About the Author
Audra Friend

UUA Presents Shareholder Resolution for Gender Non-Discrimination at Wal-Mart

Julie Skye, member of UUA's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, at Walmart's Shareholders' Meeting

In 2008, the UUA filed two resolutions on Gender Identity Non-Discrimination: both companies already had sexual orientation in their policy but this resolution asked to include gender identity in its written equal opportunity non-discrimination policy.  6% of Wal-Mart shareholders and 16% of Verizon’s shareholders voted in favor of this protection for their employees.

The 2009 Shareholder Advocacy season saw 12% of Wal-Mart shareholders vote in favor of the same resolution. Progress…but I think back to the 2001 proxy season…when Home Depot changed its written policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation because of the efforts of the UUA endowment’s shares of Home Depot stock. Management had a change of heart after the proxy statements went out, and called the UUA…saying they had considered the negative reaction from their employees who had learned that Directors did not support the resolution. Terms and conditions were agreed on, and the UUA withdrew the resolution.

This is what shareholder advocacy is all about! Change that comes through management’s awareness of how their written policies affect the people that work for them. When management “gets it” through dialogue, discussion and diplomacy, everyone wins. Why does Wal-Mart gladly take dollars from customers without regard to that person’s gender identity, but stops short of giving their employees the dignity and rights that they deserve?

Why did the largest employer in the U.S. not get it…that the employees who gave so much to the success of Wal-Mart, deserved to know their employer “affirmed and promoted the inherent worth and dignity of every person?” Why would adopting a policy that gave employees a way to resolve conflicts through corporate channels not make sense?

With the history of previous UUA filings and my 18 months as a member of UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, I drove the 2 hours from Tulsa Oklahoma to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see, firsthand, what I knew was going to be a cross between a high school pep rally and a rock concert. I was going to present the UUA resolution that said how we interpret our gender identity, was our right, not a privilege extended to us by our employer.

The Wal-Mart staff member that helped me get settled, Beth, was as friendly and helpful as the other Wal-Mart folks. As the Annual Meeting kicked off, Jamie Foxx’s message was that Wal-Mart was an advocate for the working people; “You help people save money so they live better lives.” As Josh Groban, Mariah Carey, Enrique Inglesias, and Mary J. Blige performed in between the business parts of the meeting, the message was that these associates have had their lives transformed by this company.

What remains, after the laser light show and the echoes of, “I can kiss away the pain” was as usual, the people that are affected by the work the UUA is doing to move the endowments of congregations all over the country in the direction of our values. Beth, my Wal-Mart guide, asked what the resolution was all about. She nodded as we talked about the fact that you should not be fired for the way you present yourself…for how you look, or dress. Being disciplined, reassigned, fired or not promoted because of who you were and how you looked…not how you did your job…was not right.

After I used the three minutes allowed to present the resolution asking Wal-Mart to extend these rights to their associates I received a polite applause, and took my seat. I felt a hand on my arm…and turned to meet John Wright, a minister at the UU Fellowship at Salisbury Maryland who works at Wal-Mart. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for being there. He was overwhelmed by the emotions he felt as he heard that the CEO of his company announce that the UUA was presenting this resolution. The faith tradition he was devoted to had moved into his workplace, to model the values that we have come to take as second nature. He kept thanking me, and thanking the UUA for doing this work.  This work matters. It changes people’s lives. It allows the people of this country to be a part of changing how corporate America does business.

In the end, we received 14.6% support from shareholders…small, but moving in the right direction.  The Walton family has 45% of the stock, so until they move on this resolution, we’ll keep filing each year.

All of us…our children and grandchildren, will live in a better world because of the work the UUA does.

Julie Skye is a member of All Souls Tulsa, the UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and is a Registered Investment Advisor. She acts as a Family Back Office to 85 families and helps them organize, manage and co-ordinate all aspects of their financial lives including tax, estate and retirement planning. She has been doing pro-bono work with Foundations and non-profits for two decades and sees the connection between SRI and Social / Racial Justice.  Passionate in her belief that’ we can do well, while we do good’, she is Vice Chair of the All Souls Endowment Committee and offers seminars at the Sunday Emerson Forum titled “The Free Church Financial Forum.”

Some Background on UUA Immigration Campaign & Relationship with Puente and NDLON

By Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

UUA Immigration Reform Campaign and Our Partners

The UUA’s current immigration reform campaign really took off in 2007, in response to the immigrant rights upsurge in 2006, when we signed on as the first denomination to join the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM).  The New Sanctuary Movement was initiated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and then taken up by Interfaith Worker Justice (whose board I serve on for the UUA) and others. The UU Church of Long Beach CA was the first congregation to join the New Sanctuary Movement and did so before the UUA.  The UU Church of Phoenix Social Action Committee signed the NSM pledge a year later after Puente participated in their May 3, 2008 worship service and led a workshop.  UUCP’s partnership with Puente has since grown and flourished.

