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Reconciling queerness and faith at the Human RITES Conference

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kim Holmes-Younger and Pam Rocker about the Human RITES Conference, a recent event in Calgary which brought together people from a variety of denominations and faiths to discuss the histories of LGBTQ people being excluded from and marginalized within organized religions, and also the important work happening in many faith contexts to move towards a different, more inclusive future.

In the last 20 years, dominant attitudes in Canada towards lesbian, gay, bi, and queer people have shifted significantly, and attitudes towards trans people have have also shifted, though nowhere nearly as much. Grassroots struggles by queer and trans people and allies have driven these shifts; and various kinds of expanded institutional and social space for queer and trans folk to live and thrive have been won as well (though access to this enhanced thriving has been quite unevenly distributed). Yet this shift has not been accompanied, for a significant part of even the more steadfastly supportive people who are straight and cisgender, with a substantive engagement with the diverse realities of queer and trans lives, and with the ways that sexuality, gender, and power work in our lives, institutions, and communities. And this means that for all the goodwill and support of a certain sort that's out there, it can be a tricky thing to communicate to mainstream audiences that, yes, gay marriage is legal and, yes, certain kinds of gay visibility have increased dramatically, but there are still a lot of other kinds of barriers and struggles and challenges that permeate LGBTQ lives. And those, by the way, cannot just be reduced to the lingering presence of a handful of retrograde individual bigots; the need for major social and institutional change persists.

This plays out in lots of ways, in lots of contexts, but the one that is the focus of today's show is religion. As today's guests discuss, many LGBTQ people have experienced significant wounding through and by organized religion -- through the institutions themselves, and through distributed attitudes and practices that are reproduced via the teachings of the institutions. Many people experience this as the imposition of an awful, impossible choice: remaining where they are and continuing to experience one kind of hurt, or leaving their faith behind and experiencing a different kind of loss and hurt. While many people navigate this dilemma by leaving their faith behind, many others do not, and continue to desire a spiritual journey in which they can be full participants.

The Human RITES Conference, an initiative that began in a handful of United Churches, brought together both clergy and lay people from a variety of denominations and faiths. It was meant as a space of learning and a space of healing. Kim Holmes-Younger has been working at Wild Rose United Church in Calgary in community engagement and youth ministry roles. Pam Rocker is a playwright and a spoken word poet, and works for Hillhurst United Church in Calgary specifically on engaging and celebrating LGBTQ communities. Both were centrally involved in the event, and they speak with me about queerness, faith, and the recent Human RITES Conference.

To learn more about the Human RITES Conference, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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