Queerly faithful and faithfully Queer: An intro to QKY’s religious, spiritual series

This series is proudly sponsored by Highland Coffee, Louisville’s Finest Coffeehouse, locally owned and operated since 1999. They have lots of VEGAN eats and treats made in house. Draft nitro-cold coffee on tap! Highland Coffee proudly bakes it’s own desserts and breakfast pastries in house, including many vegan & gluten free items, breakfast wraps, and panini sandwiches. Birthday cakes, cupcakes, and other items available to order.

by Heather Brydie Harris (they/them)

When I was attending the Iliff School of Theology, a seminary and theological graduate school in Colorado, I volunteered to sit at a table as a student representative for the school at Denver’s annual Pride event.

At this point in time I had been living in Denver for almost a decade and considered myself a pledged member of Denver’s queer community. I checked off all the boxes of unofficial membership. I have also always been a proud nerd, studying the intersections of religion and queer life, theology, race, gender, and sexuality. I jumped on the opportunity to share more about the degree I was earning, a MA in Social Justice and Ethics, to my community.

My spread of rainbow swag and glitter was only outdone by my short sleeve floral button-down and signature queer-cut. I was met with, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

The church has harmed irreparably, inextricably, and the impacts of that harm are compounding for those, like me, who grew up religious and queer and/or trans. While I  was taken aback by that initial reaction that year at Pride, I understood it. I had uttered the same sentiment to myself over the years as my own involvement with religion waxed and waned. “What the hell am I doing here?”

Yet, for many of us, religion is still important even as homophobia, transphobia, and sexist intolerance keeps many of us outside of faith spaces, and further separates us from community networks that provide both spiritual and social resources.  Those who continue their membership within non-affirming church spaces, are often forced to deny who they are or who they love, which furthers the discrimination they face.

This may be particularly true for Black and Brown queer and trans people who feel that the church is an important part of their social and cultural life, but are forced to contend with a hate the sin but love the sinner rhetoric. This formulates queer love and queer gender expressions as taboo and gaslights their members into a state of false cis-heteronormative performance.

This discrimination seems to find no irony in the performed histrionics of the Southern Christian pastor, nor the camp of the choir robes, or the flamboyance of the music director.

Religious based discrimination and oppression takes many forms. It can be experienced as intergenerational trauma, especially for those of us who have a racial history of Christianity being used as a justification for the enslavement and genocide of our ancestors.

It can be political within the policies of the church, formulating who can or cannot be in leadership, who may have a religious wedding, or take communion. It can also be sly, masked behind acoustic guitars, urban settings, dark denim, and phrases that suggest all are welcome, when in reality, queer life is not affirmed within these church spaces, no matter how hip, read cringe, they try to be.

These last spaces can be especially insidious, as their existence is often predicated on attracting marginalized communities, the coupling of a white savoir complex and a love of gentrification, as well as a sense of superior ethics fueled by white cis-heteronormativity, capitalism and xenophobia.

For these reasons, many queer and trans people have sought out new spiritual practices outside of the prominent organized religions in the U.S., such as reconnecting with ancestral, African derived traditional, or self-created spiritual practices. Queer spaces can also be conceived of as alternative sacred places. You only have to experience the lifting of hands and making of offerings at drag shows, or the partaking in holy communion at queer art exhibits in the form of rose and fruit trays, or the erotic catching of the holy spirit, sweaty and entranced from a night of dancing with other queer sacred bodies to experience the sacredness within many of the safer spaces that we have carved out for ourselves.

Religion has caused great harm as well as given boundless hope for many. Some religious spaces in Louisville have confronted their own oppressive histories and have risen to the great challenge of reconciling and healing, such as Highland Baptist Church, Douglas Boulevard Christian Church, and others, while some have cloaked themselves in the comforts of continued oppression of those most discriminated against, such as the ever present Sojourn. Meanwhile, we continue the task of discerning the wheat from the chaff, of defining our own sacred places, and continuing to hold our faith spaces here accountable for their political, social, and theological actions.  To answer that person’s question from that Pride event years ago. Why the fuck was I at Pride? Because I knew, without a doubt, queer and trans people are valuable and deserving of affirming faith communities. That we are sacred. That we are holy.