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UUA Social Justice

HRC Religion and Faith Program: A Tribute to Rev. William Sinkford

The following was sent by the Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program. We thank them for their continued collaboration and for their recognition of a significant partnership at the end of the term of former UUA President Rev. William Sinkford. Dr. Sharon Groves, the Deputy Director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, is a member at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC.

During his eight years as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Religion Council member Rev. William Sinkford has been a stalwart advocate on all issues affecting our diverse community. In particular, through his leadership, Unitarian Universalists have emerged as some of the most powerful religious advocates for marriage equality throughout the states. Read our tribute here.

Building Strength for Immigration Reform at General Assembly

by Susan Leslie, Director, UUA Office for Congregational Advocacy & Witness

If there was a sub-theme at General Assembly this year it was for immigrant justice and the need for comprehensive, just and humane, family-based immigration reform.

This year’s public witness event on June 26th was an interfaith rally called Standing on the Side of Love with Immigrant Families. It featured UUA President Rev. William Sinkford, Bishop John Wester, Chair of the Catholic Conference of Bishops Committee on Migration and Refugees (who along with the UUA has called for an end to the ICE raids), Bishop Carolyn Irish Tanner of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, Cannon Rev. Dr. Pablo Ramos who is the Latino Missioner for the diocese and described what immigrant families are facing daily, and a moving personal testimony from Larry Love, the father of a Mormon family that is being separated because of the current immigration laws (the mother of three US citizen children is under deportation orders). The rally was hosted by Rev. Tom Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, a congregation with an active immigration task force and member of the New Sanctuary Movement. Members of First Unitarian’s choir and musicians provided wonderful music and energy for the event, including a heartfelt rendition of “Standing on the Side of Love” and “We Can Make a Difference.”

Rev. Sinkford led a pledge of commitment by UUs and others to stand on the side of love with immigrant families. New UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and presidential candidate Rev. Laurel Hallman joined him on stage. [Note: Newly elected UUA President Rev. Peter Morales will be attending an interfaith press conference and Capitol Hill lobby visit for immigration reform in Washington, DC on July 27th.]

The rally was attended by over 1,000 UUs (our largest ever!) who marched over from the convention center, along with many people from the community.

You can read about the event and watch a video of it on our website.

The event was also the first action by the newly UUA-initiated Standing on the Side of Love Campaign. See www.standingonthesideoflove.org for more about the rally, the campaign, and local organizing in support of immigrants.

The witness was particularly timely because a new anti-immigrant law just went into effect in Utah on July 1st that authorizes all Utah law enforcement personnel to at as immigrant agents in cooperation with ICE (Immigrant Customs and Enforcement). The law is so controversial in Utah that legislators had to add an opt-out clause and the Police Chief of Salt Lake City has already announced that he will not have the SLC police force used as immigration enforcers. He has been joined by the Salt Lake County Sheriff and others.

In addition to the rally, hundreds attended a GA workshop on June 24th entitled Welcoming Our Neighbors: The Path to Immigration Reform. Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran minister and a national coordinator of the New Sanctuary Movement, gave a cogent analysis and plan for how to achieve reform. She was joined by Rev. Pablo Ramos (who also spoke at the rally), and Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the Minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix AZ, whose congregation received the UUA Congregational Social Justice Bennett Award for their work for immigrant justice in a very polarized situation where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gained national notoriety for his anti-immigrant practices.

More coverage and a video of the worksh0p can be found on our website.

As part of the UU University Social Justice Track – A People So Bold, Janice Marie Johnson of Community Church UU New York told the story of how her congregation decided to become a New Sanctuary Congregation and the work they have been doing to support immigrant families. They were part of the UU Social Justice Resource Fair (along with the UUA Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness) to provide information on the New Sanctuary Movement and how UU congregations can participate. (We will be posting more info about this soon!)

There was also an “off the grid” meeting at GA with Rev. Alexia and UUA advocacy and witness staff for about 20 congregational immigrant justice leaders who strategized about ways UUs can make more of an impact and get more of our congregations involved. To get involved, please subscribe to the
UUA Immigration Newsletter and let me know if you want to be added to the immigrant justice leaders closed list.

