As a faith community, Unitarians have been at the forefront of equality issues in North America - and specifically gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered and two-spirited issues (GLBT) since the early 1970’s. The Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution at its General Assembly in July 1970 calling for an end to discrimination against lesbian women and gay men.
We are guided by the vision that someday we will be able to put ourselves out of business and that oppression against bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people of all ages, abilities, colors, and genders, whether it be overt or subtle, will be a thing of the past.
Our Winnipeg congregation took a brave step in February 1974 when Reverend Norman Naylor married Chris Vogel and Richard North in a ceremony at the Banning Street Church. The resulting publicity catapulted Unitarianism and the Winnipeg Congregation into the national spotlight.
The Winnipeg congregation certainly was at the forefront of Canadian Unitarian congregations with respect to equality for same-sex relationships in 1974. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Canadian Unitarian Council passed a resolution at its annual meeting to lobby for the inclusion of sexual orientation as prohibited ground of discrimination in Human Rights Codes. And it took until 1984 for a resolution in support of religious leaders performing lesbian and gay “partnership” services to beadopted by the Canadian Unitarian Council.
Our congregation next became involved in the GLBT equality issues through the encouragement of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Boston. The time was the late 1980’s and the congregation was beginning its search for a new minister that ultimately saw Rev. Susan Van Dreser being called.
But before the UUA would refer ministerial candidates, the search committee and members of the Board participated in a workshop on GLBTissues mandated and conducted by a UUA representative. Barb Fuller recalls that the search committee had as one of its selection criteria, sensitivity to and understanding of gay and lesbian issues. Barb also recalls that an openly gay ministerial candidate was placed on the short list of candidates for the position.
In 1991, Stan Calder from the Edmonton Congregation visited Winnipeg and spoke about an exciting new program called “The Welcoming Congregation.” The Welcoming Congregation was a voluntary program for congregations that saw a need to become more inclusive towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered and two-spirited people.
In 1991, our congregation’s centennial year with Jo’Anne Kelly as leader, we began the process to become a Welcoming Congregation. It included workshops to examine homophobia, stereotypes and negative attitudes towards differing sexual orientation. We examined and amended our by-laws; we undertook to use inclusive language in our worship services and written communications; we advocated for GLBT equality issues.
Our congregation members became visible allies by marching in the Pride Parade, participating in World AIDS Day services, and joining many others at the vigil on the steps of the legislature following Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming.
In 1996 at its Annual General Meeting, the congregation reviewed its progress and passed a motion requesting the UUA to designate the Winnipeg congregation as a Welcoming Congregation. At our Pink Triangle Service in February 1997, we celebrated this milestone.
As a congregation we continue to advocate for GLBT equality issues and are recognized by the GLBT community as an ally.