The LGBTQ community has found support and friendship in Litchfield Park thanks to Integrity, the national Episcopal LGBTQ support and advocacy group.
Its mission is simple: to promote and work toward the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Episcopal church. The Litchfield Park group is, so far, the only chapter in the state.
While the group is focused on LGBTQ support and advocacy, it’s open to all community members. In fact, many members are heterosexual.
“I think a lot of people think Integrity is exclusive to LGBTQ people, but really it’s the straight allies who really make it run and make it work,” said Daniel Villasenor, the Arizona Integrity board convener.
“The LGBTQ community—in terms of the population as a whole—is very small so we really need our allies to help.”
Integrity hosts meetings at 6 p.m. the second Saturday of each month at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 400 Old Litchfield Road, Litchfield Park. The organizations feature social hours and speakers, but also offer support for groups like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and the annual Arizona Episcopal Diocese convention.
At this year’s Pride Parade on April 8, 30 Integrity members will hand out rainbow flags with information about the group, Villasenor said.
“It (is) really just kind of a way of supporting the larger effort in the community, as well as kind of getting our name out there,” he said.
Villasenor, who moved with his spouse to Arizona from Idaho, became involved after seeing an ad in a church bulletin. He said his experiences outside the church and in the larger Litchfield Park and Goodyear communities have been welcoming.
“Being a same-sex couple with a child, sometimes people think that can open you up to discrimination or whatever, but since we’ve adopted our daughter, we’ve had zero issues in the community,” he said.
Daniel Harwell joined the group after moving to Arizona with his husband about a year ago. He attended meetings in Washington, D.C., in the ’90s and drove 45 minutes each way to get there.
“We were just really happy that there was this place where we could go and we could socialize and know that there were other, in those days, gay men who were Episcopalians,” he said.
While he acknowledges that not everyone will make the same drive he used to, it’s important to him that people — especially younger folks looking for a safe space in the faith community — know that they can still be a part of the gay community in the suburbs.
“I think it’s important to try and let younger folks know that we exist, and I think that it’s important for the LGBTQ community because so many young people are still closeted (or are) afraid to let anyone know because their church (might be) opposed to LGBT rights and the community.”
While the group meets at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and largely works with the church, they’re not specifically affiliated with any location, due to church politics and potential movement of leadership.
With the board recently formed and a plan in place for Phoenix Pride, the group is looking toward its future and expanding its outreach.
“I think that, to me, St. Peter’s and Integrity are kind of the hidden gems out there,” Harwell said.
“We have control and we can do things within our local community, there’s a lot to be done.”