By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Unlearn prejudices of past to unlock pride of present

Unlearning old notions and prejudices about race, sexuality, patriarchy and human interaction in general is as important as learning new ones. This process is essential to moving forward.

That was much in evidence Sunday during a Pride Month event I wanted to experience for myself — the Pride Sunday service at McMinnville First Baptist Church, whose congregation is actively striving to unlearn certain past prejudices.

When my father enrolled at Linfield in 1947, chapel was mandatory. That reflected a firm association with the American Baptist denomination.

Ties to the Baptist organization have greatly loosened since.

By the time of my own Linfield days, 1977-80, chapel was no longer mandatory, and I had no sense of a strong Baptist connection. In fact, Linfield was derided by its rivals, somewhat unfairly, as a party school.

I was mindful of Linfield’s heritage as I attended the Pride Sunday service June 25. After all, Linfield was known as Baptist College at the time of its 19th century founding, and was located where First Baptist stands now, at Northeast First and Cowls.

Rev. Erika Marksbury led a service featuring testimonials from LGBTQ members of the congregation, including a man who has been with First Baptist for 30 years. Stories were shared by gay and trans members of the congregation, and an ally who supported a child and grandchild who came out or transitioned.

Marksbury pointed to a blackboard on which members had written feelings or ideas they need to unlearn — an exercise that goes beyond Pride Month, as a way of informing the congregation about ongoing programs, sermons and studies. Emphasizing the spirit of inclusivity is further example of how the Baptist congregation has, for decades, embodied the spirit and action of being “open and affirming.”

Speakers recounted the pain and duress of hiding or denying their true selves, and the importance of allies such as faith communities in helping them overcome self-doubt and self-suppression.

As one speaker said — all but two asked that their names not be used — “At one point, your desire for authenticity becomes stronger than your fear of the unknown.”

Learn and unlearning starts young.

“Humans make mistakes and people apologize or make amends, and it’s OK to feel shame for things you might have done, but you should never feel shame for who you are,” youth minister Sean Williams told the children during the children’s time.

He asked the kids, “What is the opposite of shame?” A 10-year-old immediately responded, “Pride.”

First Baptist has helped foster a ministry, and now support group, for LGBTQ members of the community. Known as Together Works, it meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays and can be reached at

One of the founders said, “We give people a place to hang out — a place to be themselves under an all-encompassing rainbow, to accept themselves as good and wonderful beings. Yet we should never forget even as we embrace love for all that we still need to fight for our rights to live as our authentic selves.”

The personal stories told Sunday were powerful.

Jack spoke of coming out, and marrying Christopher, the start of a six-year process of reconnecting with his own parents, and going to a family dinner not knowing if his reluctant father would appear. His father showed up, embraced them both, and continues to.

“I had to unlearn all the stories I’d told about myself,” Jack said. “It is never too late to embrace your true self.”

Christopher spoke of his involvement nearly 30 years ago with an “ex-gay ministry” that he came to realize was ill-conceived and harmful, saying, “I have yet to meet anyone who is truly ‘ex-gay.’”

Many people he met had attempted to end their own lives. He said, “The thinking was, ‘After all, if God can’t or won’t change you, then what hope do you have?’”

Christopher began to question “the very foundation of the ex-gay ministry.”

“The more I explored my own feelings and my lived experiences, the more I realized that my sexual orientation was who I am, and the only thing that was wrong with me was that I thought something was wrong with me,” he said. “That was the only thing.”

Another speaker, who was born a female but has long since transitioned, said he found First Baptist and its support group “loving, caring and respectful,” after being shunned as an “abomination” by another local faith community.

One night, he and his partner were out walking and noticed they were being followed by a young man. He said, “I turned and asked, ‘What do you want, brother?’

“He had long hair, stood about 6’6” and was very intimidating. And he said, ‘I know who you are, and I want you to come to Together Works.’

“That was the first time I realized there was a group of people who truly loved and accepted us. We have been here now over 30 years.”

Together Works began meeting in the mid-1980s as a ministry to adults caught in the throes of the AIDS epidemic. As one speaker noted, it was “when people were dying, there were no funds for a cure and we were alone except for our allies.”

“It’s important to remember why the our group was founded and the era it was founded in,” she said. She credited First Baptist’s Bernie Turner with helping them get through it, “with the love he felt for his young gay and lesbian parishioners.”

She said, “For many of us, it was a time of fear. But at First Baptist, it was a time of love, even though we couldn’t come out and we were covering our windows here at the church when we met, out of fear.”

Together Works evolved into a support group for all. It is no longer tied to ministry or religion.

A man who was born a female and came out at 13 became the first youth to join Together Works, and it set him on a life-changing course.

His mother said, “He was immediately welcomed. No one asked why he was there, what he was. There wasn’t any self-whatever, just, ‘We’re glad you are here and you are welcome to be here.’”

She went on to say, “I was welcome, too. They put up with an old woman with old ideas.

“He was able to come out and started dressing like a guy. Kids grew more accepting.

“He was OK with walking downtown as a boy; eventually found a partner. At 18, he had top surgery — a major relief, physically and emotionally.”

She said, “He wants to be the best person he can be, and now he’s thinking of becoming a teacher. He wants to make sure kids grow up knowing they don’t have to be like everyone else and can still have a place in this world no matter what — and to give parents a chance to adjust their thinking even when they are old.

“He’s being what he needs to be — a 21-year-old who is making his way in the world without his mom.”

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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