The first thought that crossed my mind when I entered the auditorium at the Gay Christian Network’s opening night was “I can’t believe how many people are here.” For years I have been saying to myself that I was the only one of my kind; a Christian who is also a gay man. One of the nights of the Gay Christian Network Conference is spent with people who attended the conference getting the chance to express how the conference has affected them.
“This was a place where all ideas/perspectives were heard and respected. A place where differing opinions were valued.”
I am not typically a person who cries very often, but one man’s speech moved me to tears. He stood up and discussed how all he life he felt he has been searching for his people. He has met people along the way, such as his beloved church friends who are not affirming of the LGBT community and his husband who is a proclaimed atheist, but standing at the GCN Conference, he felt he had finally found people like him. To finally see and hear from people like himself and for all of them to be in one room was truly extraordinary.
Different Viewpoints One of the most brilliant pieces about the conference in my opinion was the diversity in viewpoints. People were in attendance from:
People from Affirming and Non-affirming Churches
“Side A” Christians
A term used to describe gay Christians who believe God blesses same-sex marriages.
“Side B” Christians
A term used to describe gay Christians who believe God calls gay Christians to lifelong celibacy.
Pastors/Priests/Clergy/Lay Persons both Affiliated and Unaffiliated with the LGBT Community
Parents/Family Members of the LGBT Community
And many, many others!
This was a place where all ideas/perspectives were heard and respected. A place where differing opinions were valued.
It caught me off guard how much love and support was at the conference. From therapy dogs to bulletin boards offering words of encouragement, this space was highly welcoming. The highlight of the conference for me was a group of parents that took it upon themselves to offer support hugs throughout the weekend. The parents would wear buttons proclaiming FREE MOM/DAD HUGS. I thought this was a nice gesture, but I figured that most people would not utilize this resource.
To my surprise, I found many people utilizing this form of physical affection. I decided to try it myself.
“Will I belong? Will I fit in? Will I learn something that enrich and inspire me?”
The hugs offered were not the assembly line hugs that I was used to, but instead an embrace that lasted until I had fully relaxed into the mother’s arms. A speaker at the conference described hugs as a form of comfort that enables a person to feel where the hurt stops and the comfort of another person begins. It limits the pain by drawing a boundary of comfort and support.
The conference was also a safe environment for anyone to explore. Clergy members, LGBT atheists, and “closeted” LGBT people sat side by side in a safe space. Conference attendees were given an option at sign in to where either a:
(Blue vs. Red) Lanyard- allows conference attendees/photographers to know that you are (comfortable/uncomfortable) having your picture taken throughout the conference.
Inspiration Here are a few of the keynote speakers from this year’s conference:
I found it so inspiring to hear Jane Clementi speak about her son at the conference. Jane Clementi, in the above link, discusses the harm of bullying and her personal journey of having an LGBT child and being a Christian woman.
Above, Rev. Paula Williams discusses her faith through the lens of her transgender identity. Because she is transgender, I found myself thinking Paula is highly different from me. Yet when she spoke, I once again came to the old conclusion that we are more alike than different.
Register for Your Journey Next year’s conference is going to be in Denver, Colorado, January 2018. If you are interested in possibly attending or would like to know more about the Gay Christian Network Conference, you can click here. (https://gcnconf.com/) If you’re considering going, but asking yourself, will I belong? Will I fit in? Will I learn something that enrich and inspire me? The answer is GO! I cannot imagine this experience being anything other than eye-opening and life-changing.
Caleb Matthews, M.A. is a Licenced Professional Counselor Intern and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (Supervised by: Derek Leighton) specializing in couples and family issues, as well as LGBT issues. Caleb is currently the Board Secretary for the Human Empathy Project.