LGBTQ+

Celebrating Pride

By Robert Massey, YYCCM Team Member

Drums. Dancing. Screaming. Cheering. Chanting. 

This is how we celebrated our first-ever Pride Parade as an organization. With handmade signs, handprints of love, and the energy to drum and dance continuously for over 3 km. 

And it was a BLAST! The energy, the excitement, the vigour, the feeling. It was amazing to walk between the nearly 80,000 people who came down to celebrate and invigorate the Pride Parade. But the biggest thing from this afternoon was the love. You could feel it. There was a palpable wall of love that you passed through as the people in the crowd swelled and cheered when you entered the parade route. It washed over you. Enveloped you. You couldn't help but smile. This feeling nearly brought some of our members to tears. It felt less like getting hit with a wave and more like being wrapped in a warm, inviting blanket.

It was pure, unbridled happiness and love pouring out from tens of thousands of strangers. We didn't know them. They didn't know us. But they cheered and we cheered right back. We drummed and they clapped in time. We danced and they got their feet moving. We loved each other as a community, and that is all you can ask for.

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We had a strong contingent of people, 20 of us, walking behind a homemade banner held up by a curtain rod taken from an employee's house. The young adults alongside us let their Pride flow strong. They cheered and got the crowd moving. They drummed and they sang. And they held signs high, proclaiming the true message of the Bible and Jesus. Love.

Just simply love.

This was important. Especially when protesters appeared, proclaiming god isn't proud, that we were all sinners, that everyone should repent. But there were few of them, tucked in one corner of the route. And it was powerful for us to counter their protest with our signs of love, of grace, of joy and happiness. 

To counter their protest with our very presence. 

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And our presence was strong.

We were part of a large and long contingent of churches and religious organizations there to stand with the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities, with over 500 people marching in the parade alone. Let alone all the believers in churches and on the sides of the parade this morning.

They were a tiny number, hiding behind large signs. We were loud, large and proud of supporting these communities. We let our presence be known. We let our message of love fly in the face of their hatred, and the 80,000 people around us cheered with us. They roared when Rev. Tim ran in front of their signs, dressed full-on in his robes, rainbow stole and collar; grinning as he happily supported the Pride Parade. 

It is those visible signs of hatred that make the Pride Parade, Pride Week celebrations, the work of Affirm United, and GSAs so important. People often ask why we need the Pride Parade and the celebrations. Those signs tell us why.

They also tell us why it is so important that the Campus Ministry is pursuing its affirming designation. We started that process earlier this summer, putting our work where our words have been for so many years. Today was something special for us all. We walked together. Visibly, happily, and in unity as an organization with a squadron of young adults walking, dancing, and drumming along with us. We took an important step as an organization today, openly acting upon what we have been saying for years.

Now it's time for us to keep the excitement going. Pride is more than just one week, it's every day of every year. It's about showing support and inclusion at every event and every corner of our work.

It's about showing love for everyone.

All photos and video by Robert Massey

Our team with Mayor Nenshi at the end of the parade route.

Our team with Mayor Nenshi at the end of the parade route.

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.

Struggling with the Realities of what the Church has Done

Author: Caitlin Hornbeck, Guest Author

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A few months ago, I found it getting harder for me to go to church on Sunday mornings. No, it wasn’t the early wake-up call for a 10 am service that made the thought of going to church unbearable some Sundays. As it turns out, I just hit a dead end. I, as some folks do in their journey of faith, had lost my enthusiasm for the Church. In light of discussions I had and discoveries I made about the history of the United Church, the rose-coloured glasses I looked at my faith through became dull.

I joined the United Church about 6 years ago- cognizant of my choice to follow organized religion after a childhood of no religion. The introduction to my faith community had very little to do with religion, in fact. I started attending my church because of the vibrant youth programming- and I guess I fell into the religion later on. From the get-go, I was absolutely ecstatic about where I worshipped. I prided myself on the fact that my church hung a rainbow flag above the doors outside. I gleamed at the knowledge that my church ordained people of all genders. I saw young families intermingling with older folks in the congregation. I was living in my own picture-perfect religious bubble… Until that bubble burst.

