Historically, religion and the LGBTQ+ community have seen strained relationships with one another. 

Full Spectrum Community Outreach welcomed religious leaders to discuss the concept Tuesday at First Unitarian Universalist Church and how to find places of worship around town that are inclusive to everyone. 

"Today's panel was chosen specifically due to the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that's been going on in the form of the increase in hate groups," explained Justin Kalinay, Community Engagement Director with First Unitarian Universalist Church. "There are a vast number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been passed recently with religious connotations."

Panelists included Shane Russo with First United Methodist Church, Jack Acri with First Federated Church, Joseph Boyd with Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, and C Stonebreaker-Martinez with InterReligious Task Force.

The panelists from surrounding religious groups discussed the often misalignment of religion and the LGBTQ+ community. The goal for the event was to bring together spiritual leaders from several different faiths and denominations to discuss the topic of LGBTQ+ faith.

"The session on Tuesday was for folks who want to be spiritual or religious or are searching for a community, but all they're getting in return is hate," Kalinay added. "We want them to know there are options available where you can be queer and faithful, simultaneously. We offered actionable steps on how to identify an affirming and open congregation and how to make your own congregation more inclusive."

"I think above all, just showing up and being a presence of that good, of that love, of that affirmation, it can be both a small and large thing," explained Shane Russo with First United Methodist Church. 

This comes as some faith-based social service and charitable organizations in the area dont offer the same resources to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. That's why Full Spectrum is creating an LGBTQ+ shelter for the homeless community, set to open in the coming years.

"It's unfortunate that we have heard tons of reports of people going to the Rescue Mission or Salvation Army and being denied," Kalinay added. "If they are open about their sexuality or their gender identity. That's what our shelter is in response to. It's to offer a shelter to anyone who is LGBTQ+." 

The group also discussed how to identify an affirming congregation and make places of worship more inclusive, as gaps in care and acceptance in Valley organizations and churches remain a concern to the LGBTQ+ community.

"In service, you create a society where people can make their own choices," said Joseph Boyd with First Unitarian Universalist Church. "How they want to live and they feel safe in the power to do that."

"It's important to have these conversations or at least to be open to these conversations," so that people who are in the congregation or in the community who are in the closet can know that it's okay to question, explore, and be queer and spiritual at the same time."

Visit Full Spectrum Community Outreach's website to learn more about upcoming Pride Week events.