When John Keasler came to First Church in 1999, he was looking for a spiritual home where his being gay wouldn't be a problem. When he found the Rainbow Action Group on the patio and he learned that the Men's Fellowship sponsored a Gay-Straight weekend retreat, he knew he'd come home.
For 22 years, John has been a loyal member and a committed leader, currently co-chair of Rainbow Outreach. I asked him why he thinks that a group officially recognized as an organization of the church in 1981 is still going strong. He said Rainbow Outreach has been doing the same thing for forty years, and that it responds to issues that affect LGBTQ people within First UU and in the larger community.
Forty years, one mission
Rainbow Outreach members know a lot about how important it is to be seen and welcomed, and Rainbow Outreach has always provided a welcoming presence on Sunday mornings on the patio. Patricia Gordon, John's co-chair, remembers that when she and her husband PJ, who was then transitioning from female to male, first came to First UU, "We felt so invisible," she said, "until we connected to Rainbow Outreach."
The pandemic didn't stop its welcoming; Rainbow Outreach now hosts its after service koffee klatch on Zoom at noon on the second Sunday. The format changes, but for forty years the group's mission has been steadfast: to welcome visitors and newcomers, and to make clear that LGBTQ people are not only welcome, but are an integral part of the congregation.
Rainbow Outreach also organizes First UU's contingent for the Pride Parade, where they get to show more than 250,000 participants and spectators that First UU welcomes LGBTQ people.
Rainbow Outreach steps up when events affect the LGBTQ community. In 2008, its members staffed phone banks to urge voters to vote against Prop 8, which aimed to amend the state constitution to prohibit same sex marriages. Recently, trans people, especially youth, have become more visible and face increased hostility. Rainbow Outreach has responded by presenting a six-session UUA workshop on Transgender Inclusion in Congregations.
Now in its second season, the current session is facilitated by members Les GrantSmith and Louise Titlow. A high school music teacher, Titlow says she took the workshop because of her students. "About five percent of my students are transgender or nonbinary," she said. "Another five percent are questioning. That's a lot of kids. They talk very openly about their feelings. They are so brave and I've learned so much from them." This year, she volunteered to facilitate the sessions, "out of a love for my students and for transpeople in the church. People want to grow so much that they?re willing to be uncomfortable."
Maggie Marshall, who's in the current Trans workshop, especially likes the focus on radical welcoming. "That means not thinking about how you'd want to be welcomed, but how the other person might want to be welcomed. That means a lot more listening and paying attention." The workshop has helped her look at how people - not just trans people, but anyone - may feel when they first come to First UU.
Rainbow Outreach's long-standing work of welcoming, and the very current work of improving our welcome to trans people, speak to the congregation's vital concerns: how we respond to newcomers, and learning to hear one another.
To connect with Rainbow Outreach, come to the Zoom koffee klatch at noon on the second Sunday of the month. The Zoom address appears in the Order of Service that Sunday, and also in the Window. Or call 619-278-1267 and leave a message. All are welcome.
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