As a result of my late arrival to the Church, and religion as a whole, I was ignorant of the pain and suffering caused in the name of God. Of course, through my schoolwork, I was introduced to the idea of religion being used to persecute. I knew some of the history of colonization, and I knew it was bad. But learning from a textbook is vastly different than hearing stories from a real person. It wasn’t until 2014, during my time at a youth conference, when I learned of the United Church’s involvement in the Residential schooling system. In 2016, I also learned that the United Church, in the 1960’s, declared homosexuality a sin. But I held on. I accepted the facts as they were; that the United Church had made mistakes. I was contented for the time being knowing that the place I worshipped had apologized for its involvement in the residential schooling system and since declared that homosexuality was not a sin.

This time, after being confronted head-on by the history of the Church, I became cynical. I started hating going to church, and I stopped attending for a period of time

And then, in the winter of 2018, I was confronted again with feelings of anger and resentment towards the Church. I was taking part in an immersive program called the Kaleidoscope Project (applications are open for the next session. I would definitely recommend applying!) at the University of Calgary. The Project offered a unique perspective on 6 different religions - one of them being Christianity. During our learning about the Christian faith, discussions took place about the pain Christianity had caused for some folks. Hearing real people, my friends, tell their stories made everything more real. The pain and suffering went from being history to being reality.

This time, after being confronted head-on by the history of the Church, I became cynical. I started hating going to church, and I stopped attending for a period of time. I couldn’t sit in a pew and truly appreciate what was happening in a service because my mind was occupied by all the things I had learned. I didn’t want to go to church and sing hymns and act like the past didn’t happen. I saw the effects of the history of the Church firsthand, and it scared me.  

It scared me because I didn’t understand. I became so occupied in my rage that I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of the fact that my faith is centred in love. I forgot that my church flies a rainbow flag outside because that is a living apology to the LGBTQ+ community, a constant reminder that God’s love is for all. I forgot that my church has a Right Relations committee to live out our commitment to Reconciliation and to always remember what happened, so it doesn’t happen again. I’ve seen changes in the way my congregation worships- including the acknowledgement of the land on which we worship and the presence of dedicated committees for several social justice issues. These changes bring me joy. They remind me, in all my cynicism, that the path to healing has no defined course. There is no end to this story.

I guess the best way for me (and Christians as a whole) to move forward is to continue working. I am making a conscious effort to always embody the best teachings Jesus has taught me. I am called to love unconditionally, to live authentically, and to speak thoughtfully. I am going through the motions, yes, as I come to terms with the fact that we are not perfect. Damage has been done and we, as God’s people, must make it right no matter how long it takes or how painful it may be.

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Coming Out as a Straight Ally

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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.

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.
— Zoe Say, YYCCM Program Director

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.

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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.

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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Reflecting on a Monologue

Author: Robert Massey, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member

It takes courage to step up onto a stage and perform. It takes determination to perform solo. It takes bravery to perform something heartfelt, honest, and raw, something that tells your real story. This is what Shubhechhya Bhattarai did during the Coming Out in Faith monologues hosted at Hillhurst United Church in April. They stepped up and performed a powerful spoken-word monologue centred on the intersections of their faith and being transgender.

“It’s quite powerful,” Shubhechhya said during a conversation in the Campus Ministry office. “I didn’t really realize the impact this piece was going to have honestly. I still probably won’t even know the full scope of it. But lots of positive attention, which is kind of neat honestly for how hard I had to work on this piece. And kinda change it, like I’m telling someone about myself but I’m also teaching them about Hinduism because this is all content that people won’t understand all the time.”

Shubhechhya Bhattarai

Shubhechhya Bhattarai

Shubhechhya was in a unique position at the monologues, presenting as a transgender person of another faith in a Christian church.

