When Religion News Service Editor-in-chief Kevin Eckstrom announced this month he would leave the wire service for a new post at the Washington National Cathedral, he went public with a lot more than a major career change.
During exit interview with Interfaith Voices, Kevin made an even bigger revelation: he is gay.
For many of us who work with Kevin, this is far from news. Kevin married his husband, Grant, in 2006 and was blessed with the cutest twins in 2012. But very few people in his work world knew this. For all intents and purposes, Kevin was, at least professionally, in the closet.
“I was always very careful about who I friended on Facebook or what I said on Twitter. I always had an eye looking over my shoulder at what the Family Research Council might say or what Focus on the Family might say or some of the publicists we worked with,” Kevin told Interfaith Voices.
Kevin made a transition from evangelicalism to Catholicism in 2006, noting that, despite the church’s anti-LGBT stance, it was the theology that mattered to him.
“The reason why evangelicalism no longer fit for me as I came out of the closet, was that I felt as if I were sitting in church with a black X on my forehead. Looking around, I felt if people really knew who I was they wouldn’t want me here.”
Then, during the height of marriage equality protests in which the Catholic Church spent large amounts of money to “basically make my family illegal," Kevin and his family felt it was time to leave.
“I didn’t feel like I could, in good conscience, stay and put money in the plate and sort of contribute to my own discrimination,” he said. Kevin eventually found his home in the Episcopal Church in 2009. He was finally in a faith tradition that allowed him to be out in the pews.
But, at work he still felt the need to be in the closet. This was not due to any pressures from the RNS staff or board, who were very much aware of Kevin’s beautiful family. He just didn’t want his sexuality to somehow reflect on how people viewed the work of RNS as a whole.
“Honestly, that’s part of the reason I wanted to find something new. It was not that I didn’t want to do it anymore but that it can, frankly, get a little exhausting to constantly worry about what people will say if they really knew.” He also feared that people would, incorrectly, accuse RNS of having a so-called “gay agenda.”
I relate to Kevin here as a bisexual person of faith who feels called to work in ministry. I’ve pushed aside any thoughts of going to seminary partly due to the struggles my LGBT seminarian friends have faced. Many of my LGBT friends have trouble finding jobs post-seminary just due to their sexual or gender identities.
If you’re an out LGBT person, finding a job in the religion world is next to impossible. Even with religious jobs in which you never really encounter anything LGBT in your day to day tasks, such as daycare workers, it’s still hard to land a job.
Sometimes, it’s easier to skirt your identity in order to do the work you feel God called you to do.
“There were times where I couldn’t be as honest as I wanted to be,” Kevin told Interfaith Voices. “I’d like to think that I’ve never lied or said a mistruth. But I have been forced at times to be less than forthcoming. So, I’ll talk about my family ... but maybe not my husband. The most awkward thing that would come up fairly regularly is that I would mention something about the kids and they would ask ‘well what does your wife do?’ or ‘you and your wife must be so busy’ and depending who it is, sometimes I would have to let it slide.”
Having to remain in the closet to work speaks volumes. It directly reflects how LGBT religious folk are innately seen as less than their straight counterparts. But also, it adds a lot of stress factors. One of the many reasons LGBT youth are encouraged to come out is because it lessens the depression and anxiety they face from being closeted. While Kevin was personally out and not under that level of duress, being professionally closeted did add a layer of stress to his job description.
Being an out LGBT person while working for an organization that deals with religion can also mean that you bear an unnecessary burden. Unlike your straight coworkers, your sexual or gender identity can be used to tarnish the reputation of not only yourself but of your employer.
Despite those challenges, Kevin did an incredible job at RNS and the entire team is sad at his departure.
Even more, I’m proud of Kevin for speaking his truth.
It takes a lot of courage to come out publicly, knowing that professional relationships will change and some doors may close. But in speaking his truth, readers and friends of RNS will know yet another LGBT person of faith.
They will know one more person who has deep spiritual connections, a beautiful family, and who stays in the church not in spite of theology but because of it.
Listen to his full exit interview below in which Kevin discusses his favorite stories he reported on and his life as a professionally closeted gay man: