Women's and Gender Studies Symposium Friday at ISU

The Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium will highlight the student research by WGS minors, Queer Studies students, and other students in the Illinois State University campus community. This year the keynote speaker will be Mariana Ortega.

The annual symposium, now in its 22nd year, will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The symposium showcases the scholarship being done by students at Illinois State University and neighboring institutions. The event is free and open to the public. The symposium, much like

Women’s and Gender Studies discipline, is committed to a transformative analysis of gender as it intersects with class/caste, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, age, coloniality, and transnationality.

Ortega will give the  symposium keynote address “Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow, and Resistant Melancholia” at 1 p.m. Ortega is a professor of philosophy at John Carroll University, who works on Latina feminisms. Her most recent book is In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (2016). Ortega studies questions of self and sociality, identity, and visual representations of race. She will be on campus interacting with Visual Culture students and members of the WGS community during her visit.

The WGS scholarships will be presented at the symposium. This is the inaugural year for the Rhonda Nicol Memorial Book Award. Nicol taught WGS courses in the English department for over ten years. She passed away suddenly last year. The book awards will be presented for the outstanding graduate and undergraduate papers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, History Department, Philosophy Department, MECCPAC: A Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of the President, Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, College of Arts and Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program.

Illinois Study Shows Sexual Harassment, Homophobia More Common in Middle Schools

An increasing number of middle school students are becoming victims of verbal sexual harassment such as comments, jokes or gestures, a study has found.

In the study, the team followed 1,300 children from middle school to high school in Illinois, and found that nearly half -- 43 per cent -- of the middle school students had been the victims of verbal sexual harassment such as sexual comments, jokes or gestures during the prior year.

"Sexual harassment among adolescents is directly related to bullying, particularly homophobic bullying," said Dorothy L. Espelage, professor at the University of Florida.

Homophobic name-calling emerges among fifth and sixth grade bullies as a means of asserting power over other students, Espelage said.

Youths who are the targets of homosexual name-calling and jokes then feel compelled to demonstrate they are not gay or lesbian by sexually harassing peers of the opposite sex.

While verbal harassment was more common than physical harassment or sexual assault, students also reported having been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.

Some also said peers had brushed up against them in a suggestive manner.

Students also reported being forced to kiss the perpetrators, having their private areas touched without consent and being "pantsed" -- having their pants or shorts jerked down by someone else in public.

Many reported having been the target of sexual rumours and victimised with sexually explicit graffiti in school locker rooms or bathrooms, the study revealed.

Furthermore, 14 per cent of students were found to negate the 'upsetting experiences' by writing that their peers' behaviour was "not really sexual harassment" because the incidents were "meaningless" or intended as jokes.

The children who were dismissive of sexual harassment experiences were more likely to perpetrate homophobic name-calling, the researchers observed.

"Students failed to recognise the seriousness of these behaviours because teachers and school officials failed to address them. Prevention programmes need to address what is driving this dismissiveness," Espelage noted in the paper published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

NIOS Highlights School Efforts During Campus Conference

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal-Not In Our School outlined recent efforts to create a safer, more inclusive scholastic environment during Monday's Culturally Responsive Campus Community conference at Illinois State University.

Forty-two high school and college students -- including Normal West Community High School senior Anniah Watson and Normal Community High School senior Aishwayra Shekara, as well as faculty members attended the afternoon session in ISU's Old Main Room. College participants were primarily social work and education majors; Jessica Jackson, a Normal West Project Oz specialist who has sponsored NIOS along with Normal West social studies teacher John Bierbaum, reviewed racism, homophobia, and other concerns as well as ongoing anti-bullying/anti-bigotry initiatives at West.

NIOT/NIOS presenters highlighted a number of recent activities aimed at fostering inclusivity in area schools, including:

Operation Beautiful, a website that offered NIOS students at Normal Community the inspiration to write positive messages on post it notes and put one on each student's locker for them to find when they arrived at school the next morning.

In Their Words,  NIOS students at Normal West shared negative experiences such as name calling and teacher-ignored issues and their impact via a video shared with faculty.

Basketball game fundraiser. NIOS students raised funds to support a local mental health agency by holding a staff vs students  game at Normal West. At the admission table, individuals were asked to sign a NIOT pledge card

Pledge card drives. Both high schools have conducted additional pledge card drives.

