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A Letter to the Southern Glitter Kids

He grew up in Mississippi and didn’t come out until he was thirty-one. Here is his letter to LGBTQ+ kids—words he wishes someone had shared with him years earlier.

Dear ____________,

I feel the need to write you a letter I wish I had received.

Had I gotten a letter like this one before I came out, my journey may have been lighter, filled with a bit more laughter, and fueled with a bit more understanding that I mattered. Even though I didn’t know why I was terrified of the way my glittery spectrum of light might sparkle in the world, it would have helped for someone to say:

Despite what your church, your neighbors, your friends, or your family may believe, say, or do around you, you are a stunningly brilliant flame.

Being Southern can feel complicated. Often misunderstood and dismissed by non-Southerners, we can be worse to our own kin. As a gay, queer, or trans kid, you know this intimately.

Raised in the United Methodist Church, I’ve watched the church of my childhood tear itself apart over LGBTQ+ issues. The debate focused on the enforcement of the now-repealed church ban on the marriage or ordination of “self-avowed, practicing” LGBTQ+ folk. Just last month, after a half-century of conflict, the church of my childhood finally repealed those bans and removed language in its Book of Discipline that said “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Many of the departing congregations joined the Global Methodist Church, which opposes same-gender marriages. Over the years, many in those congregations denied prejudice about LGBTQ+ issues and claimed their opposition was simply to Methodist bishops not following the old rules in the Book of Discipline. But when the UMC lifted the LGBTQ+ bans, it became clear that those who claimed their opposition came only from a lack of rule-following either didn’t do their homework or didn’t want to admit to their bigotry. Their arguments sound as ludicrous as arguing the Confederacy was about “states’ rights,” not slavery. Their opposition and their decisions to leave the UMC were, in fact, fueled by homophobic bigotry.

For the most part, I’ve lost concern for what religious strangers may think or believe about me. Particularly when their views are inconsistent and exercise their faith in a way that fails to serve the poor, sick, and needy. Still, it isn’t easy watching this news unfold. Even at fifty-one years old, I have a mix of frustration, astonishment, and (of course) hurt when family and friends, who claim to value me as a person, now support an organization—the Global Methodist Church—that hypocritically claims in its Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline to “love extravagantly.”

The possibility that your loved ones might use a church to oppose LGBTQ+ issues may sting the most. I can imagine how you may feel as a teenager, even if your community did not go through that public spectacle.

The conservative Southern Christianity I grew up with in Mississippi made me hate myself—until I realized that its views about kids like me weren’t, in fact, Christian.

The conservative Southern Christianity I grew up with in Mississippi made me hate myself—until I realized that its views about kids like me weren’t, in fact, Christian. 

I eventually realized how many folks wear their faith on their sleeves without holding it in their hearts. It reminds me of The Mother Crab from Aesop’s fables. Mother Crab says to Baby Crab, “Don’t walk so funny.” Baby Crab responds, “Show me how to walk so I will learn.” When Mother Crab tries, she walks as awkwardly as her child.

Actions always speak louder than words. 

Perhaps hypocrisy is part of human nature: we are, after all, human. Such hypocrisy, however, risks creating dangerous self-hatred that costs lives. According to the Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, 41 percent of LGBTQ+ youth “seriously considered” suicide in the past year alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, 26.3 percent of LGBTQ+ high school students attempted suicide in the previous twelve months: five times the rate reported by heterosexual students (5.2 percent). There is nothing loving, kind, or “Christian” about fostering an environment that destroys youth.

At least two teens in/near my Mississippi hometown committed suicide within the past two years. 

Please do not add to that number. Please help each other so that your friends do not add to that number.

Life isn’t created by a glitch in the universe. None of you were a mistake: from the individual cells full of living protoplasm to the Earth that feeds us and protects us with its magnetic core, atmosphere, and perfect distance from the Sun; from Jupiter’s housekeeping gravity holding back giant asteroids that would obliterate us; to our solar system located in a spiraling galactic arm far enough from monstrous black holes devouring light… each of you is a vast number of miracles. Star dust and all.

