Written by Zamara Perri
Like many black lesbians, Erica J., had deep roots in the church. “My father, now deceased, was the assistant pastor of a Baptist church. My godfather was the Bishop of the church I attended from childhood to my early-to mid-20s,” she recalls. “Growing up, my parents told me, ‘If you lived in our home whether you were a child or an adult, you were taking your behind to church on Sunday for ALL services and during the week when there was Bible class. After my father passed, my mother still made sure my sister and I were active within the church.”
About a year ago, the 35-year-old who directed the newly released documentary HERStory Docu-series: The Lesbian and the Black Church stopped going to church.
“I found myself being very depressed and even suicidal at times and the main source of the pain that I endured was from the church,” Erica says. “I was told that GOD had this and that planned for me and I was called to do this and that but at the same time totally dying inside to the point of wanting to literally die. Things just didn’t match up for me not only with the contradictions in the Bible but the contradictions of “His people.” I felt so boxed in and not really living a life that I knew I could live. I couldn’t deal with the mind control of it. I stopped desiring to fight for a team that never really fought for the true me. So, I left.”
Still, Erica said she doesn’t regret growing up in church. “I do believe the church (particularly the one I grew up in) taught me how to be ethical and have morals,” she added. “At this time I have no desire to return. Life isn’t perfect but I definitely feel more free. I’m still on my own personal spiritual journey.”
“My Life Could Be a Lesbian Film”
“It was mid-January when I was texting a friend to tell her I had found the movie Brother Brother about a young, gay, black artist who was kicked out of his parents’ home and came in contact with an older man at a homeless shelter who took him back in time to the Renaissance era when gay writers, poets, etc. had to deal with not only racism but discrimination from their own race because they were gay.
She and I had always talked about lesbian films that were on Netflix and what we thought about them and she stated, ‘I wish there were more lesbian films.’ I told her ‘Hell, my life could be a lesbian film considering being a lesbian and growing up in the church and hiding my sexuality, etc.’”
That’s when Erica knew she had to do to take on this project even though this would be her first experience in filmmaking. “I knew there were a lot of women who have this issue and, for the most part, they are forced to silently deal with it alone and suffer through it. I felt like this was an opportunity for their voices to finally be heard,” she explains.
Erica notes that she didn’t create the film to bash the church. While the film does stories of women who have been hurt, beat down, rejected, it also shares the stories of women who have been embraced fully by their churches. There are even interviews of several lesbian pastors who were openly gay.
Did The Church End Their Marriage?
One particularly painful segment of the documentary shares the story of LaNedra and Tamara. The couple met and fell in love in church and remained closeted up until they got engaged. Tired of being asked about her ring, Tamara who sang in the praise and worship team, went to her praise and worship leader and confessed that she was engaged to be married to a woman. After making that confession, Tamara was told she could no longer sing in church.
Heartbroken she left the church. LaNedra who worked with the youth in her church, remained closeted, then resigned from her post to support Tamara. Eventually the two divorced, and Tamara believes it was due to their experience in church.
“People need to see that it is possible to have gone through this and still come out victorious or even a better person than you were before,” Erica shared. “I have observed in these women much tenacity and strength.”
The Film is Not Anti-Church
Though the film shares some hard truths, Erica notes that the film is not about bashing the church. “I am hoping that black churches would view this with an open heart and see the damage that they are inflicting on people all in the name of Jesus who according to their Bible … showed the greatest love, yet some of their actions towards the LGBT community totally contradict that.
Hate sermons and opinions will never ever help. Especially from those who we know are living down low lives themselves.
Instead of a place of a place of safety, the black church (some of them at least) have become a place of slaughter.
Instead of their goals of bringing people to GOD they are running them away. [Church] literally is a matter of life and death for some people.”
The film is now available on Youtube to watch for free. One of the positive outcomes of doing this project is that it gave this new filmmaker a passion for filmmaking that she never had before. She plans to create other films about lesbians and parenting and interracial dating.
“I just want to be able to create projects that show the raw truth and stories of lesbian women with subjects that people either don’t speak about, have no knowledge about it or have incorrect knowledge about it,” Erica says.
Featured photo is of Erica J., the documentary/filmmaker.