About the Author
Orelia Busch

A Victory for Marriage

Below are the reflections of Orelia Busch, outgoing Legislative Assistant for Women’s Issues / UUWF Clara Barton Intern, on the Proposition 8 court decision.  You can also read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales’ statement on the ruling at UUA.org.

Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, released on Wednesday, August 4, was a resounding victory for supporters of same sex marriage.  I can honestly say that I was surprised.  In the 24 hours between the announcement that the ruling would be handed down and its actual release, both sides were preparing their appeals, and it seemed like no one could even speculate on what the judge would say.


Members of Congress Commit to BGLT-Inclusive Immigration Reform

On July 15th, Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness for the Unitarian Universalist Association released the following statement:

The Unitarian Universalist Association joins the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) coalition in urging the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants and their families. Our faith teaches us that we are all members of one human family. We stand on the side of love with all immigrant families to call for humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

A system that breaks apart families is itself broken. LGBT immigrant families are at extremely high risk for being denied basic rights and services not only because of their immigration status but because their families are not equally recognized by U.S. law. We will not be silent while families are separated. Same-sex couples should have the same opportunity as straight couples to prove that their families deserve to stay together. Transgender immigrants and travelers should be able to obtain documentation without undue questioning or harassment. We stand proudly behind our allies in the U.S. Congress who understand that the only way to fix our immigration system is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes LGBT individuals and families.

The UAFA coalition represents more than thirty groups, including faith groups and organizations focused on immigrant rights, worker justice, and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The six members of Congress who spoke at the press conference included Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). They expressed the urgent need to change current immigration laws and called on their colleagues to help them pass comprehensive, inclusive immigration reform legislation before the end of 2010.

Also speaking at the press conference were Erwin De Leon, the immigrant half of a D.C. based bi-national couple, and Karen Narasaki, the president of the Asian American Justice Center.  Narasaki is a Unitarian Universalist who attends All Souls Church, Unitarian.  De Leon, whose husband can’t sponsor him for legal permanent residency in the U.S. under current immigration policies, spoke at the Standing on the Side of Love event on Capitol Hill in April.

For more information, see full press coverage of the event and read the joint statement released by the coalition.  To learn more about the UAFA coalition, please see the Immigration Equality Action Fund website.

Reproductive Justice Updates

Last week, the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS) released their monthly policy updates for sexuality educators and advocates.

Included in the May 2010 policy updates are the results of a new study from the Guttmacher Institute showing that rates of unintended pregnancy among teen women in the US may have been previously underestimated. Previous studies have counted the unintended pregnancy rate per 1,000 women in each age group surveyed without accounting for the rates among women who identify themselves as being sexually active versus those who do not. The new study shows significantly higher rates of unintended pregnancy for sexually active women than for women in general nationwide, particularly among women between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.

There’s also good news for comprehensive sexuality education advocates in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. House Education Committees in both states have just voted for legislation that would allow more comprehensive sexuality education curricula in public schools and provide guidelines for what that would look like.

If passed, both new laws require schools in each state to provide sexuality education that teaches about abstinence and contraception in ways that are medically accurate. While the Pennsylvania law leaves the specifics of curriculum development up to individual school boards, it also calls on the state department of health to create a list of guidelines that programs must follow to comply with the new legislation.

In Louisiana, sexuality education curricula must provide “information about human sexuality as a normal and healthy aspect of human development” in order to conform with this proposed legislation.

Both states have been previous recipients of Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage federal grants, but if these new laws pass, they will no longer be eligible to receive those funds. Federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs was eliminated from the 2010 federal budget by Congress and President Obama, but the funding stream was reinstated in health care reform legislation that became law this spring.

New funds available to states and community-based organizations from the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative could help states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana implement the new laws if they pass. These programs could also provide young people nationwide with the comprehensive, medically accurate sex education they need to make healthy decisions.

You can advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in your own state by researching your state’s laws and supporting legislation similar to the Louisiana and Pennsylvania bills. Consider organizing your youth group or congregation to write letters to your governor or state legislators encouraging them to reject Title V abstinence-only grants and create policies that support comprehensive sexuality education in local school districts. For the basic information on your state’s sex education policies and funding, see the SIECUS State Profiles. For resources on how to get started as an advocate, check out the Future of Sex Education website.

