A native of New York, the Rev. Malu Fairley has spent the bulk of her life thus far in the South, split between Charlotte and Atlanta. In 1993, she and her family moved to the Charlotte area. After high school, she moved to Atlanta where she was an undergrad at Spellman College and attended graduate school at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. She’s been back in the Queen City since 2010. Fairley, who identifies as a queer woman, centers her life around family, faith and community service. Our interview with Fairley has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Matt Comer: What did you study in school?
The Rev. Malu Fairley: I was at Spellman for undergrad. I started out with a dual degree in physics and engineering, but ended up with a degree in philosophy. Me and the higher levels of math do not get along well. I then attended Candler School of Theology, where I got a masters of divinity.
Had you always been interested in spiritual work and the church?
It’s interesting how you phrased that. Because, yes, I have always been interested in working with the spirit, but the church, no.
How did you come about your interest in faith work?
That was a surprise to me. I grew up going to church — more consistently with family here in North Carolina. I was in and out of church. I took a few years off between undergrad and graduate school and in that time I got really clear — I’m going to dedicate my life to this, okay. I thought it was a joke, but it just unfolded. I consider my ministry to be continuously unfolding.
Where do you work?
I’m in full-time ministry as a chaplain at Carolinas Healthcare System. I work in with the palliative care and hospice network. In terms of my church, my ordaining church, where I’m also a member, is Wedgewood Church. I regularly lead worship and preach there.
You’re also Charlotte Black Gay Pride’s chaplain. Not all Pride groups have a chaplain. Is this the first year they’ve had one?
The formality of the position is new, but even the founding members saw that it was very important to have a focus on spiritual health, wellness and advocacy. That’s always been a part of the mission and vision of Charlotte Black Gay Pride.
When did you first join the group and why did you get involved?
I joined in February of 2013. In part, I was looking to figure out how to be involved in the community here. I’d moved in 2010 for family and career and was very focused on those and then realized I was just lacking community, especially after being in Atlanta — I had a footprint all over that city. I saw there were going to be some community town hall meetings and discussions at the LGBT center when it was at the Music Factory. I started going and walked into some intense conversations on what and who Charlotte Black Gay Pride was going to be, who was going to be on the board and what the organization is going to be. I had just the intention of being a community member, but I was in that space and hearing what was happening and kind of felt I could serve in this way. I’m very passionate about the intersection of spirituality and sexuality — that’s true no matter what the sexual orientation, but add in the dynamics of being queer or QUILT BAGPIPE or however people want to define themselves, that passion stirs in me even more. And, even if your not Christian, there are a lot of people who are culturally Christian, especially in the South, and have a lot of wounding around having a sexual or gender identity that doesn’t fit into the norm. Part of my work on faith is providing healing.
Do you have a partner or spouse?
No, but I do have parenting partners. Not romantic partners.
And, you have a child?
Yes, a little boy.
Sounds like your quite the family person. What do you do with your family in your free time?
I do spend a great amount of time with my family, my son and my parenting partners. My mom is here and my sister is here and my siblings are just a few hours away. This is the first time we’ve all lived this close to one another. I also consider my family to be both given and chosen; some people might not be biological family, but they are still family. I like going out and about and spending time in nature. More and more, it’s important to me these days. Parks are really fun. My son and I went four-wheeling for the first time recently. That was, oh my goodness, that was fun.
What’s your favorite genre of music?
I’m not a big fan of favorites. It all depends on what mood I’m in. I just recently downloaded SoundCloud to my phone and I’m in love with that. I can switch around from Latin to deep house to Hip Hop. I love all of it. I might listen to neo-soul one day and John Legend and another day I might want to hear some heavy metal. I guess my favorite of all the SoundCloud genres is ambient music. I can listen to that anytime.
You’ve experienced the seasons in New York and in the South? Which is your favorite?
What I would take from New York is the fall. I love a New York fall. There’s nothing like it. If I could take that and bring it down here, I’d keep everything else the same — the South’s winter, spring and summer and New York’s fall, with the leaves turning and the crispness of the air and the fashion. It’s just a different feeling in the city. It’s beautiful, the energy of it. I was also born in September, so my birthday month always gets me excited. : :