UUs Advocate, DADT Repeal Moves Forward in Senate

Beth Coye
UU advocate Beth Coye

In news reports from February 22, Senator Joseph Lieberman announced that he will be introduce a bill next week in the Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.   Since early February, efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) the policy of forced discrimination against bisexuals, gays, and lesbians in the military, have met with approval and support from President Obama and the Pentagon, but Congress must pass legislation before the policy can be ended for good.

The time is ripe to repeal DADT. A new report by the Palm Center on the experiences of foreign militaries finds that a swift and decisive policy change allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly could be accomplished with little or no disruption to the armed services. These findings echo the results of a 1993 RAND Corporation study that discouraged the gradual implementation of such a change, as proposed by the Pentagon.

As Unitarian Universalists and allies, we can help end discrimination in the military by sharing our stories and values with members of Congress and in the public square.   Outspoken and courageous UU veterans such as Beth Coye,  a member of the Rogue Valley UU Fellowship, have shared their experiences serving as gay and lesbian service members.  You can read Beth’s op-ed in the Oregonian and check out the links in this article for an interview,  including Beth’s perspectives on how working to repeal DADT puts her UU values into action.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is among the top priorities of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy.   Since last month, over 1,000 Unitarian Universalists and friends have responded to calls to action by writing letters and sending emails to their Senators and Representatives urging support for DADT repeal as soon as possible.  If you haven’t already, contact your member of Congress today.

After Copenhagen

Despite the great snow in DC last week that halted just about everything else, a talk on climate change was still held in downtown DC.  Of all meetings to be held amidst the record-breaking snowfall, it was appropriate that one discussing climate change would still be held.  Though individual weather events are not climate, as climate changes, more extreme weather events are predicted to happen.

Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change who represented the US in UN negotiations in Copenhagen, spoke to a packed room at the Center for American Progress about what happened in Copenhagen, where we are now, and where we will go.

Essentially two narratives of Copenhagen have emerged.  Some people say that the COP15 was a failure, as they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do within the UN process.  No fair, ambitious, and binding treaty was signed.  Others call the climate change conference a last-minute success, as many countries agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, which is a politically–not legally–binding document.  The Accord quantifies climate change with the goal of limiting change to 2 degrees Celsius.  For the first time, countries agree to reduction targets, which they successfully submitted by the end of January.  Countries need to “sign on” or indication an association with the Accord.  Some people are concerned because this was accomplished outside of the UN process, though others applaud that something, anything, happened.

The reality is that countries came into the meeting with deep gaps in their positions on climate change within the UN process, and these gaps didn’t narrow prior to the meetings in Copenhagen.  There is clearly a difference in opinions about how much the developing countries should do in terms of their commitments to climate change in comparison with how much the developed countries should do.  This is partly based on the weight that is given to historic contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as the US has contribute a significant proportion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today.  Todd Stern made it clear that the US position is that both developing AND developed countries need to share the burden dealing with climate change.  He also made it clear that it is vital for congress to pass climate change legislation this year, both because of the need for emissions reductions but also so China doesn’t dominate the emerging green economy.

I think that is something that Todd Stern has right on.  We need climate legislation, and we need it now.  It gave me hope that that so many people turned out the meeting amidst all the snow in DC.  We need to continue these conversations and move them into action.  The Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice in the Greater Washington area are having a program called “After Copenhagen: How Should Our Chesapeake Region UU Community Take Action?” on March 6th.  If you’re in the area, come check it out!

Lets Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010

Retired U.S. Navy Captain Joan Darrah
This call to action comes from Joan Darrah, who is a survivor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT) and a member of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA.

On February 2nd before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mullen, in his testimony about DADT, stated:

“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity—theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates, General Colin Powell, and an overwhelming majority of the American people also support repealing DADT and finally allowing gays to serve openly with honor. It is time for the U.S. Senate to act and our UU voices will make a difference. Please take a minute or two and e-mail or call your Senators and urge them to support legislation to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and vote for repeal this year.

