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Fractured faith: The journey back to church after coming out

Rockville United Church. (Photo: ABC7's Jay Korff)

For Erryca Robicheaux of Rockville, walking into the right church should feel like coming home. A place where you’re not only welcomed but you’re also celebrated.

Recently ABC7 News went to Rockville United Church in Montgomery County to talk with Robicheaux about an inspiring faith journey that began with a complicated past.

“The church where I grew up when I was younger it was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” says Robicheaux.

Rockville United Church has long opened its doors to diversity and championed social justice issues. This 33-year-old started coming here in early 2017 after emerging from the shadows of a fractured faith.

Church member Beth Pattison says, “We’ve heard this story over and over where no place of worship is open or they don’t feel at home or they feel someone is judging them. It’s just sad because Christian churches should be different.”

Erryca Robicheaux grew up in Louisiana, deep in Cajun country, where church defined her identity and being gay was not an option.

“This is your entire life. This is everything you know. This is your world. This is your community. It’s everything,” says Robicheaux.

Erryca was a star student-athlete. She figured if she over-achieved her community would have to accept the side of her she didn't come to terms with until her senior year of high school.

Robicheaux says, “I was faced with: I know I have these feelings and I know that they are so wrong. And what do I do?”

Coming out was excruciating and ostracizing. She was sent to counselors who without fail told her this: “Let me tell you why being gay is a sin. Let’s pray the gay away. Let’s talk about the bible and what the bible says about homosexuals and how it says they are not getting in heaven,” says Robicheaux.

Everything Erryca found comfort in didn’t make sense. Her parents left their church. Erryca felt shame for disappointing her community and betrayed by an environment that insisted she pick between being gay or Christian. She would like, but knows will never hear, this apology.

Robicheaux says, “I’m sorry we were wrong. I’m sorry how the church treated you and there’s a space at God’s table for everyone.”

It took Erryca years to fully accept her sexual orientation. But she found her voice through activism. She went, loud and proud, to every gay rights rally, parade, protest and festival she could find.

“After years and years and years and years of us all doing these little things in our little cities and then all of a sudden they started to matter,” says Robicheaux.

When same sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015 Robicheaux says it was like a rebirth. The dreams this little girl from Louisiana once had, to fall in love, to marry and to have children could now come true.

Robicheaux says, “It’s almost hard to believe that it’s real life. Like this is my real life like I can actually get married if I want to.”

In 2016 Erryca met Elissa Glatt. They dated for months and recently moved in together. The irony of this love story is the painful bond they share.

Glatt says, “The Catholic religion has taken a big toll on me. My whole family is Catholic.”

Elissa Glatt grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania and realized she was gay in middle school, which didn’t go over well with everyone.

“Yeah, I’ve been in multiple fights for being gay and I actually got kicked out of school and kicked off the volleyball team in high school for being gay,” says Glatt.

And much of her identity was consumed by a doctrine she couldn’t accept.

Glatt says, “When I learned that, ‘hey I’m gay the Catholic Church isn’t going to marry me.’ Why am I going to get confirmed? Why am I going to continue this? I quit the religion.”

They blame dogma not their families for their fractured faith. As for their partnership, they say relatives adore them just not their relationship.

Robicheaux says, “They love Elissa. They just don’t love that I have a girlfriend.”

But back at Rockville United Church, long-time member Beth Pattison told us she and her husband decided to not only talk the talk but to walk the walk. They both lobbied for same-sex marriage before the Maryland General Assembly.

“I would feel like a hypocrite if I said I were a Christian and God loves everyone if I didn’t show love to everyone,” says Pattison.

She also says opening her heart and mind to others has been a gift.

Pattison says, “The gay community has taught me how to love because I think they would have every right to be bitter and angry and nasty to me and yet I have received nothing but love and acceptance and care.”

When we followed Erryca into church she came alone. Her partner Elissa, after all she’s endured, struggles with expressing her faith publicly. While every journey unfolds at a different pace you can now begin to understand how good it must feel for Erryca to walk into the arms of a faith community that embraces all of her.

She hopes her example of being proudly gay and Christian will allow others, once abandoned by intolerance, to one day feel whole enough to return to a place of grace.

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