“I always knew that I was kind of different, but it wasn’t until Grade 6 when I really had to work hard (to be accepted). I was like, ‘Oh, this is what gay is?’ I was like, oh no! Because this isn’t accepted.” – Carlos Ramirez
Growing up in a strict religious household being gay
Carlos Ramirez, of Brantford, was born into a Christian-Pentecostal family.
“They take the word of the Bible extremely seriously,” he said. “They follow it word for word and that’s sort of the foundation of their values and their beliefs.”
He didn’t follow the religion’s values the way his family expected him to.
“I consider myself agnostic. Agnostic is sort of, you have this idea that there is something else out there other than humans, not necessarily related to God or aliens. Just some other being, but I don’t want to put myself in a box of religion. It could lead to really bad stuff,” he said.
Ramirez has a Hispanic warm soul, is full of cheer, and has towering dark brown hair and brown eyes. His stud earrings match his over-the-top personality.
Ramirez was not always happy in his life.
He went through challenges that most gay individuals face. Striving to be accepted by his family and friends would be an ongoing battle.
He especially desired to be himself around his old-fashioned parents whose main priority was following the word of God.
As an adolescent, he didn’t want to believe that he was gay. But he slowly realized his affection for males. He understood that it wasn’t something he could just grow out of.
“It was pretty bad because people would be asking me, and I would be like, ‘No,’ and then they were like, ‘Are you sure?’ And then they would try to get it out of me,” Ramirez said.
He kept denying the truth.
Then, rumours spread about him being gay which left him deeply hurt. He felt super isolated from the world – more alone than ever.
Ramirez fell into a deep clinical depression at the age of 13.
He didn’t feel comfortable until he attended Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener where he met a group of friendly people who welcomed him with open arms.
It’s strange how he’d found support at a Catholic high school though.
“I felt like more myself in that crowd,” he said.
However, the place he called home was far from being a place of comfort.
Carlos is the youngest of four. His siblings are Byron, Mario and Karen.
“Karen knows. She’s kind of OK with it – (but) not really. She’s essentially like, ‘You’re my brother and I love you forever. I’m very religious and so it’s challenging because I don’t want to challenge my faith. I don’t want to make you feel like you’re less than,”’ Carlos said, describing his sister’s stance on his lifestyle.
She was torn between her faith versus choosing to fully accept her brother. Carlos still longed to be fully accepted by any one of his three siblings. Mario was the first to step up.
“He was like, ‘So Jody (Mario’s wife) told me that you have a boyfriend. I just want to let you know you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but I’ll always love you. I want to support you, I want to meet him, and we want to go on a double date.’ I was like yay!” Carlos said.
Brandon Christie, his partner of two years, grew up in a laidback family dynamic compared to Ramirez’s family. His parents had no problems with him being gay.
“It’s funny too because Brandon’s dad is the kind of person who offers Brandon a beer and they go on the patio and just drink. I’m like, that’s not my family. He is lucky,” Ramirez said.
Brandon is taller than the average man, standing at about 6 feet, with scrubby facial hair. He dresses like he is going to a business conference every day.
Just by looking at Brandon, it is difficult to tell he is gay.
Brandon does everything in his power to support Carlos, but the road ahead feels like a ribbon stretching across the desert.
Carlos said, “Before we started dating, I was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, my family is really religious. If you’re going to date me, be prepared for not the most normalized life.'”
Carlos said Brandon’s patience does get tested at times.
“Every now and again, he still questions that if they love you, they should love you no matter what, they shouldn’t question that. It’s easy to say, people can give advice but don’t live that experience,” Carlos said.
Not everyone in the Ramirez family has been told that one of their family members is homosexual.
“Bryon is the only person in the family who doesn’t know. Anna (Bryon’s girlfriend) has tried telling him, kind of like ‘Hey, like Carlos might be gay,’ but Bryon was like he doesn’t want to talk about it,” Carlos said.
Carlos refers to Bryon as the goofball of the family, with a superior sense of humour. However, he uses his humour as a self-defence mechanism to deal with his problems.
“He and I are the closest, which is so weird because you’d think I would tell him first. His reaction means a lot to me. So, I’m trying to take it easy and slow,” Carlos said.
However, he couldn’t keep this hidden from his parents forever.
“Eventually, I wanted to be honest with them. It is only fair for me and for them because I feel like I’d always be lying about where I’m going,” said Carlos.
It took two tries to break this sensitive news to his parents.
