For many in the LGBTTQ* community, faith is a tricky and sometimes painful subject.
"The conversation (about religion) is largely avoided due to the abusive history of the churches towards LGBTQ people," said Ha Na Park, minister at Winnipeg’s Immanuel United Church.
Since most worshipping communities don’t welcome them, Park said, if they want to a spiritual home, they "have to hide their sexuality."
It’s doubly difficult for LGBTTQ* people of colour.
"Even if they find an affirming church, most affirming churches are predominately white," Park said, noting it’s the case with her own congregation.
As a result, LGBTTQ* people who want to be religious "have to do the very difficult journey of reconciling their faith and sexuality on their own."
In response, Park has organized a two-day conference, Queer and Faithful, to "share, discuss and learn about the intersections of faith, race and queerness."
The May 25-26 event — sponsored by the Rainbow Resource Centre, Queer Persons of Colour Winnipeg and Two-Spirited People of Manitoba — will feature speakers from diverse religious/spiritual and cultural/ethnic backgrounds. (It is open to the public, $10 registration fee, at Robert A. Steen Community Centre, 980 Palmerston Ave.)
For Park, it was a conversation with an LGBTTQ* Muslim in 2017 that inspired her.
"He asked me, ‘What if I came to your church, would I be welcome? Can I be fully myself?’"
The conversation "turned my world upside down," she said. "What if my church was really open to queer Muslims? How would that change us? That was the start of the idea for Queer and Faithful."
Park hopes the event will be a place where people can talk openly about how they experience faith and spirituality in different religious traditions.
"Many queer people feel the only thing they can do is leave organized religion, but we want them to know they are welcome," she said, adding the conference will explore themes of "trauma, family, resilience, hope, hiding, privilege, Islamophobia, intersectionality and more."
At the same time, it will be an opportunity for affirming congregations to "learn what it means" to be places "where people of all races, ethnicities, sexuality can thrive."
"We all have stories to share," Park said. "We want people to feel free to do that, to be accepted and understood, no matter where they are on their faith and life journey."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 2:02 PM CDT: Final