Blog

Love Overcomes All

By Tracy Robertson, St. Thomas United Church Minister

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I love living in the NE. I love the ethnic and cultural diversity and that I can go for a bike ride for 1.5 hours and never see another Caucasian person. Diversity is what gives me passion and excitement and, quite frankly, makes life worth living. For me, diversity gives me a glance into the face and heart of God. All people are children of God, and their diversity is who God is.

That’s why I also love serving an Affirming Church. Being an Affirming Church in the United Church of Canada means that a community of faith has worked through a year-long process of publicly becoming a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals. The process ensures all voices are heard and honoured. A large part of the process includes sharing and hearing stories of those marginalized and oppressed by society but also by churches and how we as a faith community are able to begin making amends and ensuring our congregation is always creating and re-creating safe space that is inclusive of all.

This is why I love serving an Affirming Church. I love the lifestyle diversity that is celebrated and affirmed. I truly feel as though the Holy and Divine are out of the closet when all God’s children can express themselves as they are and have been created…and it’s all in God’s image! Wonderful.

So, how do we deal with the haters? Those who express their fear of people who are different from themselves through hatred and anger.

Youth on the Zambian Youth Exposure Tour in August 2017.

Youth on the Zambian Youth Exposure Tour in August 2017.

Love…that’s how. Love trumps all hate and the haters never see it coming. We are children of God – children of love. It’s through that unconditional love of God that the world will change to the better. God doesn’t create haters. Love doesn’t create haters. While we are all created in the image of God – of love – we also seem to think that we all have to believe, act, look, the same. How boring! God is a God of diversity and that diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated and lifted up.

When I was in Zambia on a youth exposure trip last August, we offered to host an Open Forum with the students of the United Church of Zambia University on the topic of Affirming and LGBTQ+ awareness. Although attendance was optional, all the students and faculty came. And, although being gay or lesbian is against the law in Zambia, most in attendance were open to a dialogue and wanted to learn how to love and care for everyone and all. They may not have agreed, but most truly wanted to learn how to be the love that is God and Jesus in the world. Part of the dialogue includes holding people accountable to hurtful comments and doing so still holding love at the centre of that accountability. At the start of the Forum, we did some intentional educating around creating and maintaining safe space during the time we were together.

Towards the end of our time together, one of the very few haters made a very inappropriate request. Specifically, this individual asked that I tell the group which of us from Canada were LGBTQ and then the Zambians could approach those people later and continue to ask them questions. Basically, I was asked to ‘out’ those in the Canadian group. Keep in mind, that being LGBTQ in Zambia is illegal. My immediate reaction, in my head and heart, was yelling “oh, hell no!” My heart raced and I feared for those of us on the spectrum. I was mad at the ignorance and insensitivity at this outrageous request. But in that split second, I was able to see this person through God’s eyes; through that lense of unconditional love and I realized that he had no idea what he was asking. He was ignorant to the severity of his request and what harm it could possibly inflict. At the same time, I had to hold him accountable by shutting down that line of questioning and let him know that the safety we created at the start of our time together had now been made unsafe with his question.

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My hope is that he gently gained an awareness of how his question diminished the safety of the space. What I do know, however, is that this Forum, this space of discussion and vulnerability that we intentionally created, was a gift to most of those in attendance. I know this because we received comment after comment in the weeks following the Forum from individuals thanking us for opening their awareness to what LGBTQ means and what it means to minister and care for all people, including LGBTQ people.

When we respond to haters with love, we can continue to celebrate the diversity that reflects who God is in the best way possible. When haters come to the Pride Parade, and they will, respond to them with love. Create a chant of love as a gift to the haters. Overwhelm them with love for one another as a sign of God’s love for us all. Love…that’s how. Happy Pride Everyone! Be loud and proud of who you are and how you were created by God to be who you are. All are worthy and all of us are created in the image of God. And because God is love, we are created in the image of love. So let’s do what we’re meant to do and spread love instead of hate. Share love in the midst of hate. Be love…even to the haters. May it be so.

4 Steps to Stay Proud All Year Long

Author: Eden Middleton, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member

Queer people don’t stop existing at the end of June, so neither should the activism and celebrations of Pride. Here are 4 steps you can take to keep celebrating Pride all year round.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things you could and can do, nor is this the only perspective on what you can do. I am part of an organization trying to do its best to educate ourselves, be inclusive and be open. Our team sees these resources and 4-steps as great starting points for anyone interested in being a year-long ally and look forward to growing this list as myself and the rest of the Campus Ministry team continue to read, learn, and grow as individuals and as an organization.

1. Build Inclusive Communities

A central aspect of Pride is the creation of radically accepting and inclusive spaces for queer-identifying people.  Work to make your communities — be it church, a classroom, your office, or your trivia night — inclusion. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Normalize pronouns. Introduce yourself using your pronouns. Put pronouns in your social media bios and email signatures. If you’re making name tags, invite people to also write their pronouns on their sticker. [Note: in some scenarios, it might not feel safe for a trans person to out themselves. Never pressure someone to share their pronouns.  Safety comes first.]
  • Replace cisnormative and heteronormative vocabulary with more inclusive language. For example: ‘folks’ or ‘distinguished guests’ is more inclusive than addressing a crowd as ladies and gentleman. So is asking about someone’s partner instead of their husband/wife.
  • Step up and speak upIf you recognize someone, be it a stranger or a loved one, making transgender people a punch line or complaining about same-sex couples ruining the sanctity of marriage and if you feel safe to do so, have a conversation with them about their actions and the possible harm it causes.  
  • Be intersectional. There are queer people of colour, and queer people with disabilities, and queer immigrants. Communities aiming to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities must also work to be accessible and decolonized. Are your gender-neutral washrooms also wheelchair accessible? Does your LGBTQ+ poetry night recognize the indigenous territory it takes place on?
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2. Stay Educated

This month we’ve focused a lot on sharing queer resources and perspectives. This can be as easy as reading queer books and listening to queer artists [I’d recommend Laramie Project, Fun Home the Musical, and Rae Spoon] to continue opening up your mind. Here are my favourite resources (some of which we’ve shared already!)

