After meeting at a summer camp ministry, Julia and Shelby have had to navigate being LGBTQ+ people, and being Christian.
In May of 2017, it was Julia’s third summer working at a non-profit/ summer camp ministry back home and Shelby’s first. Julia’s first memory of Shelby was her sitting on the back of one of Amy Grant’s (the famous Christian singer…long story!) golf carts eating some pasta.
Shelby’s first memory of Julia was thinking, “Who is that girl, and why is so she energetic?” We tiptoed around each other throughout the weeks, checking in and finding excuses to chat during the camp days. Our midday chats turned into longer chats in the parking lot after camp. Laughing about our days and getting to know each other. Julia remembers being away from camp for a wedding one weekend in June, and it was the first time I remembered missing Shelby.
We started including each other in our weekend plans. Hiking to middle Tennessee waterfalls and getting ice cream- lots of ice cream. We both remember a distinct shift in terms of how we felt about each other. Not only did we claim each other as a newfound best friend, but we began to realize the love we shared for each other.
As the summer went on, we became closer and closer friends. Julia moved to Chicago, IL that fall to begin graduate school, and it’s safe to say Shelby – from Nashville, TN- and Julia on I-65- both cried the whole way there. We felt like half of our hearts were having to say goodbye for a while.
Shelby visited Julia on Labor Day weekend shortly after her move, and the rest is history. Later that month, we shared a phone call and finally expressed that we were more than friends. We both knew that what we had was love for each other, but this was somewhat new territory for us. We didn’t know what that meant but felt that we needed to name it. Though we kept it between each other for a long time. We officially began dating and have now been together for a little over three years.
Our favorite memory together is getting to adventure to so many exciting places. We have been to nine different states while dating. While we haven’t been traveling during COVID, we have gotten to dream big about various trips we want to take in the future, like Cabo, China, and hopefully the Mediterranean for our eventual honeymoon!
Tell us about being LGBTQ+ and Christian.
The biggest challenge we’ve had to overcome is being LGBTQ+ as well as Christians. Having to continually defend and protect our relationship from Christians we grew up with is often tiring. Both of us grew up in the South and were both raised in conservative Southern churches. Our whole lives, we had both heard being gay was a sin and that if you were in a same-sex relationship, you would not get to be a Christian anymore.
During our coming out journey, we knew almost no queer people of faith. It has been our biggest challenge and our biggest joy to get to walk with others holding onto their faith and sexuality together.
Don’t ever, ever, ever give up. Love wins.
Photography by Kelsi Carigan