Members and allies of the LGBTQ community and leaders of various faith communities recently met in the campus Multicultural House for meaningful discussion surrounding inclusion and what it means to feel welcome in a place or among a group.
Organized by Campus Chaplain Rob Spach, Assistant Dean of Students Becca Taylor, and student leaders Timmy Basista '15 and Lindsey Lassiter '15, the gathering brought together about 30 people, of which about half were religious clergy members and student representatives from campus faith groups.
"We felt it was a good time for the campus queer and religious communities to come together and learn from each others' perspectives," Lassiter said.
The idea for the gathering grew from discussions last year that followed a fall lecture by retired Baptist pastor and activist Steven Shoemaker entitled, "Gay Equality, Moral Mondays, and God Talk: Witnessing Religious Values in the Public Square." While at Davidson Shoemaker met with LGBTQ students for dinner and discussion, and the conversations didn't end there.
Inspired by Shoemaker's visit, and in keeping with campus initiatives to bolster resources and support for LGBTQ students, last spring Spach met with about a dozen students to discuss "ways in which we can continue to improve the tenor of things for members of the LGBTQ community on campus," he said. The group came up with the idea of a gathering to connect members of the LGBTQ community and its allies with members of different faith organizations in the area.
Spach and Taylor worked with Basista and Lassiter to plan the Oct. 7 event. Basista serves as president of the campus group Q&A (Queers and Allies), and Lassiter serves as special event planner for the group.
In preparation for the event, they reached out to student leaders of the various campus religious groups, and Spach contacted clergy in the area, all of whom were eager to participate, he said.
"It sits really well with our faith communities to be able to do this sort of outreach," Spach said. "All of the clergy members I reached out to were thrilled and very supportive of this idea."
Represented at the meeting were: Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Davidson United Methodist Church, St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Norman, Davidson Friends (Quaker) Meeting, and Temple Kol Tikvah, as well as student organizations Better Together, Catholic Campus Ministry, Canterbury Episcopal Fellowship, Hillel, Methodist College Fellowship, Weekly College Worship and Westminster Fellowship.
The purpose of the gathering was not to debate issues – Spach made that clear in his opening remarks. Rather, it was to introduce community members to each other in a safe, supportive environment, to encourage them to share personal experiences of times they may have felt unwelcome, and discuss what it means to be welcoming and the ways to show it.
"Sometimes the more subtle ways of making someone feel welcome have the greater impact," Taylor said.
After opening remarks Wednesday night, the group of 30 split into three smaller groups for discussion, each with multiple representatives from both faith-based and LGBTQ communities. Within minutes, individuals were engaged in honest conversation about topics that for many are extremely personal and even painful.
"Often there's a lot of hurt in the LGBTQ community because of the ways they have been treated by faith communities," Spach said.
"I think the meeting was therapeutic for some," Taylor said.
Discussions were not limited to people's personal experiences in the past; they also turned to the future, as participants discussed ideas about how to resolve common conflicts and issues the groups face.
"I hope to plan more events like this one, where people can be in one space and learn from each other like that," Lassiter said.