CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicago non-profit is hoping to transform Black churches into a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ Christians by sharing their stories.
Over the past year, Pride in the Pews has been collecting stories from that community for its "Can I Get a Witness" project.
"We believe organizationally that the stories and voices and lived experiences of Black LGBTQ+ Christians were important. And in fact, they house the solutions to bridging the gap between the Black church and the LGBTQ+ community," said Don Abram, the founder of the nonprofit.
ABC7 interviewed Abram last March as he was launching the project to collect 66 stories to coincide with the number of books in The Bible.
The youngest person interviewed was 19 years old, the oldest was 70.
"A lot of the folks that we had the privilege of connecting with had deep roots in their faith," he said. "They were praying, they were going to church."
The responses revealed challenges that Abram knows all too well.
"I was seen as the embodiment of, a sort of antithesis of the theology that my church subscribed to," he said. "They didn't believe that you can be both queer and Christian at the same time."
Many participants decided to share their stories to challenge that narrative.
"There are so many people who dedicate their entire lives to the church ministry, but they have to compartmentalize part of themselves. And the work of Pride in the Pews is to change that," said Mariana Thomas, who hopes to become an ordained minister.
Thomas stresses that Black churches are no more homophobic than churches in other communities.
But Abram said he's doing this work for the next generation of LGBTQ Christians who struggle with their place in the Black church.
"I want them to be able to show up as their full selves and contribute to the tapestry of the Black church in ways that can actually transform not just the church, but our world," he said.
Abram plans to use the interviews to help Black faith leaders better understand and serve their LGBTQ members.
"There are pastors and preachers in corners of our country who want to have the conversation who are eager to have it. But they have to be presented the opportunity and those of us who do the work, have to meet them where they are. And when we do that, we will see progress," he said.
'Queering the Black Church': Chicago nonprofit collects stories of LGBTQ+ Christians
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