The search for an LGBTQ community space in Montgomery County has brought about an interesting solution: A group predominantly made of faith leaders is in the process of creating a MoCo Pride Center.
For some, this project is a way to reverse personal injustices.
“My brother is LGBTQ. He, growing up, we grew up Catholic in a small town,” said Janine Rauscher, the creator of Rainbow Youth Prom and a member of the organizing board for the pride center. “He could never be himself.”
“I hated watching that growing up. I knew who he was, but I didn’t care,” she said. “He’s incredible. I never wanted another kid to go through what he did.”
However, for Jill McCrory, the founder and visionary, the project is more about community, identity, and spirituality. Five years ago she felt the County needed a center, but faced a lack of enthusiasm for the idea.
Then, a year ago, the chief of police tried to have community meetings to show local groups that the police were their friends. The police chief faced problems with identifying and getting the word out to the LGBTQ community and reached out to McCrory, who has experience in communications.
McCrory noticed that the same people who always show up were there at that police meeting – the same faith leaders. McCrory herself is a pastor for Twinbrook Baptist, which she described as “a welcoming and affirming church.” That realization brought back the idea for the MoCo Pride Center.
“Everyone expressed that there was this issue of gathering the LGBTQ community,” McCrory said. “Here we are in progressive Montgomery County, but there’s no identity for community.” Furthermore, McCrory believes that the center will pull together the adequate resources to create that community.
“One of the things I believe strongly in is that many of the resources already exist. It’s just that there’s no one central place to go find them,” she said. “What do we need to be providing? One of the biggest things is social. A place to gather, ways to meet people, support groups and discussion groups.”
Politically, she believes the center could also be used to leverage that LGBTQ community. “Shortly after the election, the national group of centers, we recognized that the centers may be the place where we should mobilize the LGBTQQ community if our rights starting to erode,” she said.
For McCrory, someone who left the church when she was 17-years old and didn’t return for 25 years, this project has become spiritually rewarding, although she says it hasn’t always been accepted within the religious community.
“I needed to stay Baptist, to be a Baptist voice for inclusion,” she said. “I have in some ways paid the price for that in my own denomination.”
“Baptists don’t have one flavor. Baptists range from the Southern Baptist convention, which is extremely conservative, all the way to the Alliance of Baptists, which I am aligned with,” she said. “When I was the chair of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, we as a body would go to denominational meetings.
“In some of those denominational meetings, they wouldn’t let us have meetings within their conventions because of how we felt about homosexuality,” she said. “I have been told that they’d like me to speak but not about homosexuality.”
McCrory says that controversial issues within the religion reflect the current political climate. “People who disagree can’t even agree to disagree. You see it in this country today. It’s the same in interdenominational politics,” McCrory said. “Some folks say we’ve come halfway because we say hate the sin, love the sinner. I don’t think that’s coming halfway.”
McCrory is going for her doctorate in ministry, and the topic her dissertation deals with is reflective of the divide within religious communities over LGBTQ people and why she thinks the MoCo Pride Center is necessary: “How the church effectively destroyed the idea of the image of God for the LGBTQ community.”
“What message do you send when you tell them you’re unworthy, and an abomination, but tell them that you’re made in the image of God?” she said. “We need a community center because we have separated a whole community of people.”