Personal Story

Feature Issue on Sexuality and Gender Identity for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Question of Faith


Eddie Harriel, Jr. (he/him) has served as a self-advocate and advocate for several organizations, including participating in a train-the-trainer module on sex education for the Illinois Department of Human Services. He lives in a group home in Flossmoor, Illinois.

A man with glasses and a tan jacket smiles with his eyes partially closed.

Author Eddie Harriel, Jr.

I remember going to church when I was 7 years old, and religion has always been an important part of my family and my life. Through all of life’s trials and tribulations, I feel like God is with me and gives me purpose. I feel I am here for a reason. You have to put your faith in God and believe.

I identify as a gay man. I was 20 years old when I came out, which was almost 10 years ago. I was tired of hiding who I am. I was in the hospital visiting my great-grandma. When she passed away, I was feeling a lot of grief and loss. My great-grandma had let me paint my nails and wear makeup, which I couldn’t do around other members of my family. So right there in the hospital, I told my mom and my uncle. The following Sunday was Second Sunday, when people in the congregation stand up and confess our faults. I stood up and said, “I’m gay.” I wasn’t saying being gay is a fault, but I had been hiding who I am and wasn’t being true to myself. Some people said they already knew. I lost some of my friends. In my church, being gay isn’t something people talk about.

Today, I’m still active in my church, and I’m still fighting battles about my identity. That doesn’t make me sad. It is just how it is. I know the church is not going to change the rules just for me. I still go because it is a big part of who I am. A lot of people in my family still go, and my aunt and uncle still take me there. During COVID-19, I listened to gospel music and prayed a lot for strength, and it got me through a lot. My spirit says I cannot give up.

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