State Department Announces New Policy on Gender Change in Passports

Beginning June 10, the State Department is implementing a new policy that may make it easier for transgender people to change the gender listed in their passports.  Under this policy, anyone presenting certification from an attending physician that they have undergone appropriate treatment for gender transition will be able to obtain a passport reflecting their new gender.

With proper certification based on the statement of a physician, those who are still in the process of transitioning can obtain a limited-validity passport during their gender transition.  Previous policy listed sex reassignment surgery, a medical procedure that not all transgender people are willing or able to undergo, as a prerequisite for changing the gender on a passport.

The State Department announcement also directs all passport issuing officers in the United States and abroad to ask only appropriate questions to obtain the necessary information to determine the citizenship and identity of passport applicants.  Read the State Department’s announcement here.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – A Roadmap to Repeal

On Thursday night, May 27, two historic votes occurred that will pave the way for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the failed and harmful policy that bans bisexual, gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the US military.

The House of Representatives voted to include language that repeals DADT in the Defense Authorization bill that subsequently passed with a vote of 229 to 186.  On the same evening, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to include the same language in their version of the Defense Authorization bill.  These are crucial first steps towards a full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but the policy remains in place.  Service members are still being fired if they are found to be bisexual, gay or lesbian.  If you or someone you know is serving in the military, please read SLDN’s warning to service members.

The Senate bill is expected to be sent to the floor for a vote later this summer.  If the bill passes the Senate, both bills will be reviewed by a conference committee during the August recess.  The House and Senate will then vote on the conference report, which could conceivably put the Defense Authorization Act on the President’s desk by early October.

Public pressure to repeal DADT has gotten us this far, but we must keep it up if repeal language is to stay intact throughout this process.  In the run up to a Senate vote, the amendments could be weakened or stricken altogether by opponents of repeal.  Even if the amendments go through as part of the final bill, the President and Pentagon leaders must certify that the military is prepared for repeal.   They must show that the change in policy is consistent with current military standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruitment and retention.

The Pentagon is studying how to implement repeal and how it will affect service members and their families.  The decision whether or not to certify repeal will be based on the results of this study, which will be submitted on or before December 1, 2010.  60 days after the President transmits his certification to Congress, repeal of DADT will go into effect.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not immediately allow for open service.  It does, however pave the way for the military to put policies and regulations into place allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.  Several top military officials, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, support full repeal and open service.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is only the first step to open and safe service for gay and lesbian soldiers.  The language in the Defense Authorization bills does not require the military to create policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  As a matter of precedent, the military sets its own non-discrimination policies and federal law has never done so – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, has never applied to the armed forces.  Discrimination and harassment in the military based on sexual orientation will take time and effort to eradicate, but last week’s victories present the best opportunity for progress towards this goal in the history of our nation’s military.

The President, top Pentagon leaders, and a majority of members of Congress support DADT repeal.  Those who believe that our military must reflect American values of dignity, integrity and honesty know that open service is the only way to allow all members of the armed forces to live out these values.  As advocates of full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people, the UUA and its members are called to support all legislation that protects people from discrimination, violence and exclusion based on their identities.  Click here for more information on the UUA’s work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Reflections on Flying

I had managed to clip the ropes into the metal loops on my safety belt, and I began to climb the ladder. I was about to have my first flying trapeze lesson, and the first step was to make it up to the top of the platform. Someone on the ground reminded me to hold onto the rungs ahead of me instead of the sides of the ladder, and a vision of the whole ladder toppling to the ground with me under it flashed through my mind. I felt safer gripping the rungs, though still a little shaky. I kept climbing.

I’m afraid of heights and even more afraid of falling, but I had come to this class with my co-workers determined to face that fear head on. The instructors praised me for making it to the top, affirming that the hardest part, that long climb, was over, and now all I had to do was fly. I didn’t believe them.

For me, the hardest part was believing that my body could do something that I thought was impossible. The hardest part was believing wholeheartedly – enough to jump – that I was strong enough. I wasn’t convinced that my body would listen to me, and I knew myself well enough to know that if I didn’t believe it was possible, it wasn’t going to happen. So I waited for some faith. And when it didn’t come right away, I waited some more, and then I looked for it. I needed a few moments on top of that platform, holding on for dear life before I let go.

My faith started to surface not when I thought and bickered with myself harder and harder, not when I tried to reason myself out of sheer panic, but when I turned off my brain and trusted. The whole experience, the instructor reminded me, was designed to feel like the scariest thing in the world, but to be one of the safest. From the moment I clipped my belt into the ropes on the ground to the moment that my feet were back on the ground, I was completely and totally safe. Someone was holding those ropes, and they were not going to let anything bad happen to me. They promised.