Momentum is truly building for a path to citizenship for the twelve million people in this country caught by a broken system and UUs are helping lead the way.

UU essay contest winner raises awareness about abuses of migrants in southern Mexico

Juliana Morris is a 24 year-old aspiring public health professional and lifelong UU who attends the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stonybrook. For the past year, she has been working as a research assistant on the southern Mexico border, learning about the health and vulnerability of migrants. She won the UUA’s “Crash Course for Immigrant Justice” Essay Contest by writing about her experiences there. In the future, Juliana hopes to study medicine and to continue working on health and social justice issues.

Immigrant Justice
Juliana Morris

A loving immigration policy would work to preserve the human rights of migrants in all aspects of the immigration process: in their settlement into their communities in the United States, the journey it takes them to get there, and in their home communities that they leave behind.

I am currently working on the southern border of Mexico with Central American migrants who cross Mexico headed to the United States. Migrants in this region suffer major abuses. Due to their vulnerable situation, many people take advantage of them, discriminate against them, and exploit them for their own interests. Local thieves, police, migration officials, bus drivers, and employers have all been guilty of these types of actions. As a result of this situation, there are appallingly high rates of human rights abuses against migrants. For example, according to the 2008 Migration Forum in Madrid, Spain, eight out of every ten female migrants that enter Mexico through its southern border are raped at some point during their journey through the country.

Even though these events do not take place on U.S. soil, U.S. immigration policy plays a part in creating the dangerous situation in southern Mexico.

Firstly, if it were easier for Central American migrants to enter the United States through legal means, they wouldn’t have to risk an illegal crossing through Mexico because they could obtain a transitory migrant visa. They could cross without having to hide; legally and safely. The U.S. needs to increase the opportunities for legal entry into the country in order to decrease the vulnerability of migrants in transit and to prevent human rights abuses throughout Mexico.

Secondly, in recent years the U.S. has put pressure on Mexico to beef up its immigration control through international forums such as the Regional Conference on Migration. In addition, the U.S. has financially supported various immigration control efforts of Mexico. Many experts believe the U.S. is exerting its influence for its own border-control interests; in order to diminish the number of immigrants reaching and attempting to cross the Mexico/U.S. border. These efforts have led migrants to increasingly hide during their journey and have therefore increased their vulnerability. The U.S. needs to stop pressuring Mexico to enact policies that serve U.S. interests and lead as an example in enacting policies that preserve migrants’ rights.

In order for comprehensive immigration reform to protect the human rights of migrants, it must take into account these two issues. It must increase opportunities and the feasibility of legal entry for migrants. It must involve a true dialogue with Mexico that looks for lasting solutions and does not pressure Mexico to act in U.S. border-control interests. In addition, it must take into account the other aspects of migrants’ experiences, by striving to protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants in the United States and by working to ensure possibilities for development and growth in sending communities. Loving immigration policy must depart from a global perspective and take into account its effects on the well being of migrants throughout their journey.

Same Sex Partners of U.S. Diplomats to Receive Benefits

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the State Department would begin offering benefits to the same sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Below are the reflections of Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who worked in many Foreign Service posts and whose partner received none of the benefits offered to heterosexual couples and families in the same positions. Read the New York Times article here.

For over 25 years I served the U.S. Government mostly overseas as an American Diplomat. I survived assassination attempts in Karachi, Pakistan and in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (from an assassin sent by Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor who now faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in the Hague.) I survived the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. However, through all those years there were never any provisions for same-sex partners. While we worked and risked our lives, we didn’t receive equal benefits for equal work.

Heterosexual families got travel, health and other benefits. Even dogs and cats had their transport paid for by the U.S. taxpayer for up to $3,000. Kids got their education paid for in posh private schools, while same-sex partners got nothing at all, including children of the same-sex partner — nothing.

After having served for 25 years, I retired. I get my health insurance and pension, but there is nothing for my spouse, Isaac Humphrie. We were married in Canada in 2006 while I was still an active employee at the Department of State. Our marriage received no recognition, so Isaac is not covered either by my pension nor my health insurance. Isaac lost his job last month at Balducci’s because they closed their stores in New York City. He has part-time employment with no health coverage.