School NIOS banners designed by the NIOT Marketing Committee. School districts have purchased them for each NIOT partner schools. In addition, posters that mirror the banners are available and being displayed in NIOS partner classrooms.

Culture Showcase. NIOS students at Normal West who organized a talent/sharing of culture show at Normal West H.S. in May 2016.

Culture Fair. NIOS students at Normal Community organized a fair during lunch time that featured foods, dress, and facts from various cultures.

Identifying safe people and places to talk. As students reveal issues at their schools (particularly the high school), they need to know who they can trust to share things that are happening to them. NIOT/NIOS is assisting in helping students identify those individuals.

The theme for this week's CCRC conference, Poking the Bear: Uniting to Challenge Systems of Oppression, focused on aspects of the community that continue to adversely affect some of the groups within it.

Matt: Community Meal Nurtures Bodies, Inclusivity

It may not be the Twin Cities’ most exclusive cafe, but Lutheran Pastor Matt Geerdes has made sure the Community Meal is absolutely inclusive.

Courtesy Agape ISU

Courtesy Agape ISU

The weekly gathering, hosted at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at the ISU Campus Religious Center, 210 W. Mulberry St., has become an open, communal table for students, faculty, Twin Citians of any faith or no faith, people without homes, the LGBTQ community, those who can afford a good meal, those who can't -- in short, anyone.

Geerdes, whose ministry is divided between ISU and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in rural Roberts, conceived the campus-based meal years ago, after visiting a similar dinner sponsored by a San Diego State University ministry and deciding it “just made sense.” Beyond the opportunity for Twin Citians to “build up community with one another and just be people,” the pastor notes “food security” concerns among students who often may eat on the run or, in the midst of academic stress and limited cooking skills, may neglect their nutritional needs.

The Religious Center already provides an interfaith space for ISU’s diverse student body and faculty: In addition to Geerdes’ Lutheran Student Movement, the College Avenue facility is home to the United Campus Christian Foundation, New Covenant Community, Judson Baptist Fellowship, and ISU Hillel Jewish Student Union. Geerdes reports his own Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (which helps fund the Community Meal with added support from Agape) has forged “probably the most formal ecumenical relationship” across a variety of faith communities, and, in fact, is partnering with American Baptist campus ministry colleague Phil Grizzard both in the Monday meal and a second Thursday worship meal. In his own ministry, Geerdes has emphasized building “interfaith relationships and bridges with people.”

The Community Meal has added a new dimension of multicultural security, community, and fellowship –one Islamic guest regularly helps prep the meal, and Geerdes notes several LGBTQ students routinely dine with the group in an open environment.

“It just really excites me when people come together here,” he related. “We host this meal without any programming, and if the people there want to pray, they can have their own prayers rather than having one group prayer. We want it to be a place where people can really feel comfortable and there’s not any kind of ‘bait-and-switch.’ It’s just a meal to build community among people. And I like cooking, and cooking for people, and I’m passionate about bringing people together. This is something that’s been very uplifting for me.”

At the same time, Geerdes witnesses awareness growing, curiosity piqued, and attitudes shifting “in small organic ways” among diverse diners who otherwise might never have come together. In the midst of dorms and student apartments and rentals, the meal draws a largely campus crowd, but guests frequently include outside residents and families from “within a walkable radius.”

Feeding such a culturally diverse crowd poses a few menu challenges: Geerdes and cooking supervisor/student Ashton Mathews (student Katie Peterson is cleaning supervisor) offer separately prepared alternatives along with any pork-based dishes, as well as options for vegetarian guests. A new  community plot behind the Religious Center provides fresh produce for the meal – Geerdes yesterday was preparing to harvest new tomatoes to top the evening’s burgers. Tomato soup accompanied grilled cheese sandwiches the previous week.

Courtesy Agape ISU

Courtesy Agape ISU

Last year’s weekly crowd averaged 40-45 diners (including some 70-75 individuals overall); so far this semester, the group generally has numbered in the 20s. Normally, numbers build as the semester continues, Geerdes said.

“We usually try to have more food than we need for the people we expect,” he explained.

