Eliel Cruz is a graduate of Andrews University who has gone on to do organzing work and journalism at the intersections of faith and the LGBT+ community. Cruz recently launched a new venture, in the fundraising stage, that will document gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals of many faith traditions. Cruz travels to various conferences on faith and sexuality, and in the process, has learned the stories of many for whom their religious identities and LGBT+ identities overlap. Cruz has launched the #FaithfullyLGBT Photo Series project to collect and tell the stories of queer people of faith whose stories are often overlooked or ignored. In this Q & A, Cruz talks about his motivations as a storyteller, and what he hopes this project will accomplish.
There are many parts of your identity that you emphasize at various times. What makes you you?
I emphasize various parts of my identity—like my Christianity, bisexuality, and Puerto Rican heritage—because all of these things together make me me. I discuss the intersections of my faith in both Christian and LGBT communities because for many I’m seen only as an LGBT person, or in other spaces as a Christian. Our experience on this world is greatly shaped by our various identities and for me it’s important to discuss who I am wholly in order to be fully me.
How does who you are as a person translate into what you do as a vocation? What motivates your work?
I’m driven by empathy and who I am, as well as what I’ve been through because of who I am, greatly influences that. I do the work that I do in religious spaces because I don’t want a single LGBT person to go through even a bit of the things I’ve been through. I also think it’s gospel work. What I see in the Jesus story and how He continued to center, that is emphasize, those on the margins; I recognize that is what I’m, as a Christian, called to do.
As far as the #FaithfullyLGBT Photo project is concerned, how did that come about? What’s the backstory?
FaithfullyLGBT was the name of my blog at Religion News Service which was a yearlong grant funded project. For that year, I provided commentary on LGBT issues in religious spaces – mostly Christian but other faith traditions as well. At first, I used the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag for people to be able to find my work quicker on social media platforms. Soon enough #FaithfullyLGBT became an interfaith hashtag for queer people of faith. It's a place for LGBT people of faith to share news stories, share their own stories, and find other people going through similar experiences in places of worship. It has become quite the vibrant online community.
I wanted to continue the community and find ways to use the hashtag to continue to amplify stories. I decided on the photo project due to my travels. Currently, I’m full time freelance writing and speaking. I get to meet so many awesome readers who have such amazing stories to share with me. Yet, these stories never see the light of day in media nor the religious spaces that need to hear them. I wanted to start putting more faces to LGBT persons of faith.
Images from Cruz's first series of #FaithfullyLGBT photos depict people from faith traditions, mostly Christian, from Huguenot/Mennonite to Non-denominational, and from Lutheran to Universalist. The subjects fall all along the spectrum of sexualities.
What do you hope the project will accomplish?
I want to start ending this dichotomy between religion versus the LGBT community, especially in media. The Seventh-day Adventist church is a good 20-30 years behind in the LGBT conversation. For most other faith traditions, even those that hold to conservative views, the idea of a “Gay Christian” is becoming less of a foreign concept. And still, religion and LGBT persons are pit against each other as we move forward in progressing LGBT equality.
As a faith organizer and writer, I find that’s due to a lack of visibility of LGBT people of faith. There are plenty of us out there, according to the last Pew Research almost half of the LGBT community identify as Christian, but they’re not getting platforms to share stories. I want to help provide this platform.
You mentioned in the promo video that you hope to feature LGBT individuals of all kinds of faith traditions. Why is it important to you that this not simply be a Christian-centric project?
It’s really interesting to me. I just graduated Andrews University last May and I’m finding how much of the Adventist bubble I really lived in. I went to Seventh-day Adventist schools my entire life and until my college years I really didn’t know any other Christians of other faith traditions, let alone other faith backgrounds.
I know how contentious interfaith work can be – especially for Christians (see Wheaton College). For me I think it’s a great opportunity to show the common themes in the experience of LGBT people of faith. We have different belief systems yet the way LGBT people are treated in their places of worship mirror each other in ways that are uncanny.
Can you say a bit about some of your collaborators on this project--who they are and what they do?
So far I have three people helping me out. They’re friends of mine that I’ve met through the years doing this work. Matthias Roberts is my graphic designer. He’s a gay Christian currently studying for two masters: one in Counseling Psychology and the other in Theology and Culture. Daniel Rarela is my photographer. He’s a gay Christian and photographer, as well as graphic design, is his day job. Then there’s Austen Hartke who is my accountant. He’s a bisexual trans guy with a masters in divinity. HE does this awesome YouTube series on being a trans Christian that is such a great resource.
I have Austen because taxes and money are not my thing. But also because I’m using some of the money to file for nonprofit status to create the FaithfullyLGBT Foundation. I have some other ideas up my sleeve in the coming years that I’ll want to be registered for.
Looking at the big picture, what would be some of your goals for the intersections of faith communities and LGBT communities?
For this project I just want to share stories. I would love to collect over a hundred photos this year to share and maybe start doing some video work as well. In terms of my faith organizing work, my goal has always been to make religious spaces safer for LGBT people because when we reject LGBT children of God we’re rejecting the full body of Christ.
Find out more about the #FaithfullyLGBT Photo Series at the project's IndieGoGo fundraising page.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.