With LGBTQ inclusion currently the most talked about topic (and the most controversial one) in Christian churches across the country, I’ve been asked a lot recently by those who ARE affirming, how their church can be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community and communicate that their church is a safe place for LGBTQ people to attend.

Here are 7 ways I believe your church can be more LGBTQ+ inclusive:

1. Have a Clearly Affirming Statement on Your Website.

A clearly affirming statement is the very FIRST thing I (and many others) look at to determine if a church is safe. If you want to truly include and affirm LGBTQ people, you can’t be ambiguous. Something along the lines of, “We celebrate and honor the diversity of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability. This means that we also welcome LGBTQ+ people in all levels of participation and leadership including marriage, baptism, and ordination.” A statement like this will leave few questions unanswered and little doubt in the LGBTQ person’s mind as to where your church stands on full inclusion.

The church I currently attend in Denver is one that I believe does this well. You can view their statement here.

Also, make sure that your statement is either on the front page of your website or under the “About” or “Beliefs” section where it is easy to find. Searching too hard for your statement makes LGBTQ people wonder if you’re trying to hide/bury it. LGBTQ people have been hidden and dismissed for so long; they want a statement that is open so they know that they themselves can be open.

2. Register Your Church on ChurchClarity.org.

Once you have a clearly affirming statement up on your website, register your church on ChurchClarity.org. Church Clarity is an organization that evaluates churches on their LGBTQ policies and gives them a rating so that LGBTQ people and their loved ones can search for affirming churches in their area OR find the status of a church they are thinking about or already attending. You may already have a rating on Church Clarity whether you know it or not. Search for your church, and if you don’t like what you see there, submit it to be re-evaluated once you have your policies clearly outlined on your website. There’s are lots of LGBTQ people who are seeking out safe places to worship, so this is a simple way to help people know that you are a safe place for them to belong.

3. Let the Way You Value Diversity be Represented in Your Staff and Leadership.

As an inter-racial, female, gay couple where my wife is a first-generation immigrant and I live with invisible disabilities, diversity is extremely important to us. I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve gone to where they say they value diversity and affirm LGBTQ people, yet their stage is still full of white, straight, cisgender men. It ends up not feeling any different than the evangelical churches we grew up in. My wife doesn’t want to be the only person of color, nor do we want to be the token gay couple. We also (much to straight people’s surprise!) don’t want a “gay church” where only LGBTQ people attend! We simply want to be part of a beautifully diverse body of people in all their colors and abilities and backgrounds and forms of love and identity. So encouraging diversity of all kinds in your leadership not only makes for a healthier church, but will also draw in more diversity from those who attend. This may take time to attain, but it will make a difference.

4. Have Gender Neutral Restrooms.

Having gender neutral restrooms available is crucial for transgender or gender non-binary people to feel safe. If you have a small church with single stall bathrooms, there is no reason that those can’t be made gender neutral. If you are part of a larger church that currently has bathrooms with multiple stalls, then be sure to have at least one single stall restroom available that is gender neutral. It could also be made to be an accessible restroom or a family restroom. Something like using the restroom is a basic human need that most of us take for granted, yet is something that can cause great distress for those who identify outside the binary of male or female. Having gender neutral restrooms will make them feel more comfortable and safe attending your church, and will also communicate that they are valued and matter to your community.

5. Have a Free Lending Library of Supportive Resources.

It’s not uncommon for churches to have a small lending library, but filling that library up with affirming resources will help your LGBTQ members know that they are truly celebrated and supported with you. If you’re not sure where to start, here is a list of recommended reading that I have on my website.

6. Intentionally Use Inclusive Language From the Stage.

It is easy to fall into what is comfortable when it comes to language and how we talk about God and faith, but training yourself to use inclusive language will go a long way in helping your LGBTQ people feel like fully-affirmed members of your community. Instead of thinking of people as strictly male or female, think about the spectrum of gender and include people in your stories and sermon examples that may identify as intersex, transgender, or gender non-binary. Likewise, when talking about marriage, remember your same-sex couples and don’t automatically assume certain gender roles within a marriage or that all families look the same. These things may take some thought initially, but will come easier with time and will certainly make for a more inclusive community.

