Rev. Jane Simmons of Unity South speaks at the Interfaith Pride Service/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

At Interfaith Pride Service Clergy Speak On Journey from Silence to Celebration

By Tracy Simmons

In its 25-year history clergy have occasionally come together during Spokane Pride to celebrate and worship with the local LGBT community. But longtime OutSpokane board member Bridget Potter said until Wednesday evening, she had never seen such a diverse group of faith leaders speak up about the struggles and rights of gays.

At the 2016 Spokane PRIDE Interfaith Worship Service, held at the Spark Center, eight clergy from six different traditions — United Church of Christ, Jewish, New Thought, Unity, Buddhist and Disciples of Christ— spoke about this year’s Pride theme: From Silence to Celebration.

“I hope this is expanding people’s minds,” Potter said, “and that people have learned about a faith they’ve not know about that’s open and welcoming.”

Venerable Thubten Chonyi of Sravasti Abbey began the service by saying voicelessness has been the sound of the LGBT community for too long.

“Silence has been society’s prescription for handling us,” she said.

Ven. Thubten Chonyi speaks at the Interfaith Pride Service/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS
Ven. Thubten Chonyi speaks at the Interfaith Pride Service/Tracy Simmons – SpokaneFAVS

She spoke about her experience marching for gay and lesbian rights in 1987, and how the media refused to cover her and the thousands of others who marched. The ACT UP organization, an advocacy group working to impact the lives of those with AIDS, has a motto, “Silence = Death.”

“They’re words we shall never forget, because they’re true,” she said.

But, she said, LGBT people and allies can overcome such muteness now by living proudly as themselves and by speaking out.

Rabbi Tamar Malino of Temple Beth Shalom and Congeration Emanu-El shared the personal story of how she spoke out when she moved to Spokane four years ago. She and her then partner spoke at a City Council meeting in favor of a resolution that supported the state’s gay marriage law. After five hours of testimony, the city declined to take a stance on gay marriage.

“Four years later, same sex marriage is the law of our state and the law of our land,” Malino said at the worship service.

The room erupted with applause.

Malino said the journey has been long, and is far from over, especially for the transgender community.

Pastor Jan Shannon of Westminster United Church of Christ, and the brainchild of the PRIDE Interfaith service, spoke about her own difficult journey as a lesbian pastor. She came out after being married to man for 25 years, and after serving as a pastor in a conservative church. Shannon lost friends and loved ones, but began to fight tears when speaking about the trials faced today by those in the transgender community.

Her hope, she said, is that all those who have struggled through LGBT issues can help others who may be facing similar battles.

Rev. Toni Niemiec of the Center For Spiritual Living lights a candle at an Interfaith Pride Service/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS
Rev. Toni Niemiec of the Center For Spiritual Living lights a candle at an Interfaith Pride Service/Tracy Simmons – SpokaneFAVS

Ven. Chonyi added that she hopes such experiences also help bring about a compassion for others — those who hurt, and who have caused hurt.

The PRIDE Interfaith service, which drew more than 100 people, was part of Spokane’s month-long Pride celebrations, which conclude Saturday with a parade at noon, booths throughout the day and then a fireworks display at 10 p.m.

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About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. She serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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