Post submitted by Jennifer Yates, Carol Lautier, and Carlin Rushing

HRC's Summer Institute for Theologians and Religious Scholars invests in the next generation of religious leaders.  At Creating Change this year three of the scholars presented on their important work on the effects of spiritual trauma for the LGBT community.  This reflects critical scholarship that HRC is pleased to promote.

Our workshop “Understanding Spiritual Trauma,” emerged from the 2013 HRC Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study, which convenes LGBTQ and allied scholars who study the intersections of sexuality and religion.  Jennifer, Carol and Carlin met at the Institute, resonated with the topic of spiritual trauma, and collectively decided to present this workshop to The National Conference on LGBT Equality:  Creating Change held January 28 through February 2, 2014 in Houston, Texas.

The aim of our workshop was to bring awareness to the idea that spirituality itself, can serve as a source of trauma.  One of the more disturbing realities we have observed, is the difficulty some conservatively religious LGBTQ individuals have finding a sense of peace and well-being even after joining progressive and accepting faith communities.  We have noticed that some continue to experience the symptoms of on-going anxiety, painful memories breaking into the present, difficulty finding trusting relationships, and generally being unable to emotionally move away from the confines of their religious past.  These are symptoms of trauma—trauma with a spiritual origin.

The importance of addressing spiritual trauma within the LGBTQ community became apparent by the enthusiasm and significant degree of engagement by the participants of the well-attended workshop. The workshop seemed to provide a spiritually and politically affirming context in which to name and explore spiritual trauma, along with its unique impact upon the LGBTQ community. 

Jennifer’s research on spiritually-mediated trauma found real world application as survivors and allies responded with comments, questions, and examples from their lives. Some expressed gratitude for the opportunity to name and better understand their painful experiences, while others added a richer and more nuanced understanding of the dimensions of spiritual trauma by sharing their unique stories.  Carol facilitated the discussion by using her research to historicize spiritual trauma among LGBTQ people of faith. Carlin provided a pastoral presence throughout and by the end of the session, it was apparent that ninety minutes was not enough to plumb the depths of the topic. Participants hurried to add their names to our mailing list and for the remainder of the conference each of us were stopped by individuals expressing gratitude for space to begin the work of healing from spiritual trauma and practical tools to begin the journey toward wholeness.

Our hope in exploring spiritually-mediated trauma is that it will provide another lens through which mental health, spiritual, and religious professionals can view and understand the experience of some conservatively religious LGBTQ individuals who have been exiled from their faith communities.  In raising this awareness we also hope to point to the need for research and modes of treatment to address this unique form of trauma.

We are grateful for the opportunities and resources provided by HRC and look forward to building on the important work that started at the Summer Institute.

Filed under: Religion & Faith, Community

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