After nearly two years of conversation and planning, last Friday we partnered with Shalem Mental Health to co-host a one day conference entitled, “LGBTQ+, Mental Health, & Faith: Exploring the Intersections.” Each of the three arenas we were considering can be fraught with assumptions and stigma. And yet there is such a tremendous need for this conversation to happen. This was affirmed by the amazing attendance of more than 120 people.
The genesis of this conference was the reality that many of us in the Generous Space community are, at one time or another, navigating matters of mental health. We have some incredible advocates in our community who consistently and courageously invite our community into their journeys with mental illness. They have taken a positive lead in attuning all of us to pay attention to our self-care and to learn ways of managing our anxiety in healthy ways.
From the beginning, it was my hope that this initiative would be empowering for our community. As someone who lives with an ongoing struggle with depression, it is so important to me that our Generous Space community participates in dismantling stigma and listening to the resilient voices of those who manage mental health challenges.
As the day came to fruition, I witnessed members of the Generous Space community speaking with wisdom and authority to a mixed audience of therapists, social workers, educators, pastors, parents, and other support people. The day was designed to be a co-learning day in a dialogical posture. That is, it was a day of, “Not about me, without me.” What became clear, was that not only were our GS folks the authors of their own stories, they had much practical insight to impart. During one session, a therapist leaned over to whisper to me, “So much wisdom!”
One of our GS contributor’s said, “I cherished this opportunity to sit alongside my LGBTQ+ Generous Space siblings and speak with authority about our own experiences with mental illness and the ways in which Christian mental health professionals have both helped and hindered us along that journey. In a conference setting like this, I was tentatively anxious about the risk involved in sharing my story, but after hearing the strength, courage, and authority of the rest of the panelists I found the resolve to own and share my story with confidence. I truly felt as though this was a day for us to celebrate the strength of our community as displayed through our individual stories, and I was so glad that Christian mental health practitioners from across Southern Ontario had the opportunity to witness and learn from our journeys.”
LGBTQ+ people in the Christian community have often had painful experiences with Christian counselling. Certainly, reparative expectations caused significant harm. Undercurrents of religious expectation have limited people’s ability to process their own sexual orientation or gender identity with the support they’ve needed. Even in client-centered therapy, a lack of attunement to matters of privilege and an understanding of true ally-ship, can contribute to LGBTQ+ people struggling to find a safe therapeutic relationship. Many LGBTQ+ people in our Generous Space community have told me they simply don’t trust going to a Christian therapist – while also experiencing some gaps in being able to integrate their faith and spiritual journey in their counselling process.
It is my hope that the risks we took in putting on the “LGBTQ+, Mental Health, & Faith” Conference will contribute to a more positive connection for Christian counselors and LGBTQ+ people needing support. And if it means that the next young LGBTQ+ person who gets taken to a Christian counselor by their parents will have a positive and accepting experience, then that will be worth it.
I am so very grateful to the ten LGBTQ+ contributors from the Generous Space community who made the day so rich. I applaud you.