Archive for the 'discrimination' Category

If an elephant has its foot…

February 14th, 2014 by kaleidoscope

As the current Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) Board President, a founding member of Pink Menno, and a young queer Mennonite involved in the movement for a more inclusive and welcoming Mennonite Church for the LGBTQ community for 10 years, I received Ervin’s most recent letter as a more savvy and carefully crafted message than some we have seen in his previous messages. While I appreciate a thaw in tone and a shift towards more respectful language for the LGBTQ community (from “non-celibate gays” to “LGBTQ” for example), this abrupt shift indicates to me a continued need among church leadership for more education led by those in the LGBTQ community who have been immersed in this work for years, some for almost 40 years, such as BMC. As self identified members of the LGBTQ community, we know our own experience intimately and are familiar with the dynamics of privilege and marginalization in church structures, policies and practices. Yet we are rarely called upon to provide training, information and a voice in decisions being made about us.


I continue to see a strong tendency from Ervin and others in leadership to portray this as a struggle between equal and opposing groups with strongly differing theological beliefs.  This leaves our church leaders caught in a morally neutral middle ground trying desperately to hold on to church unity and searching for a magical third way. I would suggest that the search begins by recognizing that privilege and power lie with the status quo, the leaders who continue to uphold it, and those made most comfortable by that status quo. This struggle is not about equals with strong opinions arguing about whose theological beliefs are correct. It is about how we treat each other in the church, and in this case, it is about how some are mistreated by the church. LGBTQ brothers and sisters and our families and supporters have been kicked out, pushed out, shamed, silenced, fired, not hired, refused education, credentials and ordination, told that our love was sin, and generally been treated in a shamefully unChristian way. Meanwhile, our church leadership has portrayed themselves as neutral in this struggle; as if they have not been actively participating in the marginalization of the lgbtq community and our families and friends. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” 


Ervin recognized in his message that there is “growing evidence that the consensus forged on the Membership Guidelines in 2001 during the church merger processes is fraying.” I would argue there never was real consensus, but rather an agreement that was built upon the exclusion and vilification of the lgbtq community, who did not consent but were treated as expendable in the effort to forge a merger in the name of unity. Ervin is correct that the lack of consensus is growing more evident. 


Ervin laments that the LGBTQ community and our allies in the church “are no longer willing to be in patient forbearance” as we “disregard the church’s written guidelines.” He desires  “a renewed commitment to…respectful conversation with those who differ with our own stance, and to prayerful, Spirit-led discernment in communities of faith committed to God’s mission in the world.” While for Ervin and some in the church, it may feel like this is a time for renewed patience, forbearance, commitment to conversation and discernment, the LGBTQ community has been in patient forbearance to the dialogue and conversation about the morality of our lives and the value of our gifts in this church while simultaneously absorbing the brunt of hostile and discriminatory policies and practices for nearly 40 years. What is reasonable to expect in terms of “patient forbearance?”


At least once a year I try to sit down to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. King was responding to “A Call for Unity” from eight white Birmingham clergymen who were critical of King and his methods. Their “Call for Unity” lamented the nonviolent demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement as unwise, untimely, extreme, and inciting hate and violence. The religious leaders called for patience and negotiation. If it’s been a while since you’ve read King’s letter, I would suggest another look. While much of the letter rings true to me at this time, one quote seems particularly fitting in our current Mennonite setting. “For years now I have heard the word ’Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ’Wait’ has almost always meant ’Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.” 


I would argue that now is not the time for more conversation and dialogue among uninformed members of the privileged leadership class. Rather what is needed is a time of education about the lives of the LGBTQ community within the Mennonite Church that is led by the very individuals who know most about that experience, the LGBTQ community ourselves. Brethren Mennonite Council has represented that community for nearly four decades and has experience and resources to offer the church at this time. We can begin this work by taking bold measures to abolish discriminatory policies and practices in denominational structures and agencies so conversation and education can take place not just about the LGBTQ community but with the community. 


Unity is not forged by scapegoating and excluding a whole group of people. We will be closer to a genuine and just unity when we realize that we may not all have to believe the same thing but we do have to commit  to treat each other humanely.


