Emily Burke

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I remember it vividly. I was sitting in a conference room, gathered with about 20-30 other Evangelical teenagers, listening to one of our peers share about his same sex struggles. I didn't have words to describe my sexual identity at the time, but I knew that I could relate to him. I wrote in my journal that night asking God again to take away what I called "lustful thoughts" (which I now know were normal attractions to females). It wouldn't be until my sophomore year of college that I would self-identity as not straight, but I knew something was different about me long before that. Coming to terms with being not straight was just the beginning of my journey to self-awareness. I took on the identification of bisexual for a time and eventually came to peace identifying personally and publicly as a lesbian. Now, I also I identify as genderqueer as I continue in my journal of self-awareness.

I grew up in a conservative, Evangelical church that was very influenced by the group Focus on the Family. My city was politically and religiously conservative, too. While I had many gay, male friends growing up, I still thought that being gay was a sin. During college, I studied theology, and my views began to change. While learning theology in the classroom and self-discovery in therapy sessions, I slowly began to believe that being LGBTQ+ wasn't a sin, at least it wasn't a sin for anyone else. For me, though, I had to fight my attractions. If I was LGBTQ+, especially if I actually allowed myself to pursue a non-heterosexual relationship, then I was sinning. For many years I was afraid that God and the church hated me, or at least would hate me, if they knew the true me, which included my attraction to women. Yet, I eventually realized that not being out was killing me, as I struggled with intense shame and suicidal ideation.

With the support of good friends and more theological studies, I came to accept myself as a lesbian and loved by God. I had to leave the denomination that I grew up in because they are not open/affirming. That was hard, but I am glad that I have found faith communities that are open and accepting of me. I even got to work as a Youth Minister at an Episcopal Church as an out and proud lesbian. When I finally came out and accepted myself, I could finally accept God's love for me, too. Now, I go to what my city calls "the gay church" because acceptance of all people is so deeply engrained in the DNA of my faith community.

In journeying towards affirmation, theological study was important to me. Reading affirming authors like Nadia Bolz Weber helped me realize that affirming Christians and pastors do exist! I also read many memoirs and novels about coming out, including Prairie Silence and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Q Christian's website was a good resource; I attended Q Conference in 2018 and made connections that I continue to foster online.

Now, I am engaged to an amazing woman, and am much more bold about my views regarding LGBTQ+ people. My fiancé is my biggest supporter, and she encourages me in all my academic, professional, and personal endeavors. I could never have imagined where I am now in life because it is so much better than anything I could have dreamed. I even went to my first Pride event a few weeks ago and felt so much joy being with my LGBTQ+ family.