“They wanted something different and I mean this (was) very different from any of your traditional narratives or just the content you always get at coming out in faith,” Shubhechhya said. “We’ve never had someone of a Hindu like tradition come forth like this. Scary thing, but well worth it. ... The person who actually did the coming out in faith monologues shared the video and she was like yeah keep telling everyone about you it’s just that amazing. And that said something for content that’s very very different.  

"Even the notes I got after the fact, they leave you little performance notes, going through all those notes. People are like 'this is amazing to see these similarities between Hinduism and Christianity,' and the concepts of energies, or just someone being like 'yeah you’re right this is not something that is talked about in Hinduism but it’s so important none the less.' It was so inspiring for people, who even come up to me like 'this was an amazing piece' in tears."

The 7 1/2-minute piece is witty, quick worded poetry that gently massages together humour, heartfelt, and insightful moments that got the crowd in Hillhurst United Church laughing, crying, and thinking all at once. Shubhechhya, a student at the University of Calgary, didn't have the chance to audition for the monologues but the producers loved their work so much that they were accepted based purely on the writing. I am including the link to the video in the blog, please take some time to watch it (and watch it a few times). It is well worth the almost 8-minutes you will spend watching it.

Here, I am going to add the Q&A that we went through with Shubhechhya in the YYCCM office last week, rather than continuing to put my words around Shubhechhya's thoughts. In my belief, this is the best way to get the true sense of Shubhechhya's piece, their thought process behind it, and their true voice. Joining us in the conversation was the Campus Ministry Communication's Assistant Eden Middleton, another student at the University of Calgary and a friend of Shubhechhya's.


Q&A

Robert: When you found out they responded to you, you didn’t audition but they loved it. What’d that feel [like]?

Shubhechhya: I don’t know. I don’t think I thought much about it. I was like “Cool I’m in. Oh, awesome I get to do another putting myself out there piece.” And then later reality sorta set in as the weeks progressed and we get into rehearsals and stuff like that. ... The day of I was full on, “Okay, this is happening.” I’m actually pretty nervous in the video before I start talking. You can tell, I actually start out the video with a deep breath. ... What people don’t know, because they couldn’t see, was backstage I was restless. For the most part, I just laid in the back on the floor. One, because Hillhurst floors are very creaky so you can't really move much, and if you move everyone in the audience can hear. So I couldn’t do anything! ... This is the most comfortable position at the moment. Wooden floors are actually really, really comfy. Surprisingly.

Robert: Especially when they’ve had so many feet go over them over the years.

[laughter]

Shubhechhya: I wouldn't say it’s soft though, I wouldn't say it’s soft, I was just so comfortable, I was like I’m just going to be right here. And then, when I need to, I will get up and go forth.

Robert: That’s the perfect transition for something I wanted to ask you. So you open that door, you go out. Talk me through that moment.

Shubhechhya: After, who was it? I think it was Pam [Rocker] who was doing the introduction for me. I’m listening to this introduction being like, ‘This is happening, this is happening’.

Introducing. Door opens. I’m like, 'Okay.'

Walk out.

It almost felt surreal. I am being very, very vulnerable now. Because the reality of having done the interview with Global [News] really hit me as well. Like, what is this impact? What does it mean? And I knew I had friends out in the audience, so I was like, 'Oh wow, this friend is going to see this whole different side of me that they haven't experienced before. What is this going to be like? How am I going to connect with them? And how will they see me now?' And it was...it was sort of an almost nerve-racking moment.

Then, 'no, stop. I can’t think right now.' Focus. Yes, I know my piece, I KNOW I know my piece. I’ve been going through this over and over again, I know I have it down. And then just go through it.

So, hence the whole stop, find my footing, my grounding, and taking a deep breath and just speaking. Before I spoke I had to quickly ground myself like “Okay. Let’s go. It’s showtime!”