The best way to erase the law from the books in 2010 is for the Obama Administration to include repeal in the defense authorization bill and then for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to include repeal of the law in the defense bill he reports out of his committee.

Everything about DADT is contrary to everything that Unitarian Universalists stand for. Please make your voice be heard. Thank you for taking action.

“Stand” and Sing Out Your Love to Haiti

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

My congregation, First Parish Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, had an amazing service yesterday that focused on Haiti and on standing with immigrant families here in the United States. Community partners from the Haitian Coalition were in attendance. We collected Valentine’s Day cards made by UU Mass Action to send to our legislators for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. People signed up to participate in Temporary Protected Status Legal clinics sponsored by theUUAUUSC and partners. People also signed up to go as a congregation for a Walk for Haiti in March sponsored by the Haitian Coalition that will raise funds to rebuild schools in Haiti. The religious education classes made valentines for Partners in Health and read Circles of Hope – a story about Haiti. The youth group sold t-shirts for the walk (1/2 the sales go to Partners in Health or you got a free t-shirt if you promised to get sponsors for your walk).

Rev. Fred Small preached a truly amazing sermon on Haiti – managing to give ‘a people’s history of Haiti’ in the context of worship and rousing folks to love and action. Truly standing on the side of love. We sang “Stand” by Amy Carol Webb in the worship service, the choir sang a Haitian ballad, and the congregation sang a calypso Alleluia. At the end of the service after eveyone had a chance to eat Haitian cake in the parlor, speak with our guests (a number of people from the Haitian community came to the service as well as the folks who work at the Coalition) and sign up for the TPS legal clinics and the walk (along with turnng in cards for CIR) – we all went out on to the front steps of the church – holding the Standing on the Side of Love Banner – and singing ‘Stand’ with Rev. Small playing guitar and singing the verses. The moment was magical, folks were filled with love, and passersby stopped to listen and cheer us on. We’re now thinking we could do this once a month around various standing on the side of love justice issues as a form of public witness.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform…ASAP!

Here’s the thing about comprehensive immigration reform (CIR): it’s in the best interest of just about every single person in this country, whether you’re an undocumented immigrant trying to earn fair wages and keep your family secure or you’re a long-time citizen who’s trying to….well, earn fair wages and keep your family secure.  The group that stands to lose mightily, of course, are those businesses which exploit undocumented workers through wage theft, horrendous working conditions, and immigration-status related threats.  Of course, it’s precisely these practices which drive down wages and benefits for American workers. Greed, it turns out, is not only unethical, it’s also unpatriotic.

On the other hand, a report from the libertarian CATO Institute released last August found that legalizing the 8 million undocumented workers in the US would have a net benefit to the economy of $180 BILLION DOLLARS over 10 years. Notably, this study also finds that increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration–the solutions advocated by CIR opponents– “have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households.”

The UUA is supporting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, H.R. 4321, introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez. For more info on the bill, visit our coalition partner the National Immigration Forum. The well-named CIR-ASAP Act has garnered widespread support because it provides a path to legal status, supports due process for all, protects workers, promotes family unity, and offers more educational opportunities for youth.

Please send a message to your Members of Congress  in support of the CIR ASAP Act!

Creating Change

I hadn’t been in 15 years!  But last week I packed up and headed for Dallas to the Creating Change Conference, an annual gathering of the glbtq clan.

My 13 year old said, “I don’t get it.  What is it, again?  It’s some dance and comedy, some classes, some lectures…”  I said, “It’s kind of GA for gay people.”  “Ohhhh…” she said.

So, how was it?  It was much younger, much less white, and much more ‘genderqueer’ than it was 15 years ago.  Clearly the margins of the margins are being identified as leaders and visionaries, and they are coming into the center of this movement.

There were moments that I really did feel as if I was at GA.  When the youth had a panel, and basically told us oldsters how we had failed them and what we had done wrong, I felt THRILLED.  This is how a movement should work!  New leadership, new vision , constant evolution.

