“When I was growing up,” says Kerry Wiessmann, “I was taught that God is love and I felt like what we need to do is help everybody understand that… God’s greatest gift to us is love and that we need to cherish it with every form that love takes.” With that leading, Kerry has worked steadily since the late 1980s to help her meeting in State College, Pennsylvania, define itself as a welcoming and affirming place for the LGBTQ+ community.
(Note: This interview includes references to death by suicide.) Need support? Reach out: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
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So it was about six years ago that there had been a teen in town who died by suicide, and there had been a number of suicides across the country of LGBT people that were noteworthy and got a lot of publicity. There was nothing when you came into town, absolutely nothing, that would let you believe or know that LGBT people are welcome here, and that was a real problem. I think once you’ve lived here for a long time– I know lots of LGBT-affirming people, right? But because this is a town of transitions because of the university it was really important that we do something to make it clear that LGBT people are welcome here, that we affirm LGBT people, and it gets better.
Creating Visible Support For LGBTQ+ Folks
My name is Kerry Wiessmann and I live in State College, PA, and surprise surprise, my meeting is State College Friends Meeting.
So I feel that my faith definitely completely inspires my work on behalf of LGBT people and in search of equality and equity. So, it’s definitely that testimony that is a driving force.
Work Within the Meeting
I have done a lot of work with our meeting from 1989, I would say, until maybe… 2005 would be when we did our last minute that was affirming trans people. So the first minute that we did was about affirming the civil rights of every person, including lesbian and gay people and bisexual people. And then the next one we did was an affirmation of marriage stating that we would marry– and it was actually pretty extensive. Ministry and Worship worked a lot on it, so that was our second minute, and then our third one was affirming– reaffirming both of our first two statements and including trans people. So that was perhaps the first bit of activism we did, and I will say that having this extended sort of family of support, knowing people love us here and value us here, made it easy to sue the school district.
LGBTQ+ Activism Outside of Meeting
My wife and I had sued the school district because they wouldn’t provide her with health insurance, but they were providing heterosexual couples who lived together but who were not legally married with health insurance, but they wouldn’t do it for her because of her gender. The ACLU took the case and they helped us. It was a clear gender discrimination case, and so we had won that case and along with winning that case, 6 different policies for staff and faculty and students were changed to be affirming to LGBT people.
“God is Love”
My faith, you know, when I was growing up was taught that God is love and I felt like what we need to do is help everybody understand that God is love and that God’s greatest gift to us is love and that we need to cherish it with every form that love, true love, takes. So, it’s very much a part of the work that I do.
- 1) What does the phrase “God is Love” mean to you personally? If it resonates with you, how do you carry that message forward?
- 2) What does activism/work look like in your own meeting or community?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.