Robert: Okay. There are a couple of things I want to ask you about. One of the lines that I really love that you wrote in there is, “All that is unnatural is also natural," and you said, but I don’t know what language you were speaking

Shubhechhya: It’s Sanskrit.

Robert: Thank you

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Shubhechhya: That was interesting when I found that that line out. The funny part is I can’t find this anywhere except for a couple articles and I don’t know where it is in the text.  Google hasn’t been helpful at all its kind of like, 'Wow I don’t know who else would know if I say these words where it falls I just know it’s in the Vedas.' Why? Because the articles I’ve read tell me it’s in the Vedas, they just don’t tell me where. So it’s kind of frustrating when you’re like oh my god there’s something that actually says it’s normal, that says it’s totally okay. What? What does it even mean? Let’s question. ...

Because when I first heard it, it just threw me off guard. This is exactly it. Everything I keep hearing that it’s not supposed to be. Even though I overthink it a lot as well, like oh no it can’t be this way, things have to be this or that but to hear a line that's, 'It’s totally fine. All that is unnatural is also natural all that is, even if it isn’t it is.' ... Sanskrit has that as well I think it’s like "therefore art thou." You just are. So read that and be like, 'Okay this is something else that people just pick and choose what they feel comfortable with.' But nowhere I have found that says that being queer is wrong. Quite the opposite. There are so many stories about it. But people are still like “no we don’t wanna--” but it’s there!

Literally, it’s there! It doesn’t say it’s wrong, it’s just misunderstood. At least it feels like it’s misunderstood.

Robert: Another line I wanted to ask you about, "The boxes of masculine and feminine cannot contain all of me. Neither one can hold all of me."

[laughter]

Shubhechhya: We’re laughing because that’s the line I messed up on actually.

Robert: Oh really!

Shubhechhya: It’s supposed to be the boxes of male and female cannot contain all of me, neither one can hold all of me. Nerves.

Robert: Close

You just gotta do what scares you the most. Part of me just felt like this was important and that this was something I should do. I didn’t have to. There was no obligation for me to continue through. But I just felt like at the end of the day, I want to really break through me being, ‘I’m an introvert,
— Shubhechhya Bhattarai

Shubhechhya: It’s still the same though, it's still the exact same meaning. The boxes of masculine and feminine cannot contain all of me. Neither one can hold all of me. ... The way my mind works, I guess this also happens for a lot of people, I need to compartmentalize things to try and understand it. I need to put things in groups. ... So to have come across that, the boxes. They gave two boxes, they put me into one box. For some reason that I’m still figuring out, it’s not a box I could feel comfortable in. There’s this other box that, as much as I want to encompass, I still don’t feel like I fit into it. No matter how many values I may uphold, what it is about it. So there’s this middle ground of, 'Where am I?'

I don’t consider myself being gender non-conforming though, or non-binary, because I don’t resonate with those terms as much. But it’s just this in-between-line of 'I don’t reject everything that’s feminine. But that doesn’t mean I’m fully 100% masculine in any way.'

There’s just so many things about it, because at the end of the day, what is feminine and what is masculine?  Besides these traits that they attribute to it. It’s very different. So you keep going down to, 'What are these boxes?'

"Effeminate and infamous, masculine and quintessential." There are already these two opposing viewpoints of what is. Effeminate is like the softness, infamous is like I’m all-encompassing. Whereas quintessential is like the ‘most important thing!' But I’m held to this high standard of masculine above all else. That’s not what quintessential is, so sort of this opposing viewpoint of, 'What box fits me?'

But I don’t want to create that box for myself. I want to fit into a box that’s already there and expand from there rather than, “Here’s my bubble that I live in.” 'Cause if you just live in a bubble where does that go? You don’t go very far. It’s about breaking past that bubble. For me, it’s like I want to break my bubble, but also I want to hold on to what I know and what makes sense to me. ... This is something I thought I could do but I couldn’t. But this other thing is not something I can do at the same time. Because it just feels weird. Expectations. What are the expectations that come of me from someone who doesn’t look like your typical binary? Like the expectation of what is it supposed to be. Well, I’ve been read very masculine by a lot of people, but sometimes people will still like point me out, “Oh, no, that’s female." There’s just something about it. But, the amount of confusion you get is kind of interesting. Hence that middle ground. No one can pinpoint what I am, where I’m supposed to be.