For people like me, raised in the Christian faith, a critical passage of Scripture provides a simple, direct, profound challenge that also comforts me tremendously. I share it here, in the event it helps you:

One of them, a lawyer, asked him [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

—Matthew 22:35-40

That last line, often dropped from this quotation, is the linchpin. Anything contrary to these two requirements is neither law nor from a prophet. The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12—“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you”—explicitly tells us how to love other people. That’s a hard boundary: whatever contradicts that framework isn’t Christian law. Even if it’s another passage from the Bible. 

Within these two commandments, I hear a third imperative: love yourself. 

When churches, politicians, and others push an agenda that the LGBTQ+ community is somehow “less than,” the ability to love one’s self is a daunting challenge.

For years, I avoided loving myself by trying to escape myself—through alcohol.

Sobriety has retaught me the value of the belief in a power greater than myself. In fact, millions of others also rely upon a higher power—of their own understanding—to stay sober every day. Their stories demonstrate that no religion has a monopoly on faith in the divine and that miracles come in countless forms.

Churches may always display hypocrisy. The Bible has been used to justify a vast range of hate-fueled actions, whether the genocide of the Crusades or burning William Tyndale at the stake for translating the Bible into English. It was used to justify slavery, segregation, and bans on interracial marriages. Horace Bushnell even used it to argue against women’s right to vote, a debate that still comes up in more obscure, restrictive sects. 

Even still, individuals within churches selectively choose Scriptural passages that match their own points of view. The Bible contains many prohibitions that today seem baffling: whether it’s divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10–11), men trimming their beards (Leviticus 19:27), women braiding their hair (1 Peter 3:3) or speaking in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), planting two crops in the same field (Deuteronomy 22:9), keeping children born out of wedlock from joining the church (Deuteronomy 23:2), or even same-gender relationships (Leviticus 18:22).

Do not listen to people who use religion to hurt and harm. They do not understand what they do and have an incredibly limited belief in the divine scope of love.

This isn’t a game to identify outdated concepts of “sin” but to reveal inconsistencies and absurdities from a failure to read critically. That failure leads to an ever-expanding list of questions: How many homes can someone own before it becomes greed? Are expensive box seats at a sporting event a sign of gluttony? What about bankruptcy? 

I am not telling you to ignore your faith, if you chose one. Churches are built by humans who are neither divine nor perfect. Rather, do not listen to people who use religion to hurt and harm. They do not understand what they do and have an incredibly limited belief in the divine scope of love.

Use this experience to explore the Golden Rule: listen to what others have shared about their personal lived experiences. Have you ever dismissed something because you didn’t understand why it was “such a big deal”? If you don’t understand how poverty can trap multiple generations like quicksand, volunteer at an after-school organization in a low-income neighborhood. If you didn’t understand Black Lives Matter, read about the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and how Black Americans have told us for decades that police often treat them differently. Go back just a little further and you’ll step into history where local police overtly collaborated with the Ku Klux Klan in the murder of three civil-rights activists in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in 1964.

Many of you may feel trapped. You aren’t.

Build a family of choice, whether through school, work, or an extracurricular activity. This kind of family is an incredible gift to yourself that takes time to nurture. Maybe it happens in college; maybe it’s later. Include yourself in that circle: it’s an inherent part of self-love.

You can love your family of birth even if they don’t love you in return. You can love your faith, even if someone uses theirs against you. 

Know that kind, accepting people are out here waiting to meet you. They will accept you—right now—as the amazing part of creation that you are and will become.

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About the author

Author Profile

John W. Bateman writes and looks for stories from the Deep South. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune,The New Southern Fugitives, Electric Literature, Facing South, The Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, and on the silver screen. He has a not-so-secret addiction to glitter and, contrary to his Southern roots, does NOT like sweet tea. His first novel, Who Killed Buster Sparkle? (Unsolicited Press), was nominated in 2020 for the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award in Fiction and recipient of the 2019 Screencraft Cinematic Book Award. John received his MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow. He is currently a 2023-24 Watson Brown Fellow in the Southern Studies Fellowship in Arts & Letters in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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