Support Lt. Dan Choi

Embedded video from CNN Video

Lieutenant Dan Choi is being fired from the New York National Guard because of his sexual orientation. Lt. Choi acknowledges that he is just one of tens of thousands, but we recognize him as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with this policy of forced discrimination. A West Point grad, infantry officer, Arabic linguist, and Iraq vet – whose soldiers know he is gay, and support him – is being dismissed. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” deprives competent and dedicated service members of their right to employment.

You can speak out today! Ask President Obama not to fire Lt. Choi and to do everything in his power to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”.

Please call the White House Switchboard at 202-456-1111. Click here to learn more.

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.

The 2009 Transgender Religious Summit

Yesterday I was privileged to co-lead a workshop for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s annual Religious Summit and Policy Conference at All Souls Church, Unitarian. This year, for the first time, the Religious Summit is being held in conjunction with the organization’s lobby days in Washington, DC. Adam Gerhardstein from the UUA Office for Advocacy, Steven Baines of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and I spent the morning with about 20 brave and dedicated transgender religious leaders, their family members and friends discussing the basics of lobbying and the important impact that people of faith can have on public policy.

Conference participants also attended the church service on Sunday at All Souls, and it felt wonderful to work with this group of passionate leaders and to welcome them into the sanctuary that I am learning to call a spiritual home. I feel deeply blessed that my congregation truly strives to be a place for all souls who seek refuge there.

During Sunday afternoon’s keynote address at the conference, Kate Bornstein spoke of the pain that arises when people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, particularly transgender people, are not seen as legitimate members of their own religions because their lives and appearances do not seem to match up with traditional religious expectations. Kate has coped with this exclusion by continuing to do the work that is required of all Jews: performing mitzvahs. According to Kate, a mitzvah is an act that fulfills the Jewish commandment to do God’s work by selflessly helping others who are different from you.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalism welcomes me as a whole person and a “real” member not just despite, but because of my queerness. I have been blessed and lucky to encounter others who see my unique existence and perspectives as cherished and sacred. People in my religious community have never made me feel less or wrong because of who and what I love or desire. I am also deeply aware that many of my fellow humans have not experienced the same welcome. I feel an obligation, as a member of a religion that claims to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to work towards the day when our Unitarian Universalist institutions and congregations truly reflect our radically inclusive and justice-seeking values. We have worked hard, but much remains to be done.

I’ll step down off of that soapbox for the moment.

Today, the 150 or so participants in the Religious Summit and Policy Conference combined lobbied on Capitol Hill sharing their personal histories, stories, and their conviction that everyone deserves full and equal protection under the law in their communities and workplaces. They are asking their members of Congress to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLHCPA) and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Take action today, and add your voice to theirs.

A Move Forward towards Equality for Trans people–Colorado Jury’s Historic Decision

Reflections from Keith Kron, Director of UUA Office of BGLT Concerns

Today, a Colorado jury became the first in the nation to find someone guilty of a hate crime against a trans person. Up until now, people were able to use a “trans panic” defense, saying that they were deceived and panicked when learning the person they were meeting was transgender. See a news report on the story.

This is historic and can now help prosecute other hate crimes in other states that are trans related. Colorado is one of 11 states that includes trans people in its hate crime legislation.

Many UU congregations observe the National Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov 20th), and the UUA has resources to help.

The decision comes down days before the National Center for Transgender Equality hosts its Lobby Days where many, including many UUs and the UUA, will gather to support a federal legislation to support trans inclusion in hate crime and nondiscrimination laws.

There is still much work to be done before we see full equality for trans people, but today’s decision is a significant step in a better direction. The decision begins to signal that being afraid of trans people will not excuse violence toward trans people. It’s high time.

Mulling about Family Values

Finally, it comes to this: It’s nice to be included. It’s nice to believe that we matter. That’s the sense of worth that so many of us struggle to find throughout our lives–if we didn’t get it in early years, it’s an uphill climb to claim it later.

This week, I’m aware of many friends who have been at the White House egg roll with their kids. Their beaming photos are posted throughout my facebook page and meetings here in DC are punctuated with adorable tales of things done and said by cute kids on the White House lawn. Everyone who went was delighted to be there, but for the glbt families, being specifically invited was something like breaking a spell. One family I read about at home flew here from Minneapolis just to go! Looking at glbt family photos on the White House lawn brings up both joy and grief for me—my daughter was four years old in 2000, when George W. Bush came into the White House. He immediately eliminated the White House liaison to the glbt community, and told families like ours in every way possible that we weren’t welcome as part of his country. (The proposed federal amendment to the Constitution that he advocated, which excluded us from “We the People” was the most direct statement, but all the smaller things hurt, too.)

The reason that I knew my 12 year old could not miss the Inauguration festivities was so that she could see that her country wanted a President who wanted us to matter again. Every family wants that simple acceptance. Now, the egg roll, she would not be caught dead attending, of course. But I’m delighted to see other kids who are the age she was in 2000 having such a different experience of belonging in their country.

Meanwhile, we struggle with a pre-teen issue around exclusion: As I posted recently, ever a counter-cultural family, we are actually acquiring a few items in this “Shopping is Dead” time. Last week, to reward my daughter for making it through a very tough time, we bought her a Kindle, the electronic book created by Amazon. It was her most desired item; she is constantly hauling heavy books in her backpack and who can argue with a kid’s love of reading? So when the tax refund arrived, that was our splurge.

I have never shopped at Amazon.com in my life. Ironically, the women’s bookstore in Minneapolis is Amazon Books, and I order all of my books through them…support your local bookstore! So, how bizarre that the very week that I give Amazon.com a huge chunk of change, they would publicly act out in a homophobic manner. (NOTE TO UNIVERSE: You think this is funny perhaps?)

