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SOGI Story #4: Increasing Support for LGBT Youth of Color and Faith

sideGARDENtopSOGI Story #4: Increasing seed44444444444glsen_marchandapril2015Support for LGBT Youth of Color and Faith

(C. Proxmire, March. 15, 2015)

The SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Issues in Education Conference is hosted each year by Oakland University, with the aim of giving educators and social workers tools they need to understand how best to work with LGBTQ youth. The day-long conference was full of stories and information, which we’ll be sharing over the next couple of weeks. To learn more about SOGI, including the large Midwest Conference coming Oct 17-18, visit

CFSEM-123-OaklandCounty115-digital-ad_v2“When I came out of the closet, I was a Baptist minister in Indiana.”

For those in the black community, or the faith community, or the LGBT community, Reverend Roland Stringfellow’s admission may seem like three contradictions rolled into one human being in difficult situation.

“Intersectionality” is the term for what people experience when they have multiple identities or affiliations. These identities can add complication for people who feel like one of their identities is in conflict with another. For example, LGBT people of faith may feel the conflict between their sexuality and what they were taught in church. People of color may also feel conflict between cultural stigma and their sexuality. They may also feel isolated within the LGBT safe-paces if they are a minority in those spaces.

Stringfellow spoke about these conflicts and the things LGBT people of color and allies can do toReid_Sally_115 increase the level of support in the community, particularly for the sake of the youth.

“This is a life and death issue,” Stringfellow said. “We need to increase support in all our communities.

He explained that in the past when people came out as LGBT, it was almost a given that people would lose their family, their church and at least some portion of their social community. “The tradition is to pull you away from your family and your church and to go to a safe space.”

And while the rainbow family or chosen family is important, the loss of previous support systems takes its toll.

That’s why Stringfellow teaches The Umoja Project, which is a proponent of the Family seed14_chad_mattAcceptance Project and the work of Caitlin Ryan. The project looks for healthy ways to maintain important relationships even when sexual orientation is an issue. The focus is not on the idealized vision that parents or churches should love their child fully and unconditionally, but on the realistic approach that issue exist, and that people can still love and care for their gay child even when they may not accept their sexuality.

After leaving the Baptist Church, Reverend Stringfellow went to California to get his degree from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministries in Berkeley, CA. He now is Reverend at Metropolitan Community Church Detroit in Ferndale, as well as the teacher of The Umoja Project which is through the CLGS.

Umoja, which is a Swahili word meaning “unity,” focuses on congregations and giving them pathways toward inclusion. There are several options that someone can chose for their church, including a film and Bible study session, training for clergy and lay leaders and even a five-week program of in-depth study to look at multiple topics around theology and sexuality.lisa schmidt law

Particularly in the black community there is an idea that gay people are destroying society. This comes from pressures to be strong, and from religious traditions that preach homosexuality as a sin. Further, preachers use statistics as an argument that the “homosexual lifestyle” is a sin. LGBT people are more likely to face substance abuse issues, STDs, depression, joblessness, and depression. This is not caused by being gay. It is caused by pressure not to be.

“What’s destroying the community is the rejection people feel from their families and their pastors,” Stringfellow said. “If mom is not for me being gay, and the church is not for me being ctechadgay, then I’m not coming out, kids may say.”

Even if pastors are not comfortable being open and affirming, they can help save lives by reducing judgment and negativity.

“When you stand behind a pulpit, your words impact people’s beliefs. When I speak to pastors I say that you were put into this position to create hope and to help people,” he said.

In many cases, reducing harm is a more reasonable goal than increasing acceptance. And it matters. “People from high-rejection households are 8x more likely to take their own lives,” the reverend said. To the parent, Umoja and FAP philosophy says “We recognize you love your child. In your condemnation, literally you are killing them. You are killing them emotionally. You are killing them spiritually. You are killing them physically.”seed013_larry_and_monica_mills

Actively working on family relationships greatly increases a child’s chance of survival. Reducing judgment in churches also increases survival.

Even within the LGBT community – there is more that can be done to help LGBT people of color have better lives.

“People of color may seek out LGBT safe spaces, but even within those spaces people may feel out of place… [We need to let people know] ‘You are not an anomaly. You do not need to give up your culture or your family to be safe here,” Reverend Stringfellow said.

For more on the Umoja Project see:

royal_servicesFor more on Family Acceptance Project see:

For more on MCC Detroit see:

Check out other SOGI stories:





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