The controversial divide between religion and sexuality may shrink, but certainly not the dreams of students who have launched a major campaign supporting gay Christian youth and young adults in Canada.

The Student Christian Movement of Canada (SCM), a national ecumenical network of campus groups, is launching a “Queer and Christian Without Contradiction” campaign after winning a major grant this summer.

The four-year national campaign aims to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in and out of the churches.

Communion with God, they say, need not be a closeted affair.

Members of the student-led movement, which brings together students from many denominations and even other faiths, expressed their excitement about the $100,000 grant.

“So many people assume that, on the issue of homosexuality, youth will have to choose between dogmatic traditions and our very identities,” said 25-year old David Ball, a former youth and overseas worker who attends an Anglican church in Winnipeg and has been part of SCM for three years, “But this just isn’t the case.”

“Faith is about liberation, not about oppression. We shouldn’t have to choose between our faith and our freedom to be who we are. Hopefully, more youth in Canada can see that we can be both queer and Christian – without contradiction,” he said.

Others in the 85-year old student-led movement said the Queer Youth Fund grant will help bring progressive Christians into the mainstream, and also help challenge other forms of oppression, including racism, classism and militarism, which they argue are connected.

“Exciting times ahead for the Student Christian Movement, not to mention for queers and their allies in the churches,” said Sheilagh McGlynn, one of two national coordinators for the movement. “Not only are we the first Canadian group to win this award – we’re also the first Christians.”

“It’s a huge step forward for all of us. Many youth today are seeking spiritual roots in an unjust world, they want to make a difference, but they often hear judgement from organised religion.

“We hope to offer a place to them, where they can be themselves.”

The SCM, founded in 1921, has a history of taking the lead in challenging both church and society – for instance, on the ordination of women, in the Canadian social gospel movement, and through liberation theologies which believe Jesus’ message to be essentially about freedom from oppression and injustice.

Often facing controversy for its understandings of the Gospel, the SCM hopes that both Christians and non-Christians alike will benefit from the education, leadership training, and visibility of the “Queer and Christian” campaign.

As it celebrates its 85th anniversary, the movement is launching the campaign this semester with a call-out for queer youth to submit art and Bible studies to promote the project.

The Queer Youth Fund grant is awarded annually by the US based Liberty Hill Foundation. It is the first time a Christian, or Canadian, organisation has won the award.

The $100,000 grant will be spread over four years to develop resources, scriptural materials, and training for young activists within a spiritual community.