Including LGBTQ Voices in Interfaith

An adapted version of this piece also appeared on the Huffington Post.

As an atheist and interfaith activist, much of my work focuses on advocating for the inclusion of nonreligious voices in interfaith dialogue. But a related—and, for me, equally urgent—push for inclusion can be found in efforts to welcome LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people into interfaith spaces. I am passionate about LGBTQ acceptance, and I am passionate about interfaith cooperation. In my eyes, these passions are not in tension; they are intimately connected.

In Faitheist, I write about times that I experienced exclusion and demonization for being an atheist, and also times I was attacked for being queer. I included both to highlight the reality that fear of the “other” has frequently pushed me, and many others, to the margins of our society—this includes atheists and agnostics, but also LGBTQ people, Muslims, Sikhs, women, and many others. Interfaith work, which brings together people from diverse communities to better understand one another and build inter-community networks that advocate for the dignity of all people, must necessarily welcome all people.

I was reminded of this last month when I sat on a panel of LGBTQ authors who write about religion at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, alongside authors Jeff Chu and Aaron Hartzler.* During the panel we were invited to reflect on and discuss the intersection of our queer identities and religion. Issues of power and privilege came up, and as we talked about the ways in which each of us had experienced discrimination because of our identities, I couldn’t help but think of the important role interfaith dialogue and cooperation can and does play in challenging normative narratives—especially the narrative that suggests we cannot be in community with one another despite holding deeply different views and maintaining diverse identities.

Thus, I feel more convinced than ever that interfaith efforts should include LGBTQ voices; if interfaith work is intended to bring together people with different and sometimes contradicting convictions and identities, then it has to. We will not agree about everything, but we can and should agree that all people deserve respect, dignity, and equality. Discussions regarding LGBTQ people and religion have frequently been quite damaging to LGBTQ people, and have generally been contentious for all involved. (For more on this subject, feel free to check out a piece I wrote last year about an interaction I had with someone who told me that I had a demon inside of me that was making me gay.) Interfaith spaces built upon a foundation of mutual respect and a desire to understand our differences are an ideal forum for us to recognize that, even in our disagreements, we all have to share this world. Upon that foundation, we can begin to see that our world would be much better if we were in relationship with people outside of our own communities.

As I reflect on these issues, I look to next month, when I will be the invited speaker at Boston LGBTQ Pride’s Interfaith Service. I am excited to gather alongside representatives from many different communities and, together, pledge to dismantle the narrative that says that our communities should remain siloed. Like other disenfranchised communities, many LGBTQ people know all too well that religious differences have been used as an excuse to divide and dehumanize. But as we imagine and work for a better world, all of us—queer and straight, religious and nonreligious—know that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can build a society that creates space for all people to live alongside one another in peace, embracing our differences but recognizing our shared humanity. That begins with making space at the table for everyone, and extending an invitation to communities that haven’t always been welcome.

*My travel expenses for this trip were offset through IFYC’s Alumni Professional Development Fund, which is available to alumni of IFYC programs. To apply for a grant, click here.

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