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 just as an ally and not LGBTQ+ myself. I have struggled with the idea of becoming more visibly an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, 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 and experience, 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 who are searching for a church home, and I would love for it to be a safe, inclusive (at all levels) 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 city-wide meeting several years back. It was scary but ultimately a positive experience. The topic of Human Sexuality has been debated heavily in my denomination for the last several years and even decades. This meeting was partly about discussing sending an overture my church’s national gathering on this topic of Human Sexuality several years back. I was quite young at the time, and one of the few in the room who was neither clergy nor an elder, and as a female was definitely in the minority. There was not much conversation, and what was said did not seem (to me) to take into account the fact that these doctrines we were discussion directly affect human lives every day. I spoke up to add some personal stories from my experience interacting with folks who are gender and sexual minorities, 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. 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, a congregation hosted a conversation series on Human Sexuality. I went to all of the sessions, 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 topic didn’t directly affect thousands of lives. I spoke up briefly in support of a more inclusive understanding of how we can love all humans of all sexual and gender identities. I was immediately and aggressively opposed by an elder of the church, who disagreed with me on a biblical basis loudly and vehemently. Disappointingly, nobody commented on their aggressive tone or moderated the conversation. 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 my denomination has been working very hard to create safer 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 experience 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 students and 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 and drumming in the Pride Parade for several years with an affirming congregation, 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 safer 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’s life.
One of the things I learned in this process is a better understanding of the constant fear many of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community live with on a day to day basis. It is so hard for these friends to be constantly having to advocate for their own identity to be accepted, often uncertain of the reception they will receive. In many cases their very safety is at risk when their sexual or gender identity becomes apparent. I am so humbled to consider the intense courage and strength of character it takes many of these folks just to exist in the world. In order to hopefully relieve even the tiniest bit of pressure from the LGBTQ+ community constantly having to advocate for itself, I want to become much more visible as an ally.
The more of us wearing rainbows, the less targeted folks in the community might be. The more of us advocating for our friends in the community, the less they are forced to advocate for themselves. It is enormously easier for me to advocate for an identity that is not my own, as I don’t have trauma associated with it. Not only that, but sometimes folks are more willing to listen to people who are not within the community they are advocating for. That should not be the case but unfortunately all too often is true. The time has come for me 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. To this end I am making my social media more “rainbowy”, in spite of having friends from many different perspectives on there who might disagree or become alienated. I am committing myself to speak out against homophobia when I come across it, to consistently advocate for LGBTQ+ friends, and to continue to learn, grow, and gain understanding. I am humbled by how much I have yet to learn on this journey, but it is so worth undertaking.
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.
Several individuals within the community have warned me that being out as an ally can be extremely hard and draining, so to be sure to build in a network and self-care. It was humbling to hear this from folks who have no choice but to be an advocate, just by their existence, and if it is that hard for me how much harder for them. I was deeply touched by their care of me, despite the fact that it will always be a thousand times harder for them. I do want to heed their advice, if only to ensure I have the support to stay healthy and continue the work of advocacy. 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. Similarly, take some time to send encouraging words of support for all allies and all those living as a sexual or gender minority, who don’t have the choice of tuning out of the work for a while to take a break.
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 chat or share experiences of being an ally or other things on this topic, 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 as Christians to all people. I am looking forward to getting my rainbows on and walking in support and solidarity with my LGBTQ+ friends and siblings in the Pride Parade, and continuing to learn and grow as an ally. What a privilege.