UC Berkeley students navigate intersection of LGBTQ+, Christian communities

Brianna Luna /Staff

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Last semester, a campuswide controversy rooted in the ASUC brought to light a rift between the Christian and LGBTQ+ communities at UC Berkeley — one that many campus students have been trying to address.

Campus junior and ASUC Senator-elect Romario — who is a member of both communities — said last semester’s controversy drew attention to the fact that not all Christians recognize or condone the existence of the LGBTQ+ community. He added that, as a result, the LGBTQ+ community has felt the divide between the two communities.

“I can’t speak on behalf of everyone — people have different reactions, different handling,” Romario said. “But the LGBTQ+ community feels isolated and pushed away from the Christian community.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Romario said he looks to Christianity as a source to uplift himself and others and that it is upsetting that not all members of the Christian community promote an inclusive space.

Citing the controversy surrounding Christian community-endorsed ASUC Senator Isabella Chow’s anti-LGBTQ+ remarks at a public ASUC meeting last semester, Romario said that as an elected official, Chow should be held accountable to all students. ASUC Senator-elect Rebecca Soo, who will replace Chow as the Christian-endorsed senator for the 2019-20 academic year, campaigned on a platform to reconcile the Christian and LGBTQ+ communities.

“The Christian community must make the effort to repair the relationship,” Romario said. “It must be the labor of Rebecca Soo, Isabella Chow, Unity in Christ and other Christian organizations to repair the harm they caused to the campus community, particularly the queer and trans community.”

Soo, however, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Romario is only one of many campus students at the intersection of the LGBTQ+ and Christian communities who aim to address the divide between the two communities.

A campus junior, who requested anonymity because he has not come out publicly, said in an email that he was a member of a Christian fellowship on campus but has since left because of frustration with the fellowship’s lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“I wanted them to mourn with me, to get angry with me, and to stand in solidarity with the trans and intersex communities,” the student said in an email. “To my disappointment, the people in my fellowship were silent.”

The student added in an email that although he wanted to instigate a change in the fellowship, he was too traumatized to remain a part of the organization. He still reconciles the relationship between queer people and Christianity, however, through his beliefs that “Christ’s love is unconditional” and that “God … loves and celebrates queer people.”

A campus sophomore, who identifies as bisexual and requested anonymity because she has not come out, said that although she is a member of a Berkeley church that she loves, she has never felt safe enough to share her identity.

“I’ve never, never gotten a response that I’ve felt was satisfying or merited by Christians on the topic of homosexuality,” the student said. “It’s something that I’ve always wondered about, and if I got a concrete response, one way or another, I would be satisfied, but I feel that I haven’t gotten that.”

A campus junior, who identifies as gay and requested anonymity because she fears backlash from the Christian community, said that while she respects and follows the Bible, being gay or transgender is a taboo topic that often does not come up during Christian outreach.

The student said she is not alone, as she has met other bisexual or “questioning gay people” in the church who have either hidden or denied their identities to be in line with what some people in the church believe.

“Being unable to share those experiences and stifling that — I thought that was very sad for a community that would proclaim itself to be loving,” she said. “I just thought it was a very sad way to live.”

The student also said there may be a possibility for reconciliation through love, empathy and the willingness to look deeper as well as investigation and openness from the Christian community.

Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion at the Pacific School of Religion, echoed the students’ sentiment.

“They’re not two distinct communities,” Schlager said. “It’s been a hopeful time for the LGBTQ+ community — now there are more denominations supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Schlager added that there have been queer people in every denomination — although, unfortunately, many feel they have to hide their identities.

The University Lutheran Chapel, located on Southside, is one denomination that has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ+ community. A rainbow flag flies high on the chapel, which welcomes people of “all sexual orientations and gender identities,” according to the chapel’s website.

“We try to love each other abundantly and serve our neighbors well,” the chapel’s website states. “Beyond simple inclusion, we believe that queerness is a gift from God and that queer people have unique and valuable insights to offer our community.”

Romario said that, historically, the LGBTQ+ community has faced challenges from the Christian community, but he emphasized that he will continue to advocate for people “on the margins.”

“I believe we are all created in God’s perfect image,” Romario said. “We all make mistakes, but our core identities are not (mistakes).”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.