Religion and faith have undoubtedly played a significant role in the history of the Black community and the lives of many Black LGBT people. Taking place May 15-17 in Atlanta, the Metropolitan Community Churches Conference for People of African Descent, Our Friends and Allies seeks to unpack that legacy and bridge the gaps between race, faith, and sexuality. ELIXHER got the chance to chat with Rev. Candy Holmes, the MCC People of African Conference Chair and MCC Program Officer for People of African Descent. Rev. Holmes, who oversees all the conference planning and implementation, talks about what attendees can expect and her personal journey.
ELIXHER: When and why was the People of African Descent Conference created?
REV. CANDY HOLMES: It was created by Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in 1998 as a vehicle to help lift up people of African descent—a way to bridge people of African descent within MCC and people of African descent of faith, community workers, and organizations interested in human rights.
ELIXHER: Can you tell us a bit about MCC’s particular focus on advocacy and social justice?
REV. HOLMES: MCC is a vanguard denomination always working within the LGBT communities, not just faith communities but the overall LGBT community. Our sweet spot historically has been being the church for the LGBT community. It has now expanded beyond LGBT and faith issues to human rights. There’s a strong perspective around seeing sexuality and spirituality as gifts that are meant to be intertwined therefore we work with a lot of other denominations and organizations around the world around justice and human rights issues. We serve as a faith voice for LGBTQI people. It’s a part of our values and vision.
ELIXHER: What can conference attendees expect?
REV. HOLMES: The conference is where LGBT, faith and race connect. Attendees can expect a lot of dynamic happenings. For instance, our plenaries are filled of dynamic speakers speaking to topics related to people of African descent and LGBT people. [Baltimore’s] Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas will be speaking to how far we’ve come as people. The theme is “Be the change” and our speakers are taking their cue from that theme. There’s a rally call. The first day is about looking at ourselves—how far have we have come as individuals and preparing ourselves for change. Folks that come will be able to hear these speakers and participate in breakout sessions. On the second day, we move from the internal to the external. Our speakers will lay out Jesus and justice and why they’re connected. We have a panel about intersectional justice.
Outside of the programming, which will be powerful and inspiring, we’ll have worship services. [Stone Mountain, GA’s] Dr. Kenneth Samuel is kicking us off and setting the tone. We also have Bishop Tonyia Rawls. There’s a music and arts event Saturday night. [San Francisco’s] Bishop Yvette Flunder will be special musical guest. We’ll just be lifting up of your spirit, helping provide insight and inspiration.
ELIXHER: A lot of Black LGBTQ people have experienced a lot of trauma at the hands of the Black Church. What message do you have for those people who are still healing?
REV. HOLMES: That’s a very personal question because I was one of those people and sometimes I’m still one of those people. My personal journey around that has helped me be who I am today. So I really understand and have a lot of compassion for people who struggle around their faith and being LGBTQ. My message would be to hold on to your faith. Our faith and God’s love for us are intertwined. There’s no separation. What someone else says cannot separate you from God. We must hold on to that and then find supportive, affirming places where we can feel that support and learn about how we are divinely made. God did not make any mistakes when we were born. That was a gift to world. Our challenge is to learn who we are and what we can bring to the world. For me, that’s why the People of African Descent Conference is so important. All those things come together. As people of African descent, we have some unique issues that we bring with us. The conference helps unpack that—some of the burdens—and creates healing. We need spaces where we can be all of who we are and all of who God intended.
Registration for the MCC Conference for People of African Descent, Our Allies and Friends is still open. Everyone is welcome. Student, senior, and day rates are available. Register here.