Photos by Tebben GIll Lopez/The Mirror

Apart from the common controversial conversation of homosexuality and religion, LGBTQ history month’s key note speaker advocated to students to talk about the subjects in dialogue, not in debate.

On Oct. 10, the eve of National Coming Out Day, Fairfield’s gay advocacy club, Alliance, hosted famed author and self proclaimed “faitheist” Chris Stedman, who spoke on his lifelong struggles.

Stedman, who also titled his book “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious,” talks about his story as an ex-evangelical Christian-turned-gay-atheist and his goal to bridge the gap that divides religious and non-religious voices through interfaith dialogue.

Stedman grew up in a family that didn’t practice religion. He became a born-again Christian at age 11, after reading accounts on individuals’ suffering, like in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Soon after, Stedman came out as gay — the only openly gay student in his high school — and was bullied.

“I realized I became a Christian because I was looking for a community that cared about justice and suffering,” Stedman said. “I didn’t believe in the doctrine, I just accepted God as part of the package deal.”

From then on, Stedman identified as an atheist.

As students waited for the talk to begin, Stedman looked out at the audience inside of Gonzaga’s auditorium and asked for everyone to shake the hand of a student they did not know.

His purpose in this exercise was not, as he jokingly said, “an excuse to get my notes together,” but to have everyone be more comfortable with one another.

Being both gay and identifying as an atheist, Stedman explained how he himself is subject to feeling deviant from the “norms” of society.  Because of this, he strives to make people more comfortable with each other every day.

And, after experiencing religious questioning in his own childhood, Stedman continued to face the problem of bridging the gap of between atheists and believers in adulthood. His solution: interfaith dialogue.

He worked with Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization which brings people of different faiths together to build a better world on the basis of mutual understanding and respect.

“Interfaith dialogue lets us see the humanity in one another,” Stedman said.

According to Stedman, dialogue is the precursor toward relationships. He cited a statistic from the Pew Research Center that 14 percent of Americans who used to oppose marriage equality, now support it because they have a close friend or family member in the LGBTQ community.

While Stedman believes education on the LGBTQ community is important, it is the relationships with members of this community that lead to transformations.

Sophomore Amanda Healey believes the best way to deal with life is through community.

“People come from all different walks of life: different religions, worldviews and sexual orientation. We should come together to learn about life and make this world a kinder and more understanding place,” Healey said.

Stedman encouraged everyone to step out of the shadows, challenge societal barriers and share their stories.

“I place my faith in humanity,” Stedman said, who identifies as a secular humanist. “I believe it’s up to human beings to build the world we want to see.”

Senior Ricky Solano, president of Alliance, was impressed by Stedman’s humanist perspective.

“Bridging the gap represents what [Alliance] wants to do,” Solano said.

Alliance provides an inclusive community and safe space for LGBTQ students and allies to talk, as well as to promote campus-wide acceptance.

Senior and Vice President of Alliance Jesus Nunez helped organize events in honor of October being LGBTQ history month. Nunez said Stedman was chosen as their keynote speaker because there isn’t a lot of talk about other religions besides Christianity, and they hope to raise LGBTQ awareness on campus.

In Stedman’s words, “We’re here. We’re LGTBQ. Get used to it. Oh, and we’d like to be your friends.”


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