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“For our congregation, part of what it means to be a beloved community of God’s children is our commitment to making sure that no one faces discrimination because of who they are. There has been too much hurt, too much damage inflicted through acts of discrimination and it is at the core of the Christian gospel that this injustice must be corrected and the rights of all people protected.” – Pastor Amy Schultz of Heidelberg United Church of Christ

This Saturday York People of Faith celebrate church welcome for LGBT people and call for statewide nondiscrimination protections at a special fundraising event and community concert.

Who: Equality Fest York, Heidelberg United Church of Christ 
What: Coming Home: A Cultural Celebration of Reconciliation
When: Saturday, October 17, 2015, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Where: Heidelberg United Church of Christ, 47 West Philadelphia Street, York, Pa.

This event welcomes home LGBT Christian artists: singers, songwriters, poets, and visual artists who have often been made to feel unwelcome in the church, a place where they once felt at home. This event is a proclamation to the community that there are churches where all people are welcome and their gifts celebrated. The event will accept donations for admission and include performances of spoken word, poetry, music and a silent auction of local art to benefit the Equality Fest York Scholarship Fund.

Pastor Amy Schultz from Heidelberg United Church of Christ will offer reflections on why her faith commitments compel her to support LGBT people who face discrimination, including the LGBT people in her congregation. Local LGBT people will share stories of experiencing discrimination.

Attendees will take action to support the Pennsylvania Fairness Act (SB 974, HB 1510) by signing a faith petition and calling on state legislators to update the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to protect LGBT people from employment, housing, and public accommodations discrimination, along with other minority groups.

As all this wonderful social justice and faith community awareness will take place amidst a celebration of local art (being silent auctioned off for the Equality Fest Scholarship Fund, an annual award given to an LGBT High School Senior who volunteers with Equality Fest), spoken word including Ladi Glori from Baltimore and TruPoet from Harrisburg, and local music including The Holland-Garcias and CAT, a popular acoustic indie duo from York comprosed of Cas Dell and Tara Jean, who will be sharing her story at the event along with her music.

With a pastor for a father and a church organist for a mother, it’s no surprise that I grew up in a strong faith tradition. It was a miracle to know that I’d always be cared for and protected… unless I was gay. There would be no hope for me, then. So when I began to struggle with the gender I was assigned at birth, I feared for my salvation. I thought I could still be saved if I turned my thoughts away. From the earliest I can remember to the time I was 17, I tried to keep it to myself. I knew what the punishment was if I decided to be who I knew myself to be. So I tried to blend in, and began using homophobic slurs myself. Despite my repression, I was still beaten up in gym class because a classmate “thought” I was gay.

When I informed my summer job about my gender transition, I was told it was fine as long as my performance did not change. I had no issues in the two and a half years prior, and though my performance did not change, I was written up and fired. Simultaneously, I had a job tutoring at school. A friend outed me as transgender to my program directors. Soon after, I was told that my position would not exist after the current semester. My hiring manager fought the directors who said I was “no longer a proper representative of the institution,” (an ironic statement after a year and a half of dedicated, reliable service,) and in retaliation, his employment contract was not renewed. When I found work again, I was in a warehouse working 12hr shifts. Harassment regarding my gender identity was frequent and unrelenting. One particular incident saw my next-cubicle neighbor shouting “You have something wrong with you. You must have unresolved trauma. Someone must have raped you. What you’re doing is an abomination to God!” When her shouting called my manager’s attention, I was somehow deemed the problem. Though my job performance was top-notch for seven months, I was fired again.

After this, I wanted to go to church. Sadly, my relationship had been broken by churches who still believe in “Don’t ask, don’t tell:” I was not harassed, but my story was not worth telling. It’s a pure accident that I stumbled upon Heidelberg. Here, I’ve found a family that has not only accepted me as I am, but embraced me for who I am. This congregation is an embodiment of Jesus’ love for all, but especially those scorned and rejected by society. That is the spirit in which we hold tonight’s performance.

Musician and trans issues activist, Tara Jean
Musician and trans issues activist, Tara Jean