The month-long "My God Is Not A Bully" campaign was powerful and inspiring to Anna DeShawn, the founder and CEO of E3 Radio and a collaborator in the project with the Church With A Church Movement (CWACM).
"Everyone's responses were different because everyone's stories were so different," said DeShawn, 30, a South Side native who now lives in Lakeview.
A new video was released online every day in June, to coincide with Pride month.
Cathy Knight, the executive director of the CWACM Movement, said the videos showcased a diverse cross-section of people from around the country, each telling their story that "God loves them and however you define spirit, in all traditions, God is love, not a bully."
DeShawn, a 2012 Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree, said the videos were directed at young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality and their faith. "The stories that have been shared are real and my hope is that the message will touch the hearts of those who watch," DeShawn said.
The video project had its roots in a sign that hung at Broadway United Methodist Church, where DeShawn goes. It said, "God is not a bully." For the video campaign, they added "My" at the start.
DeShawn and crew interviewed a wide variety of people, including clergy, allies and LGBTQ individuals. Those who identified as queer were asked, "How have you reconciled your sexuality/gender expression with their faith?" Allies, meanwhile, were asked, "How did you come to know that LGBTQ people were a gift from God?"
"My dad is a deacon, so I grew up in and around the church," said DeShawn, who attended Luther South High School. "I grew up with a lot of church-[going] folk, and I heard a lot of [anti-gay] comments, which affects your self-esteem, how you feel about yourself.
"That's why this [video project] is a very personal campaign.
"We wanted to put stories out there that speak to the fact that God is not a bully, that the preacher on the pulpit does not have the power to damn anyone to hell."
With a wide variety of speakers on the videos, DeShawn said, "everyone can connect with someone."
"What I really want to happen with the campaign is, it really touches people's hearts to really think about God in a different way," she said. "I really want the campaign to go national and reach more people because, when we talk about sexuality and faith, what we're compiling here is so powerful and such a great addition to the storytelling around this issue.
"For me, marriage equality is a huge fight. I understand the importance behind it. But for me, and for queer youth, especially [those] of color, homophobia is just as important of an issue because homophobia in Chicago is what's driving the queer youth from the South Side to the North Side for services [and] to feel safe. So many of the homeless youth were kicked out of their homes because their parents don't accept who they areand a lot of that acceptance is stemming from the church. So many of our families take what the preacher says as gold. But we have to begin to change that narrativeand that's what we want to do with this campaign."
DeShawn said the goal now is to turn the videos into a DVD, and also continue to release more individual videos.
"One thing that I think is really special about the campaign is, we have clergy who speak as well," she said. "I think it's powerful when LGBTQ folk tell their story about how they overcome their own struggles with their sexuality and spirituality, and I also think it's beautiful when allies speak [in support of LGBT] because we need allies in this movement. And when clergy talk, saying that LGBTQ people are a gift from God, it really can have an strong impact on someone who is struggling [with their sexuality and their spirituality.]"
There are videos in the project from straight and queer clergy, DeShawn said.
DeShawn founded E3 Radio almost four years ago; it remains her passion, though its direction has changed over the years.
"As an undergraduate student at Drake University, I was spending a lot of time in the library because my lady at the time worked there," DeShawn said. "I was reading about a lot of women who had done a lot of great work during the civil-rights movement, and that sparked my interest. I thought, how can I get the word out about these great people?"
She planned to produce public service announcements to highlight various people to help raise awareness.
She later started her own show.
"In the beginning, I had no intention of having my own radio show; my intention was just to get the word out about people who I thought were significant and I didn't think had been given their just do," she said. "E3 Radio is my passion, and media in general, because I feel we can impact real change through media. E3 Radio is a platform where we want to provide a voice, a platform for those who are not heard.
"I chose radio because I feel like people truly connect with radio in a different way [than other media]."
To see the videos, visit http://www.cwac.us/my-god-is-not-a-bully-videos.