Panel at HDS Discusses Religious Debates Over Sexuality

Mark Jordan
HDS professor Mark D. Jordan. Justin Knight

Harvard Divinity School (HDS) hosted “Queer Youth and Religious Debates over Sexuality,” a panel discussion held Oct. 7 on queer youth in the United States and their relationship to religion and the church. Cheryl A. Giles, Peabody Professor of the Practice in Pastoral Care and Counseling at HDS, moderated the conversation, which featured prominent gay rights activists and leaders from across the country.

HDS professor Mark D. Jordan — a prolific author on how American churches debate over homosexuality around adolescents — explained that, while much has changed over the last half-century in church debate, one thing that has not changed is that queer youth are regularly talked about, but almost never allowed to speak for themselves.

“Queer youth are at once featured and erased, or displaced, by simplistic views of them, and the fights about them often try to claim them for one camp or another — either religious or queer, but rarely both,” Jordan said. “So the debates keep cycling, powered by these unchallenged habits of speech.”

Jordan, speaking in front of a large audience inside Andover Hall on the HDS campus, explained how homophobic Christian discourses damage all queer youth, but they are especially damaging to queer youth in Christian homes, and worse, for youth who believe.

“We have to get them better news about God,” he said. “We have to present them with convincing pictures of their own queer futures as believers. We have to open for them actual spaces in which they can be queer and religious. Exile from religion cannot be the cost of admission to queer life, especially for the young.”

Fellow panelist Harry Knox, director of Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, implored the audience, composed largely of students, to pick up the vision of the older generation and to utilize resources available to them as the struggle for equality continues.

Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, has worked for gender justice for 30 years. She called attention to the drastic need for conversations about religion that include transgender youth. Other participants included writer and activist Irene Monroe, and Pam Garramone, executive directory of Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People.