By Amelia Leaphart
From same-sex marriage, divorce, to honorary degree controversies, religion and sex intertwine. On February 4, the Queer & Ally House and Spectrum teamed up with the Dialogue Across Difference program to organize a group dialogue about religion and its relationship with sexuality in the Mary Sue Cushman room. This dialogue stemmed from the complicated relationships many LGBTQ+ people face with religion.
Chairs were arranged in small circles to foster intimate conversations. Members of the All Saints’ community attended, including Chaplain Thomas Macfie and University Lay Chaplain Kayla Deep (C’15).
Initial questions regarded each persons’ experience with faith. As many students are from the South, faith was a strong factor in many peoples’ upbringings.
Mikayla Cooper (C’21), a member of the Q&A House, said she came to “get others’ advice” on how to deal with situations she’s currently experiencing. “It’s been difficult with a girlfriend in a religious family,” she said, “and I needed help navigating the struggles of our relationship.”
Cooper thinks the discussion helped through understanding reconciliation and religion. However, many people in Cooper’s group had negative experiences of religion and are cynical about any positive experiences. “I came in with very deep questions I wanted help with, and I think this helped,” Cooper said.
The Episcopal influence of the school doesn’t affect Sewanee for Cooper. “I honestly never thought of Sewanee and its religion,” Cooper said. “I know about all its organizations, like All Saints’, but the religious aspect never influenced me. Just because you’re on campus here, it doesn’t have to come up.”
Cooper was happy with the diversity of the attendants. Members included people within the LGBTQ+ community as well as LGBTQ+ allies with strong religious conviction.
Katherine LeClair (C’21), co-director of the Q&A House, acted as a facilitator in the discussions, and her goal was to listen to what others have to say.
“Especially because I don’t come from a religious background, it’s always valuable for me to hear others’ religious experiences in an honest way,” LeClair said. “A lot of the time what I hear about queerness and religion has been very negative. People in my group had a lot of positive things to say about how they reconciled their queerness with religion. As someone who’s not a part of organized religion, that was really valuable to hear.”
Emily Cate (C’20), Q&A House co-director and one of the organizers of the event, remarked, “we wanted people to talk about their own experiences and gay perspective.”
Virginia McClatchey (C’21), co-president of Spectrum, added, “I really wanted there to be a conversation about this on campus. A lot of gay people don’t talk about being religious”
Originally, the discussions were meant to be about mental health in the queer community, as the community has a higher proportion of mental health issues. However, during the planning process, Cate and other leaders decided mental health was too specialized a topic for students and more suited for therapists.
“Especially since we’re a Christian university,” Cate said, “I think a lot of people have dramatic experiences, but at the same time I think people have found comfort in it, and we want to highlight those experiences as well.”
This Q&A House, Spectrum, and Dialogue Across Difference will host another dialogue in the coming weeks on queerness and substance abuse. The event will take place on Tuesday, February 18 at 4:30 in the Mary Sue Cushman Room.