Today the United Church of Christ, the United Methodists, the Disciples, and hundreds of congregations from several denominations are working with NSM and a joint effort is underway with NDLON and others to organize a White House Summit on immigration to advocate for an executive order suspending state and local enforcement of federal immigration law, a moratorium on ICE (Immigrant Custom Enforcement) raids that separate families and deport students, and immigration reform.

In addition to working with other on-the-ground partners, including Immigration Equality, the UUA has been represented by our Washington Office in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, advocating for the DREAM Act, the Child Citizen Protection Act, and immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, family unification, and humane enforcement at the border.  On June 10th UUA staff attended a Congressional hearing on the impact of SB1070 on women and children that was organized by NDLON, Puente, and the Domestic Workers Alliance.

Congregational Engagement & Standing on the Side of Love

In the past four years we have seen the number of UU congregations engaged with this issue increase steadily.  Advocacy & Witness has a database of over 200 UU congregations engaged in education, advocacy, and organizing. (We haven’t documented all those providing ESL classes and others services yet.)  Additionally, there are 130 UU congregations in congregation-based community organizations.  Almost all of these organizations include immigrant communities and their national networks–PICO, IAF, Gamaliel, IVP–are focusing on immigration reform.

The Standing on the Side of Love Campaign has had as a major focus standing on the side of love with immigrant families.  UU ministers and leaders have sent in blogs and news coverage of their efforts, and 5,000 cards calling for immigration reform were delivered to Congress in April.  UUs have helped Haitian refugees apply for Temporary Protected Status, worked to free Jean Montrevil–a Haitian leader who was almost deported, welcomed the Trail of Dreams walkers, and came in the hundreds to the Capitol on March 21st with thousands of immigrants marching for justice.  The UU Church of Tucson is this year’s UUA Social Justice Award winner for their No More Deaths border ministry and advocacy with the Arizona Advocacy Network.  Last year’s recipient was the UU Church of Phoenix for their work with Puente and NDLON to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

UUA Public Witness for Immigration Reform & the Morales Administration

UUA President Rev. Peter Morales has made immigration reform a top UUA public witness priority.  He and Moderator Gini Courter arranged for the Board of Trustees to meet with undocumented immigrants, community organizers, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) at their January 2010 meeting in San Antonio.  President Morales visited several Senate Offices on Capitol Hill this spring to advocate for Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s CIR ASAP legislation.  He has reached out to Latino evangelicals to join forces.

When SB1070 was passed and the Boycott Arizona movement began, the UUA Board drafted a resolution recommending that the General Assembly scheduled for Phoenix in 2012 be relocated.  DRUUMM, LUUNA, and ARE supported their recommendation  Moderator Gini Courter put out a call, along with Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Minister, UU Church of Phoenix, for UUs to join the May 29th march in Phoenix organized by Alto Arizona (two of the main organizers of Alto Arizona are Puente and NDLON).  Rev. Morales, Moderator Courter, fifty UU clergy, and 500 UUs were there.  Lots of conversations were carried on along the march, in the speakers’ staging area, and with UUCP and their partners.

How the idea of transforming GA to witness in Phoenix 2012 came about:

Following the march, Puente and NDLON, part of Somos America–the coalition leading this new civil rights movement in Arizona and nationally– asked the UUA and Standing on the Side of Love to endorse and organize for the July 29th Day of Non-Compliance in Arizona and Human Rights Summer.  We have and are!  They asked us to support the Boycott Arizona Movement and we do.   (See Boycott Arizona for actions and targets.)  They asked us to call on President Obama to issue an executive order and we have. And they asked us to come to Phoenix in 2012 and transform our General Assembly into a convergence for human rights so that we are part of supporting the movement, not breaking the boycott, and coming in to work with them for justice.  They envision an interfaith service on the capitol steps, UU lawyers and paralegals at legal clinics, UU teams registering voters, visits to the barrios, tours to the border, Arizona clergy delegations to representatives, education and worship on immigrant rights, civil disobedience, and more.  They see transforming GA as a great opportunity to involve more UUs and other people of faith in organizing for immigrant rights and justice.

Explosion in the Gulf

Rev Jim VanderWeeleRev. James VanderWeele is minister of Community Church Unitarian Universalist New Orleans and serves on the board of the interfaith community organization Congregations Acting Together.

