Since this website first came on line in 1998, we have been contacted by literally thousands of gay & lesbian former Jehovah's Witnesses around the world. Many of these individuals have expressed a desire in seeing a chapter of A Common Bond form in the area in which they live. While our email discussion groups and private correspondence are valuable resources for support, the benefits of face-to-face meetings are incalculable, as anyone who has ever attended a local ACB group or one of our international conferences will tell you. There are still many thousands of gay & lesbian JWs and exJWs out there who currently do not have internet access, and we need to reach out to these individuals as well. You likely arrived at this page because you are thinking of starting a chapter of A Common Bond. You must feel some need for opportunities to have regular contact with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender former Jehovah's Witnesses on a local level. You recognize the need for a safe place where GLBT former Jehovah's Witnesses can find acceptance and understanding, knowing that we face unique issues that only other former Witnesses would understand. You could be instrumental in fulfilling their needs as well as your own by beginning a chapter.
Here are the steps you need to take to start a chapter of A Common Bond:
STEP ONE --To start a group, you need people! How can you find others in your area who would be interested in joining ACB?
(a) Advertise in the local gay press. Many gay/Lesbian newspapers will publish announcements free of charge or for a nominal fee. You may wish to send out the announcement in the form of a press release. Be prepared to publish a telephone number for individuals to contact. You can subscribe to an on-line voice mail service if you don't want to publish your home phone number. It's also a good idea to make a mailing address available to individuals who prefer not to call. Obtaining a P.O.Box is generally a good idea, not just for privacy's sake, but because the group's mailing address will remain constant if you turn the group over to someone else at a later date.
(b) Contact us! We may already know of others in your area who have already e-mailed or written to us looking for support. You might want to consider joining the ACBGroup email correspondence group to establish contact with other gay & lesbian ex-JW's, as perhaps they may know of others in your vicinity.
(c) Put up announcements. Many metropolitan areas have Gay & Lesbian Community Centers, book stores, or other establishments which have bulletin boards where the general public is allowed to post announcements at no charge. It doesn't have to be an elaborate flyer -- a neatly-written or typed 3x5 card usually will do just as well.
(d) Build a web site. Your site does not have to be as elaborate as this one. A paragraph or two, telling about the group, it's purpose, and an e-mail contact is sufficient. Once your site is established, contact this site's webmaster for inclusion on our Links page.
(e) If your community has a Pride Parade or similar event, march in the parade if you have a sufficient number of members. Every time one of our chapters has marched, they have found more individuals to join their group. In some areas, Pride events also allow groups and vendors to set up booths. Several of our chapters have done this as well, with remarkable results.
(f) The San Francisco group has made its presence known at past JW District Assemblies. This type of contact may be too controversial for some areas, but if you feel this activity would be appropriate in yours, visit the "Making Our Presence Known Locally" page on this web site to read about our experiences. We feel this is important work, as we have actually been contacted by closeted Witnesses in desparate need of support.
STEP TWO -- Find a meeting space. The San Francisco group has successfully met since 1994 in the homes of various members. The New York City group is holding meetings at the NYC Lesbian & Gay Community Center. Where you decide to meet depends upon the resources available in your area, whether you feel your home (or the home of another member) would be appropriate, and if meeting in a public space, your personal budget. The meeting space should ideally be centrally located for the members, have sufficient parking, and/or be located near accessible public transit.
STEP THREE -- Develop a meeting format. There is no required format, although several common sense matters need to be mentioned first. Frequently, people cite confidentiality as their main concern when first coming out, so it's important to ensure the confidentiality of your group members. If you wish to have an effective chapter, you must be welcoming and inclusive of all people who come to your group. Don't be surprised if an active Jehovah's Witness struggling with their sexual identity shows up from time to time. This is not uncommon, and it is imperative that they be made to feel comfortable and welcome. Be sensitive to the needs of everyone in your group. Each group develops its own personality according to the individuals who join.
Some groups find that a casual environment, in the form of pot-luck suppers in the homes of various members, outdoor picnics, and other similar events, make attendees feel most at ease. Other group gatherings are more structured, with outside guest speakers as well as formal discussions. Discussion topics of a controversial nature generally do not keep in the spirit of support. It is strongly suggested that the topic of religious doctrine be avoided as much as possible, as many who have left the Witnesses have embarked on other spiritual paths, some abandoning religion altogether, while others still adhere to varying degrees to JW doctrine and will not tolerate "Watchtower bashing". Generally, most gatherings are held monthly, with the average meeting lasting 2-3 hours (this can vary according to the size of the group, and how much people have to discuss). Larger events such as outdoor picnics can last the entire day. Don't be discouraged if your gatherings start out small. Remember, it only takes two to make a group!
STEP FOUR -- Keep the group going even if you're not getting much interest. Some ACB chapters get off to a flying start, while others stay small for a long time. Be patient! From the number of visits to this website, we know that there are thousands of GLBT JWs and exJWs who have not yet contacted us.
It should be mentioned here that, if you have an interest in starting an ACB chapter, but do not yet know any other individuals near you who wish to join, you can be listed as an individual contact on our website until such time as you meet others and get a chapter going.
STEP FIVE -- Finally, please let us know you are out there! Please click here to register with us on line, or click on this printable form, fill it out, and mail it back to us so we can keep your contact information on file and put others in touch with you when we hear from someone in your area. Having this information on file will also help us put chapter coordinators in touch with each other so they can share ideas, suggestions, and experiences.
If you're feeling a little overwhelmed by all of the above......relax! None of this has to happen overnight. A Common Bond has been growing steadily since 1980, and thanks to you, we will soon see our network of support grow even larger! We're looking forward to hearing from you!