Faith networking

By | 2008-04-01T09:00:00-04:00 April 1st, 2008|Uncategorized|

ANN ARBOR – When one thinks of “faith-based advocacy” one might think of the religious right rather than LGBT rights. If there’s one thing the religious right is good at it’s organizing and mobilizing against LGBT equality. Michael Gibson-Faith, the Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s LGBT Issues Project, is working to counteract that force with the Faith Action Network.
Gibson-Faith, at 25, is one of the youngest leaders in Michigan’s LGBT community. As director of the AFSC LGBT Issues Project, Gibson-Faith mobilizes people of faith who oppose discrimination against LGBT people through the Faith Action Network.
“It’s a new project that we implemented last year,” said Gibson-Faith. “The Faith Action Network was an attempt to be more proactive in building a network of progressive people of faith across the state who’d be willing to speak out on LGBT issues.”
Gibson-Faith considers the most important part of his job to be relationship building. “That’s what makes or breaks our issues to most clergy, is whether or not they can put a face to it,” he said. “A lot of my time is spend traveling to Grand Rapids, to Lansing, to the U.P., to the Traverse City area, tri-cities area, Detroit, just building relationships with clergy so that we can call upon them to take action on important issues.”
An example of this mobilization would be 2003’s spate of anti-gay marriage initiatives in counties statewide. The Faith Action Network had LGBT supportive clergy present at almost every Commissioner meeting on the subject.
The Faith Action Network is truly organic, with membership growing by word of mouth. “It’s people being networked with one another, sharing resources, being able to be quickly mobilized, being able to come to a meeting and say, ‘Hey Mike, I saw some more clergy who I think might be supporters.’ That to me is what it’s about,” he said. Gibson-Faith is often introduced to new contacts via other group members or by reading an LGBT positive letter to the editor written by a clergy member.
The recent backlash against same-sex couples, especially the threat of constitutional amendments on both the state and federal level, has only strengthened the support of the Faith Action Network, Gibson-Faith believes. “I think that the people who have been supporters and who have been a part of the network, who have been actively working on these issues are still with us and in fact, they’re probably more motivated now than ever because this issue is making so many of them really passionate about wanting to make sure this thing doesn’t get passed,” he said.
In addition to the Faith Action Network’s original objectives and responsibilities, Gibson-Faith is also helping to organize the Religious Coalition for A Fair Michigan as a part of the Coalition for a Fair Michigan, a partnership between some of Michigan’s LGBT rights and advocacy groups formed to defeat the proposal to amend Michigan’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
So far the Religious Coalition has been able to get four bishops, 70 clergy, and 16 churches signed on. Gibson-Faith calls that, “a good start” and said they aren’t even close to done. The numbers make him optimistic. “I think that just the fact that we have such a large group of clergy who are willing to speak out on marriage says something about Michigan,” he said.
In addition to networking supportive clergy and people of faith, Faith Action Network trains people of faith to take action in their communities. To this end, Faith Action Network is sponsoring a conference in May called “Together In Faith” to give people the skills they need to be able to make change.
“Anybody who’s working on the marriage initiative, anybody who’s working on trying to create their church to be open and affirming, anybody who’s interested in ex-gay issues, anybody who’s interested in learning more about the right wing,” should go to the conference, said Gibson-Faith.
“The speakers we’re bringing in are incredible,” he said. They include Faisal Alam who will talk about the experiences of LGBT Muslims, Macha NightMare and Cat Chapin-Bishop who will talk about Pagan LGBT issues, and Peter Toscano, an ex-ex-gay comedian who does a one-man act called “Homo No Mo Halfway House” about his ex-gay experience. “He spent two years in this ex-gay home and it is just hysterical,” said Gibson-Faith.

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