Rev. Francesca Fortunato is an Interfaith Minister, dance instructor, actress, and activist for LGBTQs, especially the bi community. She is married to Lynn, who is also a minister. They live in Brooklyn, where they are supervised by their cats, Alice and Gracie.
“You should not tolerate intolerance. Any sort of bigotry was the biggest sin.”
Those were the main values that Rev. Francesca Fortunato was taught growing up. Her parents, both quite liberal and non-religious, had many friends who were gay or bisexual. “I knew from the age of 10 or 11 that I was bisexual,” she says. Coming out as bi to her immediate family was not hard. Finding acceptance in the LGBTQ community has been harder.
Married to a straight man for 13 years, she chose not to engage in bi activism out of respect for her husband. He knew she was bisexual, but because she is also “serially monogamous,” it was not an issue in the marriage. Her close friends knew, because she felt it was important for people to know who she was. “I’m not polyamorous,” she says. In relationships with either sex, she’s strictly monogamous. During that marriage, she felt uncomfortable not being more openly bi. “It always sort of nagged at me. I always wanted to be involved in that way, and I couldn’t allow myself to be.” Since then, she’s been very forthright in telling people she’s bisexual.
Now an Interfaith minister, Fortunato says that gaining self-acceptance is one of the greatest challenges bisexuals face. The outright hostility of some in the LGBTQ community distresses her. “There’s resentment,” she says. “It’s the perception that bisexuals have a choice—that they can get ‘straight’ privileges; that they’re taking the easy way out.” She says that an adversarial relationship springs from the idea that bisexuals just won’t commit. It’s as if there’s a battle being fought and bisexuals are not taking sides. Ironically, though many LGBTQs believe they were born that way, they have a hard time accepting that people can also be born bisexual.
She says that the absence of religion in her childhood, along with her parents’ liberal views, helped shape her own self-acceptance. Her father was agnostic and her mother was a “militant” atheist. Although her grandmothers were Jewish and Catholic, she did not have real exposure to religion until she began exploring religion in her mid-20s. When her journey led her into the Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan, she immediately felt at home.
“It was a funky little church,” she says. Its ministry is geared towards artists, actors, dancers and writers. “The pastor had actually been a Ringling Brothers clown before he was ordained!” Herself an actress and dancer, she felt she belonged, and got involved with the church. “I began having these strange thoughts that I want to live here.” She even began considering becoming a minister. The whole idea of religion was so new, she says she pushed it away for about 10 years. “I began running into people who were Interfaith Ministers.” Ultimately, one of those friends convinced her she could get a scholarship to the New Seminary. She was ordained as an Interfaith Minister in 2003.
It’s a challenge to help people who were raised in a rigid religious environment find a healthy spirituality, she says. She uses her religious title and affiliation in her work because “I’ve gotten the impression that they find me unthreatening and approachable. I hope I’m helping people by being out as bi, by being me. I’m this nice middle-aged church lady. I’m Mary Poppins.” She marches in Pride parades in her clerical collar. She wants people to know she’s there as a fellow bisexual, a real member of their community.
Fortunato says that the awful stereotypes about being bi are so negative, it makes it harder for bisexuals to find a religious home. “It’s one of the hardest environments in which to come out.” She says there are many semi liberal churches that say they accept gays and lesbians. But people who are bi or transgendered seem to be much more “othered.” So finding real acceptance in a church is harder.
She currently facilitates the Bi Perspectives group at the LGBT center in Manhattan, and encourages bisexuals in other communities to start bi support groups at their own LGBTQ centers. She wants bisexuals to know there is community. She affirms, “You’re good. You were born this way. You have a right to be out. You have a right to be safe. You’re not alone.”
Visit Rev. Francesca Fortunato’s celebrations ceremonies page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nyceremonies