Rainbow Center lecture explores ways for spirituality and sexuality to coexist

Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long talks about his life as a Roman Catholic priest and Christianity's tensions with sexuality in the Rainbow Center on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Inside the Rainbow Center there are a series of stained glass windows. Although these windows depict images much different from jewel-bright portraits of the Virgin Mary or sharply illuminated saints, they still call to mind the most famous museums for stained glass: churches. Nobody would ever confuse the warm and colorful environment of the Rainbow Center with the pews and altars of traditional churches, but the resemblance in art selection did make a great setting for this week’s Gender, Sexuality, and Community Out to Lunch lecture. This week’s topic: Queer Spirituality in a Post-Christian Context.

The lecture series is a part of a university course that includes a class component, but all lectures are public. Guest scholars and community activists lead discussions; among them, associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long, who spoke today about his experiences as both a member of the LGBTQ community and a spiritually active man.

According to Long, spirituality and queer sexuality are not mutually exclusive. A spiritual man and, for a period of time in his past, a Catholic priest, Long is not willing to ignore the validity of sexuality.

“We have these bodies,” said Long in the lecture. “These bodies have feelings. They have pleasures. They have pains.”

Whether or not the church agrees with what the body wants, the body still wants, which can sometimes put a divide between the church and the LGBTQ community. The trick is finding a way to bridge that divide.

I want to be a part of an ethical community
— Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long

During the lecture, there was a think/pair/share activity in which participants were asked to converse with their neighbors about their personal religious practices and whether they had ever run into tension or conflict within these practices. There was significant diversity in the religious affiliations represented yet, at the same time, many attendees were able to find others with a similar religious upbringing who had similar experiences and thus were able to relate to one another.

Long shared his experiences with the church as well. Raised Catholic, Long became a priest early in life, even after he had begun to identify as gay. For a time, he said, the church seemed to be making reformations and accepting all those within it. However, eventually things began to slide back and there came a time when he no longer felt he could accurately represent the views of the church through his priesthood. He resigned.

While telling his life story, Long recounted times he had participated in activism, whether marching outside of a homophobic church, or participating in civil disobedience. Yet Long also recounted several personal experiences, including a romantic venture and interactions with a number of AIDS victims. Although perhaps his activism was more directly related to the church, Long also identified his romantic ventures as spiritual and his interaction with AIDS victims as a way of confronting his own mortality. Clearly, a church is not the only venue for spirituality.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that the stained glass windows of the Rainbow Center are so very appropriate. They harken to the spiritual while not prescribing to any specific faith. Although he took some time away from organized religion, Long now attends an Episcopal church. After openly admitting he is skeptical of many religious “facts,” Long gave a different reason for attending.

“I want to be a part of an ethical community,” he said.

Thinking about spirituality as being more related to ethics and less related to God could be one way to go about bridging the divide between the spiritual and the sexual.


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.