As Pride Month draws to a close, Zao MKE Church continues to offer resources for people with LGBTQ+ identities. The church also hosts various social events to build community around the faith, such as family dinners, karaoke nights, and even beach outings.
The church is radically inclusive and led by queer and transgender pastors Jonah and Cameron Overton. In addition to organizing events, they lead their congregation in weekly worship and provide pastoral care.
While Zao MKE Church is now housed in a historic church building on the east side of Milwaukee, the parish began in Reverend Jonah’s living room. They wanted to continue building their faith outside of mainstream Christian leadership that typically rejects those with marginalized identities.
“I grew up in church, not feeling particularly comfortable as a queer and trans person. And now my job is to build a church for and with queer and trans people and other people who have been marginalized by the church,” Jonah said.
Cameron emphasizes the church’s core tenets: being rooted in Jesus, justice-centered, and radically inclusive. He explains that he believes that Jesus went to the margins of society to help those who were oppressed by the systems and structures in place. This call for justice and inclusiveness often takes the form of building community.
“We want to do the hard work of justice and liberation so that all can celebrate and dance and eat and drink and be joyful. But also, why wait until we win?” Jonah said. “Let’s do these things now and create this community that we all yearn for as we fight for a world where more people can have access to it.”
Zao organizes many social events for its parishioners and recently they engaged in a transgender clothing swap. The Clothing Swap was for those looking for gender-affirming clothing for free. Partnering with Bounce Milwaukee, Forge, Diverse and Resilient and the MKE LGBT Center, the swap brought in more clothes than people could even take home.
“We had this abundant excess that happened, and so when it happened, I saw the desire in the community for something like that. So from the bigger exchange, we decided to open a boutique where hopefully it will be a space that will almost look like a store,” Cameron said.
Although the shop is not currently operational, Zao has made appointments with some members of the community. They believe that clothes shape how we see ourselves and ourselves, and no one should be denied that because of price.
“When we come together as a community and give what we have and take what we need, everyone has everything they need. So I say this, even when we talk about giving or asking people to contribute financially, we say we believe we have enough because we have each other. And so I believe that’s actually true for the whole world,” Jonah said.