I am gay. That statement echoed in waves of unrelenting despair inside my head as I finally allowed my thoughts to string the words together. For over two years I had completely ignored my attractions, hoping and praying that they would go away. By this time, I knew that they would not and I was forced to acknowledge the fact. However, I refused to give in because I am not the type. I believed that I could change and I would do whatever was necessary to achieve that end. For the first time in my life, as I had never identified with Christianity for myself even though I had been raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I surrendered everything and gave faith a shot.
Through it all no one could know. I became whomever I needed to be in order to protect myself, as well as my family’s honor. Going to my parents, I felt, was not an option. After all, they were a part of the institution that spoke ill of my kind. I preferred that they never knew about it because I would become such a disappointment and, what is more, I didn’t have the heart to tell them when I couldn’t even admit it to myself. Three years later, nothing had changed aside from an accelerated spiral into deep depression and suicidal tendencies that remained known only to me.
Finally, after five years, I accepted that I could not change although I still refused to accept myself as a gay man. Therefore, I committed myself to absolute celibacy and intense mental discipline. Over time, I was able to block out all sexual thoughts and desires but, as a 17-year-old boy, it was a draining task. Eventually, though I never lost the ability to control my thoughts, I was unable to completely block my attractions for more than one or two weeks without a mental crash where depression would follow in the wake of despair at my failure. To compensate, I grew obsessed with attaining physical perfection. I became bulimic and, in just over a month, weighed slightly less than 150 pounds at the height of 6’1”. With the help and support of my closest academy friends I was able to overcome bulimia.
My senior year, I returned to academy in Tennessee and began to spend more time with one of my grandmothers. One afternoon, I wove the topic of homosexuality into our conversation. As the discussion escalated, I confessed that I saw no difference between gay people and straight people. “Oh, Dylan!” She exclaimed. “How can you say that? It is such a sinful lifestyle, they are deliberately going against God’s way; it is an abomination!” Though predictable, her reaction stung deeply. I did not need anymore of that—“love the sinner, hate the sin”—poison in my life. I was already inflicting enough upon myself. For my own sanity, I had to distance myself from the hatred of what they believe to be my sin, or what I call my most intimate capacity to love another person more than myself. I know the concept means well, but it still feels like hatred, intentional ignorance, and neglect as it disgraces a part of myself that I did not choose, cannot change, and that should be the source of so much happiness in the future. It is these and many other repercussions of growing up in a society that is adverse to any expression of a non-heterosexual orientation that motivates me in working to provide support for others who have nowhere else to turn. I want to use everything that I have been through, most of which is not mentioned here, to the benefit of others so they know that they are not as alone as I thought I was.
Whether or not you believe that any non-heterosexual orientation is a choice and a sin, the fact is that our youth are afraid to ask questions or seek help, and feel as though they are less of a person because of the unrelenting attack on a small but fundamental part of who they are. Studies show that,as a result, LGBTQIA youth in America are four times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth. It is not an expression of love, no matter how well intended, to condemn us for what you might perceive to be a grievous sin. To ignore these realities does not negate the truth and to respond to them with anything other than receptivity and understanding is to promote the continued alienation of our LGBTQIA youth.
Matthew 7:18 states that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” In context, the passage identifies a litmus test for detecting false prophets. However, I believe the message is applicable to ideology as well. When the mindset of the Church toward non-heterosexuality yields the bad fruit of division, depression, and suicide, the mindset needs to change.
-Dylan Padgett is a student at Southern Adventist University and the president of SHIELD.
SHIELD is a non-confrontational, unofficial, student led organization at Southern Adventist University that is meant to help the students without regard to sexual orientation or identity. We aim not to modify the Church’s doctrine, but to reshape its attitude by promoting an open atmosphere of awareness, education, understanding, and respectful conversation between the greater community and ourselves. Our student leaders are working closely with our sponsor, other faculty members and administrative staff to demonstrate our consideration of the sensitive nature of this topic, to ensure our consistency with Southern’s values in addition to our own, and to show that we have nothing to hide. As an unofficial club, we shall maintain our fierce dedication to the betterment of our community and to the spiritual well-being of all. We aspire to be a voice for the voiceless, a representative for those who cannot represent themselves, and to be a manifestation of love and concern in the spirit of Jesus for our fellow humans; we are a Safe Haven for Individuality, Education, Love, and Dialogue, we are a SHIELD.