I’ll be honest – I don’t have as many Black friends as I’d like. It’s not because I’m ashamed of being Black or because I’m studying at a predominantly white institution. It’s because I’m gay and Black people are religious. A 2009 study found that 87% of Black Americans reported a formal religious affiliation. Even my fellow Black millennials – the least religious generation in America – are still largely associated with church (more so than any other race). I can confidently say that this has greatly affected my relationships with many Black people because in my experience, religion tends to breed homophobia.
Coming out to my Caribbean family can only be described as a shit show. Tears were shed, bountiful insults and yelling punctuated the one-sided conversation, and the Bible was used as a weapon of mass homophobia. Upon hearing that I was attracted to men, my father immediately opened his favorite book to read Leviticus 18:22 loud enough for the neighbors to hear: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” I’ve seen this passage re-printed in the pamphlets of the church my parents forced me to attend. I’ve heard it from the mouths of pastors and mentors, and I’ve seen it posted on friends’ Facebook and Twitter pages. No other sentence comes close to the grief that this one has caused me.
Leviticus and I don’t get along. The entire chapter is filled with absurd rules and statements: Leviticus 27:1-4 states that a man’s worth in “dedicating a person to the Lord” is 50 shekels while a woman’s worth is 30 (does that three-fifths ratio sound familiar to anyone?). Leviticus 19:19 says that no one is allowed to wear a garment in which there are “two kinds of material mixed together.” Leviticus 25:44-46 gives explicit instructions for slave ownership: “You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you… You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.”
So unless you’re ready to say that women are worth less than men, stop wearing your favorite cashmere-blend sweater, and want to reinstate slavery, then you should believe that Leviticus is bullshit. It was made for another time and society and it’s time that we left it in the past.
People have also told me that while they think homosexuality is a sin, they don’t “act” on it. They say that because they aren’t voting against gay marriage or discriminating against LGBTQ+ people in any way. They believe they aren’t doing anything bad. “I love you,” they might as well say to me, “But you’re still an abomination in the eyes of God.”
By calling homosexuality a sin, you are calling me a sin. You are telling me that my existence is wrong.
Let me be clear: I think the idea of religion is beautiful. It gives people something to hope for and believe in when things get tough (and let’s face it, things are especially tough for Black people). What I can’t get behind is using religion as a tool of oppression and hatred. From an early age, some young, Black, queer children are taught to hate themselves before they get a chance to understand who they are…in church. This learned hatred has contributed to Black youth being the most likely to attempt suicide.
I will not be friends with people who think I am wrong. I will not be friends with those who do not question what they learn. I will not be friends with people who use religion as an excuse for discrimination. Unfortunately, most of the Black people I know who are my age are religious. I keep seeing friends tweet homophobic things in the name of religious freedom and I’m tired of it. Instead of using religion to oppress, use it to uplift just as the Bible says. Turn your pages from Leviticus to Luke 6:37: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
I encourage religious people to hold on to what you believe in and keep it close. All I ask is that you do not use it as an excuse for hatred. Black, queer people are your brothers and sisters. We deserve your respect and, more importantly, your unconditional love and support. In fact, we need it.