Robert: Those were the two lines I really wanted to ask you about. Because I really, really loved those two lines in particular. I want you to talk about the end of it now. So you finished it off with “I exist." And then you kind of sigh and bow your head. It’s almost this perfect ending note of relief and also like saying you are there. Can you just reflect on what it was like to finish and what went through your mind?

Shubhechhya: Yeah, I guess I have to say there was that sigh of relief, that sense of relief, of 'Oh my god, this is done.' And it’s sort of like a softness like you don’t say “I'm here!” Right, it feels forceful. I didn’t know how it was going to end, there were so many possibilities of what this ending could be. ... It ended up being let’s gauge how I feel. Whatever happens at the end happens, as long as it’s just as powerful as I want it to be. And it was. Kind of like, a realization moment. Yeah. I’m here. Oh my gosh, I’m here.

So it’s just...yeah. The sense of, “I did it. I made it through 7 ½ minutes.” How did I memorize a 7 ½ minute piece? I will never know. And just be,

“Oh okay. I’ve just done this.” And that’s one of the hardest things you can ever do, especially when you’re scared of just putting yourself out there and how you’re going to be seen by other people. And think, what is the impact? What am I going to walk away with? For me, part of this piece is which person will it reach? Will I be able to actually help someone else? It's also the reason why I’m sort of interested in storytelling even though I’m not fully involved in it still. A narrative I can relate to.

There are many narratives out there, but not many that I can relate to as being a third culture kid, as being someone of colour, a person of colour and a person of faith. Or there’s not enough representation for transmasculine people. Where is that? So it’s sort of to put myself out there, “Here’s my experience. Take it as you will, or take it with a grain of salt, or take it at face value, however, you want to take it." But I hope maybe that this can reach someone who’s probably also struggling to find a story that they can relate to, and what that means to this person. Because that can be hard. That can be really hard, finding stories that you can relate to growing up. ... At the end of the day, even if there’s nothing else, I have a really awesome piece that came out of this. Even if it affected no one. I just worked so hard on this, and I love it. Honestly, I have this awesome piece that came out of it if nothing else comes out of this.

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Eden: I’m curious. You talk a lot about it being hard and scary to stand up there and be vulnerable, which like, I hear you, and I’m wondering where did you find the courage to decide to do this despite that fear and that hardness?

Shubhechhya:...tough question. So, despite feeling vulnerable and being like ‘oh my god this is so hard’ to fight through and be like, 'No, I’m doing it.' Um. Do what scares you the most? That’s the best I got.

Eden: Solid life philosophy.

Shubhechhya : You just gotta do what scares you the most. Part of me just felt like this was important and that this was something I should do. I didn’t have to. There was no obligation for me to continue through. But I just felt like at the end of the day, I want to really break through me being, 'I’m an introvert, I don’t want to do this, I don’t like public speaking' all that stuff, anxiety, all that. No. I felt like this was something, a story I felt like I couldn't just keep for myself. It was a story I felt needed to be shared.

Robert: I want to ask you a couple of questions about how you were saying at the beginning [of the piece] you learned about this in a class, a religious studies class.

Shubhechhya: True story!

Robert: Yeah. Dig into that a little more, because it’s like a ten-second chunk [in the piece].

Shubhechhya: Oh man. Yeah it was quite something. Being like, “WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS INFORMATION?” I was literally like I don’t know what to do with this information. Which I really still don’t, honestly, I still don’t. Gods and Goddesses are not fully in their binaries, it’s more like, all energies. That’s all anything is, it’s just energies. There are some people who might be male-identified who might have more feminine energy than someone who’s female-identified who has masculine energy. It’s just a thing. It’s just a balance of energies. Some might have equal balance, some might have more balance, overpowered more. That’s all it is. It’s just kind of interesting.

