Intersectional Spaces: What Queer and Religious Allyship Has Meant To Me

by: Kara Crawford

As should be evident from many of my IOW posts, I’m a United Methodist, through-and-through. I’m almost just as strongly an extremely committed progressive, though I only say “almost” because I see my United Methodist identity as strongly informing my progressive one. For me, being United Methodist is more central to my core self — though not by too much. I am proud of both of those identities and have personally come to a place of resolution and a sense of compatibility where others might not see it possible. That said, I haven’t always felt so confident or safe in sharing both identities together in many spaces.

In progressive spaces (and above all in queer spaces), I never felt quite comfortable disclosing my United Methodist background. I recognize  that there are many progressives and citizens of Queerville who are atheist or agnostic (some even openly anti-religion), and many of them have very legitimate reasons. Many have been badly burned by religion, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, of their political beliefs, and so forth. I won’t deny that hurt; however, it also made me feel that it was necessary to hide my religious identity to gain acceptance in those spaces.

Likewise, I felt the need to hide my identities as a progressive and a citizen of Queerville in many religious spaces, worrying about facing judgement by others, particularly by other Christians. I have before been accused of not being a real Christian for these identities and that if I was going to cast aside “what Christianity teaches” (arguably by taking on a different interpretation of scripture and Christian faith than those throwing the accusations at me). There were always spaces where both identities intersected, but that was never enough; I wanted to be able to be my whole self in all spaces.

I’m not sure who the first allies I had were, but while the specific people over the years are personally significant, what is particularly important is that with them came many more allies. My first memorable experiences with secular activism and justice work came for me at DePaul University. It was there I found my allies, the people who affirmed my double-identity as a religious progressive (and citizen of Queerville), even if they were not particularly religious themselves.

Whether they realize it or not, these individuals changed my perspective and have deeply influenced my life in multiple ways. They showed me what being an ally can truly mean. They taught me that actions can often speak louder than words. In my specific case, that meant more than just giving lip service to support of the presence of religious folks in queer and progressive spaces. These folks actually took the extra step and reached out to interfaith groups and specific faith communities to join in those spaces. Reaching out and actively including those to whom you wish to be an ally really goes the extra mile and makes them feel like their presence is desired and welcomed; it truly makes a difference.

In addition to showing me how to be a good ally, my allies stretched and challenged me to grow. They were often a source of deep and challenging questions for me, which caused me to think critically about my religious and progressive identities and their intersections and meaning to me. These questions were never with the intent to convince me that either of these identities is illegitimate in light of the other but were simply conversations about who I am and what I believe, which is extremely important. We need to be accountable for reflections on what our identities mean and what they mean to us.

Most importantly, though, they’ve taught me that it’s just best to be myself. They have taught me that I should be my whole self as much as possible, and not allow people’s potential perceptions of me or possible conflicts get in my way of being who I am. They taught me that it is okay and welcome to be religious in queer and progressive spaces; they taught me that it is acceptable and important to let my progressive flag fly in religious contexts.

The pride that I am now willing to show in these identities is thanks to you. I will always be thankful for the support and acceptance you have shown me, even if you didn’t realize it, and will appreciate the impact it has had on me. Thank you to all of you, and to all of the people who have performed similar functions in other people’s lives. I’m a progressive United Methodist citizen of Queerville and proud to say it.

Hoping and Waiting: My Work In Social Justice

by: Kara Crawford 

I had a recent conversation with the owner of my apartment. I live in Colombia, so we were speaking in Spanish, and on this particular occasion we were talking about Spanish. He told me stories of his time spent in the US and how he would occasionally have confusing moments where he only knew one translation for a word which stands for multiple ideas in Spanish, but its translation only means one of them.

A particularly funny case was with the word “cita,” which basically means anything you could put on your calendar, from appointment to date. He only knew the translation “date,” so needless to say he had some hilarious mishaps with  trying to set up appointments with coworkers and the like. (Imagine “what time is our date?” being the question in place of “what time is our appointment?” and you’ll get the picture.)

All hilarious language-related mishaps aside, it got me thinking, what other Spanish words have multiple meanings? One that came to mind was the verb “esperar,” which means either “to hope” or “to wait.” Since a lot of recent events in my life have much to do with hope and some to do with waiting, this really got me thinking about the two concepts.

Being a “rose-colored glasses” optimist, I tend to have many hopes. I see the possibility and hope in many aspects of life where pessimists might see risk and the chance for failure, and where realists might see both the pros and cons, both opportunity and risk. I want to believe that the things that I hope for can become a reality, because otherwise, I wonder, to what end do I do the work that I do? I sometimes wonder how someone could be willing to do any social change work without being particularly optimistic.

Much of my social change work in the past few months have been heavy on what I see as the dissonance between hoping and waiting. I hope for many changes to happen, but given the context in which they need to happen, I don’t have that much pull on whether or not they ultimately come through, so while I can exercise my agency in hopes of helping to sway some of the people who can affect the official changes, I still have to wait for those changes to be accepted by those who control them.

Take, for instance, my recent intensive work for queer inclusion in The United Methodist Church. As much as I hoped for the full inclusion of queer folks and was willing to work for it, I didn’t have a vote, and so my voice was limited to the extent to which delegates with a vote were willing to listen to it. Though I’ve hoped, worked, and waited for years for this change to happen, the waiting aspect of “esperar” persists.

I hope for change; I see possibility of change; my activist self is not willing to sit around and wait for change. While I still see the overall value of systemic change,  I wonder if it really makes all that much difference. Sure, The UMC could make a decision to affirm the full inclusion of queer folks; sure, laws could be passed against bullying and for marriage equality  and equal benefits and changing a whole plethora of other things in our society and world that need fixing, but if they aren’t enacted on the ground, they ultimately mean nothing.

We cannot simply call a victory the end of our work. Likewise, we cannot give up hope because of an apparent defeat. No matter the systemic change or lack thereof, we must always be working for grassroots change. With or without the laws and policies in place which officially bring change, it is really the grassroots changes which make the difference in the day-to-day reality of those suffering from injustice, oppression, and exclusion.

We must continue working with schools and youth programs to prevent bullying. We must continue encouraging religious communities in queer-inclusive efforts and practices on the local level. We must encourage employers to offer equal benefits to same-sex couples and other couples that do not have legal access to state recognition of their partnership for whatever reason (or who, for their own reasons, choose to not participate in the state institution).

We must never give up the fight at the grassroots level, because that is truly where changes make a difference in people’s lives, regardless of what happens at the institutional level. It is there where there is always hope for change, even if we must still “wait” for change.

Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.

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