Christ religion

Queer artists claim religion for the children they were and those who remain

At 31, Grace Semler Baldridge is still a preacher’s kid.

The musician, who spent her childhood growing up in a parsonage, never thought she would write an entire album about her religious upbringing. But when the pandemic left him with little time to focus on his music, the end result was an album Baldridge couldn’t have foreseen.

“Preacher’s Kid” is a musical exploration of growing up in the Christian faith and the impact of that life on how she embraced her queer identity. Recorded with her laptop and small microphone, she didn’t expect the songs to go very far. But in February 2021, under her stage name Semler, the album reached No. 1 on the iTunes Christian Music charts, a first for an openly queer and staunchly Christian artist.

“In my head, I didn’t want to deal with [my relationship with religion] more,” she told CBS News. “But I actually think there was a lot of healing that I had to do. And so I wrote the project to almost get it out of my system. And what I discovered was that it opened up new questions, new ideas and new themes that inspired me so much and gave me a community that I didn’t even know existed before. .”

Grace Semler Baldridge

Jax Anderson

Baldridge is just one example of how, rather than ignoring or turning away from their faith, some queer artists and creators are using their religious upbringing to inform their most rewarding work.

Nowhere is the relationship between God and homosexuality more apparent than on social media. With data showing a clear and current divide between the religious mainstream and the LGBTQ+ community, it might be easy for queer people who feel safe in their sexuality to reject their religious upbringing altogether.

In recent years, social media has been used as a helpful tool by members of the LGBTQ+ community to unpack and recontextualize their relationships with religion and church and connect with others who do the same.

The #exvangelical hashtag has nearly 873.1 million views on TikTok, with specific iterations each enjoying an additional 50,000 to 43 million views. In these videos, people explain why they left their church or talk about some of the religious experiences that had a lasting impact on their self-esteem.

During the pandemic, Baldridge’s music has become hugely popular in that community, a response she attributes to the uniqueness of growing up torn between two worlds.

When asked why so many people identify with her music, she replied, “I think it’s because it comes from a place of brutal honesty and frustration. It will always be relatable. ”

“For so long I tried to be a version of myself, sliced ​​to fit. So I think once I was able to be a whole person and engage with myself- even as a saint, it’s just the most honest form of expression. And in doing so, you find other people who can relate to it.

Badridge admits that finding peace within a religion that didn’t accept him was not as easy as finding inner peace. In the United States, many discussions of LGBTQ+ rights, in public forums and courts across the country, have been framed as battles between the queer community versus the religious community.

Among conservative strains of Christianity in particular, the practice of conversion therapy, based on the belief that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, has created its own trauma in the queer community. Even though the process continues to be publicly denounced by American medical and psychological associations as ineffective and harmful, as many as 700,000 adults in the United States have gone through a conversion program, CBS “Sunday Morning” reported in 2018.

Even further, the emergence of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community, was seen by many religious people as a scourge sent by God to condemn homosexuality as a sin.

Tony Award Winner playwright Michael R. Jackson told CBS News that growing up, he heard that AIDS was sent as a punishment from God. While it wasn’t his only reason for leaving the church, Jackson said the ongoing rhetoric let him know he needed to find a new spiritual home.

The 75th Tony Awards - Arrivals
Michael R. Jackson attends the 75th Annual Tony Awards on June 12, 2022 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

His show “A Strange Loop”, which won the Tony Award for best musical earlier this month, tells the story of Usher, a Broadway usher who is forced to struggle with his gay, black, obese, and ultra-religious parents.

“It’s talked about in this very flippant way, like, well, ‘He shouldn’t have lived that gay lifestyle,'” Jackson said, describing a scene where Usher brushes off the hurtful things he heard at about homosexuality, showing his mother the repercussions of constant exposure to damnation. “All of these things add up and have an impact. And the church is often a scaffolding for the brute force of this kind of rhetoric.”

A 2015 study published in the Archives of Suicide Research found that among LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, parental religious beliefs about homosexuality were associated with nearly double the risk of suicide or self-harm.

Baldridge said hearing about homosexuality in a youth group, where it was often associated with shame, really “shuts down” a part of herself.

In 2018, a report from the Trevor Project found a direct link between what adolescents heard from their parents about religion and homosexuality and whether adolescents chose to tell their parents about their orientation or gender identity. The report concluded that accepting LGBTQ+ people in religion could have an effect in preventing higher suicide rates among LGBTQ+ teens.

As churches claiming to support the existence of LGBTQ+ communities continue to emerge, countless others are extremely vocal in their belief that homosexuality is a sin and not God’s intent. The result is an often strained relationship between belief in God and homosexual relationships, a tension that young homosexuals continually bear the brunt of.

Author Casey McQuiston said this generation’s relationship with social media makes them much more optimistic about the prospects for queer teens and young adults to relate better to their identities and religions.

Casey McQuiston
Casey McQuiston, author of “Red White and Royal Blue” and “I Kissed Shara Wheeler”

Sylvie Rosokoff

Their book, “I kissed Shara Wheeler“, takes place in a small Christian school in the South, where its protagonist must reconcile his dislike for his small religious community with the joy and the family that it ends up bringing to him.

“Information about homosexuality is so much more readily available online, so I am optimistic that these children will be able to find spaces and information that will help counter the information they receive at school, and also help them to feel less alone.” McQuiston told CBS News. And hopefully, while they’ll obviously still have a lot of the same durable baggage, hopefully they’ll have more of a life raft than [people my age] did.”

When accepting the 2022 Tony Award for Best Book by a Musical, Jackson called his musical the life raft he created to get through the day as a “black gay man.” He told CBS News that while church wasn’t that space for him, his understanding of religion has allowed him to find a new home in his theater community.

“I kind of ran screaming from the church, because it was too confined because of the orthodoxy around how the church felt about homosexuality. And I really kind of decided I needed a break, like, in a real way,” Jackson said. “But over the years of working in theatre, I kind of feel like my new church or religion is in art, and trying to bring a lot of people together, to worship music and theatre. And for me, it gave me the transcendent experience that I don’t think I’ve ever really had in church.”

Baldridge says that while it pains her to see children and teenagers relate to how she was treated by the church, she also feels joy to see young people still have room for a relationship. with religion. Baldridge adds that she finds power in how queer religious people have taken parts of their faith, such as hope, radical love and recovery, and separated them from their own queer culture.

“That’s how I would describe my music,” Baldridge said. “‘Fuck you, God can love me.'”

Even in the complexity and varied nature of their art, McQuiston, Jackson and Baldridge all said they created their work to contextualize their own lives. But the artists are all aware that the same work that brought them solace might just be what helps a queer child love themselves and the world they come from – something they all welcome with open arms. .

“I think being a queer person of faith means you’re always kind of inclined toward resilience and hope,” Baldridge said. “For a lot of queer people, reclamation is queer culture. So they’re able to reclaim the language, sometimes the music, the prayers, all the things that have served us in this radical, unconditional, hopeful way, that that I believe to be God. There’s no reason for us to give up on that just because other people say we don’t belong.