RALEIGH, N.C. — In 1994, asked by friends about a pamphlet six students at Enloe High School in Raleigh had circulated encouraging tolerance after other students displayed an anti-gay poster, student Justin Lee told friends that while he did not support the poster’s hateful language, he also did not support the pamphlet because homosexuality was a sin.
Today, Lee heads the Gay Christian Network, a Raleigh-based nonprofit he founded that provides support for its 13,000 members throughout the U.S. and abroad and for Christians and parents wrestling with issues involving faith and sexuality.
The organization publishes a website that features an online support community with over 100 discussion forums; sponsors an annual conference and local discussion groups throughout the world; and broadcasts a weekly internet radio program known as GCN Radio, and a toll-free support-and-information hotline at 1-888-GAY-4-GOD.
In January, the Gay Christian Network released “Through My Eyes,” a 45-minute documentary it produced in DVD format.
And in June, the group was a winner in a national campaign sponsored by GreatNonprofits to promote nonprofits throughout the United States that focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Lee, who grew up in Raleigh in what he characterizes as a “very conservative Southern Baptist home,” says the Gay Christian Network grew out of his own struggle to reconcile his faith and his sexuality.
Having been raised to believe that “gay people choose to become gay, that it’s a sinful choice, that god wants gay people to repent and become straight,” Lee says, he wrestled as a teenager with the “deep dark secret” that he was attracted to males.
“I dated girls, considered myself straight, but I never was sexually attracted to women, as hard as I tried to be, as much as I cared about the girls I dated,” he says. “I was attracted to other guys, and I tried my best not to think about it.”
While admitting to himself his senior year that he was gay, he still believed “that being gay was a matter of choice, and I certainly did not choose to be gay, I had chosen to be straight, and thought being gay was a sin,” he says. “As a Christian, I didn’t know how to respond.”
Lee attended Wake Forest University, where he studied psychology and created a personal home page that initially served as a vehicle for him to tell the story of his personal struggle to other Christians.
After he graduated in 2000, he launched gaychristian.net, a website that initially provided information on the topic of faith and sexuality.
He added a message board to the site a year later, envisioning the site as a support community for people who had accepted themselves as gay, as well as for gay people still struggling with their sexuality.
In 2003, he incorporated the organization as a nonprofit and renamed it the Gay Christian Network.
Operating with a staff of four people and an annual budget of $200,000, all of it donated by individuals, the group has hired an independent contractor to develop a fundraising strategy to diversify its base of support.
The group is developing materials for churches, a database of gay-friendly churches, and print materials for parents.
“I no longer see being gay as a bad thing,” says Lee, who frequenlty speaks in churches and to college groups.
The Gay Christian Network, he says, aims “to change hearts and minds in the church, and to provide support to parents and to pastors as they are wrestling with these issues in their own families and congregations.”