Tag Archives: University of Victoria

Gays & The United Church Part 2

On March 4th, 1988 the United Church of Canada’s four-year study on “the nature of sexual orientation and practice” was complete. The 13-member research committee released an 118-page report called: Toward a Christian Understanding of Sexual Orientations, Lifestyle and Ministry. Its key recommendation: sexual orientation should not be a barrier to participation in any aspect of church life. A dramatic backdrop for this report was ever increasing AIDS-related deaths in Canada. The plague had been spreading exponentially in the 1980s, particularly in Canada’s largest cities.

A new grassroots lobby group sprang up called the Community of Concern to fight the report’s recommendations. In Calgary, like other parts of Canada, church leaders gathered to debate and discuss. On March 29th, 1988, at St. Matthew’s United Church in Calgary, Reverend David Cook moderated a meeting in reaction to the report in advance of the church’s Alberta and North West Conference.

The mood was mostly contrarian. At both the Calgary gathering, and then at the regional meeting in Camrose that May, petitions were brought forward rejecting the report and voicing strident opposition. In particular, the Alberta and North West Conference was concerned about individuals and families who were considering leaving the church if the report was accepted. By the time of the 32nd General Council meeting in Victoria in August 1988, the Church had received 1,813 petitions from across Canada rejecting the report.

In advance of the General Council, a special committee of 24 members was convened to digest the report and make recommendations. Marion Best, who chaired the committee recalled in an Xtra.ca interview that when they began there were only two members who supported the report, and five opposed: the rest were open to listening. On day two of the deliberations, the committee members arrived at the classroom they were meeting in and found homophobic slurs written all over the blackboard. Best described that moment as a critical turning point; after six days of grueling debate and soul searching the members decided to recommend the report unanimously.

That unanimous decision was a powerful symbol at the General Council itself.  Yet for nine days at the University of Victoria, delegates lobbied and debated the divisive report. The culmination was a seven-hour session ending at 1 a.m. on August 24th, when the final vote happened. The 388 delegates voted 2:1 in favour of any worshippers – including self-declared homosexuals – to become full members of the church, which also meant that gays would be eligible for the ministry.

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Landmark vote at the 1988 General Council.  Photo: John Colville in Maclean’s Magazine, September 5, 1988.

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Watch: “United Church allows gay ministers” online at CBC Digital Archives

There was fallout. In September 1988, Lethbridge First United Church, at a congressional meeting, voted 4:1 to break away from the United Church due to the General Council decision.  Reverend Stan Errett, Minister of St. David’s United and chair of the Calgary Presbytery, said: “I don’t think it is going to have any impact on us; we’re in relatively good shape. There’s lots of distress and lots of concern, but people [in Calgary] are not about to run away.”

Calgary’s Hillhurst United Church was not pleased with the decision.  Their Reverend Robert Nagus said: “It’s wrong. It’s an error in judgment. It’s an attempt to sanctify sin. But the way to fight this thing is to stay within the church, get a referendum and change the policy.”

One hour north of Calgary, the Cremona United Church draped its signpost in sackcloth and ashes as a symbol of mourning. In Blackfalds, near Red Deer, United Church members erected a large sign on the church grounds reading: “THIS CHURCH IS OPPOSED TO ORDAINING HOMOSEXUALS.”

Dissent was increasing all across the country, led predominantly by the Community of Concern movement. Calgary started its own chapter of the anti-gay lobby group in October. By November, Hillhurst United, had publicly declared it was withholding funds to the national church and encouraged other congregations to join them. Later that month, three other churches: Forest Lawn, Southminister, and Southwood United had filed their opposition to the national executive regarding homosexual ordination.

As the heat spread, the United Church General Council Executive met for five days at the end of November in Toronto to decide how to move forward. The emergency meeting was precipitated by demands for a binding referendum on the issue by 1,000 Community of Concern members, who assembled in Etobicoke. They told the Executive: “We’re in for the long haul.”

The Executive declined to put the issue to a grassroots vote, as many wanted, but did reopen the issue asking congregations to discuss it among themselves, and in their regional conference, to bring their concerns to the 1990 General Council meeting, where policy could be changed.

Their willingness to entertain a reversal on gay ordination greatly reduced the turmoil and inflammation in the United Church community. Reverend Errett said: “I think it’s a good consultative process. From now on we’re going to take seriously what the congregations are saying. I think it will avert what people fear is a national denomination splitting down the middle and people going in all different directions.”

Madeline Wood, Chair of the Calgary Community of Concern chapter, conceded that the new move was “somewhat reasonable,” although she worried that the General Council commissioners could ignore the will of concerned congregations a second time.

Wood’s worries were prescient. At the 1990 General Council held in London, Ontario, the issue was debated and again came to a vote. This time, the result was 4:1 in favour of gay ordination, reaffirming the 1988 decision, and clearly foreshadowing the trajectory of the debate. Despite traditionalists fomenting fears of a new exodus from the church, the large split never took place. In the end, the estimate of those who left was about 25,000 people, around 3% of the United Church’s constituency.

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Victoria: Trans History Recap

We had a stimulating three days of exploring trans identity and trans history at the University of Victoria’s Moving Trans History Forward 2016 conference, March 17-20.Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.41.55 AMThe conference was a grounding in important dates, personalties, and terminology in the transgender community. It also touched on current issues such as the need for preservation of trans histories and the status of trans materials in larger queer collections such as at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA).

Academics, community activists, artists and historians created a stimulating jam-packed event. And like at most conferences, some of the most interesting conversations were with the person you found yourself sitting beside at lunch. One highlight was learning about the Transvengers web comic.  A collaborative project between trans youth and researchers at the University of Exeter, that saw the youth interact fantastically with sexologists from the past.

We were delighted to learn that there will be a trans history exhibition at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary this June. Called Trans Trans, the show will explore the influence of Magnus Hirschfeld on Alfred Kinsey through images found in the Kinsey archive and others in popular culture. Trans Trans is curated by U of C history professor Annette Timm, and her academic partners, Michael Taylor (Portland, Oregon) and Rainer Herrn (Berlin, Germany).

We talked to trans activist, Rupert Raj, about his time in 1970’s Calgary, and his association with the Gender Identity clinic at the Foothills Hospital. Following the conference, we found sources in UVic’s Transgender Archives about the physicians who ran the clinic as well as more on the early days in Calgary of the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT).

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Researchers: Kevin, Carter, Demetrios and Son at the UVic Trans Archives post-conference

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Trans History in YYC

In June 1978, a national Trans publication was began in Calgary. Called Gender Review: A FACTual Journal, it was the publication of the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT), which began in January of the same year. The non-profit organization focussed on public education of gender dysphoria.

Gender Review‘s premier issue had an article  on “Transsexual Oppression” about Montrealer Inge Stephens; information about transsexual resources; news items such as trans woman Canary Conn’s appearance on the Phil Donahue show; and a listing of books and articles by and about trans people.

The founding president of FACT was Rupert Raj, who moved the organization and publication to Toronto in July 1979.  Raj has gone on to be a leading Trans activist and  educator in Ontario and Canada and in 2013 was inducted into the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) National Portrait Collection.  His personal records are also housed at the CLGA as the Rupert Raj Trans* Collection.

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The University of Victoria’s Moving Trans History Forward 2016 conference’s concluding event is a Founders Panel, on Sunday March 20th from 9:30 AM – noon.  Raj will be one of five panellists.  Unlike other conference events the Founders Panel is free and open to the public – we hope to see you there.

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