believe.” I have seen many gay people take their lives because of this. In fact the suicide prevention resource center synthesized a study that estimates between 30%-40% of LGBT youth have attempted suicide. This has been linked to minority stress which is interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Minority stress makes an individual vulnerable to different conditions such as a higher rate of cancer, heart disease, suicide and major depression. I believe in my heart this has to do with the fact that once you come out you are bombarded with religion telling you, “It’s a sin, it’s a sin,” and thus pulling people away from God to just wander through this world.
Why the sudden change? Not long ago I fell in love with a woman and she fell in love with me as well. She was very religious and spoke about God and his love so beautifully. Before I knew it our long talks turned into something more. She had lived a straight life her whole life and always wondered why she was always living in, “slow misery,” as she called it. When we realized what happened I asked her to pray and make sure she was one with God about us. She prayed constantly for weeks and I left her alone so she was able to focus. After weeks of praying she became calm with her feelings and at one with God and our love. She felt as if we were both Christian and could help other gay and lesbians find God. As our relationship progressed and people found out she was bombarded with, “these feelings you are having are from the devil, it’s a sin and you will go to hell. If you are gay you just need to live straight and it’s your burden to bear.” I saw her go from such a light shining on her to torn down and broken. I pushed her back to her straight life and moved away from her to help her and every two or three months I get a call or text message saying, “I love you, I can’t live without you, God can’t want me to live like this.” Followed up a day or two later with, “I can’t make it right with Catholicism and I don’t have the strength. This experience has taken its toll on me and my belief in God. I don’t have the strength to live a pretend life married to a man and or to be alone. I just don’t have the strength and in turn it curses me to an eternity to hell.”
This has broken me, is this is how God wants people to live? In misery? I’m trying to be as honest as I can be. I used to try to be nice to everyone and help when asked, to try not to lie and live the way that Jesus would want. Now I drink and smoke all the time, while driving by churches I flip them off and curse them. I tell my 3 children that they only have themselves to believe in and I was wrong about God. I just do not want my children — God forbid one is gay — to have to live with the burden that I have lived through. I would cut off all my limbs if it would ensure that none of my kids are gay. But, if they are I don’t want them to carry the burden that they will go to hell for loving someone. So it feels like the best choice. I don’t want my children to hurt because of religion.
So your recent interview where you said, “Who am I to judge,” regarding gay priests brought me such joy and comfort. This comfort didn’t last long as I read the entire interview. You basically said, “It’s okay to be gay, but not to act on it.” This leaves me so confused and lost again. So God makes people gay, but wants them to live alone and take on this burden? I just don’t think human beings are supposed to be alone. Everyone needs someone to create a life with, to laugh and cry with, someone to navigate the hills and valleys, someone to lie next to as you sleep, someone that has your back, someone to love. Not many people are given the ability to live celibate.
I’ve spent my life open to everyone around me and I have always been open to the opinions of all people and due to this I believe I have changes hearts. I tried not to be a gay person that is in people’s faces, but rather an open gay person that is approachable and willing to listen. For example, my sister married an extremely homophobic man and when my sister told me this, she thought I was going to cut her out of my life. I of course did not. Instead I opened my arms and heart to her husband and listened to his views without judgment. Because of this he is one of my favorite people and I love him dearly. Over the years he has changed and is no longer homophobic and understands that, “it’s just love.”
I feel like a fraud now because I’ve lost my faith, really lost faith. I lost my enthusiasm, my passion, my light and I feel like just walking through this life, raising my kids until my inevitable eternal life in hell. This probably reflects million of homosexuals. You once said that Christians are supposed to be joyful. I don’t want to be gay as most don’t want to be gay. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for God to make me straight, but to no avail. You have such a kind heart and I wish you would start a true dialog with gay and lesbians. To have an open heart and understand the struggle. Maybe you can save gay people in the process?
The reason I’m writing is because I want to start to help gay and lesbian youth. I always felt it was to bring them to Christ, but now I can’t. I don’t believe and as I sat in front of my computer where I was starting a blog to help people I realized I can’t help people, I’m lost. At that moment I was compelled to write you and pled with your grace and love to open a dialog with gays. Let them know they are loved, they are allowed to be Christian, let them have a place to worship God without worrying about getting kicked out because they “look” gay. Tell them they are loved, wanted and needed in our society. To support love between two people that commit to a monogamous relationship. Tell them they deserve love and we are accepted in our society. Tell them to come out of the closet and celebrate the differences among all God’s people. Tell them, tell them. I don’t have it in me to tell anyone this again.
Another reason why I am writing is to help you understand that there are so many beautiful gay and lesbian people that could bring people to Christ. I often think about where Christ would be on this situation and many months ago I was at a gay and lesbian function and as I looked around I saw so many people that didn’t fit into our society.
I of course saw gay men and gay women, some were people that would fit into society and no one would know they were gay unless they told. Some were flamboyant men and very masculine women. But as I looked closer I saw people in wheel chairs that were welcomed with open arms, I had a man pass me that looked homeless and I watch him as he took a chair. When he did the server came to take his order without any judgment and declined because it was obvious he didn’t have any money to purchase a dinner. When a woman saw this she walked over to his table and said, “Hello there welcome, I’d like to buy your dinner,” and she did.
I saw men dressed as women that looked so out of place even at this function and they were not sitting alone and were not embarrassed, rather smiling and soaking up the little time that they are not judged in our society for being obviously different. I saw straight couples smiling and laughing with everyone.
I saw love and acceptance and then the thought came into my mind, “where would Jesus want to dine on this night?” I then imagined on the other side of town the rich socialites and I remembered a night when I had dinner in this area with all straight rich, and I hate to say it very religious people. No one knew I was gay and in the middle of dinner the homophobic sneers started as a gay man walked by. I won’t tell you the details but it was heart breaking to hear. I didn’t want to offend them and blurt out, “hey guys I’m gay,” so I kept quiet and wept inside. Once that memory came to me as I was at the gay/lesbian function I thought, “Jesus would be here, with us, proud of our open hearts, non-judgment and love and acceptance toward all Gods people.”
Thanks for listening, Please do not reach out to me, I’m not worthy of starting this discussion, but I know many who are.