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The Reverend Robert Martin poses for a portrait inside of First Presbyterian Church on Court Street. Martin has been a pastor at First Presbyterian for the last five years and would be open to LGBT parishioners.

Religious and spiritual LGBT students search for a place to belong

Correction appended

Pres Seymore’s father was a musical minister in her grandfather’s non-denominational church in Jacksonville, Florida.

“When I was really, really young he came home and he picked my mom up in the kitchen and kind of twirled her around and I was like, ‘I want to treat somebody like my dad treats my mom.’ ... My dad said they knew before I did,” Seymore, a junior studying music education, said.

As a third generation “preacher’s kid,” Seymore had the love and support of her family when she came out about her queer sexuality. Her case however, Seymore said, was special. She was never made to feel wrong about who she was and who she loved.

Many religious LGBT students don’t feel like they have an inclusive place to practice their faith or spirituality. Seymore said college campuses have a responsibility to create a welcoming environment for those students because many come from families who were not as supportive as hers.

Similarly, the decision was made about 40 years ago that United Campus Ministry would work together to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for religious LGBT and non-religious LGBT people alike.

“There’s just been this relationship that the founders of UCM committed to justice, committed to inclusion,” delfin bautista, the director of the LGBT Center, said.

United Campus Ministry’s attitude toward LGBT people from its very beginning set the tone for other religious congregations in the area, bautista, who uses the lowercase spelling of their name and they/them pronouns, said. All in all, the relationship between many churches in the Athens area and LGBT people has been progressively positive, bautista said.

In the early 2000s, a rainbow LGBT sticker was placed on the front sign of the First Presbyterian Church on Court Street — signaling their welcoming of anyone who might have previously felt excluded. The gesture was a small step that meant a lot for many.

Many churches on and around Ohio University like First Presbyterian aim to be LGBT inclusive. However, most churches and religious and spiritual organizations on campus are missing the mark, Seymore said. It’s not enough to put a rainbow sticker on the front sign — conversations need to be had.

“Personally, I believe that we’re all part of the beloved community whether we identify ourselves as straight, homosexual — that those are just part of who we are, but don’t encompass us as a total being,” Rev. Robert Martin of First Presbyterian Church said.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 to legalize same-sex marriage, the Presbyterian church held the stance that it is up to each individual pastor whether they want to perform those marriages. Martin has performed four marriages of same-sex couples.

For some LGBT people who identify with a certain faith, coming to college and searching for a religious community that is accepting and inclusive to all sexualities can sometimes be difficult, Martin said.

“I got a call and (a student) wanted to sit down and talk with me. They said, ‘Am I a bad person? Am I going to hell? Do I need to see a therapist?’ and that was really hard… ‘I was just told at bible study that I’m a horrible person,’ ” Martin said.

Churches such as the Episcopal church, Lutheran church and the Methodist church as well as Hillel and United Campus Ministry have had a good history of communication and cooperation with the LGBT people in Athens, bautista said. And while progress has been made, there is room for a lot of improvement, especially within the Catholic and Baptist communities.

“In the course that I teach this semester, there are a lot of folks who were raised Catholic, recovering Catholic, went to Catholic school and don’t know if they have a place within the Catholic world here in Athens,” bautista said.

Seymore said she has had a hard time finding a place to be her “authentic self” as a black and gay Christian

“The thing that is kind of perpetuated in our society, especially in Athens, is that the Catholic Church ... has negative opinions, I guess, of people in the LGBTQ community." Paul Riffon, director of Catholic Campus Ministry, said. "I think the main reason for that is because of the church’s stance on marriage."

The disconnect is largely due to a lack of conversations being had on both ends, Riffon said.

“It does break my heart to hear people just type a Catholic as a closed minded, archaic, (that) sort of thing. That hasn’t been my experience — at least when Catholicism is done well,” Riffon said.

Improving those lines of communication is a current priority for bautista, they said.

Seymore, who now leads the Interfaith Inquiries, a bible study group at the LGBT Center, said she felt unwelcome when she tried to participate in a religious student organization on campus.

“If there is a religious group that is receiving funding from the university, then the university needs to require them and enforce the requirement of no discrimination towards these students no matter what,” Seymore said.


Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated the name if a bible study group.  The group's name is Interfaith Inqueeries. The article has been updated to show the correct information. 

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