WHEN I LEARNED that the theme of LGBT History Month in February was ‘Religion, Belief & Philosophy‘, I knew it was a great opportunity for the LGBT affirming faith groups I support – and what better way to raise awareness than through the power of story?
One of the events I facilitated last month did exactly that – Divine Love: LGBTQIA* People & Faith was a free half day workshop hosted by Spectrum of Spirituality, Liverpool’s LGBTQIA (*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex & Allies) interfaith partnership at Liverpool Quaker Meeting House, who generously gave the meeting room for free.
Spectrum of Spirituality began in 2010 to create an inclusive interfaith celebration for Liverpool’s first official LGBT Pride event that year, which is now a successful annual event, alongside other events like this one throughout the year.I have blogged about the development of Spectrum before, and made a slideshow of photos and music from the first year:
When the Spectrum committee chose the event name, the image that came to mind was this cartoon from the nakedpastor blog:
This inspired the design of the poster for the Divine Love event, reflecting an image we used to promote the interfaith celebration for Liverpool Pride in 2011, which followed the festival’s theme ‘Summer Of Love’. It showed a flower with multi-coloured petals joined at the heart of the flower, surrounded with white light:
While some LGBTQIA people of faith experience judgement and rejection from faith communities, those who spoke at this event shared their experiences of the infinite, unconditional, intimate love which many people of faith believe to be divine. The default position of the divine, as the cartoon suggests, is love, not anger or judgement – some humans default to anger and judgement and have projected this onto the divine.
Around thirty people attended the event, at which nine speakers from different perspectives shared their stories:
- Tony – a convert to Buddhism who takes photos of ordinary people, many of whom are LGBT, in poses reflecting traditional religious imagery, particularly the halo, which is a common symbol of holiness in several faith traditions. You can see a gallery of some of his photos below, and read more about his photography here.
- Frances, a Pagan who shared her experience of double discrimination – because of her faith, and because of her sexuality – and of how her faith inspires and motivates her to overcome this
- Mo, a support worker for people seeking asylum and refuge, especially those who are LGBT, who shared insights from those he has supported, and from his own experience of growing up in Iran, against the background of the International LGBTI Association map of world laws relating to sexual orientation (see part 2)
- Zac, a young Muslim man from Dubai who came to the first couple of Spectrum Pride events, and has since moved to London following a successful asylum claim, who told his story through two video clips – one recorded in 2010 as Spectrum began, the second recorded in the week of the event
- Robert, a cradle Catholic who has stayed within his faith tradition because his experience of divine love is greater than his experience of human prejudice because of his sexuality
- Penny, a transgender Christian who told the story of her renaming ceremony in a Methodist church in the city
- Renate, an intersex transgender Franciscan nun whose ministry has supported LGBT Christians for many years, and particularly older LGBT people facing the challenge of going into residential care through the Rainbow Lives project
- Alan and Mary from Merseyside Police Community Engagement Unit who spoke about the intersection between hate incidents and hate crimes against religion, sexuality and gender identity, and summed up that while we have the freedom to express a diverse range of views in our democratic society, we do not have the right to do so disrespectfully, with malice or violence.
Each speaker had ten minutes, followed by five minutes Q&A which led to deeper sharing and greater enlightenment on what people had shared.
Sue, the Chair of Spectrum, drew the event to a close with thanks to all who took part and an appeal for people to get involved with future events, including International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May, Liverpool Pride which this year falls at the end of July, and Interfaith Week in November.
We concluded with a chance to record a word or phrase on a flourescent star to sum up what impact the event had made on us – these included:
- Speak out!
- Express my creativity with joy not anger x x x
- Will share the inspiration
- Spread peace and love
- Give love to all who need it – Enjoy being gay
- Be myself
- More awareness
- Fight on
- A thought provoking morning : )
- Time and space to think and consider
- God created them and saw all was very good
- On the journey – God’s love walks alongside
- Further exploration personally and actively
- Be braver
- Appreciate the common humanity in everyone
- Acceptance and challenge barriers
- We are one as one world – we can learn from each other
- Gain confidence to play active part in changing church attitudes
After the event we gathered in the Meeting House Café to continue sharing stories over tasty and wholesome vegetarian food. I heartily recommend it!
UPDATE August 2017: The Spectrum committee decided to take a sabbatical for Liverpool Pride in 2016 and has not planned any events since then. I will share news of any new developments as they happen.