Rainbow Alliance, UCM host interfaith LGBTQ+ panel on queerness and faith


Courtesy of University Christian Ministry

University Christian Ministry at 1834 Chicago Ave. The virtual event explored queerness and faith and the journeys of the panelists in reconciling the two.

Tal Schatsky, Assistant Campus Editor

Queer faith leaders discussed LGBTQ+ identity and religion in a virtual panel co-hosted by Northwestern’s Rainbow Alliance and University Christian Ministry on Thursday.

The conversation was moderated by UCM Campus Minister Rev. Julie Windsor Mitchell and featured Rabbi Rachel Weiss from the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, NU’s Associate Director for Religious Life and Chapel Music Eric Budzynski and Juan Pablo Herrera of the Cosmopolitan United Church in Melrose Park. The panel discussed their journeys with their faith and queer identities and answered questions submitted by the audience before and during the event.

For Herrera and Budzynski, who were both raised in religious Christian households, embracing their queerness was a necessary split from the religious paths they were raised on.

“(It was a) kind of painful breakup, realizing that this church will never accept me for who I really am,” Budzynski said. “If I can’t be married, if I can’t participate in the sacraments of the church, then I can’t be a full member.”

After spending time in and eventually leaving a monastery, Budzynski found his own outlet in church music and spirituality. He had worked as a church organist since age 12 and said “leading church music was a conduit, a way to express my faith and still kind of have a part of a vocation that I knew I couldn’t have.”

Budzynski said his journey navigating this “breakup” exposed him to what he now understands as “religious plurality:” finding answers to life’s big questions through multiple channels, including mindfulness, meditation and spiritual wellness.

After years in conversion therapy in his youth, Herrera remained committed to the church as he had been raised — queerness was not in the picture. It was not until recently that he discovered it was in fact possible to reconcile queerness and Christianity. In 2017, he visited Urban Village Church in Wicker Park and saw LGBTQ+ individuals in church for the first time.

Over time, Herrera said, he has come to celebrate faith and queerness in tandem, thinking of “God as someone that transcends gender,” and engaging in projects that have held a drag show as a worship service or held a worship service in a gay bar. He said he now works on a weekly podcast exploring the intersection of drag and spirituality.

Unlike Herrera and Budzynski, Weiss said she did not struggle to celebrate queerness and Judaisim in tandem. In New York, she served at the largest LGBTQ+ synagogue in the world. She attributes the culture of inclusion she has been able to find in Judaism to the legacy of queer Jews that predated her.

“My coming out was not about rejecting a religious tradition,” Weiss said. “It wasn’t a struggle for me in that way. But I’m standing on the shoulders of the decades and decades and decades of queer people of faith that made that possible.”

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Twitter: @binahschatsky

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