In closing, I must borrow once again from A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.” MLK

Katie Hochstedler


Posted in bmc, Mennonite, privilege, language, discrimination, power dynamics, education

It’s so simple

March 1st, 2011 by kaleidoscope

Recently I was talking to a family member about the process of encouraging his congregation to become publicly affirming. In frustration he said, “It’s so simple. Why can’t we make a statement that we welcome all people and don’t discriminate on the basis of whatever characteristic? Who could possibly disagree with that?!” Indeed.

I’d like to propose that the difficulty our congregations and denominations have in coming to this “simple” conclusion reveals an underlying problem with how we understand ourselves as a peace church. I watch as the teaching “violence is wrong” is distorted to “conflict is bad,” and the value that “community is good” distorted to “the majority is never wrong.” Conflict is neither inherently bad nor good, and is an inevitable part of genuine relationships. One need not look hard at history to find examples of times the majority has been wrong, especially in relation to minorities.

Violence and conflict:
It is our responsibility to name and challenge violence when we see it. When we stand up to people and institutions that are causing harm, we can expect to find ourselves in the midst of conflict. Often those who bring attention to historical and current discrimination and who call for restoring right relationship are labelled militant, unreasonable, extremist, troublemakers, divisive, and even bullies. This is a clear attempt to blame the victim and deflect attention away from the real problem - the bad behaviour. Avoiding conflict when we see violence means making a choice to allow violence to continue. It is time to (re)learn from the gospels and our scholars a different way to view conflict and understand power.

Community and majority:
Valuing community includes valuing all of the individuals in the community. Healthy communities, similar to healthy families, care for, nurture and protect all of their members. While being in community can require compromise or stepping aside at specific moments, this only works given equal power and mutual respect. Healthy communities do not sacrifice individuals for the convenience of the majority. In fact, healthy communities go out of their way to protect their more vulnerable members. The nature of “majority rules” decision-making is that those with fewer numbers or less power will always lose. This is why nations who believe in protecting minority rights don’t put those rights up for a general vote.

Recognizing violence:
Violence is a strong word, and I choose to use it. The ideology and rhetoric that justifies physical violence against lgbt people is an extreme form of the same ideology that justifies discrimination and exclusion in our church. Without minimizing physical violence (which we should get more riled up about), we must learn to see the violence when “love the sinner, hate the sin” goes unchallenged, when parents of lgbt people are taken out of leadership positions, when a transgender youth knows that to live an emotionally healthy life he will lose his faith community, and when a lesbian couple is grateful they are allowed to attend a congregation though they can’t take communion. Let’s get shocked, saddened and angered into action.

Walk the talk AND talk the walk:
As individuals, and as communities we can work to overcome any discomfort we have learned and internalized. We can actively educate ourselves out of the heterosexism, sexism, racism, ableism, and all the other systemic oppressions that we have been taught. We can strive to treat all people, especially those who have been treated as less-than, with love and respect. We can say, out loud, that we affirm all people, including lgbt people.

When we do these things our communities become healthier places for all of us. All members can bring all of themselves into relationship with each other and the whole. All members find the courage to bring questions, concerns, and affirmations, with the confidence that they will be treated with care and honour as whole people. Who could possibly disagree with that?


Posted in Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, privilege, discrimination

Context and history matter

April 15th, 2010 by kaleidoscope

Minority groups understand that context and history matter. A progressive congregation might wonder why they need to bother saying “we welcome lgbt people” – can’t that be assumed? An lgbtq person knows the answer is no. The progressive congregation (whether they like it or not), exists within the context and history of the church, and none of the BMC denominations have ended their discriminatory policies and practices. Right now, an lgtbtq person is likely going to assume a congregation is not welcoming unless shown otherwise.

It will take work to shift the assumption to the opposite. In fact, it will take not only ending discrimination, but also acknowledging past harm and showing over time that attitudes and actions have indeed changed. That’s reconciliation 101.

I say these things recognizing that it is hard to see the effect of context and history when on the privileged side of an equation. I thought I was pretty with-it, but I had some eye-opening experiences when participating in anti-racism training over the past several months, especially when learning some usually un-taught history related to race. (An introductory article I found helpful is Historical Development of Institutional Racism by Robette Ann Dias. Go to and scroll to the bottom.)

