Trinity Episcopal Church is receiving national recognition for its contributions to LGBTQ history in St. Louis.
The Central West End church became the first and only site in Missouri and the Episcopal Church to be named on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the LGBTQ community.
The church became an early supporter of gay rights and LGBTQ parishoners in the 1960s and people living with AIDS in the 1980s. Trinity was ahead of the game, said the Rev. Jon Stratton, the rector at the church.
“We were inclusive far before the national church was,” Stratton said. “We have been a place of welcome for the LGBTQ community for well over 50 years. Which again was not a typical thing in churches and wasn’t really even typical within the Episcopal Church going that far back.”
The recognition of Trinity is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Department of the Interior to document the gay rights movement. In 1969, the church served as a meeting space for the Mandrake Society, the first gay rights organization in St. Louis. During Halloween of that year, the organization advocated for a group of men who were arrested, said Jym Andris, a longtime parishioner of the church.
“They were dressed in women’s clothes and made up and had wigs and earrings and so forth on,” Andris said. “And so, they were arrested under St. Louis law that was finally overturned in 1985 that was against cross dressing. But they were helped by this organization that had been meeting at Trinity.”
Andris, who is transgender, said Trinity’s welcoming approach has left a lasting impact.
“It’s very moving to me to have a [church] home where I feel at home,” Andris said. “And of course, that’s much more common now and widespread, but when we were first going, that was hard to find.”
The church’s message of love and acceptance is one that continues to this day, Stratton said.
“It’s being rooted in the scriptures. It’s being rooted in our faith,” he said. “Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and he didn’t say unless they are this or that. He said love your neighbors as yourself, no matter what. No matter who they are.”
Trinity Episcopal Church will hold a formal plaque dedication on June 13. Bishop-elect Deon Johnson will be a guest speaker at the event. He will become the first openly gay bishop to serve the Diocese of Missouri when he is ordained on April 25.