Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.

What Is Marriage?

In the past few years, we have heard many arguments from the Religious Right concerning the definition of marriage. Many claim that civil marriage for same sex couples will fundamentally redefine marriage in American culture.

After the passage of California Prop 8 and Florida Prop 2, this debate has reemerged in the mainstream media. Many activists have made compelling and moving arguments for marriage equality. And some have even cited precedent for how redefining marriage has happened in the past and has made our nation better. In the past, marriage was a business arrangement between fathers. In the past, slaves were not allowed to decide who they got to marry, if at all. In the past, interracial marriage was illegal. In each instance, the social and legal definitions were fundamentally changed. And our nation has become more just for it.

But my favorite definition of marriage has come from a furry blue monster and a little boy. In this definition, we see that marriage has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. It has to do with love, commitment and support. This is what activists of civil marriage equality are fighting for. And I cannot think of anything better to be fighting for.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day was created to memorialize those that have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred and violence. It began in San Francisco in 1999 as a candlelight vigil in honor of Rita Hester who was killed on November 28, 1998. Events are now held all over the world in honor of those who are too often forgotten.

At least thirty people this year have been killed due to their gender identity. Of those thirty deaths, the majority identified as women and four have been in the last twenty days. However, few media outlets have reported on these deaths.

Take the time to think about the people whose lives have been lost. There are many vigils going on across the country this evening. I encourage you to attend one if you can.

The Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns also has a great resource called Between and Beyond: Common Questions About Transgender Identity. Take the time to look at it and discuss transgender advocacy with your friends and family.

If you would like to become more involved with transgender advocacy check out the following organizations:

The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce http://thetaskforce.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality http://www.nctequality.org/default.asp

Standing on the Side of Love, with a broken heart

Flying to Boston yesterday, I set aside my usual tendency to read and stared out the window for some time. A vast field of wispy cirrus clouds created the sense that I could see forever, riding above them. And I thought, as I stared out, how much I take this amazing view and experience for granted, and how other people labored and even died to make this so.

My daughter did a report on the Wright Brothers last year and I learned more about aviation history than I’d frankly ever cared to know. But those scrappy inventors, bicycle mechanics by trade, were also social progressives who worked closely with African Americans to promote equality, and were raised by a bold Mennonite preacher father and feminist mother. I have to wonder: what was the connection between their social values and their willingness, over and over, to hurl themselves into the skies, risking their own safety for a vision of what it could mean to soar?

As I stared out at the skies, I was mulling about the topic of marriage equality. A plane going the other direction was barely visible, tiny at a distance, and with it came Adrienne Rich’s line, “The longer I live, the more I believe two people together is a miracle.” Indeed, what a miracle that in this enormous world, people can find someone whose heart nestles in beside their own! Why would anyone spend their precious lifeforce working to diminish that possibility, when we are in desperate need of more love, not less, to heal our world?

The UUA has created a short video to state clearly that we stand on the side of love. Crank up the sound and enjoy the wonderful music and images! I also urge you to watch Rev. Lindi Ramsden, director of UU Legislative Ministries of California, speaking powerfully at a rally in the aftermath of the election.

Harry Knox, faith guru for the Human Rights Campaign, told me that Lindi was the backbone of all the faith organizing for the No on 8 campaign…that not just UUs but everyone relied on her wisdom, her skill, and her tenacity through this skirmish. “Her name is gold,” Harry told me. I’ve known that for years, but I was proud to learn that so many others know it too.

I am also very proud to say that the UUA has filed a writ petition against Proposition 8, charging that it is a violation of the freedom of our religion, and the religion of other people of faith who hold equality as a central tenet. Episcopal Bishops, UCC and Jewish organizations have co-signed with us. You can see the press release here and the actual petition here. Huge appreciation to hardworking UU lawyer Eric Isaacson whose faith propelled him to author this.

This is a critical time for us to be visible to those people who are hurt and suffering from ballot initiatives created by fear and perpetuated with lies, scare tactics, and ignorance– who are equally hurt by the silence of so many who could have fought it. This is the time for us to be clear and vocal as we stand on the side of love and justice.

