About the Author
Grace Garner

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day was created to memorialize those that have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred and violence. It began in San Francisco in 1999 as a candlelight vigil in honor of Rita Hester who was killed on November 28, 1998. Events are now held all over the world in honor of those who are too often forgotten.

At least thirty people this year have been killed due to their gender identity. Of those thirty deaths, the majority identified as women and four have been in the last twenty days. However, few media outlets have reported on these deaths.

Take the time to think about the people whose lives have been lost. There are many vigils going on across the country this evening. I encourage you to attend one if you can.

The Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns also has a great resource called Between and Beyond: Common Questions About Transgender Identity. Take the time to look at it and discuss transgender advocacy with your friends and family.

If you would like to become more involved with transgender advocacy check out the following organizations:

The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce http://thetaskforce.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality http://www.nctequality.org/default.asp

Video in Support of Marriage Equality

In light of the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Arizona, Florida and Arkanasa that restrict the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender (bglt) people, the Unitarian Universalist Association has produced a video which makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality.

The video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others!

What can you do to support BGLT rights?

Last week, same-sex marriage was banned in California, Arizona and Florida, and an adoption ban was placed on same-sex couples in Arkansas. The passing of these ballot initiatives is a devastating loss for BGLT communities and the nation.

The passage of California’s Proposition 8, which removed rights previously granted same-sex couples by the Supreme Court, has spurred large-scale protests across California. This Saturday, protests will occur across the country in support of BGLT equality and the No on Prop 8 campaign. To find out where a protest is being held in your state visit jointheimpact.com.

Three lawsuits are being filed in California to overturn proposition 8 on the basis that it is unconstitutional since the California constitution offers equal protection under the law. The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Action Fund has also created a sign-on letter called the “Anger into Action Declaration” for those in support of BGLT equality to sign.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I hope you will take the time to put that principle into action by signing the “Anger into Action Declaration” and attending a protest near you. Make sure to take pictures of your group and send them to us here at the Washington Office for Advocacy along with your story email- la_bglt@uua.org

What exactly is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

Recently, there have been questions in the media about what comprehensive sexuality education is. What is it that we are teaching our youth in Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ churches across the country?

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) defines sex education as “a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values that encompasses sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles.”

The “lifelong process” means that comprehensive sexuality education is age-appropriate. The curriculum for Kindergartners will be different than that of 5th graders and that of high school students.

The UU and UCC comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, Our Whole Lives (OWL) , teaches grade K-1 students about respect for others, how each of us is unique and wonderful, that our bodies are private and that if someone tries to hurt them or touch them inappropriately that they should immediately yell and run to tell an adult they trust. It also discusses families and what to expect when your parents have or adopt another baby.

Creating dialogue with five and six year olds about respect and families is a great way to increase self-confidence and develop close relationships among parents and children. The topics and questions brought up in the curriculum are common questions many young children have.

In contrast, teenagers in the OWL Grades 10-12 curriculum discuss body image, STDs, contraception, gender roles, sexual orientation, healthy relationships and communication. These topics are appropriate for teenagers who are exploring their sexual identity and entering relationships. These topics are not taught in the K-1 curriculum.

Parents are strongly encouraged to be involved in their child’s sexuality education. The primary teacher is always the parent. Comprehensive sexuality education gives tools to both the parents and children to talk about important sexual health issues that are age appropriate.

Comprehensive sexuality education gives us the tools we need to be in communication with each other and how to respect ourselves and others. It also helps us make healthy sexual decisions when we decide we are ready to do so.

The Bush Administration and Birth Control Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Secretary Leavitt’s proposal that broadly defined abortion to include some types of birth control. Many of you immediately responded to my request to tell Secretary Leavitt to reject the proposed regulation. Leavitt responded, and the definition of abortion was removed; however, the proposal still moved forward in its new form.

On August 26th, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed the new regulation which would allow health care providers to refuse to perform services they deem morally objectionable. Although abortion is not defined in this version, the regulation remains open to interpretation and allows employees to refuse to conduct or assist research activities. A full text of the proposal can be found here.

This regulation could severely affect a woman’s access to reproductive health care, including, but not limited to, abortions. The regulation does not include patients’ rights, and federal funding can be taken away from clinics that do not comply. This is particularly damaging to low-income women who may not be able to visit multiple clinics to receive the healthcare they need.

Currently, there is a 30-day comment period for the regulation. Act now and send your comments to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt expressing your opposition to the regulation!

The Bush Administration and Birth Control

The Bush administration has just drafted a set of regulations which would widen the definition of abortion to include various types of contraceptives, including birth control pills. In the administration’s proposed definition, abortion would include, “any of the various procedures — including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

The regulation would deny federal funding to any health center, hospital or clinic that does not allow health care employees to opt out of providing services that would violate the employee’s moral beliefs. This would include the dissemination of birth control.

As reported by The Washington Post, the regulation also mentions that “many states have recently passed laws requiring health plans to pay for contraception, pharmacists to fill prescriptions for birth control, and hospitals to offer Plan B to women who have been raped.” The administrations inclusion of these facts indicates a belief that health care for women, including survivors of rape is something that is wrong with the current health care system.

States requiring health plans to cover contraceptives is a big step for feminism and reproductive health activists, but now we have an administration that wants to limit these plans. By not funding health care that dispenses contraceptives, the Bush administration is putting thousands of women, specifically low-income women, at risk.

