The first time I worshipped with the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC), I experienced a profound sensation that spirit was moving in a way I had never felt before. I entered the room after navigating a sprawling and meticulous college campus in Greeley, Colorado, and encountered an energy that I could immediately tell was unique among spaces at that FGC Gathering. I don’t even remember any of the words spoken in ministry that day, but I do remember feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could breathe more freely.
During fellowship with FLGBTQC Friends, my stories about my first crush on a boy in school were met with knowing smiles. Mutual eye rolls were shared about putting up with heteronormative (straight-assuming) spaces. I enjoyed feeling a new, deep, silent acknowledgement of who I am, simply from being among people like me, often one of the few queer people in a space. It was like I was the archetypical teenager in a movie who finally finds friends who understand him.
There is no single experience of being queer and Quaker. I acknowledge that there is a wide range of perspectives within the queer community that I am unable to speak to. I am a white, cisgender male who has the capacity for attraction to people of any gender. “Cis,” in this context, means that I identify as the gender I was assigned at birth. I do not know what it is like to experience an intersecting oppression of being a queer person of color and/or transgender. I have also never experienced housing insecurity. It is important to note that two of the most urgent crises affecting the LGBTQ community are the killings of transgender people of color and the fact that 40% of all homeless youth are queer and/or transgender.
Even though there is a vast spectrum of stories that queer Quakers carry, I feel an immutable sense of spirit in motion within spaces where we gather together and listen for each other’s truth. Ministry in FLGBTQC sometimes touches upon pain and trauma often felt within queer life, including the AIDS epidemic, and being rejected by family and friends. I’ve met people who are only out of the closet within queer Quaker spaces and nowhere else.
Just as the spectrum of experiences within the LGBTQ world is broad, the spectrum of affirmation of LGBTQ Friends among Quakers is widely varied and often worrisome. I am one of the lucky Friends who grew up in a faith community that not only told me I was loved no matter who I was and no matter whom I loved, but my Quaker meeting also has numerous visible gay people attending, people who demonstrate that their identities are valid. Not long ago, this same community worshipfully entered into conversation on gender non-conformity, respectful pronoun usage, and other transgender issues.
In my new home of Oregon, affirmation of LGBTQ Friends is one reason why another Quaker yearly meeting is sprouting into existence. Recently, several monthly meetings were kicked out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, because they affirmed LGBTQ members. Northwest Yearly Meeting is an association of pastoral Quaker churches (which coexist in the Pacific Northwest with the unprogramed Quaker meetings of North Pacific Yearly Meeting). In the view of many pastoral Friends of Northwest Yearly Meeting, affirming LGBTQ people is a practice that subverts their book of Faith & Practice, which explicitly names homosexuality and transvestitism as sexual perversions in the same breath as incest and sexual abuse. This summer, a new gathering of Friends’ churches was bold in declaring the rights of LGBTQ Friends to not be labeled as deviant and not to be barred from membership, and they have formed a new association called Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting.
If the split between Northwest and Sierra-Cascades had occurred during a town hall meeting, then I would be the guy who walked in late and couldn’t hear much. I cannot imagine what it was like to be a queer Quaker in the midst of the turmoil of churches debating whether your existence and identity were valid. One of my many privileges is that my own faith home has not opened that debate in my lifetime.
I am convinced that queer Quaker kinship is vital. In a time when white supremacist neo-Nazis are marching the streets yelling homophobic slurs alongside racist and anti-semitic ones, we must gather together and hold each other in our arms and in our prayers. We can listen to each other’s stories, hold hands through tears falling, and uplift the presence of spirit within. We must recognize the intersectional nature of queer liberation, and we must recognize that the work for queer and transgender rights is not over until people of color, Muslims, indigenous people, impoverished people – indeed, all oppressed people – are free. At a time when Quaker yearly meetings and other religious groups deny membership to queer people, even the simple act of an LGBTQ person sharing vocal ministry during worship is radical.
My prayer is that, to the extent that it is safe to do so, we queer Quakers testify boldly, express ourselves loudly, and make space for the young queers who are on their way. May we seek out that quiet energy of holy queer kinship, and use it as our guiding light. ~~~
Damon Motz-Storey is a member of Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver. He currently resides in Portland, Ore. and worships with the four meetings and churches there who supported him during his year with the Quaker Voluntary Service. He works as an organizer for peace, nuclear nonproliferation, and climate justice with Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.