Out in Faith: How a safe space is being created for LGBTQ believers

·4 min read
Liz Ohle is one of the founders and organizers of Out in Faith, an interfaith service held as part of St. John's Pride week. (Submitted by Liz Ohle - image credit)
Liz Ohle is one of the founders and organizers of Out in Faith, an interfaith service held as part of St. John's Pride week. (Submitted by Liz Ohle - image credit)
Submitted by Liz Ohle
Submitted by Liz Ohle

Organizers of an annual interfaith service during St. John's Pride week say their hope is to create an event where queerness and spirituality can co-exist.

Liz Ohle is one of the founders and organizers of Out in Faith, a multi-faith service held on the Thursday of St. John's Pride week each year since 2016. In an interview with CBC News, Ohle said the event is a unique part of Pride week, more focused on reflection than celebration.

"Let's sit down and talk with each other and look at that very personal thing that has to do with our spirituality," Ohle said.

She said the purpose of the event isn't for speakers to share their faith, but instead to talk about their own journey with spirituality.

"Whatever part of that journey they're comfortable sharing," she said.

Pride in St. John's started Friday, and continues until Sunday.

Ohle said she walked in the 2015 St. John's Pride parade with members of the St. John's Quaker community, and realized faith communities were underrepresented at Pride. The following year, Ohle helped organize the first Out in Faith event, and reached out to other faith groups — both Christian and non-Christian — to join the Pride parade too.

Out in Faith features speakers from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities, and from other religions and spiritual backgrounds.

Ohle said the event helps make LGBTQ+ people more visible and more comfortable in faith communities.

"It starts creating a safety for people in those faith groups to recognize that part of themselves might be welcome here also," she said.

Evangelical experiences

Faith communities in Newfoundland and Labrador aren't always LGBTQ-inclusive — sometimes explicitly so. Last fall, a Bonavista pastor drew controversy after he condemned same-sex marriage and transgender identities.

In June, Grand Falls-Windsor Pride organizers said a Salvation Army church had asked the local Lions Club to uninvite the group from an event held on its property. The event was later rescheduled and held at Memorial United Church in early July.

Jason Normore, a former Pentecostal pastor in St. John's, said that incident reminded him of his own experiences with evangelical Christianity.

"That was the least surprising thing that happened in my day so far," he said.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Normore said he experienced pushback from other pastors when he decided to make his congregation LGBTQ-inclusive.

Normore said after his church closed, he turned his back on Christianity and later came out as queer himself. He said based on his experience, he doesn't believe there's a place for LGBTQ people in evangelical spaces.

"I feel for LGBTQ people who are part of these congregations or these communities because they have to live in that tension," he said.

Katherine Roberts-Brown, who describes herself as a queer Christian, said she came out as part of the LGBTQ community while attending an evangelical church in St. John's.

"I have not seen Christianity and queerness as being mutually exclusive," she said. "For me, they are inextricably intertwined, in fact."

Roberts-Brown said when she began dating the woman who she would later marry, she stepped down from her volunteer roles within her church, and doesn't regularly attend any church at the moment. However, she said her faith is still an important part of her life.

Submitted by Katherine Roberts-Brown
Submitted by Katherine Roberts-Brown

Roberts-Brown said she understands why members of the LGBTQ community turn their back on their faith entirely — and it's up to the church to fix the harm.

"Straight members of the faith community need to acknowledge that queerness and Christianity can coexist and queer Christians do exist," she said. "There are so many more of us than you think there are."

Take me to church

Derrick Bishop, who's also part of Out in Faith, said organizers aren't naive to the hurt that LGBTQ people have experienced within churches.

Bishop said he's been involved in faith communities his whole life, and realized he was part of the LGBTQ community in the 1970s.

Mike Moore/CBC
Mike Moore/CBC

"I felt that… maybe if I, I guess, was diligent enough and prayed enough and so on, that God would change me, heal me," he said.

"I eventually came to the realization after some time, probably when I was around 23, that God loved me as I am."

Bishop joined an Anglican church, and eventually came out. He said not everyone at his church accepted him, but he felt support from those who did.

He said Out in Faith aims to provide that support to people of all faiths.

"Being a part of Out in Faith provides me with an opportunity to, I guess, try to help people come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity and their faith that they may have."

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