Pride: A Protest and a Party

Opening Music: ‘Pride’ – Performed by Marilisa Valtazanou

Opening Words of Welcome: ‘A Protest and a Party’ by Hannah Roberts Villnave (adapted)

People sometimes ask:
Is Pride a protest
Or a party?

And the answer is
Of course

And why not?

Why not
Rejoice as we resist
Dance as we demand change
Celebrate as we create community that delights in
All of who we are?

So bring all of that
With you this morning.

Bring your policy demands
Bring your glitter
Bring your broken heart
Bring your rainbow socks
Bring the emptiness you feel
For our siblings gone too soon.

Bring your disco tunes
Bring your tender hope for change
Bring your most garish eyeshadow
Bring your spirit, tattered and battered
By a world that seems insistent on
Choosing fear and hate.

Gather up all these things
And bring them here
To a place where we don’t
Have to shoulder these burdens
Or celebrate these joys

These words by Unitarian Universalist minister Hannah Roberts Villnave welcome all who have gathered on Zoom this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today – also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, I’ve been part of this congregation for 22 years, and I’m now Ministry Coordinator and also a Ministry Student at Unitarian College, for just a little longer as I finish my training.

This morning’s service marks the end of Pride month. It’s fifty-two years since the momentous Stonewall Riots took place in New York – a landmark event which is widely regarded as the beginning of the Pride movement and the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation and equality – since then there have been a lot of gains made towards justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people – but we can’t be complacent; there’s still a long way to go. In the last few years, especially, we’ve seen some hard-won rights being rolled back worldwide. So this service, to mark Pride month, is called ‘A Protest and a Party’. We’ll think about our part, as individuals and as a Unitarian community, in actively supporting the ongoing work for change. And, this morning, we’re going about it slightly differently: when striving to show solidarity, to be good allies to people who are marginalised, it’s a good principle to listen to the voices and the lived experiences of those who are directly affected, and to ask what it is we could do better. So I’ve invited a few friends of the congregation – Alex Brianson, Fred Langridge, and Marilisa Valtazanou – to offer us some words of friendly challenge and encouragement this morning. Of course there are plenty of LGBTQ+ people within our congregation too but sometimes it’s easier for someone with an outsider’s perspective to shine a light on issues we might be overlooking.

Before we go any further, though, let’s take a moment to make sure we’ve fully arrived. Do what you need to do to settle in – you might want to wiggle and stretch first – scrunch your shoulders up and let them go – or perhaps take one conscious breath… Set aside, if you can, anything that you don’t need to think about for the next hour. And do feel free to turn your camera off if that makes it easier for you to focus – of course we like to see all your lovely faces – but if you prefer to lurk that’s fine. There’ll be various opportunities to join in as we go along but all are entirely optional. Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome in this gathering, just as you are.

Chalice Lighting: ‘Cherishing Our Diversity’ by Cindy Fesgen (adapted)

And now I’ll light our chalice, as we do each Sunday, and at other times when we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

We are all gifted in differing ways
With various strengths and talents.

We are all holy, part of the universe
And the interdependent web.

We light this chalice, cherishing our diversity
And holding each other in sacredness.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents.

When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. And if you seem to be having trouble unmuting yourself please wave and one of the co-hosts will try to help with the unmuting. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s enough time for everyone who might want to speak. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two. And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.

Prayer: based on words by Alex Jensen

You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence within us and amongst us.

Your world become, your will be done here, on Earth,
inspiring our aspirations to do and be better.

May we have all that we need to survive, live, and thrive.

Remind us to be gentle; may we love mercy and kindness,
recalling the times when we’ve fallen short ourselves.

Call us also to be firm in our resolve to serve the Good;
may we not be tempted to follow selfish motivations
or reside in narrow privileges, unexamined and uninterrogated;
move us to counter and overcome injustice in ourselves, our lives, our institutions.

For yours is the Beloved Community, the fire of commitment in our hearts,
and the spirit of generosity and abundance, now and always.

Let us take a few moments now to look back over the past week, sit quietly for a while, and inwardly give thanks for those joys and pleasures we have felt along the way:

moments of love, friendship, and camaraderie,

experiences of wonder and delight; reassurance and relief,

bursts of playfulness, spontenaeity and generosity,

feelings of achievement, creativity, and flow,

all those times when we felt most alive and awake.

Let us also take some time to ask for the consolation, forgiveness, and guidance we may need, as we acknowledge our sorrows and regrets:

times of loss, pain, anger, and fear,

periods of uncertainty and anxious waiting,

realisation of our own weaknesses, mistakes and failings,

awareness of missed opportunities, those things left unsaid or undone,

those moments when we struggled and felt like a mess. (pause – about 30s)

Expanding our circle of concern, let us bring to mind those people, places and situations that are in need of prayer right now:

maybe friends or loved ones, those closest to our heart.

maybe those we find difficult, or where there’s a conflict going on.

