AIDS Interfaith to honor ‘champion of human rights’

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 at 12:45pm

Grace McFerrin to receive Crystal Hope Award at Bloomin’ Ball

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Grace McFerrin

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

Grace McFerrin’s volunteer work with AIDS Interfaith Network over the last 20 years has improved the way her church views the disease — and given her strength to fight cancer.

McFerrin began volunteering with AIDS Interfaith Network’s Care Team in 1993 when her church, First United Methodist in downtown Dallas, added a team. The endeavor appealed to her as a woman of faith because she saw how the church viewed AIDS as a “gay disease” and she wanted to help people, not blame them.

“I had noticed in the ’80s churches who blamed people themselves for having AIDS,” she said. “I thought [volunteering] would be perfect because I thought it was the church’s responsibility to take care of people like Jesus did.”

A year and a half later, her daughter, Laura, came out to her as a lesbian. She then became a stronger ally to the community, meeting more gay people at her church and reaching out to others about acceptance.

“In a way I became more involved after she came out by talking to people about LGBT issues,” she said.

She joined Reconciling Ministries Network, a national organization that aims to grow acceptance for LGBT people within the Methodist church. The involvement has taken her to many conferences for the church, where she’s protested the denomination’s teachings condemning homosexuality.

McFerrin will be among the recipients of AIN’s Crystal Hope Awards on Saturday, April 20, at the Bloomin’ Ball.

Laura McFerrin, a GetEQUAL activist who directed the documentary March On about the 2009 March for Equality, said she is proud her mother is being recognized for her commitment to the organization and AIDS patients.

“She has been involved with caring for people living with AIDS since 1993 and her devotion to helping others is so inspiring,” Laura McFerrin said of her mother. “I feel so lucky to have been raised by this extraordinary woman who teaches me each day to be kind.”

Although McFerrin was initially hesitant to care for people dying from AIDS, she said she found the strength even though she knew she would eventually lose them.

“At the time I didn’t know if I could deal with working with people who were terminally ill,” she said, tearing up. “But that wasn’t the case.”

McFerrin has cared for about nine clients in various stages of the illness over the years, cleaning for them, chatting with them and taking them to run errands. She said many of them had been abandoned by family or their family couldn’t dedicate time to their care, which mainly focused on socializing with them, she said.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, McFerrin found strength in AIDS clients who had battled intense and life-threatening treatments in order to survive. Having watched what they could endure, she said she was able to see an end in her painful treatment.

“The breast cancer was a breeze in comparison,” she said. “I knew I had a beginning, a middle and an end, but they’d be on medication for all their lives with different side effects.”

Steven Pace, executive director of AIN, has become close with McFerrin during his 14 years at AIN. He said her passion has inspired others to serve and has helped advance LGBT causes.

“At the core of her volunteerism is her faith and willingness to promote human rights,” Pace said. “She’s been a champion for human rights as long as I’ve known her.”

In 2004, McFerrin joined AIN’s Board of Directors and was in charge of her church’s Care Team for a number of years. She said working with the agency helped her dispel rumors among churchgoers so they would not fear AIDS.

But just as McFerrin’s seen lives lost to AIDS, she’s also witnessed a community come together to treat and prevent the outbreak that shook a generation and still affects the LGBT community.

“Knowing a lot of these people starting in the ’90s really helped me see how the gay community helped themselves,” she said. “I was amazed at all they did and organized.”

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Sowing Seeds of Hope
AIN’s Bloomin’ Ball: Sowing Seeds of Hope is at 6 p.m. April 20 at Hilton Anatole, 2201 N. Stemmons Freeway. BloominBall.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 19, 2013.

 

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