‘Like a Love Letter to Queer Youth’ | Sojourners

‘Like a Love Letter to Queer Youth’

'Queer Youth of Faith Day' social media graphics. Courtesy Beloved Arise.

June 30 marks the end of Pride Month, and Beloved Arise is closing out celebrations with its second annual Queer Youth of Faith Day. The organization, dedicated to LGBTQ youth of faith, is joined by several co-hosts, including LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project, LGBTQ advocacy organization PFLAG, Jewish Queer Youth, Q Christian Fellowship, and Interfaith Alliance.

Queer Youth of Faith Day programming — including identity-based affinity groups, history lessons, and panels featuring queer youth of faith from across multiple denominations — will be livestreamed on their website starting at 2 p.m. Eastern time the event will also include a support group for parents of LGBTQ youth of faith.

Jun Love Young, founder and director of Beloved Arise, said the event couldn’t come at a better time. “It seems that many religious communities and denominations are doubling down on anti-queer theology and traditions,” Young said, noting the increase in anti-trans legislation targeting trans youth across many states, which some connect to an evangelical movement to enshrine the gender binary.

Knowing that many queer youth feel isolated within their faith communities and homes, Young founded Beloved Arise in early 2020 as a “third space” where welcoming faith and sexuality coexist. According to the Trevor Project, nearly 40 percent of LGBTQ young people are religious.

“More than ever, we need to center on queer youth who are watching, who are paying attention, to see if who they are is acceptable in God's sight,” Young said.

Heaven Carter Williams, an 18-year-old member of Beloved Arise’s Youth Advisory Council, had been looking for clues and answers when she found Beloved Arise on Instagram.

“Honestly, resources for queer people of faith in general are just so limited, so I was really on the lookout for that, because I was in a really hard time in my life,” Williams said. After discovering their account, Williams joined Beloved Arise’s online youth group.

“I started to feel a disconnect from [faith spaces], once I really started to come to terms with my sexuality. I started to feel less welcome,” Williams explained. “I was really just seeking [community] out for support, because I really thought I was one of the only [queer people of faith] — which wasn't true.”

People like Williams are exactly who Young had in mind when founding Beloved Arise. The second year of Queer Youth of Faith Day hopes to further broaden community for queer youth of faith of all denominations. Sessions include a live episode of Queerology, a podcast hosted by Matthias Roberts; an advocacy panel hosted by GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization; and a live reading of scripture with Rev. Alex McNeill of More Light Presbyterian’s Liberation Bible Study podcast. Young hopes that QYFD’s programming will show the “kids looking for clues” that they are “worthy of celebration, worthy of love songs.”

Love songs, in particular, have become part of Beloved Arise’s mission. In early June 2021, Beloved Arise released Serenade, an album of love songs for LGBTQ youth of faith.

“We [gave the musicians] a creative brief saying, here's what we think this album should be: It should just feel like a love letter to queer youth in however way you want to express that,” Young said. “And that's exactly what these artists have come up with.”

Young says that faith music has a special part to play in creating inclusion for LGBTQ youth of faith.

“[Zephaniah 3:17 tells] us that God sings songs of love over us. And we want to do the same thing,” he said.

Williams, who is Beloved Arise's youth ambassador for Serenade, found that affirmation while working on the album.

“It was really special to me because it was a symbol to me of how far I've come with accepting myself and two very important parts of me,” Williams said. “[Serenade] was kind of like a marker for how far I've come and how far everyone else has come too. There's now an album for queer youth of faith. That's amazing.”

Beloved Arise is hoping to make a similar impact with its Queer Youth of Faith Day programming, which expanded from a short, hour-long program in its first year to a full day of panels and sessions.

“We wanted to invite more people to the table — to the party, so we just started approaching various organizations and many of our partners to say, ‘What can you do? If we're building a soup, what ingredient can you bring?'” Young said.

As a result, Young says that this year’s programming is inclusive of other faiths. While Beloved Arise currently focuses on youth across Christian denominations, they hope to partner with other faith organizations to broaden their reach.

Young knows there’s much work left to do to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth of faith. He said he hopes that Beloved Arise’s work will serve as an invitation to other organizations, particularly larger ones, to take on some of that work.

“Queer people, we all have our wounds. But adults, at least we have resources: We [may] have a place to live, we have finances, we have emotional, social support. Many of these kids just don't have that, which is why they gravitate to Beloved Arise, which is this online space,” Young said. “So many of the kids that come to us [for youth group], they don't have anything anywhere nearby. And so this is the only lifeline they have, two hours a week, where they can show up exactly as they are, let down their guard. And that is so healthy and transformative for these young kids. I just wish that there were more third spaces.”

People interested in participating can find streaming links to be added to the QYFD website.

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