Last year, Renewal House staff, volunteers and interns went through training with The Network/La Red to become “culturally competent” in serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors of domestic violence. The training was a positive experience for our team. In the beginning, there was uneasiness among staff about this process: What would this mean for our shelter? How would our residents feel about living with a man - much less a gay man? Would this change in our residents mean a change in our mission?
The training began in a very basic way, with definitions about terminology. There was space for people to ask questions, admit ignorance, and try out new language. We had some good laughs. We had some arguments. We shed some tears. We listened to stories of real people who had experienced tremendous abuse and, when seeking supportive services, had been re-victimized by a system that refused to serve them. By the end of our 20 hours of training, it was clear that our mission need not change – it merely had to expand.
As an American Baptist minister, I know my denomination has its share of trouble accepting LGBT people into churches, as leaders and ministers. But one thing I knew for sure was that the Unitarian Universalist denomination was very clear in its open, welcome inclusion of all people. So when the state changed its regulations and said all state-funded domestic violence agencies must not discriminate based upon race, gender or sexual orientation, I knew what our next step should – and would -- be. I was proud to be working in an organization and with a denomination that really “got it.” All people deserve to have full access to services -- especially those who have been abused and victimized.
At the beginning of this process, I was unsure about how it would go. The staff was concerned about the process. My supervisor questioned how it would affect the female residents to have to share bathrooms with a male. One resident told me she would not allow her children to be around gay people because it wasn’t safe and it may “turn them gay.”
I am grateful for The Network/La Red and other individual members of the GLBT domestic violence coalition who provided support, insight and a step-by-step process to make our transition as smooth as possible. I will never forget when we received the first phone call from a male survivor looking for space – and we were ready to accept him. “We do accept male survivors of domestic violence into our program,” I said to him, “and I want you to know you will be the first one. We will do the best we can – and I hope you will tell us if/when we mess up.” He laughed and said, “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”
A few months later I was sitting in the shelter office doing some work at the computer. I heard laughter in the shelter and happy conversation. I looked out at the gathered group, which included a Latina mother and 4-year-old son, a white gay male, and an African American transgender female. They were playing a game of memory –laughing, talking and having fun. And I thought, “Now this is God’s kingdom here on earth – and I am blessed to catch just a glimpse of it.”