Why Focus Our "Welcome" on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People?
The Welcoming Congregation Program was launched in 1990 to address widespread homophobia and exclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people within Unitarian Universalism, despite the fact that over the previous two decades many resolutions and statements in support of sexual minorities had been passed by the denomination.
Rev. Douglas Morgan Strong wrote, "For centuries, the Church has been a leading force against sexual minorities. It encourages prejudice against anyone whose sexual truth falls beyond the conventional. It is not surprising that gay people are reluctant to reach out to the very institution that oppresses them." He went on to point out that "as a subculture in society, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people may need our support more than does the general population."
The moniker "Welcoming" has become known as referring specifically to religious spaces that are accepting of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) because religion has been such a fraught environment for sexual and gender minorities. It’s a code word of sorts (check out the Institute for Welcoming Resources for more on how "Welcome" plays out across denominations). The Welcoming Congregation Program has helped Unitarian Universalists understand the ways that our practices, language, and faith culture can make LGBT people feel excluded, and how to take active steps toward welcome and inclusion instead.
However, LGBT people are not the only ones who struggle to feel welcome and included in our congregations, and thus being a truly and fully welcoming congregation means taking action to counter more than just heterosexism. The Welcoming Congregation Program is only one possible entry point. By taking the fist step—any first step—we can explore how one oppression is linked to others. In fact, in order to be truly welcoming to LGBT people, we have to think big! Like all people, LGBT people have multifaceted identities. They are people of color, they are working class, they have disabilities, they are immigrants, they are children and youth and single parents and elders. Is your congregation an intentionally welcoming congregation to all of these LGBT people?
Reflect on which LGBT people might feel most welcome in your congregation, and which might not feel welcome. Think about how you can extend your welcome, little by little, step by step. Check out more entry points from Multicultural Growth & Witness and/or consider engaging with Building the World We Dream About, a "Welcoming Congregation style" program on race and ethnicity.
Our faith calls us to live a spirit of radical hospitality—only when we are truly open to the wealth of diversity in our world will the inherent worth and dignity of every person be affirmed with a large voice. Let's not rest until all are welcomed into Beloved Community.