Maybe those we don’t know so we, or who we’ve heard about in the news.

And let us take a few moments now to hold them in the light of love.

God of all love, we offer up our joys and concerns,
our hopes and fears, our beauty and brokenness,
and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.

As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Here We Have Gathered’ by the Unitarian Music Society

Our first hymn today is ‘Here We Have Gathered’. It’s one we sing a lot because it speaks so well of what we’re all about – what we’re doing by joining together in community – as we share our stories and struggles – and offer support and solidarity each other as we do our best to live well. The words will appear on screen in a moment for you to sing along – and we’ll try to make sure you all stay muted – but if you don’t fancy singing it’s absolutely fine to just listen instead.

Here we have gathered, gathered side by side;
circle of kinship, come and step inside!
May all who seek here find a kindly word;
may all who speak here feel they have been heard.
Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.

Here we have gathered, called to celebrate
days of our lifetime, matters small and great:
we of all ages, women, children, men,
infants and sages, sharing what we can.
Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.

Life has its battles, sorrows, and regret:
but in the shadows, let us not forget:
we who now gather know each other’s pain;
kindness can heal us: as we give, we gain.
Sing now in friendship this, our hearts’ own song.

Introduction to Mini-Reflections:

We’ve got our first two guest speakers now, friends of the congregation, offering reflections on how we can be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community (even if we too are part of that community). The first one is from Alex Brianson, who’s a regular at our online Heart and Soul gatherings, joining us from up in the Wirral. He’s been a Unitarian for just over ten years and he’s published an article in the Green Spirit journal on including LGBTQ+ people in religious groups, so this is a subject he’s got plenty to say about. And the second is from Fred Langridge, a good friend of mine, who some of you will know as the two of us have developed a training day called ‘Working on Our Welcome’ which we ran for the congregation and the district back a few years ago (and then for the Yorkshire district, and the Unitarian Ministerial Fellowship), to encourage us all to be more thoughtful and proactive in making our congregations more welcoming for people across the LGBTQ+ community (paying particular attention to some of those invisible and overlooked identities and experiences).

Reflection by Alex:

Hello. My name’s Alex, and I’m a gay man, and I’m a Unitarian. And this pride month I’d like to say thank you to all British Unitarians for creating a much more actively welcoming and inclusive form of religious community than many of us have ever known before. It’s a precious and wonderful thing.

But this pride month I’d also like to ask British Unitarians to go further in considering what lives are like for those of us who are not cisgender and who are not heterosexual. And to some extent that means those of us within the community also have some work to do because we don’t necessarily know what it’s like to be an aromantic or asexual or non-binary person, if those lives have not been ours, those paths have not been ours to tread. So it’s not just about in-group and out-group, it’s about all of us doing better, and doing more.

I think there are two ways in which we can do this specifically. The first is about social outreach work, which I know many congregations are active in, and the Unitarian movement nationally is active in. We need to think more about what issues may be present in, for example, working with refugees, or working with the homeless, because a lot of the time the reason that young people in particular are homeless is that they’ve been kicked out because they’re queer. Similarly, the reason why a lot of refugees have come to this country through dangerous and difficult pathways is because if they stayed at home they would have their heads cut off or be pushed off buildings simply for being gay. So we need to think more about what non-heterosexual lives are like within the groups that we’re working with.

Secondly, I think we need to do more in terms of our service material. It’s one thing to say LGBTQ+ people are welcome in our congregation, and to actually mean it which I know that many congregations do. It’s another thing to create and use service materials that actually reflect us in the stories that we tell. For instance, do you ever use stories about non-cisgender or non-heterosexual gods? Greek mythology, many other mythologies, are replete with such characters, such myths. Do we draw on them? Similarly, do we look at theology, in any religion, from a non-heterosexual perspective? There are vast numbers now of critiques, rethinkings, new understandings of Christianity and other religions from an LGBTQ or queer perspective and I think it’s very important that we actively look to incorporate these so that we can think about what religious lives are like and provide deeper religious experiences for those of us who are not cisgender and not heterosexual.

Finally, I think I would like to ask all British Unitarians to be more vocal, and more outspoken, and more welcoming in outreach, to the transgender community. Growing up in the 1980s, I know exactly what it’s like when dominant social groups consider you filthy or foul or perverted or dangerous. And the kind of lies that were told about gay men in particular in the 1980s are now being told and widely disseminated about transgender people, particularly transgender women. This is completely unacceptable. It puts transgender lives in particular in great threat, literally.

So please, British Unitarianism, consider being more active in thinking about how we can be more included in service communities, in social outreach, and for God’s sake – literally – please don’t forget or overlook our transgender sisters and brothers. Thank you.

