The Tufts LGBT Center and the COFFEE Interfaith Student Coalition hosted a Queerness and Faith event and dinner in the Sophia Gordon Multipurpose Room on Nov. 10. The discussion group was open to queer people and allies coming from all faith backgrounds, bringing together about 40 participants to grapple with the intersection of queerness and faith. University chaplains also attended the event to support any students who wished to debrief during or after the conversation.
The Rev. Daniel Bell, the Protestant chaplain and one of the participants, reflected on the event. In the past, Bell helped organize and host similar events, such as the Queer in Spirit discussion group.
“I was impressed by how freely and transparently people shared from their own experiences of being queer in different faith communities,” Bell wrote.
The event marked the culmination of months of planning by juniors Jane Romp and Lee Romaker, who hoped to create an inclusive space for all those who were interested in exploring or learning more about the topic together. Romp and Romaker co-hosted the event.
Even as the LGBTQ community is increasingly accepted by organized religions across the United States today, many queer individuals continue to feel excluded and marginalized in their faith communities.
Romaker grew up Catholic. Having attended Catholic school for about 10 years, religion was an important part of their upbringing.
“I loved Christianity and what it stood for. Their teachings of charity, love and radical kindness for others were all very important to me as a young person, especially in elementary school,” Romaker said. “And then in middle school, my religious classes became a lot less about morality and more political. They were often about the dangers of abortion, and gayness as a sin.”
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Romaker felt increasingly alone as they were taught non-affirming views on queerness in Catholic school.
“I remember thinking in a very 13-year-old way that I was the only queer person who was also Catholic in the entire world,” Romaker said.
As Romaker became acclimated to Tufts, though, they realized that they were not alone in the journey of reconciling their faith and their queerness. Romaker also converted to Judaism during their time at Tufts as they continue to explore a wide range of religious, philosophical and spiritual ideas.
Bell is one of those who also felt as though he was alone in his journey of reconciling faith and queerness.
“I was raised in an evangelical Christian church where there was no discussion of, and certainly no acceptance of, queer identities,” Bell said. “My traditional religious outlook meant that only cisgender and heterosexual relationships were possible. Anything else was considered a perversion of God’s will for human beings. When I began to accept that I was gay as a young adult, I faced a crisis of faith.”
For Bell, the communities that he has built and been part of, especially at Tufts, have helped him explore the intersection of queerness and faith together. In doing so, Bell has uplifted and inspired many community members at Tufts who struggled to reconcile their faith and queer identities.
“Ultimately, coming out of the closet felt for me like coming out of the tomb into the light of new life. As an Episcopal priest and Protestant chaplain now, I want others to know that they too can bring their whole selves into relationship with God; nothing and no one need be hidden from the all-embracing love of God,” he said.
Echoing Romaker and Bell’s comments, Romp expressed her gratitude for the chaplaincy’s continued support and inspiration for queer students and communities on campus.
“We have been very lucky to have a very queer-accepting Chaplaincy here at Tufts with queer chaplains,” Romp said. “I remember how during one of the Protestant services, we all read together the quote, ‘Blessed are the queer, disciples of truth, living, breathing, sacred reflections of divine love.’”
In her personal journey of faith and queerness, Romp reflected that she is privileged to have had a supportive faith community and mentors to guide and inspire her throughout.
“I grew up Presbyterian, and I think the first gay wedding at my church was when I was around 10. And so early on, I knew that being queer was not stigmatized, and that it was not a taboo,” she said.
Ever since, Romp has challenged the notion that Christianity and queerness are irreconcilable, a view still held by many Christians across the United States.
“My core belief as a Christian, though, is to love everyone and to know that everyone is loved by God, regardless of how they identify or love, and in that way, I do not feel a conflict between my faith and queer identity,” Romp said.
Through this year’s Queerness and Faith event, Romaker also hoped to reclaim and redefine the term “queerness” with intentionality.
“Historically, and even for a lot of people still today, the term ‘queer’ can feel like a slur. We intentionally chose the term “queerness” for our event to be proud of and reclaim that term, rather than shying away from a term that has been controversial,” Romaker said. “It was also meant as a broad and all-encompassing term to include all gender and sexual identities .”
Ultimately, both Romaker and Romp hope that this year’s Queerness and Faith event would help the Tufts community to continue the important conversation on campus.
“What has motivated me has been to help create a healing space for people to know that, especially for those who feel alone in their struggles, that they are not alone in this journey,” Romp explained.
Inviting the Tufts community to join in the conversation, Romaker highlighted the salience of the intersection between queerness and faith from a philosophical perspective.
“For a lot of people, religion is the ultimate question, the ultimate conflict. … At the same time, people’s gender and sexual identities are also foundational to who they are,” Romaker said. “And that is why the intersection of queerness and faith is a very important and inevitable intersection that has to be talked about together.”
On top of that, Romp shared one of the powerful quotations that the Queerness and Faith discussion group talked about together that highlights the theme of the event.
“I want to share [writer Xorje Olivares’] quotation which reads, ‘To be queer is to be holy. It is a sacrament unlike any other,’” Romp said.
Moving forward, Bell added that the University chaplaincy will always support students in their journey of reconciling their faith and queerness both personally and institutionally.
“COFFEE, the Interfaith Student Council, and my colleagues and I in the University Chaplaincy, could certainly have a follow-up dinner or another event to continue building relationships and deepening conversations,” Bell wrote.