Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship have found themselves in the crosshairs while in the pursuit for LGBTQ rights and safety. According to new findings from GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, from June 2022 – January 2024, researchers documented at least 66 incidents in which religious institutions were targeted over their perceived support for and inclusion of LGBTQ people in the US. These incidents included arson, property theft and destruction, and threatening letters, emails, and phone calls — illuminating that religious institutions are not immune to the alarming rise of anti-LGBTQ hate sweeping the US.
Places of worship from all faith traditions, including churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, and Buddhist temples, are increasingly showing supportfor LGBTQ equality. These same acts – from the flying of rainbow banners, to Pride month services, to LGBTQ youth groups – are also garnering the attention of anti-LGBTQ extremists, making supportive religious institutions a target right alongside drag shows and health care clinics that serve transgender people .
GLAAD and ADL’s new findings include a number of high-profile cases, including the recent 18-year sentencing of Aimenn Penny, an alleged associate of the white supremacist “White Lives Matter” network, for his attempt to firebomb a church in Chesterland, Ohio in March 2023. According to police reports, Penny was angered by the church’s upcoming drag shows and sought to “save the children,” echoing familiar and false anti-LGBTQ tropes.
The rising number of attacks against affirming religious institutions reflects growing research about the ways longtime extremist groups are attempting to expand their reach by targeting LGBTQ people and allies. These particular acts of extremism do not reflect a larger reality in faith communities. Research shows people of every faith support LGBTQ people, and a majority of LGBTQ people consider themselves religious. In recent weeks as well, Pope Francis has spoken up for LGBTQ people and relationships to be recognized, and stated that transgender people can be baptized, be godparents, and witness weddings. The Pope has also urged Catholic parents to accept their LGBTQ children.
“For years, anti-LGBTQ activists relied on the stereotype of LGBTQ condemnation from religious figures,” said Ross Murray, Vice President of the GLAAD Media Institute and ordained deacon.
“Now that religious communities are faithfully coming to the conclusion that the LGBTQ community should be safe from violence and welcomed into faith communities, anti-LGBTQ activists are turning to violence and intimidation on those faith communities. Faith leaders cannot back down or allow their voices to be silenced by a radical fringe, but must continue to stand for the safety and welcome of LGBTQ people.”
Here are a few examples of incidents tied to extremist groups targeting LGBTQ-inclusive religious institutions:
March 2023: A synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee, reported that individuals associated with the white supremacist Active Club network placed anti-LGBTQ stickers on their doors which read: “F*ggots not welcome.”
June 2023: 11 individuals associated with the antisemitic extremist group Goyim Defense League (GDL) demonstrated outside Temple Beth Israel in Macon, Georgia. Protestors shouted antisemitic and racist slurs, distributed flyers spreading false conspiracy theories about Jewish power and control, and even hung an effigy of a gay Jewish man outside the temple.
October 2023: Individuals from a variety of white supremacist groups — including GDL, the Order of the Black Sun (OBS), and the American National Socialist White Workers Party (ANSWWP) — protested outside the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. Protestors waved swastika-covered flags, held signs reading “Protect white children” in rainbow lettering, and declared: “Sodom and Gomorrah were your warning,” referencing a Biblical passage many believe condemns homosexuality.
Places of worship have also reported a number of threatening incidents from individuals with no known connections to extremist groups. For instance, in October 2023, an unknown person drove their car through six rainbow-colored doors displayed as part of a Pride exhibit in front of the United Christian Church in Renton, Washington. In another such example, someone set fire to a Pride flag hanging outside a Buddhist temple in Pasadena, California in April 2023 — destroying a hand-painted banner that flew undisturbed for years to represent the temple’s “fundamental commitment to nondiscrimination.”In June 2023, unknown individuals stole two Pride flags and a Black Lives Matter flag from the Veradale United Church of Christ in Spokane Valley, Washington. That same day, the church’s reverend found the words “Lev 2013” written in diesel fuel on the church’s lawn, making reference to a Bible verse in Leviticus which has been used to condemn homosexuality. That same month, the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts reported anti-LGBTQ graffiti on the church’s steeple, which stated that all LGBTQ people “should die.”
These incidents come amidst a previous report by GLAAD and ADL that documented over 700 anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism incidents in the year following the tragic attack at Club Q in Colorado Springs.
The full Anti-LGBTQ+ Incidents Targeting Religious Institutions data set can be requested here.
The research in this article was made possible thanks to a partnership between ADL and GLAAD focused on countering anti-LGBTQ extremism and hate. Learn more about this critical partnership.