Heterosexual diplomatic families receive tens of thousands of dollars in benefits every year while same sex families get less than the family dog or cat. It seems that this terrible inequity is about to change. It is about time and I hope that my retirement benefits can be adjusted so that Isaac can have health insurance and rights to my pension should I pass on. It is only fair to give employees of whatever sexual orientation or gender identity equal benefits for equal work to those received by heterosexual employees.

Many of America’s top industries have been providing equal benefits for equal work for years, decades. Many states and municipal governments also provide equal benefits for equal work. It is high time for the Federal Government to provide its employees equal benefits for equal work. I put my life on the line and risked death in the service of my country many times. I deserve the same benefits as other officers who have worked as hard and risked as much as I have. Most have worked far less and risked less, but receive many more benefits worth far more money than I have received. While the Department of State provides a $3,000 allowance recognizing the bonds of love and affection that people have for dogs and cats, it gave no allowance for same-sex couples. It is high time for the Department of State to provide same-sex families with the same benefits as opposite-sex families.

What Are We Reading?

As we note the passage of Memorial Day, we recognize the unofficial start of Summer. And that means it is time for the UUA Advocacy and Witness Summer Reading Guide. I find it very interesting that this year’s guide, as opposed to last year’s, has considerably fewer titles that are “political” in nature.

Before we get to our individual titles, I would like to mention that the Washington Office would overwhelmingly like to suggest Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel. This book is one part spiritual memoir and one part history of the Interfaith Youth Core. Patel’s story is thoughtful, powerful and deeply spiritual. It came highly recommended to me by a friend who saw him speak at GA last year and it quickly turned into the first (and thus far only) Unofficial Washington Office Book Club.

What books are on your reading list this summer? We would love to hear from you. Please place your recommendations in the comments below.

Pick up the next
Clive Cussler novel you find in the free pile at a yard sale. It won’t change your life (or the world), but it’ll be fun. Wikipedia likens Cussler to Michael Crichton, but draws the following distinction, “Where Crichton strives for scrupulous realism, however, Cussler prefers spectacles and outlandish plot devices.” Nothing soothes the social justice soul on the brink of burnout like an outlandish plot device. Trust me; Cussler has gotten me through some real tough times. Its like going on an incredibly adventurous, mysterious vacation on your bus ride to work. Basically, its a chance to get away and forget about (real) life, which I believe should be a part of everyone’s spiritual practice.


As an avid “urban homesteader,” I love reading about lost knowledge and techniques deemed archaic by today’s standards, Lost Crafts has become my go to manual for how to make the best butter I have ever ate, improving my canned pickles and dreaming about keeping bees. Two books that have changed the way I see my food are the considerably spiritual Animal Vegetable and Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and, the much more stoic, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Both books explore Western Culture’s relationship with food.
For the families out there, I recommend the classic L. Frank Baum masterpiece The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Everyone should already be familiar with the 1930’s Judy Garland movie. But Baum’s book was actually a parable for 19th Century agrarian populism. Through this fantastic adventure, learn about the plight of the subsistence farmer in the *first* Great Depression (post Civil War America) and how the silver standard is superior to the gold standard. In this time of renewed interest in populism and economics, now is the time to put some things in some historical perspective.

My recommended summer read is Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase. It’s the kind of blood-and-thunder tale that Prof Bhaer dissuaded Jo March from writing, which is too bad, because Jo/L.M. Alcott wrote killer pot-boilers. (It was declared “too long & too sensational!” at the time, which is the sign of a fantastic book, if you ask me.) The story has all the tropes we associate with an overwrought Victorian tempered with New England resoluteness. Pious heroine? Check. Maniacally obsessed villain? Check. Sham marriage? Check. Multiple foreign locales of an excessively Gothic nature? Check, check, and check. Unlike many 19th century novels, our heroine doesn’t develop the vapours and wait for the hero – she takes her own life in her hands and the result is pretty awesome.