7. Remember Your LGBTQ People During the Holidays.

Holidays are still one of the most challenging times for LGBTQ people. Whether they’re completely estranged from their family, or perhaps they are “tolerated” rather than celebrated, it creates a lot of complicated emotions and feelings of loneliness, loss, and isolation. For big holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, consider hosting a meal where everyone who needs a place to go could come and be a part of a larger church family celebration. For smaller holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, remember that this can be an especially painful day for those that have been disowned from their families of origin. Reach out with a call or a text, or send a card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that they’re not alone. Birthdays and anniversaries are private holidays that are typically celebrated with family, but when family isn’t there…these days become eerily quiet and lonesome. Whether you decide to reach out as staff to your LGBTQ members during these times or you decide to cultivate ownership of that within your community of those who attend the church, making this effort will go a long way in letting your LGBTQ people know that they are deeply loved and truly belong with you.

This list is certainly not an exhaustive one, but I hope it gets you thinking and provides you with some tools to make your faith community more inclusive of LGBTQ people.

If you found this helpful, please share it with your own faith circles, with your pastor, or on social media. It’s obvious that we need more inclusive and affirming churches for LGBTQ people to belong and thrive in, and by spreading this around, you can each can play a part in making that a reality.

Be Brave, Live Unashamed,

Amber Cantorna

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You Can’t Be a Half-Hearted Ally

In my work with LGBTQ people and their families, I hear an abundance of both heartbreaking and redeeming stories. The heartbreaking ones remind me of why I do the work that I do, while the redeeming ones are a reflection of the work that we as a progressive faith community are accomplishing. However, over the last few months, I’ve had a handful of both public and private encounters that have reminded me that we have not come as far as we think when it comes to educating those who say they support us. Whether people realize it or not, a great deal of responsibility comes along with being an LGBTQ ally (or an ally of any marginalized group for that matter.) This post is meant to outline some traits of a true ally in hopes that you will read it, meditate on it, and grow because of it…and that then you will share it with others.

This post might make you uncomfortable…and that is good. If you can lean into it, you will grow. So I invite you to take a deep breath, open your heart, and read with a spirit that is willing to learn…for that is how we make the world a better place.

Here are 5 Ways to Be an LGBTQ ally…

1. You Must Identify Your Own Privilege and How it Has Empowered You.

As a straight, cisgender person, there are privileges afforded to you that have not been afforded to your LGBTQ peers. For instance, have you ever had to scan the room before holding your partner’s hand to gauge the safety level of room? Did you have to think twice about if you would be allowed to get married in the venue of your choice? Have you ever had to correct someone when they see your wedding ring and automatically assume that you are married to a person of the opposite sex? Or worry about losing your job if your employer knows who you love? Have you ever had to deal with the intense anxiety and mental anguish that comes with being disowned by your family for something you cannot change? The answer to these questions, of course, is no. You’ve never had to experience these things because as a straight, cisgender person, you are considered to be part of the cultural norm. But until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.

“Until you recognize the imbalance of power between your privilege and those who are marginalized, you can never truly be considered an ally.”

QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: What doors has your privilege opened for you that you aren’t even aware of? How do those opportunities differ for LGBTQ people (specifically LGBTQ people of faith)?

2. You Must Use Your Privilege to Elevate the Marginalized.

This is a two-part task. The first part is that you must speak up and speak out. Using your voice (as a person of privilege) to bring attention to, and raise awareness of, the ways in which people are being marginalized is crucial for the forward movement of LGBTQ equality. It is not enough for you to love LGBTQ people quietly behind closed doors. LGBTQ people are dying at the hands of ignorance, fear, and bad theology. We must speak up and speak out in order to reduce the amount of lives that are being lost every day. Whether you speak out in person when you hear someone say something unjust, or whether you use your social media feeds to promote conversations of equality, you must use your voice to advocate for change. Ginette Sagan said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor,” and she’s absolutely right. To remain silent implies apathy and consent. You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.

“You cannot remain neutral (aka silent) and call yourself an ally.”

The second part of this task is that actions speak louder than words. As we just discussed, your words and your voice are undoubtedly important. But if your words say one thing (“I’m an ally”) and your actions say another (“I don’t want to lose my privilege”)…you are not truly an ally. Your words must be congruent with your life in order to gain the respect and trust of LGBTQ people.

Questions for Introspection: Where have I spoken up for the dignity and worth of LGBTQ people? Where have I failed to speak up? Are my words and actions consistent with my life? In what way can I use my privilege to elevate the voice of the marginalized?

3. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

If you truly care about social justice and equality, you need to care about it in every aspect of your life. Words of love and friendship mean nothing if you continue to fuel the problems of injustice with your actions and finances. This doesn’t mean that you have to exceed your budget or do more than you can financially afford. It means that you begin to think differently about where you spend your money and what kind of policies/systems are being perpetuated with that money. Giving or spending your money at institutions or stores that are known for their anti-LGBTQ policies (or who support conversion therapy) continues to perpetuate a society of hate, discrimination, and inequality. A few changes you can consider making are:

  • Stop donating to The Salvation Army, and instead donate your items to another organization that values and celebrates diversity in all its forms.
  • Stop shopping at Hobby Lobby, and instead shop at Michael’s or another craft supplier.
  • Stop tithing to non-affirming churches, and instead give to churches that are fully-affirming or to organizations that are working directly with the LGBTQ faith population. (Come on, I know that one made you uncomfortable!)
  • Intentionally shop at stores that champion diversity, like Target, JCPenny, and Starbucks (who, by the way has the most comprehensive transgender health policy in the world. Read more here.)

Bottom line, saying you support LGBTQ people when you continue to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit their access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.

“Continuing to invest your money in ways that directly harm or limit (LGBT people’s) access to equality is to still live within your privilege, without thinking about those who live without it.”

We aren’t perfect and this doesn’t mean that you have to do an in-depth Google search on every store that you ever enter, but it does mean that you think carefully about the places you invest your money, what stores you purchase from on a regular basis, and where improvements can be made.

QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: Am I currently investing my money in a place that is directly or indirectly causing harm or limited access to marginalized people? If so, what changes can I make to invest it better?

4. Put Your VOTE Where Your Mouth Is.

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a critical year in politics. We cannot afford to push issues aside or ignore them any longer claiming that they’re not “our issue.” Children are dying in cages at the border, people are filing bankruptcy due to lack of affordable healthcare, white supremacy is on the rise, racism has somehow become acceptable, and children are afraid to go to school because mass shootings have become a devastatingly common occurrence.

People, for the love of all that is good and holy, VOTE! Vote for women and people of color, vote for policies that will bring justice to our healthcare system, and to families separated at the border; vote for people that will address our ever-rising concern of climate change and the problems of mass incarceration. VOTE! It is one of the single most powerful things you can do to help create lasting change for the marginalized. And YOU have the opportunity and the privilege to do it simply, easily, and freely. These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns and you have the opportunity (regardless of political party) to vote in a way that elevates the common good for all people.

“These are not just LGBTQ concerns, these are humanity concerns.”

QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How has my voting in the past affected people on the margins? Have I voted for issues that will only benefit me, or have I voted for issues that will affect the common good of all people? What might I do differently this year to better elevate people in the margins?

NOTE: If you are not yet registered to vote, you can do that here: https://vote.gov/
You can also learn more about the Vote Common Good Campaign by visiting: https://www.votecommongood.com/love-in-politics-pledge/

5. Listen and Learn.

There is a lot that can be learned by simply listening to the stories of LGBTQ people. Many of them are even open to the genuinely curious questions of those seeking to better understand. But don’t expect LGBTQ people to be the ones to educate you on the “biblical interpretation of the clobber passages.” Just as you shouldn’t expect people of color to educate you on racism in America, you also shouldn’t expect LGBTQ people to educate you on theology, homophobia, or anti-gay belief systems. Instead, educate yourself. There are a number of good books that will help you (a few of my favorites are listed here.) Then, use your time with LGBTQ people to really listen and seek to understand what life is like in their shoes.

It is inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. We all do. But if and when that happens, stay humble. Apologize for your mistake (without trying to justify why you made it!) and simply listen to how you can do better next time. A sincere apology will go a long way; a half-hearted one will not.

QUESTIONS FOR INTROSPECTION: How can I become a better listener? What topics do I still need to grow in? What resources will help educate me best in those areas?

Bottom Line:

You can’t be a half-hearted ally.

There is no middle ground.

You either have all your skin in the game, or you don’t.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t make mistakes. What it means is that you can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too. You can only choose one. Because when you try to hold onto both, damage is done, trust is betrayed, and people are hurt. I have seen this multiple times in both my professional and personal life in recent months and I am begging you to step up and make a change.

“You can’t hold on to your privilege and your ally card too.”

We need allies. We need you. We are asking you lay down your pride, use your privilege to elevate the voices of the marginalized, and have integrity to stand by what you say–mean it with all of your heart–and then walk it out on this journey alongside us towards a more just, equal, and safe place for us all to live.

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Friends, 

I know it has been awhile since you’ve heard from me. My speaking schedule has been so very full this fall and my wife and I just returned from a wonderful (and much needed!) vacation in Italy to bring our crazy year to a close. In the new year, I will be transitioning to a monthly newsletter/blog format to ensure that you hear from me on a more regular basis outside of social media. But for now, as we enter the holiday week, I wanted to share with you this blessing. Feel free to share it at your Thanksgiving table if it feels right for you. And if you do, I’d love to hear from you how it was received at your table. 
 