The world has once again gasped at news from the Gulf, not the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mexico. We are not threatened by a hurricane this time but the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. This rig was at the cutting edge of oil-drilling technology. It drilled, then capped, then drilled again. Its floating platform was held in place by a global positioning system.

Dawn of day one
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on fire

Transoceanic (BP’s renter) was closing a drilling site, preparing to move. There are many safeguards, and all are used before shut-off valves are needed. But this fire surged swiftly. No alarm buttons were pushed. I see a swoo-ooo-ooosh of FIRE, rising 300 feet about the water, …in an instant.

Life was lost; human life on the front end; fish, animals, birds, plants, and Gaia are waiting in line.

Many local groups, including the Sierra Club, called for volunteers. Weather kept relief efforts in the bay for several days. Fishermen, who risk losing their fishing grounds, shrimp and oyster beds, await BP (and the Coast Guard) for approval of a local plan. They want to place booms across the river mouths. Barrier islands (and a few of them still remain) will blunt the impact of the oil on the swamps and marshes further inland but any oil that enters a stream will spread to the interconnecting waterways, channels, and canals emptying into the stream. The current ask (from those who stand to lose their livelihood) is for the fuel (and BP should have some of that) to initiate their coastal protection effort.

At our Sunday morning worship service we have a time for joys and sorrows. Our first three candles were lit for those who died, for the people trying to contain the slick, and for all the creatures that live on our coastline. We are deeply concerned, mostly for our coastline, for the fish and birds that live there, and for all who live in the entire Gulf Coast region. Part of our angst is tied up with governmental/bureaucratic/corporate red tape, colored by the fact that President Bush was ineffective during and after Katrina–while the people suffered. Now we wait to see if President Obama’s administration will manage the clean up effectively.

Early in the morning of the second day of the fire

For several days we thought this was Louisiana light crude, a thinner oil that breaks down quickly when exposed to sunlight and bacteria. But a weekend report said one chemical test showed it may be raw material for asphalt—a heavier oil, impervious to chemical and natural degradation. Yet, other reports say chemicals are being shot by robot subs into the oil’s flow a mile below the surface. These chemicals have broken up the oil, causing a reduced residue to fall to the ocean floor, minimizing the amount of oil that reaches the surface, or so says the latest report.

Any hope for a minimal environmental impact was shattered this morning (May 3rd). Jellyfish and sea turtles have washed up on the Mississippi shores. Some of these turtles are on the verge of extinction. This may be the final straw for them. Oil is already in the coastal currents. This current carries water down the western edge of Florida. The Florida Keys may soon see oil on their beaches.

Oil on the ocean surface burns

One more thought. The plates of our planet are moving. Earthquakes and volcanoes may well be a signal. Yet we puncture Gaia’s epidermis with our most modern syringes. We drain out our earth’s fluids then throw it into our atmosphere and seem to expect our eco-system will not respond. May this be a warning, a warning we will remember, long after the news-cycle has turned, long after the Gulf returns to health.

Why Legal Marriage Matters

Audra Friend (front) is the Program Coordinator at the Unitarian Universalist Association Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness. She lives in Boston with her wife, Audrey Fergason.

I have a wide range of pins and buttons decorating the corkboard in my office. My walls are dotted with posters and signs. Even my water bottle is collaged with slogans and logos: Freedom to Marry Coalition, Amnesty OUTfront!, Equal Marriage NOW, and Human Rights Campaign.

But my favorite token of support for marriage equality is the silver wedding ring on my left hand.

As of today, I’ve been married for four months. If you had asked me four months ago if a legal marriage would change anything for me, I would have said no. My wife and I were committed to each other; our families supported us; my work and her school were welcoming communities. Legal marriage seemed momentous to be sure, but I was confident my life wouldn’t change.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Moments after my boss, Susan Leslie, who was solemnized for the day to perform our wedding, signed the marriage license, my world changed. My mother cried and hugged my wife – her new daughter-in-law – and my wife’s teenaged cousins crowed that we were now legally connected. My younger brother – who married before me – joked that I was officially a big girl. Surrounded by our friends and family, all who had the benefit of legal marriage, my wife and I found that our relationship had changed in their minds.

Audrey and I feel quite blessed to be in a state where we can be legally married, a sentiment driven home to us when we traveled to New York and North Carolina in January. Even though we happily had no problems, we both realized that despite our wedding rings, our commitment, our families, and our legal marriage, we had no protections as a couple outside of Massachusetts. It was a sobering reminder of how important the fight for marriage equality is and how so many couples in the United States are not as lucky as we are.

All relationships deserve to be treated equally. This week, consider having a conversation with someone about marriage equality. Freedom to Marry offers some conversation starters. If you are married, consider your ring as your token of support for marriage equality and lift up your voice with ours.