Panel of faith

The difficult dialogue of reconciling faith and sexual orientation was tackled yesterday at Queer Faith. Hillel UW, UW S.O.L.E. (Students Organizing for LGBT Equality) and Bridges: UW’s Interfaith Council organized the event that hosted a panel of four professionals and an open discussion where attendees were able to ask the panelists questions on the matter.

Panelists included chair of the Comparative Religion Program at the Jackson School of International Studies and associate professor James Wellman, Rabbis Jessica Marshall and Alan Cook, and Rev. Matt Smith.

Hillel intern and UW senior Annie Van Hees, who organized the event with the hope of creating educated dialogue and civil discourse about the inclusivity of LGBT members in each religion, said there are a lot of misconceptions in the LGBT community about organized religion.

“I think the LGBT community should be comfortable with religion,” Hees said. “I think that’s something that doesn’t exist right now because I feel like they think that most religions in general look down upon them or exclude them. I don’t think that that’s true because there are a lot of movements within each religion.”

At the start of the event, president of Bridges, Aaron Lerner said that the reason for having only two faiths represented, Christianity and Judaism, was because of the student group’s immediate connections to people who were comfortable in being part of this “difficult dialogue.”

Two UW students who were both religious and homosexual spoke at the event along with the panelists. One of those students was freshman Damon Yeutter, who said he grew up in a very conservative Christian household and faced an emotional reaction when he came out to his family.

Yeutter, who attends services, said his homosexuality is a “hot button issue” within his family and faith, and that he felt the discussion was important.

“I think it’s something that needs to be talked about,” he said. “There’s a lot more to religion than my sexuality.”

Both rabbis on the panel were reformed Jews, and Rev. Smith is openly gay. As a result, the panelists’ discussion was focused on progressive movements within their respective religions.

“When you get into orthodoxy, the discussion becomes narrower,” Van Hees said.

Before an open discussion, the panelists were asked three general questions regarding their own personal and their faith’s stances on gay rights, as well as their thoughts on whether God has a gender.

Panelists spoke for their faith’s and their own personal view on each topic, including Professor Wellman, who also added historical and academic aspects to the discussion.

At the end of the night, Van Hees was surprised at how many people had shown up to the event, and stressed the importance of continuing discussion on the topic.

“I want students to become more aware, because people really avoid the topic of homosexuality and religion,” she said. “Religion is something that you personally believe, not something you portray onto others.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Lee at news@dailyuw.com.

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