Experts say LGBTQ people experience religious trauma at disproportionate rates and in unique ways. Justin J. Wee and Evan Jenkins for NBC News
Kellen Swift-Godzisz, 35, said he doesn’t go on dates, struggles with erectile dysfunction and is hesitant to trust people. For more than 20 years, he’s experienced intense bouts of anxiety and depression that have had a “major hold on his life.”
“Imagine being told by everyone you trusted that you’re going to hell because you like men,” Swift-Godzisz, a marketing project manager living in Chicago, told NBC News.
At just 11 years old, Swift-Godzisz recalled, he would sit in his bedroom every night praying or writing letters that said, “Please God, remove my affliction of same-sex attraction,” and would then store each letter in an overflowing shoebox in his closet.
Swift-Godzisz, who grew up in an evangelical Baptist church in rural Michigan, believed Bible verses like Matthew 21:22 — “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” — would help him “pray the gay away.”
As he entered his teens and realized his feelings of same-sex attraction were only intensifying, Swift-Godzisz finally accepted that God would not be answering his prayers. Things went downhill from there, he said.
Swift-Godzisz is among the 1 in 3 adults in the United States who have suffered from religious trauma at some point in their life, according to a 2023 study published in the Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry Journal. That same study suggests up to 1 in 5 U.S. adults currently suffer from major religious trauma symptoms.
Religious trauma occurs when an individual’s religious upbringing has lasting adverse effects on their physical, mental or emotional well-being, according to the Religious Trauma Institute. Symptoms can include guilt, shame, loss of trust and loss of meaning in life. While religious trauma hasn’t officially been classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), there is debate among psychiatrists about whether that should change.
Experts say LGBTQ people — who represent more than 7% of the U.S. population, according to a 2023 Gallup poll — experience religious trauma at disproportionate rates and in unique ways. Very little research has been done in this field, but a 2022 study found that LGBTQ people who experience certain forms of religious trauma are at increased risk for suicidality, substance abuse, homelessness, anxiety and depression. And as political animus toward the LGBTQ community intensifies ahead of the 2024 presidential election, many queer people say their pain is resurfacing.
‘It’s basically a mind rape’
The concept of religious trauma has been around for centuries, and, according to experts, it can have serious consequences that can last a lifetime.
“In its worst manifestations, it’s basically a mind rape,” said Marlene Winell, a psychologist who coined the term “religious trauma syndrome” in 2011. “These doctrines that are taught to you over and over are so damaging and so hideous and so hard to weed out. In many cases, you have been violated, you have been abused or you have been shamed, and the impact is very deep and can be everlasting.”
Dr. Jack Drescher, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who specializes in LGBTQ populations, agreed, noting that growing up gay or transgender in a nonaccepting religious environment could have serious mental health consequences.
“When you hide or morph your behavior in an effort to conceal your queer identity, you wind up hiding other things about yourself,” he said. “There may be strengths or aspirations you have that you never access because you’re afraid they’re associated with your gender identity. This can affect your self-esteem, it can affect your confidence, and even your capacity to be realistic about what you can do and achieve.”
At 14, when Swift-Godzisz accepted that he could not “pray the gay away,” he confided in his youth pastor, who in turn told his parents and the entire church leadership.
“My mom was hysterical and ashamed and wanted us to pack up and move to a new town,” he said. “My parents very much viewed it as a sin and a choice that I made that we were going to fix.”
For the next three years, Swift-Godzisz said, he was grounded indefinitely. He said his parents controlled the friends he was allowed to hang out with and enrolled him in so-called conversion therapy, a discredited practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation. For this type of therapy, Swift-Godzisz said, his parents forced him to speak with various people from the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family, which is widely known for its anti-LGBTQ advocacy.
“They weren’t trying to understand me,” he recalled of his sessions with the Focus on the Family leaders. “All of their advice was just, ‘Practice abstinence,’ or ‘Don’t do that; that’s against God’s wishes.”
Swift-Godzisz’s mother, who declined to address her son’s allegations, told NBC News that while she and her son “differ on some things,” she would give her life for him in a moment. “I’m proud of my son, I love him and I’m glad the Lord gave him to me,” she said.
Focus on the Family did not reply to a request for comment.
“The church has been the villain in my life story,” Swift-Godzisz said, adding that he’s been traumatized by his family and religious leaders. “Anything I’d do that’s ‘gay’ was considered a sin.”
Now, decades later, Swift-Godzisz said he struggles with severe ADHD and — though he’s never been officially diagnosed — what he described as post-traumatic stress disorder, or “PTSD-like feelings.” He also said growing up queer in an ultrareligious household has led to persistent issues in his romantic life, including erectile dysfunction.
