It’s easy to take one look at anti-LGBT religious groups and reject the concept of religion altogether. Many LGBT and allied people do that, while others dismiss conservative denominations and promote those that embrace LGBT people for who we are.
But what happens when the faith communities with, shall we say, challenging traditional teachings toward LGBT people are also part of “who we are?”
For those of us who grew up religious, faith left an impression — often, it was our earliest concept of right and wrong. It’s our childhood memories, our rituals for feeling connected or safe, our earliest role models (as clergy, or in the form of prophets, saints or gods) and often our first sense of community. Whether or not we shake off the theological beliefs or denounce the institution, the religion, in whatever way we understood it, remains part of us — its fingerprints persist in our moral beliefs and choices throughout our lives.
Having grown up Roman Catholic, I can testify. Though I’m an agnostic Unitarian Universalist now, I’m still motivated by Catholic values of humility, self-sacrifice, remorse and guilt, and concern for those in need — a lasting mix of healthy and unhealthy traits. I’m grateful I was taught to value social justice and service; I wish I was rid of some of the other things. Sometimes I even spot my Catholic background showing up in the way I speak and write — vestiges as subtle and simple as word choice and sentence structure.
And even if we’ve let go of a childhood faith, our families and home communities probably didn’t — we still encounter that religion when we visit, are still occasionally judged through its eyes, are even sometimes begged to come back. As many of us head home for Thanksgiving, we’re about to come face-to-face with families or old friends who might make things complicated. Yet we love them.
People in the LGBT and allied community learn to live with this sort of difficult, even uncomfortable, dissonance — I believe that we are all experts in it. We learn how to accept people in ways that they don’t accept us back and accept ourselves for things we were taught to shun, and our struggles to overcome that lack of reciprocity can show up as driving forces behind our social and professional lives.
In this issue’s cover story, Out Front interviewed LGBT Coloradoans with deep and complex relationships with religion. Though we didn’t look for sources whose stories would conform to a particular narrative, it turned out that we found very similar accounts of alienation and reconciliation — a need to weave dissonant influences into an identity and faith that both fulfills a connection with tradition and honors who they are as modern-day LGBT people. Sometimes, finding a place of peace with religion has been a steep and lengthy struggle. Even if you’ve never been religious, chances are you’ll see pieces of your own life in these stories.
Call it a Catholic-style self-scrutiny if you need to, but this makes me reflect on how I approach different groups of people in my own life. It would be easy for me to be dismissive, for example, of Islam — a religion containing challenging elements for LGBT people and foreign to my own experiences. Yet Islam means something to Hina Chow, the woman on the cover of this issue — a Muslim, a lesbian, who has very good reasons to continue to care about the interests of Muslims: they’re her family. The world has millions of queer Muslims in it, at all different levels of devoutness and different interpretations of their faith, and they would benefit from defining Islam in a way that accommodates the way they live in it — in a way that is tolerant and respectful on our part, and willing to take notice when the most hard-line positions we hear about in the news don’t represent they way all Muslims believe. So when I look at Islam based on LGBT issues, should I form my attitude based on my own nonexistent stake in the matter, or theirs?
I think we ultimately find that in any religion, ideologies and institutions are fleeting — people can detach from them when necessary just as they come and go over relatively short periods in history. But the values, communities and culture we come from will last.