(How have we failed them, you wonder?  Well, they said, focusing on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and marriage equality completely overlooks the realities they are living with.  GLBT youth are estimated to comprise 25-40% of homeless youth, just for instance.  How is the glbt establishment taking leadership in addressing this epidemic?)

Then there were moments I felt like the chaperone at a dance, standing at the edges watching others have a great time, longing to put on my jammies and hunker in for my own more solitary enjoyment.

It was thrilling to see all of the faith based organizing going on.  MANY UUs were present, and actually there were a number of workshops led by UUs.  The staff from the UU-UNO office led a stellar workshop on their work, and made it very real by introducing two gay men who are refugees from Iraq.

Hated in their own country for their sexual orientation, these two brave souls went to SYRIA—where one spent eight months and the other four years!—waiting to get papers to come to the US.  However, once they arrived here, they were put into a housing complex in Houston with the same people who hated them back home.  Their only place of support in the US?  Catholic Charities!

The UU-UNO folks are focused on creating a registry of gay immigrants so that no one else will be in that kind of situation.  Meanwhile, they have paired up these gay men with the leaders of the glbt center in Houston.  I’d love to see our churches take the lead on this.

That’s what Creating Change always does for me—it makes me rethink what I’m doing, and refocus on what’s important.  To all the UUs who were there, let’s take all that energy to GA in Minneapolis and see what we can build together!

American Prayer Hour a Success

Hundreds of people of faith gathered on Thursday, February 4th in more than 20 cities around the country for the American Prayer Hour, an interfaith response to the National Prayer Breakfast, which also took place on Thursday morning. The National Prayer Breakfast is organized by the conservative and secretive religious group, The Family (also known as The Fellowship).

Members of The Family have been linked to the “Kill the Gays” bill, legislation proposed in Uganda that, if passed, could mean mandatory imprisonment or even the death penalty for anyone accused of being homosexual or protecting someone who is. The organization Full Equality Now, DC sponsored a Wednesday night protest at the Family’s headquarters on Capitol Hill that was covered on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Civil rights advocates had asked the President not to attend the Prayer Breakfast because of the Family’s ties the Ugandan legislation. Although President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did attend the event, they took the opportunity to speak out against the use of religion to justify violence and cruelty. The President decried the targeting of gays and lesbians anywhere in the world and expressed his disgust for laws that would do so in Uganda and elsewhere.

Back in Washington, D.C. a diverse group of religious leaders and people of faith attended the American Prayer Hour at Calvary Baptist Church. Imam Daayiee Abullah of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, which serves bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims, called the event a “rebuttal to cruelty and violence in God’s name,” and Rabbi Elizabeth Richman of Jews United for Justice declared that each one of us will not be safe, secure and valued until we live in a society where everyone is safe, secure and valued.

Rev. Elizabeth Lerner, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, (pictured above right with Sharon Groves, a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian), said that Thursday’s service reminded us that the only family that truly matters is our human family, and that the gathering made “a powerful statement condemning the strategies and bigotry of ‘The Family,’ and affirming that [the] persistent and triumphant message across the world’s religions is always transparent love in service of human dignity and peace.”

May that spirit of peace and dignity accompany all those in Uganda and around the world whose lives and families are endangered by those who would seek to silence and harm them.

From the First Earth Day to the Climate Change Movement Today

As I’ve been working on the Earth Day Resources for congregations to plan actions around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this year, I’ve been reminded of the history of Earth Day and the environmental movement in the US. The movement’s start in the late 1960s, early 1970s led to the creation of the first Earth Day, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scientists warned that the pollution in the water was killing the lakes and streams; the Cuyahoga River even caught on fire. Air pollution was seriously degrading the environment. Both were impacting public health. But if I have learned anything from that movement, it was the amazing commitment of everyday people all over the country that demanded environmental improvements and made them happen.

One year after that first Earth Day, William D. Ruckelshaus reflected:

“We came to realize the human dimensions of antiseptic statistics.

We came to realize that the more than 1400 pounds of air pollution per person which rides the wind and rain across this continent is a hazard to health and life and the human spirit.

