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Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people describe coexisting in LGBTQ and spiritual spaces

August 9, 2019

For some religious and spiritual LGBTQ community members, Pride feels isolating because of long-held misconceptions that cause religious and LGBTQ communities to be unaccepting of one another. Because of this, many LGBTQ people of faith are asked to compromise within both their religious and LGBTQ communities.

Despite the fact that a majority of lesbian, gay and bisexual people have a religious affiliation most LGBT adults feel unwelcomed in their religious community.

To understand how LGBTQ people of faith reconcile their belonging to multiple communities, GLAAD reached out to three spiritual people of different faiths and asked them what Pride means to them. 

Pictured: Ezra

Ezra is ethnically Jewish and has been practicing Judaism since they were eight years old and consider themselves spiritually and culturally connected to Judaism. Their family escaped religious persecution in Russia in the early twentieth century, and Judaism is a large part of their family history.

Growing up, Ezra felt that their religious and LGBTQ identities could not coexist; while living in their conservative and pious home, they were in deep denial about their gender and sexuality. But today, after having conversations with friends, family and other Jewish people about feeling alienated from the Jewish community, Ezra feels that Jewish spaces can be welcoming and inclusive, claiming Judaism itself is queer, fluid and personal.

“Originally, Judaism had six genders. These had to do with ability to procreate and therefore don’t quite follow our modern understanding of gender, but there was a lot of non-binary space provided. The original texts that people believe condemn gay folks actually condemn physically taking sex by force,” Ezra told GLAAD.

Ezra maintains that Jewish and LGBTQ communities are similar: “Each community emphasizes the importance of empathy, community, our obligations to society and each other and our ability to find community, love, belonging, acceptance and redemption in a world that works to erase us.” These shared values between the Jewish and LGBTQ communities inform their belief that Pride is about honoring those in your community that came before you. “Pride means existing unapologetically, about taking up space and about honoring the strength of our ancestors and transcestors,” said Ezra.

Pictured: Rafiul Alom Rahman

Rafiul Alom Rahman has been a practicing Muslim for his entire life and considers himself to be spiritual. He founded The Queer Muslim Project in March 2017, one of the world’s largest online LGBTQ Muslim communities which has since turned into in-person monthly meetings and retreats.

Rahman’s advocacy work began when he realized there are hardly any spaces for queer Muslims. In queer spaces, he felt there were hardly any conversations about Muslim identity or issues faced by religious minorities. Similarly, he felt that Muslim spaces completely erased and silenced queer voices. “Too often, you are expected to be either queer or Muslim. Even in liberal and queer-friendly spaces there is Islamophobia which stems from an attitude that Islam is homophobic—as a queer Muslim, you cannot be attached to a space like that,” he told GLAAD.

“We must be able to have meaning in faith, and in doing so, we must be critical of traditional and exclusionary aspects of faith. We need to have a positive relationship with faith where we find meaning in some of the spiritual traditions, but also have a space where we can question and debate and critically look into faith and blindly follow everything. The same goes for queer spaces,” Rahman said.

Rahman’s frustration with how non-Muslim LGBTQ people treat those who practice Islam and how Muslim people treat those who are LGBTQ fuels his feelings towards Pride being a socially conscious affair. “Queer Muslims have agency. Queer Muslims have a voice. Queer Muslims know how to navigate their identities. No one should be our saviors and speak for us; marginalized people should have a mic, tell their stories and own their voices. Pride to me means inclusion and justice. Too often we might say that, ‘Hey, we are all inclusive.’ But we don’t want to talk about the violence and discrimination targeted at minorities,” he said.

Pictured: Melanie Lewis

Melanie Lewis, who wrote about her spiritual sojourn in her book, Slipping into Darkness, Blinded by the Light, identifies as a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. She is most closely affiliated with Christianity.

Lewis believes relationships between God and one another are the foundation of faith. “Jesus came to give us relationships—not religion,” she told GLAAD. Lewis grounds and justifies her faith through the Bible. She believes that no individual can have a relationship with God without having read the Bible.

“You can’t get a relationship through listening to other people’s interpretations and having them preach to you or at you and give you their views. It just isn’t right; you need to know God personally. When you hear something, you know when to accept it or not. God wants to communicate to us what is right,” she added.

When asked to justify her faith as an LGBTQ person, Lewis points to Romans 14. The scripture talks about food being unclean and supporting those with weak faiths, but Lewis frequently applies it to other aspects of life. “That scripture tells us everything you do is between you and God. You need God to direct you in what you should or shouldn’t do. If something is unclean to you, it is unclean to you—not me. If you walk in love, you can’t go wrong.”

Having experienced homophobic preaching during a mass at her then-church after marriage equality became legal nationwide in 2015, she wants everyone to feel welcomed in religious spaces.

“Like Isiah said to the Israelites, it is time to say, ‘I am.’ God loves everyone. If you walk with pride, and you act as who you are, people can’t tear you down. Pride time is our time to say, ‘I am,’” Lewis said.

Nick Fiorellini is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and rising senior at Bard College studying literature. He is member of the school’s QSA, Christian Fellowship, and is currently in the process of reviving the Hudson Sexuality and Gender Discussion Group. Nick currently serves as a Junior Editor for GLAAD's Digital Platform Amp.

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