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Gukwa̲s sa Wagalus: Rainbow House

Minute for Mission - presented by Bruce Curtis during the worship service

Comox United, Pride Sunday, August 20, 2023

Good Morning, I am Bruce Curtis, and I would like to speak with you about Gukwa̲s sa Wagalus: House of the Rainbow, or Rainbow House.

Rainbow House is a partnership between the K’omoks First Nation, the Kumugwe Cultural Society, Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness and the Pride Society of Comox Valley. This partnership is building a unique, supported housing project, for Indigenous and non-indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA+ young people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, in the Comox Valley.

The home will be based on the concept of a peer-supported, co-operative, safe housing facility that also offers skill development to meet each resident’s specific needs and support their transition into becoming confident and contributing members of the community.

The Comox Valley model has been developed in full consultation with the partner groups, the potential residents, the broader LGBTQ+ community and the BC Government’s homelessness reduction strategies ministries. Gukwa̲s sa Wagalus is a unique approach in Canada, maybe even in North America.

There is a lot of passion in our community to see this project realized. There have been a number of hghly successful fundraisers in our community already, including a very successful weekend last spring that included a screening of “The Empress of Vancouver” on one night, followed by a sold-out Drag show the next night featuring three performers from Vancouver. The only shadow on these events was a small gathering of Christian churches protesting the event and its purposes. What was particularly gratifying was the planning the organizing group had put into its contingency plan – in case of such protests, a groups of supporters had arrived with Angel costumes, including huge wings so that when they stood together in front of the protesters they were unable to be seen from the guests entering the theatre.

It was the same strategy adopted for the murder trial in Laramie Wyoming in 1998 after Matthe Shepherd had been brutally murdered by two roofing workers beating and then tying him to a fence, where he was left to freeze and die in the winter night. Shepard was gay, and his 1998 murder cast a light on the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ community in Wyoming and more broadly across the United States.

Life sentences were given to the two young men who carried out the murder and the event led to the passing of the first piece of American federal hate crime legislation — the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act — which was signed into law in 2009.

The project is well on its way: a suitable property has been identified and the owner has permitted the beginning of the renovations that are needed to accommodate the residents and the live-in staff and peer support. Not surprisingly in these days of runaway real estate price increases and inflation, the project will require about $1.2M for the capital costs. Annual operating costs have be assured by government contributions.

By supporting this project, Comox United could begin to actualize its oft expressed desire to build a stronger relationship with the Reconciliation movement and the First Nations community as well as strengthening its Affirming relationship with the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community and with youth. In short, this moment for mission could be a win-win-win-win-win for the renewal of Comox United as hoped for with the strategic planning for fully implementing our mission statement and the welcoming of Karen as our new minister.

Rarely does a project arise that so marvellously aligns with our church’s desire for outreach and wonderfully connects to our asserted values:

- Spirituality – part of the role of the live-in peer support workers is to be an open ear, ready to discuss matters of concern to the residents that likely include spirituality in any of a variety of forms – Indigenous, Western, and/or other secular spirituality.

- Openness – the intention is that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth will have the opportunity to become familiar with each other and develop the underlying skills of acceptance, affirmation, and understanding,

- Care for the Common Good – by providing developmental skills workshops and other guidance, residents will be able to move on to productive lives that will see them becoming contributing members of the community,

- Radical Love - is unconditional love. It’s given freely without having to be earned and regardless of what’s received in return. Radical love means wanting what’s best for our friends and doing what we can to help cultivate that. It could take the form of providing a listening ear, or offering honest feedback when they voice their personal disappointments. Radical love isn’t always upbeat or easy, but it does always aim to accept and support another individual as their complete self.

When the fundraising plans have been finalized, it is my hope you will urge the Social Justice Committee, the Affirming Ministry Committee, and the Comox United Church Council to engage with this project in a most significant manner.