"I first came out as a lesbian when I was 13. When I was 18, I went to my first gay pride parade. It was an incredible experience, witnessing the joy of people being themselves. That was in 1984. I have been to hundreds of pride parades and festivals since then and experienced that same joyful exuberance. But throughout the 80s and 90s that joy was always disrupted by the counter-protestors who made themselves impossible to ignore, holding up the bible, shouting anti-gay slurs, in some cases spitting at us, with police often having to hold them back. Sometimes these groups were small, sometimes they were a massive presence. Back then I was a member of the Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination founded by and for members of the LGBT community, and I was attending their bible study, but I wasn’t learning the same lessons these protestors were. I wanted to understand what they were learning that led them to such a different conclusion from our shared religion.
Then in 1997 when I was leaving the Denver gay pride festival, I was confronted by a man handing out anti-gay booklets to passersby. Usually when I was approached by an individual like this I would tell them to F off. But on this day, for some reason, I decided to engage him in conversation. He asked if I was worried about my eternal soul going to hell; I told him I didn’t believe in hell. He challenged me with bible verses, and I went back at him with other verses. At one point he let me know his sister was a lesbian, and I went all out to attack him with the shame I thought he deserved to feel for rejecting his own sister. He had nothing to say. He hung his head, turned and walked away. For a brief moment I felt victorious, like I had won a holy war, but that emotion gave way quickly to feeling like a bully. I recalled my own experiences being verbally attacked and walking away with that same feeling of defeat. I ran after him and apologized for being so cruel. I didn’t want to let the cruelty I experienced cause me to bring more cruelty into the world. I told him I would do more reading to better understand why Christians like him thought the way they did.
It took time, but some years later I went to seminary with that mission in mind. Following that interaction in Denver, I started going to all sorts of churches and events to learn and engage religious people in conversation: I spoke with Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Presbyterians, and members of other religions; Bahais, Zoroastrians, Hari Krishnas, Jains, Muslims, and Jews. And I haven’t stopped since; I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now.
After chatting with people, it usually become evident I was lesbian or transgender. Often that would prompt them to engage with me about the hostile views they felt their religion had of people like me. Which prompted me to ask questions. Sometimes they would stay hostile, but more often after showing them I was genuinely interested in what they thought, they would return that generosity by dropping their guard and showing interest in what I had to say, even if it came with the disclaimer that they “didn’t support the homosexual agenda.”
People would say things to me like “I had no idea there were homosexual people of faith,” and ask me about my church and what we believed. I would give people resources to learn more about Christian Churches with a more accepting attitude, and often invite them to come to my church with me. Some accepted my invitation. No one changes right away, but often I would run into these people again and they would tell me they’d taken the time to learn, and sometimes even changed to a more welcoming church. They seemed happier, or at least they were happy to share that information with me. When I was angry, I doubt I changed a single mind..." - Zander Keig