Manitoba

Supporters will outweigh haters, says gay Hutterite speaking at Steinbach's 1st Pride Parade

When Tyrone Hofer came out as a gay Hutterite to his Christian family just over a year ago, his mom responded by saying that was worse than death. Now he's spreading the message that it's not only possible to be gay and Christian, but it's also not too late for faith-based opponents to change their minds.

Tyrone Hofer will talk about how it's possible to be gay and Christian on Saturday

Tyrone Hofer is sending the message to faithful LGBT opposers that "If they love, it will only strengthen their faith." (Danelle Cloutier/CBC)

When Tyrone Hofer came out as a gay Hutterite to his Christian family just over a year ago, his mom responded by saying that was worse than death. 

Now he's spreading the message that it's not only possible to be gay and Christian, but it's also not too late for faith-based opponents to change their minds.

He will be speaking on Saturday at the first ever Pride parade in Steinbach, Man., where those with a deep faith are being challenged and urged to support LGBT people. 

"I don't think Christianity is under attack. If they love, it will only strengthen their faith," Hofer said. "I'm proud to be gay and I'm proud to be Hutterite. I'm proud to be a gay Hutterite."

But it wasn't easy for Hofer to come to that conclusion.

'Pray the gay away'

Hofer grew up in Starlite, a Hutterite colony near Starbuck. There he was told that being gay was evil, sinful, an abomination and disgusting.

"I spent so much time just on my knees praying that God would change me," he said. "I knew that I was gay… I began to hate myself for it and didn't accept it and tried to be straight by dating girls. There was a lot of struggle. I absolutely hated dating girls. It wasn't who I was." 

Hofer's view of Christianity changed when his friend left the colony and came out. 

"I watched in horror as so many Hutterites posted or commented the most vile, hateful comments I've ever read in my entire life on his Facebook post," he said. 

"The word 'Christianity' left a really bad taste in my mouth," he said. 

He withdrew from the faith and left the colony five years ago while his parents were at church. 

He now lives in Winnipeg.

In 2015 he handed a coming out letter to his brother and an essay focusing on three questions: What makes a person gay? Is being gay sinful? Can a person be gay and Christian?

An excerpt from Tyrone Hofer's coming out letter to his parents. (Tyrone Hofer)
The next morning he got a text from his brother, which said, "Hey bro, do you want the Hutterites to know? The family?" 

"The fact that he still called me bro, it meant so, so much," Hofer said.

A few days after his parents read his coming out letter, he received a letter from his mom, which contained a lot of hate, he said. She wrote that he would never see the colony again, that he wouldn't see his brothers, sisters and cousins get married. He hasn't spoken to his parents since. 

He also received calls from other family members telling him someone brainwashed him into thinking he's gay. 

"I even had to tell some people, 'You know what? Your phone calls are really harassing me and I don't want you to contact me anymore,'" he said.

Hofer came out publicly on Facebook and YouTube. To his surprise, he received messages from Hutterites, Christians and Mennonites supporting him. 

Tyrone Hofer came out publicly on Facebook with this post. (Facebook)
"They can't state it publicly but they do support me," he said. "Their faith hasn't been threatened at all. It's really changed my viewpoint on Christianity." 

Hofer still identifies as Hutterite but no longer as Christian.

"I'm very proud of where I'm from," he said. "I miss it a lot."

Why it's possible to be gay and Christian

Hofer said he tried to persuade his family that it's possible to hold religious beliefs and support LGBT people. 

He told them being gay isn't a choice. He also argued it isn't sinful because the bible doesn't say anything about homosexuality in a negative way, he said.

"It does say negative things about homosexual rape, which is really bad," he said.

It's just a matter of time when the supporters outweigh the haters.- Tyrone Hofer

Hofer has heard people say being gay isn't a sin but acting on it is. 

"The only way they can accept gay people is if they're celibate. However, Jesus said celibacy is not something that can be achieved. It's something that's given. It's a gift. One can't practise celibacy just out of the blue," he said. 

Hofer said Christians should be asking, "What did Jesus do?" instead of "What would Jesus do?" 

"We have no idea what Jesus would do in this situation. We need to look at what he did do," he said. "There was no practising of hatred, or hurtful actions towards others, or alienation from his sermons, but rather actions of unconditional welcome and love. That, is what it means to be Christian."

Hofer believes Hutterites will eventually change their minds about LGBT people. 

"I've lived in a Hutterite community. I know the generosity, the love that they can feel," he said. "It's just a matter of time when the supporters outweigh the haters. It's just a matter of time."

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