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Many Voices campaign uses videos to tell personal stories
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Melissa Wasserman

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Voices carry through the social media world as Many Voices presents The Many Voices Video Campaign.

Beginning on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, and concluding Nov. 15—just shy of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20—a total of six videos were released that spotlighted on Black LGBTQ people sharing their own stories about growing up within the Black church.

"We've had a tremendous response with the social media and I think there's a hunger for these stories to be shared," said Many Voices Co-Director Rev. Cedric Harmon. "People have been waiting for them and I think they'll make a real difference in lots of people's lives in both the church and beyond."

The Many Voices Video Campaign website states the web campaign was created to engage church leaders and LGBTQ people about fostering a movement for gay and transgender justice in Black churches. Each interview captures a range of experiences.

"My goal is to make sure that the essential message is the message of love, justice, mercy, kindness, gentleness, that those are forefront of everything," said Harmon. "Then over technical differences and theological perspectives, we can deal with that."

Many Voices is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. Launched in 2010, the organization speaks to the world with the ideals, according to Harmon, that every individual is made to be all they were created by God to be, and while specifically working within Black churches, they help them take those steps to create a more healthy environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons to stand for justice and to speak about justice for humanity that's part of the existing church community.

"I think we captured the real, true experiences of LGBTQ people who are Black, who grew up Christian and who still have an appreciation for the significant role that the church plays in our history, plays in our lives, plays in our identity," said Harmon. "This is a moment of urgency that the church must speak to and address injustices, so that the entire community can be made whole. I think that's what people see when they watch these videos."

Based in North Carolina, the interviewees include: Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founding pastor of the Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C.; Jermaine Nakia Lee, program manager of behavioral intervention of PowerHouse Project in Charlotte, N.C.; Ai Elo, writer and youth advocate in Charlotte, N.C.; Julia Wallace, co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project in Durham, N.C.; A'Omaré Kyyam, activist and poet in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Rev. Brendan Boone, transgender pastor of St. John's Metropolitan Community Church Raleigh in Raleigh, N.C.

"These six are influential voices," said Harmon. "They're clear voices, they speak from a range of experience in age, in gender, in the way they identify in terms of sexual orientation. There are folks that identify as queer. It gives a full range of expressions."

The video project was funded in part by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Foundation and The Aquila Fund of RSF Social Finance, basing the project in North Carolina. Katina Parker serves as the director, producer and PR strategist for the video series, while Laila Nur and Rachael Derello compose and perform the series' music.

"Getting folks to be honest and transparent, that's a little bit of a challenge, but Katina's a great filmmaker and interviewer," said Harmon. "The cause captured their imagination and we had questions that asked them to simply speak what was true for them. So, it has been really a wonderful journey working with folks who are willing to tell what's true for them."

Boone's segment is the last to be aired and is appropriately timed. Identifying as a heterosexual man with a transgender experience, he says his story is different from others. Born and raised in Virginia to a single mother, Boone said the church helped raise him and as a result he calls it his "lifeline" and "anchor."

"When things didn't make sense, when everything else was chaotic and confused, I could go to that church and somewhere in the midst of that communion, I would be able to find some peace," said Boone.

Boone was called to serve as St. John's Metropolitan Community Church's fourth pastor in August 2001 and was installed as senior pastor in mid-October 2001. In 2010, he began his transition, realizing the time was right for him to be able to step into his truth publicly, particularly as a clergy person.

"It is impossible to encourage and expect your people to live in their truth, to live authentically as who they've been created to be when you have yet to fully swing open the door yourself for them to experience that through you. That was the catalyst for me in 2010."

Now in his 13th year of ministry at St. John's, Boone said his experience with the church growing up helped him get to the place he is in today.

"Everybody's story is different and I think one of the blessings I have experienced through the years is that my experience is very different growing up in the church than lots of my brothers and sisters who had very negative experiences in the church, particularly with coming out and being able to live as fully out as authentic individuals and I never had that experience growing up in the church of my birth," Boone said.

Boone expressed pain in hearing blanket statements about the church not being a safe place for LGBTQI people. In his segment, conveys the message that as a trans person and a trans clergy person who was raised in the church, he never doubted or questioned one moment whether or not god loved him.

The video project, he said, is important as it enables people to hear actual voices and primary sources who live the realities and come to an understanding of the various experiences.

"I hope to bring an element of hope to the table, but also a word of challenge to the Black church in terms of how we open ourselves up to be in intentional dialogue about what it means to truly be a church of liberation and freedom for all of god's people," said Boone. "To celebrate our differences, to celebrate our uniqueness, to celebrate our values and to see all of that as a part of the divine creative order that god has placed in the world for a reason. We are reflections of who god is and our call is to support each other in that quest to embrace that fully."

For more info, visit Videos can also be seen at and .

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