November 17 Humanity Summit Addresses Systemic Bias

The November 17 2016 YWCA Humanity Summit will serve as a space for the community to grapple with important questions of cultural and systemic oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia), and how Twin Citians can grow to become allies in the struggle for justice.


Register before Friday, October 7, and get $10 off registration!

 Student: $8 (pricing stays the same)

 Standard: $30 (earlybird: $20)

 CEU: $60 (earlybird: $10)

 A pay-what-you-can option is available for those who are unable to pay full price for registration.

Oppression is taking lives and destroying communities. Every day, accounts of violence against people of color and a resurgence in hate crimes are in the headlines. Below the surface, institutionalized marginalization and cultural repression of “the other” are quietly killing our communities.

 Oppression costs us all. And even though we didn’t create these problems, we do have a responsibility to ourselves, as well as to each other and future generations to address them.

What to expect at the Humanity Summit:

• A community of experts: The Humanity Summit will be a truly community driven conversation. Rather than slate a roster of presenters to lecture an audience, we are calling on you to bring stories of your experiences, your ideas, and a spirit of collaboration as we move this conversation together.

• An evolving and shared understanding: We don’t have all the answers. Collectively, we will develop our understanding of oppression and privilege, determine the costs of oppression, create shared principles of allyship, and commit ourselves to taking meaningful action.

• A space for you: Throughout the summit, there will be breakout groups specific to the various communities we are a part of. Each breakout will be facilitated by a member of the corresponding community. Breakouts include women/femme (Gender), people of color (race), people with disabilities, trans/gender-queer (gender) and LGBQ (sexual orientation). In addition, there will be a breakout for folks who don’t identify with any of these groups.

Center Addressing Concerns About Physician Sensitivity


Proponents of a health care clinic in central Illinois designed to meet the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex population say such a facility could help limit discrimination against those individuals.

 Speaking during Sound Ideas, Len Meyer, director of the Central Illinois Pride Health Center, said it's often difficult for those not out to maintain a degree of privacy. 

 "It could be explaining they have a same sex partner or they identify masculine, but they still haven't changed their birth, legal name to reflect their identity," said Meyer. 

 Meyer says physicians often discriminate seemingly without realizing it.

 "An example is a lesbian going in to see her doctor and say 'what form of birth control are you on?' You have a same-sex partner," said Meyer.  Meyer said it makes one wonder if the doctor is just checking off the boxes and not really listening to the patient. 

Organizers, including Central Illinois Pride Health Center Board President Jan Lancaster, are in the process of raising funds to establish non-profit status for the clinic, which could open within a year. They're also reaching out to the medical community and currently offering some services.

"Len's reached out to everyone you can think of  as a board.  I think we're all reaching out to our community. We already offer a youth group which is growing every week and we offer a parents group. These things are in the initial stages," said Lancaster. 

"The goal is to have our medical director in place and then bring in advance practice nurses and nurse practitioners and they can see the patients," said Meyer. "Those doctors who want to get involved, we'll add them as they come. Our goal is to try to make sure the clinic is able function and not cost a lot of money to do it. Using advance practice nurses and nurse practitioners the cost is a little less than having a doctor."

Len estimates a full service clinic would cost $3-4 million. A recent fundraiser brought $3,000 in the door. Lancaster says she hopes she sees the clinic established in her lifetime.    

QUEERTalks Launch September 20 Focusing on 'Spectacular Female Sexuality'

Please join Illinois State University Women's and Gender Studies Program, the LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute, Diversity Advocacy and ISU Pride in welcoming the first QUEERtalk of Fall 2016: "Queering Sugar: Kara Walk and Spectacular Female Sexuality" by Amber Jamilla Musser, 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. September 20.

QUEERtalks is a lunchtime colloquium series dedicated to learning about new scholarship in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)/queer studies.

The talks will be held at the LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute in the Professional Development Annex. Members of the host organizations will meet at 12:15 p.m. at the flagpole located at the north end of ISU's Quad to serve as guides leading to the Institute.

Musser is St. Louis Washington University in St. Louis assistant professor for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is the author of Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism, which examines how masochism and its related power structures race, gender, and embodiment in different contexts.

