Miss Juwanna Dewitt, one of the performers at "Jesus Coming' Out Celebration" on April 10 at East End United in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Facebook event page)

Topics: Spirituality | LGBTQ

‘Jesus’ Coming Out Celebration’ queers up Palm Sunday

The first-ever event was a new way for one Toronto church to turn the day into a spectacle


On Palm Sunday (April 10), a group of queer creators and performers came together to showcase how their own journeys of coming out, being visible, and living into their true purpose are similar to Jesus’ journey of persecution and rebirth over the course of Holy Week. 

East End United in Toronto hosted the show, which featured drag performances from Kenya Rami, Miss Juwanna Dewitt and Mich Mash, a poetry reading from Hana Shafi, spoken word from Dunc Urquhart, and singing performances by Fay Anyway and King Julez, as well as closing and opening numbers by the East End United Choir. The event was also streamed to Zoom for those who couldn’t join in person. During the intermissions, in-person guests could check out and buy work from three local artists.

As drag performers lip synced and danced across the newly finished stage to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and Lizzo’s “Good as Hell,” those in the crowd whistled and cheered them on. These high-energy, uplifting performances were interspersed with more solemn reflections on faith and identity. In one of Hana Shafi’s poems, “Faith is a Relationship,” she spoke powerfully about the difficulty of her relationship with God.

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King Julez, a Children, Youth and Families Animator at East End United, as well as one of the event organizers and performers, said that they had been thinking of hosting something like this for a while — and Palm Sunday seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

“Palm Sunday, to me, has always been a spectacle — there’s always been a children’s pageant, or there’s always been some sort of production … because it’s such a big event in Christian context,” they say. 

The event was split into three parts, similar to Holy Week. Palm Sunday is when Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem and reveals his true self as the Messiah. Tuesday, Thursday and Good Friday are days of betrayal, persecution and crucifixion, as a result of being open and visible. Finally, Easter Sunday is when Jesus comes into his new life and fulfills his true purpose as Christ. 

“To me, those three stories really parallel the queer story of coming out and living into truth,” says King Julez. “More often than not, there is some negativity with [coming out]. …Only by combating homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, et cetera, can we fully live into who we are and who we’re meant to be and what our purpose is in this world.” 

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In some ways, the event was also therapeutic for the performers, says King Julez.

“Some of the performers aren’t religious at all, some of them have turned their back, some of them have religious trauma, [and] some of them are connected to other religions,” they say. “There were a few people that said it was a really healing experience to be able to fully be themselves in that space and not have anybody say anything about it.”

King Julez hopes that this showcase is only the first of many, both so that the church can continue to live into its affirming status and to provide healing for the queer folks who need it. 

“It’s really meaningful in that way and that’s the kind of work that I long to continue to do in the church,” they say.


Emily Standfield is an intern at Broadview.

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