I was reared in a home where a gay black man took the place of a father who used drugs, stole from us and found himself in prison. I didn’t know his sexuality until later. Once I had processed the importance of my upbringing, I realised that the first place I was taught hate was not at school nor at home. Instead, the church taught me hate. Give me a moment to explain…
I can recall my uncle picking me up from school, babysitting my cousins and me on the weekends, paying the bills, and even giving my mom and aunts money to go out and get a life. Uncle Jack came up in the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. So, as I grew older, I learned of his status. He was able to do less the more ill he became. But as many black families do, my mom made it clear to everyone. The family would take care of him. I recall running home from school to lay in bed with him and watch TV until I went to sleep.
When it was time to call in the hospice, I remember mom saying, you can set the bed up in the room. The nurse responded, so you’re okay with changing his diapers and being with him all the time? She said, “that’s my brother, and we take care of each other, bring the bed.” I would still go and sit in his room, talk to him and watch TV until that one afternoon.
I was probably in the second grade. I ran off the bus and dropped my book bag off at the door as usual. I always did my homework on the bus so that I could spend more time with Uncle Jack. I went to his bedroom, and the room was empty; it was just his bed. I walked across the hall and asked my mom “Where’s Uncle Jack?” A close cousin of her’s was there. She asked me to come into the room with them.
She said your Uncle Jack has gone to heaven; he passed away overnight. I was not too sure of what it meant, but I understood it well enough to know that Uncle Jack was not coming back. I remember sliding down to the floor and crying. I was sad that my best friend had died. Up until this point, my mom went to church every Sunday and only made me go on holidays. As my uncle’s health continued to deteriorate, I began to go more and more. It’s what we do, pray when sickness enters the household. While in church, I began to hear talk about how being gay was wrong and a sin. I learned that God hated this behaviour and ruined an entire city because of it.
Hearing this, I remember thinking my uncle died and went to hell. I knew he was gay and liked men, but I didn’t know anything was wrong with it. It didn’t make much sense because my mom told me he was in heaven. I remember thinking to myself, these feelings of attraction I am having for other boys are wrong and God won’t love me because of it. And that’s when church taught me hate, but I began to hate myself at first.
Fast forward to today, and I am grateful that I had a supportive family system that chose to surround me with love. It was pretty scary to have those thoughts in my young, adolescent mind. The place where people go as a haven quickly became a place that brought fear, anxiousness, and sadness. I wrote this to say, everyone’s experience and walk with Christ is different. Church taught me hate, but I am an independent thinker who identifies as a follower of Jesus Christ. I’ve prayed the gay away, fasted, cried, and looked for the cure, and it hasn’t happened. What has happened is that I learned that where there’s love, there’s Jesus.
Hate did not resonate in my heart because the only father-figure I knew, happened to be a gay man. No one told me this was wrong until I went into that building and church taught me hate. I understand that the church is a cornerstone of the black community for several reasons. I also recognise that this place oftentimes makes it clear that my kind is not welcome. I may not be able to change anyone’s perspective or thoughts on the topic. But what I hope to bring is awareness. The biggest contributor here could have been the church and the hate language that came from the pulpit, but instead, it was the love from my home.
I have a complicated relationship with the church as a building but appreciate the word, the faith it brings, and the conversations with other black queer men. Even though I sat in a pew, hearing words thrown at me that felt like daggers where the church taught me hate, my mom and family were able to protect me and show me something different. And I think that’s what’s most important.
I come from a lineage of believers who understand the power of Jesus, the intent of the building, and apply the teachings in a way that make everyone feel included and of value. I still have my gospel playlist, my new age bible (I mean, the King James version can be difficult to process), and I pray regularly. In the end, not only did the church teach me hate, but indirectly, through generations, it fostered love, family, and a faith that pushes me day-to-day.
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