I chuckled to myself a bit when I chose to buy a brightly colored quilt-patterned purse in a marketplace a few months ago. The bag I normally used, a Human Rights Campaign knapsack, was wearing out, and I needed a new multipurpose tote.

I’d used the HRC knapsack partly in order to signal my support of marriage equality—though it was perhaps more a personal reminder than a piece of public defiance, since the bag meant nothing to anyone not already familiar with the significance of the understated equals-sign symbol. I laughed now because I chose my new quilt bag for its similar personal associations.

Quiltbag sprang up as a semi-humorous substitute for LGBTQIA pretty much as soon as alert denizens of the net realized that, with the addition of a Boggle-style u, the unwieldy acronym could be transformed into a recognizable word. It’s easier to remember than LGBTQIA, and it’s certainly quicker to say than “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.”

I like quiltbag as a neologism for that reason, but I also appreciate its imagery. A quilt has a hominess to it. Quilts hint at sewing circles, family history, hot chocolate sipped by the fire on a crisp autumn  evening. A far cry from the clinical detachment of many terms that have been associated with human sexuality.

And it’s a warmth that suggests both individuality and shared community: discrete patches in a rainbow of colors are stitched into a vibrant whole.

I like the idea of the bag, as well. It implies the “+” that often follows LGBTQIA. It’s something capacious, inclusive, possessing an open-ended roominess.

In a panel on LGBT “Myths and Mythology” in art, during the GFEST Gaywise festival in London last November, Johnny Golding used similar terms when she talked at one point about the shifting meaning of queer. Foregrounded in the shuffled letters of quiltbag, queer is a term that, arguably, encompasses all the other initials. (Though, as is the case with many reclaimed words that are still sometimes used as insults, it’s important to remember that not all LGBTQIA+ individuals are comfortable with applying queer to themselves, given the history of violent homophobia that’s attached to the word for some people.)

Golding spoke about her mild surprise at and appreciation for the growing capaciousness of queer. Its significance has expanded from an initial application only to gay men, its meaning slowly spreading across the entire spectrum of sexuality and gender identity and expression until now, queer is coming to include other aspects of and attitudes toward sexuality as well, such as kink or even just a strong dedication to holding a non-heteronormative mindset.

Golding and the other panelists, especially artist Sadie Lee, welcomed the ever-increasing inclusivity of queer, partly because it indicated, for them, the multiplicity of means that are available for challenging heteronormativity and for connecting those who are labeled as “other” with each other.

The warm inclusivity implied by quiltbag and suggested by the expanding meaning of queer is of course something that is only present partially and to varying degrees in different LGBT communities. It’s similar, perhaps, to the way that the familial fellowship that’s frequently claimed as foundational to Christian community is only actually present to different degrees in various churches and Christian groups. I deeply appreciated the presence of both sorts of acceptance when I attended last year’s Gay Christian Network conference.

I didn’t get the chance to go to this year’s conference, which took place in Portland earlier this month, but last January’s conference in Chicago was an encouraging one for me. Unlike with the heteronormativity of most spaces, being in a relatively homonormative space was a novel experience, since I hadn’t been to many LGBT events previously. Of course, a default assumption of “lesbian” or “gay” is as inaccurate as a default assumption of “straight” when it comes to pansexual and bisexual people, but it was interesting to have the binary flipped. (On a side note regarding bisexual visibility, I was glad to hear that this year’s GCN conference included a workshop on bisexuality, hosted by Dianna Anderson and Eliel Cruz—read some of their notes from the workshop here.) But the welcoming feeling of the conference came partly from the fact that, unlike in many heteronormative spaces, there was both a literal and figurative place at the table for every individual, no matter a person’s orientation or gender identity (and no matter what the default assumptions about gender or orientation might be). There was an openness and vulnerability there among people who have some level of shared experiences of otherness and conflict, whether through being othered as an LGBTQIA+ person or through the familial or church tensions faced by a straight person due to their support of their LGBTQIA+ friends and family members.

At the same time that people of all the varieties included in quiltbag or queer and beyond were welcomed, there was an admirable atmosphere of acceptance at the conference when it came to differences within the broad spectrum of Christian theological thought on gender and sexuality (or, indeed, Christian theological thought and denominational divisions in general). Justin Lee, author of Torn, founded GCN with the hope that it would be a safe space for LGBT Christians and their friends and family members to find community together, regardless of their beliefs about same-sex relationships. To that end, GCN has attempted to use its Side A/Side B terminology (“God can affirm same-sex relationships” vs. “celibacy is the only moral alternative to heterosexual marriage”) not so much as indicators of two never-intersecting camps eternally at war with each other, but as shorthand references to two stances among a range of positions held by Christians who love and value each other. Though it’s still easy, of course, for Side A/Side B language to become exclusive and polarizing, at last year’s conference at least it seemed as if there was a true effort to focus on love and community rather than on labeling each other as dangerously liberal or laughably hidebound. Everyone worshipped together, one family in fellowship.

It was almost as if our shared faith and our shared humanity mattered immeasurably more than our stances on same-sex relationships.

That’s an attitude, I think, that many other Christian communities might do well to emulate. Following a model of fellowship that places shared faith and humanity above theological and political differences would make many churches more welcoming communities. It’s definitely difficult—fully including those on Side A without invalidating those on Side B—but seems like a kind of fellowship worth working toward.

Just as it’s worth working toward a church that echoes the colorful diversity of the quiltbag. We need more church communities that welcome individuals from across the full spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation. And that welcome would really just be recognition of how the patchwork of the universal church is already sewn together, after all–since LGBT Christians, including LGBT Christians with widely varying biblical interpretations and theological stances on same-sex relationships, already are the church as fully as any other Christians are.

[Photo credit: Jeanne Holmes via photopin cc (cropped and resized)]

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