3. Take Action!
Become an LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit Activist.

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The first pride was a riot. While it’s wonderful to be joyous and celebrate how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, it’s important to know that our work isn’t done. Here’s how you can help:

4. Love Proudly!!

Love the people around you as fiercely as you can. Be empathetic. Be compassionate. Be forgiving.  Statistically, you have loved ones who identify somewhere within the LGBTQ community. You might know who they are, or you might not, but trust me, they’re there. They’re here all year round (not just June!) and it can be tough going sometimes So be vocal and generous in your love and give as much of it as you can muster.

And if you identify within the LGBTQ+ community or you’re in the process of exploring your identity, remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you. You are here. You are loved. Be proud.

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Working Through Love not Guilt

Author: Robert Massey, YYC Campus Ministry Team

Let me start by saying, I do not want to write this post. But, as our summer student told me, “you know you’re writing about the right thing when it’s difficult to write about.”

This is an admission of guilt. I know I have been guilty of having used homophobic slurs in the past. Whether it was on the playing field being thrown at an opponent or during a heated argument or just when I got angry. I know I have made fun of those who were questioning their sexual identity. Those who may not be as ‘manly’ as I thought that a man should be. I know I’ve ridiculed people for their looks when obviously they were going through a difficult transition and a time of questioning. I am deeply embarrassed by the way I acted, particularly as a teenager. It was easier to make fun of other people than it was to stand up for them. It was easier to become a part of the crowd than to stand up and speak out. I misappropriated and misused terms and I am certainly guilty of using terms that no one should utter in this day and age.

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I’ve worked very hard to remove those words from my vocabulary and to encourage others to stop using them as well. But that doesn’t make it excusable that I did use them at certain points in the past. I’m embarrassed that I have used those kinds of slurs in my past and by what my church has put people in the LGBTQ+ community through. But just because I’m embarrassed does not mean I should back away from my mistakes, and trying to work as an ally. Honestly, backing away now due to this is selfish. If I truly wish to make right for what I have done in the past then I cannot allow my embarrassment to stop me.

Part of the work that we’re doing as a Campus Ministry is to build towards relationships with the LGBTQ+ community, and one of the steps towards that is by admitting to the faults that we have had in the past. This is one of those admissions of fault.

So why does this admission of fault matter?

To me, it is part of the healing process. This is a way of accepting that I was a part of the problem. This means owning up for what I have done and, beyond that, overcoming the guilt I feel associated with it. I have a responsibility to be a part of the solution. I can’t speak as to what this admission means to anyone else if it means anything at all, but this is what it means to me.

Overcoming the guilt, and seeking to forgive myself but not forget, is a huge part of this process. I firmly believe that we should act out of a place of compassion, understanding, and love. If we feel guilty about how we have mistreated people, and we do not come to terms with this guilt then we are acting not out of love but out of shame and fear. We never do our best, most honest work when acting out of shame or guilt, because this is a selfish endeavour. We are attempting to make ourselves feel better, to fill a hole in our own sole, by seemingly doing work for others. But, if we admit to our guilt, accept it and forgive ourselves but never forget, then we can begin to work from a place of love. It is from a place of love and compassion that the best and most enduring changes occur.

I don’t know how my use of slurs and bullying people in school affected them. I don’t know the outcome of any of the situations that I was involved in when I bullied people for their sexual orientation, their gender, their clothing choices, and for things I obviously did not understand or take the time to understand. But to those people I affected, to those who I bullied and demeaned, I am deeply sorry. I cannot ever take back what I said, nor can I take away the pain I caused. But I truly wish to apologize for what I said and did. And I wish to work hard to ensure that other people don’t act the way I have in the past. To use some of my learnings and experiences to help prevent more pain in the future and possibly heal a few wounds along the way.

So, now that you have read all that, why did I bother writing all this and publishing it?

Firstly, to be open and honest with myself, those we are working with, and anyone else who may happen upon this blog post. Honesty is at the foundation of working through love.

Secondly, I hope that this blog inspires more people to understand the wrongs they have committed and admit to them. Then, they can begin to move past guilt and they can use the memories of how they acted to help others move past their negative actions.

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Thirdly, if I can leave you with anything from this, it would simply be that how you acted in the past does not dictate who you are in the future. Everyday you choose how you act and you can choose to act out of hate or fear or out of guilt, but I would encourage you to act out of love. Act with compassion. Act with acceptance. Act by listening and learning. Take action with love in your head and in your heart. And it is action that we need today. Stand up for those around you. Don’t denounce others just to make yourself feel better. Don’t let your fears and worries about things you don’t understand guide how you act. Let your feelings of compassion for others guide your actions. Use your courage and stand up when others are being pushed down. Be willing to learn. Celebrate difference and diversity, don’t attempt to squash it. Let acceptance be your guide. Let compassion lead your head. Let your heart have a say.

Let love win.