For questions and accommodations, contact Jamie Anderson of the Women's and Gender Studies Program Office at (309) 438-2947.

Central Illinois PRIDE Sponsoring LGBTQ Parents/Children Meeting

Central Illinois PRIDE Health Center's first LGBTQ+ parents with children and parents with LGBTQ+ children (12 years and younger) meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 31.

The combined pool party and potluck meal (please, bring a dish to share with others), offers an opportunity for parents and children to have "a safe, supportive space to be themselves and support one another."

RSVP for meeting location and allergy concerns by calling 309-840-0464.

Advocate Plans Central Illinois LGBT Clinic/Center

Paul Sweich

The Pantagraph

Community advocates hope to open, by next June, Central Illinois' first health clinic and community center for the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex populations.

"Our vision is to provide health care, mental health and social support to the LBGTQI community and its allies," said Len Meyer, executive director of the Central Illinois Pride Health Center. Meyer and health center board President Jan Lancaster spoke with The Pantagraph on Friday.

The goal is to provide primary health care, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics and hormone replacement therapy within three years.

But they hope to open the center next June, beginning with meetings and mental health counseling.

The board is working on its 501(c)(3) status to be tax-exempt and is searching for space, Lancaster said. The center already sponsors a youth group, and a parents group will begin meeting in August, Meyer said.

"We want to offer our community a safe atmosphere to get care and to not be made to feel less of a person," Lancaster said.

Meyer is a retired emergency medical technician who is operations manager for Merry Maids, the Normal-based residential cleaning company. Meyer has a bachelor's degree in health care administration.

Lancaster, who owns The Bistro in downtown Bloomington, is a member of the Bloomington Human Relations Commission and vice president of the Downtown Bloomington Association.

Meyer is transgender. People who are transgender don't identify with the sex of their birth.

Meyer has been put off by doctors' offices whose choices for patients' sexual identity was male or female. One doctor didn't understand transgender issues and didn't care, Meyer said.

Lancaster said Meyer's experience isn't unique. The result is that LBGTQI people are less likely than others to seek primary care, Meyer said.

"There definitely is a need for this in our community," Lancaster said.

Asked why the group doesn't focus on education and advocacy rather than opening a clinic, they said education and advocacy take longer than growing a clinic.

"The time to do the clinic is now," Lancaster said. "We are trying to add to the quality of care in Central Illinois. We are not trying to replace existing doctor's offices."

Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center were given opportunities to comment.

Tony Coletta, Advocate BroMenn human resources vice president, said: "Advocate BroMenn is supportive of any group that is working to improve the health and well-being of members of our community.

"Our own organization has made a concerted effort to be inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQI community ... Through ongoing leadership and staff education in health care-specific areas of diversity and inclusion, we continue working to ensure that our processes, communication and environment work together to create a welcoming atmosphere for all of our patients and their loved ones."

A fundraiser for the center — in partnership with YWCA McLean County — will be 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at The Bistro, 316 N. Main St., Bloomington.

"Our mission informs us to provide justice for all," said Jenn Carrillo, YWCA mission impact director.

Illinois State Debuting 'Queer Studies' Program This Fall

This fall, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program (WGS) will officially launch a new Queer Studies concentration at Illinois State. Years in the making, the concentration  reflects the dynamic evolution and growing popularity of "queer studies" across the United States.

“Every respectable women and gender studies program, or gender and sexuality program, has strong queer content,” said WGS Program Director Alison Bailey. “Students need to have a critical vocabulary, so that they can be able to talk about issues of social justice with respect toLGBTQ issues.”

The new Queer Studies concentration can be viewed as part of a movement, slowly gaining momentum toward culture change across campus, said Bailey. In the last few years, Becca Chase, Paula Ressler, and Dave Bentlin of the Office of the President started the LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute on campus, currently run by Danny Mathews. WGS associate Mandy Dartt led a campus-wide committee to establish a Lavender Graduation ceremony.

“Programs like Lavender Graduation and resources like the LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute send a message to LGBTQ and allied students that they are valued and an important part of our community and Redbird family,” said Mathews, director of the Institute. Bentlin noted the efforts are “vehicles that continue our journey toward a more fully-inclusive campus. Their presence hopefully reassures the LGBTQI+ student community that we are moving forward as an institution while recognizing that it is an ongoing process in which students are active partners.”

