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Share the Story

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"We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced."
--Malala Yousafzai

A person's story is one of the most sacred pieces of themselves. To share it is to be made vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to be transparent and honest about one's story. Yet it is only through stories that we can begin to talk about topics such as race, gender, sexuality, and other minority issues on a humanistic level. It is through stories that we begin to bridge gaps.

As the LGBT community's civil rights movement continues, we have seen that stories have shifted people's worldviews -- which often hinge on religion. But regardless of anyone's religious interpretations, we have seen that churches all around the world usually talk about LGBT folks on a theoretical level instead of taking a humanistic approach.

I've share pieces of my story; I've made changes in my church.

A little over a year ago I wrote my first blog post on HuffPost, "I'm a Seventh-Gay Adventist." It got 1,300 Facebook "likes," a lot for a first-time blogger, and emails quickly flooded my inbox -- stories. Although each was unique and different from my own story, they all had common themes. Something about the message being put out by the Seventh-day Adventist church had led these LGBT folks to have mental illness, attempt suicide, or be cast out of their homes. I was thanked for being their voice, for sharing my story.

Since then, I've been blogging about what it means when religion and sexual orientation or gender identity intersect in the Seventh-day Adventist church and the overall evangelical Christian community. Two years ago I helped start the first unofficial gay-straight alliance support group at Andrews University. In the spring of 2012, I co-founded the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition (IAGC), a student-led organization working to bridge the gap between our Seventh-day Adventist faith-based institutions and the LGBTQ students who are in attendance.

Currently, the IAGC has members from Pacific Union College, Andrews University, Walla Walla University, La Sierra University, Southern Adventist University, and Washington Adventist University, with more campuses soon to follow. Together we are creating a network of unofficial gay-straight alliances from different Adventist campuses to provide resources, programs, and support for each campus individually, as well to the higher education system itself. Plans include yearly programs and events, including educational scholarships, educational tools and resources, and projects for awareness.

This month we have begun raising funds for our latest campaign, Share the Story. This campaign is the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition's first official print series. We are collecting stories of current and former Seventh-day Adventist students who have shared vulnerable, honest pieces of their lives. By creating personalized packets of each individual's story, Share the Story will humanize a topic that our church has continually spoken about in only a theoretical fashion.

I've seen the power of stories in films such as Seventh-Gay Adventist: A Film About Faith on the Margins and God Loves Uganda. Both deal with religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and the damage that a single narrative has caused in the Seventh-day Adventist church and internationally in Uganda. Stories are powerful, and they are tools for change.

We are creating a platform for Seventh-day Adventist queer students (and hopefully for students in other denominations soon) to share their stories, wherever they may fall on the spectra of theology, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We're not out to change anyone's theology; we have no "agenda" other than to share stories. This is a no-strings-attached campaign to put faces behind the conversations being had so carelessly in our churches, homes, and schools.

We've begun to collect stories. We work with hundreds of queer Seventh-day Adventist students. Ironically, for some students at these seven universities, our unofficial GSAs have become the only safe spaces they have at their disposable. We've recently seen the power of LGBT students' stories at Calvin College. We're trying to change the cultures of campuses that have become the front lines of the gay debates. Our stories will create a paradigm shift. Change is happening within our religious communities, and it all starts with a story.

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The IAGC has just launched an indiegogo campaign for the first-ever print series for the Share the Story campaign.

In the spirit of Jesus' ministry of love and Paul's directive in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to be ambassadors of reconciliation, the Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition (IAGC) seeks to promote understanding, compassion, education, awareness and community for those who wish to integrate their faith with their sexual and gender identities. Therefore, IAGC is a student-run organization that seeks to bridge the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community and the Seventh-day Adventist community within the academic setting. The members of the IAGC strive to create a community of fellowship that affirms diversity while sowing seeds of love.