The Social Gospel with Dwight Osborne
by Shonette Reed
“I knew that I was different, but I just didn’t know what that even meant. And, I guess apparently people had saw it in me before I saw it,” Dwight shared during the docu-sermon interview for The Social Gospel.
When Dwight was around eight years old, he knew something was different about him. But, as a kid, pinpointing precisely what that was was a difficult thing to do.
In becoming aware of his same-sex attraction, Dwight came across several things that both made him feel and show him that he was unaccepted: scripture condemning him, spending three months in a psych facility for children undergoing conversion therapy, adults being disgusted with him, and a strained relationship with his grandmother.
“There was always that dissonance between me and the church because of that,” Dwight said.
“Because I wasn’t accepted, um, and that I never would be accepted. Me and my grandmother we have a great relationship. But it’s those types of things with people that you love who are telling you that who you are, even before you know who you are, isn’t right, makes people not want to be in church. Especially my community. And we shy away from the church… I feel like this happens to a lot of people within the church. Where they don’t know how to deal with it, and they either write it off, or they punish them, or they send them off, or they disconnect from them.”
During our interview, Dwight shared his experiences with his sexuality and the church and how he believes love and compassion, and understanding toward one another have a transformative effect on the church and society.
The Dope Church Blog: Growing up in church, what was your experience?
Dwight Osborne: Growing up in church was a pretty great experience. I have a lot of memories of just being in choir, being with my grandmother, fellowshipping, after church events, the food. Basically, everything that I attribute to who I am is because of my early years of church.
TDCB: A good experience in the beginning? What happened?
DO: I think as I became of age, I just had a lot more questions about the word and how it applied to me. And I didn’t know how I was going to navigate through life. By living by the word but also trying to be who I was becoming as a man at the time. So like I would say, maybe like, my sophomore year of high school, I was kind of like, kind of questioning things. I wanted these questions answered, and a lot of people around me within the church couldn’t really answer those questions.
TDCB: What were some of the questions?
DO: Well, let me rephrase. I didn’t really ask anyone the questions because I was afraid to ask the questions. So, they were questions pertaining to my sexuality or feelings that I was now having about the same sex. So, I was a little nervous to ask those questions, and then, even if I tested it out on peers who were in the church with me, I just got a lot of pushback.
That’s when I was starting to have conflicts between the word and who I was becoming.
TDCB: Would you say that was around the time that you began to notice a disconnect between the church and the LGBTQ+ community?
DO: Yeah. I would say that’s the time where I was having the disconnect between the church and myself and who I was becoming. I didn’t fully understand what was going on. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to at the time. So, I was still trying to navigate all of that. I was trying to deny those feelings and trying to live by the word.
When I was in high school, around my sophomore year, I didn’t really identify with the LGBTQ community at that time. Now looking in retrospect, yeah, I can say that. But it was probably my sophomore year. I can’t remember a specific time, but I remember the feelings I was having at the time on — I had hit puberty before then, now you’re starting to see your peers, you know, have boyfriends and girlfriends and, um, yeah. I just was very curious about my feelings and should I act on them. Was it going to be wrong? And how people would look at me. And then, I came from a small town as well, so, it kind of made things a little more difficult and a little bit more complicated. But, my sophomore year is when I started to notice the disconnect between myself and the church.
TDCB: What gave you the courage to allow people to hear your voice and your perspective about yourself and the LGBTQ community? How can the church do better?
DO: It took years. It took a long time because I felt like I didn’t have anyone behind my back or behind me, championing me to be who I wanted to be or who I was becoming. Especially, the church.
You hear people talk about people who are different. Whether they’re gay, or it’s something else, or a different religion. And it kind of stops you from voicing how you feel.
It was my father who gave me the courage.
I just went to AfroPunk, not too long ago. And AfroPunk is, for those who don’t know, AfroPunk is a place for Black people to kind of, like, express themselves however they so please. I went with my best friends, and I decided to wear a skirt. So, I was trying to make a statement. I ended up posting that picture that I took with me in the skirt online, on Facebook. And my father’s friend saw the picture and then told my father, and my father jokingly said, “Oh which color did he wear? That red one? I don’t like that one. I like him better in the blue one.” Something of that nature. And I love that! Because I feel like he was saying I accept you no matter what.
