It was a snowy Saturday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, when I showed up to lead a workshop at the 2018 Q Christian Fellowship conference. Together with Susan Cottrell of FreedHearts, we led a sixty-minute session on “Navigating Life and Relationships with Non-Affirming Families.” Anticipating the need for a presentation on this topic, the conference team arranged for us to have the largest workshop room available. Just as they expected, when the doors opened, hundreds of people (in fact, one-third of the conference attendees) made their way in and packed out the room. This was my first indication that the topic of coming out to conservative families was tremendously underrepresented in the LGBTQ Christian community.
Susan and I planned to divide our hour of time into two parts. The first half hour would be spent discussing tools and tips for coming out, and the second half hour we would open it up for Q&A. We wanted to allow plenty of time to engage with the audience and address their concerns. But we were not prepared for the overwhelming need we were about to confront. As soon as we opened the floor for questions, a sea of hands immediately shot into the air. There was an audible gasp of shock and surprise that suctioned the oxygen from the room. I was stunned and a bit alarmed that the petition for questions was so vast. There was an obvious desire and need for these people to be heard.
For months, I’d received a steady stream of emails and Facebook messages from people seeking advice or wanting to share their story with me. It numbered in the hundreds. So yes, I knew there was a need to address this topic. But to witness it in such a tangible way and visibly see the lives that are being affected by rejection and pain in such startling numbers made one thing very apparent: LGBTQ Christians are desperate for guidance on how to navigate the unexpected journey of coming out. They’ve been backed into a corner by religion, taught to be ashamed of who they are, and lived in fear of being abandoned by both God and those they love if the truth about their identity leaks out. They want to live authentically, but they lack the needed resources to guide them. The books available to us thus far are limited to theological reconciliation. But the questions that arise about how to practically live out abound.
There was no way that Susan and I could begin to address all the questions people had in the room of our workshop that day. We picked a random hand out of the myriad of those raised and answered as many questions as we possibly could in that thirty-minute time frame. But we barely scratched the surface of the stories and questions represented. Following the session, we both stayed, offering to talk with anyone who still had a burning question they wanted to ask. Each person carried a story, a struggle they were up against in the face of coming out, and a desire to be seen. I wanted to stay all night and talk to each of them; I wanted to validate their journeys, stories, and struggles; I wanted them to know they weren’t alone; and more than anything, I wanted them to know that they had nothing to be ashamed of—that they could embrace and love the person that they are, because who they are is beautiful and reflects the very image of God. As the line wound down and the last person left for the night, I couldn’t help but think about how many people didn’t stay but still had unanswered questions lingering in their heart. Recognizing the magnitude of the need that day was what birthed [my upcoming book, Unashamed].
At first, I didn’t know if I was ready to write another book. Writing my first book (a memoir of my own coming-out journey) had taken an emotional toll on me, I was just winding down from a national book tour, and I had a few other projects I was hoping to accomplish before returning to writing. But I couldn’t ignore the request from so many people seeking guidance, nor the wind of God’s spirit speaking to my soul that this book needed to be written—now.
So this book (Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians) is my labor of love to each of you who identify as an LGBTQ person of faith. It is written to those of you who have lost your faith, to those of you who are desperately trying to hold onto your faith, and to those who of you who want to reclaim your faith.
It is written for each of you who have emailed or messaged me on social media and shared your coming-out story and the pain you have faced as a result. It is written for the preacher’s kid, the missionary kid, the church kid, the home-schooled kid, the “Adventures in Odyssey” kid, the bullied kid, and the kid who never quite knew how to fit in.
It is written for the outcast, the leper, the black sheep, and those of you who feel like you are somehow never quite enough.
It is written for the LGBTQ person who did everything you could to be the “perfect Christian,” who tried to pattern your life after the Focus on the Family model, who went through ex-gay therapy, conversion therapy, and psychological abuse, suppressing your sexual feelings and desires because you were told you had to conform to the literal interpretation of Scripture in order to be acceptable to God. It is written for those of you who were forced into celibacy or a marriage to a person of the opposite sex because someone convinced you that God required it of you.
It is written for those of you who are thinking about coming out, for those who are in the process of coming out, for those who have already come out, and for those who have previously come out but who ended up back in the closet again due to fear.
This book is for those of you who struggle with worthiness, who were told that setting boundaries was disrespectful, who believed the lie that God despises who you are, who carry suffocating shame about your identity, who feel terrified to be seen, and who feel so isolated in your struggle that you don’t know if you can live another day. This book is for you.
I want you to know that I see you. I see who you are. I see the struggles you face every day, the fear that overwhelms you, the pain that is so heavy it takes effort just to keep breathing. I see you.
Know that you do not walk alone, though at times it may feel lonely. Countless others out there are also trying to navigate this same path. Writing this book is also my way of journeying with each of you and doing what I can to give you a compass for your trail. My hope is that as you go through this book, you will discover another set of footprints as well and realize that God is also walking alongside you, and always has been. Have courage, my friend. Don’t let fear win. Come, let’s journey together and learn what it means to live unashamed.
(***Excerpted from Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Chrisitans, © Amber Cantorna. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.)