“When you’ve spent decades of your life reinforcing not getting a boner around another guy, and now even though you are ready to do that sort of stuff, your brain still kind of goes like, ‘I don’t know, we’re not supposed to do that,’” he explained.
He also said he avoids romantic relationships altogether.
“Still, to this day, one of my biggest fears is that I’ll get married to a man, have children and get old with him, and on my deathbed I’ll denounce it all because I’m afraid that I might go to hell,” he said. “So I just don’t do it.”
Winell said many of her patients’ trauma response is so active from what they experienced as a child that their brain gets confused about what’s past and what’s present, which causes the fear response to fire up in situations where they are doing something related to their sexuality or gender identity.
“Sometimes there’s a real split between what you think in your head — your intellectual understanding of everything — and your gut-level emotional condition and response to situations,” she explained. “So someone like Swift-Godzisz might be comfortable with his identity but can still have this gut-level fight-or-flight response in the amygdala to all the trauma from the past, and if that happens constantly, that can really screw you up.”
She added that people experiencing this can also develop physical symptoms like digestive problems and headaches.
The effect of familial and community rejection
Religious trauma for LGBTQ people may be particularly intense, because it “goes to the very essence of who the person is,” according to Winell.
“There’s so much condemnation in conservative kinds of churches about being LGBTQ, that the trauma is felt as a direct attack on them,” she said.
LGBTQ people experiencing religious trauma may also be met with instant rejection when they come out or when their queer identity is discovered, she said, noting that they could lose connection with family, friends, church leadership and other forms of community overnight.
“In a biological way, we all want to belong, and we are attached to our parents — we’re dependent on them and need their approval. So if you have their love growing up and then one day, boom, they reject you for something you can’t control, that can create long-lasting anxiety and trauma,” Winell said. “The icing on the cake is that you might simultaneously be losing friends, mentors or entire communities.”
Jamie Long, 40, is among those who quickly lost her support system due to a clash between her LGBTQ identity and her religion.
“Religion has obliterated my life,” she said.
Growing up in Greensboro, Alabama, where her father was the deacon and Sunday school teacher of her Pentecostal church, Long — who was assigned male at birth but now often uses she/her pronouns — remembers feeling different about her gender and sexuality as early as kindergarten. She spent her youth “in hiding,” doing everything to beg God to give her the power to change the feelings she had about her gender and her attraction to men.
“I would pray for hours nonstop,” said Long, who, decades later, is still trying to figure out her gender identity. “Nothing worked. It was terrifying.”
As time went on, it became harder for Long to hide her effeminate behavior. So she came out as a gay man and started hooking up with men on “the down-low,” which she said is omnipresent among men who have sex with men in the Black church.
“The pressure to subscribe to heterosexuality and masculinity is so intense, so there’s this culture in the Black religious community of guys keeping their hookups on ‘the low,’” she added.
As people close to Long started to find out she had come out as gay, the rejection ramped up. Her choir director — whom she described as a prominent figure she looked up to — pulled her aside after a Sunday service and said, “We can’t have a homosexual singing in the choir. I’m going to work with you to get that evil spirit out of you,” Long recalled. Her mom, who had been her “biggest supporter,” broke down in tears and said, “You will burn in hell,” and her brother berated her and called her anti-gay slurs for the duration of a 30-minute drive through Alabama, she recalled.
Long’s brother told NBC News that he “doesn’t remember” that car ride and — using male pronouns for his sibling — said that while he loves Long, he does not respect the path Long has chosen. “I don’t believe in gay; I believe it’s a spirit,” he said. Long’s choir director did not respond to a request for comment.
Now, years after losing most of her support systems because of her LGBTQ identity, Long has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.
“I blame 100% of my identity crisis, of who I am as a queer person, on my religious upbringing,” Long said. “I had to create a mask and suppress my feelings all because of how I was brought up in the church. I was conditioned to believe my life was wrong.”
When religion meets politics
In addition to feeling isolated or rejected by family and community, many LGBTQ Americans say the current political climate is exacerbating their experience with religious trauma.
In 2023, a record-shattering 510 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures, with more than 80 of them passed into law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Transgender people’s access to health care was a key talking point in the Republican presidential primary debates, and, before he was in Congress, recently elected House Speaker Mike Johnson called same-sex marriage a “dark harbinger of chaos” and suggested it could lead to people wedding their pets.
“For me, the religious aspect is almost inextricable from the political aspect,” said Amberlyn Boiter, a business analyst for a software development company, who lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
She remembers attending a 1,500-person megachurch just months before she came out as trans where the entire audience applauded after the pastor went on a 10-minute “transphobic rant.”
