(If you would like to view this video in ASL, go to AmberCantorna.com and hover over the “Donate” tab)
Five years ago this week, I sat my family down and spoke the three most terrifying words of my life: “I am gay.” Growing up in a fundamentalist, home-schooled, conservative Christian family with a father that’s been an executive at Focus on the Family for almost thirty years, speaking those three small words forever changed the course of my life. I faced instant rejection from those I loved the most and over time, I lost not only my relationship with my parents and only sibling, but also my extended family, many of my friends, my church, and my hometown. Sadly, their desire to be right won out over their ability to love. This amount of devastation sent me into a downward spiral of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. I didn’t think I was going to survive until the end of 2012.
Now, as I mark this anniversary 5 years later, I am married to the love of my life and we are building our own family together in Denver, CO. Despite the continued grief I feel from the loss of my family and friends, I am more at peace, more free, and happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
But it’s not that way for everyone. Countless others still wrestle inside conservative families that tell them they can’t be both gay and Christian. My own journey through this pain has ignited a deep passion in me to help others, which is why I’m writing.
This week we are announcing the launch of a new non-profit organization called Beyond. Our mission is to walk alongside other LGBT people of faith and their loved ones who are struggling to resolve the conflict they feel between their faith and their (or their loved one’s) sexuality. We will also focus on creating conversations for change among parents, pastors, family, and friends so that those in the LGBT person’s closest circle of influence can become their strongest allies, rather than shun them out of fear.
Statistics show that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. And those coming from a rejecting family like mine are 8.4x more likely to attempt suicide. Not only that, but 40% of transgender people have reported attempting suicide, with most of them doing so before the age of 25. These numbers are astronomical which is why support from those they love can make all the difference for them between life and death.
I was so close to becoming one of those statistics. It’s only by the grace of God that I am still alive today. But with that gift of life comes a responsibility: a responsibility to be a voice for those who still can’t speak and a responsibility to create change in our culture so that LGBT people are more free and more safe to come out and be who they really are. That is why I founded Beyond.
This is where you come in! To get this non-profit off the ground, we need seed money. Our budget for this first year of ministry is $52,000. This will enable us to bring a message of hope to LGBT people all over the country. I believe that hearing personal stories is what transforms a culture and promotes change. Nothing is as powerful as seeing someone with your own eyes and hearing the story of how they made it through the very tragedy you are facing. As you may know, I spent this last year writing my own story in the form of a memoir. It’s titled Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God and will release from Fortress Press on October 1st, 2017. I believe this will be a valuable resource to many and because I believe so strongly in the power of stories, I want to share my story with as many people as possible. To me, it has nothing to do with book sales. I couldn’t care less about that. To me, it’s about giving people a story they can relate to so they feel a little less isolated and a little more encouraged in their own personal journey. Sharing my story could be the difference between life and death for them. We currently have 16 cities across the U.S. and Canada that we’d like to travel to within the next year to share this message of hope through speaking engagements and events. Your financial gift will make that possible.
But we can’t do it without your help. If you know me, you know I hate asking for money, even when it’s for the most worthy cause. The only thing I hate more than asking for money is know that someone else’s life is on the line if I don’t. And that is the case today.
So as we launch this campaign this week, I’m asking you to dig deep and consider a generous donation to help get Beyond off the ground. I know that you share in my passion for reaching this demographic, which is why I specifically chose you to partner with me. While $52,000 feels like a lot to someone who hates fundraising, I am committed to this mission and know that together we can reach this goal. Because Beyond will be a 501(c)(3) organization, your gift is tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law and 100% of your gift will go towards helping LGBT people and their families find hope, healing, and freedom both in their faith and in their relationships with one another. Our goal for raising these funds is June 14th, 2017.
You can donate by clicking here. I am also offering incentives that correlate with certain giving levels. You can learn more by clicking this link! Please also consider sharing with your friends and on social media. Your help in spreading the word will make such a difference.
If you would like to discuss our mission, budget, or your financial contribution in more detail, you can contact me directly at 720-598-6903 or Beyond.AmberCantorna@gmail.com.
