Marriage Equality Day in D.C.!

This morning, I watched with about 300 other people as Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. I watched from the pews of my own church, All Souls Church, Unitarian, as D.C. City Council members called the bill a victory for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. The ceremony made it abundantly clear that people of faith stand overwhelmingly for marriage equality. This bill does not in any way impede those whose faiths do not solemnize same-sex marriages from practicing their religion, and it allows clergy all over the District of Columbia to solemnize unions for their congregants of all sexual orientations.

For Unitarian Universalists and many others, marriage equality is an expression of our deepest values of fairness and justice for all. Although I have celebrated other victories for equality in the past year, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotional reaction to the council’s vote and today’s bill signing. Something shifted inside of me, and I was in tears. I realized that until this week, I didn’t truly believe that I would ever live in a place where I could marry another woman. I had taken for granted that I was in a fight that I could never win. It feels so much more urgent for me now to work for a day when I don’t have to worry about losing my rights if and when I move to another city. It seems even more ludicrous to me than it did before that some people have the right to marry and others are still waiting.

I left the ceremony with renewed hope and a renewed commitment to full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. Of course, equality encompasses so much more than the right to marry – it includes things that many of us take for granted – like being able to use the bathroom safely, the right to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive sexuality education, safe schools, the right to do meaningful work, and so much more. The road ahead of me seems long and full of twists and turns, but if it is paved with victories like today’s, I will be blessed indeed. If you are as grateful for this day as I am, please take a moment to send a thank-you note to the D.C. City Council members whose support made this day possible.

(Rev. Rob Hardies holding one of the pens Mayor Fenty used to sign the bill.)

National Faith Call-In Day for Workplace Equality

On Thursday, November 19th, please join people of many faiths across the country in calling for an end to workplace discrimination. The House of Representatives could vote soon on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA (H.R. 3017/S. 1584). ENDA would protect bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender workers from discrimination based solely on who they are or who they love.

Everyone has the right to work for a living without facing such discrimination. Call your Representative on Thursday, Nov. 19th by dialing 202-224-3121 and asking for them by name. If you don’t know your Represenative’s name, the Capitol Switchboard operators can look it up using your zip code. Here is a sample call script:

I am your constituent, and I am also a Unitarian Universalist. I am calling to ask the Senator/Representative to support and co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 3017). This bill would guarantee basic protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I support fair employment practices for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans because I respect the inherent worth and dignity of all persons. Thank You.

You can find more information about ENDA on Our multi-faith campaign also includes a sign on letter for clergy and religious leaders at Check it out, and please take a few minutes on Thursday to call your Representative and raise your voice for workplace equality!

Help us End Employment Discrimination

I have nothing to add to Rev. Meg Riley’s poignant words below about the vote in Maine last night. What I can do is assure you that those of us at the Washington Office for Advocacy and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign will continue to do everything in our power to advocate for full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender (BGLT) individuals and communities. But we can’t do it without you.

Today, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign sent over 8,000 petition signatures to members of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee. Tomorrow morning, these Senators will hear testimony on the Employment Non Discrimination-Act (ENDA) in the first Senate Hearings on the bill since 2002. If passed, ENDA would guarantee basic federal protection from workplace discrimination for BLGT employees.
When so many people are unemployed or fear that they will be lose their jobs due to the current economy, it is unconscionable to think that many workers must also fear being fired, overlooked for promotions or being harassed just because of who they are or who they love.
The House of Representatives could vote on this bill as early as next week. It is critical that your Senators and Representatives hear from you NOW! Ask your members of Congress to stand up for justice and equality, and help us pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Standing on the Side of Love with a Broken Heart

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog. As many of you may know. our Rev. Meg Riley is director of the UUA’s Advocacy & Witness staff group and also director of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

It is the morning after election day. I went to sleep early last night, when results were still unclear in all kinds of races around the country, and learned about them as I learn about many things now—on facebook. The first posting I saw was from a ministerial colleague—I am heartbroken for Maine.

My stomach twisted and my heart sank.

We have faced so many of these ‘mornings after.’ The people who live in the states where their full humanity and their equality has been shouted about, argued about, snickered about, and ultimately voted upon, now have to get up and go about their business.

Those I feel most for are the parents, preparing their children to go to school this morning. Kids who see elections pretty much as they see sporting events, who want to be on the winning team, must now go to school to face the gloating that losers always face. We who parent send our hearts out into the world each day, and those hearts are broken today.

And yet, I know from parenting my own daughter, the strength and resilience and vision of the next generation is what pulls us through. In my daughter’s short lifetime already, we have moved quantum leaps towards marriage equality, towards valuing all families.

