Knox County LGBT high schoolers are in a minority, but their struggles in high school reverberate throughout the majority of the local religious community. Four believers share their views on the issue:
"I've been Southern Baptist all my life, but when people say this is a choice for my son... Who chooses to be an outcast? Who wouldn't want to be accepted by everybody? God is so much bigger than we give him credit for. He made every one of us they way we are.
"I think people are just scared, like back when blacks and whites were first dating. But it's just too sad when they go and take their religion away from these kids.”
—Robin McLain, parent
“I do feel it is a lifestyle choice, as does my church. But if a person’s gay then they’re gay no matter what you say or do. It is their decision to make.
“I choose to not put myself in a position to judge them. I don’t feel it’s my place to approve or disapprove of their lifestyle. We all make lifestyle choices, both good and bad. I can’t say I really understand them, but live and let live, I guess.”
—Zoey, pseudonym for a Carter High School 11th grader
“We did have one gay teen attending our church on his own, singing in the choir, participating in programs and getting positive support and respect and seeing good role models. But his family found out and he had to stop coming.
"A lot of religious parents interpret a teen coming out as being rebellious, as if they've taken up drinking or smoking. It's just sad. We hear stories all the time of teens turned out of their homes just for identifying themselves as gay, with parents withdrawing emotional and financial support.
“People think it's a choice. I was married for 36 years, I chose to live a heterosexual life. I have always been gay.”
—Ray Neal, assistant pastor Knoxville Metropolitan Community Church, "a welcoming haven for the LGBT community"
“According to Scripture, God made us male and female. Some people have a tendency to believe they were born that way, homosexual or transgender or whatever. Now what I try to do is help everyone, no matter what their preference is. I'm going to try to help them, but still try to get them to see that according to Scripture this is a choice they've made.
“At Carter High School, which is in my community, there are only a few who are openly gay, but I think there are a whole lot more who struggle with it. I think a lot of the problem at high school isn't so much their sexual identity, but they don't know who they are. By the way they dress, the way they act, the way they talk, they're trying to figure out who they are. For those who are Christian, the Bible tells us in Christ who we are
“I'm fine with Knoxville having a harassment policy that spells out sexual orientation and gender identity. I think you're talking about a whole group of diverse people with diverse opinions and religious preferences, and they have to co-exist. Romans, chapter 1, verses 18-32. People can kind of read that and get an idea of what the Scripture says about it
“I think the difficulty we have in our churches across America is that we want to categorize the sin, 'Homosexuality is a much greater than that of lying or stealing.' But in Scripture, all sin is still a problem in God's eyes.
“The problem for us evangelicals especially is we want to attack the person and not the sin, when it should be the opposite.”
—Pastor Tim Tatum, Thorn Grove Baptist, Strawberry Plains