I became a youth pastor to help kids and teens grow into healthy young adults. This was why I entered the youth ministry: you can have real discussions with teenagers and teach them something meaningful.
Growing up is hard, and people that can help and just be there can be huge in a young person’s life. I wanted to foster an environment of stability, especially for those who came from broken homes.
But I also held a lot of the evangelical right-wing views. I was staunch anti-gay. I preached against that stuff. I taught against that stuff.
I was never 100% comfortable with fundamentalist ideology, but I knew that was the party line, and that I’d better toe it. I was fed that mantra. I bought it: hook, line, and sinker.
My stance began changing after 9/11. I started to reject the conservative Republican viewpoint after the war in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq, because I’ve never been a fan of war my whole life. That cascaded to other things that I questioned at the time, like viewing homosexuality as a ‘sin’ or as a ‘choice.’
Through all of these questions, I had never really talked to or spent time with anyone in the LGBTQ community.
I finally left the ministry and my church in 2003. In my new position, for the first time in my life I began to work with people who were openly gay.
At this point in my journey I still viewed being gay as a “sin.” This belief took a couple of years to shed. I was always warned that gay people ‘hated God’ and that they were always trying to force their “gay agenda” on others.
This obviously was not the case. Furthermore, the two queer women at my workplace were the kindest, friendliest people to me.
A fellow Christian, though, acted disgusted by the very existence of a gay man in our office. It showed me that that being gay isn’t something to “choose to do” like being a Christian, but it is a deeper part of who a person is and as such maybe it doesn’t fit my definition of “sin.” This was my starting point to compassion.
I saw people in that lifestyle, as I viewed it at that time, the “choice” as I called it, in a different light.
But it wasn’t until I moved here to Muncie that a lot of my prejudgments fell away. I started really rejecting my idea that being LGBTQ was a lifestyle or a choice. It ties back to the R.A.C.E. Muncie group and just talking to other people and having conversations on social media. But there’s one person that probably impacts me the most: Michael.
Michael is trans and engaged to Anna, my cousin’s daughter.
In 2012, my wife and I visited my aunt and uncle near Chicago that we had not seen in almost 20 years. We also met my cousin’s daughter Anna, who introduced us to Michael.
During our stay, I noticed a strange dynamic: my aunt and my uncle would refer to Michael by a different name. I read up to understand how this reference by my aunt and uncle clearly denied Michael his identity—and his humanity.
This rejection really stood out to me. Too often those in the LGBTQ community, and especially trans people, have to deal with rejection by their (or their partners’) families. The suicide rate is through the roof for people going through this extremely difficult transition, and on top of it they don’t have the support.
Over the next year or so, we had times when we would see Michael, and at first I did not know how to act. But I made a decision. Over the last couple of years, as I’ve been learning and I’ve been understanding, that when I’m around Michael, I want to treat him like I would any guy, like I would my own son, because he doesn’t get that from his family.
The thing that bothers me the most is that people reject people who are going through this. People who are transitioning through the hardest time that you can imagine. Their families are saying no. It breaks my heart. It really tears me up that some of these kids are killing themselves because they’re being rejected. Because they’re being told: “I don’t like who you are.”
How can you reject your flesh and blood? My faith informs me to love my neighbor. I want to be the person that loves others unconditionally. And that’s what I tried to do with Michael, and what I’ve tried to do when I have met people who are in the LGBTQ community because I am still a Christian. I still follow Jesus. And I don’t see Jesus rejecting people.
I can’t look at people who are hurting, who are being rejected, who are being outcast from society and reject them just as plenty of society does. In my Christian faith, I believe that God loves all of us. That Jesus is love and that his death says that he did love you. Who am I to say that anyone is worth less in his eyes?
We spend too much time worrying about other people instead cultivating our own opportunity to grow, to come out of a narrow mindset. As a youth pastor, my heart went out to young kids and teens who needed mentorship and guidance. Michael taught me that you don’t have to be a leader in the church to show up for those in need.
– Kelly Tague’s Story as Told by Cheri Ellefson
Kelly Tague is a Special Education Bus Driver in Yorktown, where he lives with his wife and two children. He is also involved in R.A.C.E. Muncie, The MLK Dream Team Freedom Bus, and The Bridge Community Church. Kelly seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus, which drive him to seek ways of inclusivity, love and justice for those society traditionally rejects.
Cheri Ellefson teaches gender and international women’s issues courses at Ball State University and offers community workshops on ‘unlearning gender.’ She co-owns Queer Chocolatier with her wife, and serves on the advisory board for the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.