Part of me is amazed that 47% of the people in Maine voted for the rights of less than 10%. The whole notion of putting the rights of a minority up to a vote of the majority is blatantly undemocratic, completely counter to the notion of the Constitution as I understand it. I am incredibly proud of the work that people of faith did in Maine to present families of all kinds with dignity and love.

So, on this morning after the election, I am mostly grateful to know that I am in the company of other people of all ages, shapes and sizes whose still stand on the side of love, even with broken hearts.

(And even while my heart breaks for Maine, it lifts for the folks in Kalamazoo and Washington State, where love and justice triumphed over fear.)

Standing on the Side of Love by Canvassing for Marriage Equality in Maine

There were about 80 of us gathered this weekend from Maine and other New England states at a gay bar in Ogunquit to get trained for canvassing in communities for the ‘No on 1” campaign. Question 1 on the ballot would override the state legislature’s vote which was signed in to law by the governor to legalize marriage equality beginning Jan. 1, 2010.

A group from my church—First Parish Cambridge UU—joined the volunteers, wearing our ‘No on 1’ stickers and Standing on the Side of Love pins, and carrying our Standing on the Side of Love signs. The organizers from Maine Equality loved our signs and asked if they could have some for the office along with a stack of buttons.

I canvassed with my husband and my 11 year old son. Most of the people we spoke to were voting No on 1 and so our job was to ask them to vote absentee before Election Day and to recruit them as volunteers for the campaign. We also encountered a few people who are voting against us—although they were very nice as they told us they were voting to take away people’s rights(!). We didn’t meet anyone who is still undecided. The polling, however, shows a dead heat between yes and no voters, with 4% still undecided. It is absolutely critical that we do all we can to defeat this ballot initiative. Along with canvassing, our congregation’s youth group and others are phone banking at the Mass Equality headquarters this weekend.

The most moving part of the weekend for me was in the training and debriefing of the canvassers. When the organizers asked if any of the couples in the room were married, we of course raised our hands, as did another straight married couple, and about a half dozen gay/lesbian couples who shouted out the states they had been married in – mostly Massachusetts and CA (while it was legal). It hit me profoundly how I so take for granted the right to marry. I was inspired by the people in the room who were brave and determined enough to go out into neighborhoods where they were bound to hear people tell them why they should not have this right or be treated as equals (or worse).

My family felt proud to be standing on the side of love with these courageous folks. It was definitely one of the liveliest trainings I have attended and the role play between ‘Casey Canvasser’ and ‘Valerie Vixen Voter’ deserved to be on stage! The debriefing included stories that needed to be ‘shaken off’ as people reported some of the hostility they encountered and it was another moment of recognizing the privilege I experience as a straight person. There were also wonderful stories including one about a woman who identified herself as born again Christian and felt that Jesus just wants us to love and that’s why she’s voting No on 1. The camaraderie and the compassion we witnessed this weekend were truly inspiring. My son is now more outraged and determined to work for equality than he has ever been simply from our kitchen table discussions. The experience of coming together—gay and straight—to protect marriage equality had us all feeling and witnessing the power of love to stop oppression.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act Passes the Senate!

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill. The final vote was 68-29.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, its Member Congregations, individuals across the nation, and staff at the Washington Office for Advocacy have worked for over a decade to pass this bill. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act expands the federal definition of a hate crime to include any and all violent crimes committed based on the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Opponents of the bill sought to make crimes prosecuted under this new statute subject to the death penalty, but this measure was defeated and was not included in the final version of the bill. President Obama is expected to sign to Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law before the end of October.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to pass this historic piece of legislation. The passage of this bill marks a milestone in the long struggle to seek justice for violence based on a person’s identity. This is also the first time that the federal government has passed any law that specifically protects transgender people. Please visit the website Love Conquers Hate for a retrospective of work on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and to share your thoughts. We hope you will continue to work with us towards the day when all people are afforded the respect and equality that they inherently deserve.