I am wrestling with whether or not I even mention this to my daughter. At age 12, here’s the deal: If she loses a treasured gift because her parents care about justice, her anger will not be directed at Amazon.com’s homophobia. Rather, it will be directed at her lesbian parents, and the fact that once more she doesn’t get to have the easy, privileged, life of her friends with straight parents. (Never mind that I will tell her that straight friends who share our values are also telling Amazon.com where to get off—at 12, all anger defers to parents.) And I feel whiney about it myself: Couldn’t we just enjoy SOMETHING without homophobia contaminating it?

So this is how family values really sort out. The dozens of conversations we navigate or don’t choose to have, products we buy or return, events we get invited to or don’t, legal privileges we count on or can never acquire—all of these create meaning out of the otherwise random events in our lives. I suspect I’m going to vent my spleen at Amazon.com and keep my mouth shut about it at home. The mantra of every parent of every sexual orientation: Choose your battles. Meanwhile, how bout those cute kids on the White House lawn?

Is this Heaven? No, It’s Iowa!

Congratulations to ALL citizens of Iowa! The State Supreme Court of Iowa ruled today that section 595.2 in the Iowa Code limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution, and pending the period allowed for appeals, it ordered county recorders to begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that request them.

All language in Iowa Code section 595.2 defining civil marriage as the union between only a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner that allows same-sex couples full access to the institution of civil marriage. (Read the full decision here)

This morning’s announcement brought to mind that lovely scene in “Field of Dreams”:

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella
: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella
: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
Ray Kinsella
: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella
: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray Kinsella
: Maybe this is heaven.

Read more here:
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal.
A joint statement on the decision from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy.
UUA President William G. Sinkford’s statement celebrating this remarkable victory.

Prayer for Wholeness

by Rev. Meg Riley. Inspired by the participants at the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT), 2009. For more information about SEAT, see the SEAT FAQ.

Sweet source of hope and healing, longing and life,

We know our first responsibility is to create a world which supports the growth of our world’s children

A world safe for them to explore, and to learn and grow, without being judged or punished.

A world safe for them to make mistakes, knowing there is nothing they can do to lose our love.
May we provide them with tools to protect themselves and those they love from decisions which hurt—information about the physical, spiritual, emotional aspects of sexuality.

May they know it is safe for them to come to us always, and we won’t make it worse.

We wish that life were simple.
We wish that unwanted pregnancies never occurred,

That no one engaged in any kind of sexual activity without protection and real choice, real response-ability,

That all people were equally valued.

We wish that every person knew his or her own beauty and worth, and thus that of the others with whom she or he interacted.

A child I love dearly, aged ten, was struggling with gender identity.

“Do you ever feel,” I prodded gently, trying to understand, “as if you were born into the wrong body?”

The young one paused for a moment of silence, and responded, “Nope, this is my body all right. I feel like I was born into the wrong world!”

We pray that we can make this wrong world a little bit more right for our children.

May they know and cherish their own bodies as sacred, beautiful, true.
May we create a world which reflects this back to them.

May we demand schools, governments, communities, which honor them

And in so doing, be worthy of this gift of life, this beautiful broken world.

Amen.

Repeal "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" Now!


On Friday March 13th, Unitarian Universalists joined with hundreds of other Americans at a “Freedom to Serve” rally on Capitol Hill. People from all across the country – military, retired military, federal workers, and civilians – gathered to raise their voices for equality and call upon Congress and President Obama to take action to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” (DADT) the policy which requires the military to fire people if they are discovered to have same sex partners. The message was clear: The time to stop unjust discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the military is now. Guest speakers included Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, US Navy (Ret) from the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.

UUs can have a significant impact on this issue. If each and every UU would reach out to his or her Senator and Representative by e-mail, phone, fax and/or letter and encourage them to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283) repealing DADT and replacing it with a policy of non-discrimination, DADT could be repealed during this Congress. Our UU voices can give Congress and our President the courage they need to move this legislation forward. Click here to learn more and take action today.

California Supreme Court Case on Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case challenging Proposition 8, which was passed by a majority of California voters in the November elections. The case was brought by two groups of same-sex couples and by a group of local governments including San Francisco. It centers on the idea that although the measure was drafted as a constitutional amendment, it actually goes beyond the rights of voters by denying a fundamental right granted by the court to a traditionally marginalized group.

The plaintiffs contend that Prop 8 not only changes the California State Constitution, but violates its core principle of equality and thus constitutes a revision to the constitution rather than an amendment. In order to revise the constitution, California requires a two-thirds vote of the State Legislature or the approval of delegates to a constitutional convention. The outcome of the case will also determine the fate of 18,000 same sex marriages that occurred legally between May and November of 2008.

So far, according to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, the court seems likely to uphold Proposition 8 but also to specify that couples who were legally married before the passage of Prop 8 will remain so. As quoted by the Chronicle, Therese Stewart, the chief deputy city attorney in San Francisco states, “A guarantee of equality that is subject to exceptions by the majority is no guarantee at all”.

The Unitarian Universalist Association filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF, 56 pages) with the California Supreme Court on January 14, 2009, asking the court to invalidate Proposition 8 as it poses a severe threat to the guarantee of equal protection for all and was not enacted through the constitutionally required process for such a dramatic change to the California Constitution. Click here to read more about Unitarian Universalist advocacy for marriage equality

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Califorina continues to have a huge impact in the state’s struggle for marriage equality. The court’s ruling is due within 90 days, which coincides with many Gay Pride celebrations across the U.S. and worldwide. We hope that same sex couples and advocates of marriage equality will indeed have something to celebrate.