“I had to go up and play the bass in the church band after that, and I remember hating every second,” Boiter, 36, said.
Shortly after that, she came out to her family and they rejected her, stating that she was “betraying God and in turn she had betrayed them.”
“I think the biggest hurt is seeing our family members choose mythology over a relationship with their own flesh and blood,” she said.
Boiter cited the 20 anti-LGBTQ bills that were introduced in South Carolina’s state legislature in 2023. Some bills would strip trans people of gender-affirming health care, while others would criminalize them if they use public bathroomsthat match their gender identity. Many of the bills were backed by Christian legal groups and think tanks like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council.
“Being able to tie the policy to religious sources, it makes me feel doomed,” Boiter said. “There have been some pretty dark days, some of which have gone into the territory of suicidal ideation, where I’m worrying about whether I am going to have to uproot my wife and my child and move them from a place that I was born and raised.”
Boiter said she has ancestral ties in Spartanburg that go back to the 1780s.
“I have more than once spiraled into a place of thinking, ‘I might not only need to move to a different state, I may need to consider moving to another country.’ When people like Mike Johnson — who I would call a religious fanatic — are elected to higher and higher positions and even federal office, what am I supposed to think? More than a couple of times, I’ve looked at Canada’s refugee policies. I legitimately and truthfully worry that a day may come where my family and I are refugees.”
Swift-Godzisz shares those sentiments.
“I’m keeping the lid on a pot that is ready to boil over,” he said, adding that Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ track record is “one of the scariest things that has happened in my perception of politics.”
Healing from religious trauma
Mental health experts say in order to heal, those suffering from religious trauma should work toward building a new, affirming chapter in their lives.
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, said building that next chapter may involve cutting off those who hurt you.
“You say, ‘I love you, I forgive you,’ and you take the initiative to move forward. That will help heal you,” he said.
Koenig added that LGBTQ people who have experienced trauma but don’t want to leave religion entirely should consider joining an affirming church where leaders may be able to help with the healing process.
“Christian acceptance of [the LGBTQ] community is growing,” he said. In fact, majorities of every major religious group favor laws that protect LGBTQ people against discrimination, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2022American Values Survey.
To move forward, Drescher recommends rebuilding self-esteem by forming new relationships. “It’s important to find new communities, new friendships that are affirming and that can help you heal,” he explained.
For those who leave their religion — as Swift-Godzisz, Long and Boiter have all done —it’s “like the rug gets pulled out from under you,” according to Winell.
“Your life needs to be gradually reconstructed,” she said. “It’s a reconstruct of who you think you are and what you believe now. One of those new beliefs is that being LGBTQ is OK.”
In terms of treatment, Winell said she first helps her patients learn to take care of themselves.
“Instead of outsourcing all that care to God, I teach them how to be self-reflective and how to regulate their feelings from their own perspective, rather than from the Bible’s,” she said.
From there, she teaches skills that help with the trauma response, like writing down negative messages you grew up believing and changing them to something that can read as positive and hopeful.
“What used to be, ‘My life is a trial, and then I die and go to hell,’ can change to, ‘My life is an adventure and a journey,’” she said.
She also works with her patients on relaxation by teaching them breathing exercises and body scan meditations, among other techniques. In certain cases, she recommends combining these tools with medication.
A debate among mental health providers
As more LGBTQ people share their experiences with religious trauma, there is debate among mental health experts about how it should be characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s reference guide for coding, classifying and diagnosing mental disorders.
In the decades-old manual’s fifth and latest edition, the DSM-5-TR, religious trauma falls under the category “Religious or Spiritual Problem,” as a Z code, not an official mental disorder. Z codes are listed in the back of the DSM and are referred to as “other conditions that may be a focus of clinical attention.” Other examples include various forms of “Child Psychological Abuse,” “Unsheltered Homelessness” and “Victim of Terrorism or Torture.”
Koenig is now working with a group of public health experts and psychiatrists at Harvard Universityto expand “Religious or Spiritual Problem” as a Z code in the DSM to include “Moral Problems,” such as moral injury.
Moral injury, which is not currently listed in the DSM, may occur when an individual believes they have acted in a way that deeply conflicts with their morals and values, which produces guilt, shame or profound feelings of broken trust. It has been applied to war veterans and, more recently, to health care professionals who did not feel like they were able to provide appropriate care to those suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For centuries, people have been manipulating and weaponizing religion by condemning LGBTQ individuals,” Koenig said. “Moral injury — particularly for religious LGBTQ people — can create a whole life of shame and guilt. To live with it can result in mental health problems over time, like suicide, depression and anxiety, because that’s what moral injury does, and you can get stuck in it for years and decades.”
