Gay Christian Network Conference- Interview.

Last week in America they had the Gay Christian conference. Being in the UK I was unable to attend, but these topics are important globally. Still today, people are harming themselves and committing suicide because of the lack of acceptance (or perceived acceptance) that can still be very apparent within the Christian community.
A friend of mine, however, was able to attend and honoured me with an interview.

Ann Townsend of Hands Across the Pond (
Author of LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity (

I would seriously recommend checking out her book. She is an amazing advocate of LGBTQ issues. It is also worth checking out her twitter @wouldbealex.

What was it that made you decide to go to the conference?

I think, if someone is really spiritual and believes in miracles, they might get what has been going on with me since August 14, 2014, the day after the article about Vicky Beeching came out in The Independent, the same day I read on Autostraddle a recounting of the article in The Independent. I had never heard of her, but she was a theologian, someone with a deep background in theological thought, someone who was saying we could be both gay and Christian. I was both, but I had never talked about my Christianity when with my LGBT community, because it’s not something most of them can understand because of anger and deep scars.

Initially, back in August when I signed up for the Gay Christian Network Conference, it was to go support Vicky Beeching. As time passed, it was about supporting the gay Christian community and finding a way to talk to people about my concerns about LGBT youth and young adult suicide and self-harm. I looked at our community and our rainbow family and felt very strongly that I needed to talk to people and get us to look at our roles in the lives of our young. From the time that I arrived at the conference, from my first conversation with Justin Lee, the Director of GCN, these were the topics of my discussions.

We adults who have made it through our teens and our twenties have a responsibility. We need to act like the rainbow family we claim to be. We need to take up the responsibility of being role models for our children. We need to be available to our young and share our stories. That was my message. The most amazing thing happened. From day one, that was Justin Lee’s message also.

What was the atmosphere like when you arrived?
What were the kinds of things addressed within the conference?

The first day I arrived was Wednesday. I had arrived early enough that the hotel staff mistook me for a GCN staff member. I spent some time collecting myself and getting my room organized, then I went downstairs and ended up chatting with a woman who was the mother of a gay man. She was going to be working with parents of LGBT, participating in activities to support parents but also coordinating an official parent hug room. All of the attendees that wanted to talk to parents that cared about them and loved them for being who they were could go into this hug room and get hugs, love, and acceptance from parents.

Apparently, God’s message was already in the works before I got there. The next day, I walked in and there was Justin Lee, watching, making sure check-ins were going OK. I prayed and let God walk me to him and started talking to him about my concerns about our children. I talked to him about our community needing to act like the rainbow family we claim to be. I talked to him about sharing our stories, working with people to strengthen the mesh of our efforts, where ever we overlapped, about getting our stories out en masse so that we were sharing our stories of survival and love with as many people as possible. He apparently agreed. That day he said the same thing to the entire gathering. It was amazing.

In as much as there was a peace there that I had never encountered, there was a positive tension of energy throughout the conference. The peace was from being with so many loving human beings, who were all LGBT or allies, who all were there for the glory of God and to re-energize their spiritual cups and reconnect with peace and love. The energy was the sense of purpose that we were all called to by Justin Lee. Every speaker after him, including Vicky Beeching, said the same thing, “we are all role models and have a responsibility”, “our stories are important”, and “be brave”, It was very powerful and strengthening.

Was there anybody particular that you were really looking forward to listening to?
Were there any other speakers that stood out for you?

I, of course, was looking forward to hearing Vicky Beeching speak, but I had also looked into and read up on Jeff Chu and Daniel Cortez. Jeff Chu is a gay theologian. Daniel Cortez is a straight pastor and father of a gay man. They had both spoke at the Reformation Project Conference in Washington D.C. in November. For that matter, many of the attendees had attended that conference also. I imagined that they couldn’t just keep using the same speech over and over. Jeff Chu’s story is one of his experience and it was filled with cultural overtones specific to his Asian decent and centered on the theme of the conference, “At the Table”. I had spent years in Hawaii and learned a lot about Japanese and Chinese cultures while there. It is very different to live on the periphery of those heritages and cultures compared to living in them. There was a lot to be learned from Jeff Chu’s experience.

