A Newfoundland Pride organization says the flurry of media attention triggered when the local Salvation Army Citadel objected to its presence at a walk on the church’s property may have caused more harm to the local LGBTQ community than the incident itself.
The last scheduled Healthy Living Walk of June in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., coincided with the last day of Pride month, prompting the community’s Lions Club to invite Pride Grand Falls-Windsor as special guests. Intended to encourage active living, the Lions Club had held the weekly walks on the trails on the Citadel’s property. Though the Salvation Army Park Street Citadel did not respond to an interview request, Caroline Knight, a national Salvation Army spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that the church was disappointed in the way the situation unfolded, given that it had never asked for the event to be cancelled. “The Salvation Army Park Street Citadel is guided by the organization’s core values and welcomes all on church property,” wrote Knight.
“While it is true that the church leadership of The Salvation Army Park Street Citadel did not specifically ask me to cancel the Healthy Living Walk on Thursday, June 30, I was told that Pride Grand Falls-Windsor were not able to participate,” wrote Lions Club president David Oxford on Facebook. Oxford explained that the “the walk was a null point” if Pride Grand Falls-Windsor was not allowed to attend, “so I cancelled it.”
On June 29, the Grand Falls-Windsor Lions Club announced that it had ended its partnership with the church over the incident.
“To me, this did not put forth the idea that ‘all’ people are welcomed ‘on church property,’” Oxford added.
In a statement on its Facebook page, Eddie Vincent, the divisional commander of The Salvation Army in Newfoundland and Labrador said, “tension between The Lions Club Grand Falls-Windsor, Pride Grand Falls-Windsor and The Salvation Army has been fuelled by misinformation and further inflamed by hurtful comments on social media.” According to the statement, the organization hopes to meet with the affected groups in the coming weeks. The Salvation Army in Newfoundland and Labrador did not respond to an interview request.
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Alyssa Frampton, co-chair of Pride Grand Falls-Windsor, called the cancellation a “good show of allyship.” According to Frampton, religion is deeply entrenched in Grand Falls-Windsor and the surrounding communities. That means that while the incident was hurtful, the issue is more complex than the church excluding the LGBTQ community from its property.
“People see this as an act of being homophobic or being hateful towards a group because they saw that we’re not allowed on the property and that feels hateful,” says Frampton. “But what’s interesting to me is that I already knew that if I wanted to marry another woman, I can’t marry in that church.”
“This religion conversation is actually very intertwined with how accepting this space feels in a lot of ways,” Frampton says explaining that though LGTBQ inclusion in the community has improved in recent years, many area LGTBQ individuals grew up in very religious families understanding that they are not accepted, so they remain skeptical even when more progressive views are expressed.
“There’s just not a radical ability to have visibility and know that you’re safe in that visibility,” says Frampton of Grand Falls-Windsor, a town of approximately 14,000 in central Newfoundland. Speaking to the lack of local positive news coverage of Pride Grand Falls-Windsor’s roster of Pride Month events, Frampton expressed frustration about the messaging that sends to young people.
“They didn’t see all the people in their community who are out and proud and would love them and would have welcomed them,” Frampton says. Instead, they saw “us defending ourselves against somebody being hateful towards us.”
David Anthony, clerk of session at Memorial United, told CBC Newfoundland Morning on June 30 that his reaction to the conflict was one of disbelief “and really not caring about reasoning other than concern that this would happen.” Memorial United — the only local church that performs same-sex marriages, according to Frampton — quickly offered its space to the Lions Club when it learned about the cancelled event. Going forward, the walks will be held at a nearby municipal park with Memorial United hosting post-walk snacks in its multi-purpose room.
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Rev. James Martin-Carter, a United Church minister in the nearby town of Botwood, says of the Salvation Army, “We don’t want to demonize another organization” that he believes does good work “in the grand scheme of things.” However, he says, “they’re not owning the issue, and that’s what’s more frustrating.” For Martin-Carter, who is also a member of Pride Grand Falls-Windsor, it is a matter of acknowledging that across denominations, faith communities have room for improvement. In his view, for example, the United Church of Canada has “done a disservice to itself” in leaving the decision to become openly affirming and accepting to the discretion of individual congregations.
Frampton doesn’t like the message that churches are harmful towards the LGBTQ community that she has seen circulating online with the sharing of articles about the cancelled walk. There are “a lot of folks who are very religious and very faith-based and very spiritual, and also part of the community,” Frampton notes. “And I don’t think it’s fair to undermine their experiences.”
Regardless, Frampton says, “we’ve heard from hundreds of people in comments and messages about their own experiences that they faced hatred, and homophobia and transphobia within the church.”
The response from the Salvation Army asserting that all are welcome on the Park Street Citadel’s property, “didn’t address any of those pieces.”
Leslie Sinclair is an intern at Broadview.
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