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Seventh place: College essay contest — Sarah Nicell 

Sarah Nicell

Queer people and churchy cherry-picking

FFRF awarded Sarah $750.

By Sarah Nicell 

For as long as I can remember, God has hated me. Not in a chuckle-inducing I-forgot-my-homework-ugh-God-hates-me kind of way, nor in the infamously traitorous I-committed-adultery method of religious betrayal. I was extricated from the womb at 4 pounds, 6 ounces, and nothing — not my mother’s blood, nor my first bath, nor the doctors, nor my baptismal introduction into the church — could rinse me of all of the inevitably horrific shame, guilt and sin this infant would collect and propel at the world like the plague. 

I was informed that God would hate that baby because she wasn’t just any regular baby. She was a gay baby. A lesbian baby. That baby would grow up to dream about girls in the way that boys were supposed to, and she would question her gender in the process. In being baptized into Catholicism, receiving the Eucharist, getting confirmed, and being bestowed with the name of Mary Magdalene herself, these sacraments simultaneously welcomed me into the church and informed me that my type of person was not acceptable.

To me, religion has always been a juxtaposition of “love thy neighbor” and “burn in Hell,” all wrapped up in forcibly well-intentioned comments and gossip that spread like wildfire. 

My church hand-selected its true sins from the bible just as customers might their meals at a diner, perusing the pages to find which acts to condemn and which to gloss over. Unfortunately, homosexuality was popular on the menu. I was told from a young age that lesbians were apparently not all the rage up in Heaven, and neither was abortion or premarital sex, two rules which simultaneously perceived women as objects and villains with no bodily autonomy. On the other hand, disillusionment ran rampant, for hatred, pedophilia, adultery, lust, lying, theft, masturbation and greed were “sins” that were discussed far less than the ever-so-scandalous nature of two men creating a life of love together. 

This churchy cherry-picking is incredibly problematic, but its influence would be far less harmful in a secular world. Today, the hateful views of bigoted religious figures disguised as holy men impact my everyday life beyond pious institutions. Despite no longer attending church, I am forever plagued by news of equal rights failures carried on the backs of conservative Christians. 

The Westboro Baptist Church throws slurs around like they’re empty words, proudly protests military funerals, and features frequent cultish behavior that is inexplicably protected by the law. The Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission apparently left businesses with the ability to turn away LGBTQ+ consumers on the basis of religious expression and freedom. At the same time, Christians began to label transgender individuals who simply wanted to use the restroom assigned with their gender identity as predators, despite some of the most frightening predators being active pedophiles within the church. 

A secular world combats the hypocrisy of religion — a reality that allows for the double-dealing of love to the churchy and hate to the queer — while promoting the freedom of choice. A secular world is an inclusive world, one in which belief and identity can co-exist, where neither are boosted above others, and neither are excluded from opportunity. A secular world accepts me, a gender-nonconforming lesbian, when God and his people don’t. A secular world gives me the chance to be queer without the unwashable guilt, and that sounds pretty good to me. 

Sarah, 19, attends Franklin & Marshall College. “I have volunteered for local political campaigns, advocated for LGBTQ+ rights, engaged as a journalist for The College Reporter, and participated in my college’s student governments,” Sarah writes. “I am a Class of 2020 Diabetes Scholar, a winner of NextGenAmerica’s ‘Pride is Political’ contest, and an alumnus of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar.”