Illinois State University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) and the Office of Student Research (OSR) recently partnered with the Prairie Pride Coalition (PPC), a local nonprofit organization, to sponsor research on the inclusivity of sexual orientation and gender identity diversity within Bloomington-Normal religious/spiritual establishments (churches, mosques, synagogue, etc.)
The call for research proposals is currently available, and the deadline to submit a proposal is July 1. The group envisions a faculty-staff led research team that will analyze local houses of worship in fall 2020 and create resources by the end of spring 2021.
“Several local religious/spiritual houses of worship have grappled or continue to grapple with issues of being welcoming and inclusive to the LGBTQI+ community,” said Dave Bentlin, president of PPC and administrative assistant to Illinois State University President Dr. Larry Dietz. “Some have established varying degrees of acceptance yet all seem to fall under a generic ‘welcoming’ designation. Our hope is that this project will establish a ‘spirituality equality index’ that includes an instrument to gauge the level of inclusivity and provide our LGBTQIA+ community with specific information about each of these religious establishments and the steps they are taking to live up to the term ‘welcoming.’”
The group hopes that the research will result in a guide to help members of the LGBTQI+ community find supportive, welcoming houses of worship locally. The guide would also be extremely helpful to LGBTQI+ allies who are seeking progressive houses of worship, and it would provide a useful tool to local houses of worship to help them gauge and benchmark their efforts.
Dr. Gina Louise Hunter, director of OSR and associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, is excited about offering this research opportunity to students. “It is a great opportunity for community-engaged research,” Hunter said. “When campus partners work together, we can support students in all kinds of student research experiences. I hope this is the first of many such partnerships. For students, this is the opportunity to participate in authentic research, under faculty mentorship, for local stakeholders—it’s a transformative educational experience.”
Harriett Steinbach, assistant director at CESL, also discussed the benefits of this partnership and research project. “This is an opportunity to advance community-based research opportunities in our local community. Research like this can lead to addressing community issues in a more systemic way and it can definitely have a direct impact on the lives of community members.”
Although several local organizations and houses of worship identify themselves as welcoming, efforts to create affirming and inclusive environments for LGBTQIA+ community members vary. This research will aid in those efforts.
“Our primary mission is to make the Bloomington/Normal area a safer, socially just, and more welcoming environment for members of the LGBTQI+ community,” said Bentlin. “Our hope is that by equipping them with tools such as the index and guide we can direct them to the resources where they can achieve a religious/spiritual experience that highlights inclusivity, acceptance, and interaction with other members of the LGBTQI+ community and its allies.”