I am, hopefully, open to learning about how I’m not as with-it as I’d like to think. I don’t understand when people who have experienced one type of oppression aren’t able to translate that experience to recognizing the oppression of another. How is it that there are lgbtq people who can pinpoint heterosexism, but can’t see their own white privilege? What prevents women (especially those whose lived memory includes the women’s movement) from recognizing their straight privilege? Why do transgender people face oppression not only in wider society, but also within “lgbtq” circles? It sounds like I’m saying I understand when bigotry comes from straight wealthy white guys - which isn’t exactly my point - I don’t want to let them off the hook either.

It would be great if we challenged ourselves to take what we learn from personal experiences and extrapolate to lessons that can be broadly applied; lessons about power, privilege, structures and assumptions. And when you start connecting the dots for yourself, be a good friend and share what you’re seeing with others.


Posted in Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, heterosexism, privilege, LGBTQA, discrimination, power dynamics, race

World news and other minor things

January 12th, 2010 by kaleidoscope

As the BMC volunteer/ Kaleidoscope coordinator I know I’m supposed to be filling my mind with thoughts about Brethren and Mennonite stuff in North America, but I keep finding my mind wander to secular issues or world politics.

Maybe it’s because I’m bombarded with emails about the latest state marriage law campaign. Maybe it’s because I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that moving a measly 500 miles south to be here in Minnesota resulted in my loss of a long list of civil rights and protections. Or, maybe it’s because of last week’s news story out of Uganda about proposed legislation that would impose the death penalty on the crime of homosexuality (Read the NY Times article). That story certainly makes the connections between religious beliefs and secular laws.

Do negative stories motivate you to action, or paralyze you with frustration? Just in case, here’s a happy world news story, about young queer activist meeting in Scotland last month for the International LGBTQ Youth and Student Organization’s General Assembly (


Posted in homophobia, heterosexism, LGBTQA, discrimination, politics

A First Step Toward Hope (…I’m not yet sure it’s going to happen) - written by Maggie Miller

August 5th, 2008 by kaleidoscope

This summer’s Annual Conference was my first experience with a Brethren Conference of any kind. I showed up at the Richmond Coliseum with my mindfull of fears and worries of what might happen when a group of lgbta people start walking around with large reminders of the exclusion the CoB so deeply practices, by brazenly displaying 11×17″ photos of lgbt and allied Brethren. I felt really proud of all the work that went into BMC’s Picture Project — the gathering of photos and stories was just so tremendous. Here’s adescription of the project from the BMC website:

We were primarily interested in photos from CoB lgbt people and our families; both those who have left the Cob, and those who remain yet struggle. We also included some non-lgbt allies who have either already left the church because of its exclusive practices, are just barely hanging on, or who daily struggle to remain a part of the church and wanted to express their solidarity. We received over 80 beautiful pictures that we enlarged and mounted. We invited supportive individuals at Annual Conference to carry a photo with them at all times at Conference. Our goals were two-fold:

a) to challenge the exclusionary practices of the church by making visible the presence of CoB lgbt families and allies.

b) to encourage individual conversation with other conference-goers.

Growing up in the CoB, I heard every year about BMC’s presence at Annual Conference. I was always eager to hear what creative and moving way BMC staff and supporters would use space never given to them. I’ve been inspired over the past few years to pay more attention to the CoB as I learn more and more about the policies banning BMC from having a space at Conference. For me, it has been a situation in which the more I learn about the struggle for BMC to do seemingly simple things at Conference such as providing information for passersby and staffing a BMC booth, the less hope I have for the Church of the Brethren to right its wrongs. I’ve become hesitant to believe promises for change, and as this year’s Conference grew closer, I prepared myself for the worst: no one will carry posters around with them, BMC materials will be taken from booths and thrown away or not allowed, and people won’t show up for the BMC witness. I was ready for Annual Conference to be the last straw for my relationship with the Church of the Brethren.

It almost pains me to say it, but I’m afraid I’m sticking around for a while. Due to three main reasons (meeting wonderful and genuine allies, learning more and more stories of lgbt people in the Church, and conversations in the exhibit hall), I just can’t help myself. Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m not completely separating myself from the Church of the Brethren; at least not yet.

Now back to those reasons…

I met wonderful and genuine allies at Annual Conference. Family members and close friends of lgbt people in the Church stood out to me as an amazingly powerful presence. The Picture Projectcertainly got people involved, and I believe it allowed people a chance to speak out in a manner as moving as it was loving and influential. Some of the allies who joined us in the witness have been advocates for lgbt rights for years, even decades. I deeply respect those individuals who would challenge their own privileges and work to create change.

