Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Affirm - A Parents Perspective

Awhile ago, I was asked why I felt called to participate in the Affirm process. I realized that I had never been fully open about why I feel I must be involved.

I am a Mama Bear. I belong to a loosely organized group of Christian Mothers of LGBTQ+ children. We call ourselves Mama Bears because we want to protect our children from anyone who might hurt them.

I am the proud mother of the Vice President of Pride in his community. He has become a social justice warrior for the LGBTQ community in the Maritimes, working to fight conversion therapy and homelessness. He also really enjoys helping at the Safe Spaces teen dances, where he provides health care information and first aid as required.

For many mothers, their own first response to learning that their child is gay or transgender, is a belief their child will go to hell. Their church has told them that homosexuality is a sin. That gender is either male or female, and determined by God at birth, or before, and no one has the right to change that.  Many have to leave behind their friends and their church to find a place where they can protect their family.

I am lucky. When my son finally decided that he could “come out” to his parents, we were already in a place where, for our family, it was no big deal. We both knew gays and lesbians and we understood that this was the way people were born, not a lifestyle choice.

Unfortunately, the United Church was in the midst of debating whether we should sanctify same sex marriage. I had already lived through, and been shocked by some attitudes, during our struggles to confirm LGBT ordination. I feared that my family would be hurt by the words of those who still felt that sexual orientation was a life style choice.

I chose the coward’s route. I felt a strong need to protect my son and myself. So, I suggested that my sons, both members of this church, enter into the discussions, without making it personal. On the day of the vote, I managed to be out of town, at a meeting of a charity I was working for. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, and the family agreed that it was better if I wasn’t there.  We had agreed as a family that we would quietly leave Kanata United Church if the congregation chose not to sanctify same sex marriage.

You see, when you are the parent of a gay child, you often have no idea who you can tell without being hurt. You really don’t want to hear what other people think. You love your child and they are no different today then they were before they announced that they were gay. You fear that child will be bullied or worse, because of who they are. The last place you want to see them bullied is at church, in the name of Christianity. However, I wouldn’t want him to be anyone other than who he is.

When we talk about safe spaces, we are talking about safe spaces for everyone. Parents and grandparents, siblings and friends of the LGBTQ2+ need to feel they can talk about their family members openly.

I am older now. I am somewhat stronger now. I am a proud Mama Bear. I am the mother of two sons. I am the mother-in-law of their partners. I am Nana to a wonderful grandson, and to 6 furbabies. I love them all and want to protect them from the world.

In 2017, when there was an appeal for volunteers to guide the Affirm process, I felt called to stand up and say that this is what I want for my sons, their partners and especially for my grandson. I want my church to be an open, inclusive, affirming congregation. I want it to be a place where parents aren’t afraid to tell their church friends that their child is in a same sex relationship. Or that their child is a transgender person. I want every child to be celebrated for who they are, and Kanata United to be a safe space for all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Homelessness and LGBTQ2 Young People

In April, Broadview, (formerly the United Church of Canada’s Observer), published an article on this concern.   Alex Abramovich  was interviewed for the article. He is a CAMH researcher and U. of T. professor and has been studying the young street-involved population in Canada for 10 years. As a result of his work, change is slowly beginning to happen.

Homophobia and transphobia at home and at school result in verbal and physical attacks which cause many LGBTQ2 youth to leave home. In the majority of shelters, they experience the same kinds of bullying and violence so that they resort to living on the street as a safer place.

Abramovich’s research has contributed to two significant actions: a shelter in Toronto being assigned as an LGBTQ2 youth shelter and the former provincial government of Alberta starting a committee for academics, government officials and leaders from youth service organizations to tackle the problem there. It is becoming clear that any attempt to deal with homelessness in our cities must address LGBTQ2 youth homelessness and the phobias and bullying that contribute to it. Continued progress will depend on the will of Canadians and, significantly, Canadian politicians, to support vulnerable minorities such as LGBTQ2 youth.

For the Broadview article and further readings see:

Monday, May 6, 2019

Sports and Intersex Athletes

In the news this past week, there has been a lot of talk about a south African runner named Caster Semenya. This article from CBC is helpful to understanding the issues involved.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Reflection From Fawkes Conibear

This is the transcript from the wonderful reflection by Fawkes Conibear given at the March 24th service. Thank you, Fawkes, for allowing us to share it.

Hello, my name is Fawkes Conibear, I am a 28-year-old trans man and I use he/him pronouns. And, I am here to try and provide a perspective into the realities of the trans experience, and the needs of trans people, as it pertains to the church. While I have done my best to be true to the experiences of the broader trans community, I am only one person and won’t be able to address every topic.

Trans 101:
Before I get into the bulk of what I have to say I’m going to quickly define some terms. Starting with trans which is an umbrella term that covers many identities. In short, a “trans” person is anyone whose gender doesn’t align with gender they were raised as. This includes trans men and women, but also gender queer people who don’t fall into the gender binary. I, personally, was raised as a girl, transitioned as an adult, and now live as the man I am meant to be. The process of changing your gender is referred to as transitioning. Someone who has finished transitioning is said to have transitioned. Gender describes two different but related things. Gender identity refers to how someone feels in their head. While gender expression describes how someone lives their gender. This is the kind of gender we show other people. It’s our clothes, our hair style, our body language etc. While I could keep defining terms but this should give everyone enough of an understanding for the rest of what I have prepared and for welcoming trans people in your congregation.