Remember each of you are dearly loved and deeply blessed,
 
 
 
 
 
A Blessing for the Thanksgiving Table 
 
 
Blessed are the grateful,
Those who gather in homes near and far to enjoy good food and the company of others,
Those who give thanks for the big things, and especially the small ones, as they reflect back on their year,
Those who realize that it is not about what they have, but about whom they share it with,
And that the heart that beats beside them is the most precious gift of all.
 
Blessed are those who share what they have with others,
Those who set a grand table and prepare dishes for an entire week in advance,
Those who have food delivered because they don’t have time (or desire or energy) to cook,
Those who enjoy both the gift of the meal and of the friendship,
And find beauty and gratitude in it all.
 
Blessed are those who make room at their table for orphans,
Those who don’t have families to go home to,
Those who have been disowned by their families because of who they are or whom they love,
And those whose spiritual deconstruction has ostracized them from their family and/or faith communities.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
 

Blessed are those whose table is set with grief,

Those who’ve lost a parent to illness, a friend to a tragic accident, a sibling to gun violence, a child to suicide.
Blessed are those who sit with them in their pain,
Who honor their grief without a timetable, and who realize they are powerless to fix it.
 
Blessed are those that travel thousands of miles to be with loved ones,
Those who can’t afford to,
Those who spend their holiday serving food to others at shelters,
And those who have too much social anxiety to leave the house.
 
Blessed are those who share a table with whom they disagree,
Who speak up for the marginalized,
Who risk uncomfortable conversations for the sake of others,
And who don’t take their privilege for granted.
 
Blessed are those who keep the peace for the sake of grandma.
 
Blessed are the families separated at the border,
The indigenous people whose land we stole,
And those who are afraid for their lives due to circumstances they can’t control.
 
Blessed are the first responders who work the holiday for our safety,
The Black Friday employees who’ve haven’t been given a choice,
The snow plowers and street sweepers who clear the roads so that we can get where we are going,
And those who have just been laid off just and enter the holiday season with fear and insecurity lingering in their hearts.
 
Blessed are the toddlers, the elderly, the single mother, the single father, the person who is proud to be single, the person that longs for companionship, the married couple who is happy, the married couple who is struggling, the family with kids, the family who longs for kids, and the family with fur babies.
 
Blessed are the marginalized.
 
Blessed are the dream-chasers, the goal seekers, the fearful, the hopeless, and the wandering.
 
And blessed are YOU…whoever and wherever you are, whatever you’ve gone through, whatever you have or have not accomplished this year, whatever failures or dreams may still be lingering…you are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.
 
Amen.
 
 
 
Copyright 2019
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Dear Friends,

I’ve awaited this day for a very long time…today I release my first original single “Brave Lullaby.” This journey back to music has been so close to my heart. Some of you know that I grew up in a very musical family singing and performing all over the nation and even around Europe in my elementary and teenage years. But when I came out, music is something that I lost along with so many other things. This journey back to music has taken me some time to emotionally and spiritually navigate what that looks like for me now and how to make it fresh and new, while at the same time, connecting it back to that part of me that I lost.

Thank you to each of you who have supported and loved through this process. Because of you, this part of me has begun to be revived and I now get to start sharing it with others again. You can now stream “Brave Lullaby” for free at this link and if you’d like to download it into your very own music library, you can do so by going to: http://ambercantorna.com/books/ and scrolling to the bottom of the page. 


Enjoy and Be Brave Today,

Amber Cantorna

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Unashamed Merch is Here!!!

Hellooooo My Unashamed Friends!

I’m so excited because today is the official launch of #UnashamedLGBTQ–a new merch line I’m launching to empower LGBTQ people of faith to embrace and celebrate who they are created to be! In the shop, you’ll find affirming t-shirts, hoodies, hats and buttons for LGBTQ people and allies alike! And don’t miss our #UnashamedLGBTQ button series as well!

So head on over to the #UnashamedLGBTQ Store and check it out. If you purchase anything in the next week you get 15% off!

AND THEN…I would super appreciate it if you would also Like/Follow #UnashamedLGBTQ on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We want to get the word out about this new swag, but we need your help to do it. Likes, shares, and shout-outs are all super appreciated!

Can’t wait to see this swag on YOU and hear what you think!

Be Brave, Live Unashamed,
Amber

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