Reflections on Marching for Equality

Participating in the National Equality March this past Sunday, October 11th, was one of the most sacred experiences of my life. I felt completely held and embraced by the crowd of people demanding rights for themselves, their families, friends and fellow citizens. I had never been a part of a protest that large nor with a message so strong and inclusive. We stood together on the side of love and demanded to be recognized as the free and equal people that we are. We were families, couples, neighbors and friends. We were transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and allies of many races, ages, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, faiths and perspectives.
I marched with families who took turns holding the “Standing on the Side of Love” banner together. I marched with over 1,000 other UUs who came in cars, on buses and on the metro from Arlington, and Harrisonburg, VA. I marched with people carrying congregational banners from Tuscaloosa, AL and Brooklyn, NY. I marched singing UU hymns and it was like the street became my church. I marched because this energy will feed my work for the year to come, and I marched for all those who could not march with me and who are still silenced by fear and hate and oppression.
It takes much more than a march on our nation’s Capitol to change our world and our culture, but events like this weekend’s are what help me stay in the struggle for the long haul – and not because I can see the end in sight, but because they are a place from which to begin. I take strength and inspiration from a younger generation that understands more deeply than I the intersectionality of oppression and the necessity to link together all struggles for liberation. I remember the battles for justice fought by my elders in the hopes to leave a better world for their descendants. On the most basic level, a march like the National Equality March reminds me that I am not alone.
When we come together as many voices with one demand, that our country’s policies reflect the values that call us to love our neighbors and welcome the stranger, we can be powerful. May this weekend serve as a call to action for those who were there and those who were not to learn how they can work for equality by joining this movement, by talking to their friends and families about equality, and by telling their elected officials that they will no longer be silent because they deserve nothing less than their full rights as human beings. Amen.

Act Now to Stop Employment Discrimination

Take Action today to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act!
On Wednesday, September 23rd, the Labor and Education Committee of the House of Representatives held hearings for ENDA, the Employment Non Discrimination Act of 2009 (H.R. 3017), which guarantees the right to protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all Americans.
Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) testified in strong support of the bill, as well as Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, William Eskridge, Yale Law school professor who has experienced job discrimination because of his sexual orientation, and Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who was fired from her Georgia state legislative job when she informed her supervisor that she was transitioning from male to female.
Among those who face sexual orientation and gender identity based employment discrimination, transgender employees are often the hardest hit. In his testimony, Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Willimas Institue at the UCLA School of Law cited a survey completed earlier this year: among over 640 transgender employees in both public and private sectors, 70% of respondents had experienced workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity. You can find links the full testimony of each witness as well as a webcast of the entire hearing here.
Despite unfounded criticism from opponents, many of whom are religious groups, the bill protects bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination while including broad exemptions for religious organizations, the military, and employers with fewer than 15 employees. Representative Frank urged his colleagues to remember that:

These are our fellow human beings… they’re not asking for anything other than the right to earn a living…. How can we, as people who make the laws… say to one small group of our fellow citizens, ‘You know there’s something about you that people do not like, so you are not eligible for work’?

As people of faith, it is imperative that we show our strong support for this bill, which would bring justice to millions of Americans who face daily discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love.
Contact your Representatives today and ask them to support ENDA.

Reflections on Anti-BGLT Violence in Tel Aviv

Last Saturday night in Tel Aviv, a masked gunman opened fire at an LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv, Israel. My Israeli cousin, who was visiting from her Tel Aviv suburban hometown, alerted me to what had happened. She was horrified that such violence could occur in the relatively open, accepting and cosmopolitan atmosphere of a large city like Tel Aviv. I watched international news coverage of the violence in shock.

I am American and Israeli, queer, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist. Last night, I attended a vigil in memory of the victims that was organized by members of the Jewish and BGLT communities here in Washington, D.C. I was proud, along with Rev. Archene Turner of Cedar Lane UU Church, to represent the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and to stand in solidarity with Jewish, Israeli, and bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender communities. The UUA offers our heartfelt sympathy to the families of the victims. Incidents such as this remind us that hate crimes can happen anywhere.

Just last week, the UUA community marked the one year anniversary of a shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn. The perpetrator in that case was targeting the “foot soldiers of liberalism.” Two people lost their lives and seven others were injured. In response to this tragedy, the Unitarian Universalist Association has made a commitment to stand up in the face of exclusion, violence and oppression based on identity. We have committed to Stand on the Side of Love.

Rev. Chris Buice, the minister at the church in Knoxville talks about the “bystander effect.” We see it in school yards when people stand by and allow bullying to go on with impunity. By standing on the side of love we create a positive bystander effect, and we respond to a tragic act of hate with love.

Out of all of the images I saw from the news of this weekend’s shooting in Tel Aviv, the one of the word “ahava,” which means “love” in Hebrew, spelled out in lit candles touched me the most. I hope that all people can learn to see past identities that seem to divide us and into the wholeness and sacred light that surrounds us when we stand on the side of love as members of one human family.

Even as the speakers at last night’s vigil mourned the loss of two young lives, they took the opportunity to ask congregations and communities to become more openly accepting and welcoming to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We applaud their decision to stand firmly on the side of love.

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.