From burden to resource
Taakasta voimavaraksi (“From burden to resource”) is a three year project, financed by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The aim of the project is to improve the wellbeing of LGBTIQ-people in spiritual and religious communities.
For many of us, both sexuality and spirituality play an important role in our lives. Not being able to reconcile these two areas of life is a tragedy. Some people in spiritual/religious communities come to experience their own sexuality and/or gender identity as a burden. The same people may experience their spirituality/religiosity as a burden for the LGBTIQ community. This can lead to a conviction that one has to choose. One’s sexuality and/or gender identity need to be set aside or denied in order to be a true believer. Or one needs to distance oneself from anything that has to do with spirituality or religion, in order to live “the gay life.” To deny or renounce a part of oneself that feels important is hard on you and can have dire consequences. We try to aid individuals to find ways to live that allow the individual to feel more whole. We think of this as for many involving a process whereby something that was previously experienced as something burdensome gradually comes to appear more and more as a resource.
Peer group support is central for the project. We aim to ensure that ever more members of sexual and gender minorities have access to the kind of empowering peer-group support that also incorporates spiritual issues and/or the need to discuss religious issues. We will be helping to get new peer-groups going in various parts of Finland while also supporting the already existing network of peer group support. We welcome experiences and suggestions concerning our engagement and try to adjust it in response to feedback. Furthermore, we offer to provide mediation in conflict situations that emerge in religious or spiritual communities and in LGBTIQ-communities (where the conflict involves religious and/or spiritual concerns).
Besides this individual-centered focus, we also recognise that this theme of being or feeling like a burden also involves collectives. Many religious/spiritual communities debate internally concerning issues involving sexual and gender minorities. How should such minorities be related to? We strive to influence the practices, activities and atmosphere within religious/spiritual communities, to become (ever) more safe for and affirming of sexual and gender minorities. This involves fostering a development whereby such minorities cease to be experienced as burdensome for said communities and become recognised and appreciated as resources (i.e. not merely “tolerated”). We aim to increase the level of knowledge and understanding of sexual and gender diversity among employees and volunteers in religious and spiritual communities. We do our best to serve as bridge builders among various individuals, groups and institutions – even ones that appear to have conflicting aims.
We also strive to increase awareness within LGBTIQ organisations (e.g. the various organisations that are also under Seta) regarding how they could better recognise and deal with the specific needs and vulnerabilities of such members that also belong to religious or spiritual communities or have a background of having done so.
Despite its biblical name and aims to increase spiritual well-being, Malkus is a nonconfessional association and is not bound to any particular religious, spiritual or philosophical tradition. Members can adhere to various traditions and are welcome to participate in the activities of the association out of their own spiritual/philosophical convictions/leanings. Likewise, we welcome you to help out with the project, regardless of your religious/spiritual adherence.
Peik Ingman is a scholar of comparative religion and a professional mediator, well-versed in contemporary concerns of sexual and gender minorities. His academic background provides him with a broad familiarity with various religious and philosophical worldviews/perspectives. He is trilingual, fluent in English, Swedish and Finnish. Within the project Peik works particularly with educational issues and with institutions and agencies involved in arranging schooling (LGBTIQ-awareness). In his work he draws on, adapts and applies principles of restorative justice and solution-focused methods of mediation in conflict situations, respecting the particular relationships that are important for individual members of sexual and gender minorities.
Lumi Sammallahti is a trained artisan and religious studies scholar, learned and discerning when it comes to issues concerning the relationships between gender, sexuality and religion. She has done research on gender systems in non-western contexts. The past few years she has been studying social work and worked as a supervisor at a refugee center. Lumi takes care of most of our media communication and coordinates the peer support. She also has personal experience with various forms of peer support, of coordinating her own sexuality and spirituality from feeling like a resource, to feeling like a burden and to feeling, once again, like a resource.