The Rev. Jeff Rock writes that while progress has been made in the church for LGBTIQ2S+ people, the work of inclusion is just beginning.
I was four years old when Commissioners at the 32nd General Council in Victoria, B.C., decided that all people, including gay and lesbian people, could be full members of The United Church of Canada, and that all members were eligible to be clergy. Every Sunday as a child I heard of an unconditionally loving God in my local United Church and grew into an understanding of that love. It’s no wonder that when I came out at 15, I sought solace in the spirituality I had learned at church and the knowledge that my sexuality was not a barrier to the niggling call to ministry I felt in my heart.
When I pursued that call and attended seminary, I met other LGBTQ people in leadership in the church, attended Affirm United national conferences, and fully integrated my sexuality and spirituality. The congregations I served loved me fully and faithfully, as I loved them.
It is a privilege to say that I have experienced little to no homophobia in my personal life, in my faith life, or in my work as a minister in the United Church. In many ways I am living “the dream” that so many before me have fought and even died for. I am a living example that LGBTIQ2S+ Christians have arrived in our push for inclusion.
But I am also aware that not all LGBTIQ2S+ Christians and people feel this way. Having worked in ministry in rural Alberta, I know other churches here in Canada still proclaim that LGBTIQ2S+ people are sinners. Conversion therapy still happens in our country; shame and stigma still overshadow the lives of many LGBTIQ2S+ people.
Now a minister in downtown Toronto, I know that queer people of colour experience police brutality against them in a way that feels foreign to my own experience. The fact of the matter is, as a White, middle-class, educated, cisgender man, I have a pretty comfortable life as an “out” gay man. But many of my LGBTIQ2S+ relatives in my city, our country, and indeed in the world, do not have that privilege.
Some of my White gay male friends feel like the fight for LGBTIQ2S+ rights is over, that we have arrived, and that they are examples of that. But many others, including myself, think the work of inclusion is just beginning.
It is still illegal to be gay in 72 countries, some of which punish this perceived crime with death. Transgender people are still murdered at disproportionate rates right here in North America. Homelessness, suicide, and depression are higher among LGBTIQ2S+ people. The gay village in Toronto, the world’s most diverse city, is still primarily inhabited by White gay men.
Statistics show that women, especially queer women, are paid far less than their male colleagues. Spirited and other Indigenous people still experience racism in the LGBTIQ2S+ community. Hard-fought human rights for same-gender marriage have been rescinded in Bermuda and feel precariously fragile for our neighbours to the south under Trump. Most tragic is the recent discovery of a serial killer preying on marginalized people in Toronto’s gay village, many of whom were racialized and new residents to Canada.
It is still much more dangerous in Canada to be both a visible minority and LGBTIQ2S+ person, even if I feel fully safe as a White gay man. Until all of us feel safe, none of us has arrived. Now more than ever, we need to continue to pursue LGBTIQ2S+ inclusion and racial inclusion, because the two are inseparable in the pursuit of human rights.
Five years ago, I would have said the work of LGBTIQ2S+ inclusion in The United Church of Canada was done, because I felt I had arrived. Today I am aware that we are not done. We are just beginning. Now more than ever,
Canada and the world need more of the United Church and our message of an unconditionally loving God.
Jesus spent his entire ministry unrelentingly breaking down the barriers that divide us in an effort to bring about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. As his followers, we need to do the same, because only then will we have arrived.
— The Rev. Jeff Rock was ordained as a United Church minister in 2011. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, a largely LGBTIQ2S+ congregation. He is passionate about inclusion and creating a place of belonging for all in the church.