If tawdry fiction isn’t your thing – but you could go for a little heat this summer – I recommend Barry Werth’s biography of Newton Arvin, The Scarlet Professor. Winner of the second National Book Award for his biography of Herman Melville, Arvin was also Truman Capote’s lover and an internationally renown literary critic and professor at Smith College. Deeply closeted, Arvin struggled with depression and feelings of worthlessness even as a his works received numerous accolades and awards. Most heartbreaking, Arvin was arrested at age 60 for possession of homosexual porn; the ensuing scandal ended Arvin’s career at Smith and led to the arrest of other closeted homosexuals in Northampton. Werth’s biography is sympathetic and compassionate; it reads like a novel without being simplistic or sensational.

For summer reading, a sci-fi classic from the 70s that, sad to say, I’ve only recently read: Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In this updated version of Dante Aligheri’s masterpiece, sci-fi writer Allen Carpentier takes the place of Dante and Benito Mussolini takes the place of Virgil, his guide through Hell. First of all, I love (good) re-envisionings of classic stories, making them more relevant to our times. And this is what Niven and Pournelle accomplish. For instance, the sin of simony is all but extinct now, but as our society has changed over the centuries, new ones have taken its place, and the residents of Hell reflect these changes. Secondly, despite the gruesome descriptions of eternal torture, there is a universalist message to the story. Inferno, an easy, fun, provocative read. If you haven’t already, grab a copy.

My summer book recommendations include Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino, Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir by Elizabeth Andrew, and The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.

I like to read trashy ‘cozy mystery’ novels that embarrass my daughter when I carry them around. With spunky heroines who don’t stop when they’re told to. No title can embarrass me (thankfully I’m not twelve any more) so I have recently read such gems as “Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver?” and “Gruel and Unusual Punishment.” I don’t really care who did it; I just feel happy to know that, unlike real life, the bad guys will get found out in the end and the strong woman will prevail!

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is one of my favorite love stories with a serious twist: the main character, Henry DeTamble, travels thorough time at any moment and without warning, and often ends up at significant moments in his own or his loved one’s life. It’s beautiful and heart wrenching and not sappy, and it’s also set mostly in Chicago. I like reading a book where I know the setting so well that I get little inside references that people who haven’t spent a lot of time there wouldn’t pick up on. Oh, and they’re releasing the film they just made of this one on August 14th. I hope they didn’t screw it up!

My other fascinations are long and involved series with lots of characters, complex plots and rich descriptions of alternate universes. I know there are many more out there that I haven’t yet read, but one of my favorites so far is the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. The series consists of the books, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and the long awaited and hopefully forthcoming A Dance With Dragons. I also love Sharon Shinn’s Archangel series, which is full of strong characters, love, high adventure, and a lot of arcane and beautiful religious imagery and symbolism. Someday I hope to understand most of it.

What’s in Our Gardens?

The Advocacy and Witness team has ten members in a total of three cities ranging from Boston, MA to Minneapolis, MN and Washington, DC. Over half of our team members have gardens that they lovingly tend.

Today, we are sharing our recommendations for things we love to plant in our gardens. We hope you will join us in growing beautiful flowers, lush grasses and bushes and delicious vegetables. What do you like to plant in your garden? Please give some recommendations in the comments below.

Adam: Plant a row of basil, there is nothing like frozen fresh pesto to get you through the winter.

Alex: I love Okra! I think it is probably due to some latent Southern gene left from my dustbowler ancestors. But finding good okra in the grocery store is an Arthurian quest. And getting it at the farmer’s market requires deep pockets. Even then, it as a tendency to be a bit slimy. But I have discovered that growing okra is really easy. Our okra at home grows fast and tall. Last year’s plants grew taller than our corn. It has beautiful flowers. And its production rate is outstanding! I felt like every time I cut off a fruit, a flower popped up the very next day. I also realized why farmer’s don’t like to grow it. It takes some space, it is covered with tiny needle like spines. And the ripening period is a little bit fickle. But with a little bit of vigilance, a pair of gloves, and a good pair of garden shears, you will be up to your nose in delicious, fresh, not-at-all slimy okra. I really prefer the Star of David okra from Seed Savers Exchange.

Audra: My favorite garden treat: cilantro! Chips and homemade salsa can’t be beat – especially when enjoyed with a spicy book! (My tried-and-true recipe: tomatoes, cilantro, white onion, jalapeño to taste, salt, pepper, lime juice. Yum!)

