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Thu Dec 24, 2015, 11:21 AM Dec 2015

Beyond Tolerance: Helping Religions “Come Out”

By Mychal Copeland
Mychal Copeland is the Bay Area director of InterfaithFamily. Her rabbinate includes having served Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBTQI synagogue. She works with both multifaith and Jewish groups that engage the intersection of LGBTQI and religious identities. Rabbi Copeland is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and is ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
December 23, 2015

A gay Muslim student whose family comes from Saudi Arabia worries that they will have him executed if they discover his identity. The parents of a lesbian Catholic Latina college student seek counsel from their priest, and he tries to perform an exorcism urging her “evil spirit” to flee. A young gay man who attends a black church echoes the sentiments of others from across the American religious spectrum, “I doubt myself… Why am I this way?”

As college students across the country pack their bags to go home for the holidays, many will make other plans. They don’t feel safe visiting relatives, and even if they do, they won’t bring their full selves to the family table. These students are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex, many of whom come from families that forbid embracing such sexual or gender identities on religious grounds.

As a college campus professional for fourteen years, I created safe spaces for students to explore and discuss religious and LGBTQI identities. Although these support groups—one at UCLA and another at Stanford University—were housed under the Hillel Jewish campus umbrella, they attracted students from across the religious spectrum. Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and even a Zoroastrian student, sought out these groups because they were the only spaces on campus where one could discern how an LGBTQI identity could possibly coexist within a distinct religious, spiritual, or cultural framework.

An underlying paradigm for these circles of support is the Hebrew word, “shalom.” Usually translated “peace,” the word comes from a root meaning “wholeness.” We cannot be at peace until we are completely whole, bringing the entirety of ourselves to our spiritual lives. The need for forums to explore intersections between sexual or gender identity and religion is so great that students in the Stanford LGBTQI community eventually created a group specifically designed to encompass all faiths called “Queerituality.”


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