/ 15 April 2022

‘‘My queerness is a gift to my community of faith”

Safrica Pride
Two participants embrace before joining more than 1000 people, some in dramatic costumes, in the annual Cape Town Pride Parade through the centre of the city, which takes place to celebrate and raise awareness on the issues affecting , Cape Town's LGBTI+ community, on February 26, 2022, in Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

Across the world, people antagonise, probe and “other” those with different religious beliefs. Wars and indifference thrive because people with different views on creation, the presence of a deity, who it is and how it influences human life can’t seem to live and let live. 

Even when there appears to be consensus, the cracks soon begin to show. But one of the few sentiments that seems to unite people of different faiths, denominations and religious practice is that queerness has no place among the chosen.

In most cases, people who have paid mind to conversations around the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in so-called mainstream churches in Southern Africa have taken an on-the-fence stance regarding whether same-sex marriages can be solemnised by clergy. In other instances, clergy themselves who are members of the LGBTQI+ community may practise and remain in the ministry only on condition of celibacy. 

Some queer people, who are either born into religious families or otherwise identify as people of faith, are subject to conversion therapies — which range from exorcisms to seemingly less violent rituals that “pray the gay away”. Queer people are often excluded from participating in sacred days on the religious calendar — isolated from the community and fellowship that religion purports to offer — because queerness and those who own it are perceived as a blight on the communion of deities, who are, ironically, said to love all, even the most marginalised. 

By definition, a thing that is queer is one that defies normalcy. Off-centre. Strange, if you will. Juxtapose that with the rigidity, conservatism, and even the staid nature of organised religion, and  the exclusion of people who don’t subscribe to a heteronormative lifestyle in the ambit of a nuclear family becomes plausible. Justifiable, even. 

But a little probing into the history, politics and even economics that informed the writing of many a religious text begins to dissuade one from reading without context. If anything, there lies an opportunity to discover just how ”a Saviour born to man” was a person of colour who protected sex workers, admonished capitalists, was often led by women, and by any standard, could be seen as an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans- and intersex people if He walked the earth today. 

My work has, in the past couple of weeks, allowed me to find resonance in the stories of people like me who could never fully embody their queer identities in temples, churches, mosques and iindumba. 

My raw despondence from years of being told (explicitly, subtly and otherwise) that showing up in a personhood that I can’t escape is disobedient has been met with an unexpected acknowledging, seeing and affirming of this personhood. So much so, that I have begun to understand (my) queerness as a gift to my community of faith.

Growing up in the Lutheran church, the Lenten journey that concludes at Easter time was often punted as one that begs of us to reflect, reason, reckon and reform. To ask why and dig deep to find the how. To lean not on prior understanding, but to instead be guided in learning “where to from here?” 

I would like to extend this invitation to you, dear reader, as the world observes the end of a Life that was taken because it defied normalcy, was off-centre, and strange, but also the resurrection of the same Life, which signifies justice, inclusion, and love.