Allowing members of the medical community to decide when or if they should give women reproductive health treatment puts women at risk of STIs, unwanted pregnancy and psychological harm.

This is not only an issue of reproductive choice, it is also an issue of the rights of women in general, and even how we respond to domestic violence.

You can protect a woman’s access to birth control by telling Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to reject this harmful regulation.

Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee held its first hearing in fifteen years regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy put into place in 1993 by President Clinton. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevents gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military from being open about their sexual orientation. Since 1994, over 11,000 people have been discharged from the military due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

However, last week’s hearing offered a great amount of hope for the future of BGLT service members. Testimony was heard from many, including retired Captain Joan Darrah, United States Navy, a member of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Virginia. The majority of the testimonies presented favored repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a discriminatory policy that not only affects the gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military but all of us, whether we are friends with those affected or paying our taxes part of which help fund the firing of gay, lesbian or bisexual service members. As Unitarian Universalists and concerned citizens we must take advantage of our current momentum to take a stand against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246) would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replace it with a new provision prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Armed Forces. H.R. 1246 would also allow people who have been discharged because of their sexual orientation to apply to rejoin the military. Contact your Representative and Senators today and ask them to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, H.R. 1246. Let’s work together to make the United States and the Armed Forces a positive place for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The South and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

HIV/AIDS has been a problem in the United States for the past three decades. Many groups have worked tirelessly to educate the public on how to prevent transmitting HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself from getting it in the first place. The fact that we knew so little when the epidemic first hit made it difficult for people to know how to protect themselves, but now that we are more knowledgeable and many myths have been largely dispelled it seems that we should be in a state of decline. HIV/AIDS cases should be at an all time low yet the rates have stayed largely the same since the 1990’s and have increased dramatically in the South and mainly among African Americans and women.

Let’s look at Alabama for instance, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention African Americans, who make up only 26% of Alabama’s population, accounted for 72% of new cases of HIV. And the data is similar for most of the Southern states and especially the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Between 2000 and 2003 the number of new AIDS cases increased 35.6% in the Deep South compared to 4% in the other Southern states and 5.2% nationally*. Not only are residents of the Deep South becoming infected with HIV at a higher rate they are also among the states with the highest death rates related to AIDS.

These rates are incredibly alarming. One explanation for why the HIV/AIDS rates has increased is due to the high levels of STI’s in the Deep South, which are the highest in the nation. STI’s have consistently been found to increase the risk of HIV transmission. That leads us to the question of why there are such high levels of STI’s. AIDS Alabama and SIECUS connect the HIV/AIDS rates to abstinence-only education which is prevalent in Alabama and across the South. Since 1998 when Alabama began receiving federal funding for abstinence-only education the STI, HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy rates have increased. Yet Alabama is still using these programs even though many studies have proven abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. Alabama, in particular is suffering from extremely poor health conditions.

The fact that the South and the African American population is greatly suffering from this disease needs to be addressed. Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs need to be instituted to educate people about STI’s, HIV/AIDS and contraceptives. People need to know how to protect themselves. They are not learning it through medically inaccurate, gender stereotyping, religion promoting, homophobic and shame based abstinence-only programs.

Call on your Representatives to GET REAL! and support the Responsible Education About Life Act. Our lives depend on it.

For additional information:

*HIV Infection and AIDS in the Deep South

AIDS Alabama

Southern AIDS Coalition

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States

Utah Health Teacher Answers Students Questions About Sex, Faces Jail Time

A middle school health teacher was put on paid administrative leave in Herriman, Utah after answering students’ questions about oral sex and masturbation. The school district has launched an investigation to determine what course of action should be taken. Meanwhile, parents are outraged and Rep. Carl Wimmer is planning to introduce legislation that will enforce criminal penalties on teachers that deviate from the state law when teaching sex education. The bill would also create a registry of the names of the teachers who violate the law. The law requires that sex education focus on healthy relationships, the prevention of diseases and physical and emotional development and it prohibits promoting or encouraging sexual behavior.

Students in support of the teacher held up signs in front of the school that read “We were the ones asking her questions.” These students are obviously not getting information about sex at home or at church, so they are turning to the next logical person to ask: their health teacher. I admire this woman’s bravery and commitment to teaching. She could have easily avoided answering the students’ questions, but instead she gave them all of the information they asked for. We should have more teachers like her in our schools.

Congratulations California!

Last week the California Supreme Court overturned a California state law which only allowed marriage between a man and a woman in a 4-3 ruling. The decision will allow same-sex couples to marry starting June 14th.

California is the second state to legalize same-sex marriage. This is a huge victory for California and the country as we move forward during this election year. The California Supreme Court has historically set a precedent in their decisions. California was also the first state to allow inter-racial marriage in 1948 in Perez v. California which led to other states following suit and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

People all over the nation have been celebrating this historic moment. I for one am extremely proud of my home state and look forward to attending the marriage ceremonies of many couples in my home town church in Palm Springs.

While we have a great deal to celebrate we must not forget that the fight is not over. As I wrote earlier in my post “Stopping the Religious Right from Taking Over California” 1.1 million signatures were submitted for a ballot initiative that would constitutionally ban same sex marriage. The signatures are currently being checked and by June we will know if the initiative will be on the November ballot.

It is imperative that we keep the momentum from this joyous decision going into the November election to ensure that Californians continue to have equal rights under the law.