At 17, he was removed from his home and community. He was sent, by his parents, to an ex-gay religious counselor. He was not allowed to visit his parents and to this day, his extended family and community do not know why he “left.”
This doesn’t come as a complete shock to a lot of LGBTQ people. We have familiarity with discrimination and what it feels like to have those close to you, turn away.
Many of us feel like we lose our personal faith because we’re taught that religion doesn’t accept us.
We grow accustomed to finding new support systems and a new life. But there are others where coming out can mean losing everything you thought was your life.
But what if you grew up in a society that never talks about homosexuality? What if they only see it as a problem that doesn’t affect them only others? You might respond that you have heard that happen in other countries, not here in our own.
Would it surprise you to find out that it happens not that far from Cleveland, OH?
Growing Up Amish
Ohio has the largest Amish population in the United States. That isn’t a surprise if you are driving around the Kirkland area or even further down into Burton, Ohio. You will see their horse and carts traveling the roadside. Family is the center of Amish culture. It is common for most families to have between 7 and 10 children.
Their lives are a modern viewing of a more ancient time. Chores divided based on gender roles – women still do the washing, cooking, and cleaning. Men do the outside farm work.
Worship services held in community homes, usually in the basement or a room where the walls can be configured for large groups.
They only marry other Amish people and divorce is not permitted. Separations are rare and can often lead to being ostracized by the community. Family is very important to Amish people. They feel the highest calling they have is to raise their children to be good Christians.
Amish teach their own children in their own schools. Amish children attend school until the eighth grade, from then on they work on the farm or household. Schooling consists of basic reading, writing, and math. They are also vocational training and learning Amish socializing, history, and values.
They call the rest of the United States “English” and consider us outsiders. Nowhere are they taught about gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. With minimal access to technology or the outside world, it is hard to learn about these things.
Ordnung: Rules of the Amish
Amish life is one ruled by the community and religion. There are four major categories of rules. First, usage of technology. Second, rules on family life and child-raising. Third, rules about dress and appearance. Fourth, rules about the punishment of district members who break the rules.
These rules are called the Ordnung. The Ordnung can vary from district to district. This is because the Amish do not have one centralized church structure.
The rules most of us “English” are familiar with are the rules about technology and dress. These are the easiest for us to see. The other two rules are more focused on the community.
When it comes to punishment for rule-breaking, the most common form is “shunning.”
When you’re shunned, you are not allowed to interact in certain ways with members in good standing. One such limited interaction is that you cannot share a meal with the shunned. Shunning can be temporary, for lesser rule-breaking. Repeat offenses and more extreme rule-breaking can lead to permanent shunning. Punishment can also include ex-communication.
Repenting in front of your district can lead to forgiveness and no further punishment against you.
Being Gay and Amish
Due to the religious beliefs of most Amish, it is no surprise that homosexuality is not discussed. Since they follow strict adherence to the rule of God, they feel that being LGBTQ is to live in sin and not “in the light of God.”
Growing up Amish, you’re taught that it is very important to be truthful to your parents and community. But this can cause an issue for a child that may be struggling with their feelings of being LGBTQ.
Coming out leaves you with few options. You can suppress who you are and never act on your feelings. You can come out to your family and end up shunned or excommunicated. Lastly, you can come out, repent, and forced to marry, raise kids and live a lie. Many times this action can also lead to forced conversion therapy.
In most cases, young LGBTQ Amish are shunned and forced to leave their communities. As a result, they end up living an “English” life. This can pose many problems for Amish youth. Since they only go to school until they are eight years old, they lack the basic education to get a job. When they’re shunned, they’re left with the few items they own and no money. Many end up living on the streets.
As with most LGBTQ youth, suicide is a large factor for Amish youths. First, the internalized agony of having to deal with who you are. Then telling your community only to have them completely turn their backs on you. This is more than enough to cause issues for anyone.
Hope For LGBTQ Amish
Thaddeus Schlabach (lgbtamish.com) grew up Old-Order Amish in Holmes County, Ohio. His parents found out his was gay when he was 17. Over tears streaming down their face, Thaddeus’ parents sent him to a non-Amish, ex-gay religious counselor, in hopes of saving him. Thaddeus states this is one of his only memories of his parents showing any kind of emotion, as Amish are typically very stoic.
Not knowing how to handle the situation and afraid of how the community would react, they sent him away. Thaddeus ended up moving to Savannah, Georgia where he met his husband and started the website LGBTQAmish. This is his way of showing other LGBTQ Amish people that there is hope and resources available.
Looking over his site, you see other Amish kids talking about their ordeals. They share stories of their experiences and how this site has saved them from dark places. This site lets them know they are not alone in their feelings or stories and they have a safe place in which to share them.
A Troyer is from Millersburg, Ohio. He had to leave his community after his sister found a gay magazine he had been hiding, called OUT. His entire community rejected him. He moved to Cleveland and spent many weeks on the streets before finally ending up in a shelter.
Troyer met someone who took him in and gave him a place to stay. He encouraged him to go to school and start a part-time job. He does drive through Millersburg, but his parents still refuse to see him. The closest he has gotten was seeing them on the farm, from the road.
All The Colors of the Rainbow
As LGBTQ people, we are familiar with the adversities that life can throw at us. We often forget that others can have a harder time with it, due to how or where they’re raised. When religion is a key factor for your life and you’re considered an abomination to those core values, it leaves you feeling lost and hopeless. People like Thaddeus Schlabach are making strides to provide information and support to a community that most of us have never thought about.
If you would like to learn more about Thaddeus Schlabach or LGBTQAmish, check out his webpage LGBTQAmish or follow him on Twitter @LGBTIAmish. The more we understand the struggles of all LGBTQ people, the more we can be there to offer support. After all, if we don’t look out for our own, who will?