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UUA Social Justice

UUA’s Advocacy & Witness is now on facebook.

While all UUA staff (and most UUs) are committed to helping to build a more just and equitable world, it is the express purpose of the Advocacy & Witness staff group to take Unitarian Universalist values out into the broader world – to advocate for issues that are important to UUs, to represent Unitarian Universalist values, and to empower UU congregations and individuals to do the same. This staff blog, Inspired Faith, Effective Action, is part of our efforts to communicate information to you in more timely and diverse ways. (We’ve been going for over a year now!) In addition, we maintain the social justice pages of uua.org, where you can find important dates, resources, and suggested actions, as well as several email lists. However, even though we ask for feedback, most of this communication is one-way.

This week, we are pleased to announce that the Advocacy & Witness staff group is now on facebook. Find us under Advocacy & Witness Initiatives of the Unitarian Universalist Association. From this page, you can read our blog, see other announcements including events, and view photos and videos. But more than that, facebook allows you to communicate with Advocacy & Witness and with other UUs engaged in social justice by leaving messages on the “Wall,” starting “Discussions,” and sharing photos of your social justice actions. Please join us on facebook, become a “fan,” invite other UUs engaged in social justice work to become fans, and share your work with Unitarian Universalists across the continent (and world).

UUs’ Op-ed: Shall we be innkeepers or wise men?

An op-ed by Rev. Victoria Safford and Dan Hoxworth, Chair of the Economic Justice Initiative at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, was published yesterday on MinnPost.com.

In Are We a Nation of Innkeepers or Wise Men, Hoxworth and Safford reflect on the Christmas nativity story to gain a new perspective on the immigration debate.

Read it here: Are We a Nation of Innkeepers or Wise Men?

Photo Credit to Prio, Creative Commons.

UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide 2008

Here it is folks, our second annual UU Activist Holiday Gift Guide!

Adam’s suggestion: A subscription to Fast Company Magazine

A business magazine!?!?! Have you gone crazy Adam? No, I have not. It is the only magazine that I read cover to cover, every time I get one in the mail. To be an effective Social Justice advocate, it is important to see things from multiple perspectives, stay on top of emerging trends, and think outside the box. Fast Company is “Where people and ideas meet.” It often profiles leaders who are building companies or organizations in innovative ways. It has many features on emerging green businesses and products, as well as cutting edge technology. Two of my favorite articles were their profile of Adam Werbach’s work with Wal-Mart and their profile of Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington D.C.’s public school system. The magazine is printed on 100% recycled paper – 85% post consumer. I encourage you to pick up a copy at a newsstand and check it out. If you have any fast thinkers among your friends and family, this may be the perfect gift.

Grace’s suggestion: Etsy.com

Instead of buying gifts from a department store this year, check out etsy.com. This site allows people to buy and sell handmade items. You can support artists from all over the nation and surprise your loved one with a one-of-a-kind gift. The site is easy to use and allows you to narrow your search in a variety of ways; including geographical location, color, type of item and featured sellers. But remember, most of the items are one-of-a-kind so don’t wait too long!

Alex’s suggestion: Cook Books

With the current recession, you and your loved ones may find that you are eating at home more. That is generally good for your health and pocketbook, as meals cooked at home tend to contain less fat and salt and more fresh ingredients. With increased home cooking, you may want to purchase a cookbook for your loved ones. But don’t just go out there and buy the first thing you find in the store. Remember, a cookbook is no help if it never gets opened. Here are a few tips to ensure your new book is a well-loved one.

  1. Actually look through some books. Are the recipes well laid out in the book? Do they make sense? Are the ingredients easy to get? Are the pictures helpful? Does the author take the time to explain what is happening? Some authors, like Deborah Madison and Mark Bittman, are famous for explaining their recipes and teaching techniques in the books. I actually sat down with my copy of Madison’s book and read it cover to cover.
  2. Avoid books written by celebrity chefs. Just because the cook in your life likes watching “Top Chef” doesn’t mean they want to make all the recipes on the show. Similarly, celebrity chefs aren’t always renowned for the ease of their ingredients or for the accuracy of their recipes.
  3. Make sure the book fits the cooking style and ability of the cook. If your cook likes to make simple, light vegetarian food and lives in Portland, Oregon—then Mario Batali’s Mediterranean Grilling book would not be an appropriate choice. On the other hand, it might be perfect for the Californian griller in your life. Furthermore, if your cook is just learning their art, make sure your book is not too complicated.
  4. Great places to look for cookbooks are thrift stores, used book stores, and rummage sales. Here, you will find some real gems. You can find gently used and well loved books that may be out of print.