“I came out to them in 2008 and their response wasn’t the best. They immediately quoted the Bible. It was really toxic, and it created a lot of issues for me and my mental health. So, I didn’t want to relive that experience again. It took me a while to build that relationship again,” he said.
Though left scarred and wounded, he wasn’t shocked by their reaction.
Carlos let time pass to repair his shattered confidence and then talked to them again, emphasizing he was unchangeably gay.
The second time, his family’s response was similar to Karen’s response.
“I was like OK, we are having a family meeting because I need to tell you guys something. I sat them down, I pulled out the tissue box and I said you’re going to cry, probably, and they did. At the end of it, we were fine,” Carlos said, adding he was relieved.
His parents said they love him, but they would keep praying for him. This is still a challenging topic for them.
Religion will always be a part of the Ramirez family’s life and at times Carlos still feels like he doesn’t really belong.
“In religious families, we’d pray before we eat dinner, pray before bed, and say thank you to another day of life. I don’t really identify with that religion anymore. I’m a sin, apparently,” he said.
Still, he respects their choice of religion and during prayer time he isn’t rude, sitting patiently until it’s over.
“Since I’ve grown up, I don’t really identify with my church anymore. I don’t know, maybe in the future, who knows? I’ll maybe go one day and see what it’s about but for right now I’m like ugh,” he said.
Currently, Carlos is studying to become a social worker.
“I’m doing that because I know what it feels like to be discriminated against. I want to be that person (I could open up to) when I was younger. I didn’t have that person to talk and be like this is how I’m feeling. I feel like if I wasn’t gay, I wouldn’t have the same values,” he said.
He wants to stand up for youth who are being picked on now because sexuality is something you cannot change.
“I don’t think I ever would change my sexuality even if I could,” Carlos said.
Trinity United Church
Trinity United Church is located in the heart of downtown Kitchener.
“Everyone is welcome to join us; we are a community of faith,” said a short, older lady.
Her icy-white pixie hairstyle, red oversized reading glasses and bold red lipstick is all part of Lori-Ann Livingston’s look.
The bubbly woman in charge of social justice at Trinity United Church likes to lift her spirits by wearing bright-coloured tops and accessories.
About 140 members are part of this congregation. They are from all walks of life. Most are older, with many retired, but there are also some families, couples and singles.
There is a core of dedicated people who are actively involved in social justice, faith development, climate action, reconciliation with the Indigenous community and charity work.
The church aims to actively build relationships in the community to find commonalities, to share enthusiasm and to concentrate resources to tackle challenges facing the community. Members seek to eliminate barriers to social justice and help everyone feel like they belong.
“All gender identities and sexualities are gifts from God. Our congregation is quite accepting of this and so is the respondent. Trinity United Church also celebrates the marriage of members, adherents of people who are connected to this congregation, regardless of their race, physical ability or sexual orientation,” Livingston said.
Livingston describes how it saddens the church’s members and officials that some denominations do not see the LGBTQ community as created in God’s image, or they see diversity as a threat.
“The United Church of Canada encourages and prays for other denominations to be as accepting of all people into their worship and congregational life as the United Church is and tries to be,” Livingston said.
“If we are, then trying to convert someone from the core of who God made them be is an abhorrent practice. It’s not consistent with what we believe at Trinity, nor with the United Church of Canada’s affirmation of members of the LGBTQ community,” Livingston said.
Baptized and still transitioning
Like Carlos, Savannah Pinnell of Kitchener also faced a difficult childhood.
“I started cross-dressing at age 10, but I kept it hidden for the most part. Although it pissed my mother off to know when she actually caught me. After that, I just kind of hid it as best as I could. I just kind of hid the fact that I wanted to be a woman. I hid it for years,” she said.
However, she never liked putting on makeup.
“I put on makeup once to go out with a friend and it made me feel kind of weird,” she said.
Now 20 years of age, Pinnell still has some masculine facial features although she is slowly transitioning into a female.
“I went behind my family’s back and talked to my doctor. He referred me to a transgender clinic in Toronto, Ont.,” she said.
At birth, Pinnell was born as a male and given the name Jean-Luc, but she likes to be referred by her transgender name “Savannah.”
Born on May 19, 1994, she was baptized and raised as a Lutheran-Christian.
“I have no idea why they chose to baptize me. I think I was baptized when I was little probably because of my grandparents. My grandfather was a minister for the United Church,” Pinnell said.
The Pinnell family was hoping that their son would be religious.
“I had a Bible with my name on it. I found it on the bookshelf (of my mother’s ancient, unkept house),” Pinnell said in disbelief.
