“Coming out of the closet” has a new meaning for former gay activist, Charlene Cothran after boldly renouncing her homosexual lifestyle in her own African-American gay and lesbian magazine, Venus
For 29 years of her life Charlene Cothran fought passionately for the gay community through organising, supporting and participating in countless marches and lobbying efforts.
Thirteen years after founding Venus magazine to promote the concerns of homosexuals like herself, Charlene completely transformed its editorial policies, starting with her public confession on the front page in 2006.
Her article, entitled "Redeemed! 10 Ways to Get Out of the Gay Life, If You Want Out", detailed the reason behind her sudden conversion.
"Although I have lived as a lesbian for my entire adult life, it is without a doubt my soul's purpose to use my gifts to LOVINGLY share the truth about how we got here: how we came to be gay or lesbian, how we came to enjoy our 'lifestyle' and how we came to believe that this was OK with God," she wrote openly.
Charlene confessed she had "always known that same-sex relationships are not what God intended for us" and did not expect her article to be widely received by her readers.
"But, I do know that there is someone, possibly reading this very article, who is tired and unhappy living this way. Someone, in your heart of hearts, is searching for a way out, but you just can't seem to break free on your own," she added.
"It is simpler than you think to acquire it and there is no condemnation once you've entered it."
So what lead to this incredible change?
Charlene shared with ChristianityToday.com in 2007 that she had been raised in a strong Christian home but walked away from the faith at the age of 15 to "explore her personality", leading to relationships with other women.
"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 [the Bible]," she said.
"Mostly, I kept thinking that I was damaged goods...that God couldn't save me. Those lies kept me down."
Then in June 2006, Charlene was on the phone to a pastor to get some information about a gospel group for another publication she was writing for, when the conversation took a turn.
"I intend to be just as 'out' about my transformation as I was about my lesbian life"
"I don't remember how we got on the subject of salvation but she could not have known how much I had been struggling with trying to reckon my spiritual upbringing with my lesbian lifestyle," Charlene said.
"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 recalls.
At first Charlene says she resisted, not willing to give up everything for God and remembering a confirmed speaking engagement she had scheduled the following week at the Schomberg Center during New York City Gay Pride.
Then she felt God give her an ultimatum, prompting her to choose to serve and honour Him in her life or drift so far away she would no longer hear His voice at all.
"I gave God my heart and soul in the parking lot of the mall, right there in my car," she says.
"A river of tears flowed as Jesus washed me and forgave me and redeemed me for His work."
Although she had resisted for so long, Charlene suddenly realised that God still had an amazing plan and purpose for her life and she decided to give every gift she had been blessed with back to Him, including the Venus magazine.
Her first bold move toward this new mission was publishing her own story in the magazine, and encouraging readers to turn to the Bible's truth about homosexuality and "know with certainty that you are loved by God".
The intense reaction to her conversion was as expected: advertisers for the magazine pulled out, angry letters ensued, friends were lost and her business began to crumble.
"For three days, the devil laughed in my face. He told me that I had no income, no friends, and that I was standing by myself. I said, 'Lord, I still trust you. I will use this publication that killed people to help them turn their lives around'," she explains.
God did turn things around for her and she soon found financial, spiritual and emotional support and encouragement from Christians all over the world.
"I'm ready to stand through persecution. They can't shut me up. I won't lose my job. I'm unafraid and unashamed," Charlene declares publicly.
"If you are ready for change and willing to open yourself to the truth, God's love can bring your current belief system in line with His Word. Jesus will cleanse and forgive all confessed sin from a willing heart. Homosexuality is only one of them. It is no greater sin than any of the others, but it is sin."
When asked by ChristianityToday.com how she sees the gay community now, Charlene said: "I view them with love in my heart" and has demonstrated this by dedicating her life to encouraging and helping any who have been touched by her story.
More about Charlene's ministry and her full testimony can be found at www.venusmagazine.org – firstname.lastname@example.org