By Ross Murray
The myth that coronavirus would be “the great equalizer” has been thoroughly debunked. The chasm in both prevention and treatment has been clearly demarcated, with people of color, the elderly, the poor, and immigrants bearing the brunt of the pandemic. People with intersecting marginalized identities have always been at greater risk in public health crises, including the public health crisis of violence against black bodies. Black trans women especially experience some of the highest rates of violence in the country. Consider this baseline. Now add a pandemic.
The LGBTQ community as a whole is disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, exposing long-standing inequities and a lack of access to resources. This may run counter to the impression you get from popular media depicting sassy gay men with disposable income. The reality is that the LGBTQ community is very broad and diverse, and only a small percentage of us resemble Will from Will & Grace.
Start With Accurate Information
According to a report by the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ people are more likely than the general population to work in industries closed down because of the coronavirus. One in ten LGBTQ people are unemployed and more likely to live in poverty, meaning they cannot afford health care. Many do not have paid leave, meaning they continue working in high-risk jobs. Many have experienced discrimination in health care, complicating their ability to meaningfully engage with the medical community.
None of these inequalities were created by the coronavirus, but they are exacerbated by a disease that already taxes the uneven American medical system. Your congregation can be a balm for the suffering, but ministry with the LGBTQ community needs to come with some understanding of what the community is facing.
Acknowledge the Church’s History
There is also a significant fear of our very churches and religious institutions. While discerning any potential congregational ministry directed toward the LGBTQ community, you must take account of the historic tension that has existed between the church and the LGBTQ community. If you have spent years speaking against LGBTQ people, marriage equality, and transgender people, it will be very hard for them to accept your charity.
For some older LGBTQ members, coronavirus brings up memories of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when the government and churches saw the virus as divine retribution and ignored the virus, or worse, cheered it on, while it wiped out millions of LGBTQ people. Our church has grown and become more LGBTQ inclusive in the years since the AIDS epidemic. However, certain prominent voices who claim Christianity continue to claim AIDS is God’s punishment for sin.
Young LGBTQ people who haven’t come out to their family have anxiety, or those in unaccepting homes may feel trapped in a space where they cannot safely be who they are. They will feel less safe being open and honest while quarantining at home. This is an especially frightening idea for youth scared of being kicked out of their homes because the parents have internalized anti-LGBTQ messages from virtual or real pulpits. Remember, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. They have fewer places to go if their home becomes unsafe, since shelters are at capacity, highly contagious, or hostile to LGBTQ people because of religious beliefs.
Even if, and especially if, you “aren’t that sort of Christian,” you need to understand that the predominant narrative about the relationship between the Christian church and LGBTQ people has been framed as inherent opposition. To do effective ministry, you need to address this framing head on. Doing ministry with LGBTQ people within your congregational community means being aware of the potential discrepancies listed above.
Listen and Discern
You can only find how these discrepancies are playing out by listening and discerning. Go at least one circle outside of your congregational membership. Ask your LGBTQ members what they are hearing about the impact of COVID-19 in the local LGBTQ community. Even if your LGBTQ members are more privileged, they are likely aware of who is struggling the most. Once you map out where the community deficiencies are, find ways that your congregation can fill them.
If your congregation is offering a direct services ministry, like a food pantry, day care, or AA meeting, spend time asking how your congregation can address the discrepancies experienced by LGBTQ people within the realm of your existing ministry. Some don’t seem obvious, but when you look beneath the surface, you may find ways that you can help be a part of the solution.
Connect to the LGBTQ programs existing in your city or state. Many of the most marginalized within the LGBTQ community rely on LGBTQ social service programs for community, support programs, and resources. Many LGBTQ centers are trying to provide some services remotely, even while their buildings are shut down and funding opportunities are drying up. Ask your local or statewide LGBTQ organizations what resources have been lost because of the pandemic. If your congregation can help to supplement with a specific need, offer to help them.
Reframe Your Message
Beyond basic charity, our churches have the ability to reframe and address the root evils that have been exposed by the coronavirus. Your preaching and teaching can point to the Kingdom of God, where everyone has enough and no one is suffering. Speak to the discrepancy in care and the lack of resources for LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. Incorporate them into your sermon, Bible study and pastoral care outreach. You’ll find many passages in scripture and in the revised common lectionary that address inequality. Teach your congregation about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ community in your preaching and in your internal communications, devotions, and emails.
Even further, take that message outside of your church walls. As a faith leader in your community, reach out to elected leaders to remind them of your deeply held religious belief in the care and concern for those most marginalized. Remind them of their duty to care for all their constituents. Thank them for what they have done, and challenge them to do more. Support for the marginalized during a pandemic shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but the reality is that it is perceived that way. Some leaders have jumped into action. Others have avoided responsibility by shifting blame. And yet others have leveraged this panic to further their own agenda. Each one of those types of community leaders needs to hear from clergy, deacons, and people of faith who can understand the discrepancy I described above.
Remember that those more privileged of the LGBTQ community (often those who are white, wealthier, employed at a job they can perform remotely) may not feel the disproportionate impacts, which will mostly be borne by queer people of color, bisexual and transgender people. Often, LGBTQ people who are a part of our congregational communities are those who are have resources and resiliency. Those with intersecting minority identities will likely face discrimination and have fewer resources.
While the platform of ministry during COVID-19 has radically changed, the underlying principles of ministry remain as constant as the God who created us, knows us, and loves us. We continue to be called to share God’s redeeming love with the world in word and deed. We continue to preach a word of liberation to those who need to hear it. Liberation in a pandemic may look like a listening ear, a tangible need met, or a community of love and support. But all these things remind LGBTQ people that they are loved and redeemed by God.
Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute, which provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement training and education for LGBTQ and allied community members and organizations desiring to deepen their media impact. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Ross is a consecrated Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with a specific calling to advocate for LGBTQ people and to bridge the LGBTQ and faith communities.
Photo by Pedro Sandrini
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