Where Sexuality and Spirituality Combine

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Visiting activist Joshua Moon Johnson presented the lecture "Beyond Surviving: A Discussion on Sexuality and Spirituality" on Tuesday night at Peeler Art Center.
Johnson discussed the issues presented in his new book "Beyond Surviving: From Religious Oppression to Queer Activism," which focuses on Christian college-aged individuals of the LGBT community and their struggles with balancing their sexuality and religious beliefs.
The lecture was open to those of all faiths and affiliations and included an anonymous Q&A at the end in which audience members could text a question to a phone number, without having their identities attached. The lecture was sponsored by LGBT Services, United DePauw, Center for Spiritual Life & AAPI Initiative.
United DePauw Co-President Laila Howard emphasizes the importance of having healthy outlets for LGBT individuals and how college can be an opportune time for students who may be struggling.
"With spirituality and sexuality...the intersection of these two are particularly difficult for some people, and for LGBT students it can create an inner turmoil that really needs to be talked about," Howard said.
Johnson, the Director of LGBT Services at the University of California-Santa Barbara, began his lecture by providing information about his own background as a queer Asian-American who grew up in a Christian home. It was not until his mid-twenties that he had his first same-sex relationship. During this time of his life, he struggled with how his sexuality collided with the faith he grew up with.
Junior Maryclare Flores recognizes the value in having LGBT services and organizations like United DePauw and Code Teal on campus. However, she thinks that is it important to have models like Johnson to remind students to not only accept individuals for their sexuality but that "accepting them for all aspects of their identity, especially their religious beliefs, is something we should want to achieve, too."
Johnson continued to discuss how many Christian LGBT individuals have felt rejected from their family or their church community because of their sexuality. Such feelings can lead to self-hatred, doubt and depression. Johnson explained that these themes of helplessness are illustrated throughout his book in interviews with LGBT students. Some interviews reflect instances where the individual felt he or she had to lie about his or her beliefs to fit in or felt that his or her relationship with God was strained.
As one Catholic interviewee said about mixing her religion with her sexuality: "You can't have a relationship with God or that faith if you are queer."
Suicide is a common theme in the book as well "since it can be a theme in LGBT communities."
Johnson said this topic must be discussed openly so that students can better support their peers. He further explained that not everyone has the support to "come out," and that providing safe gathering spaces and other resources in college settings may be helpful for any distressed LGBT students.
Assistant Director of Campus Life and Coordinator of LGBT Services An-Vi Vivie Nguyen aims to invite more speakers like Johnson to campus who students can identify with on different levels.
"It's so important for these students to have access to good role models and recognize that here's somebody who's made it, who is young and going through the same thing," said Nguyen.