Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can We Talk? Join us in community dialogues

Following this brief introduction and invitation is a reprint of the "Be The Bridge" article I wrote for the Be One: Catalyst for Inclusion newsletter explaining transformative dialogue.

Starting the week of Oct 3 and for the next six weeks, there will be small, free, community dialogues across Grand Rapids at various nights as members of the lgbt and heterosexual community engage in safe, thoughtful, respectful and eventually transformative dialogues with one another.

Everyday there is something in the news regarding someone from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual communities that can lead to vitriol instead of conversation, heat instead of light,judgement instead of gentleness, ignorance instead of education.

What if we talked and really listened.

Interested? GIFT is collaborating with Be One, whose mission is to be a catalyst for dialogue, learning and healing and to create a safe region for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, religion or other social identity.

The talks will be held as follows. Please contact a facilitator if you care to join or for more details and to sign up for future dialogues.

-Wed. 7-9 pm
West Michigan Strategic Alliance meeting room, 951 Wealthy St. SE
Theresa D. McClellan (
Tedi R. Parsons (

-Wed. 2-4 p.m.
Free Spirit Worship Center, 820 Monroe Ave. NW
Rev. Mary Martin (
Mark Hepper (

-Tues. 7-9 pm
First Place Bldg. 207 East Fulton St. across from First UMC Church
Jim Lucas (
Cara Oosterhouse (

-Sunday 2-4 pm
Eastern Ave. CRC, 514 Eastern Ave. SE
Chad Beyer (
Vicki Johnston (

By Theresa D. McClellan
Be One Executive Committee member

There is hope and excitement brewing that started on the edge of
downtown Grand Rapids this summer as 35 leaders, who are serious
about inclusion, gathered to learn how to do more than just talk.
They gathered in the offices of the Grand Rapids Community
Foundation, brought there by a vision to create a more inclusive
environment for LGBT people in West Michigan through
transformative dialogue.

While many in the room have had the vision, it all started coming together June 8 at the “Be the
Bridge” daylong interactive conference created by Be One: Catalyst for Inclusion.

And by the end of the day, those who believe there is room for all also realized they are not alone and there will be many strategies and efforts; as evidenced by the connections made in the room.

Be One brought in a national leader on inter-group relations to explore how to facilitate meaningful dialogue about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender issues.

After undergoing her skillful exercises and guided discussions, the sparks and potential for
change were palpable even for the University of Michigan facilitator, Adrienne Dessel, who said
she ended the program “feeling excited” for our West Michigan community.

So what caused all this excitement?

One source of excitement is seeing the diverse community interest with the presence of business
professionals, faith leaders, students, widows, young, old, gay, straight and the realization that
some people will not fit into boxes.

Another source of excitement was the energy generated by the exercises and group
conversations which led to a deeper understanding of the power of safe spaces, skilled facilitation and group dynamics.

In just eight hours, participants were sharing thoughtful, personal and powerful pieces of
themselves which allowed them to go deeper and in some circumstances broaden their outlook
on how people are seen.

For example, after a seemingly innocuous questionnaire defining ourselves which resulted in an
open group conversation on interpretations and definitions, one participant commented, “just
having this conversation has changed how I think of myself.”

Indeed, creating awareness, common ground and new ways of thinking is part of what happen
with transformative dialogue and such dialogue can prove to be a catalyst for change.

As we engaged in deeper conversations, questions were asked, which could not be fully explored
in an eight-hour segment, but which could result in powerful and life-changing discussions in six
to eight week sessions.

This is part of the plan for Be One.

The June 8 training gave participants a taste of what could happen during a six-week dialogue
workshop. Those sessions are scheduled for the fall of 2010 and will involve six teams of six to
10 persons learning and practicing the Be One system of dialogue which could lead to the “full
inclusion” of LGBT and other marginalized individuals and groups in our community.

Now some may wonder what is the benefit of engaging in conversation with those who do not see
the world the same. Or to be more direct, what is the point in engaging in conversation with
someone who views gayness as a sin and those in the LGBT community as sinners?

While some participants shared stories of being shunned by their churches and losing their faith,
others shared stories of being ostracized and refusing to leave, causing them to stay in the
difficult and worthwhile conversations. They told of transforming stories, of baby steps and of the
power that comes from honoring the "critical events" in our lives which change us.

Take the step. Join us.

Theresa D. McClellan serves on the executive committee of Be One: Catalyst of Inclusion. She is also the Faith Advocacy Coordinator for Gays In Faith Together. For
further information about Be One, visit or email