By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
YPSILANTI – For the second year in a row, the Michigan office of The American Friends Service Committee Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Program will host Together in Faith, a conference designed to help LGBT and allied people of faith express their spirituality and religion through activism.
The conference, scheduled for Aug. 5-7, will take place at Eastern Michigan University.
Together in Faith will feature speakers from across the faith spectrum, from a “recovering Southern Baptist” to speakers from the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, shamanic and various Christian traditions. Michael Learner, the founder of Tikkun and a man who was called by closet cross-dresser J. Edgar Hoover “one of America’s most dangerous criminals,” is headlining the cast of plenary speakers.
Rachel Crandall, MSW, executive director of TransGender Michigan, Michigan State Representative Alma Wheeler-Smith, and Carole Kirby, ACSW are among the notable Michigan residents who are scheduled to speak and/or present workshops.
“We hope to empower spiritual activists to return back to their own communities and share the new skills that they’ve learned at the conference, to help organize within their faith communities,” said Conference Coordinator Amanda Sharrai.
“It’s important to empower people of faith to know that their political presence is valued,” she added.
Representative Wheeler-Smith agreed.
“In this day and age it’s especially important that legislators hear from people of faith, because I think that the perception that many of us (public servants) have is that people of faith are anti-LGBT. I need to encourage folks to wear their faith on their sleeves and come up and lobby,” she said.
“I think it’s very important that individuals be able to lobby their legislators with a degree of ease, and that happens when you know the issues well, have an organized approach, and realize that we’re your employees,” she added. “That’s the message I want to impart.”
At Together in Faith, the workshops are as diverse as the presenters. On the event web site, each workshop is given an “activist rating” level from beginner to advanced. Titles range from “Spiritual Self-Defense” and “Transgender Spirituality” to “Sponsoring an Inclusive Boy Scout Troop in your Faith Community.”
Sharrai said that conference organizers hope to draw a “broad range of people” to the conference. There is something for everyone at Together in Faith, from the experienced human-rights lobbyist to the person who has just come out and is longing for a way to express his or herself as an LGBT person of faith.