Through the end of November, the Muller Chapel at Ithaca College will display “Shower of Stoles Project,” an exhibit that shares the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. The project is a collection of approximately 1,000 liturgical stoles, which are garments mainly worn in Christian denominations by clergy members. Approximately 100 of these stoles are currently on display in the chapel, each representing a unique individual who identifies as LGBTQ and is a part of a religious community.
For many people, religious communities serve as a primary support system. Exhibits like this one bring meaningful visibility to the struggles LGBTQ people have faced within religious communities, especially considering the college’s own history with religion and LGBTQ exclusion.
In 2018, the Protestant Community at Ithaca College, now the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship, faced significant criticism for its exclusion of LGBTQ individuals on campus, a number of whom came forward with stories of being ostracised and discriminated against. These students’ stories drew campuswide attention to the pervasiveness of homophobia in religious spaces, even ones within a town and institution that are generally perceived to be progressive and promote forward thinking.
These students’ experiences mirror those of many individuals in religious communities throughout the world. Just this year, the United Methodist Church voted to maintain its opposition to having LGBTQ clergy members. This decision prevents these individuals from being ordained and has been widely challenged by affected individuals and allies throughout the country.
The stories of those whose identities have been threatened or dismissed by their respective religious groups are often silenced. However, religion, faith and spirituality have always involved people with a variety of sexualities and sexual identities. As of 2017, 54% of LGBTQ people in America were religiously affiliated, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
“Shower of Stoles Project” is one of many global efforts that aim to highlight LGBTQ history and struggles. And, thanks to the efforts of select LGBTQ and religious leaders at the college, it is now accessible to campus community members.
But the responsibility to highlight stories of this nature should not fall on these leaders’ shoulders alone. The entire campus community has a responsibility to support LGBTQ individuals among them who have faced discrimination at the hands of religion.
While Ithaca College is widely known as one of the most LGBTQ–friendly college campuses in the country, this does not mean that systems within or affiliated with the college, like the Protestant Community, are exempt from homophobia. It tends to live and thrive in religious spaces, something campus community members should remain wary of and work to combat. They can do so by actively engaging in conversations about privilege, appreciating the contributions of those whose stories are often unheard and attending exhibits like “Shower of Stoles Project,” which can help open their eyes to the realities of those within the LGBTQ community.