Meet the LGBT angels changing preconceptions
As London swelters outside and dusty ambulances and buses careen past, we’re in the cool, peaceful calm of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.
It’s overseen by the Reverend Dawn Cole-Savidge. Instantly affable and confident, with a cascade of blue green hair and a sparkling silver dog collar, she perhaps doesn’t match many people’s image of the average reverend.
But she’s by no means an average reverend. She and Luke Dowding, the eloquent and thoughtful young Chairperson of the Christians at Pride Committee, are working to make the Christian faith a welcoming place to young LGBTQ people, and to change the public’s preconceptions on Christianity. They’ll be doing that this Saturday as part of Pride in London’s official parade.
In between taking pictures of beautiful angels Fifi and Simon, we chatted to Luke and Dawn about everything from their experiences marching at pride as a faith group, to what other people in Christianity make of their endeavours.
Hey guys! SO tell our readers a bit about what you do.
LUKE: Our primary focus is to not only to provide an inclusive and affirming message when at pride, but also to provide a safe space for LGBT Christians to be a part of as well. We’ve noticed that those who come to Pride in London, who participate in the Christians at Pride group, are actually from outside of London, and see it almost as a pilgrimage. Celebrating both their sexuality or gender identity, and their faith. We’re an overtly Christian, and also overtly positive image on the day. Because we acknowledge that actually more often than not, the Christian message is deeply negative, and deeply hurtful towards people who are LGBT. Even on the day of pride itself, they have Christian protestors there. We want to be contrary to that voice, and we want to share what we passionately believe is the message of Christianity, which is one of love.
Have you guys ever been in a situation where you’ve encountered those protestors?
DAWN: Well over the years, we’ve tried to engage with them in conversation, to talk to them about why they’re there and what they’re feeling. We try to stand relatively close to them, so that we can have conversations in a loving way. It was very hot last year, so we actually offered them water.
And did they take it?
LUKE: Some did. Others preferred dehydration. The positive outcome of that was that they left quite early.
It’s a strange paradox because you’re in the same group as them in some ways, but totally different in other ways.
LUKE: One of our members Natalie told us that last year, she went out clubbing in Soho after the parade, still wearing her Christians at Pride t-shirt and people presumed she was one of the negative protestors. So by association we often get lumped into that.
So do people in the LGBT community often just assume negative things?
LUKE: Yeah, and we’re ok with that. Because there’s a need for the church to take responsibility for the injustices that it’s put upon the LGBT community. But we do try hard to offer a different voice and a different message, and by having two big angels in wedding dresses with a “GOD IS LOVE” banner, I think we’re signposting that we’re not part of that group.
DAWN: When people come up to you and they make the assumption that you’re negative…we want to be able to challenge that assumption, and let them know that there are people within the church and within faith – any faith – who do love you, we’re one of you, we’re part of the LGBT community as well. We love you, God is love.
LUKE: Last year, Fifi lost count of how many hugs she gave out to people, and she was blowing kisses into the crowd. It’s actually that fun element, and that sincerity, that tells people “this is not a gimmick, it’s intrinsically part of our faith.”
What’s the response from young people been like?
LUKE: On the day of the parade, we always get great responses. We have people who are willing to have fun and we embrace that, and embrace what pride can mean. I think pride is about the challenge and about seeking justice, but I also think it’s about celebration. As Christians, we believe that we’re all made in the image of God. That’s an intrinsic part of our faith. So that means that every LGBT person, however they represent or show themselves to the world. I think having people dressed up in angel costumes, showing that love and that playfulness, is really important.
So Dawn, you’re the reverend here…tell us a bit more about this church and what you guys do.
DAWN: Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church has been here for 170 years – we have our anniversary next week. The church itself has always been one that has challenged the powers, challenged the church. We’ve stood up on justice issues a lot of the time, and we took the decision to register for same sex marriage a few years ago. Luke was the first to get married here, and I did the wedding, which was exciting. We have in our heritage and history and culture to challenge the status quo. We’re just very proud to continue to do that. This is one of the things that we believe is important. We should be showing God’s love. And that is demonstrated by being as open and inclusive as possible. To everyone.
Christians at Pride will be marching in Pride in London’s parade on Saturday 7th July. You can look out for them on Instagram under the hashtag #ChristiansAtPride. You can also follow Luke on Twitter and Instagram at @lukadowding and Dawn @dsavvi.
There’s a special pride service on 7th July at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church (WC2H 8EP) from 6pm, with guest speak Lady Phyll.