From Chick-fil-A to Gay: One Seminarian's Journey

How does one go from an evangelical involved in some of the most conservative Christian organizations to an openly queer UCC seminary grad preparing for ordination?  My name is Kim Sorrells, and this is my story.

As a young child, I remember lying in bed one night and realizing I was gay. The thing is, at the time, I didn’t think anything was wrong with it. I hadn’t yet been exposed to any dogma or prejudice around sexuality. It wasn’t until I had a dramatic conversion experience in 8th grade that I entered into a spiritual journey that took me through the “ex-gay” world and back. I was baptized and began to pursue a life “gay free.”

I went through my teen years trying to be straight. It was lonely and hard. Like all teenagers, I wanted to date but never could have feelings for guys like I did for girls.

I lived in fear of dying because I always felt like maybe I wasn’t really “saved” since I never could stop having crushes on girls, no matter what I did or how hard I prayed.

This was my life, along with trying to find my way in life, figure out my calling, and pick a college. You know, what teenagers do. When I visited Berry College, I knew it was for me. I wanted to go to a Christian college and to be involved in Christian programs. I think deep down I thought maybe then I’d finally be able to be straight. Maybe I could meet a guy that I could like.

As I began applying, I found the WinShape College Program at Berry. Yes, you heard that correctly—WinShape, the non-profit side of Chick-fil-A. This is the company and organization that has gotten a great deal of press over the last year for their stances on homosexuality. Their college program develops conservative Christian leaders. I applied, interviewed and was accepted to the program. 

As a former “WinShaper,” the recent publicity around Chick-fil-A’s stance on homosexuality wasn’t news to me. However, watching it become known to more and more people through social and news media has been rather painful.

What is political for many is something that is personal to me. It is something that I lived, that comes with relationships. Chick-fil-A and WinShape aren’t faceless organizations to me; these are people I know.

When I started college, I formed some of my closest friendships with other WinShapers. We hiked together; we played college pranks on each other; we stayed up late drinking coffee “studying”… well talking about life anyway. They were my friends, and coming out meant a great deal of loss.

I gradually came to grips with my sexuality and spirituality in college, but it wasn’t an easy journey. You might say it was a dance of “two steps forward and one step back.” I majored in religion and the studies helped me learn what the Bible did and didn’t say about sexuality as we understand it today. This probably helped me the most, but it wasn’t an immediate fix. I started to accept myself to a degree during my sophomore year. I knew that the ex-gay path wasn’t working. This along with my religion classes allowed me to rethink my faith.

My understanding of the Bible and what it said about sexuality had changed intellectually. However, the messages of rejection were so ingrained in me that it was more difficult to truly believe and accept that God loves me. It took the love and support of a few good friends and mentors to help me fully accept myself.

Eventually, I even thought about dating, though nothing ever came of it. Two steps forward. That summer, I went to 2 weeks of conservative apologetics classes with WinShape as we attended camp at Summit Ministries. There, I heard an ex-gay speaker. He seemed convincing, and I went in a tailspin back into the closet for the first part of my junior year. One step back.

It wasn’t until I had time to think through it that I realized how I had reacted to my emotions and fears and not to any actual evidence. I suppose because of this experience, I felt I had to go back and face the camp again, to see for myself what was really true. I went back and worked for them for the summer. I heard their arguments over and over again. I read their evidence, and I thought critically. I found the flaws in the logic and in the evidence and I prayed…a lot.

I know they would hate to hear this, but it was during that time that I found peace with God, that I was able to reconcile my faith and sexuality. I came back to school for my last year and finally was ok with myself; I wasn’t afraid of God anymore.

Of course, as I changed, and as my theology changed, so did my relationships with other WinShapers. My friendships grew distant as my friends no longer fully accepted me. It was heartbreaking. I felt alone. These friends were people I shared my faith with, and connected with spiritually. Now they no longer saw me as a spiritual sister, but as a lesser person. We could still go hiking together but things had changed. We weren’t equals. After graduating, some have become distant friends while many others have literally “unfriended” me in the Facebook world.

I have to be honest and say that despite the hurt and the pain of these lost relationships, I believe that God did work through some of these friends, and through some of the leaders in the WinShape program. I no longer support the Program as a whole, but I don’t boycott the People. They are not monsters, though they might be painted that way. Most of them are decent people and don’t hate gay people. Of course, there were some who clearly used their faith to justify a deeper homophobia and hatred. But my experience was that, several of the people felt that they had to be “against” homosexuality even though they seemed to be fine around me.

I am still hurt, and at times I am still angry. It’s wrong, but I’ve learned to let it go. I must also note that a few friends have grown with me and were able to open their own faith and heart to accept me. We may be busy or living in different cities now, but I will always count them as dear friends.

The recent “expose” of Chick-fil-A and of WinShape opened an old wound for me. It reminded me of both the good and the bad I experienced there. It is true that Chick-fil-A and WinShape do not support gay people. My last year at Berry, as I finally accepted who I was, I knew that I could be removed from the program. Well, I wasn’t totally sure since I wasn’t “practicing” (at least I don’t think I was as they would define it?). I more or less just drifted out of the program.

Of course, the organization does do things I still support and agree with. They do charitable things that help people in need and have nothing to do with sexuality. But they also fund organizations that I don’t agree with, though I didn’t realize the extent of this at the time. If I had known, I would have gotten out sooner.

I did not know they funded other organizations that I consider much more harmful to LGBTQ people, including groups like Focus on the Family. I say these are "more harmful" because they affect more than just Berry. WinShape certainly didn’t accept gay people into their little program, but they weren’t out on a national crusade against them, or providing harmful ex-gay therapy like Focus on the Family. These other organizations are more political, more focused on homosexuality and more harmful. If I had known that money from Chick-fil-A went to organizations that funded ex-gay therapy programs, I would have stopped eating there sooner.

I cannot patronize Chick-fil-A now because I don't know what my $5 supports—will it help some foster kid or fund Focus on the Family? Boycotting the restaurant isn’t just to be mean or “stick it to the man;” it is to make a statement with my money. It is also so I don’t support harm indirectly. 

I didn’t know all of that then. I graduated Berry and I left town. I moved to Atlanta and began to finally follow my call into ministry, which I had ignored for so long because I was told women, let alone queer women, weren’t called into the ministry. I moved on.

I can’t change the past. All I know is how God is calling me now, and that I must continue on the journey, living my life the best I know how.

South & Out shares stories of LGBTQ+ life in the South. From coming out to building community, S&O profiles the gays living out and proud in the Bible Belt. It is our hope that their pride will inspire others as they begin their journey out of the closet. Contact Amy X. via email to share your story.