June 23, 2010

"I can’t recall a recent situation which has made me feel like these words did."

[Ed. Note: Andrea Patiño Contreras, an awesome friend and huge ally, sent this to me to be posted on the blog. We all pretty much knew she was The Greatest already, but it's officialer now? Right? I think that works. Anyhow, sweet post! Thanks for sharing!]

I am currently in Accra, Ghana, studying Cultural Anthropology and travelling around. Over the past week I have been staying at a really nice host family and though transitioning to Ghanaian life from American and Colombian lifestyles has been a little hard, I have finally been able to get used to a lot of the new things I have encountered. Sunday morning, however, I had a very upsetting experience that I thought I wanted to share with all of you.

My host mom, Aunt Vic, is a wonderful old lady. She is very (very) religious and as the head of the house, there are many practices in the house that involve praying, going to church, studying the Bible etc. I am not entirely sure what her denomination is, but it is some sort of Christian charismatic something. I knew that they go to church every Sunday, and I also knew (as I had been told by the other exchange students staying here) that Sunday church, plus school, plus Bible study, would take up to four hours. My roommate and I (none of us particularly religious) had decided we wanted to go to church because we knew it was important for the family and because we were, to a certain, extent expected to do so.

When we arrived we were guided into a crowded room where we sat on our own. The rest of the family members were scattered all over the room. I had known about this service for some days now and I had been preparing myself to be able to be there for four hours and to deal with a lot of things that I knew could upset me. Nonetheless, I was completely willing to see what it was like and I went in with my most open mind.

Though I was feeling absolutely uncomfortable at the beginning, after an hour of singing and dancing to cool-sounding songs about God and Jesus, I started to give in and try to dance and cope with what was going on around me. By then I was happy and thinking to myself what a great time these people have compared to the boring and stiff (no offense) Catholic services I had grown up with. This was a happy party.

However, as the sermon started things started to change. Though I knew I was going to be told that sex is a sin and all that, I wasn’t ready to hear that I should “shut down all the sinful people I know from my life, like those who are lesbians, or homosexuals, or drunks”. When I heard that I felt that my heart was about to explode a little and that I got really red and rolled my eyes and shook my head. I can’t recall a recent situation which has made me feel like these words did. I wanted to stand up and leave but I didn’t want to be a shame to my host family or be rude, especially in a place where I was one of the three white people in the room (an interesting point here as I am considered to be “white” here, while in the U.S. I am never seen as white but Hispanic). Anyways, it felt really bad, but I stayed listening to the rest of the sermon which by then was feeling like pure crap (again, no offense).

Half an hour later, the offering time came. I was too enraged and of course, I would never give money to a place that promotes intolerance and triggers discrimination and damages society in the way in which this sermon was doing it. However, as the only white people in the room we were easily pointed at and we were expected to give something. I just sat there with my roommate and pretended to be indifferent, but people around us were asking and demanding money. Then the minister looked straight into my eyes and asked me where my offering was, and people in the two rows in front me turned around asking the same question. I wasn’t going to give money. Instead of saying I didn’t have any I told the woman in front of me I simply didn’t have an envelope (which all the others were using to put their money in). Bad idea! They brought me one of course. I hid it in my purse and pretended to forget, but ten minutes later the people gossiping in the front row asked me for it.

When I gave it (1 GCD = less than 1 dollar) I simply wanted to cry. I stood there and my eyes got so watery. I didn’t want people around me to think that I was actually inspired by all this. I felt that I completely betrayed myself, all my friends and people I love who support and who are part of the LGBT community. It really felt awful and I was so angry at myself for not being able to say no. There was so much pressure in the church though, but I still think that that is not an excuse for not standing on my feet and stand for my principles. I know it was sort of my small incident, but it really hit me hard. I thought though, that sharing it with you all would be the best way of redeeming myself.


  1. Hi Andrea!
    Aside from this crisis, I hope your time in Ghana is going well. I hope you're doing better now and I'm glad to see another Ally on the blog, however, I don't think that you need any real redemption. I know a little bit about cultural pressure and while giving that GCD probably killed you and made you feel like you had completely shamed the LGBT community, you did have to adhere to cultural practices, and by going to church you agreed to their cultural practices regardless of your agreement. Not to mention that you would have probably been in all kinds of trouble with your shamed host family. So it's kind of an excuse =)

    Sometimes religion is just terrifying, especially in Africa. I just can't comprehend how something that claims to be so loving can be so hateful. It just seems like one big essence pressuring everyone else and everything else to conform to it's ideals.

    I just have one thing to say to that though.

    How Lame.
    <3 Swati

  2. Andrea -
    I am pretty sure you could *never* betray the LGBT community, and you writing on this blog proves it. As far giving money to this church-I don't think one less of you for doing it. (In all honesty, I'm sure most of it goes to hunger prevention and other altruistic programs in Ghana.)

    I am so glad you're an amazing supporter of this community, and I'm so glad to see you writing for the blog! Please don't feel bad about this-it's so clear to me that you are absolutely a supporter of this community. I just picture you running into the LGBT brunch at the end of the school year, out of breath (in between finals, I think?) but still making a point of being there. Your presence there and here online says so much.

    No te preocupes-eres una ayudanta increíble a esta comunidad, y te respeto muchísimo por todo lo que has hecho. :D ¡Realmente, eres un angel!

  3. I loved this post Andrea - in fact I've experienced a few incidents similar to this since I've been here in South Africa.

    You absolutely shouldn't feel as if you've betrayed the LGBT community, or your own beliefs - as Megan pointed out, I think it would be very difficult for you, of all people, to do so. There aren't many people I can thing of who are stronger allies! :) If anything, at least you know now that this church isn't something you want to interact with again.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I hope you're having a wonderful time in Ghana!