Growing up watching the popular 1980’s sitcom ”Growing Pains,” I found myself going starry-eyed every time heartthrob Kirk Cameron appeared on the screen. When I learned that Cameron was an evangelical Christian, just like me, I admired him even more — there weren’t many people in Hollywood willing to speak out in the name of their faith, but Cameron was unashamed to do so.
In 2012 I watched Cameron tell talk show host Piers Morgan that he believed homosexuality is “unnatural,” and just for good measure, he added, “It’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”
Naturally, Cameron received backlash from the LGBTQ community and its allies because of his public comments. But many evangelicals, myself included, rushed to defend him and his views.
I was 22 at the time, newly wedded and living in a 400-square-foot room in a dorm for married couples at a small Christian college in Ontario. I was entering my third trimester with my first child, and had been unemployed for months after being laid-off from my job as an assistant at the college where we lived. I spent my plentiful free time writing on my blog, This Rookie Wife, which quickly garnered a group of like-minded readers, as well as some dissenting but curious readers.
I wrote about my faith, new motherhood and marriage. But my most popular blog posts were the ones that offered my take on controversial topics like the value of purity, submitting to your husband and why I didn’t believe women should use birth control. I was passionate about my faith, and I wasn’t afraid or ashamed of publicly sharing my beliefs. In fact, I thought I was equipping the next generation of Christian women by writing about topics relevant to them.
After Cameron discussed his thoughts on gay marriage and homosexuality on CNN, I felt it was important to show my support for him. I posted a status on my personal Facebook account that read, “It’s important to watch the entire interview when looking at Kirk Cameron’s (and many conservative Christians’) view on gay marriage. I’m so proud of Kirk for saying what he believes, instead of brushing aside this important topic for fear of the very real controversy.”
What I didn’t realize at the time was how harmful that single post would be. Even now, seven years later, my friends who are LGBTQ allies recall that post and how alienating and painful my words were. After recently re-watching Cameron’s interview and reading over my response to it, I’m shocked at myself ― at how blatantly careless and hurtful I was.
After my post I (rightfully) received blowback from LGBTQ friends and people who disagreed with my statement, and I decided to avoid writing or talking about gay marriage and homosexuality online. I didn’t support the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality, but I wasn’t going to talk about it or broadcast how I felt. While I didn’t publicly discuss my personal opinion that being gay or trans went against God’s word, I still fervently believed that.
I was passionate about my faith, and I wasn’t afraid or ashamed of publicly sharing my beliefs. In fact, I thought I was equipping the next generation of Christian women by writing about topics that were relevant to them.
Then, on June 12, 2016, I woke up to the news of the horrific mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, an LGBTQ bar in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 others injured by a lone gunman. Despite my feelings about the LGBTQ community, I could not fathom anyone doing something so evil.
That day was a wake-up call for me, and it marked the first time I truly recognized just how much hatred — and violence — the LGBTQ community faces. Still, as I witnessed many others speak out against what had happened at Pulse ― as well as against the discrimination that queer people face daily in America and around the world ― I remained silent. I wanted to say something, though I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew my silence could be read as complacency and that my choice to do nothing was harmful, too. At the time, I was too afraid of what others would think of me, and I didn’t want other evangelicals to call me out.
The Pulse tragedy was a starting point for my decision to accept and embrace the LGBTQ community, but my inner change of heart wasn’t instantaneous. I spent the next few years contemplating, studying, considering my beliefs and how they affected others. I explored the victimization of the LGBTQ community and read about the abuse that many in the queer community have faced and continue to face.
I read books that featured same-sex relationships, and it was through these fictional worlds that my reality began to shift. Books like Simon Vs. The Homosapiens by Becky Albertalli, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid all helped me to open the door to another way of thinking. I stopped viewing the queer community as a caricature or a monolith and started to see each individual, in all of their humanity. I knew that I couldn’t continue to oppress an entire group of people anymore, and was gutted by my prior actions.
Around this time I also left behind my faith-based blog and decided to become a professional writer. It was through my career that I was introduced to talented writers who would become my friends and included some who identify as LGBTQ and many who are allies and activists. These friends wrote powerful essays and articles about marginalized communities, which I devoured. In private, I talked to some of my close LGBTQ-identifying friends about my past, gutted that my old beliefs victimized my own friends.
Last summer, a writer and queer friend of mine was attacked online by a group of mostly male bullies, many who claimed to be devout and loving Christians, for writing an article about a Pride parade. I watched as my friend was torn apart online for her writing and her activism, as conservative evangelical strangers attempted to silence her and do harm to her with their words.
This woman was called a pedophile by some, while others suggested that her children should be taken away from her because she dared to claim that Pride celebrations were appropriate — and even fun! — for children. As I watched her being attacked, I couldn’t help but wonder if, just a few years ago, I would have been part of that online mob. I thought back to my outspoken defense of Kirk Cameron and the words I had used that had caused so much hurt. I realized I was part of the problem, whether I actively and vocally attempted to I defend what I now know to be the indefensible or just decided to stay quiet when others were being harassed, discriminated — or worse — simply for being who they were.
The truth is I’ve been afraid of ruffling the feathers of other Christian friends who won’t agree with me. Because of my fear of being personally attacked, I have been unwilling to put myself in a tricky position with the people who I once sided with.
As I’ve evolved and shed many of my conservative view, I’ve had to wrestle with how to abandon an old ideology while remaining committed to my faith. While I am still a devoted Christian, I’ve had to work to untangle myself from doctrine that is harmful and strive to adopt an intersectional and inclusive theology. I no longer want to exclude anyone because of my faith but I have mostly kept my shifting views and opinions quiet. I haven’t publicly supported the LGBTQ community because I’ve worried about what will happen if I fully embrace, and broadcast, my new beliefs.
The truth is I’ve been afraid of ruffling the feathers of other Christian friends who won’t agree with me. Because of my fear of being personally attacked, I have been unwilling to put myself in a tricky position with the people who I once sided with. What I’m starting to recognize, though, is the hypocrisy in my fear. I wasn’t afraid of hurting or upsetting the LGBTQ community and supporters when I publicly stood against them, so why am I afraid now?
My silence has left me standing awkwardly in the middle, when I know the right thing to do is be full-heartedly committed to uplifting the LGBTQ community as an unashamed ally. The stats don’t lie: Most LGBTQ Americans experience harassment, LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide at a rate three times greater than heterosexual youth, and a national epidemic of fatal transgender violence plagues America. How can I be silent, when silence is violence against the very people who need open and loud support?
I cannot stand in the shadows anymore, knowing that to do so is to perpetuate stigma and continue shaming the queer community.
While I may never be able to fully undo the hurt that I have caused with the beliefs that I once held, I can stand up and offer my support and, what’s more, I can say I’m sorry.
To the LGBTQ community: I am so sorry. I know that my future actions will never absolve my prior beliefs and statements, but I will do better. As an ally to the queer community, I will use my voice and platform to oppose violence against marginalized groups, and I will use my words to help open up conversations about the importance of LGBTQ allyship within the church. I will also actively support charities that do grassroots work within the queer community. To start, I will be donating every cent I earn from this article to The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. And I’ll never be silent again.
I promise to do better, and I pledge to be an ally that isn’t afraid anymore. Today, I share my story with the hope that other Christians will open their eyes to the hurt that they’ve caused — and to consider the way that their beliefs have directly harmed LGBTQ people. Jesus himself commands, “Love each other as I have loved you,” and that is exactly what I intend to do.
Brianna Bell is a Canadian writer who writes about parenting and mental health. Her work has been featured in The Globe and Mail, CBC, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Today’s Parent.