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Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen Pam Kramer, organizer of a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights seminar at the Elkhart Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart Oct 10th 2010 sits in the memorial garden behind the fellowship.|100512 (AP)

Pam Kramer, organizer of a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights seminar at the Elkhart Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart Oct 10th 2010 sits in the memorial garden behind the fellowship.|100513 (AP)
Church seminar focuses on compassion and rights of gay, bisexual and transexual people
Posted on Sept. 28, 2009 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Sept. 28, 2009 at 8:24 a.m.

ELKHART -- The importance of understanding others doesn't end with the varied stripes within the heterosexual community, according to Pam Kramer.

"We need to be open and understanding to all segments of the population," she said.

To that end, she's helping organize a seminar sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart meant to foster understanding of the gay, bisexual and transgendered communities and bolster political advocacy among the groups. The way she sees it, it's a matter of fairness, of standing up for those who are disenfranchised.

"Until we all have civil rights, none of our civil rights count," said Kramer, a church member.

Amy DeBeck, reverend of the Unitarian Universalist church, emphasizes that the end game isn't some sort of civil rights ordinance in Elkhart for gays. The Goshen City Council recently considered such an ordinance, prompting heated, divisive debate there, but ultimately rejected the proposal.

Rather, the Oct. 10 event, dubbed a "training program," is meant to touch on a topic, gay civil rights, that typically generates only limited attention here, at least publicly.

"It is to raise awareness, not just among the (gay, bisexual and transgendered) community itself, but among allies," DeBeck said.

Moreover, it's part of a church initiative -- in the works for months -- to become a "welcoming congregation," a designation within the Unitarian Universalist Association for individual churches wanting to reach out to the gay and transgendered communities.

"We affirm the dignity and worth of every person," DeBeck said. "They're not some aberration of nature. It's not a choice."

NO "GELLED, POLITICAL COMMUNITY"

Measuring the gay community here in Elkhart County is tough business.

"It's not very out there anywhere," said Kramer, who suspects the overall total may be up to seven to 10 percent of the general population.

DeBeck, who's worked with the gay community in previous stints at Unitarian Universalist churches in Maine and Virginia, doesn't see a "gelled, political community" here.

Even smaller, perhaps, is the transgendered community, those, broadly, who say their gender identity -- male or female -- doesn't jibe with their genitalia. Stats Kramer has read put that group at perhaps one percent of the overall population.

Whatever the specifics, gay and transgendered people are out there, Kramer said, perhaps uncomfortable about broadcasting their full identity due to fears of backlash and discrimination, on the job, by landlords or in stores and other public places.

"We all know somebody," said Kramer, whose involvement with the issue stems, in part, from having a lesbian daughter, who now lives in Chicago. "But often we just don't know we know."

Mark St. John, governmental affairs consultant for Indianapolis-based Indiana Equality, echoed that, saying that while bigger cities like Indianapolis may be more tolerant of homosexuals, that isn't always the case in more distant corners. Indiana Equality is pushing for the addition of civil rights protections to state law for the gay and transgendered communities, and group reps, including St. John, will be participating in the seminar here.

Though a church is sponsoring the event, St. John maintains that the issue of protecting the rights of gays, say, in the workplace isn't about religion. "This is only about treating people fairly and equitably," he said.

DeBeck, meanwhile, said the back and forth between differing religious groups that, alternately, condemn homosexuality and are more accepting of it will probably never end. "It'll always be there because it's how you interpret (the bible)," she said.

Closer to home, Kramer hopes the planned seminar sends the message that people in the gay community aren't alone. "I suppose if I were in the (gay or transgendered) community, it would be nice to know I have some support in the community," she said.

TALKING ABOUT LGBT RIGHTS AND TOPICS

The planned civil rights seminar here sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart is geared to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, or LGBT, communities and their supporters.

The Oct. 10 event, formally entitled "Organizing for LGBT Rights: Finding the Road in Indiana," is dubbed "a training program." It will be held at the Unitarian Universalist church here at 1732 Garden St. starting with registration at 9:30 a.m.

The planned topics include organizing in rural areas and small towns, human rights ordinances, bias crimes, interacting with the public and how to spur legislative change. Speakers include representatives from Indiana Equality, a gay rights advocacy group based in Indianapolis, and the Seymour chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

For more information contact Pam Kramer, who's helping organize the event, at 271-3772 or RN_Pamela@yahoo.com or visit the Unitarian Universalist church website at www.uufe.org. Organizers ask participants to register by Oct. 4.