I Am: Why My Congregation Celebrated National Coming Out Day

Speaking truth changed the life of this pastor
pride flag

I am female, black, and queer. It is a phrase I utter often, loud and proud, as tribute to my undying commitment to live my Truth no matter what the cost. 

I have lost friends, family, and colleagues over my decision to be happy, joyous, and free. I have missed out on opportunities to participate in events that mattered to me, because others have not invited me to their tables or celebrations. The church that I pastor has lost a few members who could not stomach a gay pastor in the pulpit.

Yet, despite the painful costs of rejection and misunderstanding, I continue to exercise my right to self-determination. God has named me and claimed me: and as a consequence, I have named me and claimed me. It is a profound act of courage on behalf of myself and of my Beloved queer siblings who have not yet found the safety to come out and who need to know that they are not alone.

It was for this reason that Faith Lutheran Church, in Becker, Minnesota, where I pastor, chose to openly pray for LGBTQIA+ persons on Sunday, October 11, 2020, for National Coming Out Day. 

As I got dressed for worship, I made up my mind that I was going to queer myself, and my attire, as much as possible. I put on my rainbow glasses from Zenni, pulled on my knee high rainbow socks and leather boots, and donned my rainbow stole. My wife convinced me to leave my rainbow tutu at home …

It was important to me that children, youth, and adults would be able to see my pride and to affirm the right of LGBTQIA+ persons to “take up space” on that special day. One of the most precious gifts that The Church can give queer folks, in our sanctuaries and communities, is the celebration of our divine creation. We need to be seen, heard, valued, affirmed, and celebrated, especially in religious spaces which have historically been so violent and unsafe for us.

When I was “coming out,” I was terrified. I thought my life was over. I believed my career as a pastor was in jeopardy. I thought I would be disowned by my family. I feared that God hated me and that I was an abomination. I wept day and night.

It was not until I met with an older, Christian and lesbian couple at their kitchen table with tears streaming down my face that I found freedom. I begged them to tell me how they were living so openly and authentically. One of those wise elders looked at me with supreme gentleness and said, “You are not an abomination. The only real abomination is to deny God’s beautiful creation in you.” 

Her words shook me to my core. In that moment, I experienced an epiphany. The Holy Spirit descended into my psyche and helped me to believe that God makes no mistakes. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God, and I am good.

I realized that this was a message that all LGBTQIA+ folks needed to hear. I felt compelled as a pastor to honor their creation, by honoring mine. In that moment, I found the courage not to hide, but to live loud and proud for all to see. 

As a result, I hope that I am making it safer for other people to do the same when they are ready. When I live my Truth, I know that I am following Jesus because Jesus constantly said, “I AM …” 

I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the world. I am the way, the Truth, and the life.

So, I ask you, “Who are you?”

What declaration will you make about yourself and help the people of your congregation make about themselves? Speaking your truth may save a life, perhaps even your own.

I am female, black, and queer and I am good.

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Yolanda Denson-Byers

Yolanda Denson-Byers

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