As an out gay man at the last church I attended, life was a calvary. In February, a resident minister came to my house to confront me after I posted on Facebook my Valentine’s date with my partner Fritz.

“Are you LGBTQ?” he asked when he arrived, unbothered that he didn’t know what the letters signified.

My thoughts had jumbled. “Of course I am!” I said, but I did not dare to tell him out loud.

I would be expelled from the church if I was confirmed. If I denied, I would walk away unscathed. But I took a deep breath, smiled, and said, “Yes.”

Same-sex relationships are frowned upon by most churches in the country. After all, faith is central to the lives of many Filipinos. Our norms are founded on prevalent religious dogmas. But these norms prohibit the LGBTQ from freely expressing their choices, particularly when it comes to choosing who to love.

The church has become a threatening space for some of us. As a result, spiritual fortitude is weakened. When the church rejects its minority, young gays, lesbians, or trans begin to question their faith. In my instance, after being presented with a life-changing ultimatum—love or expulsion—I had realized I no longer resonated with my religion and filed a letter of departure. Staying would have held me back from being my most genuine self and from spending time with Fritz, which was something I did not want to happen.

In retrospect, I had to battle for my place in this world tooth and nail and I wasn’t going to surrender it easily without mounting a resistance.

At home where the doctrines of the church extend, my mental suffering deepened. Young LGBTQ like me who grew up in conservative families where there was no or little concern for same-sex relationships had lower self-esteem. We often see ourselves less because we do not adhere to society’s heterosexist standards of love, which are embodied in the church by the first two humans created by God. I, for one, had to compensate and double my efforts in everything I did in order to be tolerated by my loved ones, if not welcomed. Otherwise, I am labeled as an outcast.

After the pastor had departed, my mother argued with me, saying, “You should have said ‘no’.” But I couldn’t bring myself to hide the life and love I built for years. I had to make a significant decision about all the times I had to perform just to please my parents, especially my father, who was the most religious and was judgmental of my sexuality. I stood firm. I didn’t want to be restricted anymore by conventions that confined me. Enough was enough!

When the dust settled, I almost burst into tears. I was deeply hurt. Acceptance is very difficult to find as a gay man. Some LGBTQ face bullying in school, estrangement at work, or even discrimination at church. These force them to retreat, self-harm, and even consider taking their own life to ease their misery when all they want is to be loved.

I reminded myself that day—it is not hard to love. Love is not supposed to be painful just because it contradicts the heteronormative ideals of the church. There are several ways to love and be loved. The love Fritz and I have is only a shade in the gradient of things. It is a love fostered by the mutual recognition that our relationship is a fight for equality.

As a same-sex couple, we know that our love will face many challenges. Prejudice will attempt to derail our journey, throw rocks at us to discourage us, and even convince us that ours is a sin. But we are not about to kowtow. We understand that love has no sexuality. Even God’s love is not binary, for he loves everyone equally.

Rather than being the first to reject the LGBTQ, the church must be the first to embrace them as a sanctuary of the oppressed. To begin with, our sexual and religious identities are not incompatible. They can and do exist at the same time. Love is not black and white. It is a spectrum of colors. When the church welcomes love in this way, there will be no need to impose the concept of Adam and Eve on future generations. Only then can faith transcend exclusion.

Now, every time the subject comes up, I’m taken back to the first time I kissed Fritz on our Valentine’s date. I knew my love was not fragile since I was not embarrassed of myself at the time. Indeed, I was ecstatic that I could defend it against detractors and skeptics. I did it in front of our minister. For I truly love him, and I love him with the love I know is right—the rainbow in heaven is our witness.

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