Religion and faith have a place in the LGBTQ community, says former Toronto MPP

Can religion and faith play a role in the lives of LGBT youth? Former MPP and Toronto reverend Cheri DiNovo seems to think so.

Cheri DiNovo performed Ontario's first same-sex wedding in 2001

Cheri DiNovo recently received an apology from the federal government for their response to Ontario's first same-sex marriage, which DiNovo performed in 2001. (Windsor Morning/CBC)

Can religion and faith play a role in the lives of LGBTQ youth?

That question was discussed at a gender, sexuality and faith forum held Tuesday in the University of Windsor's School of Social Work. The event was a part of the Windsor Pride Run For Rocky Legacy Project — the annual continuation of tributes to Rocky Campagna after the fifth and final Run For Rocky last year.

Former MPP and Toronto reverend Cheri DiNovo was the event's keynote speaker and said it is time for religious organizations to promote faith as being open to everyone.

"Many LGBTQ youth and older ... have had a very toxic experience with religion. And religion has been one of the reasons that we've seen internationally for the absolutely toxic laws that have limited equality for LGBTQ people," she said.

DiNovo has long fought on the front lines of LGBTQ activism in Canada. In 2017, the former Toronto MPP attended the annual Dyke March event in an effort to unite Winnipeg's LGBTQ community. (Nicole Martin/CBC)

DiNovo performed Ontario's first wedding between two women in 2001 — two years before the province legalized same-sex marriage. She used an ancient Christian tradition to withhold information from official documentation that both members of the couple were women.

The act drew the ire of Fred Phelps, the former head of the Westboro Baptist Church who protested at the funerals of people with AIDS. He would send messages to DiNovo and her congregation claiming the "lesbian sodomite juggernaut rolls on in Toronto."

"We thought that was kind of funny. We wanted t-shirts printed up. But it wasn't so funny at the time," said DiNovo.

While Phelps used biblical expressions to promote his anti-LGBTQ agenda, DiNovo said the Christian bible is absent of hatred toward the marginalized community.

"I think it's important to look at the biblical passages that have been used to hate people and to unpack them and show that that's now what was meant there ... We need to know our bible," she explained.

Hear more from Cheri DiNovo on CBC's Windsor Morning:

She said similar attacks have led transgender woman to attempt suicide at an alarming rate

"Actually a 50 per cent rate among them ... So when we reject our children as they are, we reject their lives. And I think as educators, as faith folk, as humans, as parents, we really need to stop the hatred and stop using faith as the front for it."

Looking ahead

DiNovo said it is important to acknowledge the history of Canadians fighting for LGBTQ rights, noting her participation in the Just Gay Rights demonstration on Parliament Hill in 1971.

"We have to celebrate it. And we have to make sure we don't slide back."