Koenig said it’s critical that the combination of “Religious or Spiritual Problem” and “Moral Problem” — which is currently under review by a DSM committee — finds a spot in the manual as a Z code. By adding moral injury, he explained, providers will be able to collect more specific data and prescribe more targeted treatments, such as whether it’s appropriate to recommend pastoral support for those suffering. They’ll also be able to more effectively document which part of the patient’s trauma came from their family’s or community’s religious beliefs and which part came from a separate worldview that being LGBTQ is immoral.
“For religious people who identify as LGBTQ, it’s not just Christianity at play,” he said. “It’s the whole moral fabric of the culture that’s been passed down through generations that has caused this condemnation.”
“Having it as a Z code will validate and stimulate funding support, and then there’ll be more money for research, which will help us learn more about how we can treat folks experiencing moral injuries like religious trauma,” Koenig said.
A further step would be changing “Religious or Spiritual Problem” from a Z code to an official disorder in the DSM. While Koenig is unsure about his stance on this, as the process would be even more rigorous and could take years, Winell said she “definitely thinks it should be in there” as a disorder.
“Right now, most therapists don’t know much about it. They’ll do an intake with a new client and talk about family, schooling, substance abuse, but they won’t touch religion,” she said. “So if it was a real thing in the DSM, it would get covered and the millions of folks who are struggling with it across this country could get better help.”
Winell added that a disorder classification in the DSM would give religious trauma more credibility in the eyes of medical professionals and would give those experiencing this type of trauma the ability to name what they’re going through. She also predicted this would result in more research in the area and religious trauma becoming part of the curriculum in university psychology courses.
Drescher, who was part of the APA committee that in 2013 changed gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria in the DSM in an effort to remove stigma, disagrees with Winell on this matter.
“We don’t need diagnoses to understand what’s going on. … Medicalizing social issues is how homosexuality was originally labeled a mental disorder,” Drescher said, noting that homosexuality wasn’t officially removed from the DSM until 1973. “So the idea that now we’re going to turn anti-LGBTQ ideas into psychiatric diagnoses doesn’t sit well with me.”
This, he added, could enable a future generation to “just flip the switch” and pathologize homosexuality once again.
And while Drescher — who has been practicing psychiatry for over four decades — isn’t optimistic about changing the hearts and minds of today’s anti-LGBTQ church leaders who are “set in their ways,” he is still hopeful about the future.
“Younger religious people don’t think of LGBTQ people as their enemies. They know them as their friends, their neighbors and their fellow congregants,” he said.
“So as the new generation grows up, religious LGBTQ people will be met with greater acceptance rather than being stigmatized and having to hide who they are, and less hiding who you are means you can grow up feeling better about yourself and perhaps experience less anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles.”
The theater lights are about to dim at Prayer for the French Republic, a new Broadway play that tracks the journey of a Jewish family in Paris from World War II through the 2017 French presidential election and the country’s rise in antisemitism. My companion leans over and asks earnestly, “Why do the Jews get a country and no other religion?”
Playwright Joshua Harmon’s cast of characters debates the question for nearly three hours, as do we over post-show cocktails. I suggest, perhaps with a bit of earnest strain in my voice, that it might have something to do with millennia of persecution, from the biblical story of Exodus and the pogroms of the Russian Empire to a CNN poll indicating that a third of Europeans believe Jews use the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals. But does that give the Jewish people a right to land also claimed sacred by Palestinians?
I was born and raised Jewish — jumping through the Bar Mitzvah and confirmation hoops and celebrating the High Holy Days with requisite challah and subsequent fasting. I visited Israel in 2015 for Tel Aviv Pride, thinking I’d feel an immediate kinship with my fellow Jews.
While I fell in love with the city, pulsating with the youthful sun-kissed glow of tech millennials, I didn’t feel any more “Jewish.” Upon my return home, I resided myself to the fact that my Russian and Polish ancestral roots — pale skin, receding hairline, perpetually nervous stomach — was my lot in life, and my desire for a larger sense of community needed to be cultivated from within.
Though rarely asked before the horrific Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, and subsequent retaliation by Israeli forces that has left upward of 22,000 Palestinians dead, I would describe myself as Jewish but not Zionist. But it’s not that simple.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt said, “Zionism is fundamental to Judaism,” comparing it to the civil rights movement by suggesting that to be anti-Zionist but not antisemitic is the equivalent of saying, “I’m against the civil rights movement, but I’m also against racism.”
