Writing about a more or less secret event is hard. The rules were clear. We were to repeat nothing said in the small groups. How then to let it trickle down?
I am of course writing about the ‘Cascade conversations’ recently held by the SEC. The secrecy rules were imposed in what one is led to believe was an attempt to make the conversations safe. I have already blogged here about the mistakes made in confusing secrecy with confidentiality.
So what can I usefully say about the process, in which I took part by means of the conversation in Ayr? There were undoubtable people of good will at it. The process began with three people addressing the plenary session concerning their experiences of same sex relationships. There is no doubt that at least a few people were genuinely moved by the kindness, openness and the readiness to make themselves vulnerable of the gay people and those with gay relations who spoke. And there is no doubt at all that those who spoke in that session were most generous with their experiences. Of course the cost was born by those prepared to speak about being gay and having gay people in their family. It is always less costly to be saying that you think gay people should just suffer without a long term supportive spouse, however sincerely you believe this.
The meeting then broke into small groups, which is where things were far less comfortable. Each small group will of course have been different, and each facilitator had different skills, or lack of them. In the group I was allocated, the person with the best skills as a facilitator was not the person facilitating, although they did do a great deal to make the group run smoothly. The people in the group did not, in the most part, have any idea of how to phrase things so as to make that group a safe space, and nothing was done to help them do so.
Again, there were people of good will in the group, but there was also a great deal of language about ‘them’ [gay people] and ‘their’ experiences. At no point did the group feel like a safe space to me. At one point somebody was in tears, as a direct result of what had been said to them. Nothing was done to address this situation.
The best moment of the day (for me) was when, in the closing plenary session, the use of ‘they’ was as long last challenged. Too little, too late. The whole event was predicated on the belief that it was fine to ask anybody anywhere on the LGBT spectrum to bear the whole cost of the day with no visible support at all – not even the support of going home and finding a loving shoulder to cry upon, given the demand that what was said was kept confidential.
Mine was not, therefore, a happy experience, and I know that some of the gay people at that meeting left it very upset indeed.
I have no idea how this was supposed to trickle down. If others shared my unhappy experience, all they will have been able to do (as far as I can understand it) is to come away and tell their churches that they went and that they did not enjoy it. Not a cascade, more of a muddy trickle