Is it possible to be gay and Christian?
That’s the question former Winnipegger Stacey Chomiak set out to answer in her young adult and teen book Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-of-Age Story.
For the 41-year-old, who now lives in Chilliwack, B.C., the answer is yes.
Chomiak grew up in an evangelical home in Winnipeg. As a child and young teen, she loved going to church. But, at 16, things changed when she developed feelings for another girl while at a summer church camp.
"I started to realize I had feelings for girls, but didn’t know what that meant," Chomiak said, noting she didn’t know anything about being a lesbian. "I had to go to the library and look up what that was."
The next 13 years were a fight to reconcile her sexuality with her faith.
"I struggled a lot, I was quite closeted," said Chomiak, adding she didn’t feel safe telling anyone about that side of herself.
Everything she heard at home and church told her being gay was a sin. Everyone in her life said it was wrong, including from the pulpit. She thought she couldn’t be gay and also be Christian.
"It was very damaging to hear that," she said. "I felt extreme hurt, neglect, shame, loneliness and guilt from my church family."
From being a place she once loved, church became "a dark place that made me hate myself."
Afraid of disappointing God, Chomiak went to a Christian counsellor and unsuccessfully tried a version of conversion therapy in an effort to "not be gay."
"I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t pray it away," she said, adding she had suicidal thoughts. "I felt I was a mistake, that God hated me. I thought I couldn’t continue to exist in that way."
From 2005-09, Chomiak lived in Ontario studying animation. She returned to Winnipeg after graduation for a year to work. That year, everything changed.
"I was at the end of my rope," she said. She decided to take a week alone to deal with the conflict between her faith and her sexuality.
"I hashed it out with God. I asked God to bless this part of me. Within minutes, I was flooded with peace."
In 2010, Chomiak moved to B.C. with her wife, Tammy, where they live with their two children while she works as an animation director making short films for Dreamworks.
"It’s a happy ending," she said of that chapter of her life.
Chomiak still goes to church; the couple found a welcoming and affirming congregation in nearby Maple Ridge, where she is also on the board.
"That’s not what some people expect to hear," she said. "People ask me, ‘Why do you want to belong to a community that hates gays?’ I tell them not all churches are like that."
She wrote the book (published this month) to help other young gay people who are member of churches that preach against LGBTTQ+ and who, like she was at that age, don’t know where to turn when they realize who they are.
"I was very lonely back then," she said. "I had nobody to talk to. Maybe by reading my book another young gay teen won’t feel as alone as I did.
"I wrote it for all who need to know more and find ways to talk."
Chomiak said she wants gay Christian youth to know God loves them just the way they are.
"If I can tell somebody else, ‘You are beautiful as you are and flourish in that,’ that’s my hope."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.