At Safe Harbor Family Church, UCC, in Clinton, MS, a highlight on Sunday, May 19, was welcoming fourteen graduate students from Harvard Kennedy Law School to Safe Harbor for a conversation about LGBTQ rights in Mississippi. Rev. Bob Blanton, pastor of Episcopal Church of the Creator was also present, as well as some of the members of that congregation.
This was the first-ever Harvard funded student trip to explore LGBTQ rights in the Deep South. Their aim was to learn about both the state of LGBTQ rights in the region and the possibilities for change. The key objectives of their study trip were to: 1) expose students to parts of U.S. society that have not traditionally covered in the media or featured prominently in the American consciousness; 2) increase students’ awareness of social, cultural, religious, economic, and racial factors that may be playing a disproportionately negative role in LGBTQ communities in the South; and 3) engage with local activists, policymakers, and community members to understand policy solutions that can help the LGBTQ community.
Safe Harbor provided the students a place to be welcomed and Safe Harbor members and friends shared openly about their experiences. I observed that it was beneficial and healing for our Safe Harbor congregation to feel the students listened and cared about our individual stories. Because the students ranged in age, backgrounds and nationalities (six countries were represented in the group), the impression was that their advocacy after returning to campus would be felt deeply in many places around our globe. In their printed materials, their goal was stated: “Through an experiential model, we aim to build networks with movement leaders and policymakers in the Deep South, acquire tools for policy analysis and field work, generate a better understanding to influence policies and governments, and develop a strong sense of empathy for this important social issue.”
Several students stayed for our worship service and we had a chance to get to know them better. Each year students choose a field trip. This year was their year to visit Mississippi and Alabama. It was our privilege to welcome them to our church and share our experiences with them.
Rev. Dr. Ann Michele Rogers-Brigham
Sr Pastor, Safe Harbor Family Church, UCC