On Feb. 7, the McAlister Center hosted the first meeting of Queers of Faith, a new interfaith group intended to promote discourse and solidarity between queer people of many different religions. This new group is just one manifestation of a variety of campus-wide gathering places that are being established for similar discussion.
Alex Griffin, a first-year master’s student in the Women’s Studies and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, decided to organize the meeting after speaking to officials at the McAlister Center about similar groups that have existed in past years.
Although there are several other student groups on campus intended for queer students with more specific religious affiliations, such as the Rainbow Trout Bible Study, Queers of Faith is unique in that it offers a meeting space for people of all religious backgrounds. Through the group, Griffin hopes to get a sense of what types of support students want and to learn about diverse religious experiences.
“I feel like a lot of queer religious space is dominated by Protestant Christianity, which is totally great … but that’s not my religious tradition, and I want to know what other people are doing,” Griffin said.
While the group has not yet decided on a meeting time, they have decided to meet regularly.
Emily Hampshire SC ’15 attended the first Queers of Faith meeting hoping to find some place to talk about queer and religious theory. Raised in a Buddhist household, Hampshire does not currently subscribe to any particular religion, though she says she feels a strong sense of spirituality. She is currently exploring what different religions have to offer and attended Jewish Shabbat services last semester.
“It would be nice to have a space not only to learn about other religions, but to talk about the intersection of queerness and religion, or spirituality, and … how to link them together and find meaning in both,” Hampshire said.
Support structures for queer people of faith are steadily growing across the 5Cs. The Pomona College-based Queer Resource Center (QRC) serves as another resource. Initially funded only by Pomona, this is the second year that the QRC has been supported by all seven colleges in the Claremont Consortium. Adriana di Bartolo, Director of the QRC, said that queer students of faith find the center helpful when they encounter dissonance between their experiences with faith and their sexual orientation.
“I have a lot of students that come to me in their coming-out process … especially with students I’ve worked with more recently, they’re struggling with faith. They were probably raised in a faith community at home, their parents are practicing … but they’re feeling a pull, because what they’ve been taught is they’re not going to be welcome in their faith community; God is not going to love them,” di Bartolo said.
Griffin, who identifies as both queer and Mormon, agrees that it can be difficult balancing her two identities. She said her queerness frequently comes into conflict with her religious identity.
“It’s kind of expected that if you are queer, and if you’re not going to at least be quiet about it, then calling yourself a Mormon, or engaging in Mormon religiosity or culture, is not for you, and you need to go find something else to do,” Griffin said. “I’ve always been more interested in seeing what parts of Mormonism can be liberating for me … I think Mormon feminism has been really important to me.”
Di Bartolo helps queer students of faith by finding resources for them in the community, such as religious institutions that welcome all identities. These include LGBTQ support groups at the Claremont United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ in Claremont, as well as a Los Angeles-based queer synagogue. She said the importance of finding students a place to worship where they can still be themselves cannot be underestimated.
The QRC has also put on several events centered on issues of queerness and religiosity, often in conjunction with the Chaplain’s Office or campus religious groups. Last year, a student staff member organized a Queers of Faith lecture series. This April, in partnership with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the center will host a lecture by young adult writer Alex Sánchez, author of The God Box, whose work focuses on the coming-out experiences of young gay Christian men.
Discourse about queerness and religion on campus is not limited to extracurricular groups and events. Recently, Pomona religious studies professor Erin Runions has noticed a significant burst of interest in academia about the relationship between queer theory and religious studies.
“I would say that in the last ten or fifteen years, there’s been a huge shift toward looking at queer theory, queer theory in religion, queer theory in biblical studies,” Runions said.
Runions specializes in the Hebrew Bible. Her approach emphasizes an understanding of culture, politics, and especially gender and sexuality. Runions is currently teaching a course entitled Queer Theory and the Bible, in which she and her students attempt to break down biblical passages and decipher what the text is saying about issues of queerness. She said she has observed a lot of student interest in the subject.
“There’s so much use of the Bible to bolster homophobia, and [students] want to know, ‘Is it true? Can the Bible be used in this way? What does the Bible say really, and how can we read it in another way?’” she said.
Runions is tentatively positive about the impact of such research on queer people of faith. She said she hopes it might help some individuals become comfortable with their identities.
“More importantly, I hope it can undercut homophobia,” she said.