I didn’t think about this until later, and only then with some prompting and prodding, but the work that I do, the hard work of advocacy, is based in large part on faith too. I don’t always have faith in the long and tortuous legislative process, but sometimes it comes through. I do have faith that the ripples of my work help move my corner of the world towards justice.

At the trapeze rig, the instructors gave me a choice. I could turn around and climb back down the ladder to get to the ground, or I could fly down. It was as simple as that. The faith came after I made my choice. Not being one to back down from a challenge, I chose to fly. The faith came when I could close my eyes for a moment, and through the teary panic, see myself flying and landing safely. The faith came when I knew that I would be safe and loved no matter what. And I flew.

I make the choice to conquer the choking fear I feel when the news tells me that the world is un-savable. I make the choice to be an advocate and an ally because so many others are silenced, and I can speak. And I know I’m not working alone. I’m surrounded by smart and passionate colleagues who challenge me to reflect upon and live out my deepest values. I am grateful for their accompaniment on this path.

My faith came from my ability to see through fear and despair into hope. My faith came from my ability to visualize the future, to see where I am in relation to those around me, to locate myself and my gifts and to use them to make change. I will always be learning. At my first trapeze lesion, even though flying only meant swinging from the bar and landing without any fancy tricks, everyone told me that I was the one who had done the most work that night. I was the one who had accomplished the most because I crossed the long distance between fear and flying, and then I made the leap.

Every Voice Counts for ENDA

Yesterday, I joined the GetEqual picket for ENDA on Capitol Hill. About 20 of us met on the corner just across the street from the Library of Congress and the Cannon House office building.  For about an hour, we marched around the block, watched by cops and protected by organizers and a legal observer.  We yelled our hearts out to all who could hear that we wanted to see ENDA passed and workplace discrimination made illegal in this country.

Seeing the effectiveness of actions like this can be hard for me, but feeling them isn’t.  As I marched and screamed, I thought of all of the privileges that brought me to Capitol Hill, my income, my education, and not least of all, the fact that not only do I have a job, but I have a job that encourages me to participate in such actions.  Not everyone is just as blessed, yet it should be their right.  Yesterday, I was screaming for everyone that has ever been fired, harassed and harmed in an unsafe workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I screamed for transgender people all over the country who are fighting for their very right to exist and being denied jobs and human dignity for just having the courage to live into their truest selves.  Witnessing their struggle challenges me to use my gifts and talents to do the same.

As I marched, I saw more than a few people stare past us and continue on to wherever they were going in the same way that I’ve often passed pickets and protests.  One can grow a thick skin living in this town where change is slow and one’s voice is rarely heard through “official channels”.  But I also saw people smiling at us and nodding their heads to the beat of our chants.  People walked by in the black and blue suits of Congressional office staff and chanted with us as our paths crossed. Members of Congress passed us on their way to or from their offices.  We drew the attention of everyone on the block and people came out of their offices and onto the balcony of the Cannon House office building to see us.  I remembered that small groups of people can have an impact, even if it’s a loud and mostly symbolic reminder to those in power that we and the people we represent will no longer be silent and we’re not going away.

The UUA is part of a larger effort to pass legislation that upholds the human right to earn a living with dignity, and I am bound by my humanity, to play a role in that effort.You can make your voice heard by taking action today and emailing your elected officials about ENDA

Week of Action for Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Equality!

May 17th -21st is a big week in the world of BGLT activism and advocacy.  Equality Across America – known for the National Equality March – is sponsoring actions with local groups all over the country in commemoration of Harvey Milk’s birthday.  The Defense Authorization Bill for FY2011 will be voted out of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, and it remains the best hope for passing legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.  Rep. Patrick Murphy is still working to champion repeal in the House.

Our partners at ENDA Now are spearheading a national week of action to demand that the House of Representatives move forward with a vote on the Employment Non Discrimination Act.  ENDA has been stalled in the House for months while employees in many areas are losing jobs or being harassed at work because of who they are or who they love.

The week of action kicks off with a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, May 18th.  A rally is also planned for Tuesday outside of the San Francisco federal building where Nancy Pelosi has her local office.   BGLT advocacy organizations are asking their members all over the country to call Congress and demand a vote on ENDA immediately.  Even if you have taken action before, it is critical that your lawmakers hear from you again.  ENDA will only move forward if there’s enough public pressure, and that’s where you come in.

