It might have been caused by spending the first two months of her premature life isolated in a hospital incubator, but for as long as she could recall, Brenna Kate Simonds struggled with a lack of self-worth. She doubted whether anyone would ever like her or if she could ever achieve anything.
“I never wore the right clothes, I never said the right things, and I didn’t have the right friends,” recalls Simonds, now 46.
She became self-destructive in an unhappy childhood in New Hampshire. She cut herself with sharp objects and banged her head and fists against walls and floors. Eating problems began at age 14, and by the end of high school Simonds had a full-blown eating disorder.
The search for fulfillment led to sexual experimentation with other girls. During her first year in high school, she formed an emotionally unhealthy attachment to her best friend. When the relationship became physical, Simonds felt dependent on her girlfriend for any sense of affirmation. She says the deep emotional connection led her to believe she must be a lesbian.
“It felt like a death sentence, but all of a sudden my life made sense,” Simonds says. At the time, she thought she had to accept the lesbian label so many others in the community placed on her.
Through a serendipitous encounter at a coffeehouse, Simonds at 18 accepted a woman’s invitation to attend church. Simonds began meeting daily with the woman for prayer, but the sessions didn’t focus on the good news of Jesus’ transformational power.
“She was quick to tell me that homosexuality was a sin that would condemn me to hell,” Simonds recalls. “Every night I would cry myself to sleep.”
The message Simonds heard from the would-be mentor was she must change her lesbian lifestyle before God would accept her.
Simonds pleaded with the Lord to take away her desires, but nothing changed. Frustrated, she embraced her gay identity. At age 20, Simonds participated in a mock wedding ceremony with a woman who subsequently introduced her as her wife. Simonds got more involved in the gay community, frequented lesbian bars, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. Other lesbians validated the “this is who you are” sexual identity that initially brought relief.
However, the activism and sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people didn’t fix her underlying issues.
“My eating disorder spiraled out of control,” Simonds recalls. “I descended into fear and loneliness.”
At the age of 23, Simonds encountered other Christians who offered more compassion and less judgment than her earlier adviser. Several came from Boston Harbor Community Church, then pastored by Nick W. Fatato, now Assemblies of God Southern New England Ministry Network superintendent.
“They never took it upon themselves to point out my sinfulness,” Simonds says. “They just pointed me to Jesus. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life.”
The tender mercy route convicted Simonds that being in a lesbian relationship couldn’t coexist with being a follower of Christ. But, as is usually the case, healing didn’t occur immediately. Desires failed to dissipate instantly, and Simonds fell into another brief sexual relationship with a woman.
Yet with mentoring, accountability, Bible study, and therapy, Simonds found a more sustainable road to recovery as her attraction to women greatly lessened. She went through three years of counseling to deal with the roots of her same-sex attraction, as well as her eating disorder, depression, and self-harming.
While attending the New England Conservatory of Music, she met Roy through a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries gathering they both attended. The couple began dating after Brenna realized her previous lack of physical attraction to men in general stemmed from the sexual abuse perpetuated by another male acquaintance.
Simonds says she participated in numerous counseling sessions, small group meetings, and Bible studies before reaching the point of being open to heterosexual marriage. In 2002, Roy and Brenna wed. Roy works at a Christian bookstore and is a home-school art teacher. The couple have three children, Nathanael, J.J., and Maggie.
“Marriage is not a cure for homosexuality, or even a guarantee of happiness, but simply another part of God’s healing process in my life,” Simonds says. She believes the solution must be more than “finding the right guy” — unless that guy is Jesus.
Immediate deliverance from unwanted sexual attractions is rare. Simonds says she is grateful for the gradual healing because it made her realize she couldn’t be cured by her own power; she needed to cling to Jesus.
“I had such hopelessness and discouragement in my soul,” Simonds recalls. “I had to choose to rely on the character of God.”
Simonds has followed a path of freedom from same-sex attraction, disordered eating, and self-injury since 1999. She is the author of Learning to Walk in Freedom: A Journey in Five Steps.
Since 2004, Simonds has been director of the Boston-based interdenominational organization Alive in Christ. The discipleship and mentoring ministry strives to empower those with same-sex attraction to live for Jesus as well as to educate loved ones of those who identify as gay or transgender how to be compassionate without compromise.
“Alive in Christ believes that people will progressively walk in freedom and grow in Christ if they are mentored,” Simonds says.
For the past three years, Simonds has been the only Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries missionary associate to those in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community. She received her ordination as an AG minister in 2020 and attends Brockton Assembly of God in Massachusetts.
Simonds says same-sex attraction is a relational issue that requires a relational solution, including accountability.
“We all have a need for deep emotional intimacy with others,” Simonds says. “How do we meet that need in a healthy, God-honoring way?”
Parents in many faith-based churches aren’t equipped to discuss gender — or sex — in a biblical way, Simonds has found. Typically, she says, parents hope their prayers and the teaching their children receive at church — often limited to Don’t have intercourse until you get married — will suffice in setting them on the path to healthy sexuality.
“They need to explain that gender is decided by God,” says Simonds. “Really at the core, this is an identity issue.”
Wayne Huffman, senior director of U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries, says the Church by and large hasn’t reached out to the LGBTQ community. Yet he cites studies that show a majority of those who feel trapped by same-sex attraction would attend a Bible believing church if invited. He is encouraged that Simonds knows and understands those to whom she ministers.
“We simply don’t understand the lifestyle and are hesitant about reaching out to this segment of society,” Huffman says. “Brenna understands the time it takes for them to walk toward freedom. She has a proven track record of successfully discipling these individuals and seeing them walk in the healing that can come only through a closeness with Jesus.”
Next: What churches can do to help gender-confused youth.