Author: Zoe Say, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to me to be a good ally to my friends in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities. More and more that has meant coming out more fully and being more visible in my church, work, and life in general as an ally.
I had one of the most beautiful, enriching and affirming conversations of my life recently with a good friend in the LGBTQ+ community. It both reminded me of the importance of this work and affirmed how difficult it is, even as an ally and not LGBTQ+ myself. I have struggled with the idea of coming out fully, as I have very good friends in all facets of my life who think very differently about this topic than I do. It pains me to think that I might alienate them or offend them, or that it might alter our relationship or their respect for me. However, it pains me even worse to feel that I am not doing my utmost to support and advocate for dear friends of mine in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities. These are individuals who I respect and admire greatly. Many have stories of pain and trauma from the intersection of their sexual or gender identity and their faith identity, especially Christianity.
Churches are often dangerous spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals can be judged, condemned, and even attacked. A person in the LGBTQ+ community recently told me that the Bible had been used almost exclusively for them as a weapon.
I found that heartbreaking, in a religion that for me has always been oriented around love and inclusion, particularly of the marginalized.
This is not to say that all churches are unsafe, some churches will be the first place a member of the LGBTQ+ and two-spirited communities will come out of the closet as they know they will be loved and supported. Some are merely neutral, not putting forward an opinion on the matter either way. However because of the overwhelming Christian narrative of judgement that people in the LGBTQ+ communities hear, a “neutral” space generally still does not feel safe. It could be that people are still heterosexist, they’re just not talking about it. I would dearly love to share my wonderful denomination and faith with LGBTQ+ friends, and I would love for it to be a safe and nurturing space for them, so that is one of the main things I am working toward as an ally.
My earliest memory of standing up as an ally was at a Presbytery meeting several years back. It was scary but ultimately a positive experience. My own denomination is the Presbyterian Church of Canada, and the topic of the LGBTQ+ community has been debated heavily for the last several years and even decades. The Presbytery was discussing sending an overture to General Assembly on this topic of Human Sexuality. I was one of the few in the room who was neither clergy nor an elder, and as a female was definitely in the minority. I spoke up to add some personal stories from my experience to a largely academic conversation, and although it was nerve-wracking as I was the youngest in the room by about 30 years, the dialogue remained respectful and I felt heard and valued. I was approached afterward by an individual who said that my words had touched them deeply, so I was glad I had spoken.
Not long after, my home congregation hosted a conversation series on Human Sexuality. I went to all of them but was disappointed again in the cerebral-level of the conversations, and lack of acknowledgment that we were discussing human beings. There was no talk about people or their stories, and no representation from the community we were discussing (as far as I knew). We merely reviewed the Report on Human Sexuality document from over 30 years ago, discussed theology, doctrine and biblical interpretation as if this didn’t affect thousands of lives. I spoke up briefly, I can’t remember what about. But I do remember being aggressively opposed by a male elder, who disagreed with me on a biblical basis loudly and vehemently. Disappointingly, nobody commented on his aggressive tone or moderated the conversation very well. I didn’t speak up again. It didn’t feel like a safe space to discuss differing views.
That experience of being opposed so aggressively hit me pretty hard, and I struggled to speak in my denomination or church after that. I do know however that the PCC has been working very hard to create safe spaces to discuss differing perspectives, as well as to humanize the discussion and bring in the stories of those with lived experience of what we are talking about and debating. I was also humbled to know that my experience was nothing compared to what those in the LGBTQ+ communities face sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, condemning their very identity as wrong. Another important realization from that is that I also have to watch my language, and be careful not to attack those with differing views than my own. Meeting each other with the grace to allow our faith to be big enough for our differences feels like an important part of the process.
Since then I have thrown myself into supporting affirming communities, educating myself, and helping to make my work community as safe as possible for all people of all sexual and gender identities. I have had many positive experiences in the past few years as I have learned and grown as an ally. I had the pleasure of walking in the Pride Parade with an affirming Presbyterian Church, which was an absolute joy. I got to share my gift of drumming and music and brought some friends along. I have learned from students and staff at Calgary's universities more about how to use pronouns and create safe spaces for those in the LGBTQ+ communities. I have attended workshops at the Q Center at the University of Calgary such as “alphabet soup” which have helped my knowledge grow enormously, and navigate those ever-evolving letters! My admiration for these courageous folks to share with me has grown, as has my desire to do something tangible to support these friends and help to heal the trauma that my religion has caused in so many. It pains me, when occasionally they ask me about my church, that I cannot offer them a space I know they will be loved, valued, supported and included in every part of the church.
The topic of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks is currently being debated at the highest levels of the PCC. As scary as it is, I decided recently that if I wanted to love my LGBTQ+ students and friends well, I would like to be directly involved in the process. I also decided I want to “come out” as an ally. The time has come to speak up once again, talking clearly about what I believe and why, while still acknowledging all perspectives as valid and worthy of being heard.
It has been such a relief to now be working more tangibly for healing and advocacy for these friends. I love being able to do something to support them, and hopefully, create safer spaces where they can fully be themselves. It brings me great joy that our campus ministry is embarking on becoming an Affirming Ministry, that we are walking in the Pride Parade, and that we can show tangibly that we advocate for the love and inclusion of all people in all aspects of life and the church. Most exciting for me is that I have recently been deputized as a “listener” for the PCC’s Rainbow Communion. The Rainbow Communion is, according to their website (found at presbyterian.ca/listening): “A special committee formed by the 2017 General Assembly that has been empowered to invite LGBTQI people to tell stories of harm done to them within and by the church, and to share their stories of God’s grace experienced by them in Christian ministry.”
This, I believe is a wonderful way that the PCC is humanizing the conversation around human sexuality; collecting the stories of those who have been and continue to be directly affected by this conversation. I have huge respect for the courageous souls leading the Rainbow Communion who outed themselves to the entire denomination as members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, despite often feeling unsafe in the process. I am so honoured to get to have a small role in this process of hearing stories of courageous individuals who are willing to share about potentially some of their deepest trauma. It will be the greatest privilege to witness and hear these stories.
Several individuals within the community have warned me that these stories will likely be very draining and hard to hear, and so to be sure to build in a support network and self-care. If you are the praying type, I ask for prayer support as I embark on this journey. I have witnessed the power of prayer and believe strongly in its significance. If you would like, feel free to check in and see how the process is going, and how I am doing. And please, if you know someone who could use a space to share their story, please be in touch. We have ways of individuals sharing anonymously or in almost any way that would be best for the individual to help them feel both safe and heard in the way they need. We are looking for stories from any Christian who has a story about their intersection of faith and sexual or gender identity, whether positive or negative to share. As well as stories of the allies, friends and family who are walking with these individuals.
There is more I could say but I don’t want to run on too long (thanks for reading this far). Please feel free to chat with me if you’d like to share experiences, I would be happy to share more. I am, however, not interested in debating theology.
Now I am looking forward to passing on that care and support to my LGBTQ+ friends. I will work on listening to all perspectives, attacking no one and extending the grace Jesus taught us to all people. I am looking forward to walking in support and solidarity with my LGBTQ+ friends and siblings in the Pride Parade. As well as going and hearing the stories of those brave souls who are willing to share with the Rainbow Communion, as a listener. What a privilege.