Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
This column is part nine of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.
Religion is not an indicator of sexuality or gender identity. While there is an assumption that they are mutually exclusive, religion isn’t always a black and white concept for the queer and gender-nonconforming community. For many, religion has provided a space where they have experienced homophobia, transphobia or other forms of discrimination. However, that experience isn’t universal. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean the person will abandon religion.
Part of the reason that religion is such a touchy subject for the queer and gender-nonconforming community is that there is no one relationship with religion that is applicable to everyone. Similar to other marginalized groups, not everyone in the queer and gender-nonconforming community interacts with religion and religious communities based on one unified background.
While there are problems with organized religion that lead to discrimination, religion isn’t always about the group as a whole. It is a very personal thing. What people believe about the universe and everything in it is not as simple as people like to think. Religion can act as a way to gain hope and community. The narrative that religious communities are less accepting is founded in a recognition of history. However, assuming that everyone in each community is straight, cis and against homophobia is also dangerous.
Sometimes people who are queer and religious have struggled with their identity because homosexuality is still treated as a sin in many communities. For example, Jide Rowland Macaulay, founder of the House Of Rainbow LGBT-friendly church, said he expected discrimination and homophobia. In an interview with the Independent, Macaulay explained that he experienced hatred, but he was still religious. His sexuality and past experience with the church did not take away his faith.
He stated, “The rejection crushed me emotionally, mentally and spiritually. When I realized that the pain was not going to go away I prayed for direction and I was led to a place where I could study more about being gay and a Christian.” His self-acceptance and faith helped him through his identity struggle.
Those of the Christian faith are not the only people that are worried. In his interview with the Independent, Tamoor Ali, a corporate finance manager who is also Muslim, said that he expected people to tell him that he was committing a sin. His expectation was pleasantly wrong. However, he did mention a lack of dialogue surrounding those who are queer and Muslim. Ali explained, “... it’s more of a don’t ask don’t tell policy.”
Part of the problem with the stereotype of all religious individuals being homophobic is that it isn’t always true. Some are accepting and others are a part of the queer and gender-nonconforming community. Religion shouldn’t be used to excuse homophobia and transphobia because that excuse doesn’t work. In the book, “Behold, I Make All Things New,” leaders of multiple religious communities point out how misinterpretations have lead to discrimination and hatred. It examines the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to show that religion does not condemn or demonize the queer and gender-nonconforming community. For example, the book points out the emphasis on God’s mercy and how translation can be subjective. The authors worked together to show that the sacred texts of Abrahamic faith communities are not inherently against the queer and gender-nonconforming community.
Not only does the use of religion to justify homophobia and transphobia hurt the queer and gender-nonconforming community as a whole, but it also puts additional strain on those who are in the community and are religious. Religion can be a tough subject for people within the community, especially those hurt by the taking of sacred text out of context. For many people, that experience may lead them to abandon religion, but others find their strength in faith.
Religion is not an indicator of sexuality and gender identity, but the stereotype that they are mutually exclusive puts pressure on the community and the individual. Being queer or gender-nonconforming does not mean you don’t deserve the opportunity to explore and engage in religion or spirituality. It means that you have another way to find the support you may need.
Edited by Bryce Kolk | firstname.lastname@example.org