ST. CLOUD – Clicking on the site Meetup.com, Wes Tattinger noticed there was something missing. There were plenty of different groups looking for new members, but Tattinger felt they didn’t have what he was looking for.
So he started that group himself, last August. He called it Rainbow Spirit.
“I actually started it myself in Osceola County, in part inspired by Meetup.com,” the resident of St. Cloud said. “They have groups for different interests, and they have a spiritual group that meets in London. Having a similar interest, I thought that would be good for this area.”
What he started was a group for gays and lesbians who are also interested in exploring their spiritual side in a group setting.
“It’s a group that focuses on religion, and spirituality can come into it,” he said. “It doesn’t focus on any one religion per se, it’s open to any spiritual background and it’s an exchange of ideas and looking at life and our values, and different general themes. We have a discussion coming up on February 5 that has to do with the value of being cautious in the GLBT community and coping with that. We also send out to members daily affirmations and a weekly extra that relates to spirituality.”
His journey down this path started with a Valentine’s Day event at the Baptist Church he grew up attending.
“I was originally Christian, with a Methodist upbringing,” he said. “I went to a Bible Baptist school at one time in Haines City, and that was the first time I experienced homophobia. That was when I had a crush on another boy in my class, and that was something that wasn’t okay to acknowledge around Valentine’s Day, the special feelings I had for him. They wanted me to pick a girl, and that’s all well and good, but there was a boy I wanted to pick instead.”
That had an impact on his feelings about being a gay man, interested in religion, but not always feeling accepted or welcome by organized religions in the South.
“Over the years, I’ve been feeling a distancing from Christianity,” he said. “I’m also Native American, in part Cherokee, and basically through Native American spirituality and taking a step back and looking at my higher power through a Native American perspective, that helped me reconcile many of my feelings. It kind of gave me a peace with my maker, and I wrote about that in a short book of affirmations that I published in 2008 called A Gathering of Light, that can be found on Amazon.”
So the concept of the group was simple: an opportunity for others in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community to meet and talk about their feelings about religion and spirituality.
“The first meeting place we had was here in St. Cloud, at Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop,” he said. “It was an even balance of men and women who came to the group. We basically talked about our different spiritual values and backgrounds and what we were looking for as a group.”
The group, he said, allows people like himself who feel shunted aside by local churches to continue exploring their spiritual side with like-minded others.
“I think that it allows them to mix or compare their ideas with people of different backgrounds, especially people who have been wounded by their spirituality or feel alienated from it,” he said. “There is a lot of religious conservatism.”
Rainbow Spirit, he said, aims to offer every member of the gay community — and their family and friends — a safe and welcoming space to share collective insights and wisdom in a group setting. The group also collaborates on outside activities, including a recent trip to Lake Ridge Winery in Clermont.
For more information about the weekly spiritual discussions, call 772-342-4696 or visit the website at http://www.meetup.com/GLBT-SpiritualAwarenessGroup-of-OsceolaCounty. Their outside activities include pot luck dinners, marching in Pride parades, participating in meditations, holding candlelight vigils, and sponsoring speaking engagements.
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