As a child in the 1990s, United Methodist pastor Tyler Sit participated in Boy Scouts, where his fellow 12-year-olds liked to play a game called Smear the Queer.
“Whoever had the ball was the queer, and everybody else would dogpile on them,” Sit relayed to the attendees of Hamline’s Coming Out Week keynote on Oct. 17.
This mockery only further isolated Sit from his peers as he realized that he was gay. As a biracial child, with a white mother from Minnetonka and a father from Hong Kong, he already felt out of place.
Despite the bullies, Boy Scouts ignited Sit’s love of the outdoors, which paved the path to self-acceptance. Nature, he stated, was his first sermon.
“God made all of these things different on purpose. All of the grasses and the trees and the birds and the bugs, they were working together because they were different,” Sit said. “Maybe God made me different as well.”
Sit first desired to be a pastor at age 17. His Chanhassen congregation was supportive, yet he felt pressure to suppress his sexuality, as the United Methodist Church (UMC) prohibited the ordination of “self-avowed homosexuals.” This dictate is the root of much division within the UMC today.
“I was very locally supported and very denominationally oppressed,” Sit said. “I was left with this very sterile, but passable, feeling of what it meant to be a United Methodist pastor.”
Sit attended Boston University, where he started an LGBTQ-specific ministry and protested against the Westboro Baptist Church. Studying abroad in South America, however, catalyzed a fundamental realization about his identity.
He admired the practices of the Uros people, an indigenous group of Peru and Bolivia who live on self-made islands that are constructed from reeds. Since the reeds on the bottom are always decomposing, they must frequently rebuild.
“They’re constantly making a home where there is no home,” Sit said. He felt that this statement was a fitting metaphor for being gay within the UMC.
In 2015, Sit founded New City Church, a progressive UMC congregation in Minneapolis where around 50% of members are openly LGBTQ. New City’s ethnic demographics are nearly identical to those of the city at-large.
“The places that shape your soul are the places where you are loved, or the places where love is compelling you out,” Sit said, urging the audience to describe places integral to their own development.
First-year Emily Hilderbrand mentioned her high school’s LGBTQ club, where she was spurred to action in opposition to President Trump’s policies on trans military members.
“That’s kind of when something snapped,” Hilderbrand said. “People don’t get to hurt other people like this.”
Hilderbrand coordinated a school walk-out and petitioned her bishop to support inclusivity within the UMC. Currently, she is the student leader for the Love Boldly campaign, whose first meeting takes place next month.
“Queer people are experts at creating communities that shouldn’t exist,” Sit said. “Coming out is an act of claiming survival for your people.”