– Rev. Meg Riley

Video in Support of Marriage Equality

In light of the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Arizona, Florida and Arkanasa that restrict the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender (bglt) people, the Unitarian Universalist Association has produced a video which makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality.

The video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others!

What can you do to support BGLT rights?

Last week, same-sex marriage was banned in California, Arizona and Florida, and an adoption ban was placed on same-sex couples in Arkansas. The passing of these ballot initiatives is a devastating loss for BGLT communities and the nation.

The passage of California’s Proposition 8, which removed rights previously granted same-sex couples by the Supreme Court, has spurred large-scale protests across California. This Saturday, protests will occur across the country in support of BGLT equality and the No on Prop 8 campaign. To find out where a protest is being held in your state visit jointheimpact.com.

Three lawsuits are being filed in California to overturn proposition 8 on the basis that it is unconstitutional since the California constitution offers equal protection under the law. The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Action Fund has also created a sign-on letter called the “Anger into Action Declaration” for those in support of BGLT equality to sign.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I hope you will take the time to put that principle into action by signing the “Anger into Action Declaration” and attending a protest near you. Make sure to take pictures of your group and send them to us here at the Washington Office for Advocacy along with your story email- la_bglt@uua.org

Planning for Justice in 2009: Planners and Calendars

With autumn’s arrival, many people start thinking about their schedules for the coming year. We have a few suggestions for justice-oriented planners and calendars for 2009, and for some important dates to put in them, too. This post will tackle planners and calendars, while tomorrow’s will include important social justice dates and campaigns to be aware of in the coming year.

Many people rely on their calendars to tell them which days are important, historic, and worth celebrating. Calendars frame how we view time, seasons, growth, and change. For this reason, I prefer calendars which mark the anniversaries of important strikes, protests, court decisions, and changes in the Earth and lunar cycles. My co-workers and I have compiled a list of some of our favorite calendars, and some we’ve never seen but sound cool, below.

Planners and Calendars

2009 Peace Calendar – According to the Syracuse Cultural Workers, based in Syracuse, New York, the 38th edition of their annual peace wall calendar is “greener than ever.” Printed on paper made from 100% postconsumer waste (PCW) which is processed free of chlorine and dioxin, the calendar is sold without wasteful extra packaging like plastic shrinkwrap and cardboard stiffeners. Sweatshop free, made in the USA, and Union-printed, the Peace Calendar is packed with social justice/peoples’ anniversaries, holidays of many faiths, and lunar cycles. Inside, inspirational art touches on topics including resistance to US militarism at home and abroad, urban sustainability, indigenous women, response to gay hate crime, and the celebration of the 77 year history of the Highlander Center in New Market,TN. Click here for more information.

Slingshot 2009 Organizer

The Slingshot Organizer is produced by an all-volunteer collective–“no bosses, no workers, no pay”–in Berkeley, California. The organizer has a strongly anti-capitalist tone. It opens with an essay entitled, “False Hope, Real Transformation,” which slams the notion that a new leader produced by a corrupt capitalist system can solve the nation’s problems. The essay also sounds the call to “seek forms of organization that re-localize decision making,” and make “our day-to-day existence more meaningful, engaged, and connected with others.” The following 160 pages of the Slingshot organizer mark the forgotten history of people of color, immigrants, indigenous peoples, women, working class people, and members of queer communities. Also included are a list of radical bookstores and infoshops, information on sexuality, transgenderedness, interacting with police, and a calendar for recording menstrual cycles. Click here for more information.

The War Resisters League 2009 Peace Calendar

From the War Resister’s League website:

“A desk calendar and state-by-state account of the places where radical history happened, from the civil rights and anti-racist struggles of Alabama and Mississippi to centuries of war tax resistance in Massachusetts, indigenous opposition to oil-drilling in Alaska, and union organizing in Kentucky and California.”

Includes a directory of U.S. peace and justice organizations and publications, and international contacts. Click here for more information.

Mothers Acting Up in 2009

Also produced by the Syracuse Cultural Workers, Mothers Acting Up is “[d]edicated to moments that change our lives– that take a person and give back an activist.”

