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GLAAD Moves Sojourners Magazine into Fuller Conversation About LGBT Issues

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Sojourners is a popular progressive Christian magazine and web site designed to focus on social justice issues. Sojourners’ founder, Jim Wallis, has often been cited as a voice for progressive Christianity. The readership of Sojourners comes from a variety of Christian denominations, but it has a demonstrated passion for social justice.

However, in a surprising move, Sojourners rejected a series of print ads by the Believe Out Loud campaign in May. The purpose of Believe Out Loud is to help Christian congregations become more welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Believe Out Loud created a short and powerful video, featuring a young boy entering a church with his two mothers. The only two words spoken in the video are “Welcome, everyone.” The video, along with print ads, were to be timed for Mother’s Day.

The reaction to Sojourners was swift and very negative. Many people asked why an ad about congregational welcome was rejected by such a major progressive Christian magazine. Sojourners issued a series of statements, blog posts, and FAQs that tried to “clarify” their stance. The reasons cited were that the core issues of Sojourners are “poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defense of life and peace.” Wallis reiterated his support for inclusion of LGBT people in the worship life of congregations. However he also stressed that Sojourners didn’t want the Believe Out Loud ad to imply that Sojourners takes a stance on marriage equality, preferring to remain neutral. Sojourners says that it wants to be supportive of LGBT people, but prefers to do that through the editorial process, rather than through advertising. Each statement issued seemed to fuel further anger from the Sojourners base.

GLAAD reached out to Sojourners directly to clarify the advertising and editorial policy concerning LGBT issues. The representative from Sojourners reiterated to GLAAD that Sojourners wants to keep its primary focus on issues of poverty/homelessness, war/peace, and environment. GLAAD reminded Sojourners that LGBT people are involved in all those issues and that LGBT people are affected by those issues just as much as, if not more than, the general population. In the course of the conversation, GLAAD asked if an LGBT organization who worked in those primary focus areas would be able to place an ad. Sojourner’s said yes, and GLAAD took them at their word.

GLAAD then was in contact with staff members from the Ali Forney Center, an LGBT youth homeless shelter in New York City. The Ali Forney Center was instrumental presenting the stories of youth rejected from their homes to comedian Tracy Morgan after he went on an anti-gay rant during a June 3 comedy performance in Nashville, Tenn. Carl Siciliano, the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, expressed a strong interest in reaching out to evangelical and mainline protestant Christians with information about causes of youth homelessness, particularly the connection between family rejection and LGBT youth homelessness. He shared with us that one quarter of LGBT youth rejected by their parents become homeless and nearly 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT (pdf). Using these statistics, GLAAD and the Ali Forney Center created a full-page, color ad that is currently running in the September/October issue of Sojourners magazine.

What does such an ad do? Several things. It tests the notion of whether Sojourners would really accept an ad placed by an LGBT-focused organization. It also demonstrates to the leadership and readership the overlap between the LGBT community and poverty, war/peace, and environment. It also continues the conversation about LGBT inclusion in the life of the church and the world. Through the conversations about the ad, Sojourners got more interested in the topic of youth homelessness (which falls under their “poverty” category). They intend to run a series of blog posts about LGBT youth homelessness that were inspired by the facts listed on the ad. These facts shed a harsh light on the theology of exclusion, which teaches parents to reject their children when they come out, increasing the likelihood of homelessness in LGBT youth. One of the blog posts will feature an interview with Carl Siciliano, where he will share his calling to work with LGBT homeless youth, and how we can best address and prevent youth from becoming homeless, namely by loving and accepting our children, no matter what.

The placement of the ad, as well as the blog posts about LGBT youth homelessness, are wonderful steps forward for Sojourner’s Magazine. GLAAD is proud to have played a role in helping Sojourners understand the intersection between LGBT people and poverty, war/peace, and environment. Additionally, GLAAD is delighted that an important organization like the Ali Forney Center will be lifted up to a new audience and given the opportunity to speak prophetic words concerning our young people. At the same time, GLAAD is aware that there is much more that Sojourners could do. As we continue working together, GLAAD will continually call on Sojourners to address and support other issues that are important to LGBT people: employment nondiscrimination, violence against LGBT people, transgender discrimination in housing and employment, and yes, even marriage equality. This is a first step on the journey, but by taking this step, GLAAD has found new potential allies and opened their eyes to the realities of LGBT people’s lives.