Reflection by Fred:

Hello – I’m Fred and I’m transgender. My experience of meeting Unitarian groups as a transgender person has been positive. My experience has mostly been explicitly in the context of working on LGBTQ+ welcome, so this hasn’t been a surprise – and as a Quaker, I know our churches have worked together on equality for people in same-sex relationships.

In the last few years there has been a growing backlash against transgender rights and inclusion in the outside world, and this has influenced conversations in our communities. I have been told, by parts of the media and directly by individuals, that I am delusional and mutilated. I’ve been told that my existing in public as a trans person is promoting harmful ideology and is fundamentally untruthful.

I find these conversations particularly difficult when they are framed as debates of ideas, because I feel strongly that that’s putting them in the wrong category. I am not defending a theory or an ideology, I am asked to defend my deepest self. It’s like being asked to put together a logical argument to prove that I love my partner – I can point to actions that are prompted by the love but there is no way to prove or disprove the love itself.

These conversations are exhausting. I’m happy, for now, to share my experiences with people I know are approaching from a position of kindness, but I’m running out of capacity to have those other conversations.

My hope is that we reach a point where enough people know enough about trans experiences that, if someone needs myths busted or questions answered, someone else can deal with it. My hope is that I can become unremarkable, and get on with the rest of my life without having to have the same conversations and defend my existence over and over.

Meditation: ‘Marginal Wisdom’ by Leslie Takahashi

Thank you to Fred and to Alex for generously and courageously sharing their experience with us.

We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to share a few words by Unitarian Universalist minister Leslie Takahashi – a piece called ‘Marginal Wisdom’ – to take us into a time of quiet reflection. This short poem will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen in case you like to focus on the flame.

The silence will come to an end with some music – and we’ve got another real treat – we’ve got enthusiastic permission from the Pink Singers, London’s LGBTQ+ Community Choir, to share this virtual choir piece they put together last summer as, of course, they haven’t been able to meet. They were appreciative of our efforts to work for equality and understanding and didn’t want to take any money off us, instead saying, ‘We have all had a rough year. We would rather you use those funds to further your LGBTQIA+ community outreach and education. That’s where the money is best spent.’ So this track, a cover of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, was their way of marking Pride Month in 2020, a tender and comforting offering into this time that’s been so hard for so many.

So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. As we let these words by Leslie Takahashi take us into a time of meditation:

They teach us to read in black and white.
Truth is this—the rest is false.
You are whole—or broken.
Who you love is acceptable—or not.
My life tells its truth in many hues.

We are taught to think in “either/or”s
I believe the teachings of Jesus—OR Buddha.
I believe in human potential—OR a power beyond a single, human will.
I am broken or I am powerful.
My life embraces multiple truths, speaks of “both,” of “and.”

They teach us to see in absolutes:
Good versus evil.
Male versus female,
Old versus young.
My vision sees the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.

Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.
Let us make our own lives a sanctuary, to nurture our many identities.
The day is coming when they will know:
That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome;
That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course;
That the margins hold the centre.

Silence: 3 minutes silence with chalice-cam

Musical Interlude: ‘Fix You’ performed by the Pink Singers

Reflection by Marilisa:

Hi. I’m Marilisa, and I’m familiar with your lovely community mostly through the fabulous and inclusive tea dances, which I have missed a lot over the last year and a half – and not just because of the cake.

I’ve been thinking about how people can be good allies to the LGBTQIA+ community – and indeed how we can be better allies to each other within that community – and it’s got me pondering the concept of concern.

Concern is something we’re on the receiving end of a lot, and it can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes it comes from a place of love, and sometimes it comes from a place of fear and insecurity. People express concern about us and the lives we lead, concern about “the kids” (will nobody think about the children?), and they also express concern about themselves and what a change in their mental landscape might mean.

As a queer person, the most hurt that’s been done to me has been expressed as concern. How will you live your life? Will people discriminate against you or even be violent towards you? How will you fit into society? We won’t accept or try to understand you because we it will feel like condoning something that might get you hurt.

But the irony there is that the very thing that does get us hurt is the lack of acceptance and understanding. So you end up perpetuating that cycle that allows the social structures of discrimination to flourish.

How about the children? People are concerned that they’ll be brainwashed or unduly influenced into choices they wouldn’t otherwise have made, and which will make their lives a struggle.

But of course, first of all, none of this is a choice, and you can’t convert someone into being queer any more that you can convert them out of it. And more importantly, as a parent, the greatest gift I can give my child is my unconditional love and support, and the opportunity to create a wide, all-encompassing, wonderful world for himself in which he can live his life fully as only he can. Narrowmindedness is much more likely to hurt him. We know that LGBTQIA+ youth, and especially trans kids, are at a ludicrously high risk of self-harm and suicide, and we cannot help by closing doors to them and calling it “concern”.