Changingworld.com describes the calendar as “a weekly engagement calendar for mothers that also offers tools, information, weekly actions, and most importantly, portraits of people who inspire our own activism–from the mom next door to movie stars and elected officials.”

Click here for more information.

Autonomedia Calendar of Jubilee Saints

Features radicals & rebels for every day of the year. Last year’s “saints” included Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frida Kahlo, James Joyce, U.G. Krishnamurti, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, William Blake, Cesar Chavez, Bob Marley, and more, with short bios on each one. Check the Autonomedia online bookstore for the 2009 calendar release date, which may not be until December.

Now that you’ve got your radical calendar, now what? Check back tomorrow for a schedule of UUA Advocacy & Witness social justice campaigns for 2009.

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.

Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Takes Lead on LGBT Human Rights

The following was sent to us from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.

August 20, New York: the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office will play a path breaking role in next month’s human rights conference in Paris, sponsored by the UN’s Department of Public Information and presented in cooperation with the many nongovernmental organizations with consultative status at the UN. Held to commemorate the signing in Paris in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event is cosponsored by UNESCO, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Government of France.

Titled “Reaffirming Human Rights for All: the Universal Declaration at 60,” the conference will be held September 3 – 5, 2008 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the UU UN Office, is a member of the conference’s subcommittee on outreach. In planning sessions, Knotts was struck by the omission of the LGBT community among those whose rights are threatened around the world. “If we were going to discuss the human rights of every conceivable marginalized group,” he recalls, “we could not exclude the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.”

Leaving aside the question of same sex marriage or other actions that run up against strong religious and cultural norms, Knotts pointed to gross violations of rights that ought to trouble anyone—torture, murder, execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, and beatings. “No culture or religion can condone these crimes,” he argued.

Knotts’ objection carried the day and, for the first time at any UN conference of this kind, LGBT issues will be squarely on the agenda next week in Paris. Moreover, Knotts has been named LGBT Caucus Coordinator for the conference; he will moderate a panel discussion on the Yogyakarta Principles, which apply existing international law to issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity; and he will co-moderate a breakout session that will discuss issues related to all communities not normally heard at the United Nations. The speakers for the Yogyakarta Panel will be Wilhelm Monasso, Executive Director of FILAD (Philanthropy & Advice) an LGBT Dutch NGO; Peter Dankmeijer, Executive Director of GALE (The Global Alliance for LGBT Education) also from the Netherlands, and Cyrille Compaoe, Executive Director Action Voluntaire in Burkina Faso which advocates for and provides medical services to MSMs (men who have sex with men) in Africa. GALE is also sponsoring a booth at the UN Human Rights Village that is being set up as part of the UN Human Rights Conference. The GALE booth will serve as a focal point for LGBT discussions at the UN Human Rights Village at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. All are welcome to visit this booth during the conference.

Bruce Knotts took over the reins at the Unitarian Universalist UN Office in January, after 23 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he also served on the Board of Directors of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. With more than 1,000 congregations nationwide, Unitarian Universalists hold human rights as a core value and have maintained a presence at the UN since 1946. The Unitarian Universalists are proud of their Human Rights history, including their commitment to LGBT rights. Unitarian Universalists have been performing same-gender marriages since the 1970s. The Manichean Society, which comprised United States Federal LGBT works in the 1950s fighting for the right to work in government service, used to meet in Unitarian & Universalist Churches. Many famous gays and lesbians from history, like Walt Whitman and Susan B. Anthony, were either Unitarians or Universalists or both. The two liberal denominations joined in 1961. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN was attacked by a gunman in July this year due to the Unitarian Universalist liberal theology and its welcoming of gays and lesbians, according to documents written by the gunman and found by the police. In addition to fighting for LGBT rights, the Unitarian Universalist Church fought and continues to fight to end slavery, to empower women and to end racial discrimination. Many of America’s Founding Fathers (and Mothers) were Unitarians or Universalists, such as America’s second and third presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Unitarian Universalist Church maintains its revolutionary and visionary character.

For more information please consult the following web sites:
www.uu-uno.org
www.uua.org