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The 2019 cohort of the Youth Reporting Institute and their work.

Theseus and The Minotaur (The Black, Queer Version)

Allison Swaim
Kayla Beckett with her mother, Karin Beckett.

When I started the summer, I wanted to write about the struggle of black LGBT youth in churches that didn’t approve of their lifestyle and persecuted them for their sexuality.  However, I found myself writing about being a black, queer, God-fearing young woman who was searching for a space that would accept her and appreciate her for being exactly who she was.

My story was turning into a modern day, black version of Theseus and the Minotaur: A story about daring to travel through my own life searching for the answers I was desperately looking for as it pertained to finding and understanding where exactly I could go to be my authentic self.

Credit Allison Swaim / WUNC
Kayla Beckett with James Jackson.

My friends, family, and my congregation were the people who knew me best so I turned to them for guidance. While conducting multiple interviews, my view on the African Methodist Episcopal Church, myself, my friends, and my family (most importantly my mom) evolved.

First, I asked my current pastor about his views on the LGBT community. Although he declined to speak with me, I was able to get a hold of former attendee, James Jackson, who is gay and performs drag under the name Semaj.

James says that many church members disapproved of his lifestyle and felt free to address him about his sexuality, his appearance, and his actions in and outside of the church.

I know God is not counting me being gay as a sin for me ... I've been like this literally my whole life and my mother and them will tell you that since I was a child, they knew I was gay. -James Jackson

“I'm so proud about who I am because I know, I know God is not counting me being gay as a sin for me,” James said. “I've been like this literally my whole life and my mother and them will tell you that since I was a child, they knew I was gay.”

James competes locally at a club named “The Bar” along with his drag mother, Kimora.

My own mother, Karin Beckett, who attends the same church, also tagged along with me to see Semaj perform.

When asked about her thoughts about going to “The Bar” she said, “I'm not a drinker. So if it's a club or something, I'm not really, you know, into that. But just seeing all of the different ways that you can put drag together, you know, all of the ways that a male can look so much like females that you can't tell the difference, like the makeup, you know, just the environment. It's a new experience."

For my mother, raising a child who identified as part of the LGBT community hasn’t always been easy but she has most definitely grown.

“I think for me, it's my favorite,” she said. “It is what it is. You can fight it, but for what? You find it and you lose your relationship with your child? Is it worth it? Is it better just to love them for who they are, where they are at this point in their lives and maintain that relationship.”

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