And finally, there’s the concern people have for themselves. What if I have to change a belief or thought pattern that I grew up with? What if I’ve just learned something about someone dear to me that I didn’t know before? What if I get it wrong and someone gets angry at me? What about the struggles I went through – will this invalidate them?

Change is hard. The admission that a long-held belief might be wrong is hard. But there’s no shame in it, and all of this is part of how we grow as humans, how we learn and adapt, and ultimately how our own worlds become broader and more beautiful. People have been allowed to marry someone of the same gender for seven years now in the UK, and – in a bizarre and unpredictable twist of events – heterosexual marriage has not collapsed as an institution, in spite of concerns. And, contrary to current concerns from some corners, accepting that trans women are women does not invalidate centuries of feminist struggle; it gives us more sisters to fight our corner.

So, if you want to be a good ally, it’s time to ditch the concern. It’s okay to be worried, or uncertain when things change. But check in with yourself and be honest about where that concern comes from; love us and trust us when we say who we are, and you’ll be helping that change move in a direction that will make all our worlds safer and brighter.

Hymn: ‘For Everyone Born’ by Kensington Unitarians in 2018

Thank you Marilisa, for your thoughtful reflection and gentle challenge. And thanks to all our contributors today. As Unitarians we are rightly proud of our track record in being somewhat ahead of the curve, as religious institutions go, in having welcomed openly gay and lesbian people into our congregations and indeed into our leadership roles for decades now. We were vocal in campaigning for equal marriage. But we mustn’t be complacent and think that the job is done.

Let’s listen to people when they tell us about the infinite diversity of their lives and experiences (including the injustice and harassment that so many people still face, every day, the world over).
Let’s be kind and curious to learn more about stories, identities, and pronouns that are new to us, and give proper dignity and respect to all those less-visible and often-overlooked BTQIA+ identities.
Let’s accept that we’ll probably be a bit clumsy as we navigate unfamiliar territory (and let’s be ready to apologise and move on if we make a mistake rather than making a massive fuss about it).

We Unitarians so often say that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, that we celebrate diversity, that each person is a unique and beautiful expression of the unfolding cosmos and every one contains a spark of the divine. So, this Pride month – indeed all year round – let’s act like we really mean it. Let’s show up, in solidarity, for mutual liberation, and the greater good of all.

Time for us to sing together again. This is a recording of our own congregation back in 2018: ‘For Everyone Born a Place at the Table’. The words reflect that central Unitarian principle of affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person – though I should note that the words are also a bit more binary than I’d like for a service celebrating our infinite diversity – and I particularly love the refrain ‘God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy’ – isn’t that a protest and a party? The words will appear on our screen as usual so feel free to sing along (or simply listen and enjoy).

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy,
yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the role, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands kind and wrinkled
for young and for old, the right to belong

For just and unjust a place at the table,
abuser, abused, how hard to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.


Thanks to Jeannene for hosting today, to Alex, Fred and Marilisa, and all our musical contributors. There are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead and get to know us better: Coffee morning on Zoom at 10.30 on Tuesday. You can still sign up for Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, 7pm tonight on the theme of ‘Self-Compassion’.

Couple of in-person gatherings at church too: Abby’s final concert on Tuesday, a cello duo, still a few spaces left I think. These concerts have been getting rave reviews and you can watch live on YouTube if you can’t make it in person. Brian’s offering an in-person Heart & Soul on Wednesday. Numbers have been quite variable for these in-person gatherings, and we’ve cancelled two of them at the last minute because the numbers weren’t really looking viable to go ahead with a day or two to go, so if you want to come to these in-person gatherings please sign up at least a few days in advance otherwise they may not happen (we may yet revise our summer programme).

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time afterwards, chat in small groups, if you’d like. And if you can bear it we like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around.

We’ll be back again on Zoom next week at 10am so tell your friends. It’s fine to share the link. And feel free to drop us a line during the week to get in touch if you’d like to say hello.

We’ve just got some brief closing words now, followed by one more song, it’s quite a finale! Thanks to another old friend of the congregation, Jen Hazel, who kindly put us in touch with Bobbie Twaddle who has recorded a classic Pride anthem which will close our service today in spectacular style. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point so we can all see each other and get a sense of our community-and-connectedness for this closing.

Closing Words: ‘We have a calling in this world’ by Jean M. Rickard

We have a calling in this world:
We are called to honour diversity,
To respect differences with dignity,
And to challenge those who would forbid it.
We are people of a wide path.
Let us be wide in affection
And go our way in peace. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘I Am What I Am’ performed by Bobbie Twaddle

Jane Blackall

26th June 2021