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Home » The Flag is Raised: Demystifying the LGBTQ+ Community in Northern Westchester
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The Flag is Raised: Demystifying the LGBTQ+ Community in Northern Westchester

Published in the issue.

Raising the Pride Flag at Granite Springs. (l. to r.) The Rev. Hal Roarke, the Rt. Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, Julia Whalen. Photo: Chris Lovell
Raising the Pride Flag at Granite Springs. (l. to r.) The Rev. Hal Roarke, the Rt. Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, Julia Whalen. Photo: Chris Lovell

I just finished my sophomore year of high school and I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a confirmed Episcopalian at the Church of the Good Shepherd, in the northern Westchester community of Granite Springs.

In The Episcopal New Yorker’s spring issue, I wrote an article about the Educate/Validate program, an LGBTQ+ education series consisting of four free Zoom seminars, which I created with guidance from my mom; Good Shepherd’s rector, the Rev. Hal Roark; and the church’s wardens and vestry.

We developed Educate/Validate to teach the members of our parish about the LGBTQ+ community, in anticipation of a vote of all members on whether to raise the pride flag at the church to show our acceptance to the community as a whole. Each of the seminars, which ran from February to May, covered a different aspect of LGBTQ+ experience.

When my first article appeared, we had hosted two of the four seminars: LGBTQ+ History and LGBTQ+ Politics and Law. Now I’m back to report on what happened next.

In the third seminar, titled “LGBTQ+ People,” six speakers shared their experience of being members of the LGBTQ+ community and answered questions, either as community members or as allies. This seminar was extremely impactful and memorable. Speakers courageously shared emotional stories from their journeys, helping attendees better understand the lives of those with different experiences. The final session was led by Bishop Mary Glasspool and addressed how LGBTQ+ issues relate to the Bible, religion, and the Episcopal church. Bishop Glasspool talked about her own experience in fighting for acceptance and shared how being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has affected her faith. This seminar showed those present that the Episcopal Church goes far beyond mere tolerance of LGBTQ+ individuals. Instead, we aim to welcome them genuinely under the overarching principle that loving God means loving all of our neighbors and embracing their differences.

As soon as the fourth seminar finished, we opened the week-long vote — in which each confirmed pledging member of the church was allowed to cast a ballot — to decide whether we should raise the pride flag. It was a stressful week, fraught with technical difficulties and anticipation. But at its end, we were able to announce that the pride flag would indeed go up, as the vast majority of voters (87%) were in favor of raising it. Many of them even expressed their support verbally, praising the program and thanking me for bringing necessary change to the church’s public stance.

On Sunday, June 5, we celebrated our success and the huge amount of time, effort, and perseverance that so many of us had dedicated to the Educate/Validate program. Bishop Glasspool celebrated the Holy Eucharist, and then we went outside to raise the pride flag. A beautiful poem was read, I made some remarks, and Bishop Glasspool blessed all of the flags now on our flagpole: the American flag, the Episcopal Church flag, and the pride flag. It was a truly wonderful moment — and now as I write, the pride flag flies proudly for all to see. It will return to the flagpole every June, celebrating Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride Month is a very special time of year for the LGBTQ+ community. Festivals to honor the LGBTQ+ community are called “Pride” because pride is the opposite of shame. We are not ashamed of ourselves, of our identities, or of our LGBTQ+ family members. We are going to be who we are and embrace all in the community without exception.

I am proud of the LGBTQ+ community, and I am proud of our church for persevering and taking this step. I will always be grateful for the support and love I’ve received throughout this project. I have learned so much about advocacy, activism, public speaking, and much more through planning and executing the program. I hope that Educate/Validate has taught my church family equally valuable lessons.

I am overjoyed to see the positive ways that the Educate/Validate program has already impacted my church family. Because of Educate/Validate, someone found the courage to come out to their church community. We encouraged and inspired that, not only with the program but with the love in our hearts. Educate/Validate has also encouraged allies to become more understanding. One of the speakers at the “People” seminar was the parent of a young transgender person. She shared how she came to terms with this change and embraced her son for who he was. Thanks to this incredible story, a man who attended wrote my mom a heartfelt email describing how much it meant to him. He said that he was able to think about trans people and the LGBTQ+ community in a way that he never had before. Because of the flag, and because of the lessons people learned from the Educate/Validate program, my gay or trans friends, living in a world where they must face fear and hate every day, may realize that God loves them for who they are when they drive by our church and see the flag proudly waving.

This program has been an extraordinary journey. There have been many difficulties and frustrations, but we have overcome each one and triumphed. I hope that the Educate/Validate program serves as inspiration for other youth to pursue initiatives for acceptance and allyship in their own churches. I hope it shows them that God loves them and is on their side. I am proud to have brought the Educate/Validate program to my church and so happy that we raised the pride flag, and I know its effects will continue to enlighten and enliven the Church of the Good Shepherd for years to come. (To watch each of the recorded Educate/Validate sessions, visit this website: https://goodshepherdny.org/?page_id=7219).