Tuesday, November 2, 2010

BELIEVING OUT LOUD IN ORLANDO

Over the Columbus Day weekend, October 8-11, I attended the Believe Out Loud Power Summit in Orlando, Florida, representing TransEpiscopal and, together with Oasis California chair Tom Jackson and St. Aidan’s San Francisco Rector Tommy Dillon, the Bay Area Oasis/Integrity community. It was an inspiring, empowering conference in which the transgender – and specifically TransEpiscopal – community was seen and heard…and welcomed as full participants. My participation was funded in good part by Integrity and Oasis and I am grateful to both.

The conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, brought together 300 members of eight mainline denominations. These included:

– the ELCA’s Lutherans Concerned;
– the UCC’s Coalition for LGBT Concerns;
– “More Light” Presbyterians;
– Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples (GLAD) within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);
– the United Methodists’ Reconciling Ministries Network;
– the Welcoming Community Network of the Community of Christ;
– the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists; and
– our own Integrity.

The goal of the conference was to exchange denominational experiences of resistance and success and to explore collective values, vision, and modes of collaboration with an eye to increasing the number of Believe Out Loud (i.e., welcoming) congregations and developing LGBT leadership within our faith communities. The conference also provided a golden opportunity for networking across denominational lines and, in our TransEpiscopal case, within Integrity and in the transgender caucus pulled together by Barbara Satin, Faith Work Associate of the NGLT’s Institute for Welcoming Resources. I and my Bay Area Lutheran colleagues, for example, cemented our ties and undertook to build a closer working relationship.

The Integrity contingent numbered about 60 people, including the new Executive Director Max Niedzwiecki, President Rev. David Norgard, Stakeholders Council Chair Rev. Susan McCann, and the entire Stakeholders Council. As a representative of TransEpiscopal, I participated in the Sunday evening meeting of the Council and the Eucharist presided over by Susan McCann.

Based on the discussions at the stakeholders council meeting and one-on-one conversations with Max, Susan and others, it is clear that Integrity and TransEpiscopal are very much on the same wavelength concerning issues facing us at the 2012 General Convention. In particular, we are of the same mind concerning revisiting CO61 which would add gender identity/expression non-discrimination to the ordination canon. There was also great receptivity to ensuring that the work underway to collect new liturgies for blessing same-sex couples be broadened to include rites to mark major steps in gender transition.

The transgender presence was visible and welcomed at the Summit and two trans people participated in the general worship service. Eight people attended the Saturday evening transgender caucus, including one gender queer person and the father of child just beginning the FtM transition. There were several other trans/gender queer people at the Summit who, perhaps less ready to come out, chose not to attend the transgender caucus.

Much of the weekend was devoted to attending one of the four break-out sessions offered on campaigns, communications, leadership development, and – the one I and sixty others attended – “Barriers, Resistance, and Conflict.” Spanning over nine hours in four sessions that stretched into the evenings, participants in the latter learned how to identify and deal with conflict and resistance in our congregations and the church at large. Though ample scope was given to differences in context and styles, emphasis was placed on graceful engagement.

Around the edges of the Summit, several organizations offered a variety of resources that might be helpful in congregational and denominational settings. Among those available from the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources (http://www.welcomingresources.org/) were the visually stunning “Shower of Stoles” of LGBT clergy; a half-hour DVD “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses;” and “TransAction,” a down-loadable three-session “transgender curriculum for churches and religious institutions.” The Family Diversity Project also offered four exhibits/books: Love Makes a Family: Portraits of LGBT People and Their Families; In Our Family: Portraits of All Kinds of Families; Pioneering Voices: Portraits of Transgender People: and We Have Faith: Portraits of LGBT Clergy. The Project seeks new faces and stories to add to these exhibits. They can be contacted at www.familydiv.org.

Looking to the future, the next major event of this sort will be “Practice Spirit, Do Justice,” a national multi-faith gathering at the “Creating Change,” the National Conference on LGBT Equality in Minneapolis, February 2-6, 2011. Information on that conference is at www.CreatingChange.org. Also worth noting is the ongoing National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the NGLTF. You can find out more by e-mailing Dave Noble at dnoble@thetaskforce.org.

For its part, Integrity will be sponsoring a series of one-day “Believe Out Loud” workshops around the country. Information is available at www.integrityusa.org. In the Bay Area, Oasis California (www.oasisca.org) will team up with Integrity to hold a one-day training session for “Believe Out Loud”/Welcoming Congregations at St. Paul’s, Oakland on January 12. It is also planning a conference later in the year devoted to issues of aging in the LGBT community. Stay tuned.

In closing, it should be noted that the October 9-11 Believe Out Loud Power Summit in Orlando took place at a particularly difficult moment for the LGBT community, as news spread of the bullying, murders, and suicides that have afflicted our young people. Indeed, the uniformly positive media coverage of the conference focused on the reaction of conference participants to the horrible murders that had just unfolded in the Bronx. Typical was Orlando’s WESH-TV interview with Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, the NGLTF’s Faith Work Director (http://www.welcomingresources.org/videos.htm).

As Rev. Voelkel’s colleague Darlene Nipper told USA Today, the New York murders were “heavy on the minds” of those gathered in Orlando and “touched us all.” The names of the victims were read and silence observed at the opening worship October 9 and many participants recorded messages for the “It Gets Better” project.

And, thanks to the sort of solidarity exhibited in Orlando, it will get better!

Submitted by the Rev. Vicky Gray

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