Carleton’s new Queer in Faith group seeks to hold space for members of the LGBTQ+ community in whose lives religion plays or has played any role.
Hannah MacLeod ’22, a Chaplain’s Associate, founded this group last term with her friend Dawson Eriksen ’23.
“Coming out as queer this past summer was a process deeply intertwined with my faith,” said MacLeod.
“When I came back to campus in the fall, I was looking for a place where I could purposely explore both of these identities together. When I didn’t find one, I proposed the idea of starting some sort of interfaith queer group to my boss, Carolyn [Fure-Slocum]. Carolyn was really excited about the idea, and with a lot of her help, we launched the first Queer in Faith a few weeks later.”
Head Chaplain Carolyn Fure-Slocum explained, “Hannah proposed the idea and I thought it was a great way to help support LBGT students of faith, if they have been or are in situations when the two identities aren’t valued; and to show that for many people, religious and queer identities can fit very well together.
“I’m really glad to see that the group has been able to do both aspects well, in part by building a network that also includes alumni who are LGBT clergy of different religious traditions,” she continued.
A typical Queer in Faith meeting varies depending on the week.
“Every two to three meetings we have a queer leader of faith guest speaker,” MacLeod said. “For those meetings, during the first 45 minutes or so, the queer leader of faith shares their experiences navigating their queer and faith identity.” Some speakers lead an activity. The remaining 15 minutes are reserved for questions and discussion, MacLeod said.
During the weeks when the group does not have a guest speaker, students meet casually over Zoom to reflect on discussion questions or just talk. According to MacLeod, these meetings are all about building community. “Often, we just talk about our lives,” she said. “I would say a big part of Queer in Faith is just providing a space for students to coexist together in their queer and faith identities. Sometimes all we need is a place to exist with others who can relate.”
A common theme in some members’ experiences is that the LGBTQ+ community and the religious communities they are part of tend to antagonize each other. “We have a lot of group members who have been supported in their queerness by their religious communities, as well as group members who have been villified by their queer communities for their religious faith and vice versa,” Eriksen said.
However, there are also deeper, beautiful connections between religion and queerness. “I have really enjoyed finding all of the queer stories and themes within my own Protestant Christian tradition,” MacLeod said. “For example, stories that had previously been taught to me as stories of intimate friendship, I now see as convincing stories of holy queer love.”
In fact, for MacLeod, queerness and religion intersect purely by virtue of being able to coexist in the same person. “For me, both are closely tied to my identity and both are ultimately about love,” she said.
While the group is new this year, MacLeod has high aspirations for its future. “I hope to leave Carleton with a place where queer students of faith can come together in community to support each other and learn from and connect to queer mentors,” she said.
Being part of two communities that often misunderstand each other can be extremely difficult, both from the standpoint of understanding one’s own identity and also finding a place to fit in. MacLeod emphasized, however, that there are resources and communities that can help.
“There is a whole big queer and religious world out there with an abundance of resources, memoirs, novels, mentors, friends etc. that can help you navigate the intersection of your queer and faith identity. Navigating through the complexities of your faith and queerness can be incredibly hard but I believe it is good, holy work,” she said.
And for Carleton students, Queer in Faith is a welcoming space that can potentially help them explore this intersection. “We love you, no matter what,” Eriksen said.