When we consider the complexities for youth who are coming out of the closet, we often think about acceptance, support, encouragement, and building affirming spaces. However, one of the pieces most overlooked is how to be authentic. Youth and adults alike want to be authentic and desire that same authenticity from others. Faith formation and worship are not excluded from this need. Rather, we are to build those affirming and authentic spaces, the places where we wrestle with scripture and faith in ways that challenge the discrimination that runs rampant in our world. Authenticity is a necessary step of the metaphorical coming-out-of-the-closet experience.
So how do we make authenticity a priority for our LGBTQIA+ youth and others? Own your story. Know the places you’ve come from, whether that’s a space of privilege or not. Claim your spaces so that your LGBTQIA+ youth know they can also claim theirs. When we know our stories, we can dive deep into why God created each of us to be uniquely ourselves, as children of God. Share your story; own your tragedies and triumphs because they have shaped who you are in this world. Be the light by which your students hear and see the Word of God active in their lives. You can be authentic by being vulnerable about the difficulties you’ve faced. Maybe it was discrimination or another form of hardship that shaped who you are today. Share the Bible verses you feel are the most impactful. Think about using the text in Acts regarding the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch. This passage shows the love of God for all people, and how nothing can stand between the Creator and God’s beloved children. Through honest and heartfelt engagement, your youth will feel more comfortable expressing their true selves.
Take a breath and dive deeper. Who hasn’t thought about the times you’ve had vulnerable and intimate conversations with mentors or peers? These are the places where the Spirit is active, knitting together the similar threads of life experiences while also celebrating the differing ideas. Connect with your youth, so that they don’t have to feel intimidated by coming out of the closet. When you stake a claim on your experiences and God’s story, it opens doors of opportunity. When we focus on authenticity for all people, it takes away the stigma and challenge of being different, of expressing oneself in a world which may not understand us. Challenge yourself and other leaders to share a blessing and a challenge. Allow space for all your youth to speak about their authentic experiences, the aspects that make them who they truly are inside and out. May you be challenged to seek out ways to be authentic, to hold sacred space with youth in your care, and ultimately be the open door so the closet is no longer the only place to be oneself.