A teen pride event at a Naples church Saturday that included a drag show is drawing attention.
The London-based tabloid Daily Mail, the Washington Examiner and Florida’s Voice, a Southwest Florida media outlet, are among those who have reported on the Youth Pride Conference for LGBTQ+ teens Saturday at Naples United Church of Christ.
The kerfuffle is over a conference that its organizers say is meant to educate youth from sixth to 12th grade on issues facing them.
Issues that will be addressed range from “LGBTQ mental health issues facing students, inclusive sex education, since they aren’t provided with that in school, lots of different topics that are important for these kids,” said Daniel Selvey Shaw, representative for GLSEN Collier County, a support organization for LGBTQ+ students.
Although the title originally stood for Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, the organization now goes simply by its acronym, GLSEN, pronounced “glisten.”
The Rev. Dr. David Greenhaw, retired president of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, is interim pastor at Naples United Church of Christ, 5200 Crayton Road.
He and Shaw answered questions about Saturday’s gathering:
Naples Daily News: Was the departure of the previous pastor, the Rev. Dawson Taylor, Ph.D., at Naples United Church of Christ, on May 15 the result of a furor over the upcoming conference?
Church and GLSEN: No, said Greenhaw, who said he was talked into making himself “a failure at retirement” months ago as Taylor’s temporary replacement.
“I got a call from a longtime friend and board member who’s a member of the church in late February saying their minister was going to be leaving at the end of May after being on staff for eight years, six years as senior minister,” Greenshaw said. “It was a choice that he made to leave. He wasn’t fired or anything like that.
“His process in deciding to leave has absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing to do with the GLSEN group. That is pure rumor.”
The actual reason Taylor chose to leave this year is something best shared by him, Greenhaw said, but added, “If I were to say one thing it’s been extremely difficult on clergy to lead congregations during the pandemic. The stress on clergy has been everywhere. It’s been hard.”
His observation aligns with a recent study by the Barna Group, which specializes in studying faith and culture issues. Among the pastors interviewed, 38 percent had considered quitting the ministry in 2021.
The Daily News was not able to reach Taylor for a comment, however.
NDN: Why is the church sponsoring this conference?
Church and GLSEN: It’s not. The GLSEN Youth Pride Conference is sponsored by that organization.
“We lease the space. We paid for the personnel. While the church absolutely supports the mission of our organization, they are simply facilitators by reason of the rental agreement we’ve entered into,” Shaw said.
“We don’t have reason at the moment not to trust them to continue what appears to be good work in the community,” Greenhaw said.
NDN: The drag show?
Church and GLSEN: “It’s no different than what you’d find at a local Naples Pride or Fort Myers Pride or Cape Coral Pride event that families are at all the time. I take my 3- and 4-year-old sons to these because they’re fun and entertaining,” Shaw said. “They’re making it sound like a drag show that is this big taboo show.”
The entire event has been planned with students, he said.
“These kids need it, especially now that they’re trying to force any queer-related issues out of the schools, as if they’re ‘less than.’ Trying to make them feel more excluded. Scaring them to come out. Trying to keep teachers from offering safe spaces,” Shaw said. “Nobody’s really supporting these kids and they’re being left in the dust.”
Greenhaw said that from its perspective, the church has never had a problem with events GLSEN has held on its property,
“It wouldn’t be something I would do, but then I didn’t put the program together.”
That said, Greenhaw reaffirmed the church’s theology as an inclusive one.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw even became involved, responding on Twitter to a question about how a church is holding a drag show for middle schoolers.
“The church leadership is organizing it. It’s a ‘progressive church.’ So I would suggest you ask @dawsonbtaylor,” Pushaw tweeted May 12.
Conservative media outlets have especially focused on whether Collier County Public Schools would be busing students to the event.
NDN: Are or were Collier County Public Schools providing support for the conference?
Church and GLSEN: No, they never were, according to Shaw. News media contacted the school district about the original form, which designated two schools as pickup points for students who need transportation, and an official e-mailed the group telling them to change their form.
“I spoke with the school districts and informed them we never planned on being on the school campuses,” Shaw said. “But because these are students and a school is a focal central landmark, we were using the front of the school as a pickup point.
“We never planned to be on campus. We know we’re not supposed to do that.”
The negative publicity has been frustrating, Shaw said.
“We’ve had a dream of doing this since we founded the local GLSEN chapter in Collier County five or six years ago,” he said. “But there’s not been a time in the last few years when it’s been more important.”