It would help a lot of people mentally if the church just said, “You know, we accept you for who you are.” I mean, they do say, “We accept you for who you are,” but the action itself doesn’t really happen, especially when it pertains to the LGBTQ+ community.
TDCB: In what ways have you seen the church remain in its bubble when it comes to the LGBTQ community? And even the homeless community?
DO: I feel like things are changing. There are definitely churches who are making strides to make people visible. And to show that they care and that they’re loving. Towards all people. But I feel that there are still some churches, there are still organizations, that shame people who are a part of [my] community. And they can do a better job by just including them. It just takes love. People are out of their homes; they have nowhere to go. They’re homeless. People are committing suicide, especially in the Black church, or especially Black people. And, we’re losing lives. And the goal is to save lives. I feel like if you’re able to get over — I feel like it’s about yourself. And if you can get over yourself, then you can just start caring and thinking about others in the way that you should care and think about yourself. Then I think the church would be, you know, heading in the right direction when pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community.
TDCB: You said, “including them” or being inclusive. What does inclusion look like to you?
DO: Inclusion… seeing more trans people visible in the church, in leadership. Seeing — I mean, we know gay people in the church. We see them, but they’re not visible. They’re just there to assist the church however they so please. We think it, but it’s kind of one of those things where we don’t say anything about it. But to say, “This is who I am,” and allow these people to say, “This is who I am, this is how I can contribute to this church.” Maybe they could start, I don’t know, a chapter for the LGBTQ+ community to help them succeed in life. Or to help them understand the word and how it pertains to them. I don’t know what it could be, but I think it starts with being visible in the church.
TDCB: You shared about “caring and loving.” How would you define love?
DO: (Pause) I don’t know. How would I define love? (clears throat, pause) I think love is, piggybacking off of what we’ve been talking about; love is allowing someone to be who they are — and loving them no matter what — and seeing them and wanting to see them. Striving to see them in whatever fashion they decide to present themselves.
And, love is loving yourself. If you love yourself in that same manner, I feel like it creates a space where you can love others the same way.
TDCB: You also shared that you grew up in a Christian household with your grandmother. Did your grandmother raise you as well?
DO: Yeah, my grandmother partly raised me. I lived with my grandmother from the age of 6 to maybe 12. So, prior to that, I didn’t really go to church, but that six years and then after was basically in the church. My grandmother was a big part of the reason why I have such strong faith.
TDCB: What are your thoughts on members of the LGBTQ+ community that the church exalts?
DO: Music. Creativity. It’s kind of silent. And, I mean, there are a lot of gay people in these spaces — I’m not saying that gay people are more talented than anyone else — but we see them. We see them as our pastors sometimes. We see them as the choir directors. We see them in the choir. We see them playing the piano. And, they’re talented.
They’re able to minister effectively. And I feel like the church rallies behind them when it comes to getting the people in the church. But, they’re not rallying behind them because of who they are. They’re rallying behind them because of their talents and what they bring to the church. So, in that way, I see the church kind of like, behind it.
TDCB: What systems have you seen in place that cause harm to the LGBTQ+ community?
DO: (Pause) Just like any other marginalized community: just any lies or any type of stereotypes that people put on them. I mean, that doesn’t really help any community. I hear in the church, and I even hear it outside of the church, about what people or how people think about people within that community. And, a lot of the time, it’s false. But, people take it, and they carry on what then becomes truth to someone. It’s perpetuated, and it ruins the relationship that could happen between the LGBTQ+ community and the church.
TDCB: What are some of the stereotypes we need to dismantle?
DO: [Some of the stereotypes are] that it’s oversexualizing people. Whether trans, gay, man, woman.
I think when we’re talking about diseases, specifically HIV, a lot more. And how to protect yourself and how to navigate with that disease.
TDCB: Are there any ways that you have felt oppressed by the church?
DO: Oh, yeah, for sure. I’ve felt oppressed by the church. I mean, I grew up C.O.G.I.C (Church of God in Christ, a branch of the Pentecostal denomination of Christianity) (laughs). And not to laugh, but certain things you just don’t do in a C.O.G.I.C church. You don’t wear earrings, or um, I don’t know, there’s a lot of things. I can go on and on. But not being able to be myself and feeling condemned for being myself in the church. I felt oppressed by not being able to be visible.
TDCB: With the experiences you’ve had so far, do you have hope in the church’s coming alongside the LGBTQ+ community? Especially those who are Black and a part of the community.