The article’s author, Charles M. Blow, further dismantles the argument, questioning, “There are several forms of Zionism, and people in these debates rarely seem to be explicit about which form they are for or against. Political Zionism? Cultural Zionism? Religious Zionism? Some combination of them? Does it matter?”
I ask myself the same questions regarding my gay identity. Am I politically queer? Culturally queer?
In a recent interview with LGBTQ Nation, out actor Danny Kornfeld told me, “One of the things I love about the Jewish religion is the encouragement to ask questions, to say, ‘Why is this?’”
Barry Manilow’s “Harmony” unearths the story of a musical group impacted by Hitler’s Germany. Marginalized communities see the terrifying connection.
So I’m asking why.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m asking how this near extermination came to be. And January 29, the anniversary of the Bear River Massacre that left hundreds of Native Americans. And June 12, when Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured more than 50 at Pulse Nightclub. And on September 11, when I watched the plumes of smoke and disintegrated souls hover above lower Manhattan from my apartment window.
Depending on the algorithms of one’s digital search history, the day’s social media feed may be flooded with Holocaust-related content, or scrolling might look like any other, filled with reels and TikToks and stitches and tweets and posts. Made-up words and content that often pretends to be rooted in reality.
As nearly eight decades drive a wedge between World War II’s end and modern-day atrocities, it becomes increasingly harder for me to put on a happy face. Jews weren’t the only ones sent to the gas chambers. Under Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, upwards of 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps, where many were subjected to medical experiments or castration and ultimately died.
My identity on this particular day leaves me feeling vulnerable as I question what may become of us outliers in the years to come. But then I recall pot-stirring intellectual Susan Sontag, who wrote in 1964’s Notes on ‘Camp’: “Jews and homosexuals are the outstanding creative minorities in contemporary urban culture. Creative, that is, in the truest sense: they are creators of sensibilities. The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.”
I could do worse than a modern sensibility and homosexual aesthetic. Yet a growing number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws threaten my very existence in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Happy? With a side of caution, yes, aware that we’re one small step away from history repeating itself.
The Church of England’s governing body will debate adopting fresh commitments on homosexuality and same-sex couples when it meets later this month, it said on Friday, acknowledging that there remained “profound disagreement” on the matter.
The Church of England — central to the Anglican Communion of 85 million believers across the world — does not allow same-sex marriage, standing by its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.
However, the centuries-old institution has been wrestling with ways to make people in the LGBTQ community feel more inclusive in its churches, and it has apologized for the “hostile and homophobic response” some had faced.
The Synod, which consists of bishops, clergy and lay members, last November narrowly voted to back special services to bless same-sex couples on a trial basis, although Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — spiritual leader of the Anglican church — abstained from that vote.
“Synod has set a clear direction for us to move forward, but there remains profound disagreement across the Church,” Martyn Snow, the Bishop of Leicester, said in a statement ahead of the Synod meeting on Feb. 23-27 in London.
“As we move to implement what has been decided, we must also find ways to unify and reconcile these disagreements, mindful particularly of the narrow majorities in key votes,” said Snow, who has produced a paper on the new proposals.
The Synod is also due to discuss racial justice and the response of Church Commissioners — who manage the church’s 10.3-billion-pound investment portfolio — to its research into historic transatlantic slavery during the assembly.
Even as Catholic dogma continues to repudiate same-sex marriage and gender transition, one of the most prominent religious orders in the United States — the Jesuits — is strengthening a unique outreach program for LGBTQ Catholics.
The initiative — fittingly called Outreach — was founded two years ago by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who is one of the country’s most prominent advocates for greater LGBTQ inclusion in the Catholic Church.
Outreach, a ministry of the Jesuit magazine America, sponsored conferences in New York City in 2022 and 2023, and last year launched a multifaceted website with news, essays and information about Catholic LGBTQ resources and events.
On Tuesday, there was another milestone for Outreach — the appointment of journalist and author Michael O’Loughlin as its first executive director.
O’Loughlin, a former staff writer at online newspaper Crux, has been the national correspondent at America. He is the author of a book recounting the varied ways that Catholics in the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ‘90s — “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear.”
O’Loughlin told The Associated Press he’s excited by his new job, viewing it as a chance to expand the range of Outreach’s programs and the national scope of its community.
“It’s an opportunity to highlight the ways LGBT people can be Catholic and active in parishes, ministries and charities,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear about to being too public about it. … I want them to realize they’re not alone.”
O’Loughlin says his current outlook evolved as he traveled to scores of places around the U.S. to promote his book, talking to groups of LGBTQ+ Catholics, and their families and friends, about how to make the church more welcoming to them.
