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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 14, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsInto Identity

LGBTQ religious spaces needed

Ithaca College is regarded as one of the most queer-friendly campuses in the U.S., according to Campus Pride, a national organization focused on LGBTQ activism at colleges and universities across the country. But recently, there’s been some tension between LGBTQ students and religious communities on the college’s campus.

In the spring semester of 2018, two gay women, Vanessa Zimmerman and Annalise Haldeman, shared with The Ithacan the overt discrimination they have faced from the Protestant community at the college because of their sexual orientation. This has raised a vexing question: Can those who view homosexuality as a major sin worship alongside LGBTQ people of faith?

For most orthodox religious groups in the U.S., homosexuality is a contested subject. Of course, there are groups that respect diversity within sexuality and sexual orientation, but the dominant belief among religious conservatives is that, while homosexuality is a grave sin, gay people must be treated with respect and dignity. In other words, love the sinner, but hate the sin.

Is there a way for members of religious communities who denounce homosexuality to be faithful alongside their queer members? Or is this impossible because their commitment to homophobic interpretations of their scriptures doesn’t allow them to question the belief that homosexuality is not a sin?  

The profound differences between religious communities who are anti-gay and queer individuals who see no contradiction between their faith and sexuality may not perhaps be reconcilable. Hierald Edgardo Osoroto was recently hired as the new director for religious and spiritual life at the college, and some people have suggested that this position could work to bring these two opposing groups together. As well-intentioned as that may seem, I doubt this strategy will work because theological and moral arguments are incredibly hard to win.

How about those who want to work within these religious organizations, such as Ithaca College Protestant Community, to promote LGBTQ voices?  Should queer students compromise their identity to appease the homophobic attitudes of conservative Christians? As a gay man who’s been through hell because of my sexual orientation in the name of religion, I’m simply not sure I can have a healthy relationship with people who believe my entire existence to be amoral. Again, some differences are simply irreconcilable.

What about the concerns of religious folks who feel they are being unfairly targeted and maligned for adhering to basic Christian tenets? Their theological convictions are just as important and central to their identity as a queer person’s sexual orientation is. In other words, don’t they deserve a safe space to express their deepest beliefs? Yes, bigots deserve safe spaces as well, which is why temporarily defunding Ithaca College Protestant Community isn’t exactly a good idea.  

With that being said, I’m proud to see fellow queer students fighting against harassment and discrimination and pushing for more visibility on campus. It’s a very difficult space to be in and there aren’t easy solutions. I think the best alternative is for queer students to create their own spaces, such as Keshet, a newly created Jewish LGBTQ organization, where they can honor their scriptures without prejudice from religious bigots.