The more I learn about lgbt people who have, at one point in time, associated with the Church of the Brethren, the more my anger grows. It’s a strange kind of anger, however, that makes me feel equal parts motivated and discouraged. It’s an anger toward the CoB matched with the respect I feel for the lgbt Brethren population. The actions of the Church of the Brethren in the lives of some of these individuals have been so detrimental that I am amazed we can call ourselves a “Peace Church” with a serious face. The stories of lgbt people in the CoB are often filled with a deep love of a Church that frequently rejects them outright or demands their silence. Many are forced to distance themselves from the Church which had always been a presence in their lives. The strength one must possess to journey through pain, frustration, and betrayal truly astounds me. I have become aware of a great number of individuals who have braved the trail before me, and for that I am grateful.

Sitting in the exhibit hall, I was able to discuss the Church of the Brethren in all its liberal glory. Or rather, the hopes for the future. I was able to meet and get to know some individuals involved with Womaen’s Caucus, On Earth Peace, and VOS … and I picked up on the strong energy to believe that change is possible in the Church of the Brethren. For the first time in my life, I thought to myself, I really want to believe that the Church can change. The commitment formerly present in a few has now sparked in many, and may one day spread even more. I am not yet ready to commit to the thought that the Church of the Brethren will change for the better, or even that it has the ability to make that incredible turn around. I will, however, commit to stickingaround for a bit longer. I want to see where this is going…

Posted in bmc, Church of the Brethren, homophobia, heterosexism, privilege, personal sharing, LGBTQA, sexual orientation, discrimination, power dynamics, ally

the active and passive closet

May 16th, 2008 by Katie

Read the rest of this entry

Posted in heterosexism, privilege, personal sharing, discrimination

On the Separation of Church and State

August 16th, 2007 by Katie

At this point, it seems somewhat likely that beginning January 21, 2009, a new Democratic administration of the United States will start working to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and beef up Hate Crimes laws. Glad to hear it. What isn’t clear yet is whether the discussion around same-sex marriage/civil unions will be about “what is achievable,” “state’s rights,” “a man’s journey,” or “the separation of Church and State” (all themes from the recent HRC/Logo forum). The Democratic front runners (the Republicans declined the invitation) want us to know that they are all for lgbt equality… as long is it doesn’t interfere with their chances of getting elected by including marriage equality. It is encouraging to hear that in the coming election, the most electable Democratic position is 90% gay friendly (not as good as 100% gay friendly but we will take what we can get for now). We’ve come a long way in the last few years but plenty of work remains.

I don’t have more to say about either Edwards or Richardson for now but I think Clinton should fire whoever came up with those state’s rights talking points. Didn’t we learn anything from the civil rights movement? State’s Rights is code language for “long, painful, tortured journey to someone else’s equality” now just as much as it was forty or fifty years ago. She should know better than that.

What I really want to address is Obama’s call for the separation of Church and State, which, for him, somehow means separate but equal (he, of all people, should know where that gets us). I first heard him go down this road during the CNN/YouTube debates. He didn’t seem to have a very good grasp of his own talking points and he ended up confusing even himself with his tortured explanation. He did quite a bit better in the HRC/Logo forum as he seemed to have prepped with his aides more and at least didn’t confuse himself. When he was done I said to myself “well…that’s almost a good idea.” Read the rest of this entry

Posted in marriage, hate crimes, LGBTQA, discrimination, politics

Richardson’s Gaffe

August 15th, 2007 by Katie

I’ve put off writing about the HRC/Logo debates from last week but I think it’s time to add my two cents. I just read an editorial by Jonathan Capehart, one of the panelists for the event. He focuses on a response New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson gave when Melissa Etheridge asked him if he thought homosexuality is a choice or if it is biological. It’s a pretty good editorial, but I think we need to go a little deeper.