Please take a few moments today or tomorrow to call your Representative and tell the how important workplace fairness and equality are to your community.

If you want to get more involved, look for what’s happening this week in your community and connect with other equality activists at the Equality Across America website.

Stories from the Frontlines – Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Unitarian Universalist Joan Darrah is helping Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) launch their new media campaign, “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama”. Every day for the next month, leading up to House and Senate votes on the Defense Authorization bill, SLDN will publish a different letter to President Obama from a veteran who was impacted by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. The Defense Authorization bill is the most appropriate and likely legislative vehicle for DADT repeal language to pass both houses of Congress and become law.

According to SLDN spokespeople, this campaign will “underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal DADT.” The letters will tell individual veterans’ stories as they urge the President to include DADT repeal in his recommendations for the defense authorization bill and to be a strong advocate for repeal with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Read Joan Darrah’s letter to President Obama, and take action today!

Day of Silence Recognized in Schools and Congress

Last Friday, April 16, hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and staff at schools and colleges across the nation held events for the Day of Silence. These events aim to draw attention to the silence faced by those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, as well as to help students and staff make their schools safer for everyone.

On April 21, this year’s Day of Silence was recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives when Rep. Sam Farr of California expressed his support and his pride in cosponsoring H.R. 4530, the Student Non-Discrimination Act. He said:

Every day, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered, as well as those who are perceived as being LGBT, are subjected to harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. These actions are incredibly harmful to students and they also damage our educational system.

Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults participated in Day of Silence events around the country, and several of them shared their stories afterwards.

Ksenia Varlyguina, a teacher at Everett High school in MA, taught her first period class in silence and debriefed with her students at the end of day. Together, they discussed who is silenced in their school, how, why, and what they can do to change this. Of the day’s purpose, her student Rodrigo said, “I feel we have a long way to go before Day of Silence is really understood. People try to get you to talk and they don’t see the reasoning behind it; for me it’s to stop the discrimination that has been close to me for a chunk of my life.”

Sixteen-year-old Ben Walter, a of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois was inspired by all of the people wearing the rainbow ribbons that his student group handed out. He says, “It reminded me that though there’s a lot of negativity to this cause, there’s also a lot of people that do support it, I just might not be aware of it.”

Margaret Low, a UU seminarian from North Andover, MA, spoke to the students at Haverhill High School. She told them, “each and every person in this room, at this school, and in this community has a story to tell. Whether that story includes being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender … or whether it includes being straight … each of you is here for a reason.”

She went on to tell her own coming out story while honoring all those who must remain silent about their lives and loved ones. Margaret sees her own process of coming out as continual – it happens every time she tells someone about events in her daily life. She added that her partner, who serves in the U.S. military, does not have the same right:

My girlfriend wanted to join me here today to tell her story. She wanted to speak about her experience of coming out to her friends and her family … and she wanted to speak about serving in the Armed Forces under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But she is not here, because the threat to her military career is too great to stand before you and be who she is.

Margaret shared some of her partner’s reflections on life under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

I sit alone at military functions; therefore regarded as “not quite established” and definitely not as important as other people. I get bumped to the top of the list to do extra things because I’m not married, and don’t have children. …Someone else’s personal life is considered respectable; and mine is considered a crime. Denying who you are to society each day is enough; why must we do so, in order to serve our country … something the majority of people are unwilling to do. We’re not allowed to be proud of everything that we do, and everything that we are, because we are gay.

Margaret’s partner could be sick, injured or even killed during a deployment, and the military would not contact Margaret. This experience is common among LGBT soldiers currently serving in the military and their families. Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act are necessary to break the silence that still surrounds LGBT lives and communities. So is gaining equal access to health care, adoption, social services, civil marriage, and recognition of same-sex couples under comprehensive immigration reform.

A teacher at Haverhill said that Margaret’s story helped the students feel “okay to be themselves” and led them to share their own stories and struggles with their classmates. Those of us who are willing and able to tell our stories and lift up the voices of those who are silenced are obliged to do so until everyone, including all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, is equally protected by the laws of this country. As Representative Farr concluded,

Though many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates, and their straight allies, were silent last Friday, we in Congress should never be. Our job is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

May it be so.