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Samara O'Shea Headshot

Pray the Gay Away?

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My sister attended a funeral a few weeks ago. The organist and beloved choir teacher from our childhood church had passed away. I couldn't make it, so she gave me updates on the people she saw. "Brenda has four kids, and she wants you to call her. Chris and Joanne are still together. Frank lost a lot of weight." She finished and had a sudden afterthought, "Do you remember Ben? The tall skinny guy?" I thought for a moment, "Oh yeah of course. Ellen's older brother." "He's gay," she announced.

I wasn't surprised. Although it never occurred to me that Ben was gay when we were younger, when my sister said so it made sense somehow. Ben also confessed to her that he tried for years to "pray the gay away," but he's done trying to transfigure himself now. He is openly gay and openly Christian, and that's that.

For the past fifty years or so, homosexuals have had a choice: you can be a devout Christian or you can be gay, but you cannot be both (before that, being openly gay wasn't much of an option). Some churches have overturned this ideology. Ben and I are fortunate members of the Episcopal Church, which does permit open homosexuality, even for clergy. But Catholic and Evangelical churches continue to profess that homosexuality is a choice. Believe it or not, some homosexual members of these churches feel a stronger tie to their religion than their sexual orientation and aren't willing to change to a more liberal church. (The New York Times wrote an article about this conundrum called "Living the Good Lie").

Then there are a brave few who will not give up their beliefs or their same-sex love. One of those courageous people is Spazz. Spazz, born Danielle Gaulthier, is a punk lesbian and Evangelical Christian in one determined young woman. Born and raised in North Carolina, Spazz is the subject of a documentary called Radical Love. The film chronicles Spazz's devastation when her girlfriend leaves her for a man and then goes on to join an anti-gay church. This sends Spazz on a search for a new love and an accepting spiritual home.

The documentary's director, Hillevi Loven, discusses why she chose Spazz as her subject, "When I met Spazz, she was just seventeen and I knew hers was a story that needed to be told. Her journey embodied stories of struggle and change that I had observed across the evangelical communities in the U.S. She herself was a bundle of youthful contradictions, the founder of the first Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school, and a God-loving, loyal daughter who wanted to please most everyone she met. She was also simply a great girl, with a huge heart, looking for true love, like so many teenage girls."

Part of me wants Spazz to move to New York City, where she will be welcomed with open arms, but I realize that's not the point. The point is to open the minds and arms of people in North Carolina -- amongst other places. Spazz sweetly says, "I'm a child of God, but I'm still gay."