Anna DeShawn had always had a difficult time reconciling her faith and sexuality.
"Being a Black, queer woman … most of the time in my life, I don't get the opportunity to combine all of my identities in one space and to feel safe with it," DeShawn said. "Church is not the number one topic of conversation when I'm hanging out with my LGBTQ friends. The church is a pain point for a lot of us.
"I grew up in the church Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and the first thing you think about when it's time to come out is 'am I going to hell?' and condemnation. You lose your faith. I know I did."
However, it's been while working with the Church Within a Church (CWAC) movementa grassroots, faith-based organization that works to combat racism, heterosexism and transphobia in institutional churchesthat she's found a home.
"Being able to be all of myself and to be able to speak to my spirituality and my struggles with my faith, it is one of the safest places I've found to do that," she said.
On Oct. 19-21, during the 10th-anniversary weekend celebration of the CWACM, DeShawn, founder and CEO of E3 Radio, and the organizers of CWAC movement will launch a video legacy project titled "My God is not a Bully!" The project will collect testimony from a cross-generational group over the weekend, answering how they've reconciled their faith with their sexuality. They'll then collaborate with other groups working with youth who would be interested in participating.
One video will be released each day of the month next June to coincide with Pride.
"It is personal experience trying to reconcile this," cathy knight, executive director for the CWAC movement, told Windy City Times. "If the LGBT community could feel more wholeness in reconciling their spirituality and the sexuality I think we would see a much healthier community. The Church Within A Church movement wants LGBTQ youth to know there is another side to the story. We want to share a message that God loves them and that however you define God, in all traditions, God is Love, not a bully."
knight said that internalized homophobia begins in church and at home. She has been involved with the CWAC movement since its' founding ten years ago in Atlanta. The organization was born from a desire to chance the United Methodist Church's (UMC) discrimination against LGBT people.
Since, the organization has transformed from a movement in resistance to UMC's discriminatory policies into a non-hierarchical, inclusive movement with its own voice, according to knight.
"I think we can taken some significant actions into how you be an inclusive community," she told Windy City Times.
The CWAC movement has ordained four women denied ordination in the UMC, is currently transferring a clergy credential from another denomination, engages in anti-racism work and starts new churches throughout the country.
The 10-year anniversary celebration will begin Friday, Oct. 19, in the evening with a Justice Jam spoken-word performance by author, spoken word artist and performer Phenomenon. Saturday's events include a panel on the intersections of oppression, a workshop by the Chicago-based Transformative Justice Law Project on transgender law and liberation, racial caucusing and a ceremony honoring two recipients of the Gil Caldwall Justice Award. Sunday morning will feature a "Church-Within-A-Church-movement-style worship," according to knight.
E3 Radio is an online radio network that started in 2009. It seeks to produce authentically edgy programming, blending talk and independent music.
DeShawn (a Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree) and knight cited Audre Lorde's famous title, The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, as a guiding principle that sums up many of CWAC's objectives, as well as the "God is not a Bully!" project's ambitions.
"Inspiration can come from a variety of places. It doesn't have to come from scripture," knight said.
For two years, the three members that compose the full-time staff of CWAC movement have begun their weekly phone meetings with a reading from Audre Lorde.
knight acknowledged that can make many feel uncomfortable, but stresses that liberation and reconciliation are themes that everyone is searching for in their lives.
The CWAC movement will be looking for many LGBTQ organizations to collaborate with on this project, as well as looking for allies to speak to discrimination they've seen in the church and how they rectify it with their own spirituality.
DeShawn and knight are hoping the project will grow into a participatory tool that inspires other youth and adults to make their own videos.
"I love this collaboration. This is who the movement is," knight said. "This is a tangible way where the movement can really live out it's calling to create authentic voices and I'm excited that we have this collaboration with Anna."
All 10th-anniversary information and registration can be found at the CWAC Movement's website link: www.cwac.us/celebrating-ten-years-faith-community-justice.