In 2014, Nicole Froio, a freelance journalist and researcher now based in Brazil, went to John McNeill’s home in Florida to interview him for the Miami Herald. McNeill was expelled from the Jesuit order in 1987 for his refusal to silence his support for gay rights.
At the time, Froio, who grew up in a Catholic household and describes herself as “culturally Catholic” — she now practices some Wicca and a little bit of Afro Brazilian religions — had not come out as queer. Froio’s mother drove her to the interview, and seeing McNeill and his partner having a life together was an important experience for the two of them.
“I think the biggest impact actually came from my mom because I think that it really opened her eyes to the possibility of people being queer and religious,” Froio said. “Years later when I came out, I think that was like one of her points of reference.”
LGBTQ+ stories are often not proportionally included in religion reporting, both in religious and mainstream publications. While queerphobia does exist in religious spaces, an October 2020 report from UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ adults identified as being religious. LGBTQ+ adults of color are more likely to be religious, especially in the American South, than white LGBTQ+ people.
Nick Fiorellini, a gay cisgender man, grew up in the Catholic Church and is a freelance reporter and content writer. Like Froio, Fiorellini has a complicated relationship with his religious identity. Fiorellini said that some Catholic and Christian publications tend to lag behind growing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in Christian communities.
“The religious media landscape isn’t necessarily reflective of that,” Fiorellini said. He suspects that one of these reasons may be due to the biases of editors.
Sophie Hurwitz, an incoming intern at The Nation and former New Voices-Jewish Women’s Archive fellow, believes that religious publications may become more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community and reporters when they hire queer editors. Hurwitz said that they appreciated working with queer Jewish editors at New Voices Magazine.
“I can submit something to (them) that has this kind of niche, nuanced understanding of the Jewish community and know that (they’re) going to also be looking at it from a place of knowledge,” Hurwitz said.
Positive representation of stories at the intersection of LGBTQ+ issues and religion also varies by faith and denomination. A December 2020 report from the Center for American Progress found that “news media coverage of religion and LGBTQ rights more often cites religiously identified sources that oppose LGBTQ equality.” However, “mainline Protestant and Jewish sources expressed the highest shares of positive or pro-LGBTQ sentiment.”
While positive representation is important, publications should not exclude stories on how queer religious people have been harmed by their community. Fiorellini, for example, interviewed podcasters Daniel Franzese and Azariah Southworth about their experience surviving conversion therapy.
“What I learned with that, and I apply to the rest of my career, is that there are no such things as tough questions or hard conversations,” Fiorellini said.
Fiorellini also has conversations with editors on how LGBTQ+ religious stories should be portrayed, for those who do not understand what it is like to be in both communities.
Froio, who does not see a place for herself in the Catholic Church, said that there should be a place in religion reporting for queer people who do not feel accepted in more traditional religious settings.
Publications should be “showcasing or trying to look for different, more alternative ways of being religious and also queer,” Froio said. “Publishing content about queerness and religion, for example, outside of Pride Month.”
This article was made possible thanks to the support of the Gill Foundation.