I speak as both a transgender woman and as an Anglican priest, currently serving as an Uniting Church Minister. As a Queer Christian I am not alone. There are many of us in Sydney, and across the world. For we, and queer people of other faiths, have always existed. We can be found in the Bible, throughout history, and we are very much alive today. Yet our lives are so commonly denied. For we are an inconvenient truth: inconvenient both to the Christians who oppose us, and inconvenient also to others, including some in the queer community, who would deny our lives. As such, we are at the heart of the continuing culture wars we seek to end today and we share in the solidarity and hope which this gathering embodies. Indeed, without us the battles we face together simply cannot be won. We so need each other and we badly need others to hear our voices and act upon them...
Over the last few weeks, Sydney Queer Christians have come under attack. You may have heard a few aspects of this: perhaps about the assaults on the rainbow steps at the church where I am the Minister. That is but the tip of the iceberg. Even before Sydney WorldPride officially began, Pitt Street Uniting Church was receiving hate and harassment. This started the moment we put up our large Rainbow Christians Together banner over the entry - a banner eventually ripped down and stolen as verbal abuse, physical intimidation, and online hate and harassment escalated daily. We have not been alone in this. Other queer led or queer affirming Sydney churches have seen property defaced and people hatefully attacked. Catholics, not least, have been in the firing line. I was myself specifically identified by the Christian Lives Matters video which recorded the assault on the recent Catholic Mass of Thanksgiving for LGBTIQ+ people and which went viral across far right-wing networks across the world. However that is but one publicly recognised feature of the hate and harassment against Catholics involved, not least the religious sisters and the queer Catholic community. For what we protest today is not a series of isolated events but a deliberate, organised, campaign against LGBTIQ+ people as a whole, and not least against queer people of faith. Indeed, for the Christian Right, if LGBTIQ+ people as a whole are regarded as heading for the hell they have invented for us all, then their inner circle of hell is above all reserved for queer Christians. We, queer Christians, not only expose the lies of the Christian Right. Our lives, our very existence, contradict their basic claims to represent faith. We therefore need to be seen and heard, and we need to share in solidarity with all who are being attacked.
Over recent weeks, with little from help the wider community, Sydney Queer Christians has done some amazing work. Pitt Street Uniting Church has been at the heart of this, as a fully LGBTIQ+ affirming church for decades, long before the corporates and mainstream politicians started jumping on the Mardi Gras bandwagon. Yet our queer Christian efforts cross all boundaries. Our leadership includes Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelicals and Pentecostals, as well as many Uniting Church folk. We have people from all across the LGBTIQA+ spectrum. In addition, we work closely with queer people of other faith: not least Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Aboriginal people as in the Queer Faces of Faith exhibition still available to see in Pitt Street Uniting Church and online at amplifyqueerfaith.com.au.
This city, this state, has so much toxicity, inequality, homophobia and transphobia. So what we protest today is but the most visible current form. It demands specific attention but we must go much further. It is simply not enough to festoon this city with Mardi Gras rainbows and party unless we address the pressing issues of transphobic and homophobic violence and discrimination. We Queer Christians therefore call for three things.
Firstly, we call on all our politicians to pledge real change for New South Wales. It is way since time this State moved forward. How on earth have we let Mark Latham set the legislative agenda?! It is good that various politicians, including the Premier, have pledged support for vitally needed conversion therapy legislation, but this must be the very best we can get - like Victoria, not Queensland. But that is just a start. Not least, we need trans rights legislation not more debates on trans existence. And we need genuine trans health provision, accessible housing, and radical improvements in employment, education and mental health support.
Secondly, we call for a shift in priorities among some queer community leaders. We call for the empowerment of those of us who are often marginalised: like queer people of faith, First Nations leaders, people of other than Anglo ethnicity, and gender diverse people. For queer people of faith it certainly typically feels as if we are caught in a kind of domestic violence situation – not only within our faith structures, but also in the lateral violence of some queer community struggles. Yet unless all our voices are heard, we will never defeat the very real enemies we face.
Thirdly, we call on faith leaders to stand up with us. I am thankful that the Moderator of the Uniting Church of New South Wales has done just that: speaking out against homophobia and transphobia in the face of the Christian Lives Matter attacks. Yet who else will do so? Loving your neighbour and following the Golden Rule are simply non-negotiable. That is the heart of true faith, not persecuting others. Yet, even when Christian Lives Matter attack fellow Catholics, we still await action from the Sydney Catholic hierarchy. Others also drag their feet when they could do so much more. Well, it is the Christian season of Lent, and a time of repentance. So we call on all faith leaders to repent of the homophobia and transphobia in their midst and to be proactive. We call for an end to all forms of spiritual abuse and the deliberate or unconscious collusion with the forces of oppression.
Let me end with a note of hope. Christian Lives Matter and their fellow travelers must be opposed. Yet we should not be downcast. It is not only that they connect with those who offer no way forward; whether old embittered straight white men, like Mark Latham, or yesterday’s faith leaders like Fred Nile. It is that, whilst tough to endure, their crude bigotry is also about despair. For, as the old saying has it, the truth is that they used to ignore us, then laugh at us, and now they fight us, but that is because we will soon win, and their desperation shows we are already winning. That is certainly our Queer Christian experience. For they poured the grey paint of their hatred across our rainbow steps. But they could not erase our joy and we painted them again. Then they tore into the fabric membrane that held the rainbow paint. But we would not let their violation of our sacred places remove our message of hope. So we restored the torn fabric not back into one, but into two rainbow ribbons – doubling our hope and determination. They then pulled down and stole our banner, our message from rainbow Christians: that Love is Love.
The thing is – unlike Christian Lives Matter, and others who claim the name of Christ and then betray it – Queer Christians actually believe in Jesus-like Love. We are foolish enough to believe in joy and hope and love. We are foolish enough to believe that love is always stronger than hate. We are foolish enough to believe in new life, in resurrection – and so we know that, with all our queer siblings and allies, we will rise.
Thank you for listening, and, much more, for standing up together today..
by the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin, Sat 18 March 2023, Queen’s Square, Macquarie St Sydney
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.