Marcus Pavilonis

Finding Religion
Making Peace


Some Athens residents find peace, support with religion

Jessica Hill / Asst. Managing Editor

Daniel Torres found a family in his church of the Seventh-day Adventists.

Although he grew up Catholic, he went with his aunt to an adventist church in Puerto Rico and was baptized at 11 or 12 years old. He found kinship with the church. Then, he sent the church a special letter when he was a sophomore in college in 1982, telling them who he was. The church read the letter during a ceremony and dismembered him. Another member of the church told him he wasn’t welcome back.

“It was hard,” Torres, a professor of Spanish, said. “I grew up in that church all the way to my college years. I lost that whole family, a whole group of people. A lot of friends that rejected who I was.”

Some Athens residents who identify as LGBTQ have found support in their religions, while some think, for them, not being religious has helped them rekindle relationships with their families.

Torres left the Seventh-day Adventist church and moved to New York and then to Cincinnati.

“I grew out of it and you know, you go through the period where you’re mad at God and you kind of want to understand why you’re not being loved for who you are, especially from an institution that is important as a church,” Torres said.

Torres eventually rekindled his relationship with God, but with the religion he grew up in as a small child — Catholicism. He liked that there was a sense of anonymity in the church, where one could go and worship without anybody knowing who they are.

In Columbus, he found a Catholic men’s support group that was open with gay people, and he led study abroad trips to Yucatan, Mexico, where he connected with a Catholic church there. Within the last 15 years, Torres has found a place in the Catholic church. Although he doesn’t consider himself a perfect Catholic, he attends mass once a week and every year reads the entire Bible.


Marcus Pavalonis | ILLUSTRATION

“I’m comfortable with who I am,” Torres said. “I am happy that I came out when I did. I always tell my story to encourage people to do the same because it does get better. That’s how it goes. You get a lot of opposition at first, you have a lot of fear. But I think everything kind of falls into place. That’s how things happen in life over all.”

Leandro Hernandez, a graduate student studying Spanish, said that he never grew up with a religion, but when he came out to his father, he was shocked. He remained silent for two years, but the lack of religion in the household helped Hernandez rebuild a relationship with his father.

“I’m really close with my father now because he’s not religious,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t have any idea of sin or hell or anything that I sometimes hear. Nobody punished me. I was so lucky. Mine is a happy story, and I think part of that was because we were not religious.”

When Jan Griesinger first told her father that she liked women, he did not like it.

“When I moved here, I realized the person I wanted to be with was a woman friend,” Griesinger said. “I can’t even remember how much I talked to him about the ‘L’ word, lesbian. Eventually he figured it out. I’m sure I said this important woman in my life.”

Griesinger, originally from Chicago, went to a seminary in Dayton and was later ordained as a minister. She worked at Wright State University before she started working as the director of OU’s United Campus Ministry in 1967.

“Part of the good thing was that United Church of Christ had already some openly LGBT pastors,” Griesinger said. “Somebody had come out, maybe as early 1967, and was kept ordained, kept as a minister. Almost any other denomination wouldn’t have worked.”

As Griesinger’s denomination is within the United Church of Christ, there is no church in Athens connected to it, so she goes to a church in Marietta. But she would often sit in at other churches. Before she retired in 2004, Griesinger’s United Campus Ministry housed the OU Gay and Lesbian Association.

“It helps if they find a church or a community that is supportive. In Athens, I think that you would find several churches, like Presbyterian, Episcopal, First United Methodist,” Griesinger said. “If a person finds either an individual support group or a religious community, they’ll feel a lot more together.”

Torres suggested that family is most important, especially if somebody who identifies as LGBTQ was rejected by their religious community.

“Don’t believe in that hatred,” Torres said. “You have to come to terms with your family because they are the most important people in your life for the rest of your life. You have to help them understand who you are. If you still find resistance with your family, give it time. Because you are their baby, and they love you no matter what.”

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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