Those conversations made O’Loughlin increasingly comfortable publicly identifying as a gay Catholic after years of wondering whether he should remain in the church. Its doctrine still condemns any sexual relations between gay or lesbian partners as “intrinsically disordered.”
The latest expansion of Outreach occurs amid a time of division within the global Catholic Church as it grapples with LGBTQ issues.
Pope Francis, a Jesuit who has met with Martin and sent letters of support to Outreach, has made clear he favors a more welcoming approach to LGBTQ people. At his direction, the Vatican recently gave priests greater leeway to bless same-sex couples and asserted that transgender people, in some circumstances, can be baptized.
However, there has been some resistance to the pope’s approach. Many conservative bishops in Africa, Europe and elsewhere said they would not implement the new policy regarding blessings. In the U.S., some bishops have issued directives effectively ordering diocesan personnel not to recognize transgender people’s gender identity.
Amid those conflicting developments, Martin and other Jesuit leaders are proud of Outreach’s accomplishments and optimistic about its future.
“There seems to be deep hunger for the kind of ministry that we’re doing, not only among LGBTQ Catholics, but also their families and friends,” Martin said by email from Ireland, where he was meeting last week with the the country’s Catholic bishops.
“Pope Francis has been very encouraging, allowing himself to be interviewed by Outreach and sending personal greetings to our conference last year,” Martin added. “Perhaps the most surprising support has been from several bishops who have written for our website, as well as some top-notch Catholic theologians who see the need for serious theological reflection on LGBTQ topics.”
Martin will remain engaged in Outreach’s oversight, holding the title of founder.
The Rev. Brian Paulson, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, evoked both Jesus and the pope when asked why his order had embraced the mission of Outreach.
“Pope Francis has repeatedly called leaders in the Catholic church to emulate the way Jesus spent his ministry on the peripheries, accompanying those who had experienced exclusion,” Paulson said email. “I think the work of Outreach is a response to this invitation.”
Paulson also said he was impressed by Martin’s “grace and patience” in responding to the often harsh criticism directed at him by some conservative Catholics.
There was ample evidence of Outreach’s stature at its conference last June at a branch of Fordham University in New York City. The event was preceded by a handwritten letter of support sent to Martin by Pope Francis, extending “prayers and good wishes” to the participants.
“It’s a special grace for LGBTQ Catholics to know that the pope is praying for them,” Martin said.
Another welcoming letter came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
“It is the sacred duty of the Church and Her ministers to reach out to those on the periphery,” he wrote to the conference attendees.
The keynote speakers included Fordham’s president, Tania Tetlow, and the closing Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
ev. Sawyer Vanden Heuvel hails from a small town where his church shunned him for being LGBTQ. However, when the pastor moved to South Dakota he became pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It didn’t take long for Vanden Heuvel’s faith to beckon him to lead, and thus, he founded “a place for all” called Shepherd’s Table; born at the only LGBTQ community center in the state called the Prism Center.
This month, Shepherd’s Table became the first LGBTQ place of worship in South Dakota.
“Opening Shepherd’s Table has been a dream since I first connected with people while tabling with other Lutherans at a local Sioux Falls Pride event in 2021,” Vanden Heuvel said in an email to GLAAD. “There, I met so many LGBTQ+ folks in the area who had stories and experiences like that of many queer folk, including myself.”
The stories Vanden Heuvel heard were those of being kicked out of faith communities for coming out, stories of heartache, trauma, and survival; as well as stories of shame and isolation that come from being queer in the Midwest.
“The constant refrain I heard from people was how they longed for a community where both faith and queerness are not at odds with each other – a community where they truly could belong and experience the expansiveness of God’s love for all people,” said Vanden Heuvel.
That dream is now a reality. Two years ago Vanden Heuvel, also a 2020 GLAAD Media Institute Alum, had a “vision” for the ministry he founded.
The new, inclusive, community in Sioux Falls, South Dakota seeks to be a place for all to gather. And also, a place where LGBTQ people can be “seen, heard, loved, welcomed, and fed at Christ’s table,” reads the Shepherd’s Table website. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not discriminate, but we know that in some faith communities, people have been shamed or discriminated against for being LGBTQIA+. We welcome all to the table to experience the expansiveness of God’s love for all people,” the site continues.
With this said, the inclusive ministry practices: embracing LGBTQ people and their faith, and ensures the people are fed.
“[T]o witness the Holy Spirit make dreams like this become realized for a public, unapologetic, unashamed ministry of the Church that is focused on supporting LGBTQ+ people and their families, moves me deeply because I know this, without a doubt, will become life-saving and vital work for many who call South Dakota home.” Vanden Heuvel said.
