A Queenscliff church is standing up for equality with a special project designed to raise awareness of gay rights.
Uniting Church ministers Kerry Lingham and Charles Gallacher, parents to twin gay sons, would also like people to know that, whatever their sexual orientation, the doors to their church are open wide.
For Grovedale teenager, Fraser Wragg, that news could not come soon enough.
Having left his family’s Geelong church and Christian school because he felt ashamed, uncomfortable and unwelcome for being gay, the feeling of having church support and acceptance was almost overwhelming, he said.
“I spent my youth feeling nothing but shame, and I started to get very depressed and suicidal,” Fraser said.
“Going to church I didn’t feel welcome because of people’s attitudes towards the gay community, and I started self-harming because I didn’t want to live any more. I got the message that it wasn’t normal, that it wasn’t right, that I wasn’t right.”
On leaving the church and then school at the start of Year 11, his mental health began to improve. A loving relationship has boosted his self-esteem even further.
“I’m the happiest now I’ve ever been in my life,” Fraser said.
Fraser’s mother, Sue Wragg, was also heavily involved in the church and a presenter with a Geelong Christian radio station at the time of Fraser’s coming out.
She also felt unwelcome.
“When I told people (in the church community) Fraser was gay, they’d say ‘oh, I’m so sorry’, like he had some terrible disease … people deleted us from Facebook.”
Ms Wragg also left the church, in support of her son.
“We just felt like we shouldn’t be in church any more with the attitudes of other Christians.
“It just destroyed my faith, it really did,” she said.
The acceptance of homosexuality in the Queenscliff Uniting Church “blew her mind”, Ms Wragg said.
Mr Gallacher said a special community arts project for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or Idaho Day, began with an artists’ workshop on Saturday and would continue this weekend with an exhibition.
A church service on Sunday picked up on the Idaho theme, he said.
A large sculpture made of branches spelling the word “equality” will be on display at the church, with people given the opportunity to write messages of support which could be tied to the wood.
“We are hoping to raise awareness around the issues of homophobia.
“We want to care for families who are feeling left out of things because they have a son or a daughter who is gay,” Mr Gallacher said.
“We want to offer a sense of inclusion and openness to the community and to the wider church, because we know the church can have a reputation for not being that inclusive.”
Ms Lingham said the church had a duty to accept and care for all people.
“The church actually should be the most inclusive community in society for everyone,” she said.
“Jesus, as a person, who our faith is founded on, was always with people on the margins.
“He got himself into trouble, actually got himself killed, for being the most loving, compassionate person. I think we are trying to say that story is the real Christian story.”