Robert: Cool. Thank you. I’m going to try and wrap it up here because we’ve been chatting for almost 45 minutes. Eden had a few really important questions, so we are going to cover them. So, the first one, what advice would you give to someone who’s doing the Coming Out in Faith Monologues?

Shubhechhya: Advice for people doing COIFM…I want to say, trust the process and what’s going on. Because sometimes you’ll come up with something like, ‘Oh no this doesn’t make sense’ or ‘this line just does not work.' Experiment with it. Figure out what it is. Taking time to, as much as you get sick of it, go over your story over and over again, taking time to break it apart. Ask what does this mean? The patience that the facilitators have, they took the time to work with me through my pieces and give me the feedback that I needed to make sure I’m hitting on the points that I need to. ... So hands down, don’t be afraid to talk to your peers and your director. That’s the main advice. Also just trusting your gut and your process like will it work, will it not, and it if doesn’t work that’s fine because at least you gave it a shot in terms of the content you’re putting out there.

Robert: Thank you very much for that. Question number two. What advice would you give to someone exploring their own gender identity?

Shubhechhya: [laugh]. Oh wow okay...what advice would I give? Oh my gosh. No one’s made me think about that, honestly...

Robert: You don’t have to answer either by the way.

Shubhechhya: I know. But you know, honestly, for me, I just very awkwardly would talk to people. Talk to people. You might discover something. It might prompt something for you. Sort of trying to be open rather than already having yourself in a box might help. And just be able to have that acceptance about whatever’s going to happen. Because yeah, it takes time. So as awkward as it is, no matter who you are, talk to people. Even if it’s not specifically about gender and sexuality. Just engaging in a conversation about something might help prompt something. Because really that’s what I did. ... Seeking out your mentors. You don’t have to just have one mentor, you can have a mentor for many different aspects of your life. So many different friends can be mentors, you can have an actual mentor, you can go through different things. I think that’s something very valuable to me, is finding people who can be like mentors to me. And just getting information there. It’s exploration. As scary as it is, it’s very rewarding, especially when you’re surrounded by people who understand and empathize, who have empathy for what you’re going through because they’ve gone through the same things. Maybe not in the same capacity, but they get it. And that was very powerful when you feel heard. It’s the most powerful thing ever.

Robert: Thank you. Last one. What support do you wish communities of faith would offer queer people?

Shubhechhya: ...oh my gosh. That’s something I’ve definitely grappled with. To have that openness and to understand that if someone was really grappling with identity. Sometimes, your identity and your self, they’re not two separate things, sometimes they’re ingrained into the same thing. And just being like, don’t tell me it’s wrong. Tell me how this makes sense, the ways this makes sense. Clearly, as my own exploration has told me, these things can exist. It’s where, how does it make sense that they exist?

And just being open to the idea, making sure people have open minds about what it means to be queer. About what it means to not fit into whatever set rules they have. Just being able to say, "Okay well this is what you are, here, what does this mean now?" Honestly, just that sense of openness. And not just someone that’s like ‘no it has to be this.’

No, it’s actually not. That doesn’t help. If you tell me that now, it’s not going to help. It hasn’t helped for somebody else because they might be on the verge of, 'I can’t take it anymore.' What do you do with all this information? So yeah. Just openness.

Reclaiming a Word and Remembering a Friend

Matt Tatham, 1957-2009

Matt Tatham, 1957-2009

Author: Tim Nethercott, YYC Campus Ministry Chaplain

I love the word “queer”. One of the first times I heard it was when I was a teenager on the football team. “So and so is queer.” It was an insult of course. “Queer” has always meant differing from the norm in some less-than-desirable fashion. It conveyed a sense of distaste and--not so much contempt--but of dismissal, as if the person or thing one is describing as queer is beneath contempt. When it began to be applied to homosexual people it was more than an insult, it was a way of rendering that person invisible.

