LGBTQ+ Justice is a local issue

LGBTQ+ Justice is a local issue

Brooke Canada

One of the things I often hear in conversations with our Open and Affirming Ministry Team and local congregations is their concern about developments in local governments. While many people within our conference feel relatively safe regarding LGBTQ+ legislation on a state level, there is a concerning trend of local anti-queer, anti-drag, and anti-trans activism. From book bans and other school board actions to prohibitions on local drag events, small groups are using local structures to push their anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and goals.

As a conference which has passed and affirmed resolutions on LGBTQ+ inclusion and justice – as part of a denomination that has been a national leader in advancing this priority - we aim to support the churches and individuals within our church that tirelessly work against these developments and towards spreading God’s message of justice and love for all. Brooke Canada offers us one powerful example.    

The Story of Brooke Canada   

Brooke Canada is a true, life-long UCCer – professionally and personally. Having grown up on Cape Cod as a member of Pilgrim Congregational Church at Harwich Port, she describes her upbringing as instrumental to her beliefs and activism. She learned early on that God’s love and welcome are open to all and that we are called to do mirror that. While she described her childhood church, where she started working as an office administrator in 2015, as welcoming, the congregation had not yet gone through the process and vote to become officially designated as open and affirming (ONA) yet. Driven by her values, Brooke co-chaired an ONA team and a two-year education, engagement and discernment process that resulted in the congregation proclaiming its welcome openly and proudly. Brooke currently serves in parttime administrative roles with both First Church of Christ of Longmeadow﷟, also an ONA Church, and the national etting of the UCC.    

Brooke’s Political Engagement  

Brooke currently resides in North Brookfield, a small town in Massachusetts. She had never held any political office when she moved there but quickly noticed what she perceived as dysfunction in the community’s system. That led Brooke to spontaneously decide to run for the Select Board, whose members serve as the town’s primary administrative officers.  She won, and has served on this board of three since September 2022.   

Brooke’s political work and life changed significantly, however, at the beginning of this year, when the Rural Justice Network (RJN) approached the town of North Brookfield and asked to use their town common for a Pride event. The RJN sent a detailed breakdown of the event activities, which included plans for a Disney-themed drag performance as part of the family-friendly programming. Although the Select Board approved the event (in a 2-1 vote) on March 28th, the chair of the Select Board called to rescind their approval during an April 11 meeting. They then voted and approved the event again – this time without the drag performances.

About 40 people showed up at that meeting to support the two Select Board members in favor of the changes and protest the drag component of the event. Brooke was surprised when she heard the arguments of people who questioned the appropriateness of drag performances at a family-friendly event that will include children. She simply could not see how an age-appropriate Disney-themed performance would be a problem. She suspected that underlying biases – not child safety – were at the center of these objections. Because of her commitment to LGBTQ justice and belonging in her town, Brooke opposed the decision. She was outvoted.  

The RJN, disturbed by these developments, sought help from the ACLU of Massachusetts. The ACLU took on the issue and sent a letter to the Select Board in which they threatened to sue if the town did not rescind the April 11 vote and reinstate the original decision. The Town Counsel, with the law and best interest of North Brookfield as their priority, advised the Select Board to rescind their latest vote. The Select Board complied. The original plan was then reinstated with Brooke’s vote alone; the other two Select Board members abstained from the vote.   

Brooke’s engagement did not go unnoticed. Many people, within her community and outside, expressed their appreciation and support. At the same time, she also became a target of hate. People drove by her home honking loudly and repeatedly at odd hours. Others shouted obscenities at her when she was out working in her garden. Brooke filed a police report and installed security cameras, something she never thought she would need to do in her small town. It was a reminder that this important work can also bring dangers.   

Brooke’s Why  

That leads us to an obvious question: Why risk it? Why get engaged in my local community and stand up for justice and inclusion?  Brooke was motivated by her deeply held belief that “everybody is welcome at God’s table, in church and in life - no matter how they identify.” Her UCC upbringing and the values she inherited would not let her back down in this situation.   

Brooke deeply cares about her town, which is struggling to gain financial stability and attract new businesses and families. Brooke describes North Brookfield, the town where her husband, Tim, grew up in, as “a beautiful town with lots of farmland.” It is a community, she said, which offers a variety of events and where people support each other in times of crisis and need.   

“It isn't all negative, and neither are the people,” Brooke emphasizes. She loves her community deeply and wants to serve it well. That is why, even when there is opposition, she is committed to working  hard to ensure that it is a community for everyone, including her LGBTQ+ siblings.   

Brooke knows she is not alone in this effort or in her love for her local community. She finds empowerment in the positive resonance with others. She also hopes that her voice motivates others to stand up.   

“Even if I don’t achieve anything at the town level (and I hope to), if others are inspired to serve or speak up, it will be a success for me,” Brooke said.  

Call to Action: Follow Brooke’s Example  

June is Pride Month, and this year, our progress and rights seem fragile. The prevalence of anti-trans and anti-queer legislation and rhetoric can cause us to feel overwhelmed, but there are avenues of hope. One of them is local activism.  Many of our congregations and members live in it and pave the way. Brooke’s work in local government is one example. Some UCC congregations have been working against book bans, while others have written opinion pieces to local newspapers to oppose queerphobia in school governance. There are many actions you and your church can take – regardless of your experience, available time, and level of comfort.    

Together, we can celebrate Pride with action and plant local seeds of hope.   

Here are three ways to do so:   

  1. Sign yourself and your church up for our Justice Summit on Trans and Non-Binary Belonging in October and learn more about how your congregation can be a safe space for others as well as an agent for change in your community.  In the meantime, check out this tool kit on making your church more inclusive and safer.   

  1. Talk to your friends, neighbors, and fellow church members in your local communities! Listen to their concerns, engage their opinions, and share your perspective on why LGBTQ+ justice matters. Dialogue is essential to making spaces more loving and accepting.   

  1. Run for local government office! Local governments have the responsibility and authority to make decisions that impact all of our lives in myriad ways. Our engagement is essential in tiny communities, mid-sized towns, and big cities, so our voices need to be present on select boards, school boards, town councils, and other governance bodies. Consider whether you are being called to run for office or to support someone who shares your values in doing so.  Brooke’s example demonstrates that you do not have to be a career politician to be elected and effective.  Let your voice be heard!  

What is your story of engagement on queer, trans, and nonbinary belonging and welcome? We would love to hear from you.  





Michael Streib

Michael is the Queer Justice Advocate for the Southern New England Conference UCC, and pastoral resident at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Somerville, MA

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