First steps

Providing LGBT students a visible space and ceremony on campus were vital first steps, that needed to be followed with a strong movement of queer studies into the curriculum.  “Really good conversations in the classroom—where there is room for disagreement and intelligent, even kind, discourse—will hopefully spill out into the larger culture and community”, said Bailey.  It was four years ago that the first course in the concentration, WGS 292: Introduction to LGBT/Queer Studies, was developed. Since that time it has been taught by at least three different WGS faculty members.

The new concentration is centered on several core courses: WGS 292 and WGS 392: Queer and Transgender Theory, and a number of electives including ANT 270: Anthropology of Sexuality and POL 337: Gay and Lesbian Politics. “This is a respectable beginning for the concentration,” Bailey said. “It allows students to develop a core working understanding of the basic critical tools in queer theory and a choice of topical courses that focus on contemporary issues.”

Although faculty members from across campus contributed to queer studies, WGS did not have a faculty member with extensive graduate studies in the area. That changed last year when College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Simpson approved a joint position between the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, enabling the University to hire award-winning scholar Erin Durban-Albrecht. “Because so much of the work of the College of Arts and Sciences is interdisciplinary, she is the right person to take the lead in teaching the Queer Studies sequence,” said Simpson, who added Durban-Albrecht has already developed the QUEERtalks speaker series at Illinois State. “I think that students, staff, and faculty will all benefit greatly from these initiatives.”

Durban-Albrecht noted the field of LGBT/queer studies is interdisciplinary, and builds upon women’s studies’ critiques of gender relations. “It offers tools to think about gender beyond the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in addition to thinking critically about sexuality and power,” said Durban-Albrecht, who designs her classes to provide students with the analytic tools to understand the intersectionality of queer studies.

“Our conversations about sex, gender, and sexuality are always taking into account relationships to other social categories, such as race, economic class, nation, (dis)ability, and religion,” said Durban-Albrecht. “To understand what happened in Orlando, for instance, it is not enough to think about homophobia and transphobia or toxic masculinity. The people who lost their lives at the Pulse Nightclub were predominantly Latina/Latino, and my classes discuss histories of racism in the United States that foreground why queer and trans* people of color are made more vulnerable to violence.”

The new Queer Studies concentration is only the beginning, noted Mathews. “We need to do a better job at helping dominant identity groups understand that they, too, are stakeholders in the conversation around gender and sexual diversity,” said Mathews. “These are all aspects of who we are, but sometimes it isn’t until we have the language to describe such aspects of our identity that we can begin our own journey of consciousness.”

Gays Against Gun Violence BN Opens Dialogue on Community Safety

The epidemic of nationwide violence, including but not limited to last month's Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, has mobilized Gays Against Gun Violence in Bloomington-Normal, which meets initially at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) at The Bistro, 316 North Main Street, Bloomington.

The event is described as an "inaugural meet-up to brainstorm about how we can help make our community safer for one and all."

"Whether you are gay because you are LGBT or you are gay because you are part of the rainbow of love that we all share, you are most welcome," event sponsors stated. "We will begin by honoring the victims of gun violence at Pulse in Orlando and also the alarming number of victims of gun violence here in Bloomington-Normal."

As a member of Central Illinois' Prairie Pride Coalition, an LGBT advocacy group, Gary Gletty cites PPC's mission "to bring awareness and to reach out to people in our community who could use some help in dealing with issues." PPC was one of several local groups and agencies that appeared June 28 for Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal's 20th anniversary on the Old Courthouse square.

Gletty was gratified by the nearly 325-person turnout at the recent downtown Bloomington candlelight vigil for the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, and believes the LGBT community especially of late has "enjoyed quite a bit of support." Leaders of the local faith community participated in the vigil to demonstrate their support.

In mid-June, The Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. LGBT-rights organization, called for several measures to curb gun violence in the aftermath of the Florida attack that killed 49 Pulse patrons.

The HRC endorsed steps to limit access to assault-style rifles, expand background checks, and limit access to firearms for suspected terrorists and people with a history of domestic abuse.