DO: Absolutely. I think times are definitely changing. We just have more understanding of human life and how it works. And, a lot of people can compare their lives to other lives and have an understanding. I feel like, the younger generation, we’re coming up, and we have better knowledge and understanding of just all walks of life. And that’s great. Because we’re going to eventually not take over the church, but we’ll be leaders in the church. And, I feel like that time that we have separated from the church, if you go to college or whatever you do, it helps you when you come back because now you have an understanding of different walks of life.
And, yeah. I have a lot of hope for the church.
TDCB: Last week, you shared that you had experience with homelessness. What was that like for you?
DO: (Pause) I experienced homelessness when I moved to Miami, which wasn’t too long ago. I was moving to a new city, and I didn’t have a lot of money. And, I was trying to find the best way to save money. I thought the best idea was to live in my car and shower at Planet Fitness.
[That] was a terrible idea.
First of all, it’s hot in Miami. So, imagine just being in a leather seated car, sweating, and then being in dangerous areas. Not really knowing what to expect cause you’re vulnerable. You’re in a car in a parking lot. It was a very dark time, and I don’t wish it upon anybody.
There are a lot of people out there who are homeless. And some don’t even consider themselves homeless; some consider themselves houseless because home is where you are.
So, I think it’s just perspective. But I definitely was without a house.
TDCB: How did you make it through that time?
DO: For sure, faith. [I was] believing that it was going to pass. And making sure that I was keeping myself mentally strong and meditating and talking to God. [It was] setting a plan and a goal. Writing it down and trying to meet those goals to get to that place.
And, then, having a good support system and being honest about my situation with people I love. Because had I not been honest about my situation, I don’t think I would’ve been able to get through it. But it was the encouraging words, and it was them helping financially. It was all sorts of things that helped me get out of that situation to a place that was safe and comfortable.
TDCB: We’ve touched on this a bunch of times, but when you consider the common scripture “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” what comes to mind?
DO: Love yourself, and you can love others. There’s someone who says the golden rule is to “Treat others the way that you would want to be treated.” But, I heard recently that there’s a platinum rule that says to “Treat others the way that they want to be treated.” And, that’s very important. Because not everyone wants to be treated the way that you want to be treated, you have to allow people to come into your space and for you to enter their space, and for you to recognize: “Okay, they may want something totally different. And how can I maneuver with what I know to make them happy.”
And, then, the same for yourself. You should be treated the way you want to be treated. And everyone isn’t this same thing; it’s a spectrum. And we have to realize that everyone falls somewhere in the spectrum and treat them accordingly.
TDCB: Back to the homelessness part, you said your faith is what got you through. What about the church? Did any part of that community, I feel like faith, and the church can sometimes be different because your faith is within you, right? But then, physically, that community. Did anyone in that community help you through that? Or was it you and your family?
DO: In terms of my faith and how it got me through: my faith is wrapped in Christianity. My family are, for the most part, Christian, and these are the people I was looking to to help me strengthen my faith.
That time was weird because I was considering different ideas on what faith is and where my strength comes from. And I don’t know this may be an unpopular opinion, but what I found at that time is that the power — that I have power. And, I think before then, I thought that I would just give it up to the Lord and he’ll handle it, and He’ll do, you know, everything that needs to be done. Which, you know, He will. But, you have to put in the work. You have to realize your power and your abilities, and you have to have faith in yourself to kind of get over it.
And, there’s that whole word of “faith without works is dead.” You have to put in the work and believe in yourself. You have to see the God in yourself to realize who you are because we’re all made in His image.
So, during that period, talking to my family about my faith and how to strengthen my faith was me realizing that I had power, and that power was me just getting up and doing what needed to be done. And to know that I was able to accomplish it because I’m made from the great God himself. He’s given me these powers to use my mind and to use my voice to speak things into existence, and that’s how I got out of that situation.
TDCB: Was there any type of overlap with your experience being homeless, being part of the LGBTQ+ community, and in your faith? Did one affect the other?
DO: In terms of my homelessness, in relation to the church, and in relation to the LGBTQ+ community (pause), I didn’t really go to church. I didn’t really seek the church out. But, I will say that the LGBTQ+ community definitely rallies behind their people.
There were people who allowed me to stay on their couches.
