by Sarah Godwin
I read David Shanahan’s opinion piece “The Need for Grace” with great frustration and dismay. I am the individual who is quoted by Mr. Shanahan and who brought a protest sign to the Canada Day festivities. With respect, Mr. Shanahan does not understand the issue.
Southgate Community Church is a Wesleyan church. The Wesleyan church (note I am referring to the church and not its individual parishioners) is known to be homophobic and transphobic – it has adopted official statements of the Wesleyan view on several issues including homosexuality, gender identity and gender expression, “in order to encourage laity and ministers to integrate faith and life to respond appropriately and responsibly to current cultural and public policy matters.”
The Wesleyan statement on homosexuality lumps the “sin” of homosexual relationships in with bestiality and incest. The Wesleyan tenets respect only maleness and femaleness as human categories assigned at birth. While all sinners (in a “state of depravity”) are to be welcomed into the Church for pastoral care, this does not constitute “approval of nonconforming gender behavior”. Moreover, the Wesleyan church states that laws and public institutions should not have to accommodate “minorities who define themselves by gender and sexual preferences without respect or regard for the preferences and rights of the majority”.
In essence, the Wesleyan tenets are that those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ are sick, must hide their true nature and act “straight”. Not all Christian churches hold such views. Contrary to Mr. Shanahan’s opinion, I know many who consider themselves to be Christian and accept the worth and dignity of all, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The Wesleyan tenets are extremely harmful. Those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ have experienced well documented harassment, discrimination and harm. Hiding one’s identity does not alleviate the harm but rather comes with its own well documented psychological damage.
Thus, Southgate’s sponsorship of any public event is repugnant and alienating to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and its allies. NG Pride and I were approached by many vendors, volunteers and members of the public who did not believe Southgate should be there as a sponsor. The very visible presence of Southgate as a sponsor at such an event sends a message to the North Grenville community that 2SLGBTQIA+ are not welcome. That Church’s presence indicates that it is permissible to deny the dignity and worth of those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, and that they are only accepted if they deny their essential selves and conform to the heterosexual, straight “norm”. This goes well beyond mere taking offence.
The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination and harassment in the provision of a service. Protected grounds include sexual origin, gender identity and gender expression, but also (as Mr. Shanahan infers) creed. Human Rights Code protections apply to individuals, not associations, organizations or churches. Sometimes the Code protections must be balanced against one another. So, for Canada Day, Mr. Shanahan believes that the right of Southgate parishioners to have their church sponsor a bouncy castle (which as far as I know is not essential to the Church’s parishioners’ creed) should carry as much value as the right of 2SLGBTQIA+ community members to feel accepted at a public event. I vehemently disagree. Refusing Southgate’s sponsorship of a public event does not require anyone to ignore their fundamental beliefs, nor does it impose a certain parishioners.
This fiasco could have been avoided had the Kemptville and District Community Association listened to the ample community input from the September 2021 Promenade when Southgate’s sponsorship included its branded bouncy castle and free cotton candy, distributed by volunteers in Southgate shirts. In response to feedback from the community, the Kemptville Business Improvement Association promptly adopted a diversity and inclusion policy which should prevent a repeat, but not the KDCA. The KDCA doubled down, had the Church back for the 2022 Canada Day events and did not publicize that sponsorship until two days before the celebration.
The KDCA offered a service on Canada Day, with financial support from the Municipality of North Grenville and the federal government. It was wrong to include a sponsor which does not respect the dignity and worth of all those in the Municipality.