Tuesday, 4 July 2017

What a month

With the page for June now turned over and the Canada 150 events done, now is a good time to reflect back on a month designated as both Pride Month as well as Indigenous Heritage Month. At first glance these two acknowledgements may seem worlds apart, and yet there is actually much that they share in common. Let me begin though by reflecting on Pride.

Glen and I live in the most northerly of the municipalities in York Region. Georgina (we live in Keswick) is not known as a progressive hotbed. Folks here vote Conservative both federally and provincially. I've read letters to the editor calling down refugees. I've had conversations during which environmentalists are called "*@!* tree huggers and marsh muckers" (little did they know I've done both). So imagine my surprise when I saw Pride flags gaily blowing in the wind at the official entry point to the town. As it turned out Georgina even vied to host York Region Pride Fest this year.

It ended up in Newmarket, having been held for the last 5 years in Richmond Hill. The folks at RHUC were sad. They'd been coming out in full force to walk in the parade in years past, especially with the church right on Yonge. What would it be like walking in Newmarket? Given how poorly the parade had been attended in Richmond Hill, plus push back from local business, how was it going to play out further north? No one need have worried. The biggest impact was on the RHUC contingent. I was first to arrive, then 4 more came, as the parade began we rounded out to 12.

Last year RHUC was 50 strong. Overall they were thrilled because folks from Newmarket lined the streets, free stuff was given out by businesses, everywhere there was a feeling of festivity. "This is what it should have been like in Richmond Hill" one longtime participant noted.

And they were right. Which is why as much as I enjoy a big waving crowd, because there is so much local resistance to Pride in Richmond Hill the parade should be there. We need to be visible and stand proud because it is much harder to be out as LGBTQ+ in the more religiously and ethnically diverse Richmond Hill, close as it is to Toronto.

It is a reminder to all of us why we need to keep creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people, especially in churches and other places of worship. As I shared in my Pride sermon, because the church has singled out sexual and gender minorities for condemnation, we need in turn to single out welcome and inclusion. This sentiment doesn't always sit well, people generally preferring to include gender identity and sexual orientation in a laundry list of marginalized groups. We need to ask why this is necessary when we don't confront sexism or racism that way. Why are we comfortable with stand alone policies for disabled access but not LGBTQ+ inclusion?

Which brings me to the importance of acknowledging Indigenous Heritage Month. As churches we were prime participants in Canada's assimilationist policy. In the early years bibles were translated into Indigenous languages, as were hymns, but church was still European.

The government banned traditional ceremonies with encouragement from church leaders. I have heard more than one story of clergy gathering up sacred items to be burned. I still hear some Christian clergy condemning Indigenous spiritual practice. And of course we ran Indian Residential Schools, with all of the deep harm that brought through cultural control, not to mention physical and sexual abuse. And so we need to step up as church leaders - step up to help people heal, step up in support of the reclaiming of language, step up to encourage the return of traditional ceremonies.

And one final place we need to step up is in helping communities reclaim the role of Two-Spirited people. In denominations like the United Church that are inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities, we need to underscore how wrong we were to condemn homosexuality and gender non-conformity. There may be liberation for LGBTQ+ people in many Canadian circles, but on reserves many in the Two-Spirit community continue to suffer at the hands of Indigenous people who internalized white homophobia and transphobia. Fortunately things are changing. I was more excited to see Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde walking in the Toronto Pride parade than I was to see PM Justin Trudeau (though I was pretty pleased on that score as well). And then to see right after a large contingent of Two-Spirited people walking and drumming and dancing. It warmed my heart.

It has been an exciting month. It was my first Toronto Pride. And actually it was my first standing as a spectator rather than walking. It was great to see the floats going by (including some "eye candy") and it was great to see such diversity of groups walking, including LGBTQ+ refugees and those who help them get to Canada. I've been told the parade was more ethnically diverse this year. And it was a difficult month with the lead up to Canada 150 and me, among many, not feeling it was appropriate to celebrate. Instead I acknowledge 150 years and pledge to work for a greater partnership with Indigenous peoples in the decades to come. I pray that as churches we will be partners with the LGBTQ+ community, and with the Indigenous community. I pray that the excitement, the spirit of inclusion and the genuine solidarity I experienced this month is what we can all live into.  

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