The Rebirth of Venus
Charlene Cothran, publisher and editor-in-chief of Venus Magazine, a national publication for African-American gays and lesbians she launched 13 years ago, made a startling announcement: After 29 years as a gay activist, she's become a Christian, renounced her homosexuality, and changed the format of her magazine to spread the gospel to the gay community. Amy Tracy, whose own similar conversion story was told in an earlier Christianity Today article, interviewed Cothran about her new direction.
You were raised in the church. At what point did you walk away from your faith?
I was raised in a family of believers and accepted Jesus into my heart at age 11. I walked away from the Lord at age 15. I became very promiscuous with boys. I went off to college at Georgia Tech and did not practice my faith at all.
The revolving door kind of thing with boys disturbed my soul. I thought if this is what boys were all about, I didn't want anything to do with them. So at the age of 19, I decided that I was only going to date women. They were kind and gentle with me. They wanted to explore my personality. I had never felt this before. My relationships with women felt safe and wonderful.
When did you first feel the winds of change stirring in your heart?
I always knew that homosexuality was wrong. The seed of truth was planted long ago. But the sin in my life squashed it. I'd go to church if it was Christmas, but I never allowed myself to get to the point where I felt conviction. I hardened my heart over and over against the Word.
As you get older, life begins to unfold in a real way. Loved ones die, and you end up dealing with your own mortality. I first felt something change during Black Gay Pride in Chicago in 2001. It was a beautiful day, and I could see men with men and women with women as far as the eye could see. But instead of feeling pride, I looked out and felt sadness. These were individuals that grew up in the church, but now they were worshipping idols. And I was part of leading them down the wide road of destruction.
It took me several years to come to terms with this vision. Mostly, I kept thinking that I was damaged goods, that my leadership skills were damaged goods. That God couldn't save me. Those lies kept me down.
What finally led to your conversion?
I also publish a publication called the Kitchen Table News. In June 2006, I was getting set to run an article on a local gospel group. A pastor in the group called to add something to the piece. She asked me a question, and from my response she knew I wasn't "unchurched." But I felt like pushing it. I told her I was a proud, card-carrying lesbian. She let me go on and on. Then she said, "I can tell that you want to come back to God, but you feel unworthy. That is a lie. Many souls will be saved by your saying yes to Jesus." I could not speak for several moments. She continued to minister to me. She didn't back down. I lived in silence for 48 hours. The Lord was dealing with me in my soul. I told him that I'd give back everything He gave me.
How did your family react?
My sister and mother prayed for me for years. It was a wonderful reunion with my family. My mother had prayed for God to deliver me. She knew the devil had his hold. She always knew that somehow I'd make it back. My mother was stubborn that way. She died before she could see me come back. I regret so much. She expected much from me, but I became a lesbian and an "out lesbian" at that. Now when I hear from parents of gay children, I use my voice to apologize to apologize for their sons and daughters.