From fundamentalist sects, to their mainstream counterparts, to non-Christian religions, the lack acceptance of LGBTQ-plus persons in places of worship continues to plague the global community. Working as assistant to Coordinator of Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, Pride Alliance member senior Enisha Cray arranged a panel of three members of the LGBTQ-plus community to come and speak. The panel was inspired by a sociology project she did last spring surveying people on their religion and sexuality.
“I just feel like religion is so down on the gay community,” Cray said. But she also points out that “there are a lot of people in the community who identify as religious.”
Panel members included Presbyterian Ralph Carter, Presbyterian Karen Anne Bills and former Muslim and Wicca Laine DeLaney, who is now a member of a Gaelic church.
The panelists each provided a summary of their coming out story and how it affected their faith and relationship with their church and family. One particularly profound moment was when Carter explained his sister’s fear that he would go to Hell due to his sexuality. A friend told Carter’s sister that it was not her job to judge, but God’s.
Bills, who used to be a member of a charitable motorcycle gang, agreed with Carter’s sentiment, saying, “As a Christian, God loves me just the way I am.”
The third panelist DeLaney explained how she grew up Irish-Episcopalian, but her mom married an Egyptian, converted to Islam and moved the family to Saudi Arabia.
“I lived an oppressive, theocratic environment for most of my childhood,” DeLaney said. DeLaney left the Islamic community for a Wicca congregation, leaving again for a different group where she is now in the clergy.
All panelists displayed comfort in their sexuality and their religion, proving to attendees that a happy balance can eventually be made between the two.
“People often view the two communities as being at odds,” Cray said. She expressed her hope that this panel discussion would dispel some of those stereotypes.
The panel also discussed the societal implications behind LGBTQ-plus exclusions in the church and how they are changing in recent years due to new laws and acceptance preached by Pope Francis.
“I think he sees us as perfect, worthy and righteous,” Bills said.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of faith,” DeLaney said. “I think it really comes down to a matter of culture.”
The panelists also emphasized that over 60 Rochester congregations are open to members of the LGBTQ-plus community, and that the list can be found on www.gayalliance.org.
The panel discussion created a safe space for religious members of the LGBTQ-plus community to learn about resources and options they have while opening the eyes of allies to the struggles the LGBTQ-plus community goes through to find acceptance in a religious atmosphere.
Like DeLaney said, “No matter how ill-fitting you think you are, remember, ‘There’s a place for the platypus, there’s a place for me.’”