Emily Johnson, Staff Writer~
Every Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. in the terrace level of the Spiritual Life Center, Wilmer Writing Center director Jer Bryant meets with the LGBTQIA+ Spirituality group to discuss students’ spiritual paths and support within the Lynchburg community. The group intends to provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students to contemplate their spiritual experiences in many different religions and spiritualities, while also remaining confidential and supportive of each member.
“We didn’t want it to be locked down to one religion, because people of different religions around the community are often struggling to fit in. [This club] is a place where they already fit in,” Bryant said. “People who are interested in new age spirituality are coming. People interested in paganism are coming. I think they perceive those paths as more accepting, but in actuality there are a lot of groups in the Judaeo-Christian realm that are very accepting, so they’ll get exposure to that as well.”
The number of members is growing weekly, after starting out at three original members.The goal is to grow the program in order to allow students to feel safety in the size of the group. Bryant described the growth of the program as a “safety in numbers.” As more people join, it will become more well-known and accepted to become a member.
“Members can just show up,” Bryant said. “They don’t need to sign up. We are trying to get a list of people who are interested so that we can keep
them informed about what we’ll talk about and do.”
The meetings focus on different spiritual outlets each time, and are open to the students to determine what will be discussed. One of the discussion points will be reincarnation and its effect on gender identity throughout different lifetimes. Another discussion point will be centered around Vedic literature with the story of the Hindu god Shiva, and how at one point they became both male and female.
“They feel empowered to talk about topics and not have some kind of judgement looming over them because they might not fit the mold that their spiritual tradition wanted them to fit,” Bryant said. “I envision it as there being no judgement on who you are, so be comfortable to bring up a topic and we can work through it. That topic might relate to your identity, or it may not, but you feel comfortable in the spiritual space to talk about it.”
Bryant’s vision for the group was the creation of a judgement-free zone, where topics don’t always relate to LGBTQIA+ identities, but rather can simply allow discussion without any sort of repercussions. He also hopes to help inspire students to conduct community-oriented spiritual work to foster them building self-confidence.
“It does take courage to say you’re part of the group,” Bryant said. “We want it to be a safe spot. It’s a process of … overcoming the stereotype that LGBTQIA+ people are not spiritual, and saying that the community is like anyone else. You shouldn’t have to leave who you are at home to fit into your community. In a way, the organization is going to do a lot of different things for the people who come to it. You have to show up.”
The group’s focus will be on the spiritual health and acceptance around the Lynchburg community. Bryant also intends to create a resource guide of inclusive spiritual establishments in the Lynchburg community.
“When a student comes to school, there’s physical health, mental health and spiritual health. We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity for spiritual health,” Bryant said. “It’s a place to ask questions and be comfortable. We don’t want it to be static. It’s hard to put it in a box and say it fits in a particular category. [The LGBTQIA+ Spirituality Group] is always going to evolve because different people will be coming and going. Each time a different group of people come in, they’ll bring topics that they want to talk about.”
Potential members are encouraged to email email@example.com or attend the meetings on Fridays from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Spiritual Life Center. The group is currently developing a plan for the rest of the semester, as well as designing shirts for committed members.