StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom

As spring emerges and the end of the 2015 school year approaches, the sight of smiling teens emerging from limousines dressed to the nines with corsages and carefully coiffed hair becomes commonplace. As teenagers, we are taught that our high school prom is meant to be the pinnacle of our high school experience, a celebration of all the hard work and growing that we have done. However, this is not the case for everyone—being anywhere under the LGBTQ umbrella can make prom an extremely stressful and even sad time. Many Queer teens feel awkward expressing themselves at prom, be it by bringing a same-sex partner, wanting to wear a tux when others expect them to wear a dress, or having a whole room of straight peers stare when they dance with your date. Many are flat out not allowed,

With this in mind, the West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre recently hosted its second annual Queer Prom, at the request of the Centre’s youth. Founded in 2011 at Beaconsfield United Church, as an initiative of the Rev. Shaun Fryday, the Centre has thrived as a drop-in space for any young person 14-21 who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer or Questioning on the West Island of Montreal. Beginning with a trickle of regular members, the centre served over 1000 youth last year with its fun hang-out space and diverse series of workshops and activities.

Last year, the Centre’s volunteers realized there was truly a need for a celebratory queer dance party, as many of the youth frequenting the centre felt uncomfortable at their own proms– a sentiment echoed by the drop-in volunteers, who are all in their twenties. We decided to throw a prom with all the trappings of a high school prom, including a photo booth, wonderful DJ and punch! The first event was such a success that the youth decided it should be an annual event, and our second one was held on May 8th.

The first year was a classic Rainbow theme, but for the sophomore event, the youth voted to have their dance “under the stars”. They worked diligently cutting out hundreds of silver stars, which were strWestIslandStargayzerspromung and suspended from the ceiling where they reflected the space-y laser lights projected by our talented resident DJ Adam. To keep the prom accessible we only charged 20 dollars a ticket, kept costs low, and were generously helped by many community partners. Guests arrived in all their glittery finery, greeted by a lovely buffet, punch, and heavily decorated church hall. One of the special aspects of our prom was a retro paper moon photo booth, where guests could have their photos taken by a talented photographer, and have a portrait with the illusion of sitting on the moon!

It was heartening to see nearly 100 LGBTQ youth dancing freely together and feeling as though they could be themselves—there were several slow dances, and it was truly a joy to see so many Queer couples dancing together. Plans are already underway for a third event next year, which is sure to be the best yet!

— Gabrielle Poitras, LGBTQ Youth Centre Board Member (edited)


Harcourt Memorial UC LGBTQA+ Committee update

We at Harcourt Memorial United Church enjoyed an active spring season and pride week recently. Two members sat on the Guelph Pride Week Committee throughout the year to assist with supporting this city-wide activity that saw hundreds of people attend the myriad of events throughout the week of May 3-10.

Harcourt’s Committee planned the 2nd Annual Storytelling Series  “Speaking Our Truths”. Thirteen speakers from a wide spectrum of identities shared ten minutes of their story, including three transgender individuals and one individual married to a transgender person.  It was incredibly informative in helping us understand perspectives and experiences different than our own. There was laughter and tears and everything in between over 80 people listened intently to the stories.

On Sunday May 10th, we celebrated our Harcourt Affirming Service, which for the first time, was formally part of the Guelph Pride Week. Rev. Wendy Brown shared an inspiring and affirming message, the Waterloo Wellington Rainbow Chorus sang with the Harcourt Choir, and Pride Cake was enjoyed after the ceremony. It was a fitting finish to a week of Pride Activities.

Discussion and planning are in the works to combine Harcourt’s LGBTQA+ Committee with that of the Social Justice and Outreach Committee to spread the work and support between a greater number of members of Harcourt and expand our inclusive model to include the broader community.

— Julie Glass-Ashley, Chair of Harcourt LGBTQA+ Committee

Calgary Human RITES Conference a success

HumanRITESConference2015programOur May 2015 Human Rites conference highlighted and celebrated the progress made and conversations being had by various leaders who are using their voices to create positive and inclusive change. And it honoured the fact that active exclusion of LGBTQ people is still being experienced daily.

With over sixty registrants, and eighty to a hundred additional people attending each of our public evening events, this was the biggest and most successful faith LGBTQ conference that Alberta has seen. The conference was founded by five Affirming United Churches in Calgary (Hillhurst, Scarboro, Wild Rose, Deer Park, St. Thomas), and sponsored by many other multi-faith and community organizations.


Chantal Grey Eyes May 2015

Our program featured:
Keynote speaker Matthew Vines, best-selling author of the paradigm-shifting book “God and the Gay Christian”;
A special appearance and workshops by Ivan Coyote – award winning Canadian poet, author, and performer;
Team Canada Olympic Luger John Fennell;
A full day of multi-faith workshops including: “Deconstructing Neo-Conservative Muslim Arguments on Same Sex Unions”, “The Road to Inclusiveness”, “Let’s Start the Conversation; Evangelicals and the LGBTQ Community”, “What does it mean to be affirming?”, a multi-faith panel, and a beautiful interfaith service on Sunday morning.

With people from very different faith backgrounds and in very different places in acceptance of themselves and others, the dialogue started was so encouraging, although much sadness still lingers in the lives of those who have been excluded. Our hope is to continue this as an annual event, gaining even more partners and supporters along the way. We look forward to next year and invite you to attend!
Pam Rocker, conference co-organizer.

Emmanuel UC, Waterloo, ON: Beyond our building

What we do and say outside our buildings is crucial. Over a month after adding a rainbow flag to the front of their church, Emmanuel United Church in Waterloo, Ontario, received the following email:

“Today on my way to work I noticed your flag “All Welcome”. Not sure if it had always been there, but today it certainly caught my eye.EmmanuelUnited-WaterlooON

The message touched my heart.

The rainbow spoke volumes. I suppose I have always had a soft spot for differences and when I saw your flag today, I was touched at the open arms of your parish to all and wanted to tell you that I am so glad that you exist. In my own faith journey I witnessed intolerance, judgment, and self-righteousness, thankfully not towards myself, but it may as well have been because we are all children of God and I took that judgment of others very personally.

When I see intolerance, I speak out and when I see others open their hearts, I want to say thank you because it is this way that we can change the world from a world of anger and hatred to a world of peace and love.

Thank you for “welcoming all” and for flying your flag high to remind all who see it to do the same and to treat each other with love and kindness. I don’t have to drive by your church on my way to work, but now that I’ve seen your flag, I will go this way every day, it is worth going a little bit out of my way to see such a symbol of love and to start my day with this message!”

Thanks to Rev. Dr. Bruce Sweet for sharing this email with us.
Photographer: Arthur Hills