Groups of faith seek to create affirming safe spaces for LGBTQ+

Ansley Puckett, Reporter

App State and Boone are no strangers to Bible studies and campus ministries; however, two spiritual groups seek to create spaces where members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and affirmed while in religious settings. 

The Well, which three App State students founded in November 2019, is a faith community for LGBTQ+ community members that affirms all identities and religious backgrounds. 

Co-founder Melanie Vause said she and her co-founders, Sarah Parker and Jordan Venditelli, started the group after seeing a need for a faith community that was welcoming to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Our group is not specifically Christian, but most of us just happen to have that kind of background, and so we wanted to make a space for those people to practice their faith and their spirituality if they still wanted to in a safe space and they were allowed to be their authentic selves,” Vause said. 

Venditelli, who is a first-year graduate divinity student at Harvard Divinity School, became involved in creating The Well last year after they saw a need for a campus ministry that would “deep dive” into Bible study and theology questions.

The Well welcomes members from all walks of life, including those with diverse religious backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations, that might otherwise feel unwelcome in other religious settings. 

Vause said the group also functions as a space where members can share stories and talk through traumatic experiences related to religion. 

“I think our goal is just to make a safe space for people who want to ask questions about faith, practice faith, talk about traumatic aspects of faith.  Overall, it’s just to make a safe space for people,” she said. 

As a welcoming space, Vause said The Well doesn’t tolerate hate from those who wish to invalidate someone’s identity. 

“We’re not here with an agenda to pull people in and then at one point turn around and tell them that they need to change,” Vause said. “That is absolutely not what we’re doing. It’s completely queer-found(ed) and queer-led and we’re going to keep it that way, hopefully.”

Off campus, App State graduates Lydia McGinnis and Venditelli created a “Queer Bible study” for graduates and community members struggling to find an LGBTQ+ community invested in religion and spirituality.

McGinnis said it was important to her to foster a more inclusive religious setting after struggling to find one in Boone.

“I felt kind of like a fish out of water in some ways because what I had been told my whole life is that being gay is a sin, but I knew that I could be gay and also be a Christian,” McGinnis said. “It was difficult at the time to find somewhere that I felt affirmed in my faith and also affirmed in my sexuality.”

For Venditelli, creating The Well and Bible study meant creating accepting spaces.

“I really value spaces where I can bring my full self, and I don’t have to hide parts of myself,” Venditelli said. “For me, it was really important to have a space where, ‘no, you are loved, you are treasured, you are accepted, and you can come as you are wholly and unabashedly yourself.”

The Bible study meets over Zoom every Sunday and Monday for an hour to be accessible to members living in different areas and with different time availability. 

“It was really important to me to make sure that this group that I’m a part of, the LGBTQ community, had a place to go to talk about those things together because a lot of places don’t, they allow it, but it’s not affirmed,” McGinnis said.

In the future, Vause hopes that more people will become aware of religious safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community and hopes that The Well can be that place for people. 

“There’s a lot of people out there who do have trauma from the church or have questions about faith but feel like they can’t ask them safely in other religious or spiritual spaces,” Vause said.

McGinnis said the overwhelming interest in the Bible study gives her hope that the group can make a real difference in the lives of spiritual members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I think that there’s going to be huge benefits in our faith through that, and also in our identities too because, you know, it’s been hard to balance both of those because of what a lot of us are taught,” McGinnis said.