Once your congregation has made the decision to welcome and include LGBTQ people, don’t keep the news of your welcome within the walls of the congregation – spread the word! There are many effective ways of doing this, including regular congregational advertisements in the gay and straight press (both online and print); postings on the main page of your church or synagogue website; listings in the local telephone book and wherever your congregation is mentioned in online and print local community calendars or denominational publications.
Find as many ways as possible to proclaim your welcoming and inclusive stance and make visible your commitment to queer people. Most congregations also post a sign of welcome, a pink triangle, a rainbow, or a denominational symbol of welcome on their buildings. Stories abound of individuals who have chosen to visit a local faith community because they saw a sign of welcome in front of a synagogue or church.
Perhaps the most important external work of a welcoming congregation is finding opportunities to become an ally to the larger LGBTQ community. Through outreach to individual LGBTQ people and by building alliances with a variety of queer groups and social justice organizations a congregation can “walk its talk” of living as a genuine community of care.
People of faith can be valuable allies not just inside congregations but also out in the community where there is often discrimination against queer people and their families in employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Your congregation might consider some of the following ways to become an ally:
- Find opportunities to educate your local community about religion and queer people. By speaking from a progressive faith perspective you can demonstrate that not all people of faith consider homosexuality a sin or seek to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people and their families.
- Find ways to work with PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays), GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), your local LGBTQ community center and other organizations whose missions are to advance the rights and well-being of queer people.
- Host a weekend workshop or retreat at your church or synagogue for LGBTQ people of faith and their allies. Organizations such as The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS), the Institute of Welcoming Resources, and other national LGBTQ religious organizations offer a variety of resources for educating and energizing local faith communities about issues relating to queer sexuality and religion.
- Pay attention to local, state, national, and international legislation that affects queer people and educate your congregants about ways they can become agents of political change. Learn from organizations such as The National LGBTQ Task Force (NGLTF), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and your own state’s equality organizations which serve as valuable civil rights watchdog organizations for queer people; they also work with progressive people of faith who are eager to take part in public debates and undertake political activity in support of LGBTQ people. In addition, the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Project of Amnesty International and the LGBT Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provide important resources and support for protecting the rights of LGBTQ persons and their families.
- When the civil rights of queer people are being threatened, speak up! The leadership and membership of congregations can offer vital support when a municipality is debating whether or not to include LGBTQ people in non-discrimination policies, enact trans-inclusive legislation, write laws to prevent hate-motivated violence against queer people, and/or remove queer-affirming materials from local libraries. Remember that the voices of progressive people of faith were instrumental in moving many state legislatures to extend marriage rights to all persons.
- Offer space in your building (at low or no cost) for local queer and queer-friendly organizations. Organizations (especially those with small budgets) greatly appreciate free or inexpensive space for their meetings.
- Celebrate/mark LGBTQ cultural events such as Queer Pride Days, Coming Out Day in October, International Transgender Day of Remembrance, and World AIDS Day. Your congregation might also consider marching in the local gay pride parade or hosting inter-religious worship services that are open to members of the local community.
To Be Continued Next Week!
Adapted from Schlager & Kundtz, Ministry Among God’s Queer Folk: LGBTQ Pastoral Care (Second Edition, 2019): pp. 174-176.