I don’t remember who was the object of that insult. Certainly, it wasn’t my brilliant, aristocratic, uber-athletic best friend Matt, who was also on the team. He couldn’t possibly be queer and no one would think to call him that. And yet, as I realized a couple years later, he was queer. Not an easy thing to be in 1972, or whatever year it was.

Matt got out of town as soon as he could and never looked back. We met up sometimes in Toronto when we were both living there. I was always eager to demonstrate to him how non-homophobic I was. He never seemed all that impressed, but then, it was really hard to impress Matt. He had such high standards.

Matt died in 2009 with a smile on his face, minutes after crossing the finish line defending his title as world Triathlon champion in his age group. He died of a recently-diagnosed, and unfortunately ignored, heart murmur. He left behind to grieve his partner John. His partner, mind you, of twenty-four years. Nothing queer about that. That’s love.

By the time he died Matt and John and their generation of queer folk had done a remarkable thing. They had taken a term of opprobrium and turned it into a badge of honour. And they took the rainbow as their symbol as if to say: “We will not be invisible.”

There is something Godly in that reversal. The first shall be last, the last shall be first, the meek will inherit the earth. That’s why I love the word “queer”.

A Rainbow Bracelet and a Trapdoor

Author: Zoe Say, YYC Campus Ministry Team Member

Zoe Say Pride Parade 2017

When I was a young child, there was a secret place I would go when I was worried or upset. This place has shaped me possibly more than any other experience in my life, even though one could easily argue that it’s not, in fact, real. 

This place was more or less a room, through a secret trap door at the back of my closet, accessible only to me. When I was having a bad day, I would lie on my bed and take myself to this room. Through the trapdoor, all was white light with vague walls that had shelves. When I was in the room, I always had a sense that I could have anything I wanted, anything at all. My child mind would try to imagine toys that I wanted, or dolls or piggy banks. Try as I might, my attempted imaginings never amounted to much of anything filling the shelves on the walls, to my slight disappointment. This was because, even though I thought those seemed to be fun things to want, I didn’t actually want them at all. I was always permeated with a feeling that though I could have anything, I also already had everything I needed. I was my fullest, most complete self in that room. Filled with unconditional love and light and contentment and thus couldn’t actually imagine anything else that would make me feel happier. I was enough, and because of that, I had enough.

That room, and the sense that there I could be a full and complete being with every need met, shaped my sense of self in the world. For me, that room was G-d, and because of it, I have always known quite tangibly that I do not walk alone. Because of it, my G-d is one of love, of fulfilment and peace, and of light. I never ever experienced a sense of judgement or shame or any sense of not being enough in that room.

I wanted to do this so that I would always be wearing a symbol of my support so that hopefully those in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities would know that I was a safe Christian to be around.

I was lucky. As I grew up I lost that ability to go to that room, but through my church community and most of all through my Mom’s robust faith, I was able to maintain my sense of connection with the divine. My Mom encouraged me to explore this through questions and dialogue, reading, journaling, walking in nature and workshops. Her faith is also centred firmly on experience with an unconditionally loving God, and this helped me to nurture my own. My sense of the divine expanded from that room to permeate my whole life.

I see that same unconditionally, radically loving G-d of my trapdoor when I read the beautifully messy, rich and fascinating stories of humans in the bible. I read about it in Queen Vashti and Queen Esther, teaching us about anti-oppression and standing up for the dignity of all humans. I read about it in Jesus consistently challenging the religious leaders and hierarchies of the time that were not centred on love and compassion. I read about Jesus rubbing his spit into the eyes of a blind man, chatting with an outcast Samaritan woman at a well about the 'living water' which will cause you to never thirst. I read about how he created space for an unclean woman who had been bleeding for 12 years to come to him, share her story, and affirming for her that her faith had made her well. What a drastic change for this woman, likely an outcast for the past 12 years, to suddenly have a chance to not only be healed but to speak publicly. To have her story heard and to find not only physical healing but also, just as importantly, social healing. He told her to go in peace, and I imagine she felt loved and “enough” for the first time in a very long time.

