Group offers support for South County LGBTQ community
The first pride festival in The Woodlands may have just happened this month, but a small group of LGBTQ community members and their family and friends have been meeting in the area for about three years.
Kirsten Beckler, who has a transgender son and a bisexual daughter, started the South Montgomery County LGBTQ Support Group in 2015.
“Our group is open to everyone: friends, family, allies and people in the community. Parents whose child recently came out may have questions, or someone will talk about something that happened to them,” Beckler said of the group, describing it as a place where anyone can come to find support.
The group meets twice a month at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church along South Panther Creek Drive in The Woodlands.
Leaders were clear that while the group may meet in a church, they are not religiously affiliated. The rules are that the confidential conversation stays away from politics and religion during meetings.
Yet, Beckler said that even though it is unintentional, it may be a healing experience for support group members to meet in a church.
“Sometimes, it’s healing (for people) to meet in a church building and know that they’re walking in and it’s always been very accepting,” Beckler said.
She added that this wasn’t an aspect she expected, but has seen it be a powerful experience at times. Beckler said one of the most frequently asked questions asked in the group was where one could find a friendly place to worship.
“Not every person in the community wants to go to church, but there are a lot of them (who want to),” Beckler said.
Lord of Life Pastor, the Rev. Gary Heath, allowed the group to meet at the church said he is happy that it does.
“We understand that when people have been wounded by society for who they are, it creates a lot of hurt and pain. The church should be a place where they can come as a place of care and acceptance,” Heath said.
Both Heath and Beckler compared the support group to groups such as Boy Scouts or Alcoholics Anonymous: all are nonreligious groups that often use a church building as a place to host meetings.
Group member Joe Agrella has been attending the meetings for about a year.
Agrella explained that that he had been previously rejected from a church because of his identity and was looking for a tolerant place to worship when he first found the group.
“It’s an open discussion where you can talk about all the challenges that you may face. No one tries to change your mind,” Agrella said. “The fact that the church is willing to open their space without any expectation from the group is very Christ-like, in my opinion.”
But, in his co-leadership role, he reiterated that the church is simply a space where the group meets.
Group leader Roxy Waguespack, who is a mental health professional and leads a teenager-centered breakout group at meetings, also commented on the unique relationship between the group and the church.
“We do try to keep it separate, but it is a huge part of peoples’ lives and struggles. We don’t preach one way or the other, we provide the space,” Waguespack said.
Both Agrella and Waguespack became members of Lord of Life after they joined the support group.
Since it has started meeting, Beckler said the group continues to grow as the traditionally conservative area becomes more open to the LGBTQ community.
“There’s a lot more knowledge out there, and knowledge is what helps create acceptance and visibility,” Beckler said.