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‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit celebrates LGBTQ+ diversity

The ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit will debut at Ripley Chapel at First Congregational Church, 21 Dix St., on June 1 and run through June 9. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/NELL ESCOBAR COAKLEY

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What does the face of the trans and non-binary community look like? A new exhibit at Ripley Chapel hopes to answer that question and more.

“Authentic Selves: Celebrating Trans and Nonbinary People and Their Families,” is on view at the First Congregational Church, 21 Dix St., weekdays, 9 a.m.– 3 p.m. and Sunday afternoons, from June 1 until June 9, with no registration required.

Associate Pastor the Rev. Maeve Hammond hopes the ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit will bring residents to Ripley Chapel to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/NELL ESCOBAR COAKLEY

The exhibit — one of eight traveling photo shows put together by Family Diversity Projects of Western Mass. — uses “stunning photography and rich stories to challenge damaging myths and stereotypes about trans and nonbinary people, educate people about these communities, and help make the world a safer, more connected, and more empathetic place.”

Associate Pastor the Rev. Maeve Hammond said she was first introduced to Family Diversity Projects when she attended the Southern New England UCC conference in October 2023. The conference was focused on trans and nonbinary belonging.

She immediately thought of bringing the exhibit to Winchester.

“First, the space is gorgeous,” she said, of Ripley Chapel, which was renovated in 2019 and hosts a bevy of monthly concerts, talks and other exhibits through Ripley Presents. “The church is a patron of the arts so it’s really uplifting to have artists and storytellers and especially a focus on justice, inclusion and equity.”

One of the photos and stories on display at the ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit at Ripley Chapel.

Hammond added First Congregational is an open and affirming place of worship where members of the LGBTQ+ community are not only congregants, but participants in the running of the church. She said it’s important to the queer Christian community to have an exhibit that shares their stories of love and beauty in such a space as Ripley Chapel.

“My hope is that this project [showcases] trans and nonbinary stories, particularly people of color, who are not represented or represented well,” Hammond said. “I hope this exhibit dispels myths that are going on in our society about what it means to be a Christian or a person of faith. You can hold faith and spirituality and love, be inclusive and diverse at the same time.”

She said there’s a narrative that being Christian means being anti-queer and that’s simply not true.

“We believe any queer or trans people are part of God’s truth,” she said, “and welcome them and extend the love Jesus shows in scripture.”

A book of interviews that accompanies the ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit can be found at Ripley Chapel for those who'd like to learn more about the participants of the display.

Hammond said First Congregational doesn’t have a large queer congregation, but has quite a few members with family or friends who are.

“Most of our congregation, I would say, identify themselves as allies,” she said. “It’s important to have allies come.”

The exhibit

 “Authentic Selves” will debut on Town Day, June 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and run through Sunday, June 9 before it heads off to Iowa.

On June 2, First Congregational will have a special Pride themed service at 10 a.m. for anyone who wishes to attend. The service will be followed by an educational talk about the exhibit at 11:15 a.m.

The church will have a booth at PRIDEfest on Tuesday, June 4, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., at which time the exhibit will also be open.

The ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit fills the Ripley Chapel with stories of trans and nonbinary people and their families. WINCHESTER NEWS STAFF PHOTO/NELL ESCOBAR COAKLEY

For those who wish to learn more about the exhibit’s participants, a book copy of the exhibit is also on display and includes interviews.

Hammond said all the activities surrounding the exhibit are free. Everyone is welcome at any time to come in and view the exhibit, as long as the church is open, with no reservations required.

“We have adapted Ripley Chapel, converting it into an exhibit space with a focus on diversity, inclusion, and belonging for ‘Authentic Selves,’” she said.

Winchester residents who wish to check out the ‘Authentic Selves’ exhibit can do so anytime First Congregational Church is open without reservations.

Hammond said with all the anti-trans, anti-nonbinary legislation around the U.S., the closing of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging offices around the country and access being taken from public spaces around the LGBTQ+ community, she hopes this exhibit provides a sense of belonging, especially for young people.

“It’s really important more than ever that we show our commitment to being welcoming and loving to the trans and queer community,” Hammond added. “We believe God loves and delights in queer, trans, and nonbinary folks. In our church’s mission of radical hospitality, we see God’s face in our gender-expansive siblings. I hope the exhibit helps spread this message of love and worthiness to our larger community.”

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