“My childhood wasn’t always the greatest. By the time I was five, my mother started dating other guys, and my mother and father separated. Her boyfriends were not so very nice to me,” she said.
Her parents completely split when she was eight years of age. After that, Pinnell’s mother and her boyfriend decided to get a house together in Waterloo.
Mother and child never obtained a stable relationship.
In fact, that wasn’t the only unstable relationship in Pinnell’s life, as she has been in several relationships with both men and women.
Currently, she is in a relationship with a guy from Alberta.
They met through RuneScape, a multiplayer online role-playing game that Pinnell has played for over 10 years.
Although they have never met in person, they communicate weekly by phone and online interactions.
“The first time we dated was for a month. That was last year. And then he just had to leave me for an actual woman. I was pretty pissed, ” Pinnell said angrily.
Her boyfriend’s reason for the harsh breakup stemmed from his being Roman Catholic.
“His religion was keeping him from actually really being with anybody other than a real woman,” Pinnell said.
This boyfriend obviously didn’t see Pinnell’s self-worth due to religious factors.
“He was trying to keep the religion thing with his family but then he just kind of went, ‘Screw it, I’m not doing this anymore,’ especially after (the woman he left Pinnell for) decided to cheat on him with three other guys,” Pinnell said.
“It took him a while to realize that he screwed up with somebody who’s extremely loyal and won’t cheat. We plan on visiting each other at some point but not right now.”
Religions that accept vs. religions that discriminate
According to the Human Rights Campaign website:
- The Anglican Church of Canada has made it clear that being gay is not a choice among individuals and is the way people are born.
“The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada affirmed that people who are gay are children of God, beloved by God just as each one of us is.”THE HOUSE OF BISHOPS OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF CANADA
- “Homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.”
- “Gender identity or expression is in its list of persons who are assured full access to the ministry of the church.”
- “The Episcopal Church supports non-discrimination and has canon laws specifying that everyone has access to the governance of the church and lists “sexual orientation, gender, and expression” as specifically protected from discrimination.
- “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text which contains dogmas and teachings of the Church, names “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” and names “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.” While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it.”
- “The fact that Catholicism does not consider the “inclination” sinful is very different from more fundamentalist Christian churches. It is one of the reasons that the Catholic Church has not officially approved of reparative therapy. The Catechism further states that “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.” However, the doctrine also specifies that “Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
- “The actual experience of LGBTQ parishioners can vary widely across dioceses and parishes. Many Catholic communities reach out to LGBTQ members to offer as full of a welcome as possible within the limits of a Church policy that does not approve of same-sex relationships, even committed ones. Other parishes have denied membership to LGBTQ individuals and families.”
- “Most Baptist church organizations have a conservative view and doctrine on homosexuality. You will usually find an affirmation of marriage as being between one man and one woman and the practice of homosexuality considered to be sinful.”
- “In the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement on same-sex marriage in 2012, they stated their opposition to classifying same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. But they also denounced gay-bashing and hateful rhetoric. They called for their pastors and churches to engage in “compassionate, redemptive ministry to those who struggle with homosexuality.”
Source: www.learnreligions.com in an article titled, What Is the Baptist Church’s Position on Homosexuality? by Kelli Mahoney
- “Transgender men and women are recognized and accepted in many Islamic cultures around the world. In fact, the idea of a man or woman identifying as a member of the opposite gender is more likely accepted than that of a man or woman expressing sexual desire for someone of their own gender.”
- “A traditional reading of the Qur’an can lead to the condemnation of same-sex relationships and thus of same-sex marriage.”
Craig Wippech, 24, of Kitchener, holds his King James Bible. A full-bearded fella, he preaches the Bible through social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube.
His passion lays in videography, so he runs a self-business from home named Tone Zone Studios.
“I used to be a degenerate until I discovered Jesus Christ and got saved by God,” he said.
Wippech criticizes any Christian church that doesn’t follow the King James Bible.
“The King James version is the best because it is the most accurate and most faithful,” he said passionately.
When asked about the LGBTQ community and religion, he said they don’t serve a place in Christianity.
“They are disgusting in the form of choosing to live a sinful life,” he said aggressively.
He ended with quoting a verse from the King James Bible.
“Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.” – King James version
Relationship between religion and the LGBTQ community in the future
In recent years, the tension has lifted a little between the LGBTQ community and a few of the religions mentioned above.
Still, some religions refuse to accept lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and queers in their congregations, while others still look at this community as “sinners.”
LGBTQ advocates continue to work to unite the two sides.
“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwillPOPE FRANCIS
who seeks the Lord?