Are Queer Bars More Sacred Than Churches?

‘I experienced that genuine, authentic love in gay bars more than I’d ever experienced it growing up in the four walls of the church,’ said musician Trey Pearson.

That sentence jumped out at me when I saw it as a sub-headline for a recent Religion News Service story entitled “Queer bars offer sacred space for LGBTQ community.”  The sentence caught the attention of my eyes, but it also pained my heart.  I am very happy that some queer people are able to find acceptance and support in community bars, which is an important aspect of sacred space.  But I was pained to realize that so many LGBTQ+ Catholics are unable to find that sacred space in their local parishes.

The news article explained Pearson’s claim:

“When musician Trey Pearson came out as gay in 2016, it cost him his faith community and his career as a Christian artist. But from the moment he set foot in the Union Café, a gay bar in Columbus, Ohio, he felt embraced by drag queens, bartenders and patrons alike.

“ ‘There’s a lot of spiritual people in the LGBTQ community, people that have faith,’ observed Pearson, who has a revamped music career outside the Christian music world. ‘That place became such a meaningful space to me, where I would have these conversations with other queer people, who shared their journeys about how they came to accept themselves.’

“Pearson said he has since been met with warmth at bars in ‘gayborhoods’ across the U.S., from Boystown in Chicago to West Hollywood. He told RNS it’s their unqualified love that makes queer bars sacred.

“ ‘I always heard about loving like Jesus. But no matter who you are, you can walk in this place, and you will be loved and don’t have to hide a part of who you are,’ he said. ‘I experienced that genuine, authentic love in gay bars more than I’d ever experienced it growing up in the four walls of the church.’

Those sentiments should be a wake up call to Catholic leaders and parishes.  LGBTQ+ people are finding a more sacred environment in bars than they are in parish churches.  What I think is most important, though, about Pearson’s statements are the additional words he uses to describe sacred space: “embraced,” “meaningful,” “conversations,” “journeys,” “accept themselves,”  “warmth,” “unqualified love,” “loving like Jesus,” “don’t have to hide a part of who you are,” “genuine authentic love.”  (Of course, not all queer bars will have this atmosphere, Some can be downright unfriendly. The point I’d like to stress, though, is that it’s a sad state of affairs when churches don’t provide at least the same kind of accepting atmosphere as friendly queer bars do.)

When New Ways Ministry conducts workshops about developing Catholic LGBTQ+ parish ministry, we always include a segment about what LGBTQ+ people want from Catholic parishes.  The list of items incorporates many of the themes in Pearson’s description.  Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people don’t always find that kind of environment in all parishes, and they have decided to look for alternative places where these values exist.  Too often, they have found derision, condescension, proclamation of doctrine, requirements for admission, and requests to hide parts of their authentic selves.

I think that what church leaders who oppose Pope Francis’ positive statements about LGBTQ+ people don’t grasp is that what he is really calling the church to do is to adopt the values and provide the experiences that Pearson has described.  Though Pearson found these in a bar, not a church, does not diminish the fact that these are truly pastoral actions and ideas.  Pope Francis is reminding church leaders that it is only through radical acceptance, welcome, embrace, dialogue, and unconditonal love that sacred space is created.  No amount of liturgical art, architecture, or decoration can substitute for these actions.

On the bright side, we have a number of incredible beacons of hope on the Catholic parish landscape–church communities who truly practice these qualities and make their sanctuaries truly sacred spaces not only for LGBTQ+ people but for all people who have been marginalized and are sincerely seeking the divine.  This article about queer bars reminded me that what is divine is not things that are otherworldly and abstract, but things that help people grow in love and closer relationship with themselves and the people in their lives.  Those everyday miracles of being able to accept oneself and to connect what others are the real path to God.

If you are looking for an LGBTQ+ friendly Catholic parish, please check out New Ways Ministry’s online list of such communities, which total over 300 in the U.S., and many others world-wide.  These listed parishes are only the ones we have heard about.  Since we learn of new parishes more than several times of month, we know that more and more parishes are becoming welcoming.  If you know of such a parish, please fill out our online form to recommend that it be listed, too.  If your parish wants to begin the process of developing Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry, visit our webpages for Parish Life educational resources, for Next Steps, our online course for developing LGBTQ+ ministry, Journeys, our scriptural reflection series, or contact New Ways Ministry to schedule an in-person or online workshop or consultation

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 2, 2023



7 replies
  1. Dale Korogi
    Dale Korogi says:

    Thirty years ago, as a young Catholic priest, and gay, a UCC colleague of mine, an out lesbian woman, said that she was ordained because of the unconditional Christian love and support she had found throughout her life in her church community. I was dumbstruck. And envious. Thirty years later, I still am, regrettably.

  2. Michaelangelo Allocca
    Michaelangelo Allocca says:

    It’s good to be reminded how much better at welcoming we could be in our parishes. That said, there’s a slightly romanticized picture painted here: I think it would help to include “some” or “many” in front of “queer bars” when their open-arms welcoming qualities are being extolled. Otherwise, some young queer person might read things like this and then go to a bar for the first time, and experience the same shattering disillusionment they would find when visiting some churches. Any objective, realistic person who has spent some time visiting gay bars can attest that — although based on entirely different criteria — they can sometimes be just as “judge-y” and exclusive as churches.

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Thanks for pointing out that qualification, Michaelangelo! I totally agree, and was unaware of how my post might be read. I’ve added the following statement to the post, based on your comment: “Of course, not all queer bars will have this atmosphere, Some can be downright unfriendly. The point I’d like to stress, though, is that it’s a sad state of affairs when churches don’t provide at least the same kind of accepting atmosphere as friendly queer bars do.”

  3. Michael Quieto
    Michael Quieto says:

    This comment is in no way to let Catholics off the hook, but it would be useful to note more clearly the denominational background when people describe their experiences of exclusion. It can help us find the cure for the specific strain of the sickness of homophobia we are seeing. Is it a community that would be more welcoming were it not for one priest preaching hate or is the glorification of toxic masculinity central to their religious practice.
    I am deeply concerned and alarmed by the efforts of US bishops and rad trad culture warriors to seek partnership with non-liturgical evangelicals and dominionists. They cheerfully import all manner of heresy from partisan allies who they claim as co-religionists.
    We have enough homophobia and misogyny to atone for in the Catholic Church without having to account for every non-denominational (and often even non-Nicene) group using the name “christian.”

  4. Dean P
    Dean P says:

    No correlation whatsoever. The Mass is not a cocktail party; rather a time to hear the Word and celebrate the Eucharist. Period.


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