A resolution on the gun measures was approved Thursday evening at a special meeting of the HRC's board of directors. The organization said it was the first time in its 36-year history that it had called such a meeting to address a policy matter that extended far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

The HRC's president, Chad Griffin, blamed the massacre on "a toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate (LGBT) people, and easy access to military-style guns."

Kelley: A Safe Place For All in an Unsafe World

The Rev. Kelley Becker

Bloomington First Christian Church

While attending the NIOT 20th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, I shared with a friend that I was thinking about the community events I have been part of in the last two days and how they are all connected. My friend reminded me that writing about these experiences might be a great way to process them. So, here are some thoughts as I initially process the last couple of days.

The Rev. John Libert and Imam Abu Emad were among Twin Cities spiritual leaders who dedicated Tuesday's NIOTBN 20th anniversary celebration.

The Rev. John Libert and Imam Abu Emad were among Twin Cities spiritual leaders who dedicated Tuesday's NIOTBN 20th anniversary celebration.

On Monday night, I attended the 2016 LGBTQ Spirituality Forum, sponsored by the Prairie Pride Coalition. It was a moving experience to hear ministry colleagues speak words of welcome to members of the LGBTQ community gathered there. The faith communities represented were First Christian Church, New Covenant Community Church, Hope Church, Unitarian Universalist, Moses Montefiore Temple, and Illinois Wesleyan’s Evelyn Chapel. These communities have stated publicly that they are safe, welcoming, inclusive places for members of the LGBTQ community…and all of God’s people.

A block off the Old Courthouse square, The Bistro -- a social center of activity for the Twin Cities' LGBT community -- offers a message of strength in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

A block off the Old Courthouse square, The Bistro -- a social center of activity for the Twin Cities' LGBT community -- offers a message of strength in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

One of the questions asked of the panel was, “Are there other faith communities in Bloomington-Normal that are welcoming of the LGBTQ community and if so, who are they?” That question opened the door for a conversation about the differences between welcoming people to attend versus welcoming people to be who they were created to be by participating fully in the life of the faith community. The Reverend Elyse Nelson Winger from IWU challenged us, as clergy, to encourage our colleagues to publicly support and fully welcome everyone, specifically the LGBTQ community. She said, “Now is the time…actually, it has been time for a long while, but now is really the time.” She is right. It is time. If you represent God, welcome and embrace all of God’s people. Now.

Following that event, on Tuesday I participated in Beyond the Rainbow: Build Your Strength as an Ally for LGBTQ Youth training event, sponsored by Project Oz. Gathered there were teachers, social workers, crisis team members, and even a few ministers. We heard stories of people who have been deeply hurt because they have been designated the “other” by pockets of our community, one pocket being some faith communities. We learned new language, new ways to listen, and new ways to be allies to the young people in the LGBTQ community.

I was struck again by the importance of Elyse’s words. After hearing, again, the damage religion and other aspects of our culture are doing to the young people of the LGBTQ community and being reminded, again, of my own privilege, I am more committed than ever to leading in ways that breathe life and hope into my brothers and sisters of all faith traditions, gender identities, sexual orientations, skin colors, and abilities. When we, as leaders, are silent, we send a powerful message of apathy and exclusion. When we exclude anyone from our community, the community is less than it could be. We are better when we include and welcome. God created diversity on purpose. It is time we fully embrace this gift from God.

Finally, I had the privilege of welcoming my colleagues from Moses Montefiore Temple, the United Church of Christ, Masjid Ibrahim mosque and the Hindu Temple as they blessed the NIOT anniversary event last night. I was moved, first of all, that they said, “Yes,” when I asked them to participate in this event. And second, their words of welcome and community resonated deep in my soul. I thought to myself…we all want the same things. We want to experience sacredness in our community, and in each other, every day. We all want a place to belong…a place of safety.

And then Tuesday night, after a long day, I learned of the act of terrorism in Istanbul. I remembered anew that the glimmers of hope I have experienced in our community the last couple of days need to be more than glimmers. They need to be sparks that ignite a passion for justice and peace, not just in Bloomington-Normal, but all over the world.

Friends, the world is not as it was intended to be. We must continue our work toward wholeness in a world that is, in many places and ways, so broken. Let us do this work together, healing the pieces one heart at a time. Shalom.

