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.
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,” Zo 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, she initially “was freaked out” by the poster and asked herself, “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.”
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.
Edited 1/5 to clarify Perkins’s pronouns.