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The group Steinbach Neighbours for Community will present a play next week based on the real-life stories of local people who are struggling with issues around sexual orientation. It was written by Val Hiebert, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Providence University College. Hiebert says she and Donna Snider conducted focus groups this past summer including one that involved members of the local LGBTTQI community, another with parents and family and one with allies who want a different tone in the discussion about these issues. She explains they came up with the idea after presenting a play last year called "Listening for Grace" that told the story of a young man telling his father that he was gay and how it affected them and the people close to them.

"We just thought about how many people we already know in the LGBTTQI community, their families and allies and the many, many experiences that they have had in this community and the fact that, if the community could know those things, it might texture the conversation differently. That's what we were thinking about and we thought, you know, let's try to collect those stories."

Hiebert says they heard many powerful stories in the focus group sessions which were all transcribed from the recordings. They ended up with 170 pages of transcripts.

"I then spent two weeks pouring over those transcripts and then I took another two weeks. I created eight fictional characters and took, verbatim, the words of the stories we had heard and placed them inside those fictional characters. So each character in the production has the voice of five or six different people from our community inside the voice of that character. What's happening is, on stage, you will hear the real, lived experiences of the people from our community without having to put them on the stage. They get a chance to talk about their experiences here without being exposed because a lot of them don't really feel comfortable with that or even safe doing that."

She says one of the main themes that emerged in all of the groups was, despite all of the pain that they've experienced through things like rejection from family members and churches, they have a desire to remain in relationship with the very people who are rejecting them and a desire to remain present in the community.

"That's forever going to stay with me, realizing despite all their pain and the ways in which they've been harmed, there's lots of grace. They're willing to absorb that in hopes of something better coming."

The drama also includes a musical component directed by Millie Hildebrand. The play is called, 'Still Listening, Voices Among Us' and will be presented October 28th and 29th at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School Theatre. Tickets are available at the Arts Centre.

Hiebert says the intent of the production is to nurture positive discussion in the community on these issues.

"That's what we hope to do is to bring these stories to our community and say; Please can you make room for understanding that this is part of the story of this community? And that these stories have to be heard and taken into account as this community tries to move forward in ways that, I hope, will be graced-filled and kind."

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