Up until two years ago I did not have a single friend who was openly gay. It wasn’t intentional or conscious avoidance on my part, I promise. Somehow they just never seemed to find me. Go figure. Then I had a Christian ethics professor ask me to step into the uncomfortable position of being a safe person. To pursue, seek out, or at least keep my eyes open for people in the LGBT community who may need a safe place to work out their own faith, gender, and sexuality. My professor asked me to see difference and intentionally put myself in front of it.
Fast forward and I am now the co-founder and executive director of an organization called Level Ground. We work with art to create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality. My co-director, Chelsea, is gay. Together the two of us have found ourselves in the most interesting of situations:
Walking onto the campus of a conservative Christian college, we sit in the president’s office as Chelsea wonders if she looks “too gay.” At an LGBT film festival attended by 95% LGBT people (the rest, their rather progressive allies), I shift uncomfortably in my seat when the audience laughs at any sincere moment or expression of religious faith on screen. Chelsea and I are the only two women at a pool house full of gay men lounging in their speedos talking about their daily Gold’s Gym workouts. Over hamburgers and iced tea we hear the agony and loneliness of the man across the booth from us who waits for God to finally make him attracted to a woman.
Our job has allowed us to enter spaces of pretty radical difference.
And sometimes I wonder if this is a good idea.
I usually enjoy being in places where – according to every “normal” metric – I have no business being. Chelsea and I have dreamed up Level Ground around this vision. But there are times when I imagine all those different groups encountering one another. Where it’s no longer just me showing up somewhere I don’t belong but where no one really belongs because we are all that different. The conservative President sitting next to the guy in the speedo who’s next to the guy wearing heels, a netted top, and mascara.
Assuming it’s possible to create a scenario in which this kind of gathering occurs, is it a good idea?
I don’t think we can get around this fundamental question. Do we actually believe that it’s a worthwhile pursuit to intentionally encounter and build relationships across the racial or spiritual or economic or orientation barriers that make us different?
Level Ground exists to do this very thing between people of different religious convictions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. And we believe the best way to cross barriers, to form relationships across differences and disagreement, is through art – film, photography, dance, spoken word, food, painting, poetry, and music.
So we’re doing it. We are hosting the world’s first faith-based LGBT film and arts festival. And I hope it’s going to be awesome. I think it’s going to be awesome. Even still I can’t completely shake the question, not just can we pull a feat like this off, but should we?
Because at the end of the day it’s much easier, more convenient, and certainly safer to stay where we are. To close our eyes to the people and the parts of the world that are different from us and would therefore require us to see difference and put ourselves in its direct line.
And finally, what does our answer to this question – Is different a good idea? – say about us, our worldview, and our understandings of God and Gospel?
If this sounds like a project you value or a question that interests you – if you’re willing to risk that different is a good (maybe even Gospel) idea – please lend us your voice, your presence, your cheers, and maybe even a few dollars! Level Ground can’t be level unless all differents show up. You, and him, and her, and they.
The 2nd annual Level Ground Film Festival will be held from February 20 to March 2, 2014 in Southern California. Learn more about the festival and financially support the project by going to their Indiegogo page here. They are almost halfway to their goal with just under 20 days left!