Lisa’s suggestion is to donate to GNOUU

GNOUU stands for Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists, which she blogged about earlier in the week. Like the rest of the Crescent City, the UUs of New Orleans are still in need of help from hurricane Katrina, and the recent downturn in the economy has made raising necessary funds all the harder. Make a donation in the name of a loved one. Before you do, think about the support that you’d like to receive from your extended UU family if your congregation ever experienced a disaster. After you make your donation, tell others about GNOUU!

Kat seconds Lisa’s suggestion.

Inspired Faith, Effective Action invites your comments

Hello all,

The Advocacy and Witness staff group is pleased to announce that our blog, Inspired Faith, Effective Action, is now accepting comments. We hope this will faciliate more conversation, where we can hear and learn from each other.

Toward that end, we’re imposing just a few common sense rules:

  1. Commenters must use a valid email address that is their own. In other words, no anonymous commenting.
  2. Comments should respond to the post, or to a comment to the post. In other words, no spam, soapbox preaching, or personal attacks.

Comments will be moderated to ensure the above rules are followed. Other than that, please feel welcome to give us feedback. And have fun.

Unitarian Universalists Running for Office

A recent story was posted on uuworld.org about Unitarian Universalists (UUs) across the country running for political office. These candidates, in Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Maine, offer interesting insights into the intersection of faith, politics, and the campaign trail.

At a critical juncture in our country’s history, UUs across the country are finding many ways to have a positive impact on our future. While most UUs will not run for office, there are other ways UUs and UU congregations can engage in this election. Your congregation can help get out the vote, support or oppose ballot measures, and register voters. The UUA has many resources that can help your congregation engage in those actions in ways that do not violate IRS guidelines.

Happy election season!

Matthew Shepard, 10 Years Later

Our guest blogger today is Keith Kron from the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries (IBDM), director of the Office of BGLT Concerns:

“Life was so much easier twenty years ago.” – Kenny Rogers lyric from the song “Twenty Years Ago” in 1986.

“But Palin’s embrace of small-town values is where her hold on the national imagination begins. She embodies the most basic American myth — Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, the fantasia of rural righteousness — updated in a crucial way: now Mom works too. Palin’s story stands with one foot squarely in the nostalgia for small-town America and the other in the new middle-class reality.”
– Joe Klein, Sept. 10th,2008 Time Magazine

The two men who beat and tortured a gay University of Wyoming student ignored his pleas that they spare his life, leaving him tied to a ranch fence, unconscious and barely breathing, investigators said Friday. “During the incident the victim was begging for his life,” said Albany County Judge Robert A. Castor, reading an arrest affadavit.
– Associated Press, Oct. 10th, 1998

The Denver Post reports that one local resident “wasn’t shocked to hear a gay man had been beaten so severely.” She said: “Here in the rural West, such intolerance still is not that unusual.”

On October 12th, 1998, just less than hour after midnight, Matthew Shepard died. I had been preaching in Golden, Colorado, a couple of hours south of Laramie, Wyoming, when the story of Matthew’s attack broke and made national news.

Four days later, representing the UUA, I arrived back in Colorado and drove 2 hours north to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I arrived in Wyoming to participate in an interfaith service in Cheyenne, to speak to the UU congregation in Laramie, visit and listen to UUs and the bglt community of Casper, and attend a community gathering for the University of Wyoming students and faculty.

I said a few words, did a lot of listening, talked with various local religious leaders and community leaders, and was interviewed for local television (where the cameraman for the interview later would be seen as the weekend anchor).

But mostly I remember visiting the fencerow.

A group of us from the Laramie UU congregation went out to the fencerow where Matthew had been tied and left after the Sunday service. I was sure the car I was in was going to lose parts as we navigated the rocky terrain path to the fence. There wasn’t much close by, other than a house being built behind the fence a couple of football fields away. Remote. Remote and beautiful. The Rocky Mountains, the Big Sky of the West, the town of Laramie, all unfolded in front of the fence in spectacular fashion. I remember the view from the fence the most clearly.

It’s been ten years since Matthew was robbed, beaten, and killed. The world has changed a lot since then.

Our congregations held vigils in honor Matthew Shepard, needed less pushing to become Welcoming Congregations, and have worked for marriage equality. Will and Grace, Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk, and The L Word changed the television landscape. Barney Frank and Suze Orman are seen as experts in the current economic meltdown. Thirty-four states passed hate crime legislation where sexual orientation was included since Matthew’s death, though Wyoming never did. Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut have marriage for same sex couples; several other states have civil unions and domestic partnerships.

