Tomasz Mrozewski talks to local LGBT activist Gillian Strong about Pride's first interfaith service.
In light of often intense church opposition to same-sex marriage and Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender rights, putting "queer" and "religion" next to each other in the same sentence might seem jarring. Many churches and religious organizations have a long history of oppressing so-called "deviants".
Given this history, it's not surprising that many LGBT activists have little trust in religious messages of love and compassion.
This is one of the many prejudices Gillian Strong seeks to overcome with an interfaith worship service during this year's St. John's Pride Week. She felt the closest the St. John's LGBT community came to spiritual ceremony was holding candlelight vigils for victims of AIDS. Without denying the importance of remembrance, Strong wanted to help create a queer spiritual celebration. Now, with support from members of several local Christian denominations, Pride will be hosting its first-ever service at the Anna Templeton Centre next Wednesday, led by followers of different faiths
The point is not to convert people, but to build a deeper sense of community for some who may feel alienated from the highly visible sections of LGBT culture. Strong says the only dedicated space for LGBT people in town is The Zone (where, of course, "spirit" means something completely different), and that most big-city Pride events have become massively consumerist and superficial. A sense of alienation is evident in high suicide rates among LGBT people. Strong's goal is to provide an inclusive, non-consumerist spiritual service.
Strong's father is Anglican and her mother comes from a Catholic background, but she describes her own faith now as "ecumenical" – a belief in the solidarity of all people, including people of all (and no) faiths.
Faith hadn't been a priority for her until working closely with disabled people in a dedicated community in Cape Breton, which gave her first-hand experience of what she feels is true spiritual belief. After that she was attracted to the Christian Student Movement, an ecumenical group dedicated to social justice and peace.
Her faith, Strong says, is more of a product of her activism and feminism than it is of attending a church. At its heart is the political and social power of love, and the importance of pursuing that love in social justice.
Ultimately, Strong wants to help bridge the gap between LGBT and religious communities. She acknowledges it will be a long, hard journey because of the deep-rooted hostility between them.
In the meantime, she is happy to finally have a forum for celebration and dialogue – a place where the process can begin.
The service will take place on Wednesday, July 26 at 6:30pm at the Anna Templeton Centre, Duckworth St.