Coming Out and Religion:
Spotlight on Donna Payne
[From Human Rights Campaign]
Donna Payne is the Constituent Field Organizer for the Human Rights
Campaign. Her father, who died when Payne was 15, was a United Methodist Minister and her mother encouraged her to practice
public speaking, especially in church. After Payne realized she was lesbian, this combination of influences inspired her to
meet the challenge of reconciling her sexual orientation and her faith. This is her story.
"I first acknowledged that I was gay in college. I didn't know much
about my new identity so I immersed myself in every book on gay issues I could find in the library, Rita Mae Brown and the
like. But most were written by white folk, so that even if the feelings matched the specific cultural things didn't. And none
of them addressed what I was feeling as a p.k. (preacher's kid) coming out. My church had either completely ignored gay people
or dragged them down, and I didn't see where I fit in all that. I had much to think through and process - how could I as a
child of god be gay? After much soul searching and prayer I came to the conclusion that the two weren't mutually exclusive.
The first morning I woke up and realized that I had accepted myself as a lesbian it was as if the sun shone bigger than it
ever had because I had found myself.
"However, I still could not reconcile being a "practicing" lesbian
and a Christian, so for five years I lived a double life. I had always been active in my church - played piano, sang in choir,
led youth groups - but I now made excuses so that I would not have to attend church with my family. I was confronted by my
mother about this, because I had always been active in the church with youth groups and the choir. I told her a shadow of
the truth that I just wasn't as happy with the church as I used to be. This held off her concerns for a while, and to buy
even more time, I dated men. Well, it was actually a gay male friend, but Mom didn't know that!
"All of this scheming took its toll. My grades suffered because of
the internal and external battles I was going through. I struggled weekly to find ways to avoid my family's church but at
the same time still keep my relationship with God. Being able to acknowledge my sexual orientation felt so good, but after
years of hearing gays bashed from the pulpit, it also felt bad.
"It was a trip north that changed things for me dramatically. One
weekend, I traveled to Washington D.C. to dance at the gay clubs and a friend suggested that we attend church on Sunday. At
first I declined, but my friend explained that it was a gay-affirming church, and we wouldn't have to stay long if I didn't
feel comfortable. I didn't even realize that there was such a thing as a gay-affirming church! So that Sunday we went to the
Metropolitan Community Church, and the experience was so amazing that I just sat there and cried the entire time. I could
resolve my issues and be who I was chosen to be- loved by God and a lesbian! The sun shone big and bright all that day, too!"
"Attending a welcoming and affirming church had a powerful impact
on my life. Eventually, this church also made it possible for my mother to further accept me and my sexual orientation. I
was living in DC when I came out to my mother and her first reaction was that I should return to Tennessee so I could go to
therapy and 'work it out,' that I needed to get down on my knees and pray for God to change me. I told her that God knew who
I was and it was OK. We didn't speak for three months, but one day when I called home she answered the phone and told me she
loved me and wanted to visit DC to see what my world was like. I invited her to the Metropolitan Community Church that Sunday,
and she was greeted by supportive people who thanked her for coming and told her what a great job she had done raising me.
Afterward she commented how those she had met were just 'regular people.' And how the gay men loved her outfit!
"Today, I am able to be comfortable with my identity both as a same-gender-loving
woman and a child of God. With my work at the Human Rights Campaign and our Gospel & Soul program I am hopefully making
it possible for other LGBT African Americans can realize they don't have to choose between their identities and their faiths."
Source: Coming Out and Religion: Spotlight On Donna Payne - HRC