On day three I heard that westboro came to picket there. How did the atmosphere change?

On Friday, the day before the protestors were scheduled to be there, Justin Lee spoke to all of us. He explained what was going to happen and that there would be a Wall of Love made up of people from around the Portland area. He asked any of us attendees who were willing to act as escorts for other attendees to show up the next morning at 7:30 AM. I did. I don’t know how everyone else felt, but I felt defiant. I felt protective. I felt ready to peacefully die for my fellow Christians. That is as close to describing my own perspective as I can get.

You mentioned a Wall of Love?

Early the next morning, upon arriving, the Portland Police Department were already on the scene. They had two patrol cars and four officers. A little while later, the people of Portland who had dedicated themselves to The Wall of Love started arriving. The headlines read “Christians Protecting Christians from Christians”. That’s a good headline, but everyone should know that the folks that turned up were a variety of faiths. While I was waiting to be sent outside with the other escort attendees, a woman came up to me and asked questions about the conference and about us as a people. She was Jewish. Her son is gay. Her ex-husband is a conservative Christian who does not interact with his son anymore because of his son’s identity.

I tell you, the people of Portland who took up the banner to support us were absolutely wonderful. In some senses, the whole thing was raucous. In others, it was bolstering. I don’t think a single attendee asked for an escort. The Wall consisted of 50-60 non-attendees and even more attendees. We took up the side of the block and then some. There were so few protestors that they ended up nearly encircled, surrounded by love and happiness. They were so very insignificant in number and message that it was truly amusing.

What was it like walking through the Wall of Love?

I had been outside in the rain for about an hour. I had had a lot of coffee, if you get my meaning, so I had to go back inside. I didn’t think very much of it as I started down through The Wall, because I was part of the escort group. I was tweeting the whole time, trying to get the best shot of that amazing, actual rainbow that was over Portland and the convention center. As I neared the end of The Wall, I had several people call to me from both sides of the Wall. “God Bless you!” “We love you!” “You are God’s creation!” I blinked and looked up from my tweeting and disassociation and looked around at all of the people sweetly yelling at me. I knew all of that. But it gave me pause to have it yelled at me. It put a perspective on things that I had not previously been able to voice concisely.

It’s kind of like when Vicky Beeching came out. I knew God loved me. I knew God had been using me *as a lesbian* in other people’s lives. I knew that I was God’s and He was my creator and that I was loved by Him. I still blinked. I still stopped and took in my surroundings. I still looked at all of the people looking at me with absolute love and kindness in their eyes. I wasn’t the only one who knew what I knew. That’s what’s important about Vicky Beeching’s coming out. That’s what’s important about the people that came for The Wall of Love. That’s what is important about the attendees of the Gay Christian Network Conference. I am not the only one who knows. I am not alone.

Surely this must show how far churches have come in recent years, does it give you hope for the future?

I think there is still a lot of work ahead of us to be done. It takes some work to get to the quiet love of the churches that aren’t being noisy extremists filled with hate, but there is more love than hate in the American Churches. I think the pastors, deacons, and reverends, etc. who are walking with us are out there, but the loud ones cover their voices of love and support. Those quiet ones need to decide what will set the narrative between the churches and the LGBT community. If they don’t make some noise it’s the noisy haters that have set that narrative.

I spoke to a lot of people at the conference about the Church of England and what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is doing for women and the LGBT. Most people to whom I spoke didn’t know about what was going on and did not understand the significance of Archbishop Welby’s work. The Church of England is the corner stone of the Anglican Communion. We would not have protestant churches if it were not for the Church of England, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. For America, Freedom of Religion is partially due to people not wanting to be protestant or not wanting to be Roman Catholic. Also, though, whereas Americans may be very thankful that we do not have a state church, we would not have the Episcopal Church or many of the other protestant denominations if it were not for England’s King Henry creating the Church of England. There’s a lot of literal history that needs to go out and be understood by our generation of Christians.

I know that Vicky Beeching did amazingly in her talk! How did she address the current issues within the church?

Vicky Beeching’s talk was centered around the first telling in America of her story of survival and coming out as a Christian lesbian. She has done interviews that many of us had read. She had started talking about Equality in Marriage in November, 2013. She had not previously talked about her coming out in America. She called to all of the listeners to be brave and tell their story in any way they could, art, photography, poetry, writing, however they were most comfortable, because we have a responsibility to tell people who we are and how we have survived.