We came to realize that more than 50 trillion gallons of hot water, millions of tons of organic and chemical pollutants, enormous amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and most of all, sewage every year are spoiling rivers once celebrated in our art and literature and history. The Hudson and the Potomac, the Missouri and the Monongehela, the Snake and the Androscoggin – all rivers rich in history – are today rivers rich in industrial and municipal wastes.

We came to realize that the more than 7 million automobiles, 20 million tons of paper, 48 billion cans and 26 billion bottles a year which litter our landscape means that almost nowhere on this continent can man escape the impact he has had on nature.

We came to realize too that we were not alone in our disregard for the delicate balance of life.”

Now is that time for climate change.

In December 2009, the EPA announced an endangerment finding, allowing EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. On January 21st, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a disapproval resolution, which is expected to be brought to the Senate floor sometime this month. If passed, it would block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and dirty coal, and furthering US contributions to the environmental injustices that contribute to climate change. Supporting the Clean Air Act is the best way we already have under current law to limit the environmental justice impacts of climate change and to help our country shift to a clean energy economy. This is, without a doubt, the way of the future. Please contact your Senators and tell them to support the Clean Air Act.

This is only the first step. Together, we can, and must, work towards a world where the environment is healthy for all who live there. The people who receive the least of society’s benefits and have the least power to affect changes are the ones who feel the environmental impacts first and most severely. Climate change is already being witnessed by people who work closely with the land. Together, we must love urgently and work towards climate justice.

What food choices can Unitarian Universalists make to build a planet that is both sustainable and just?

If you walk into an average supermarket these days, you’ll find thousands of choices of things to eat. Some things may be grown or produced in low-impact ways at a nearby farm, but chances are that many items for sale contain ingredients whose production has negatively impacted the Earth and her people. As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to living in ways that respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people as well as the interdependent web of life of which we are a part. With so many choices, how can we find ways to eat ethically?

Fortunately, people all over the United States are thinking about just this right now. Several best-selling books have been written about authors’ deliberations about what to eat, and UU congregations have been engaging in the current Congregational Study/Action Issue, “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.” For the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this year, the UU Ministry For Earth (UUMFE) is asking members of all congregations to think about what they eat and what food choices are available to those in their communities. While Earth Day isn’t until Thursday, April 22nd, resources for planning your Earth Day events are already available on the UUMFE website to help you plan both worship and social justice projects. Check them out!

American Prayer Hour – Protesting the National Prayer Breakfast

This week, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists and faith communities are uniting in Washington DC and around the country to protest the involvement of members of the international organization The Family, (also known as the Fellowship) a religious group with disturbing ties to proponents of anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is currently under consideration by the Ugandan parliament. The bill was put forth by parliamentarian David Bahati and initially backed by President Yoweri Museveni. If passed, the new law would unleash a vicious campaign of persecution against LGBT citizens in Uganda. Bahati and President Museveni are key members of The Family in Africa. The Family hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is scheduled to take place this year on Thursday, February 4th at the Washington D.C. Hilton. President Obama is scheduled to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast.
A coalition including Faith in America, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Full Equality Now DC, an organization the emerged from the National Equality March, is responding with the American Prayer Hour. On the morning of February 4th, people of faith across the country will gather at American Prayer Hour events to affirm our inclusive values and show that cruelty and extremism have no place in our communities. A list of events is available at the American Prayer Hour website.
A press conference announcing the National Prayer Hour will take place at the National Press Club on Tuesday, February 2nd. Scheduled speakers include Moses, a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in the United States, Bishop V. Gene Robinson of the Episocpal Church, and Harry Knox, director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program.
Full Equality Now DC has also organized a protest and rally on Wednsday, February 3rd at 5:30pm at the Family’s “C Street House” headquarters at 133 C Street SE, Washington, DC.
If there is an American Prayer Hour event in your city, please consider attending. If you are in Washington, DC, please come the rally on Wednesday night as well. For more information, see www.americanprayerhour.org.