Background: My name is Stephen, I grew up in asuburb outside of Philadelphia known as Havertown. I am graduating this semester, I have a degree in biology and Spanish and I had always planned to be a dentist and then my plans changed from being a dentist to becoming a doctor and then I decided not to do that thing. Now I am applying to law school, and hopefully I will work in drug discovery, drug patenting and malpractice, and that sort of stuff. It’s something different but I think I’ll be able to use everything I’ve learned from biology to sort of help me with that in the future.
Faith: I’ve always questioned why we’re here and what it means to be a person and somehow I’ve always tried to explain the world in some way. I grew up as Catholic, my parents baptized me when I was a child. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic and I’ve been exposed to sort of both traditions I guess and in a way they have helped me understand a lot about life that I think a lot of other people haven’t been exposed to in the same way in that my dad isn’t very religious, my mom isn’t very religious either, but I grew up going to church, I grew up going to Catholic school, learning everything that they teach you in Catholic school, but at the same time I was always told that the most important thing isn’t necessarily going to church and being a good listener to whatever the church says and trying to follow the rules. My parents have always taught me the most important thing is to show love for everyone around us and so, in a way, that has become my religion whether I identify as being Catholic or I’m Jewish or anything that I say. I think first and foremost my biggest belief is that you have to show love for everybody whether they be the most important person in the world or someone that you despise, you still have to show them love. So, that’s my idea of religion, I guess.
Aspects of your life which have shaped your faith: I was always told exactly what the church believes to be wrong about being gay. I’ve also been told that no matter what you have to love every person by the same church so it’s sort of, you have to judge what the person does but at the same time you have to love that person no matter what. It’s been confusing for me, growing up, trying to understand what that means. I’ve taught sixth grade confirmation classes, which is sixth grade is normally the year when somebody who is Catholic gets confirmed. So they have their baptism, and then they have their first communion and all of that, first reconciliation, and then they receive confirmation which is sort of related to their baptism in saying that finally I... when I was baptized, I was not old enough to make that agreement so now as an adult I can reaffirm what I believe and so I’ve been doing that for a while and after doing that I sort of don’t really think about what the church says in terms of how being, or homosexual acts, are sinful or whatever it is. I don’t really think about that, it doesn’t really affect me. I know that who I am is nothing that is shameful, it’s not something that I should be embarrassed about, it’s not something that I should hide, it’s not something that people have the right to judge. Even after reading about what the church says about homosexuals or reading about what the church says about..everything that is sort of outside of the norm….one, I’ve had a hard time understanding where that position comes from and two, it’s never really bothered me because I think when it all comes down to it, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter what the church says. The most important thing is how we treat people who are known as different in society or known as…not normal, unnatural I’ve heard. Regardless of whether or not my actions are sinful according to some people, if I treat other people with respect, I think that in return I should receive respect regardless of who I love…who I am.
Do you feel included with your peers? In a religious setting, no. I feel included as a person, definitely, but as a gay man I don’t feel included. As somebody who could possibly end up marrying another man and then go to church, I don’t think that I would be included whatsoever. I know that I can’t go to my church and say “I’ve met this person and I want to marry this person and I think that I love this person.” I don’t that will ever happen that I’ll be able to go into a church as the person that I am and be accepted for that. I think the way that we think about who gay people are in society is changing a lot, especially in the church with so many differing opinions. Some people say who am I judge, like, Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge” or some people say, “you should go directly to Hell, you’re terrible people.” I think it can be confusing for some people to try and understand who they are in that sort of context but I think that if I were to go, as the person that I am, openly gay, to a church, a Catholic church, I would be met with resistance and it wouldn’t be the same welcoming hello as if I weren’t open or I weren’t gay.
