Michael Kelly, convenor of the Rainbow Sash and author of Seduced by Grace, an exploration of the gay experience of spirituality, is encouraging members of the gay community, religious and agnostic alike, to take a stand challenging the upcoming World Youth Day.

Kelly, who spent 17 years working as a Catholic teacher, came out publicly in 1993 while working at a Californian college. Since then he has gone on to become one of the few public commentators on gay spirituality in Australia. His book Seduced by Grace is a collection of essays, many of which were published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, on the topic.

In the lead up to World Youth Day, Kelly is working with a number of gay and lesbian religious leaders and the Pitt St Church to organise a GLBT event as an expression of the gay right to a spiritual life, and says the gay people of Sydney should be making their objections to the Catholic Church’s homophobic policies known.

As queer people there is a tendency for us to think that because we live in a secular society we can just ignore religion and religious structures, as if they don’t impact on our lives, but in fact they do, Kelly said, citing the fact that the Catholic church is one of Australia’s largest employers and yet it is exempt from anti-discrimination legislation.

The feeling that I had 12 months ago was that people, particularly gay people, tended to think they could ignore World Youth Day but they’re starting to realise it’s a lot bigger than that. We have to realise that this is going to be the biggest religious event of the year and it is absolutely about a form of religion that sees no place for self-affirming queer people. This enormous religious juggernaut that’s coming to Sydney is publicly and rather aggressively condemning of gay people. That ought to make us very concerned and angry. That ought to make us determined to find some way to stand up for ourselves because these ideas they’re peddling are not only affecting gay kids but teaching straight kids that it is wrong to be gay.

As a gay man of faith, Kelly’s aim is not to endorse religion-bashing and in fact he encourages gay people to connect with religion.

What I am interested in doing is trying to help gay people to deepen their understanding of spirituality, however they understand it -” whether that be through Catholicism, Buddhism or new age philosophy. That is my passion.

In response to WYD Kelly has been working with Uniting Church ministers, Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon and Rev Ian Pearson, as well as former Pentecostal minister Anthony Venn Brown and David Reeder from the Anglican faith to organise a GLBT interfaith gathering on July 13. Held on the eve of WYD, the event will feature gay and lesbian traditions from the various Christian traditions speaking of their experiences and starting an open dialogue with a panel of young people.

This will be a chance for queer people in Sydney to gather together, to celebrate our vision and wisdom. This is the kind of vision we should be sending to the next generation -” and we will not allow it to be silenced by old men in frocks.

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