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By Tiffanie Reynolds | firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony Coy realized he was attracted to other men about the same time he became attracted to God, and it’s been a conflicting battle ever since.
He started attending a United Methodist Church the summer of his eighth grade year, and became baptized a year later. It wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school that he began to hear the messages that being gay is a sin and God doesn’t accept homosexuals. It sent his own identity into crisis.
“That’s who I was, but at the same time I was feeling things that people said were wrong. I started a period of study where I was in the Bible praying, you know, all the time that God would take it away,” said Coy.
It’s this clash of views that has left many people like Coy confused and rejected, even as more Americans are in support of homosexuals and gay marriage. As of 2011, 48 percent of Americans support gay marriage as opposed to only 35 percent in 2001, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Among religions, Catholics and white mainline Protestants nearly tie with 52 percent and 53 percent in support, as compared to only 35 percent of black Protestants and 19 percent of white Evangelical Protestants, according to the same study.
“For many people, they grew up in a very spiritual environment, and were told that God loves everyone, until they discover that they are attracted to those of the same sex, and they are suddenly told that God doesn’t love them the same way he loves everyone else. I think that is a little ridiculous,” said Rev. Ted Voorhees of St. Cyprians Episcopal Church in St. Augustine.
For Coy, it wasn’t until last year that he met up with a group he found online, The Gay Christian Network. He finally understood he could be both gay and a Christian. The Gay Christian Network is a nonprofit ministry that supports those that identify with the LGBT community and the Christian community. They also help churches promote a more accepting community through original movies and other material, as well as by holding a conference every year.
Wanting to share this acceptance he found with the Gay Christian Network, Coy started an LGBT Bible study group with Club Unity. His vision is to create a space where people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, transgender, or just questioning their identity can study the Bible and discuss what it means to them. His focus is to have a judgment-free environment, and the only label members put on each other is Christian.
“It was really exciting and something that just fell in our laps,” said Kaleigh Gades, vice president of Club Unity.
Club members shared the enthusiasm, with as many as 10 people attending the first meeting. On top of getting to know each other, the group plans to study the book of Romans and discuss what love means and what it means to be a Christian, as well as study the verses that some Christians use against homosexuals.
Coy said that what really attracts people to the group is the atmosphere of acceptance, which he thinks is lacking on campus.
“At this point in time, I feel like there’s a need maybe on Flagler College’s campus to not be alone, and the need to find other people that have gone through similar experiences,” said Coy.
Gades agrees, saying that it’s hard to find that balance of religious beliefs and acceptance in the church-going community.
“It’s really hard to find out where’s a church that will accept me for me, despite anything else about me. It’s not going to judge me based on this small part of who I am,” said Gades.
She has also had experiences similar to Coy, where her religious beliefs and sexual orientation didn’t mix well with others. Growing up in a church environment, Gades began to feel like an outsider during high school, when she realized her sexual orientation wouldn’t be accepted by her church family.
“I didn’t have anyone who I felt was a safe place to talk to because I knew they were going to tell me, ‘No, this is wrong, you can’t be that,'” said Gades.
Besides helping to start this Bible study group, her and Heather Cribbs, president of Club Unity, have also started to advertise LGBT friendly churches in the St. Augustine and Jacksonville area this year to help members find places to worship, if they are interested.
For more information about the Bible Study group, e-mail Anthony Coy at email@example.com.