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Holidays can be complicated for LGBTQ+ people

Drag Church Service Hope Church.png
Hope Church
Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington-Normal lit a pink candle of Advent in a drag church service Sunday.

The unscripted HBO show, “We’re Here” documents LGBTQ people and their allies in small towns. It recently aired an episode with Pastor Craig Duke, who put together a drag show church service in Evansville, Ind. Three weeks later, the church relieved Duke of his duties.

Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington-Normal put on an Advent service in drag, in part, as a response to the Indiana incident.

Isaac Simmons is the interim associate pastor at Hope Church. Ms. Penny Cost is a drag queen who is a ministerial candidate in the United Methodist denomination.

Simmons said the season of Advent and drag go together.

“We looked at this time as the messy, the ugly and the joy-filled, it was all about how sacred spaces belong to queer folks. And that there is joy in the midst of the messy and the ugliness that happens in the world,” said Simmons.

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Hope United Methodist Church
Isaac Simmons, aka drag queen Ms Penny Cost, is a candidate minister in the United Methodist church.

Holidays are a sensitive time for many LGBTQ+ people. Not all are accepted by their families and holidays center on family. There is dissonance. Simmons said holidays can be reclaimed for queer folk, noting Hope Church will hold a “Blue Christmas” Sunday at the Bistro in downtown Bloomington.

“It is an interdenominational, come-as-you-are service to honor the sadness, the sorrow, the grief, the anxiety, the depression, all of those feelings,” said Simmons.

Even LGBTQ+ people who have accepting families may experience negative feelings if they head home for the holidays. The simple act of returning to a childhood home where the person experienced the struggle to find their identity can evoke unpleasant memories, or unresolved issues merely from the physical setting.

“In my experience, one of the things is just to know that you are worthy of boundaries. I see boundaries as holy. My identity isn't up for debate around this dinner table, or I'm not giving yourself grace enough to say, this year, I'm not showing up just so that we all have time to heal,” said Simmons.

He also said parents of a LGBTQ+ person might need space to unpack what their dreams of the future were going to be before their child came out.

“That's one of the major worries in a parent's life, this idea that watching their child grow up, they built this future, or they envisioned all this in the future. And when the child came out, a lot of that shifts, that internal work of saying the future belongs to my child who is LGBT. And whatever that looks like is good. That work happens within oneself working through their unconscious biases,” said Simmons.

LGBTQ-centered church services also can help people deal with those mixed feelings, he said. Often LGBTQ+ people are told they are not enough for a space or too much for a space, particularly within churches. He said there is a history of trying to box up identities and ignore them

“By having a service that is queer, led and queer, centered, not only can one see themselves in the institution of the church, but they can see themselves in the divine as well. And it's a whole new starting point to healing the holy trauma that has existed in their backgrounds,” said Simmons.

And the drag service last weekend was central to that point. He said the culture of drag can even help people become better allies.

“Drag has historically been a place of not just protest, but inclusion and love, of just fierceness, a sense of unapologetically this is who we are. That message is an incredible message for allies in making the world more loving. We are all who we are and that alone is enough,” said Simmons.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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