The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Writer shares struggle as gay Christian

| Friday, January 30, 2015

In a lecture at Saint Mary’s College entitled “Godly but Gay,” South Bend writer and speaker Joel Barrett shared his experiences as a Baptist pastor, getting married to a woman and attending three years of ex-gay therapy before deciding to accept himself as gay.

Barrett said he grew up in a Christian fundamentalist church whose members were hostile to homosexuality.

“I grew up in a church where the preachers would mock feminine men as a way to bond with the congregation,” Barrett said. “They would talk about how all gays should be put on an island so that they could die from disease and burn in the hellfires of damnation.”

“When you spend your whole life knowing that God hates you for something you have no control over, you start to believe it,” Barrett said. “I remember there were days where I would look at myself in the mirror and think every bad thought about myself in hopes that if I hated that person enough, I could separate that person from myself.”

Barrett said he considered his homosexuality a spirituality problem, which he tried to solve by going to a Baptist college, becoming a pastor, getting married and having children.

“The goal was to be this good godly person, and that’s what I wanted to be,” he said. “I’ll just keep trying to do that because I didn’t know what else to do, and if no one knew I was gay, I could keep being godly, but if the moment ever came where someone found out I was gay, then I could no longer be godly because that had been made very clear to me.”

Still, Barrett said keeping his secret was “a long slow spiral.”

“When you’re holding in this secret it doesn’t just stay there; it has to explode at some time,” he said.

Barrett said he eventually called a straight conversion therapist.

“There is no science behind any of it … I was so in need of therapy that it actually helped me,” he said. “There was no lack of love in my childhood home or in my current life. It made me realize that I couldn’t accept this love because it was conditional; I knew that the only way to see if their love was real was to tell people around me.”

Barrett said he began to develop more authentic relationships with others, but he felt no change in identity, after three years of biweekly group meetings, weekly counseling sessions, retreats and conferences, Barrett said he decided to “admit who I was.”

“I remember feeling really scared about coming out and what God would do,” he said. “I had a talk with Him and said, ‘I’m going to start living as a gay man. If you have a problem with it, will you please let me know?’ None of the terrible things my Baptist church told me would happen have happened.

“I have never retreated, never regretted. I don’t believe in ex-gay therapy. While it didn’t hurt me, a lot of people have recanted it or come out with books that it did a lot of damage. If it had come at a different point in my life, it could have been really destructive for me.”

Barrett said while he does not hold the same faith he had as a child, he is not bitter about religion.

“I look at it in the light that faith is important,” he said. “The God I was taught about, I don’t believe in that God. I’m very open to God showing me what He is; I find church in unexpected places with different people.

“Today I am married to my husband, together we raised my three children. My kids love us, they’re proud of us, we’re proud of them … life is good and I love it.”

Tags: , , ,

About Allison Sanchez

Contact Allison
  • Joel is an inspiration, not only to me, but to those still suffering silently. I spent well over a decade desperately involved in “conversion therapy” and immersed in a fundamentalist Christian world. I was a true believer. At 31, I had a girlfriend…but there I was, taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and once I made it to the top, I planned on jumping. I just didn’t see a way out. My truth was abominable to the Church and shameful to my family should they ever find out. I’m exhibit A as to what this type of “therapy” does to one’s mind and spirit. I’m encouraged we’re discussing and hope lawmakers and religious leaders soon understand this practice is leaving scars on the souls of humanity and must be stopped before another kid jumps or steps in front of a moving train.
    Bryan Christopher, Author “Hiding from Myself: A Memoir”

    • Thank you so much Bryan! I appreciate your words and look forward to reading your book. My book Godly But Gay is in the works right now.

      I guess I wouldn’t say that I came out completely unscathed, but there were some good basic counseling techniques that I needed to employ in my life at the time. However, the underlying message was still “you are aren’t good enough as you are”. This is never a positive thing to instill in someone’s life.