A time you felt excluded: There have been a lot of times when I have felt excluded but I have this one memory of me in like sixth grade I think it was, or seventh grade, and this one girl came up to me and we were at gym class and she said, “You’re gay, you can’t play soccer with us.” The gym teacher heard her say that and absolutely flipped out at her, and this was a little seventh grader, and said, “how dare you say that” and I started to cry. First of all, I didn’t want to accept who I was, I didn’t want to accept that I was gay and I was scared that the teacher knew that and that she was defending me and so in a weird way, I didn’t want to talk to the girl who was being mean by bullying me and saying, “oh, you’re gay, you can’t play soccer” but at the same time I didn’t want to be with the gym teacher because I didn’t want to be seen by the rest of the class as gay and so it was sort of a weird struggle for me to not want to be bullied, but at the same time not want to be defended because that would mean that I was gay and that would mean that they would just continue to say terrible things. Another time that I was excluded, or felt excluded, was in high school when people would ask me to go to date dances or I’d have to ask people to go to date dances and a lot of times I would ask friends and that sort of stuff and to me and my date, we were friends, but to the rest of the world… for example, my dad when we would get pictures before the dance my dad would say, “Are you guys going out? Is she your girlfriend? What are you going to do after?” and it made me feel like super, super uncomfortable and every time that I had to go to a date dance, the idea of me being gay was constantly in my mind. I know I didn’t enjoy it, I absolutely hated every moment of it. It was fun because I was with my friends but at the same time, it was so nerve-racking to think that this isn’t who I am and I have to pretend that it’s who I am and if I don’t act that way then somebody will find out and somebody will know that I’m gay and somebody will know that I’m different and that’s not a good thing, at least at that time in my mind it wasn’t a good thing.
How did that affect you? I’ve always struggled with having to come out to the world over and over and over again, to everybody that I meet or everybody that talks to me. In some way, I have to come out to them; whether it’s by saying I’m gay, or by acting a different way, or saying that I have a boyfriend, or saying that I don’t have a girlfriend, or whatever it is. It’s always sort of made me realize that people are different and that not everybody is the same and not everybody is normal and not everybody is the way that people assume, and people assume things about everyone in the world and sometimes that can be a good thing and sometimes that can be a terrible thing.
Advice for someone who is feeling excluded: The advice I would give to someone who is feeling excluded is probably, don’t give up. No matter what, understand who you are and sort of make it your life to realize that you’re perfect the way that you are and that no one in the world can ever tell you that the person you are is bad, or the person you are is wrong because it’s who you are and it’s who you should be. I think it’s difficult sometimes to see that and to realize that it’s okay to be whoever you are. Always keep that in your mind, always just look forward and it might be difficult to see far into the future but just take it one step of a time and get through the mean things people say and let it pass you and enjoy your present life. Enjoy every moment that you have because it should be, it should be special. You shouldn’t have to worry every day that somebody is going to judge you, or that somebody is going to say something mean to you. If they do, that’s their prerogative and they can say whatever they want to say but you need to realize that whatever they say, it does’t have to mean anything to you. You can still be an amazing person without them by your side. It’s so important to remember that you’re special and that no matter what, you don’t need some sort of okay from someone in order to be the person that you are because that’s who you are. You don’t need anyone’s approval, you don’t need anyone’s okay. That’s the most important thing, be true to yourself.
Advice to the people doing the excluding: In life everybody is in some way excluded from something; whether it be that they’re gay, that their skin color is different, or they’re from a different culture, or they speak a different language. In life, we’re all excluded from something and it doesn’t feel good. If you are at lunch and you go and sit at the lunch table you probably sit with people who are similar to you. You probably sit with people you can identify with or maybe you sit alone. No matter what in life everybody is excluded so the next time you think it’s important for you to make someone feel bad about who they are, make someone feel excluded, imagine if that were you, or if you were the person being excluded. How would you feel and how would that impact what you’re doing right now? So just realize that no matter what you do in your life, at some point you will feel excluded. You shouldn’t make someone feel excluded just because you don’t like the way they act or who they are or something about them.
One thing to make the world a more inclusive place: I think the biggest thing we need to change is, no matter what we do to someone; whether they be gay, or they be homeless, or they be crazy, or they have some sort of deformity, or whatever it is in the world; no matter what you have to show people that you’re there to listen, and you’re there to not judge them and no matter what, no matter what they believe, no matter what is wrong with them or not wrong with them, or whatever they think, it’s okay and they have someone that will listen to them. So I think the most important thing that we need is to be open. Be open to listening and to understanding and to learn, that’s one of the biggest changes that I think we need to see in the world.
“I feel included as a person, definitely, but as a gay man I don’t feel included. As somebody who could possibly end up marrying another man and then go to church, I don’t think that I would be included whatsoever.”
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"human." is a culmination of the writing, photo, video and design work of Harrison Brink and Alisa Miller. It is meant to act as a forum where we show the vitality of the human spirit through the strife that people face and overcome. If you have any suggestions for the project, please contact us. All input is welcome.