Marginalized people in her orbit might picture Cheri DiNovo as a pollinating bee, buzzing from one bloom to the next, never in a straight line. The more comfortable and powerful people who are challenged by DiNovo have probably seen her more as a pesky, unswattable, uncatchable housefly that refuses to go back out the door. Regardless of the various opinions of her, DiNovo is unapologetic in her memoir, The Queer Evangelist: A Socialist Clergy’s Radically Honest Tale.
DiNovo is the minister at Trinity–St. Paul’s United Church in downtown Toronto. Prior to that, she was the New Democrat representing Parkdale–High Park in the Ontario legislature from 2006 to 2017. At Queen’s Park, DiNovo became a champion in speech and in legislation for the rights of queer and transgender people, as well as for other marginalized populations.
As DiNovo recalls her political accomplishments, it quickly becomes clear that she was no party hack. Although she brands herself as a queer socialist, she shows how she was always willing to work with people of all political persuasions. For DiNovo, the cause matters more than who gets the credit. DiNovo reminds those of us cynical about politics that hard work and a just cause, no matter how marginal it may seem, can still result in attention and action.
Another refreshing thing about The Queer Evangelist is DiNovo’s honesty. Rather than a self-serving confessional, her memoir reads as a clear exposition of who she is: an indifferently raised girl who turned to drugs as a young woman, a rape survivor, an entrepreneur, a mom, queer, and a radical Christian who is proof that working toward a little progress is better than making no progress at all.
The key as well as the heart of DiNovo’s story is in her radical Christianity; she responded to the Judeo-Christian scriptures and her life has been guided by the instruction to look for places and opportunities where love can replace disconnection and justice can overcome oppression. DiNovo’s personal story is snappy, relevant, intimate, and inspirational. It shows us how faith and action can impact each other as people care for one another.
DiNovo sums up the intersection of her queerness and her evangelism by writing: “Faithful queers and queer faith are my family. Politics and social justice, activism, was and is simply another ministry, another calling. Nothing is surprising to me when I look back upon this astounding journey. At my queerest I’m a person of faith. At my most faithful I’m most queer. There’s no separation. Never was.”
At a time when many people identify as spiritual but struggle to translate belief to the real world, DiNovo’s experiences and insights provide us with a divinely inspired practical purpose.
Updated June 23: This review has been updated from the version that appeared in the print July/August 2021 issue. Cheri DiNovo self-identifies as queer and the original version was incorrect.