By: Lilo*/Sent to TRT via E-mail—
To The Rainbow Times:
My inbox had an unread e-mail on Palm Sunday. The subject line was “Intense Internalized Homophobia.” In the e-mail, a Lowell college sophomore had reached out to me. She had just woken up to her mother “praying the demons out of her.” This was the day after she came out to her Christian family. She writes me a six-paragraph e-mail, discussing her immigration story, coming out, and how her family and church has convinced her that she is destined for hell.
Her immigration story mirrors mine, her church, and family shaming, all too familiar. I respond to her e-mail, changing the subject line to “Hope at St. Anne’s.” There is a beacon of hope in a small congregation in Lowell. Outside the 200-year old church is a Rainbow flag. Above it, it reads: “St. Anne’s welcomes you.”
As an Arab immigrant who grew up in a Christian home—religion is not a part of me, it is me. It was not something I could strip off as I was marching out of the closet. It’s not an old coat I could leave behind. It’s embedded in who I am and I how I show up in the world. Those who grew up in the West don’t always understand how religion is not a fragment of our identity, but it operates in the wholeness of who we are. My queerness and faith do not exist independently, but they like everything in which I am—operate in unity.
The college student tells me how thankful she is that I responded to her e-mail. She can’t believe that there’s a community that has not neglected Christian tradition in the name of being “progressive.” Instead, they knew that there was not really anything “progressive” about acceptance and limitless love—it is just being Christian.
Unfortunately, these e-mails and stories are not outliers. In the Merrimack Valley, young LGBTQ+ immigrants go through church shaming as if it was a sacrament for coming out. After this story and endless others, I launched a gofundme page to raise funds for the upkeep of this 200-year old church. To ensure that “Mill City” has a beacon of hope for LGBTQ+ immigrant youth. I feel an obligation to ensure the sustainability and future of this church.
The GoFundMe Campaign reads: “Many LGBTQ youth are victims of bullying and abuse by their own churches, which are meant to embrace and protect them. This triggers a personal and spiritual crisis, as many LGBTQ individuals attempt to turn to faith and God to navigate their identities. There are many homeless LGBTQ youth in the Merrimack Valley that have been rejected from all aspects of society, and some see suicide as their only option. As a close friend of mine experienced three years ago – I wonder if she had found a community like St. Anne’s, where she was loved and accepted and could worship freely, would that have changed things.”
Not only does St. Anne’s provides youth programs, it also provides affordable rent for nonprofits. The upkeep and utilities of a 200-year old building are costly. Recently, the church had moved its services from the main church to the shrine to save money on heating.
Unlike other churches in the area, St. Anne doesn’t just tolerate LGBTQ individuals, it embraces us. Despite all the struggles, the parishioners were still raising money for LGBTQ asylum seekers—this exemplifies the heart of this congregation.
Many individuals support LGBTQ+ youth by giving to resource organizations, public health programs, and inclusive schooling—most often forgetting about faith-based organizations. For many queer immigrants, faith is the ultimate resource. If we do not feel accepted and loved by our creator, our house of worship, and our communities, then we might not live long enough to utilize the other resources available to us.
Let us work together to ensure that this center of the community continues to be a refuge for LGBTQ+ immigrants and any other humans that need it.
Wishing you all the peace in the world!
* Lilo is an Arab immigrant who grew up in a Christian home.