What does this room have to do with my rainbow bracelet? 

Zoe Say Rainbow Bracelet Pride Blog Post 2018

Those stories reinforce for me this love-centred G-d that I feel so connected to. The G-d I meet in Psalm 23 when it says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I need not want." I rarely share the story of my trapdoor room, in fact, I have probably spoken it out loud, other than to my Mom, only two or three times. It feels quite personal and vulnerable and speaks to my deepest sense of self and my faith. However, when I thought about articulating why I wear my rainbow bracelet, it seemed inextricably linked with that room and the deep sense of a radically loving G-d that that room cultivated within me. Because I have been deeply and fully loved by G-d my whole life and felt filled to overflowing with it. I have enjoyed sharing that love with all those around me. That love helps me to see people first with love and see all people as beloved children of the divine. I think my lifelong struggle of living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has also helped me to have empathy and compassion for all people, as I know we all have different struggles and battles that are invisible to most.

Back to the rainbow bracelet. I have always viewed every person, including those in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities, as individuals just as worthy of love and being loved as anyone, without restraints or limitations. Just as I would never seek to tell a heterosexual individual how or in what way it is okay for them to love (as long as it is consensual and honouring of all), I do not feel it is my place to place any limits on the love of those in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities. Love is one of the most precious gifts of being human, and as I heard one Rabbi say, "G-d seems to have made us quite intentionally to be relational humans." Let us not dictate to anyone that they should have constraints on their love.

I have many dear friends who are in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities and have friends who identify as each one of those identities listed. I love each of them so, so deeply, and hearing some of the trauma many have been through in the name of my religion causes me pain and heartache. I am so sorry for the trauma caused in the name of my religion. I know a person who essentially didn’t speak for several years because of the trauma caused by their Christian family who held them in judgement and contempt for their sexual identity. I was talking about sin with a minister friend and mentor of mine, and she suggested the sin, in that case, is not his sexual identity, but rather with his family who saw fit to judge him so harshly. I have to agree. That is not love. I talked to an incredible human just yesterday who shared that she intentionally lives in a different country than her family. This is because they would come after her with a priest to cast out the demon they would think was living in her if she came out to them.

This is why I have always been extremely cognizant of my position as a practicing Christian, church attendee, and someone who works for a church organization. I am cognizant of the trauma caused by my religion and try very hard to always be clear that I am only interested in affirming and supporting people in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities, never judgement. I also feel strongly about presenting a different kind of Christianity. One centred in love first, as Jesus taught us by uplifting the golden rule, love your neighbour as yourself. My Christianity is informed by the G-d I have encountered, and the radically loving Jesus I have read about and met, by a trapdoor, and by the 23rd Psalm. 

Zoe Say Tim Nethercott Pride Parade 2017

When I saw this rainbow bracelet at the stall of a jeweller friend of mine at an art market at Eau Claire, I knew I wanted to not only buy it but to wear it every day that I could. I wanted to do this so that I would always be wearing a symbol of my support so that hopefully those in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities would know that I was a safe Christian to be around. Since I bought it at that art market I have rarely taken it off, except to repair it when it gets worn out every year or so. And the odd time for example when I coated myself in mud at the Dead Sea. 

I was chatting with my jeweller friend recently about how much I loved not only the beautiful rainbow colours and fun design, but also the infinity symbol attached to it. My friend made a great point that to her it symbolizes infinite love. I love that and to me, it also represents an infinitely loving G-d, the G-d that I met going through that trapdoor over two decades ago.

I wear the bracelet to stand staunchly and overtly with all those in the LGBTQ+ and two-spirit communities, and to stand for an infinite and radically loving G-d, who says you are enough, and that you are beautiful just as you are. 
 

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.