A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 10: Reimagine, reorganize, and rebuild

1989 brought many changes to The Parsonage. For some time, there had been quite a deal of disagreement within the leadership of The Parsonage about what its purpose was. The roughly twenty different anonymous-style groups that had been meeting at The Parsonage had largely ceased to exist, not because people didn’t face alcoholism and addiction to narcotics, but because many of the people who were leaders and attendees would have likely died from AIDS. As of March 1989, more people had died from AIDS than died in the Vietnam War.

Given the leadership crisis at The Parsonage, to discern what the next steps of their ministry should be, an interim committee was assembled and led by Bonita Palmer and Gary Ost. After months of work, they decided to continue using the cottage on Castro Street, and they determined that they needed to hire an executive director and change the leadership framework away from what was written in the diocesan charter’s bylaws. Instead of having chairpersons for each specific ministry that The Parsonage did, there would be a twelve-person leadership board that oversaw everything with the executive director. This board was to be made up of four gay men, four lesbian women, and four other non-gay people. This was intentionally designed because most of The Parsonage’s work had been led by gay men, with little room for lesbian women to work and be heard.

Unfortunately, this leadership team design and new mission statement completely ignored anyone who was bisexual. There was still an enormous amount of stigma around bisexuality, and people who identified that way often got categorized as gay or lesbian by others and wouldn’t correct it to avoid being viewed as promiscuous or otherwise negatively. Bisexual erasure is still a problem within the LGBTQ+ community and wider society today. However, if there is a silver lining, for the first time, “G/L/B” was used in the newsletter by Kris Wagner — who reflected on a panel of G/L/B youth who spoke to teachers and school administrators about the trauma of growing up as a G/L/B- identified person. The very beginnings of change in language and the breaking down of stereotypes around bisexuality were happening, and they were brought on by youth — the next generation.

Before the new board of The Parsonage was sorted out, the San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of Integrity hosted what was either the 14th or 15th annual national convention of Integrity, USA. The San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of Integrity existed on and off for years, and currently there is not a chapter here. Integrity advocated for justice much more strongly than The Parsonage did, and The Parsonage operated as an official ministry of the Diocese of California, with a charter, so having both ministries in the Bay Area wasn’t always viable.

While the search process was underway for the new board of The Parsonage, leaders from the Diocese of California were busy at the national level. In September, lesbian and gay leaders in the Episcopal Church were invited to discuss gay and lesbian ministries of the Episcopal Church with the sitting presiding bishop, Edmond Browning. Attendees were Tom Tull (former chair of The Parsonage and current member of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, or NEAC), Dr. Bonita Palmer (leader of interim committee at The Parsonage and longtime volunteer and advocate for gay and lesbian rights), Kim Byham (president of Integrity, USA), the Rev. Thad Bennett (president of NEAC), Kathleen Boatwright (a regional vice president of Integrity) and the Rev. Gene Robinson (who was, at the time, secretary of Province I). In October, the NEAC sponsored another conference called “Our Church has AIDS” in Cinncinati, Ohio. At this conference, Tom Tull and Bishop Swing were given the first NEAC award for Outstanding Leadership and Ministry in response to the AIDS crisis. The NEAC was the successor organization of the Hope and Help Center that had been housed at The Parsonage, and Tull wrote back to The Parsonage about how each and every person who volunteered and spent time sitting with and standing for people with HIV/AIDS deserved this award.

After months of search and nominations, most of the new board was elected and confirmed by November of 1989. The first meeting was the day before the Loma Prieta earthquake, which thankfully only broke a few planted pots at The Parsonage. The board was made up of some people who had been involved with The Parsonage before, but it also included many new leaders. One such person was the Rev. Kenneth Schmidt, the new rector of All Saints, San Francisco. Schmidt is still rector there and is now the longest-serving rector in the Diocese of California. One thing he would help lead in the coming years was the diocesan presence at the annual Pride parade in June.

 

   

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.