It’s about more than pushing the boundaries of sexual exploration or the notions of virginity, which tend to be taboo topics in many religions. Many folks are longing for a spiritual place – an inclusive space that accepts each person as their whole self.
I have many friends and colleagues who have found a way to merge their devout religious faith with their queer identity. Some majored in theology, and a few even became rabbis, ministers or preachers. But a large portion of folks find faith and their gender/sexuality to be a complicated relationship.
I grew up with strict Apostolic and Baptist faiths in rural Pennsylvania. My maternal grandmother, whom I idolized, was Apostolic and I routinely attended church and revivals. During ninth grade, I had some traumatizing experiences at a nine-week revival.
I was a young girl figuring out her lesbian identity in a world that actively promoted homosexuality as something that was “worse than being a murderer” – words I heard many times at services. In my heart, even at 14, I knew I couldn’t be worse than someone who killed people, yet everything I knew and believed in was wrapped up in those lessons.
These overt negative teachings created a lot of internalized hatred, which I didn’t identify and begin to work through until I was into my 20s. My motivation for social justice and LGBTQI+ advocacy work is, in part, driven by those early experiences.
Others have been exposed to subversive messages about being “less than” or “not enough.” In a world that preaches loving your neighbor unconditionally, it seems the undercurrent is that there are indeed conditions on that love.
With the national rhetoric of hate toward LGBTQI+ folks and anyone who might be “other” (immigrants, refugees, for example) becoming stronger, it feels more dangerous to be LGBTQI+ and out. It is, in fact, deadly for the most marginalized in our community.
Long-held and hard-fought legislation that has protected us in work and life is actively being challenged. And when faith-based organizations put their money toward policies that harm LGBTQI+ folks, it can be hard to be a part of the congregation.
This is why it is even more important today to speak love and acceptance and to actively foster inclusive policies, so that those who want to merge their faith with their sexual and gender identity have a space to do so. There are “welcoming and affirming” churches, synagogues, temples and other faith organizations that have made a point to speak out against hate and actively share their affirmation, their love, for LGBTQI+ people. These places are vitally important.
Being out as someone in leadership, it’s imperative to visibly and vocally share your support or adopt more inclusive policies across your organization to help create safer spaces for all. It shows those who haven’t quite traveled their own path toward self-acceptance or discovery that they can do so and still be a part of an organization, especially one so essential to their mental and spiritual well-being.
My faith is restored time and again when people become a part of positive change and acceptance.
Dorann Zotigh is the board president of the Rainbow Center serving the LGBTQ community in Concord. Send questions and comments to Dodi@rainbowcc.org.