Thank you so much for your prayerful consideration in this endeavor. I look forward to hearing from you soon and thank you in advance for your generosity. Your contribution could save someone’s life this year.
Because LOVE Makes all the Difference,
President/Founder of Beyond, Author of Refocusing My Family
18601 Green Valley Ranch Blvd, Ste 108-133
Denver, CO 80249
During this Lenten season, our church has talked a lot about suffering. Normally no one rejoices over studying such topics, any more than I’ve rejoiced over studying my history with shame while reading Brené Brown. It’s not easy and it often makes us uncomfortable. But for some reason I haven’t found this topic of suffering depressing the way I thought I would. Instead, I’ve found it refreshing and enlightening. The ability to talk about difficult topics such as suffering has added a dimension of rawness and richness to the community of people at our church that have been open to receiving it. It’s allowed space for authenticity where so many other churches practice facades.
This past week, our co-pastor Jenny Morgan spoke about the importance of dying before you die, as in the need to let go of certain things in our lives so that when we physically pass away, we are able to do so in peace rather than fighting our physical death out of fear.
So as we approach Good Friday and draw near to Easter, I’ve been thinking about the things in my life that I need to put to death in order to make space for fresh new things to take root in my spirit and grow.
Here’s what I’ve decided to start with…
I choose to put to death perfectionism. The need to perform and put on a good appearance in front of others doesn’t cultivate authentic connection. By letting go of perfectionism, I make room to be gentle with myself and transparent with others.
I choose to put to death prejudice. No matter how much I think I’ve learned to accept and embrace all the vast diversity in the world, I am not exempt from the subtle prejudices and judgment that so easily creep into the human heart. By intentionally letting go of prejudice, I make room to continue to learn about people who are different from me and embrace all the beautiful diversity that the world has to offer.
I choose to put to death hate, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Boy, it’s hard to let go of my desire for justice for those who have wronged me or those I love. But holding on to hate and bitterness only eats away at my soul and unforgiveness festers like a wound that refuses to heal. By letting go of these things, I am entrusting my need for justice to God and freeing up room in my soul to love more people better and deeper.
I choose to kill my need for other people’s approval. Seeking approval often causes me to put on a front and show people what I want them to see in order to fit in. I am learning that is not authentic connection. Authentic connection comes when I bring all of myself to the relationship without filtering what people see and am embraced and loved for all of me. By letting go of my need for other people’s approval, I make space for relationships that are real and connections that are built to last.
I choose to put to death my need for certainty. Clinging tightly to what I think I know has not worked out well for me in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I love the assurance of certainty. I am detail-oriented and a meticulous planner. I like to know things in advance and be able to prepare ahead of time. But the black and white/right and wrong religion I grew up in mandated certainty but provided a false sense of peace. Since then I’ve learned that there are so many things I was wrong about. By letting go of my need for certainty, I open up myself to learn and grow in the (many) things I do not know, and make space for wonder, mystery, and awe. Those three things have brought me more peace in recent years than any amount of certainty and I’ve learned to be okay with and even embrace the things that I don’t know.
Finally, I choose to put to death my need for busyness. Thanks to Brené Brown (again!) I’m learning that exhaustion does not need to be my status symbol that I’ve accomplished enough and my level of productivity does not need to define my self-worth. I need to rest in the fact that I am enough regardless of what I accomplish in a given day and be content with myself even when things still remain on my “To-Do” list when I crawl into bed. By letting go of these things, I allow space for rest, for creativity, for joy and for contentment and the belief that I am enough.
There’s more, like putting to death fear, putting to death my expectations, putting to death my need for comparison and competition, and putting to death my numbing behaviors. With the help of Brené Brown and my Deepen group at church, I am learning that a wholehearted and fulfilled life comes from believing I am enough and allowing others to see the real me. Embracing my vulnerability allows others to embrace theirs and together we build authentic community.
This is by far not an overnight transformation. This is something I will have to work at every day. But today I choose to die to these things, so that more life and more joy and more authentic connection can be cultivated inside me giving life not only to my own soul but hopefully to those around me as well.
Because LOVE makes all the difference,