LGBT Unitarian Member Urges Church to Preach 'Love They Neighbor.'

Lin Hinds was horrified in the wake of last weekend’s Orlando nightclub massacre to read the comments of a California Baptist minister who celebrated the shooter eliminating “Sodomites.”  “Where does that man even think he’s representing God or even has a connection to God?” Hinds, a member of Bloomington’s LGBT community, demands.

The Orlando shootings, which left 50 dead and more wounded, has raised questions about gun violence, gender bigotry in America, and the stance of religious doctrine and practice toward LGBT individuals. Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal, McLean County YWCA, and Prairie Pride Coalition will sponsor a June 27 LGBT Spirituality Forum -- a discussion with local religious leaders about finding safe places for LGBTQ people to worship -- at 7 p.m. in the Heartland Bank Community Room at 200 West College Ave. in Normal.

For the lesbian, mother, and member of the LGBT-friendly Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal who serves as office manager with Moses Montefiore Congregation Jewish synagogue, the issue breaks down to basic spiritual principles.

“It’s simple,” she maintained. “Love your neighbor. Don’t peek into their bedroom window; it shouldn’t matter. People are people. As a gay mother of a son, I raised my son to believe that people are people, you love people, and it doesn’t matter who they love.

“We need to get back to basics. A person’s character isn’t based on who the love or who they decide to spend their life with. It’s built on what they do and how they act.”

A native of Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Hinds moved to the Twin Cities in 1993, when LGBT residents still frequently felt pressured not to reveal their gender identity for fear or personal or even professional reprisal. She’d grown up essentially “unchurched” until high school, when she became involved with a local Lutheran church “because my best friend was Lutheran,” but Hinds’ parents taught her the Ten Commandments and other Judeo-Christian principles.

The Unitarian church traditionally has been one of the more inclusive Protestant denominations, and indeed, the overarching Unitarian Universalist Association has designated individual “Welcoming Congregation” churches. The church emphasizes “free thinking,” the concept of “salvation for all,” and a membership that includes Christian Unitarians Universalists as well as religious humanists, secular humanists, theists, Buddhists, “pagans,” and others.

In the case of Hinds’ Bloomington Church, the addition of rainbow flags signals that it has “done work to be specifically welcoming to LGBT people.”

“It has taken us four years to get that designation,” she nonetheless stressed. “Unitarian Universalists tend to come from different faith traditions, a lot of times, so your older members from about 20 years ago came from a time where they either didn’t understand or weren’t welcoming, so it took some time. We did it, but it took some time. I equate that today, unfortunately, to some of the racial issues that exists.

“I went to a very white school (in the Chicago suburbs), and I went to that school for all 12 years – never had a black kid in a class, only had one Jewish kid in town. It was SO stereotypical middle-class, and my father was a truck driver. I wasn’t raised in a racist house, but I certainly had friends who were. My father believed a jerk was a jerk – didn’t matter what color he was. To the point where, when I was a freshman in college, my folks actually fostered two black twins for a few months. It was amazing the backlash they got.”

As Hinds examines LGBT issues in modern society, she also continues her faith journey. Her employment with Moses Montefiore, a progressive Reform Jewish temple that also welcomes LGBT members and guests, “certainly has strengthened my own spirituality, my own connections.”

“I’m connected to God every day, in one way or another,” Hinds noted.

Wednesday Vigil For Orlando Victims Follow-Up to Downtown Observance

NIOTBN/The Pantagraph

In a follow-up to Monday's United in Love and Solidarity Vigil in downtown Bloomington, St. John’s Lutheran Church will host a peace vigil on behalf of the victims of the Orlando mass shooting from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.  

Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker (center) and Prairie Pride Coalition Director Dave Bentlin offer thoughts at Monday's downtown Bloomington vigil for Orlando shooting victims. Below, Becker, a Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader, and Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe embrace as a rainbow appears over the downtown area. (Photos by Michael Gizzi and Rebecca Dubowe).

Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker (center) and Prairie Pride Coalition Director Dave Bentlin offer thoughts at Monday's downtown Bloomington vigil for Orlando shooting victims. Below, Becker, a Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader, and Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe embrace as a rainbow appears over the downtown area. (Photos by Michael Gizzi and Rebecca Dubowe).

