Most LGBTQ Adults are Religious, Poll Finds; Members of the Community Say They're Surprised

A new survey found that most LGBTQ adults in the United States are religious, and more than half are Christian, to the surprise of people of faith in the community.

Conducted by Buzzfeed and Whitman Insight Strategies, the survey, the most extensive of its kind, addressed more than 880 members of the LGBTQ community countrywide from May 21 to June 1. The study found that overall, LGBTQ people were mostly white, female and under 40 years old. More than half of those surveyed identified as bisexual, while the smallest group of people surveyed identified as transgender.

While 39 percent of those polled said they had no religious affiliation whatsoever, more than half of the respondents said they were regularly involved in faith organizations. A majority of people who were religious were Christian, with 23 percent identifying as Protestant and 18 percent identifying as Catholic.

Another 8 percent of those polled were Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist, and about 13 percent weren't sure when it came to religion.

But the journey to keeping their faith wasn't always easy, LGBTQ religious people and advocates told Newsweek.

Kate Mears, a transgender woman, told Newsweek she was raised in a conservative, religious household in a small suburban town near Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended morning and evening church services regularly and grew up going to Christian schools. On New Year's Day in 2016, Mears told her family that she wanted to transition.

Her decision sparked a two-year debate with her church, which aggressively tried to convince her to de-transition or face excommunication. As a result, Mears fell out of contact with her family and was eventually dropped from the church's membership.

"I lost my family and church in the process," Mears said. But she soon found herself unable to let go of religion, which had become a central part of who she was, and eventually found another church, which accepted her with open arms.

"I hold on to my pain and try to use it to help people. I don't want anyone to feel like they have to abandon their religion," said Mears.

Marilyn Paarlberg, the executive director at the nonprofit organization Room for All, expressed surprise at the survey's findings.

"That is very surprising to me, because in my experience working with the LGBTQ community in the church, is that many of them have either left a long time ago or were exiled," she said. Paarlberg's organization is one of the biggest advocates for inclusivity of all genders and sexualities in the Reformed Church in America.

But Paarlberg noted that the church has made significant strides to be more open to people of all different backgrounds since the mid-2000s. "I think we looked at ourselves and said, 'We're better than this, the church is better than this,'" she said.

Tricia Sheffield noticed the changes happening in the church, which is why she became a reverend and now runs Middletown Reformed Church in New Jersey.

Sheffield was raised Southern Baptist but left the church when she was 30 years old—not because she was bisexual, but because she viewed the church as representing patriarchy, homophobia and racism.

After a decade away from religion, Sheffield returned the the church at the age of 41, but only as an office administrator. "I had no intention to become spiritual again, but I began to see the kind of church I'd always hoped for," she said. Sheffield went on to study theology and queer theory, and became ordained in 2013.

Sheffield and her congregation recently marched in a parade to celebrate Pride Month; she said many of the marchers were stunned that a church group was walking with them to support LGBTQ rights.

"I know that many in the community have been shunned and may not feel welcome," Sheffield said. "But I think as churches have become more welcoming, people have found home again."