Let me set the scene. I was watching the debates with around 300 other lgbt and allied folk from Minneapolis/St. Paul at the HRC and OutFront Minnesota sponsored location, a local lesbian restaurant/bar. The place was packed and by the middle of the debates, everyone was getting a little punchy from the huge crowd, not being able to flag down a server, and from hearing exactly what we were expecting from the candidates. When Etheridge asked that question, I rolled my eyes (”what a softball”), but then had to gasp when Richardson completely whiffed it, “it’s a choice.” The entire crowd had the same reaction Capehart described having, “Oh, no, he didn’t!” The poor guy then proceeded to grab a shovel to try to dig himself out of the hole. Richardson had committed numero uno faux pas for anyone trying to show the lgbt community how lgbt friendly they are. Etheridge, aghast, thought he had misunderstood the question and so she repeated it, which is when the shovel came out. As far as most in the lgbt community are concerned, he might as well have said he thinks the sky is green, up is down, and the US occupation of Iraq is going just swell. Read the rest of this entry

Posted in language, discrimination, politics

Kill the Indian, Save the Man

August 7th, 2007 by Katie

So, as it happens, I didn’t manage to keep writing throughout the week at San Jose or even give a report from the San Francisco conference. For that, I am sorry. If you are hoping for regular posts on this blog, I’m afraid I will have a hard time filling that bill on my own. If other voices want to add their two cents, we might get closer to regular posting. Sign up or email me if you want to share -

I do want to share one little bit I found interesting during one of the presentations at the Mennonite Conference in San Jose. One of the items that the delegate body voted on was a resolution (pdf) in support of bill in the US Congress to “acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” Part of the presentation before this vote included some words by Steve Cheramie Risingsun, a Chitimacha Indian who leads Native Mennonite congregations in Louisiana and Alabama. You can read more about it at the Mennonite Weekly Review article.

The thing that I found particularly interesting about this was a comment made by Risingsun. He was talking about the various ways white colonizers mistreated Native Americans and tried to take away their culture and were generally pretty nasty. He said that there was a phrase that was often used by these white folks: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”

Read the rest of this entry

Posted in homophobia, LTS HTS, hate crimes, discrimination, race

First Blog from San Jose

July 3rd, 2007 by Katie

I’m writing from the Mennonite Church USA Churchwide Assembly in San Jose. I’ll try to keep some updates coming as I have time and content. I’m here more as a delegate from my congregation than as BMC staff but of course I still have similar concerns whether I’m wearing a BMC hat or just the Katie hat.

The speaker at tonight’s adult worship session was Juan Martinez. I didn’t know of him before but you can read a bit about him here. As I listened to him speak, I was reminded once again that the church has a long way to go. The reason I say this isn’t because I disagreed with much of what he had to say, I felt he was right on as he spoke of the need for the church to deconstruct boundaries and break down walls. He spoke of the church needing to able to change and deal with diversity and I was there with him. I wish I took notes at these kind of things because then I would be able to give a better idea of his words to those gathered tonight. I’ll try to get my notebook out more the rest of the week so I can give better synopses.

The thing that bothered me was that as he was talking about deconstruction and breaking down walls, and boundaries and such it was clear he was talking about language, race, and culture boundaries (maybe even gender, wish I had those notes that I didn’t take) and anything outside of that gets a little fuzzy. When I hear a good speaker talk about themes like this, I tend to apply the inspiring words to my own experience and think how well it all fits but, as far as I could tell, he wasn’t talking about some walls the church needs to deconstruct (or if he was, he wasn’t making that clear with his words). He wasn’t talking about the boundaries that push lgbt people out or tell them they are unworthy. He wasn’t talking about the walls for heterosexism, homophobia, and transphobia.

I’ve begun to notice that in so many church situations, people say as much with what is left out as they do with the actual words that come out of their mouths. If a church person (especially a leader) is talking about diversity or justice, I can’t assume they are saying anything about diversity and justice for the queer community unless they specifically say that. There is always a lot of talk about the church for all people and the unity of the church, but I know to always check for that asterisk and the footnote. It surely rings hollow when it doesn’t seem to be a full call for justice, or diversity, or unity.

“God’s Table, Y’all Come”*

“Live the Call, Vive el Llamado!”**

*some restrictions apply, offer only good for heterosexual Mennonites.

**not if your call is to be queer, out, and anapologetic about it. In that case, if you could just keep it hush hush, that would be just great.

I’ll be writing more later about the amazing BMC/SCN conference this weekend in San Francisco. It was inspiring and fulfilling. First Mennonite of San Francisco is truly a gift.

Posted in Mennonite, homophobia, heterosexism, language, discrimination