They definitely lifted me up in a way I didn’t understand at the time, but now looking back on it. And the majority of those people were Christian or of Christian faith, and we hold these values, and they’re great values. And, yeah, they saw the God in me. I saw the God in them, and I’m thankful to the church for raising these beautiful people to be who they are. To be resilient. And to still see themselves in the church. To read the Bible and still gain understanding even though we’re told all the time that we don’t really matter because of what the Bible says. To read something that contradicts who you are and to still see value in it is pretty amazing.
TDCB: In that time, did you find yourself losing people as you were being honest about what was going on?
DO: I mean, all through this growing period of finding out who I am, I’ve lost people. But I feel like we all go through it. When we’re reaching the next level, or you’re having some type of epiphany or some new understanding. You tend to lose people. We all go through it, just in different ways.
But, yeah, absolutely. I’ve lost people along the way. People that I really love. People that I still miss and think about them often.
TDCB: How did you, or how do you, journey through that?
DO: It’s the support system. It’s finding the strength in yourself. Knowing who you are or constantly searching for who you are. Asking questions and getting to know other people, keeping yourself busy, and putting in the work. It’s how you get through it. If you just decide to give up, then you won’t get very far.
TDCB: What’s one thing you think that your community that you’re involved in should hear?
DO: I would want my community to know to continue to show up in spaces that people, I mean, it’s hard to show up in spaces where people say who you are is wrong. I would say continue to show up, keep your faith. Show people who you are. Show people that you deserve to be loved. Show people that you’re beautiful. Show people that you deserve to be seen. We should take up these spaces and change the minds of everyone, basically, specifically in the church.
It would be nice if we stood up and said, “This is who we are. We deserve to be here.”
TDCB: How did you deal or cope with that throughout your adult years? Do you cope with it, or have you ever found a way to cope with it?
DO: Coping with situations of rejection or where you are told who you are is wrong is very difficult. Because, especially when you’re young, you’re trying to grow up. You’re maneuvering through life, and sometimes you don’t have time to stop and try to figure out, well, what is that and how can — especially if you don’t have a support system, it’s kind of hard to stop.
So, we get older, and we don’t know why certain things are triggering us. So many things have happened. So, I think it’s very important to seek out a therapist if you can. Whether it’s in the church or outside of the church, your mental health is very important. It connects everything that’s going on with you.
The way that I got through that traumatic experience because I was definitely triggered by that was seeking out therapy. Realizing that something isn’t right here, I have these thoughts and ideas that aren’t really matching like I would want them to, and my energy is kind of off, and I figured out it was because of that. But, I had to go all the way back there, and I had to heal that, and I had to forgive, and I had to do all of that to come back to myself. To be the best person that I could possibly be.
Mental health is important. And therapy works if you immerse yourself into it.
TDCB: Do you feel that, from the perspective of your grandmother, do you feel like she thought she was helping you?
DO: My grandmother, in that situation, when she put me in therapy, I feel like she was doing the best that she possibly could. She, I mean, I respect and love my grandmother. It, unfortunately — what was unfortunate was that my uncle was also gay. So, her son. What she decided to do with him was to throw him out. This was in the ’70s, maybe. So, her idea of what it was then was different from what it was when I was younger.
At least when I came in the picture, she was like, “There’s something going on, and let me try to incorporate someone who maybe can help you mentally.” The issue was that she kind of just wiped her hands of it and put me in the care of someone she didn’t know. But, she did the best she could. I mean, she grew up in an old church, you know, and we all know what old church is or what it was. So, I respect my grandmother; we haven’t talked about it.
TDCB: Was there ever a moment that you lost your faith?
DO: Honestly, I’m always in and out of my faith. Because I’m always questioning myself, and I’m questioning my interactions. I’m learning new things about people and how to interact with people. Especially with what we’re seeing with social media and seeing different walks of life that we’ve never seen before. Different cultures. I’m always in and out.
But, my core is my faith. And I try to stay as close to what I believe as possible.
I would say now that I just appreciate every human being and their walk of life. Their religion. The color of their skin. Their sex. Their orientation.
And when you get to that place where you’re looking at different people in different walks of life, you constantly question your walk of life and how you look at things because it’s so different from yours. And, you see all of these great people, all these wonderful people, who are caring and loving, and like I said earlier in the interview, it’s all a mirror. I see you in me. You should see yourself in me.
We all deserve grace. We all deserve love.