There is a hopeful line in the play The Laramie Project where a character remarks that “the world only spins forward.”

I think the Kenny Rogers song however speaks for many. When the song was release in 1986, twenty years ago would have been the mid-60s. If you’ve ever been to Alaska, once you get outside of Anchorage into smaller towns like Wasilla, Palmer, Seward, and Talkeetna, it feels like stepping back into smalltown USA in the 60s. There is a “neighborly-ness” to each place and a sense of order and manageability to life.

This is a big part of Sarah Palin’s appeal. Many in this country would like to return to a time when life seemed simpler, orderly, manageable. Most of these people are straight, white, and able-bodied.

Part of the allure of this nostalgic hope for a return to a simpler life is so that people don’t have to think about complexities of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, ableism, and even to some extent sexism. In small town America these things had their place and you didn’t talk about them, and, for the most part, have to think about them. This is privilege, whether it be straight privilege, white privilege, or the privilege of any dominant group.

I think much of America would like to not have to think about the complexity of identity and oppression. The strongest way to keep oppression in place is through silence and pretending it’s not real.

Ten years after Matthew’s death, a gunman walked into a congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. He didn’t like that the world had changed and that the congregation there had and was continuing to do community work on homophobia, racism, and other oppressions.

Being from East Tennessee myself, and remembering the 60s there in the small towns of Norris, Clinton, Andersonville, Lake City, and Harriman, there was an order to things. If you were white and male and able-bodied (and straight, though talking about that then was taboo), you had a certain revered place in society. You were going to get married, stay that way, and work in one job. This is the world that the gunman, Jim David Adkisson grew up in. Because he couldn’t have that and didn’t know how to deal with not having it, he decided to “make things right.” For Adkisson the world was only spinning and he had lost his balance.

Sarah Palin captured many people’s attention because she was from a small town, where the bigger problems were too many wild animals on the property, taking care of the kids, and making it to church on Sunday.

If you look at an electoral map by counties instead of by states, you see not red and blue states, but blue cities and red in most of the rest of the country. The red places where it was easier to imagine an easier life 20 years ago and the blue places where the world spun more quickly.

Matthew’s death happened in a very red place. Cheyenne is the largest city with 55,000 people. Laramie was a town divided.

If you don’t know Wyoming history, there were three major towns when Wyoming became a state—Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlins. The three cities got to draw straws. One city (Cheyenne) would get to be the capital. Another would be home to the state university (Laramie) . The third would have the state prison (Rawlins). Of note, Rawlins won the straw drawing contest and chose the prison. Cheyenne picked second, leaving Laramie with the university.

Laramie is divided between townies and those associated with the university. They depend on each other but tended, in 1998, not to interact much. University folks stayed in the university area. Town folks stayed out. People were generally polite but kept to themselves and didn’t intermingle a lot.

Matthew, a student, was attacked by two folks from the town. The University was the more progressive place. There was bglt student group at the time but no gay bars at all in the entire state of Wyoming. After Matthew was attacked and killed, people in Wyoming were outraged that this could happen and that the world would think of Wyoming as a backward place. They weren’t like that there.

Ten years later, we’re still struggling with divides. There are some who want to spin forward. Some who want the spinning to stop, or at least be in total control of it. There are those who are still willing to talk and those who want the talking to stop.

What I do know from visiting the fence ten years ago is that if you want the violence to end, you have to keep talking. Silence can heal and words can hurt but silence becomes oppressive when it leads to suppression. Words become healing when they speak the truth and honor feelings.

I wonder what Matt would have been doing with his life now, at age 31. I wonder what he would say to us now, if he could. I suppose we’ll never know.

But I do know that we help prevent such things happening again by honoring and remembering. And by talking and listening. I also know I don’t want to live in a world where the people silenced are the b/g/l/t people, the people of color, the differently abled, and women. I’ve been there and seen the results.

I’m sorry that Matthew and so many others had to be our silent teachers.

For me at least, life–where I can be open and myself, not hide parts of myself, talk about the realities of homophobia, racism, sexism, and ableism, and other oppression–is so
much easier than it was 20 years ago.

Engage the world. Have the conversation. Make a difference, wherever you live.

Activist Joan Darrah writes about her committment to Repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

Joan Darrah, a retired Navy Captain and Unitarian Universalist testified in August at the House Armed Services Committee Hearing about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Below she recounts why she works as an activist to repeal “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell.” Also, check out the story about Joan on the UUA website. In honor of National Coming Out Day, click here to write to Senators McCain and Obama asking them to support bi-sexual, gay, lesbian and transgender rights as President.