Our vegetable garden doesn’t have anything very exotic, but a highlight of our summer will be the first chance to grill corn, zucchini, and yellow squash and serve it with a salad of mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. We’re going to try to prevent our spinach and cilantro from “bolting” early as they did last year. And, we’re hopeful that the long beans and peas get along well together in their raised bed this year. By early August the eggplants should be lovely to look at and make for a tasty baba ghanoush. The first crop of strawberries are probably only a week away from harvesting, various other berries a month or so later. And, if the garden gods are kind to us, the watermelons will get enough sunshine and rain to put big smiles on the faces of family and friends by the end of the summer.

Inch by inch, row by row…

My summer garden pick, arugula. And I feel compelled to state that I have drooled over arugula long before I ever heard of Barack Obama or the fact that it is his favorite leafy green. (Obama’s left-handedness and love for arugula are two things that the president and I share in common.) While its pungent, peppery goodness kicks up the flavor of salads, it is equally good as a pizza topping.

My favorite summer vegetable is rhubarb, which is very healthy, and which goes best with several cups of vegan butter and sugar.

Meg: New Zealand Spinach! That’s my favorite vegetable to plant! Unlike regular spinach, it will keep you in green, leafy, vitamin rich spinach for the entire summer! And it is a bit bulkier so it doesn’t cook down as dramatically as regular spinach either. It’s not as good to eat raw as regular spinach, but it is fantastic cooked!

Orelia: As far as vegetable plants go, there’s nothing I love more than a plate of freshly picked cucumbers and tomatoes covered in salt on a hot summer day. Datura (moonflowers) are my favorite summer scent, especially since they open and are most fragrant at dusk.

Prop 8 Ruling: Reflections from Rev. Lindi Ramsden

These words come from Rev. Lindi Ramsden, the director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California. Rev. Ramsden is pictured here speaking at a press conference yesterday.

Today was a sad day for California’s constitution and marked a setback for our state Supreme Court. While the principle of a majority vote is an important part of the melody of democracy, without the tonic and grounding notes that protect the rights of minorities from the fears and tyranny of the majority, our song is discordant, and our democracy disfigured.

Last May the Court eloquently ruled that marriage was more than a bundle of rights and responsibilities, and that all couples must be treated equally. During the oral arguments in March, I was surprised to hear some of the justices, in their effort to protect parts of their previous decision in the face of Proposition 8, pulling back to imply that marriage is but a word.

We know that marriage is more than a word, and that equality matters now as much as it did then. The good news is that those of us who were blessed to be able to legally marry during the short window of opportunity will continue to live our lives out loud. California’s skies will not fall, pigs won’t fly and hell won’t freeze and the presence of married same sex couples will live out what is possible to a world that would deny their commitment. In the absence of dire predictions, hope will blossom and those couples now denied their right to marry will be granted that possibility in some new day. And that day will come.

California must now be a leader in overturning such a blot on our constitution. The conversation and campaign in California will ripple out beyond our state and beyond marriage. Together we will see the day when men and women serving in our armed forces can safely receive the support of their loved ones without losing their jobs. We will see the day when youth are safe in school. We will see the day when the religious doctrines of some are not used to deny the rights of others. We will win the freedom to marry for all couples who want to pledge a life of mutual accountability and support. We will get there by standing shoulder to shoulder with others who are also in need, and by leading with the Spirit of Love.

It would have been a blessing if the Court had fully reaffirmed equal protection before the law. Clearly, there is more work to be done. Love will guide us.

Be well.

UUA President Decries CA Court’s Marriage Ruling

Earlier today, William G. Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, issued the following statement in response to the California Supreme Court decision upholding Proposition 8.

I am deeply troubled that the discrimination Proposition 8 introduced into the California constitution last fall has been upheld today, barring future marriages between same-sex couples. While I expected the narrow, technical reasoning behind the California Supreme Court’s decision, still I grieve for the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whose rights and dignity have been under assault since the passage of Proposition 8.

It is my earnest hope that the spirit of fairness sweeping the country this spring ultimately will prevail in California, where thousands of legally married same-sex couples will continue to bear witness to the vital importance of this basic civil right. Every day more and more Americans are choosing to stand on the side of love with these brave families, and I pray that the citizens and lawmakers of California will join them.

