LGBTQ rights advocate Kate Kendell urges La Selva Beach church to 'resist and react'

2017-07-17 | Santa Cruz Sentinel

July 17--LA SELVA BEACH -- If inviting a renowned LGBTQ rights advocate to address its congregation is a measure of a church's progressive values, then the La Selva Beach Community Church has met that mark -- for eight years in a row.

Kate Kendell, a San Francisco civil rights attorney and executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, returned Sunday to the La Selva Beach church. Her talk focused on threats to the LGBTQ and other minority communities posed by President Donald Trump's administration.

Kendell grew up Mormon in Utah and fought for gay marriage in California in the 2000s. And since 2010, she's spoken annually to the congregation at La Selva Beach Community Church off San Andreas Road.

The church -- affiliated with the United Church of Christ -- has openly supported the queer community since 2005 when it joined Out in Our Faith, a county-wide coalition of religious institutions. When the church wanted to celebrate five years of openly supporting that community, they invited Kendell to speak.

Most members of the queer community live in suburban and rural areas, not the urban centers, Kendell said.

"When you have a community like this in La Selva Beach, this is a place where LGBTQ people know they can find a spiritual home and family," Kendell said.

In past visits, Kendell encouraged the church community to stay engaged. But Sunday's talk marked a different tone by alluding to changes made by the Trump administration, including the rollback of protections of transgender students in public schools and the immigration ban.

"I think the message this year, in this particularly perilous moment, is that we have to be vigilant. We have to both resist and react," she said.

Leaders of the church integrated the Kendell into their sermon, slotting her between a song and a prayer.

With light spilling through the stained glass windows of the church, Kendell addressed the crowd for 20 minutes. When she spoke joked about her frustration after the election, the crowd laughed. When she talked about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, they broke into applause.

She drew connections to the 1950s when black men were lynched and Congress refused anti-lynching legislation, and the 1980s when AIDS killed gay men by the thousands and the federal government did little to respond.

Those moments inspired historical movements, according to Kendell.

"We've had dark moments and we've found our way to better moments," she told the crowd.

Deborah Streeter, an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ who was in the crowd, praised the La Selva Beach church community for its progressive actions and inviting Kendell to speak.

"It's easy for a church to be a nice little community and not take bold steps. This church has been bold," said Streeter, who drove from Monterey for the event.

A typical service at the La Selva Beach church draws 50 or 60 people. But more than 100 people filled the room on Sunday to hear Kendell speak. Organizers set out an extra row of seats to accommodate the crowd.

Mixed in with the church's usual attendees were members of the Santa Cruz County Diversity Center and Queer Youth Leadership. In a prelude to Kendell's speech, honorees from the Queer Youth Leadership Awards spoke about the importance of engagement from community organizations like the church.

"It's a long hard journey for a lot of our kids and we really need your support. We really need community support," said Dina Oskiera, a mother and founder of Transfamily Support Group of Santa Cruz County.