Building bridges

"Do you have hope for the church?"

(Michael Vidler) (Michael Vidler)

When I arrived in Vancouver a month ago, I wasn't sure where my Vancouver Biennale project would take me. I've led numerous workshops, had a few performances and met some incredible people who have inspired, encouraged and challenged me. My mind and heart have been filled with thoughtful dialogue, as well as powerful stories and perspectives.

In my workshops and meetings, people have raised questions and comments that have caused me to reflect on my project and what it looks like to build bridges between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities:

  • “Is this pain worth it?”
  • “I think it comes out as hate, but a lot of the time it’s actually fear… People are just trying to protect themselves.”
  • "I want to step into community that understand me."
  • “I feel really disoriented because I feel like I have to hide parts of myself from different people.”
  • “The healing part is figuring out in all the displacement, how we can find place and hold one another.”
  • “We need to put ourselves in other people's shoes... The shoes may feel uncomfortable."
  • "Do you have hope for the church?"

(roaming-the-planet)

(Jarrah Hodge)

When that person asked me if I had hope for the church and these communities, I told him I couldn't do this work if I didn't have hope. I have to believe that change is possible for these seemingly dissimilar communities. I've seen movement and transformation in these spaces, even if it's slow and takes a long time.

Identity is complex and difficult, but I also believe that understanding and reconciliation can occur between LGBTQ, Christian and feminist communities. There's a hunger for these conversations, and a strong desire to find community and belonging.

This project is also timely in Vancouver.

The Vancouver School Board recently passed a new policy that allows transgender students to be addressed by the name and pronoun that best represents their gender identity. The changes also discourage sex-segregated activities and allow transgender students to use whatever washroom they feel most comfortable.

Chinese and Christian parents have been represented as a homogenous group by the media, tying race and faith to homophobia and transphobia. For example, the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente recently wrote about the policy and said, "Many of the Chinese parents, like Ms. Chang, are Christians..." She didn't check her facts because Cheryl Chang is actually white.

I recently chatted with Fiona Chen, a Chinese-Christian mother who defended the new policy and has been outspoken about supporting her transgender child. I admire her courage to tell her story, as well as the stereotypes she is breaking down and bridges she is building. You can hear more of her story in this CBC interview.

Fiona's story and desire to fight for her son has encouraged me to keep fighting. 

This work is tough, but I know it's worth it. It's worth the risk, pain and messiness. Change occurs when we fight and are unwilling to accept the status quo – especially when that marginalizes individuals and tells them they are worthless.

I'm looking forward to my final event where I'll bring together voices from my workshops and various conversations. There will be some spoken word poetry, storytelling and video this Saturday, June 28 at Our Town Cafe at 7pm. There’s a hunger here for these discussions and I hope my time here starts more conversations in Vancouver.

Check out some photos from my workshops at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and Heartwood Community Cafe. Heartwood is a beautiful space that focuses on community building and social justice, so check it out if you have a chance!

I'm off to Vancouver: building bridges as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence

I have some very exciting news to share with you. I’ll be taking part in the Vancouver Biennale's artist-in-residence program in June! The Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit organization that celebrates art in public space. Over the next two years, the group is inviting 92 artists from around the world to come to Vancouver to create public art and dialogue. Some of the incredible artists include, Ai Weiwei and Jonathan Borofsky.

The theme of this Biennale is Open Borders/Vancouver Crossroads, and the residency program is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech.

I have many dreams for change, freedom and equality.

I’m planning to lead numerous creative and hands-on spoken word poetry workshops, which will culminate in a public event and dialogue at the end of the month. In particular, I’m focusing on bringing together voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), Christian and feminist communities.

There is often a lack of dialogue and understanding between these groups, and I’m interested in helping foster conversations and peacebuilding through spoken word. There are many bridges and connections to be built.

My purpose is to create spaces in which people can openly and freely share their stories through poetry. I also hope the workshops and event help participants see ways they can use their voices as a tool for social change in their own lives and communities. We understand the world around us through stories, which helps us to grow, learn and be challenged.

Let's bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also want people to sit in the complexities, messiness and ask questions.

This dialogue is not about finding the answers, but living the questions and mutually learning from one another. Change takes time, but I believe it begins when we listen to one another and come to recognize our similarities and common humanity. I really hope participants will be open to having these important conversations.

Change is happening and it’s exciting to be part of the movement and dialogue. 

Last month, I spoke to high school students at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA) conference. When I was a student at a Catholic high school, I could’ve never imagined having a GSA or attending one of these conferences. It was amazing to see these students step out in courageous ways, and create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ people.

I'm excited to see what's happening in Vancouver and to hear people's stories. If you are in Vancouver and would like to be part of this dialogue, please be in touch at jenna.tennyuk@gmail.com. I hope we can build some connections and bridges together.

“ I have a dream that one day… we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)