Sixth place: High school essay contest, freethinkers of color by Bria Bertrand

Acknowledge that it’s OK to be different

FFRF awarded Bria $400.

By Bria Bertrand

I was that child who always asked “Why?” after everything. If something did not make sense to me, curiosity spiked and I needed a definitive answer. That part of me was always accepted until I started to question my family’s religion.

As a child, attending church was never voluntary. The churches we attended were Baptist and predominantly black. Since I was only about 8 years old, seeing people jumping around, screaming and speaking in different languages frightened me. I later figured out that the foreign language I heard was called “speaking in tongues.”

My young, impressionable mind grasped a few main concepts from attending these churches. The first concept was that if you do anything “bad,” you will be sent to a place called hell where you will subsequently spend an eternity burning and suffering.

The second concept I was taught was that if you are not heterosexual, you are a bad person and will subsequently be sent to hell. These ideas terrified me, as did the thought of a “devil” that would get me if I were to misbehave.

I had numerous fears about letting my family know how I truly felt about religion. I had mixed feelings because I felt even if I could not open up to anyone else, at least my family should accept my beliefs. I later discovered that I was wrong.

I would drop small hints here and there about the bible and how certain things did not make sense until my mother started to get defensive. I would ask her, “How could you sit in a church, being a gay woman, and listen to them speak so negatively about gay people and still continue to attend?”

I would ask her, “How could you be affiliated with a religion that despises the person that you are?” She had no answer, and it was at that point that I began to question everything.

I face challenges throughout my life because of my nonbeliefs. Since I am a young, black female, others automatically assume I am a Christian. I have had strangers start conversations and bring up religion in mid-conversation. When I was 14, I was speaking with an older black man about starting high school in a few months and how excited I was. He began to tell me all the negative things about public high school. He warned me about the gay girls in high school that would try to talk to me and how I had to “shake that devil off.”

I felt so out of my element. I did not know if I should uncomfortably smile and nod or state firmly that we do not have the same beliefs and that I accept everybody regardless of sexual orientation. I was unsure of what to say, so I said nothing.

In the African-American community, the idea of “God” is what keeps a lot of people going. The idea of a higher power brings comfort and hope. That is often all they have for motivation. The biggest obstacle discouraging diversity within this movement is the judgment factor. It is why so many young, black teens are afraid to challenge the beliefs that their family has taught them. There is so much nonacceptance within the African-American community for being homosexual or a nonbeliever.

People should learn the concept of acceptance, acknowledging that it is OK to be different, and not be so quick to judge others for their appearances and beliefs.
Bria Bertrand, 18, was born in Orlando, Fla. “I moved to Georgia in 2006 and have resided in Gwinnett County ever since. I attended Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga. I will be going to Kennesaw State University, with my intended major as biology premed. I have always had a strong attraction to medicine and I intend to pursue a career in the medical field after college.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation