Coming Out of the Closet as a LGBTQ Advocate

This past weekend was the Atlanta Pride Festival, a weekend fashioned around advancing the unity, visibility, and self-esteem among the LGBTQ community in our city. And in case you don’t know what those letters stand for, they stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, and Queer.

LGBTQ Atlanta Pride Parade 2016The company that Merridith works for marches in the Atlanta Pride Parade each year, so I went with her. This year they created a float with Wussy, an online magazine that covers queer nightlife, art, and culture in Atlanta and the Southeast. It was vibrant, loud, and had two drag queens walking up and down a rainbow colored catwalk in a cloud of bubbles!

In a word: memorable.

But this weekend was also a wonderful opportunity for advocates and supporters of the LGBTQ community to come out and say, “Hey — we have your back!”

Clearly, I was one of them.

In fact, I’ve been a LGBTQ advocate for quite some time, I’ve just done a poor job of publicly coming out and saying it. And beyond that, I’ve done a poor job of demonstrating my support aside from the private conversations with friends.

But that’s going to change.

I want to share with you reasons why I’m a huge fan of this awesome community of people and how I intend to be a visible advocate from here forward.

I Got Bullied in Middle School for “Being Gay”

When I was in middle school, I was ruthlessly bullied. I was tall, lanky, punished by acne, and had a bowl cut (the very essence of all things awesome). I made straight A’s, played trombone in the band, and only had three friends.

Truthfully, I was prime bullying material.

In seventh grade in an attempt to ascend to a higher social status, I miraculously befriended two popular guys in my class. They took me under their wing and showed me the ways of strong, respected teenage heartthrobs. It lasted for about six months before everything changed.

I walked into school one day to a haze of rumors (the middle school version of “denied-truths”) that I was gay.

Long story short, these two “friends” of mine were the ones who initiated the rumors. They were merciless, vandalizing lockers, classroom tables, and destroying any inkling of a reputation I had with fictitious lies concerning my heart’s deepest desires.

 

I plunged into a deep depression inside and outside of school. I went from desiring a sense of belonging, to thinking I had one, to realizing it was all a hoax. I had no friends. I didn’t know who I was and I felt like I had no purpose in the world because I didn’t know how to identify myself or who to identify myself with.

What I learned from being bullied

It honestly took years to overcome those memories, but looking back, it produced more good than harm.

My experience in middle school helped me understand what members of the LGBTQ community spend their entire lives going through: merciless marginalization, expulsion from social groups, and the labeling as “other.”

It is a huge part of what fuels my heart for speaking out on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

My friends are LGBTQ

genderfluid flag lgbtq atlanta pride parade
Waving the Genderfluid flag at the 2016 Atlanta Pride Parade.

Another reason is that I have numerous friends who are gay, bi, or queer.

While I’ve only known some of them for a few short years, others I have known for a decade or more. And they are single-handedly some of the most genuine, infectious, and loving people I have ever met in my life!

For most of us, it’s easy for “social conversations” to remain fairly one-dimensional. We rarely have opportunities or relationships that make those discussions more relevant to our lives.

But when we step outside of our comfort zone and engage in conversations and relationships with persons who have these lived experiences, whether they’re LGBTQ, homeless, Muslim, or something else, it changes things for us.

I’m immensely grateful for my LGBTQ friends (and acquaintances!) who add so much value to my life. I love y’all!

My Christian faith demands I be an advocate

But another reason is my faith.

I know there are scores of Evangelical Christians out there who openly condemn members of the LGBTQ community, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m evangelical!

I’ve always had a hard time believing that God doesn’t love somebody because they’re gay. God “doesn’t love” doesn’t compute with 1 John 4:8.

One of my mentors and professors, David P. Gushee, is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ community. He says this isn’t about rightness, wrongness, or what have you, but that “this has everything to do with treating people the way Christ did.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking: Wait — what? Jesus is cool with this?!

No worries, I can (and will eventually) say more about the LGBTQ conversation as it relates to the church, but another time.

How I am going to advocate for the LGBTQ community

So I’ve *officially* come out of the closet as a LGBTQ advocate. Perhaps you have too or have been one for awhile. Either way, my announcement is long overdue.

If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, I want you to know what I’m committed to doing.

First, I will be a safe place. This means that you can come to me, confide in me, and find encouragement and support. I’m committed to celebrating everything about who you are and helping you find what you need to thrive.

Second, I will leverage my voice. I know what it’s like to have nobody come to your defense. I know what it’s like to be invisible. I know what it’s like to feel like no one speaks up in support of you. I’m committed to using my voice to defend you, honor you, and support you — even if I’m the only one in the room doing it!

Third, I will educate my community. This means I’m going to help walk my friends and family who don’t understand into understanding. I know this is a journey, not something that happens overnight. But I want to help my community and the church become advocates, safe places, and environments were you find affirmation, belonging, and life.

So that’s that, I guess. Now you all know. I’m a LGBTQ advocate.

I look forward to sharing more with you on my journey to becoming a more vocal advocate for this amazing group of people. Feel free to hit the comments with suggestions, encouragement, or words of solidarity.

Questions? Contact me.

MS

 

About Matthew Snyder

Matt is a thirty-something writer and young adult minister. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Merridith, and their dog, Finn.

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