The events of Sept 11 caused many of us to stop and reassess our lives, our priorities and our purpose for being. On September 11th I had attended a meeting at the Pentagon which was adjourned at 9:30. At 9:37 when American flight #77 slammed into the Pentagon, I was standing at the Pentagon Bus Stop. The space I had left only 7 minutes earlier was completely destroyed and 7 of my co-workers were killed. If I had been killed, my partner, then of almost 11 years, would have been the last to know as I had not dared to list her in any of my emergency contact information. My close call, made me realize how much of a sacrifice living under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was for me and my partner and ultimately caused me to chose to retire from the Navy one year earlier than I had planned.

I loved the Navy and am very proud of my service and our country but I know we can do better than DADT. DADT is quite simply job discrimination and the only justification for this law is blatant homophobia. There have been numerous studies conducted and there is not one piece of empirical data that supports the statement that gays serving openly would be disruptive to good order and discipline. In fact, 24 countries (including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel) now allow gays to serve openly with no negative impact. My years of living under DADT and speaking with hundreds of other service members who shared my experience, have convinced me that for the good of our military and our country, this law must be repealed and replaced with a policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. I am very pleased that I have been in a position to advocate for repeal and to be a spokesperson for literally thousands of men and women who are forced to serve in silence.

I can’t begin to express how incredibly important it has been to me to have the support of my fellow Mount Vernon Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and also the near unanimous support of the thousands of UUs who attended the 2007 GA. As many of you know, when you are a minority trying to convince the majority that we should all enjoy the same rights and privileges and all be judged on our performance and ability, every now and then there is a tendency to waiver in your determination and question the worthiness of your cause. On July 23rd when I walked into the Congressional hearing room, the knowledge that I had the strong backing of so many UU’s was essential to my being able to maintain my strength and determination.

The good news is that public opinion is changing and a recent ABC poll revealed that 75% of the public supports open service by gays – up from 44% in 1993 when DADT was enacted. However, there is still more work to be done and more Representatives and Senators to be convinced. As UUs who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, I know you already “get” that DADT is wrong but all of our voices need to be heard in Washington. Please take a few minutes to send your Representative and Senators a quick e-mail or letter expressing your support for repeal of DADT. Thank you so much for your support.

Youtube videos teach how to call Congress

Check out these cute Youtube videos below by Aquifer Media, made with the support of Homies Unidos. They’re easy to follow, and kid-friendly!

The first video teaches how to call your Representative, and the second shows how to call your Senator. Video creator Will Coley suggests following the first video to urge your representative to support HR 1176, the Child Citizen Protection Act, a bill the UUA has been actively supporting for several months. You can find more info about CCPA here, and the UUA action page here.

Gustav kills 107, displaces hundreds of thousands

Hurricane Gustav, though not as severe as feared in the U.S., has brought tragedy to the loved ones of 107 persons deceased, as well as trauma and uncertainty to hundreds of thousands of persons who have been displaced. Haiti has suffered the greatest number of casualties with 107 deaths, while in Cuba, 86,000 homes were damaged. In Louisiana and Mississippi, one million homes are without power.

Many of those involved in the rebuilding & recovery of New Orleans have been holding their breath as they waited to hear whether or not the levees would hold. Thus far, the levees have held, though water has splashed over the tops of some. The “topping” of levees has resulted in minor flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward— see Six inches of flooding reported in the Lower Ninth Ward, from The Times-Picayune. For now, however, it seems that the damage is less than what was feared. None of the Unitarian Universalist churches in New Orleans have been affected.

A good way to keep up with damage and recovery in various countries is by checking Wikipedia’s continuously up-dated page on Hurricane Gustav’s impact. You can track Gustav’s path, and the paths of oncoming storms Hannah, Ike, & Josephine, at the “Hurricane Headquarters” of South Florida newspaper Sun-Sentinel.

If you live in or have family or friends in the affected areas in the United States, you can register yourself or search for loved ones at the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well List. Currently, the American Red Cross is sheltering nearly 45,000 people in three states. For more information about the Red Cross work providing relief from Gustav, see Red Cross Shelters Thousands as Gustav Pounds Gulf Coast.

Best Friends, an animal rescue organization, is hard at work rescuing domestic animals left behind by evacuees. Read an update from their rapid response team: Best Friends Investigates Numerous Reports of Abandoned Pets.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those, in the U.S. and abroad, whose lives have been affected by the storm.