Religion has been a source of both solace and suffering for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. For while most LGBT Americans have been raised in an organized religion — and many continue to cherish their faith community — too many have been forced to leave those communities behind because of condemnation of LGBT people (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.).
A number of faith groups have become welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2S individuals. Unfortunately there are still many faith based groups that are homophobic, biphobic and transphobic and actively oppose LGBTQ2S equity. For example they oppose employment protections and marriage equality. Some groups go even as far as promoting gay conversion therapy. One of the churches that is most vocal in its anti-LGBTQ2S activism is the Westboro Baptist Church. The Westboro Baptist Church
… engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS… (Westboro Baptist Church, n.d.).
While the Westboro Baptist Church is an extreme example, they are perhaps the one we are most familiar with due to their protests and signs. Other faith organizations who are not LGBTQ2S inclusive tend to be more subtle. But within many of these organizations there are pockets of progressive members who are LGBTQ2S allies.
There are a number of religious groups that have adopted pro-LGBTQ2S values and are supporters of the LGBTQ2S community(/ies). Many of these religious groups have a commitment to social justice. And as such, they have advocated for the equity of LGBTQ2S community (e.g. employment protections and marriage equality. Most of these groups welcome LGBTQ2S clergy. In contrast to the Westboro Baptist Church, there are churches like the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
[The ] Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto is the spiritual home to a diverse and progressive community of faith. We are rooted in the teachings and spiritual practices of Christianity. We also respect the rich wisdom of other faith traditions. We believe in a relevant and forward-thinking spirituality.
We are proud to be a congregation serving people with assorted beliefs, backgrounds and sexual identities. From our origins serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, we have become an inclusive and affirming congregation that actively welcomes all people.
We are called to build bridges that transform lives and transform our world. We are called to welcome others into the experience of a spirituality that is vibrant, inclusive and progressive. We are called to generously share our time, talents and resources. We are called to be beacons of faith, freedom and justice here and around the world (Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, n.d.).
Examples of this shift towards inclusion on a personal level can be witnessed in the following quote from a pastor.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children. I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do — quite often. Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe. Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids — from both inside and outside of the closet — trying to be part of the Church. Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity (Pavlovitz, 2014).
This is from an article posted on the Huffington Post from a pastor writing to share what he would do if one of his children was gay. This inspired Rabbi Orlow to respond with eight promises he makes if one of his children is gay (Orlow, 2014).
Faith Based Organizations and Service Delivery
In many communities faith based organizations are providing programs and services because there has been no one else to do the work. Faith organizations have historically identified outstanding needs and responded. According to John Ashman (President of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions) “Soup, soap and salvation” is how early Christian service providers were referred to. The following is from talk Ashman gave at the 2014 National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, DC.
And that was okay in those days because people knew what that meant… Another way missions were known in the day ‘three hots and a cot’… [T]hey were there in the ‘30s for people who were dealing with all the issues of the depression. They were there in the ‘40s for people who were also coming back from war… Rescue Missions today are changing. They have to change. Radical hospitality replaces soup, soap and salvation. That’s why 81% of our missions now do not require someone to go to a chapel service before they get something to eat. We are working on those other 19%… We are still going to be about changing lives… We are going to be on the playing field, we are just going to come in through a different tunnel” (Ashman, 2014).
Here is the full video:
There are some concerns that to access services at a faith based organization a client needs to agree to partake in religious activities in exchange for a bed (for example). According to BC Housing “Emergency shelter providers should have policies in place regarding spiritual activities that take place within the shelter to ensure that individuals not participating have equal access to services and accommodation” (BC Housing, 2013: 19).
BC Housing provides the sample policy and procedure for an emergency shelter provider with religious roots.
When the Safe Stay Shelter Society was founded 25 years ago it was based on the Christian principles of caring for those in need in our community and the importance of sharing God’s love through real and tangible actions. Those principles remain just as valid for the work of the shelter today. That being said, while Christian prayers, services, bible studies and pastoral counselling are available at the shelter for those clients who are interested in participating, participation in any religious activity is not compulsory or expected. Clients staying at the shelter are free to practice any religion or spiritual belief that they adhere to, or none at all if that is the case (BC Housing, 2013: 20).
Egale Human Rights Trust has been active in the development and nurturing of Gay Straight Alliance (GSAs in the education system. They developed 10 Faith-Based Reasons to Support LGBTQ Inclusive Education (Egale, n.d.). The following list has adapted the 10 Faith-Based Reasons to Support LGBTQ Inclusive Education to service delivery.
- Human dignity is paramount. [Everyone who enters our spaces is a human being and it treated with respect and compassion.]
- The ideals of compassion, acceptance, peace and love are shared by most religions and peoples throughout the world. Many religions have incredible histories of involvement with social justice and peace movements, activism, and a sense of duty to marginalized peoples.
- Most religions share the belief that one should treat others like one would like others to treat oneself.
- LGBTQ inclusive [service delivery] does not promote or suggest that someone’s religious values are wrong.
- LGBTQ inclusive [service delivery] works toward ensuring that each youth has a safe environment in which to [stay and access resources they need]. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia foster, condone and willfully ignore violence and hate.
- The impact of disapproval and lack of acceptance opens individuals who identify as LGBTQ up to verbal, physical and emotional harassment, which are all forms of violence.
- Sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights as well as provincial/territorial Human Rights Codes. Gender identity is also included as a prohibited ground in some provinces and territories. Please visit www.egale.ca for a current list.
- Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia hurt us all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, anyone who is perceived to be LGBTQ is subjected to harassment and victimization. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia enforce rigid gender roles and norms, deny individual expression, and perpetuate stereotypes, myths and misinformation.
- All human beings are valuable members of their communities regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
For additional resource please read Straight For Equality.
Ashman, J. (2014, August 25). Rescue Missions: We’re probably not what you think we are. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlURsQGCbDk&index=14&list=UUN53idxWoDulLwZsVr272xg
BC Housing. (2013) Emergency Shelter Program: Sample Policies and Procedures for Emergency Shelters. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.bchousing.org/resources/Partner_Resources/Program_Resources/Emergency_Shelter_Program/ESP_Sample_Policies_Procedures.pdf
Castillo, T. (2013, December 15). Faith and Harm Reduction: The True Meaning of “All God’s Children” Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tessie-castillo/faith-and-harm-reduction_b_4136617.html
Egale Human Rights Trust. (n.d.). 10 Faith-Based Reasons to Support LGBTQ Inclusive Education. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://mygsa.ca/setting-gsa/10-faith-based-reasons-support-lgbtq-inclusive-education
Halper, K. (2014, August 14). 9 Most Homophobic Church Signs. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.alternet.org/belief/9-most-homophobic-church-signs
Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Faith Positions. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/faith-positions
Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. (n.d.). Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto – Vibrant. Inclusive. Progressive. Retrieved February 22, 2015, from http://www.mcctoronto.com
Orlow, A. (2014, October 3). If I Have Gay Children: A Rabbi’s 8 Promises. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/avi-orlow/if-i-have-gay-children-_b_5923490.html
Pavlovitz, J. (2014, September 27). If I Have Gay Children: 4 Promises From a Christian Pastor/Parent. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-pavlovitz/if-i-have-gay-children-fo_b_5869298.html
Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Conversion Therapy. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.splcenter.org/conversion-therapy
Straight For Equality. (n.d.). Additional Resources – Faith Communities. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.straightforequality.org/FaithResources
Westboro Baptist Church. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved February 22, 2015, from http://www.godhatesfags.com/faq.html?COLLCC=3728666866&