Northside Presbyterian Church Pastor Charles Booker-Hirsch travels throughout the University and city communities speaking as an ally on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs Speaker”s Bureau, where he addresses audience concerns and questions from a straight male perspective.

The Speaker”s Bureau, which has existed in some form for around 30 years, sends panels to classrooms and community organizations on request. Panel members tell their “coming out” stories and talk about their lives and experiences before taking questions from the audience. The panels generally include representatives from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender volunteers as well as heterosexual allies.

“Several people have come up to me or stated they”ve never seen a pastor

who is an ally for LGBT persons. They always associated the religious with a gay-negative message and it seems like we”ve been saturated with and surrounded by the negative messages,” he said.

“Being a pastor of a church that”s one-fourth to one-fifth LGBT, we have members who self- identify in each of those areas,” he said. “What particularly needs to be heard is a spiritually inclusive vision, and I felt strongly enough about that to provide a presence in that way.”

Booker-Hirsch, who is in his third year as a member of the bureau, added that forming relationships takes priority in understanding and learning love.

He also said what makes people think and really changes opinions is when

they get a chance to know members of the LGBT community instead of just

knowing about them.

Speakers Bureau member Rain Donaldson said that being the first transgendered person many students encounter, it is very important to give students a chance to ask questions so they can see that not many differences exist between the speakers and themselves.

“It”s not so much telling them as showing them, just being there and showing them, “Hey, I”m a person just like you are”,” Donaldson said.

Dondalson also said the Speakers Bureau is a good way for students who are new to Ann Arbor to ask questions and hear stories that will help them be better prepared for the different people they could encounter at the University and in the community.

Matthew Scott, who joined the panel this year, said creating an environment with open dialogue is a significant step in clearing up misconceptions and promoting understanding.

“For a lot of people, an LGBT person might be an abstraction and they might not be in a situation where they”re knowingly interacting with someone like that,” he said. “It presents that opportunity, just so they can say they”ve had it, no matter what their beliefs they can reinforce their beliefs or challenge it.

“We might change people”s minds and that might be a good thing, but the ultimate goal isn”t to brainwash people. The mission is just to get as much information out there with a human face as possible.”

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