'Walls of Hate' in Brunswick? Opinions differ

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BRUNSWICK — A transgender person who needs to use a bathroom in North Carolina may face discrimination, fear and hatred in their everyday lives.

But what about in Brunswick?

John Andrade, a youth pastor at Topsham’s North Harbor Community Church, thinks Brunswick could benefit from an more open dialogue between Christians and members of the LGBT community. To that end, he is organizing “Tearing Down Walls of Hate,” a forthcoming discussion group that seeks to address what he sees as a divisive and innate conflict between the LGBT identity and the Christian community.

The group will meet at Little Dog Cafe on Maine Street for four consecutive Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m., starting Sept. 19.

But judging by early reception to the fliers Andrade has posted around town, the group may be causing more of a stir than treating a problem it hopes to solve.

Andrade believes an often-tense relationship has “polarized” Christians and members of the LGBT community in recent years because of conservative-held interpretations of scripture that condemn homosexuality.

“Part of my (approach) is to give a form to conversations that wouldn’t happen,” Andrade said in a recent interview. He said he hopes by forming a discussion group he can shift the nature of conversations around the contentious issue toward one that is more loving and tolerant.

“Join us for an open, honest, respect-based discussion where everyday people can present their views and learn from each other,” Andrade wrote on the event flier, many of which are plastered in shop windows up and down Maine Street.

Andrade, who is not a member of the LGBT community, had the idea for the discussion group when he realized he lacked LGBT friends. 

“I realized pretty quickly once I started to research (the idea for the discussion group) how little I knew about LGBT life,” Andrade said. “I felt silly.”

Andrade enjoys spending time with people who disagree with him, and come Sept. 19, this will almost surely happen.

He is a recent graduate of the conservative Christian Liberty University, and said he believes that LGBT identities are incompatible with Bible scripture.

“Yes, there is a tension,” Andrade said, hesitantly, but without equivocating.

He admits to being nervous for the inevitable moment when someone questions his beliefs during the group discussion, and he understands that his beliefs may cause tension within the group.

“A lot of parts of Christianity come into conflict with parts of me,” Andrade added in an attempt at inclusion. “And that doesn’t mean I should be an open target.”

Andrade went on to condemn the animosity and violence with which Christians of a similar scriptural understanding have historically treated members of the LGBT community.

“Places like the Westboro Baptist Church (give Christians) a bad rap,” he said, and these types of groups and individuals perpetuate a kind of cultural dialogue “where only the loudest voices get heard.”

Andrade said hopes to provide an alternative forum where people of diverse beliefs, sexualities, and scriptural understandings can discuss their unique life experiences, and, hopefully, in an ideal case scenario, form meaningful friendships.

What walls? What hate?

Members of Brunswick’s LGBT community, on the other hand, are confused by Andrade’s posters because in their opinion, Brunswick isn’t a hateful place.

Brunswick “is a wonderful place to live, and to come out,” Michael Perkins, a Brunswick resident of 12 years who identifies as transgender, said in a phone interview.

Perkins and Andrade are both regulars at Little Dog. Recently, Perkins brought to Andrade’s attention a July 27 post on the Facebook group Queer Exchange Maine, where a user posted a photo of the flier that immediately raised suspicion within the group.

The photo elicited a string of comments, many of which expressed incredulous offense to the wording in the poster, which also reads, “Is there hate between the LGBT community and Christians? Should there be?”

“Why are Christians so relentlessly obsessed with us????” wrote one user in a typical comment.

The suggestion of the word “should” triggered the group to wonder whether the discussion will reinforce antagonism.

“A discussion about if there *should* be hate???” wrote another member of the group. “I think I will pass.”

Wording aside, some members seem to think the group itself is unnecessary because Brunswick is an LGBT-friendly town; that the group, simply by existing, is creating, or at least perpetuating, the very problem it wants to address.

While Perkins gives Andrade the benefit of the doubt, saying the “over the top” wording is “uncharacteristic” of Andrade, he initially “was freaked out” by the poster and asked himself, “Where’s the hate?”

“I want to ask John: Why do you think people hate trans people? (The poster) makes (that) assumption.”

Andrade says he became aware of hatred toward gay and transgender people from following the national news, like the anti-transgender law passed in North Carolina this March.

“This isn’t North Carolina,” Perkins responded. “This is Maine.”

However, Perkins still plans attend the discussion group.

“It seems interesting,” Perkins said. “I think it’s a good thing. But I think it’s presumptuous.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

John Andrade sits in his “second office,” Little Dog Cafe on Maine Street in Brunswick. Andrade is the catalyst behind a group that will discuss LGBT Christian identity in the cafe next month.

Posters for the discussion group Tearing Down Walls of Hate line the windows of Maine Street shops in Brunswick, including the Gulf of Maine bookstore. The language on the poster has triggered suspicion and curiosity among members of the LGBT community.

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Reporter on the Brunswick/Harpswell beat. Proud Bowdoin grad that you can find reporting on municipal, school, and community news, or inside the many coffee and sandwich shops around the Midcoast. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100.
  • David M. Perry

    This is a liberal community. Issues about who uses which bathroom are completely absent from discussions here. This attempt at “dialogue” seems to be someone’s attempt to justify his own mythical beliefs and perhaps to stir up some sort of bigotry where none exists.

