National Coming Out Day is coming up on October 11, and many faith communities already have plans in the works while others are wondering how to recognize the day. The first step for most congregations is figuring out if they’re actually safe spaces for people to come out. While we’d like to think every congregation is welcoming, affirming, and safe, that is not the reality.
One of the first questions to ask is: Have we made our affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, Two Spirit, and asexual people clear? There are several phrases that congregations think are welcoming, but that don’t necessarily lead to affirmation. An explicit welcome statement is a great starting place. ReconcilingWorks, Reconciling Ministries Network, and the Institute for Welcoming Resources support communities through the Building an Inclusive Church process, including trainings and resources. This would be a great time to start talking about that process with key leaders in the congregation.
Representation also matters a lot. How many LGBTQI2SA+ people are in leadership in the congregation? How often does preaching and teaching use queer saints and role models as examples, queer theology as a grounding theology, or queer people as the preacher or teacher? What resources do you use by queer people and organizations? Church libraries and children’s times are great opportunities to include LGBTQI2SA+ representation. Some great theology books to have in the library include One Coin Found, Welcoming and Affirming, Queerfully and Wonderfully Made, Transforming, Outside the Lines, and Outlove. Some great kids’ books for children’s time as well as the library include A Costume for Charly; Penguins Don’t Wear Pink; Duck, Duck, Tiger; and Rainbow Boy.
Ongoing work is a vital part of being a safe space to come out as well. When was the last time your congregation hosted or attended a training or education time to help people learn and practice the most up-to-date language? Especially in the queer community, language evolves, and ongoing learning is vital as supportive and affirming communities. When you work with other organizations, are you finding out what they believe about LGBTQI2SA+ people so that folks in your community will be safe working with them? What are you doing to advocate against anti-trans legislation, frequently proposed in the name of Christianity, in your state or the country?
As you dive into these questions and deepen your journey of affirmation, a great starting place is to include or adapt the following petition in your prayers of the people this week or next:
Expansive God, we give you thanks for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, Two Spirit, and asexual people in our community and throughout the world. Empower us to make this community safer and more affirming for all who are out and those who have yet to come out. Surround all LGBTQI2SA+ people with your affirmation and love.