This video was produced by the Human Rights Campaign. Permission to use “I Won’t Back Down” graciously provided by singer Dawn Landes and original composer Tom Petty.

A day of solidarity with Postville and communities affected by immigration raids

Today marks the one year anniversary of the raid in Postville, Iowa, where 389 people were arrested. In Postville and in communities across the country, people are standing in solidarity with immigrant workers and families and their friends and loved ones by calling for justice and comprehensive immigration reform.

You can stand in solidarity as well by sending a letter to your representatives through the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s website.

Find a solidarity event in your area at the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Event Calendar. If an event you’re organizing or attending is not listed, please email kherrick@networklobby.org to have the event added.

To learn more about the raid in Postville, watch a short 8 minute film at the website for the forthcoming documentary abUSed: The Postville Raid.

Taking Personal Stories to Capitol Hill

Guest blogger Rev. Dr. Cynthia Landrum is Minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty in Clarklake, MI. You can read more about her experience at the HRC Clergy Call on her blog Rev. Cyn

This was the first time I ever went to Capitol Hill to lobby, so I approached the situation with a great deal of nervous excitement. The Human Rights Campaign suggested that we bring along letters of testimonial or support from members of our congregation. I asked my local congregation for letters, as well as my local PFLAG chapter. I received nine letters, to which I added one of my own, to make an even ten. Six were from members of my congregation—four from gay and lesbian members, two from supporters. Two of the others were from gay and lesbian members of our community, and the last was from a man whose same-sex marriage I performed when I was a minister in Massachusetts.

The letters from the seven gay and lesbian people I received told of instances in their lives of discrimination—being harassed publicly, being physically beaten or threatened with violence, being discriminated against in the workplace. One member of my congregation told of people she has known, gay men who took their own lives because of the horrible bullying and harassment they had been facing. She writes, “I had another friend who was teased all through Junior and Senior high school about what his sexual orientation would be and he… sat on the railroad tracks and let the train hit him.” Her partner writes, “We are separate & not equal. We are murdered.” One of the supporters who wrote a letter wrote of one of the terrible stories of this area, one that should not be forgotten, but already is being forgotten, as a Google search will bring up nothing of this story:

Seven Adrian men were arrested and tried for supposed homosexual activity in a local park on what turned out to be very questionable evidence. Police actually dug foxholes and used night photography to try to catch them… In a community of that size, and considering several of these men had families, the result for them was catastrophic.

The man whose marriage I performed in Massachusetts writes, “Because we are gay, we are publicly asked to deny our marriage on federal forms.” That little sentence, about being forced to deny his husband, spoke volumes to me.

Through these letters, I learned much more about my congregation members than I had known before. I knew that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people face discrimination and even violence. I didn’t, however, know about the individual instances of violence that people I know and care deeply for had faced.

When I took these letters in to our senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and to my congressman, Mark Schauer, I wanted to make sure these voices were heard. Too often, I am sure, papers that are handed to the staff members of senators and congressmen are tossed into a pile, at best, or a trash can, at worst. So I took a few moments and read some of the stories of violence that these Michigan voters had faced, to make sure that it was understood that the Matthew Shepard Act is an important piece of legislation that will make a real difference in people’s lives in this state that these legislators serve.

What I saw in the eyes of the staff members, and my congressman, was that they were deeply moved by hearing these stories. Hearing the stories made an impact on them. They took the copies of the letters with great care, thankful for having them. One of the senator’s staff members said how important it was to the senator to have stories like this to share as the legislation was being debated and voted on. The congressman’s staff member wanted very much to have the original copies to hold and share. (Fortunately, I had brought them.) And Congressman Mark Schauer said personally how meaningful it was to him to have met Matthew Shepard’s mother when she came to Congress.

Our senators and congressmen and congresswomen meet a lot of lobbyists. They get asked to vote for and against a lot of things by a lot of people. They get a lot of paper pushed into their hands. But what I learned in going to Capitol Hill is that when they get the rare opportunity to listen to real people’s stories and see how legislation that they work on makes a real and significant difference in these lives, they listen, and they care.

I am so thankful for the members of my community for sharing those stories with me. They made a difference to me, and I believe they will make a difference to this nation.