A member of a Summerside, P.E.I., church is speaking out against a social media post he calls "homophobic," and looking for a new faith community.
In the post, the Summerside Community Church directed its followers to a June 17 webinar offering "practical advice for parents and grandparents to protect children from what's happening during Pride Month."
The event included B.C. pastor Kevin Cavanaugh interviewing Wilna Van Beek, author of When Gay Comes Home, who details her journey working against her same-sex attractions by embracing Jesus instead.
Stephen MacIsaac is a member of P.E.I.'s LBGTQ community and has been attending Summerside Community Church for several years. He said he was shocked and hurt by the post.
"The post they shared on Facebook is very homophobic in my eyes, and leans a lot towards conversion therapy," said MacIsaac.
Conversion therapy refers to practices which seek to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change an individual's gender identity to cisgender, or to change their gender expression to match the sex they were assigned at birth.
It has been banned in P.E.I. since 2019 and was made illegal in Canada in 2021.
"I'm disappointed, you know, that the leaders of the church that you look up to and you go to when you need someone, some comfort — knowing that this is how they view myself and everybody in the community is very disheartening," said MacIsaac.
MacIsaac has been sharing his own message of love and acceptance on his social media pages following the post — and he even had a shirt made to promote that message while he's out in the community. The T-shirt reads "LGBTQ+ or Straight, Jesus Loves All."
He said he is now looking for a new church to join, where he will feel welcomed for who he is.
"If I'd realized this is how they view people in my situation, I would never have gone to that church," said MacIsaac.
"They can apologize, but I still know how they feel. So they would be wasting their breath. I won't be back."
'We trust God's design'
A leader at the Summerside Community Church isn't offering any apologies for the post, which has since been removed from the church's website and social media.
Pastor Tracy Linkletter told CBC News the purpose of the webinar was to provide a space for conversation on sexuality and gender from a Christian perspective. She said everyone is welcome to attend her church.
"We understand that, you know, people come from different different views of life. We understand that," said Linkletter. "But we do also understand that, like, we're Christian, so we trust God's design for sexuality and gender. And that's what we stand on, is his design. But we welcome everyone to hear Jesus's life-saving and life-changing message."
Linkletter wouldn't specify what she means by "God's design on sexuality and gender," or share her church's views on conversion therapy.
"There's just so much around the issue of conversion therapy that I'd prefer not to comment any further on that," said Linkletter.
She said the church has received mixed feedback on its posting about the event, and she understands that some people — including those outside her church community — aren't happy with the post.
We always say, "There's lots of churches and we recommend you find a place that you feel safe and that you feel at home." That's very important to us.- Pastor Tracy Linkletter
When told that at least one member of her congregation plans to find a new place of worship, Linkletter said sometimes that happens.
"We're an open community, we're a loving community, and we recognize that people, you know, at times, you know, might realise this is not the place," said Linkletter.
"And we always say, 'There's lots of churches and we recommend you find a place that you feel safe and that you feel at home.' That's very important to us."
Confusion and concern
For Scott Alan, youth program coordinator at PEERS Alliance, a group that supports members of the LGBTQ+ community, the tone of the Summerside Community Church post caused some confusion — and concern.
"We were kind of wondering what they were meaning by, you know, 'how to protect children,'" said Alan.
"They are more than welcome to have their beliefs. What concerns us more is when they start pushing those beliefs on society and making us all try to follow their personal rules and beliefs. We just like to let people be who they are and express themselves freely and openly and celebrate that," said Alan.
He said it's disappointing to see a church imply children need protection from a celebration of diverse gender identities.
"I grew up always believing that church was a place for people to experience love and community and acceptance. So to see the complete reverse from a church is a little bit upsetting," said Alan.
He pointed out that a recent article in the Canadian Medical Journal reported that youth who are trans and queer are five times more likely to have suicidal ideation than young people who aren't. They're also much more likely to attempt suicide, the article said.
It's vital to have safe spaces where people are celebrated for who they are, Alan said.
"What do you think Jesus would do?" said Alan.
"Would He cast the first stone? Or would He love and accept our community for who we are in hopes that the Holy Spirit would work through us? And that's literally what I would ask them," he said.
How to get help
If you are considering suicide and need immediate help, or you know someone who needs immediate help, here are some resources.
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, or text through their website.
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 or text (45645)
- P.E.I. Helpline: 1-800-218-2885.