Out For Lunch

By Tove Trelstad-Larson ’24

What does it mean to be a queer student at a religious institution? On Wednesday December 6th, students, staff and faculty met as a part of the Lutheran Center’s 2023-2024 programming surrounding the All Community Read, So That All May Flourish: The Aims of Lutheran Higher Education. The Lutheran Center partnered with the  Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion to present this event during the Taylor Center’s regularly scheduled Out for Lunch programming. In this program students are given the opportunity to meet in a small group and discuss important issues pertaining to LGBTQIA2S+ individuals. This partnership manifested in Wednesday’s event, where the main topic was “What does it mean to be LGBTQIA+ and religious at a Lutheran college”.

The event started with an introduction to the All Community Read, So That All May Flourish: The Aims of Lutheran Higher Education, followed by small group discussion of the way that those attending have experienced religion generally, especially in the context of queerness. This yielded extremely interesting discussion at my table as there was a vast diversity of experience between individuals. Some said that they had never personally experienced religion and queerness as concepts that needed to be separated, while others said that religion was something that was exclusionary to queer folks. 

Following this discussion we got into two important documents: St. Olaf’s definition of vocation and Dr. Mary Lowe’s article, Reimagining Vocation: Queer, Lutheran, with Room for All . We discussed the ways in which the Lutheran church has been criticized for being heteronormative, even in ways that the church defines vocation, and then we dug into the ways in which Dr. Lowe posits that the Lutheran tradition contains within itself the correctives for such heteronormativity. Using values and beliefs from Lutheran scholarship, tradition, and belief, she pieces together a new understanding of vocation that seeks to be inclusive and aware of queer people. After this large group learning, we got into small groups once more to talk about similarities and differences between Dr. Lowe’s corrections to the concept of vocation and St. Olaf’s definition of vocation. Overall, we agreed that Dr. Lowe’s definition of vocation is corrective and successfully queers the definition of vocation. We also spent some time talking about how the lives and experiences of queer people at Lutheran colleges and universities could have been more represented within So That All May Flourish. This was a fruitful discussion, and it was quite evident that people had a lot of interest and a lot to say with regards to queerness at a Lutheran institution. 

What was primarily of interest to me was that some students, staff, and faculty were surprised that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is  officially affirming of queer people. The ELCA has been welcoming of queer people since a social statement on human sexuality was approved in 2009. I am excited to see what potential conversations and events could arise in the future to bring awareness to this statement from the ELCA. I also look forward to future partnerships with the Taylor Center as their help and presence brought so much to this event and conversation. 

This event was enlightening and yielded the opportunity for future conversation on the matter of queerness and religion on a Lutheran college campus. It’s so important to bring queer people into conversations in all areas of study, especially regarding religion, so this event and the ideas and conversation it yielded were wonderful. Intentionally including the LGBTQIA+ community in conversation about vocation is a way that St. Olaf can live out its vocation. Its importance was highlighted by the fact that so many folks on campus were interested in the topic and brought such interesting perspectives into this important conversation. Hopefully we can have more discussion about queerness and vocation, especially in the context of the All Community Read.