    • Chew H Bird

      Maybe, but people who choose to believe in scripture have a right to their beliefs and if curiosity and an olive branch is truly being offered then the effort should be respected. While I disagree with this gentleman’s interpretation of scripture, he has every right to his beliefs and every right to seek dialogue. Beliefs are something we all have regardless of their details.

    • John Andrade

      Hi David! Thanks for your comment and input on this subject. I appreciate feedback, as I can use any that anyone is willing to offer. I am hoping that people who feel as you do will show up to this event, because perhaps you are in the majority and there are actually no Walls of Hate to be torn down. However, others disagree and think that there is some good to be done here. Maybe I’m wrong, but as Paul Harrison said, the worst that might happen then is that we all just shake hands and go home. I am a Christian, and I believe I am entitled to my “mythical beliefs,” as you put it. But comments that cast others in a bad light without ever having met them seems to reveal to me that there is indeed some hate here that needs to be addressed. Maybe, maybe not? We’ll see. If you would like to get together for some coffee to discuss things, perhaps you could get a chance to make a better assessment of my character and intentions. I would love to make your acquaintance and hear your thoughts, as I have been wrestling quite a bit, wondering if I am just a fool for doing this. But again…. we’ll have to wait and see. Pray for me 🙂

  • tiresias75

    I am friends with a number of LGBTQ Christians (drop by St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, not only on Sundays but also for weekly discussion groups). Christianity is fully compatible with a LGTBQ life. Your “Wall of Hate” indeed concerns an issue, but in Brunswick and Portland you may be a solution in search of a problem!

  • Paul Harrison

    My wife and I own the Little Dog and I was the one who suggested that John hold his meetings at our shop. When John mentioned his idea, I had been thinking about the prevalence of hateful dialogue in and around this presidential election and had been thinking of a similar idea. I’ve known John for many years as a neighbor and a friend and, while my religious views differ quite a bit from John, he has my complete respect as a kind and very caring person. Perhaps the wording of his poster appears to raise an issue where there isn’t one, but I wouldn’t go patting ourselves on the back about the absence of what John is talking about just because we live in Maine. Perhaps there are no substantial issues between the Christian community and the LGBT community, but this state is as ripe as any with tensions and animosity about misconceptions some have of others. I know John well enough to know that he isn’t someone trying to stir the pot. His intentions are as genuine as anyone I’ve ever known. If this meeting seems like a complete waste of your time, fine, spend the time on what makes you happy. But, as I see it, aside from anyone or any group that shows up with the specific intent to disrupt, perhaps agreeing at the end of one meeting that no more are needed is the worst that can happen.

    • Kathy Wilson

      Paul…Kathy Wilson here, As the openly and out Lesbian At Large Councilor, in Brunswick, I am dismayed that this meeting is at the same time as council meeting as, if it is going to happen I would love to be there. I do think Brunswick is a very safe town and I think this is, as some have said, a solution looking for a problem and an invitation for any hateful folks to come out and support Paul’s dismissal of a gay lifestyle. “Should” there be hate…Of course not…and it is telling that he used that phase in his posters. I have learned over my 71 years of being gay and out about 60 of them , that people who believe gay people are “wrong” will never change that belief…they can be friends with us without changing their beliefs…but need not have meetings to discus how wrong we are while we defend our hard fought rights. They do not want to understand us, they want us to listen to them…I am not dismissing the idea of an open dialog, but rather that his wording in the posters set the tone..and that is not the tone of an open dialog.. It is the tone of hate right from the start. I also am not saying Paul is a hateful person, but clearly he has beliefs that promote separation rather than inclusion. The first step, short of calling it all off, at this point would be to postpone the meeting until all interested people can attend. This is too important an issue to allow to go wrong… Please you or anyone else that would, contact me at kwilson@brunswickme.org

      • Chew H Bird

        Assumption is the birth of many screw ups…

      • John Andrade

        Hello Kathy! This is John Andrade, the one whose idea it was to start this group. I am sorry that my flyer came across to you in this way. Many people I discussed the flyer with felt otherwise, and thought that this was a needed discussion that could do a lot of good. Maybe it was just because they know me and my character. I just hope you don’t label me without having a discussion with me first, because I don’t think that I would fit into the category of person that you may have had poor interactions with in the past. That being said, I understand that a lot of Christians have handled the issue at hand in an awful way, so I understand your hesitations. Despite this, though, I appeal to your good nature and again ask that you do not cast me, or this idea into a bad light because I wish to tear down walls of hate, as the flyer states in its title. I would love to have coffee with you sometime (maybe at Little Dog!), and perhaps after you get to know me you could make a more accurate judgment. Please let me know, okay?! This same offer goes for anyone else who is unafraid to have a person-to-person dialogue. Thank you all and I hope to see you at the event, if not sooner for some coffee and conversation!!

        • Kathy E Wilson

          I met with John and Paul and I was delighted..We talked at length about the possible issues and I believe we have found a way to move forward with one or more discussions that will be equal and open.. We are not going to deal with hate , we are going to deal with our feelings and respect for each other’s way of thinking , feeling and living. I think this is going to work.

  • Beth Mackey

    Beth Mackey
    Portland is doing a giant step toward defusing the transgender issue by directly addressing it in a respectful and intelligent manner. Let’s assume all students want and need to learn from teachers , fellow students , and their families that this world (community) has the grace and intelligence to progress intellectually and
    gain confidence and self awareness in doing so so that they can make the important contributions that need to be made for harmony and a bright environment.