Making connection in LGBTQI+ circles really matters

My sweet grandmother was called “Meemaw” and she was a fabulous hair dresser. That’s what they called themselves back then, and Meemaw had a very different approach to God.  

Growing up as a gay man in Kentucky in the 80s was very challenging. I dealt with homophobic slurs and bullying as just part of daily life.  Most of my family members were Southern Baptists who believed that gays were not only sinners, but also destined for a horrible place called hell where God’s judgment would deem us as deplorable. 

Meemaw offered me an opportunity to think differently. She said that I was a child of God and no loving God would cast down judgement upon me because I was “different.”   

She said she suspected I was gay at 4 years old.  At this young age, I would be teasing wigs on a fake foam head and styling a bouffant of curls as proficient as she could.  My feminine side was coming to a head … literally!     

Gay, but full of faith

Even amongst the judgment, I still had a passion to be at church. At the very least I felt the need to be connected to a higher power and to the people who celebrated this power.     

When I think back, I can’t help but to ask myself what might I have done differently that would have yielded a safer environment growing up.  The answer that immediately came to mind is support groups. Unfortunately, during those times, there were no groups or safe places for the LGBTQI+ folks.

My two dearest lesbian friends shared with me recently that their daughter has now “come out” and wanted to know if my church had any support groups for young teens.  

How affinity groups matter for LGBTQI+ youth

I immediately began to do research to see what kind of groups might be in place in the area to give their daughter some emotional and spiritual support.  I did find a handful of LGBTQI+ support groups in Louisville, but none of them included a spiritual component.  This led me to start a group at Unity of Louisville which would  serve LGBTQI+ folks with the support I wish had been available during my early “coming out” years.  

As the Senior Minister at Unity of Louisville, I am discovering over and over again that connection and engagement within groups creates a healthier and happier life. And, while I realize not everyone appreciates the “group” type support, I would like to share with you the value that becoming engaged in a group has for your life.    

So, why does social connection and LGBTQ lifestyles make you happier, healthier, and feel more at ease? The short answer is science.

Harvard Medical School says that social connections not only give us pleasure, but also increase our long-term health that are as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.  In fact, dozens of studies support this same idea saying that having satisfying relationships within communities help people live longer lives, are happier, and have fewer health problems.  

Conversely, research has shown that a relative lack of social ties is associated with:

  1. Depression
  2. Later-life cognitive decline
  3. Increased mortality

The Harvard study (which studied more than 309,000 people) found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent. This was an effect on mortality risk comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day — greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

Having a network of social connection in LGBTQ+ circles or high levels of social support even appears to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease, and reduce mental decline as we get older.  

A tool for connecting and engaging

So, how do we create these important connections and opportunities to engage?  By creating or joining a group! While there can be support groups out there and available for you, it is important to find a group where there is safety and confidentiality. 

Personally, I am super stoked for our church to be a part of “Folx with Faith.” This affirming group opens the door to connection and engagement for people who have similar challenges regarding spirituality and our LGBTQI+ status. 

As we move into this new year, 2024, I invite you to consider joining groups such as “Folx with Faith” as part of your resolution.  Connecting and engaging in these type of groups could be the best thing you do for yourself, your health, your family and your community. 

Times are very different than when I grew up a young gay man in Kentucky. Now, there seems to be even more identities and expressions that are being explored by individuals. 

I wholeheartedly celebrate this coming out of whoever you are and where ever you are on your journey.  Just make sure you are supported in the path that you have chosen.  

I leave you with the wonderful poem “Where We Belong, a Duet” by Maya Angelou. This version is read by gay Brazilian-American actor Rafael Silva (with text below). 

“Where We Belong, a Duet”

by Maya Angelou

In every town and village,
In every city square,
In crowded places
I searched the faces
Hoping to find
Someone to care.

I read mysterious meanings
In the distant stars,
Then I went to schoolrooms
And poolrooms
And half-lighted cocktail bars.
Braving dangers,
Going with strangers,
I don’t even remember their names.
I was quick and breezy
And always easy
Playing romantic games.

I wined and dined a thousand exotic Joans and Janes
In dusty halls, at debutante balls,
On lonely country lanes.
I fell in love forever,
Twice every year or so.
I wooed them sweetly, was theirs completely,
But they always let me go.
Saying bye now, no need to try now,
You don’t have the proper charms.
Too sentimental and much too gentle
I don’t tremble in your arms.

Then you rose into my life
Like a promised sunrise.
Brightening my days with the light in your eyes.
I’ve never been so strong,
Now I’m where I belong.

(poem originally published in collection And Still I Rise, Random House, 1978)

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