Episcopal parish in New Orleans’ Tremé hosts third annual Pride Mass

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jun 14, 2024

St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, hosted its third annual Pride Mass on June 13, 2024. Louisiana Bishop Shannon Duckworth celebrated. The Very Rev. Tommy Dillon, rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge and dean of the Baton Rouge deanery, preached. Photo: Tommy Dillon

[Episcopal News Service] In celebration of Pride Month, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, hosted its third annual Pride Mass.

“This is a way to demonstrate our support of the LGBTQ+ community – to do that in the context of our worship as Episcopalians – and to make certain the message that all are welcome is outward and visible,” Louisiana Bishop Shannon Duckworth, who celebrated the June 13 Pride Mass, told Episcopal News Service.

St. Anna’s, located in the United States’ oldest Black neighborhood, Tremé, near the French Quarter, has been active in the local LGBTQ+ community for “many, many years,” the Rev. Luigi Mandile, a deacon at St. Anna’s, told ENS. The congregation has participated in the city’s Pride parade annually since 2014. Even though Louisiana, located in the Deep South, is politically an “overwhelmingly conservative” state, Mandile, who is gay, said St. Anna’s has always had a good relationship with its community.

“St. Anna’s is a community center and a safe place for everybody,” he said. “If you need to talk to somebody, we’re here to listen. We’re here if you need help getting back on your feet. As a church, we have to show up to help members of the community at all times.”

Mandile said he’s been told by several people in the diocese that he preaches best “with a cocktail in hand” because he always goes to LGBTQ+ bars and other places while wearing his clerical collar, which often sparks conversations about feeling welcome at church.

“Many times, when somebody in the community who’s had more than one beer sees me with my collar, they think I’m fair game [for criticism],” he said. “I tell people, ‘I get it, but why don’t you give St. Anna’s a chance?’ It’s only going to take an hour and 15 minutes to experience this church. More often than not, they do that, and some people have actually become parishioners afterwards.”

The Pride Mass, which was livestreamed on St. Anna’s Facebook page, was a traditional high church worship service that included LGBTQ+-affirming music alongside traditional hymns. Old and New Testament readings included passages from Isaiah 61:1-3 and Romans 8:31-37. A drag queen and members of Jewish PRIDE and Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans also served roles during the Mass. Transgender musicians sang in the choir.

The nave was also decorated with rainbows, which symbolize the LGBTQ+ community. Duckworth wore a rainbow stole given to her as an ordination gift by members of Inclusive Louisiana, a network of LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and allies in the New Orleans-based Diocese of Louisiana. Board members include Mandile and the Very Rev. Tommy Dillon, rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge and dean of the Baton Rouge deanery.

Dillon, who became the diocese’s first openly gay priest 20 years ago, preached during the Pride Mass.

“A lot of people are afraid of going to church, so we must provide a space where people can join others in joyfully singing and praying and celebrating life with no fear or shame,” Dillon said. “Wherever we can, we should be a church that gives everyone a little bit of heaven on Earth. This Mass is focused on bringing the queer community and straight allies together, to have a safe place to worship and to celebrate this month.”

Pride Month has been celebrated every June since 1970. It began after the Stonewall riots, a series of gay liberation protests that took place one year prior between June 28 and July 3, 1969. The riots started in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. In 1999, former President Bill Clinton commemorated the Stonewall riots’ 30th anniversary by declaring June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. June 28 is International LGBT Pride Day, though celebrations commonly occur on other days in June.

Dillon said his journey as a gay priest in a conservative area hasn’t always been easy, but the progress has been “encouraging.”

“As a person who’s been in this diocese for so long and grew up here, it’s just amazing to see the transformation of this diocese. Many people tried to stop my ordination process, and almost every one of them has apologized to me for the way they acted back then,” Dillon told ENS. “It’s great for The Episcopal Church to be able to focus on mission and the liberation and the love of Christ in this world. It’s a healthier church environment, for sure.”

Despite the social progress made in the Diocese of Louisiana over the last couple of decades, Louisiana lawmakers continue to propose and pass laws limiting LGBTQ+ rights in the state. The same day St. Anna’s hosted the Pride Mass, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration’s new Title IX rule expanding protections for LGBTQ+ students in four states, arguing that the rule “overstepped” the U.S. Department of Education’s authority.

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment also continues to grow nationwide. In 2023, state legislators introduced at least 510 bills targeting LGBTQ+ rights, nearly triple the amount proposed the year before. Additionally, hate crimes targeting marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ people, have increased in recent years.

“It’s a tough time right now, politically and otherwise,” Duckworth said. “The way I look at it as bishop, it’s important for us as a diocese to continue the message of love and inclusion. We may not always agree with each other, but we can find commonality in the Eucharist. That’s why we as a diocese feel that having this Pride service at St. Anna’s is important, that it’s an event and a place where anyone can feel loved and accepted.”

New data from The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization committed to providing counseling and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ youth, shows that 39% of LGBTQ+ people ages 13-24 nationwide have “seriously considered” attempting suicide in the past year, including 46% of transgender and nonbinary people. Those percentages are higher for LGBTQ+ people of color. Ninety percent of young LGBTQ+ people reported recent politics has “negatively impacted” their well-being, and 45% of transgender and nonbinary people or their families have considered moving to a different state because of LGBTQ+-related politics and legislation. However, the same report shows that young LGBTQ+ people who live in “very accepting” communities attempt suicide at less than half the rate of those who live in “very unaccepting” communities.

“People are afraid, and we need to look to the Bible, which says ‘do not be afraid’ more than anything else,” Dillon said. “We’ve got to have hope. That’s the message in the Bible, and we really need to live it.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.