“We’d like to express our profound sorrow about the hate crime in Orlando and about violence around the world today,” said the Rev. Christine McNeal, associate pastor for member care and connections. “This will give the Bloomington-Normal community the opportunity to grieve together.”

Fifty people were killed and 53 others injured in Sunday morning's gay nightclub shooting. Twin Citians gathered at the Bistro and marched downtown before holding a vigil on Washington Ave. In an unusual occurrence, a rainbow appeared over the area as the vigil geared up.

 "There is indeed hope that light and love will carry us forward," said Bloomington Moses Montefiore Congregation Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, who participated in the Prairie Pride Coalition-supported downtown event.

People of all faith traditions are encouraged and invited to participate at the St. John's vigil at the church,  1617 E. Emerson St., Bloomington.  

"As people of faith we have an opportunity to gather together in unity to lift up in prayer those who are hurting and to witness to the truth that love is stronger than hate," said the Rev. Julia Rademacher, associate pastor for family ministry and missions.

Participants will be able to light candles, pray silently, and gather together in community.

St. John’s Lutheran Church is a 144-year-old community congregation with more than 2,000 members. It is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 

For more information, contact McNeal at 309-827-6121, ext. 251.

Sunday, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Prairie Pride Coalition and the group PFLAG held a "family reunion" picnic for local LGBT individuals and families.

Vigil, June 27 Forum to Address LGBT Concerns

In light of this weekend's tragedy in Orlando, a vigil will be held at 7 p.m. tonight in front of the Bistro in downtown Bloomington.

Meanwhile, Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal, McLean County YWCA, and Prairie Pride Colaition will sponsor a June 27 LGBT Spirituality Forum -- a discussion with local religious leaders about finding safe places for LGBTQ people to worship -- at 7 p.m. in the Heartland Bank Community Room at 200 West College Ave. in Normal.

LGBT residents have struggled in some cases to find acceptance among local churches, and recent events and attitudes have spurred some denominations to alter traditional positions on LGBT marriage, rights, and worship.

The forum will include a question-and-answer period and refreshments.

Picnic Offers Reunion, Communion for LGBTQ Communities

Local residents will feast on chicken, "commonalities and differences" during a Sunday picnic in Normal.

The Prairie Pride Coalition (PPC)/Bloomington-Normal PFLAG chapter's 19th annual Family Reunion Picnic is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. at the Underwood Park Pavilion in Normal.

The picnic is designed to provide entertainment and dialogue for local LGBTQ individuals and their families. Participants are asked to bring a food item to accompany the fried chicken lunch.

"For the last 19 years, we have gathered annually to celebrate our community and LGBTQ pride," PPC's Dave Bentlin related. "The original intent was to have a 'family reunion'-type picnic for those who could not be openly LGBTQ at their own family picnics.

"Over the years the picnic has evolved into an opportunity to network and enjoy the company not only of our LGBTQ community members but also our allies. In addition, we hope the picnic helps bring together the many diverse sub-communities within our LGBTQ community so that we can learn more and appreciate our commonalities and differences."

Project Oz Program Focuses on LGBT Youth

Build your strength as an ally for LGBT youth through a new program sponsored by Project Oz. 

Beyond the Rainbow, Tuesday, June 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Illinois State University Alumni Center at 1101 North Main Street, Normal, will focus on current research and trends, terminology, and definitions associated with LGBT youth, and discuss ways to create a culture of inclusion in the workplace and community.   

This training is relevant for anyone who wants to support LGBT youth, including school personnel, human service agencies, university staff, health care providers, and corporate employees. It is presented by Bonn Wade, LCSW.

Wade holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and has worked in Chicago- and Miami-based social service agencies for the last 19 years.  Bonn joined Chicago House as the Director of the TransLife Center in 2012, is an appointee on Cyndi Lauper’s Forty To None Project, and serves on the boards of The LYTE Collective and Task Force & Community Social Services.  Bonn’s co-trainer, Monica James, has 20-plus years’ experience as a community organizer, and is currently a board member at the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois.

For questions, email or call 309-827-0377.