Why am I here?
    So, why am I here today? The easy answer is because Cindy asked me to be here. The truth is I didn’t say yes right away. I wasn’t sure what I would talk about. Yes, being trans has had a huge impact on my life, but simultaneously, because it’s my everyday reality I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Most days I spend more time thinking about my glasses than I do about being trans. This made picking a focus difficult. What’s the point of travelling here and speaking if I don’t have anything to say? Anyone can get up and give a list of definitions. I could tell my coming out story, but that felt self-centered and wouldn’t add anything to the greater dialogue. While I’m not just an Easter and Christmas person, church isn’t a place I typically consider home, and I’m not currently an active member of any congregation. I didn’t know how to frame my experiences in a way that a congregation would be able to act upon them. Eventually it dawned on me. What is something that is important for church attendees and trans people alike: community.
One of the most difficult things about being trans is the sense of isolation it can often create. It can be difficult to find other trans people, and even more difficult to find trans people that share similar interests and hobbies. Despite the increasing amount of press, there aren’t really that many of us. Thus we find ourselves relying on online communities. These communities can be an excellent place to learn and commiserate. They’re a place we can finally be our unedited selves and feel free from judgement because these groups often have strict rules to protect members and will enforce bans on people who violate the rules. Friendships are formed in these groups but often they’re long distance. This leaves trans people vulnerable, especially for people who are early in their transition, still living at home, or are otherwise reliant on family.
There is a real fear that every trans person must face. Do I stay as I am now, and keep my family, or, do I transition and risk losing my family. Thankfully, things are changing, and more people are accepting, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who transitioned as an adult that didn’t have to face this moment.  One of the most frightening things I’ve ever had to do was tell my parents I was trans. I did it in an email, because after months of procrastinating I couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. I had previously come out as gay, and knew they were accepting of that, but I had no idea what their views were on trans people. I knew family was important to them, but I also knew given their jobs as a police officer and former corrections nurse if they had knowingly encountered trans people, it would have been through the criminal justice system; which is probably the worst way to learn about anyone.
With time everything has worked out between myself and my family. There were some growing pains early on, but with a lot of love and patience on all sides I have a closer, more honest relationship with them than was ever possible before. I am glad for how things turned out, but I wouldn’t wish that fear and uncertainty on anyone. Yet, it’s a fear many trans people live with everyday. The internet is full of people asking for help because their parents don’t understand, or stories of people who no longer talk to their family. During her undergrad at the University of Ottawa my wife was briefly, and unexpectedly roommates with a trans man because he had gone home for the holidays, told his parents he was trans, and promptly kicked out of his home. It’s common advice to tell people to have a back-up plan if they still live at home when they start to transition. “Make sure you have a couch to crash on, just in case” is a phrase that shows up in most discussion with anyone who still lives at home. “Wait until you move out”, “You should probably find a job first, just in case”. In 2013, it was estimated that half of all street involved youth in Ottawa identified as LGBTQ. This isn’t a theoretical problem, and it’s not a problem that applies to other people, or other cities. This is a problem today, and it’s a problem in Ottawa.

What now?
These are awful, and depressing things. I know they are difficult to listen to but, hopefully amongst all the thoughts and emotions in the room right now there’s also something else: a call to action, a desire to do something. The next question is of course, but what. What can I do? What can we do? There are many answers to these questions, but I am going to focus on one: community. Be a place where trans people can be open. Be explicit in your openness. Don’t just imply that trans people are welcome, say it, show it,  live it. Anywhere you’ve added a pride flag, add a trans flag.  When you greet new people say your name and pronouns. Let people decide for themselves which washroom they want to use. 
Trans people so often find themselves without support systems and communities. These little things will mean so much to any new or visiting trans people. It gives us a place to turn when we feel like the world has forgotten about us. It lets us know that we’re not just allowed to be here but that we’re wanted here. It tells us that we are not alone.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Guest Speaker Fawkes Conibear - March 24

On March 24, we will have the opportunity to hear Fawkes Conibear tell his story. Hear is a brief introduction to Fawkes.

Fawkes Conibear is a 28 year old trans man who enjoys cycling and board games. He currently lives in Montreal with his wife Colleen and their hamster Timbit. In the fall, he will be returning to school at the University of Guelph to persue an undergraduate degree in geography with the intention of becoming a rural planner. He wants to help communities address the accessibility needs of all of their citizens while focusing on eco-concious design.

If you would like to read a bit about transgender ahead of the presentation, we have some resources on this blog.

After the service, Fawkes will be available for a discussion in the Fireside Room. Please come and chat with him.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Transgender - A Parent's Experience

Rick Prashaw, former priest and proud dad of a transgender kid, talks about his family’s transformation.

Link to a CBC podcast on February 8, 2019

Link to an Ottawa Citizen article on February 22, 2019 introducing
Rick Prashaw’s book - Soar, Adam, Soar