What she did say about the Church echoed what Justin Lee had said. We have to be able and willing to sit in the tension and be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to come to the table with people with whom we have disagreements. We have to be willing to have that conversation, no matter how disquieting it might be. Without discourse, there is no sharing of perspectives, knowledge, and history.

Overall what was the main message you took away, that you’d love for others to hear?

Justin Lee’s message was the most powerful. Even within our own community there are disagreements that need to be discussed, and in some cases, accepted, agreeing to disagree. We will not all agree about all things. We have to be willing, though, to have the discussions that emphasize the things on which we do agree. Where we overlap, we must unite, so that we are that much stronger in those areas of overlap, so our voices are that much louder.

The newcomers’ workshop defined some new terms for me and others, including the ideas of “Side A” and “Side B”. Side A folks believe in committed relationships and that a relationship is made whole with sexual acts of love. Side B believe that God loves us, but that celibacy is the only way to stay in God’s good graces. There was some decent amongst us as to which was best. Side A attendees were mad at Side B for “preaching” that Side A folks were sinning. Side B attendees were mad at Side A folks for judging them for being celibate.

If we are asking non-LGBT Christians and people at large not to judge us for being LGBT, then we can not be hypocrites and judge one another for our differing beliefs. Whatever our individual beliefs, we have to be able to live with ourselves. We have to be able to live in our skin. We have to be able to accept ourselves. If that means being celibate for some, then that is their way of surviving eternity. If it means for others that they are in a committed relationship blessed by God, then there it is. Whatever our beliefs are, that is our belief. We cannot judge one another for differing beliefs.

There was little discussion about bisexuality. In the community, though, there is a bit. Some LGT folks judge bisexuals as not being able to make up their minds or living in both worlds and not being willing or able to accept their other sexuality. This does not make sense to me for several reasons.

We are trying to tell kids that they are OK and they are awesome, however they identify themselves. Then, some of us turn around to people who are adults and say that they are not OK as they are and they are somehow not accepting their true identity. This is wrong.

If it is possible for us to be genetically predisposed to one sexuality or the other, how is it not possible for us to be predisposed to both sexualities? If one is possible and the other is possible and being born into the skin of one gender, but feeling the other gender, then it is possible to feel sexual attraction for both genders. If it is possible for someone to love a transgender person, it is possible for someone to be pansexual, loving whoever they love, male, female, presenting or not presenting, identifying or not identifying. Based on the science of biology and genetics, if one is possible, then all is possible.

At the conference, I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. One woman said she had decided she was bisexual, even though, previously, she had considered herself asexual and then “Shelby-sexual”. She had never really been attracted to anyone until she met her now fiance, Shelby. Shelby is a lesbian, so she thought, “I guess I’m a lesbian.” Then, during the conference, she considered her thoughts about the attractiveness of men. So, maybe, she was a bisexual.

The Q as the Questioning in LGBTQ means that they are not sure.
I say to everyone, whatever you are, even if you are confused and don’t know what you are, is OK. Do not feel a necessity to put yourself in a box or to label yourself. If you are a straight woman and intensely love a lesbian, that does not make you a lesbian, so do not fear loving that person that is a lesbian. If you are a lesbian and find men attractive, so be it. The difference is in whether you are capable of considering yourself having a sexual relationship with that other person.

I find Vin Diesel attractive as a human being and a man. I’m not a fan of his acting, but dang can he drive a car, and he has a beautiful heart, and his parents are beautiful educators. I do not want to sleep with him, though.

I have made a few new transgender acquaintances. One is a beautiful transgender woman, called by God. I do not want to have a sexual relationship with her, though. Is it because I’m prejudiced? I don’t know, but I love her as a person. I appreciate her identity and what she stands for and her mission. Then again, if I met a transgender woman and she bowled me over, I guess it could happen. I just haven’t met my person yet.

If anybody would like to know more about these issues, please feel free to get in touch. Would love to hear from you and may be able to point you in the right direction.
You can find Ann’s book on amazon.