As we celebrate National Coming Out Day, more and more LGBT people of faith are coming out as the religious landscape becomes more welcoming and inclusive.
Look at the progress made this year alone: In July, the Episcopal Church permitted clergy to perform religious marriage for same-sex couples. In May, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley lamented the spillover of politics into spirituality, boldly calling for the church to be “the safest place on the planet” for LGBT teens. In March, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical arm of the Reform movement, installed its first openly lesbian president, Rabbi Denise Eger, who is also a member of HRC’s Religion Council.
These stories and hundreds more like them in communities across the globe are inspiring LGBT people of faith, too many of whom have been alienated from their own religious traditions, with the hope that it might be time to give religion another chance.
Whether walking openly into the sanctuary or slipping silently in through the back, LGBT people are looking at faith anew. In response, HRC has created a resource, Coming Home to Faith, to Spirit, to Self. The goal of this guide is to help those who are considering a return to their traditions, or who hope to discover a new, welcoming faith community. Included is practical guidance on first steps, on the role of non-LGBT allies and on the wealth of resources available.
The decision of whether to return to a religious community, though, is often fraught with memories of rejection and misunderstanding; and in too many cases, these decisions come with the risk of further spiritual trauma and rejection.
For example, in August, the Phoenix New-Times reported that Sumayyah Dawud, a Muslim transgender woman was barred from the women’s prayer space where she felt most comfortable. Earlier this year, openly lesbian Catholic teacher Margie Winters was fired from her job at a Catholic school after two parents complained.
Such experiences are not uncommon, and unfortunately, continue to turn members of the LGBT community away from religion. People of faith simply cannot find spiritual sustenance in communities that are unwelcoming or even dangerous. Yet many like Sumayyah or LGBT Catholics continue to long for a spiritual community, even as they fear the rejection they might experience.
Just hours after Pope Francis began his historic trip to the U.S. last month, the HRC Foundation released a guide to help LGBT Catholics who are seeking to reconnect with their faith and build more inclusive church communities. In the upcoming months, new guides will be released to help LGBT Muslims and Jews return to their faith traditions.
Every generation has to push against the forces that use religion as a tool to marginalize people and has the simultaneous task of reclaiming what is beautiful and holy and righteous in the very traditions that may have harmed them. This act of reclaiming our core spiritual truths will not just heal LGBT families. It also promises to free our faith communities to become the more welcoming, more loving sanctuaries that the world so desperately needs.
For more information on HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, visit hrc.org/religion