LGBTQ Individuals Seek Safe Harbor in Local Faith Communities

Sam, a 21-year-old gay college student, stands in front of First Congregational Church in Cooper-Young, one of several LGBTQ-affirming churches in the city. Sam hid her sexuality from her deeply conservative family and childhood church, but said she longs for a faith community that doesn't force her to stay in the closet.

North Carolina and Mississippi lawmakers are drawing battle lines in the sand after approving controversial “religious liberty” bills, with rightwing conservatives on one side and the LGTBQ community and its allies on the other.

Chandler Martin is a senior at Christian Brothers University and a critic of the new legislation, saying that it is essentially thinly-veiled approval of systematic discrimination.

“It’s not religious liberty,” he says. “It’s exceptions to human rights.”

The American political stage has seen a boom in evangelical and staunch conservative politicians that tout religious doctrines and moral obligations as the guiding forces behind religious liberty bills. Many of these laws negatively affect the LGBTQ community, such as transgender individuals being forced to use the bathroom of their gender assigned at birth, or a same-sex couple being denied service because of their sexual identity. For those who live in the Evangelical South, the political climate is one of fear and tension for LGBTQ individuals, especially the youth.

Audio piece by Michael Robinson

Kal Dwight, a Memphis transplant living in California, is active in the trans community and says that religion is an integral part of Memphians’ lives, LGBTQ people included. Many grow up going to church, but eventually feel pressured to leave because of strict doctrine or aggressive rhetoric coming from the pulpit that speaks against LGBTQ persons.

“We actually have a Christian church on Highland whose denomination was originally conceived by southern gays who were not comfortable in their hometown churches,” he says. “Now it’s a worldwide recognized congregation.”

Holy Trinity Community Church, located on Highland, is one of 13 churches listed on the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s “spirituality” page.

After reaching out to local faith communities, Dwight helped the community center organize a coalition of LGBTQ-affirming churches who are working to change the relationship that organized religion has with the LGBTQ community historically.

I wrote about 200 letters to every church I could find the address of in the Memphis area and a lot of them showed up and represented,” he says. “It was super cool.”

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About the Author

Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson is a creative type born and raised in Memphis. A senior journalism student at the University of Memphis, he channels his passion for creative storytelling through writing, photography and design. As a layout artist for Splash Creative and theatrical director for a local middle school, Michael believes collaborative approaches produce the best results. He spends his time off eating Mexican food and petting other people’s dogs.

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