Black or African American

LGBTQ Mental Health Care In The Black Church

by Rev . Shawn Torres

Back in the day, Girlfriends was one of my favorite sitcoms to watch. To see the interactions between strong Black women on television that mirrored what I was exposed to in my family always left me joyful and anxious to watch the next episode. The cast of the show was Joan, Lynn, Mya, William and my favorite Toni who could never get Jabari’s name right; calling him Jumanji, Gymboree, Jujube, Jacuzzi, Jalebi from time to time.

What made the show so perfect was knowing that every Black family has a Joan, that one auntie who thinks she everybody’s momma.

We all have a Maya, that sassy yet sanctified auntie who is also hood at the same time. We all have a Lynn, that auntie who is always at your momma house and you wondering when she going to her own house. We all have a William, that uncle who thinks he is funny and whose life is dictated by all your aunties. Last but not least, we all have a Toni, that auntie who thinks she is all that and a bag of chips. Yes, we all have one.

Not only are these characters aligned with people we may know in our own families, but the various topics of discussion were closely linked to issues that impact the lives of Black people.

Topics ranging from interracial dating and marriages, sex-addiction, HIV/AIDS testing and the stigma associated with it, abstinence and celibacy, dating and finding love on the internet and the overall need for friendships.

However, some matters were raised that were engulfed with shame.

One episode began to discuss the need for therapy and mental health counseling to combat stress over the loss of friendships. The sassy yet sanctified auntie, Maya, quickly interjects with “Black folk don’t go to therapy, they just go to church.” This statement was so befitting for her character because church folk seeking “help” from secular professionals are often shamed for doing so. However, Bishop Yvette Flunder reminds us that “church is not God.”

In as much as this comment is presently true, it wasn’t always true. W.E.B. Dubois reminds us in Souls of Black Folk:

The Negro church of today is the social centre of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character…. This building is the central club-house of a community of a thousand or more Negros. Various organizations meet here, — the church proper, the Sunday-school, two or three insurance societies, women’s societies, secret societies, and mass meetings of various kinds. Entertainments, suppers, and lectures are held besides the five or six regular weekly religious services. Considerable sums of money are collected and expended here, employment is found for the idle, strangers are introduced, news is disseminated and charity distributed. At the same time this social, intellectual, and economic centre is a religious centre of great power.

The Black church and the Black preacher, the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil says Dubois, represented and performed duties that we in modern society would assign to God. However, the church and the preacher have become ill-equipped overtime to deal with issues of concern regarding mental health; especially when it comes to LGBTQ parishioners.

After being molested in the church as a teenager, my mother and I both felt that I needed to talk to our pastor about the experience. 

In order to do so, we felt it was necessary to end our membership and relationship with that specific church, and we found a new church home to become affiliated with. Then it began, she went to the library and checked out the DVD-set of Donnie McClurkin’s deliverance from homosexuality.

It occurred to me that we agreed on two separate things. My mom agreed on me receiving counseling from my pastor on how I can become delivered, and I wanted to receive the counseling on how to be restored back to wholeness mentally.

My pastor at the time didn’t know how to hold that tension. Instead of honoring my wishes, we only had one session, and I was left to sit with and navigate these thoughts by myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the help. In fact, I needed it.

The dilemma was that no one in the church could offer me what I needed or even refer me to where I could find it.  

Since we are living in a time of shame coupled with a theology that is hate-filled, exclusive, and understands the bodies of LGBTQ folk as abominations, the concept of mental health services becomes that much more of a necessity. Statistically, LGBTQ people are 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition like depression or general anxiety disorder.

The fear of acknowledging mental health concerns via therapy, the dread of discrimination, and the threat of ridicule, rejection, hatred, and prejudice all lead to thoughts and engagement of suicide attempts, PTSD, the abuse of illicit substances and alcohol amongst a litany of other things.

Furthermore, we (people who identify as LQBTQ and of color) are subjected to hate-based crimes based on our gender orientation/identity/non-conformity, sexual harassment, and sexual assault at rates twice that of our non-queer and white counterparts.

For LGBTQ youth ages 10-24, these statistics are even more overwhelming, with suicide being the second lead cause of death. 

Youth who are out with their sexual and gender identities are 4 times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience thoughts of and attempt suicide, as well as engage in self-harm; while questioning-youth are 3 times more. Queer-youth are 6 times more likely to suffer from depression and have higher rates of child sexual abuse than heterosexual respondents. These figures aren’t just abstract; they are concrete.

I didn’t want my pastor to get the guy who molested me back. I was not interested in filing a police report or pressing charges and being responsible for another Black body existing as an object of the state. I was in no way fascinated about be healed, delivered and set free from homosexuality; that was my mom’s objective and still is (not mine because I’m content).

In an effort to be able to talk, I didn’t even want my pastor to say anything. What I was more invested in was someone who could just listen and offer me secular resources to receive the mental health services I desired. Our churches just can’t be comfortable with using the preaching moment as a communal counseling session or pastoral offices hours as a need to fix the situation.

Singing those ole familiar hymns of the church like “It is Well” can no longer be used to absorb what we aren’t comfortable talking about. 

Our service to our congregants is to be able to provide resources and opportunities for rehabilitation and restoration. That’s worship. That’s our reasonable service. To serve this present age is our calling to fulfill.