Shepherd’s Table was founded on the call to remember Jesus as the “Good Shepherd.” The Good Shepherd who tends “to his flock and makes sure all are found in his fold.” The organizers also remember those fallen from violence against them. For instance, the community ensures Matthew Shepard’s memory always has a seat at Shepherd’s Table. Two anti-LGBTQ classmates murdered Shepard for being a gay man in 1998. Shepard was a Wyoming college student at the time, and he was 21-years-old.
“We consider Matthew’s life to be remembered as a saint and martyr for all of our queer siblings,” the ministry’s website reads.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls recently called Vanden Heuvel to serve, and then he became the mission developer and pastor for the Shepherd’s Table faith community. He earned his Master of Divinity in 2023 from Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In addition to earning his Bachelor of Arts in 2012 from Augustana University in Sioux Falls. Heuvel is passionate about building longer tables and creating spaces of belonging so that all may be fed, seen, heard, and loved at Christ’s table.
GLAAD Media Institute provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement education, consultation and research for LGBTQ and allied community members, the media industry and advocacy organizations desiring to deepen their media impact
Days after denouncing an unverified report casting innuendo about his sexuality and accusing him of being a frequent participant at sex parties hosted by Sean Combs, popularly known as Diddy, televangelist T.D. Jakes called his accusers “liars” on Sunday and noted that even “if everything was true, all I got to do is repent sincerely from my heart.”
Jakes, who leads a megachurch in Dallas, Texas, directly addressed his congregation for the first time on Christmas Eve and urged them not to worry about him because “I’m good.” The unnamed source claims, “I’m told that multiple male escorts corroborated the fact that T.D. Jakes slept with multiple men at Diddy’s parties and abroad.”
Read the full article. Jakes is famed for saying that if you love Jesus, “you will never be broke.”
Pope Francis has formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God’s love and mercy shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it.
The document from the Vatican’s doctrine office, released Monday, elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessings could be offered under some circumstances if they didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.
The new document repeats that rationale and elaborates on it, reaffirming that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman. And it stresses that blessings should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.
Read the full article. Last week the Protestant Church of England made the same move, with similar stipulations. The cult already loathes Pope Francis, so expect today’s news to fuel even more screaming.
The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted Saturday to accept the decision of 261 congregations to leave the denomination over a divide on LGBTQ issues. “I realize how sad this time is for many, including myself,” said Bishop Robin Dease, the leader of the conference. “I just hate that those who are leaving us, I will not have the opportunity to meet or to be with.”
The churches are breaking from the UMC after a 2019 decision by the national United Methodist Church to allow congregations to leave by the end of 2023, “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Nearly 60 Iowa churches are parting ways with the United Methodist Church. In a special session, the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church approved disaffiliation agreements with 59 churches who asked to leave The United Methodist Church.
The churches follow 83 others who left the United Methodist Church for similar reasons earlier this year.
The disaffiliation process is outlined in Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline, which is the rule book for the United Methodist Church. The exit agreement for all the churches cites homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The departing churches will no longer be allowed to use “United Methodist” in their names.
Vatican officials said Wednesday that transgender people can be baptized in the Catholic church.
“A transgender person, even if they have undergone hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery, can receive baptism under the same conditions as other faithful, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating a public scandal or disorientation among the faithful,” a Vatican office said in a documentpublished Wednesday in Italian on its website.
The document was a response to six questions that Bishop Jose Negri of Santo Amaro in Brazil sent to the Vatican in July, regarding LGBTQ people’s involvement in routine Catholic practices, and released by the Vatican’s Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. The document said it had been approved by Pope Francis on Oct. 31.
Vatican officials also concluded that transgender people can be godparents and witnesses at religious weddings. They added that an individual in a same-sex relationship can also be a witness in Catholic weddings.
The document appeared to suggest that children either adopted by same-sex couples or conceived through surrogacy cannot be baptized. It also implied that people in same-sex relationships should not be godparents to baptized children.
The Vatican’s stated willingness to include trans people in the church is the latest step it has taken to extend itself to the LGBTQ community.
Last month, Francis signaled an openness to allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples on a case-by-case basis. However, Francis, 86, added that same-sex blessings should not be seen as synonymous with heterosexual weddings.
Some leading Catholics who have advocated for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church praised the Vatican’s statement.
The Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit who runs outreach ministry for LGBTQ Catholics, wrote on the X platform that pastors in some dioceses had prevented transgender people from being baptized, serving as godparents or being witnesses to marriages.
“As such, this is an important step forward in the church seeing transgender people not only as people (in a church where some say they don’t really exist) but as Catholics,” Martin said.