Sid High, a 19-year-old transgender man who grew up in a Methodist household in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, remembers feeling trapped in "the wrong body" as early as 12 years old.
Though his parents allowed him to socially transition as a young teen (adopting gender-affirming hairstyles, clothing, names and pronouns, none of which require medical interventions), it resulted in bullying from classmates and churchgoers — and even other queer people, who taunted him for being part of Christianity, a religion that has historically excluded and even rallied against LGBTQ people and their rights.
But High says he found solace in scripture. “I got closer to God through coming out as a trans man,” he tells Yahoo Life. “God made us to love, for God is love, and that means the queer community has been born of God. And that love is holy."
Similarly, Roswell Grey, 17, a Texas-based Mormon, felt disconnected from their body at an early age. It created a great deal of emotional stress — as did struggling to find peace within both queer and religious worlds. “I had to do a lot of discovery into how those two identities overlap,” Grey, who uses they/them pronouns, tells Yahoo Life. “As I learned more about my identities and discovered more doctrine I didn’t grow up learning, I realized that I wasn’t alone.”
Sabrina Hodak, too, is religious and queer — 20, bisexual and Modern-Orthodox Jewish. She recalls asking faith leaders about how "my queerness and my Judaism were connected" while growing up, and was repeatedly told she had to “choose one or the other” to be a good follower.
“It made me really want to, like, out of spite, prove them wrong,” she tells Yahoo Life. “In Judaism, there's this idea of being a light among nations. Everyone has their own individual light to share with this world, to share with other people. So, I want to share my light and spread goodness with other people.”
High, Grey and Hodak all represent a new generation of queer youth that's forging a future in which faith and queer identities can harmoniously coexist. As ambassadors for the youth organization Beloved Arise, which aims to celebrate and empower LGBTQ youth of faith, the trio's greatest hope is to show the world that being queer and religious needn't be mutually exclusive — a message that makes the organization’s founder Jun Love Young especially proud.
“The most exciting thing for me to see is young people raising their voices and saying, ‘I exist, so you can't ignore me anymore, and I have something to say about faith,’” Young tells Yahoo Life.
“The future of religion in America is our queer youth,” he adds. “They're showing us that spirituality is based on inclusion rather than exclusion. We're also seeing a movement around Muslim communities, and a bit of movement in the Hindu tradition, so it’s exciting to see that progress is being made.”
But queer youth are challenged by conservative legislators who've brought an onslaught of anti-trans legislation across state courts (560 bills were introduced in 2023 alone), many specifically targeting young people.
A 2022 Pew Research poll sheds light on such perspectives, revealing that most white evangelicals (71%) think society has gone too far in accepting trans/nonbinary people (up from 61% five years ago), while members of other Christian traditions — including Catholics and non-white evangelicals — are more divided, with half or fewer sharing this view.
It hasn’t deterred some from finding faith: One in five (21%) LGBTQ youth say that religion or spirituality plays an important role in their lives, according to a 2022 research report by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide-prevention organization — with the highest among them including youth who are Native and Indigenous (34%), Middle Eastern (33%), Black (27%) and Latinx (20%).
It's evidenced in part by a 19-year-old lesbian and devout Muslim living in the Midwest, who chose to remain anonymous for this story. She says navigating Islam alongside a queer identity is an uphill battle.
“Being queer does not negate your Islam, and it certainly doesn’t negate the efforts you make while trying to be a better Muslim,” she tells Yahoo Life. “The longer I know other queer Muslims, the more I'm willing to believe that than I think I ever have on my own.”
Her search for community ultimately led her to Muslim Youth Leadership Council (MyLC), a group of Muslim youth from across the country working for queer rights, funded by the organization Advocates for Youth and for which she's now an ambassador alongside Amal Iman, a 23-year-old living in New York City (going by a pseudonym for this story).
“I hope that as my generation becomes parents, we’re able to reimagine what families can look like, what healthy relationships with our kids can look like, and what faith can look like,” Iman tells Yahoo Life. “I want to see more queer people in religious spaces [like] mosques and religious gatherings for holidays, like Ramadan and Eid [al-Fitr].”
Ross Murray, founder of the Naming Project, a Christian ministry summer camp for LGBTQ youth, stresses the importance of church leaders making a distinction between “who God is, and the institutions that we have built up to follow God,” especially now in this time of great division.
“Youth may have some sense of who they are, but they may not have figured out all the words in their language to talk about it yet,” he says. “I feel a responsibility as a youth minister, as a deacon, to make sure that people experience God as someone who is all-loving, that is striving and working for our safety and our protection and our wellbeing.”
Jamie Bruesehoff, the mother of a 16-year-old transgender girl named Rebekah whose viral photo six years ago became a symbol of resistance for trans youth, knows all too well the importance of leading by example.
“We never planned to have a transgender kid,” Bruesehoff, author of the just-released Raising Kids Beyond the Binary: Celebrating God's Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children, tells Yahoo Life. “For both myself and her dad, who is a Lutheran pastor, there was never a question for us of whether supporting our child and following her lead and being who God meant her to be was what we were called to do as parents.”
Now she and her daughter have made it their mission to build a bridge between fellow believers and other queer communities through education and storytelling.
“Raising and parenting Rebekah has shown me how big God is,” she says. “We know that trans people are made in the image of God, and queer people and gay people, and so on. Knowing that, if we don't know those people, then we're missing out on part of who God is.”
That, says High, is the biggest point of all. “It’s OK to be trans and Christian,” he stresses. “The queer community is not scary. We’re people, too.”
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