It was seven years ago that I started stitching together my identity sexually and spiritually. Then in 1999 I interviewed Christian de la Huerta for LesBiGay Radio [ now called Windy City Radio ] . I will never forget it. He had written a book called Coming Out Spiritually. The concepts were radical to me and also empowering. I made a point of hearing him speak when he came to Chicago, listening as he talked of the divine in all of us, even in our sexual acts. He was asking that we claim ourselves fully and our spiritual and sexual lives in a profound way, without shame, by honoring God's presence in all of our lives.
This past fall I came face to face with him again at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association conference, while I was speaking on a panel about gay radio. A familiar face walked over to me smiling from the audience. It was Christian. I asked him immediately to contribute to this column. Much of my first meeting with Christian in 1999 spurred me to become vocal on sexuality and spirituality. It's why I edit this column every month to bring forward voices of GLBT people of various faiths. If you have not read his book, do. Christian continues to witness his powerful message of faith and spirit.
Christian de la Huerta
As I prepared over several months for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change Conference held in Oakland, Calif., this past November, I realized that one of the biggest barriers to overcome was our own LGBT community's resistance to spiritual matters. While I had considered and written about this previously, here we were facing what seemed to be a critical juncture in the process: a secular political organization was including in its premiere annual event an unprecedented amount of spiritually based programming. Was this a genuine shift, I wondered? Another symptom of the birth of a progressive spiritual left? Or was this simply a move of political expediency, of fundraising convenience?
After 2004's national elections, most progressive and LGBT secular organizations have awakened to the fact that they can no longer ignore issues of faith and religion. These groups have come to realize that we cede the moral ground to religious conservatives at our own risk. Whereas most, if not all, liberation movements in human history have been spiritually fueled at their source—such as the U.S. civil-rights movement and Gandhi's efforts towards Indian independence—the LGBT movement has kept issues of religion and faith at bay. It is no wonder, given the fact that most of the roots of homophobia lie in religion, and given the treatment that we have received ( and continue to receive ) at the hands of most religions.
As NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman pointed out in his 'State of the Movement' address at Creating Change, one damaging and limiting effect of this artificially induced separation between our spirituality and our politics was that we have sidelined and minimized a huge segment of the LGBT population. In fact, for many LGBT people I know, it was more difficult to come out spiritually to queer friends than it was to come out as queer to straight family and friends.
In the process of our 'throwing the baby out with the baptismal water,' we ceded the cultural moral ground—of society's definitions of what is right and wrong—to the religious right. We now lag behind 30 years of very effective organizing among conservative people of faith.
Yet a shift is occurring. The spiritual left is discovering its voice in society's discourse. An example is the Tikkun Conference on Spiritual Activism held this past summer at U.C. Berkeley. This conference was one of the first events of its kind devoted specifically to both spirituality and political activism. Announced a mere six months before it was held, the gathering, which, among other things, birthed a Network of Spiritual Progressives, sold out with more than 1,300 participants. The next one is scheduled May 17-20, 2006, in Washington, D.C.
Within our own LGBT movement, developments in our two most powerful organizations are revealing. Earlier this year the Human Rights Campaign created a new Religion and Faith Department, which has attained considerable visibility in its brief existence. NGLTF has sponsored the National Religious Leadership Roundtable for LGBT Concerns—a national interfaith network of leaders from pro-LGBT faith, spiritual, and religious organizations—since 1998.
Though NGLTF has guided the way with its sponsorship of the Roundtable, this year, however, the Creating Change conference—the largest annual gathering of LGBT activists—was nothing less than a watershed event in terms of depth and breadth of spirituality-based programming. Indeed, the San Francisco Chronicle led its post-conference coverage with the following headlines: 'Spiritual Tinge at Gay Conference' and 'Meeting for Gays Focuses on God: It's Time to Reclaim Moral Values Debate; Speaker Tells Crowd.'
The conference's opening session included a Native American ritual and a 'Reading of the Names' ritual led by a transgender Wiccan priestess. Weekend programming included a Muslim prayer service, a Shabbat Service, an Interfaith Service, Buddhist and Christian morning meditations, a nature walk, and an entire program track devoted to faith-based organizing and spiritual activism. An all-day Pre-Conference Institute, 'Empowering People of Faith to Create Change,' was attended by three times as many people as a similar one last year. The conference featured as one of its key evening events a techno-ritual, 'The PRIDE Ritual,' presented by Q-Spirit. A meditation room was well utilized throughout the weekend.
Furthermore, NGLTF has made commitments to the conference which have fundamental relevance. It has agreed, for example, to include at least one speaker from the perspective of faith, religion, and/or spirituality at every Creating Change conference, henceforth. The closing plenary speaker this year, Bishop Yvette Flunder from City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco, roused a visibly spent Sunday morning audience to its feet with an inspirational, passionate and confrontational address. Among other things, she exhorted our community to reclaim our connection to the Divine, suggesting that we find in a relationship ( to God ) a substitute for religion.
I must confess my own bias in all this: I am a longtime member of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, and chaired the Spirituality Committee responsible for all spiritually based programming at the conference. My primary goal since writing Coming Out Spiritually in 1999 has been supporting our community to reclaim our rich spiritual heritage, for our sake and that of the world.
Yet I cannot help feeling hopeful today, knowing that the executive director of NGLTF identified faith-based organizing, and healing the rift between the secular and spiritual components of our community, as one of the three primary strategies for our movement. This recognition is nothing short of revolutionary. And other signs abound that a bridge is being built between progressive secularists and spiritual activists.
I believe that the problems plaguing humanity at this point in our collective evolution are spiritual at their core, relating to who we are essentially and to our stewardship of our beautiful planet. The solutions to these problems, hence, must also be fundamentally spiritual. That we are beginning to bridge this chasm is extremely exciting and hope-inspiring.
Christian de la Huerta is author of Coming Out Spiritually and founder of QSpirit ( www.qspirit.org ) .