Despite recent civil rights advances, religion remains challenging territory for LGBT Americans. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research poll indicated that 48% of LGBT adults are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 20% of the general population. Being religiously unaffiliated, however, doesn't mean not being spiritual. In my practice as a spiritual guide, many LGBT adults have told me how they want to reconnect with spirituality, but they're uncertain about how they can do so.
I understand that feeling, because I've been there. I spent 26 years as part of a demanding, fundamentalist, anti-LGBT religious community. When I finally had the courage to come out as gay at the age of 39, I resigned my membership in that church and began to rebuild my life. I had strong feelings about how my religious tradition had impacted me. I wasn't sure anymore what I thought about God. Was I an atheist? An agnostic? Something else? I tried to explore other religious traditions, but I couldn't connect with them. It took me about four years before I could begin to pay serious attention to my spirituality again.
As I've researched, interviewed, and worked directly with LGBT adults, I've learned that some concrete steps can help us recover from the negative aspects of our religious pasts and discover an affirming, sustaining spirituality.
1. Allow yourself to grieve. Whether you were expelled or left on your own, you experienced a loss when you separated from your formative religious tradition. You may have lost family, friends, and a community where you once felt belonging. You may have lost a faith that you had invested years of your life following. Even though a part of you is probably relieved, you may experience feelings of grief and loss. Give yourself permission to experience those feelings, and eventually they will give way to healing.
2. Shift your focus from external to internal authority. Many conservative, anti-LGBT religious communities train their followers to rely on outside sources for truth, whether sacred texts, tradition, or authoritarian leaders. In order to move toward creating your own affirming spirituality, ask yourself some questions about different beliefs or ideas: "How does this feel to me inside?" "Do I really agree with this, or am I just accepting what someone else told me?" Instead of asking, "What is true?" ask yourself, "What is true for me?" Getting into a habit of asking these questions will help you rely on your own internal authority, an important step in discovering your own affirming spirituality.
3. Learn about other ways of connecting with the Divine. Take the time to learn about other spiritual traditions. Visit a Buddhist Temple. Investigate Paganism or Wicca. Find out what traditions your own ancestors practiced, and research them. In doing so, you can follow that internal authority you've been building to help you recognize what traditions---or parts of traditions---seem meaningful for you.
4. Rediscover your own purpose. Many LGBT individuals I've worked with felt as if their former religious tradition gave them purpose in life, or even a specific life calling. Examine how parts of that purpose may still apply to you in a way that feels authentic. Be open to discovering other opportunities and experiences that may reveal your own spiritual gifts and talents. Search out ways of making your mark on the world that can be filled with deep meaning for you.
5. Return to your community with gifts. As you've discovered what values and beliefs personally resonate for you, and begun to explore your own sense of purpose, ask yourself how you can bring those gifts back to your community--both our LGBT community and our larger human community. How can you make a difference? Where can you contribute to making the world a better place?
If you feel like you need support in taking these steps, reach out to others who have been there. In addition, trained spiritual guides can help you to explore these issues in your own way, at your own pace, in an atmosphere of safety and welcome. You can find trained spiritual guides through professional organizations such as Spiritual Directors International.
As I've seen myself and others apply these steps, I've seen LGBT people move from places of depression and longing to lives of fulfillment and service. Each one I've worked with has created their own personal spirituality that is affirming and sustaining for them. Each has their own legitimate and meaningful way of engaging with the Divine--and it's a beautiful thing to see!
Seeking to discover or deepen your spirituality? You can contact Nick Literski to request a complementary initial consultation through his website, at "The Gay Spiritual Guide."