In the back room of Manny’s at 16th and Valencia streets Monday night, locals settled into velvet couches, ready for a lively panel about the intersections between religion, sexuality and gender identity.
“We’re here because not enough public conversations are happening during Pride that focus on religion,” said event organizer Rabbi Mychal Copeland of Reform Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, just up the block at 16th and Dolores streets. This is important, she continued, because our values, beliefs and how we think about LGBTQ people are often rooted in religion — even if we don’t realize it.
“We’re talking about religion even when we don’t think we’re talking about religion,” she said, smiling devilishly at the crowd of about 50. She wore a rainbow-patterned yarmulke and encouraged the audience to consult her book, Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives with questions about any of the LGBTQ terms that were being thrown around.
The Rev. Israel Alvaran, a Filipino activist and United Methodist clergyman, said he realized he was gay in fifth grade, which was the same time he realized he wanted to join the church. Today he is part of a proud, vibrant Queer Clergy Caucus, but said that many members of his church still have a long way to go towards acceptance. The United Methodist Church voted to uphold bans on same-sex weddings and LGTBQ clergy earlier this year, despite internal resistance. This hasn’t deterred Alvaran from being proudly, “queerly beautiful” (in his own words), and preaching love and acceptance to anyone who will listen.
The Rev. Cameron Partridge, a transgender Episcopal priest, said there has been a great deal of progress in his community around LGTBQ acceptance, and has felt mostly embraced as a trans person — though there’s still work that needs to be done.
Other speakers included Naji Ali, the Bay Area Coordinator of Muslims for Progressive Values, who declared that the Koran says nothing about being gay; Deacon Brian Bromberger, a Roman Catholic priest serving at San Francisco’s St. John of God Church, who quipped that the Catholic Church invented “don’t ask, don’t tell.” There was a Zen Buddhist priest named Daigan Gaither, who shared that his guiding question was how to truly create a welcoming community. It is not enough to simply invite people to the table, he said. “How do we create the kind of communities where people want to stay?” For him, the answer meant getting involved with the Trans Spiritual Care Initiative, a training for San Francisco chaplains about how to better support transgender people.
The group talked about how it’s so important to suss out political agendas and focus on what each religion, at its core, is really about: love and non-harm. It’s important to call out hypocrisy, call out the parts of the texts we don’t agree with, debate everything, and tell our own stories.
“Because when we tell our own stories,” said Partridge, highlighting the importance of events like last night’s, “we can’t get it wrong.”