When John Staples got wind of the news last semester that a St. Thomas University student was asked by his church leaders to stop volunteering due to his sexuality, he was brought back in time 11 years.
“I’ve known since the age of eight that there was something different about me,” said the Fredericton native and vice-president of Spectrum, UNB and STU’s LGBTQ resource group.
“Having grown up in the church for 20 years, my pastoral staff were informed that I was hanging out with members of the gay community. . . and essentially I was asked to no longer volunteer. It really took its toll on me.”
With this in mind when he heard of the similar plight of STU student Colin Briggs last semester, Staples finally concluded that “enough is enough.”
The result of this conclusion? The Cross and the Closet, an evening of educational discussion about the LGBTQ and Christian subcultures, what and why each demographic believes what they do, and the impact it has on those caught in the middle.
The event – slated for Thursday, March 13 and open to all – will bring together members of the local LGBTQ and Christian communities, featuring an expert panel with representatives of STU Campus Ministry, Counselling Services and Spectrum, among others.
Staples hopes to have these worlds get to know one another in a respectful and open atmosphere – as well as debunk some of the myths and rumours surrounding both demographics.
“Respect, education, acceptance, and progression in our own society – that’s what it’s all about. We live in 2014; there’s no reason homophobia or religion-phobia should exist. [Learning to] get along would improve the quality of life for so many people,” said Staples.
“It’s recognizing that you might not be the same as me and that’s okay. At the end of the night we want to have a respectful, ‘get to know each other’ time where we can agree to disagree agreeably.”
Staples plans to let each demographic voice their own opinions and engage in an educated discussion, before opening up the floor to questions and comments from the audience. He will make a point of reminding those in attendance that this is to be an environment of acceptance.
“Some people – it doesn’t matter what the demographic is – have been brought up [a certain] way and really embrace that and when it gets challenged, they tend to get more passionate than others,” he said.
“I will start the evening with a strong emphasis on [that fact that] we are here in an atmosphere of respect, an atmosphere of learning, and we’re not here to offend anybody.”
Looking to the future, Staples hopes events like The Cross and the Closet will encourage more open dialogue between both demographics, especially in the event of an incident like that which happened to him and Briggs.
“If something like this did happen in the future, it would be great not to hear all the snap judgements and the comments against either the LGBTQ or the Christian organization,” he said.
“Hopefully in the long run, it will foster a better understanding of why a group does what it does, and why that’s okay. If you don’t believe that way, that’s alright too.”
The Cross and the Closet will take place at STU’s Brian Mulroney Hall in room 101 on the evening of Thursday, March 13 at 7 p.m.