Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn.
Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender (BGLT) communities in Washington, DC and around the world are holding Pride Celebrations this month and throughout the Summer and Fall. On June 9th, members of over 20 different religious communities and faith-based organizations came together for the annual Pride Week Interfaith Service organized by the Celebration of the Spirit Coalition. The gathering included beautiful and heartfelt expressions of the love and inclusiveness inherent in many diverse religious traditions. Participants were identified as Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Bapitist, Buddhist and Wiccan, to name just a few. UU representatives included ministers and members from All Souls Church, Unitarian; Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church and the Universalist National Memorial Church. Capital Pride activities continue in DC this weekend with a parade on Saturday evening and a festival on Sunday.
The theme of the interfaith service this year examined the past, present and future of the struggle for rights and recognition for people whose gender identities and/or expressions or sexual orientations do not follow the heterosexual norm in this country. Participants honored our ancestors and those who did this work before us while we looked to the next generation for renewed strength and spiritual activism that will carry us into the next century.
The modern BGLT rights movement has roots in the work of activists in the 1950s and 60s, but is most often traced back to the Stonewall riots in New York in June 1969, where protesters confronted police who were conducting unconstitutional raids in bars. The yearly parade that commemorated this incident sparked a national grassroots movement, and Pride is now celebrated in many countries around the world. The celebrations aim to increase the visibility of BGLT people in their communities and to give all who participate a chance to come together in solidarity to combat oppression.
Last week, President Barack Obama released a proclamation declaring June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month” in the United States of America. This marks the first occaision that the White House has officially commemorated Gay Pride since the Clinton administration.
We salute President Obama’s efforts to further civil rights gains for BGLT persons internationally as well as within the United States. We hope sincerely that he works closely with Congress to keep his promises of finding a way to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to eliminate workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to recognize and protect same sex couples and their rights.
The Unitarian Universalist Association will continue to express our vision of a society where no one is terrorized, excluded or marginalized based on their identity or its expression. The UUA Washington Office for Advocacy and its staff will keep working to ensure that the laws and policies of this land are crafted in the spirit of respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Today, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel (seen at right), and the Director of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Rev. Josh DuBois, stopped by the Washington Office to see how the UUA is supporting justice and progress in the United States and the World.
We showed the Emmanuel and DuBois our Actions of the Month on Environmental Justice and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
They expressed interest in our work on BGLT equality. And they wanted to learn more about the Social Justice and Advocacy Trainings we offer. They were particularly pleased with the results of the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) we hosted last month.
The workshops we are offering at General Assembly on environmental justice, immigration, and direct democracy were particularly exciting for them.
Overall, DuBois and Emanuel were extremely pleased with the work of the UUA and said they would report back to the President about our office immediately. Both look forward to working with us more in the future.
Oh, and Happy April Fools Day!
Adam Gerhardstein, Acting Director of the UUA Washington Office, responds to President Obama’s Friday announcement of his Iraq strategy. This is the first video post from the Washington Office and we are still working out the kinks, but hopefully you’ll get the message.
We invite you to send us links to your videos, so we can promote the important work UUs across the country are doing for justice. Cheers!
In a solid victory for workers in the United States, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act into law yesterday. After winning enough votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate to be passed on to the President’s desk, it became the first piece of legislation to bear his signature. Civil rights movements, the Unitarian Universalist denomination, and countless dedicated individuals have been fighting wage discrimination for decades.
The Fair Pay Restoration Act removes restrictions on the length of time a worker has to file a wage discrimination lawsuit against an employer. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the new law is named, had worked at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Gadsden, Alabama for 20 years before she realized that although she had the same skills and training, she was being paid up to 40% less than her male colleagues. Many employees don’t learn about pay disparities and their rights to claim equal pay for the work that they have done until well into their careers. The Lilly Ledbetter Act makes it possible for those who may have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to wage discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion or disability to seek and win legal recourse no matter how much time has gone by.
Seventy-year-old Lilly Ledbetter has been working selflessly towards the passage of this law since the Supreme Court ruling two years ago that denied her rights to the money she lost. Speaking to First Lady Michelle Obama Lilly says, “I will never see a cent from my case. But with the passage and the president’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know my daughters and granddaughters and your daughters and your granddaughters will have a better deal.”
The First Lady’s comments at the reception she held for Ms Ledbetter expressed her solidarity with “women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, older women, younger women, women with disabilities and their families” by recognizing the new law as a “cornerstone of a broader commitment to address the needs of working women who are looking to … not only ensure that they’re treated fairly, but also to ensure that there are policies in place that help women and men balance their work and family obligations without putting their jobs or their economic security at risk”. The President stated, “Signing this bill today is sending a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.”
On a personal level, I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t agree more. I think I’ll take a walk by the White House this evening in a silent expression of gratitude.
Following yesterday’s anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, President Barack Obama prepares today to rescind what has been known as the “global gag rule.” The regulation, in place for 17 of the past 25 years, prohibits health organizations receiving US foreign aid dollars from discussing abortion in any way. In an article on British news website guardian.co.uk, Dr. Gill Greer, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation affirms:
The gag rule has done immense harm and caused untold suffering to millions around the world …. It has undermined health systems and endangered the lives and health of the poorest and most vulnerable women on the planet by denying access to life saving family planning, sexual and reproductive health and HIV services and exposing them to the dangers of unsafe abortion.
To read the rest of the article, click here.
I hope that this victory is the first of many that women all over the world can expect in the coming weeks, months and years of the Obama administration. For easy and effective ways that you can get involved in working for reproductive choice and justice, take a moment to visit the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Action Center. A letter or phone call to your representative could make a difference in passing important legislation that supports reproductive health and education.
President Obama’s statement from yesterday. I feel proud and blessed that he is the leader of my country.
Meg’s daughter, Jie Wronski-Riley, shares her Inauguration Week impressions.
The Sun was rising, Bright and hopeful,
The people were gathering, light and soulful
As a country, as a nation we have risen to this occasion.
January 16, 2009
From Milwaukee to DC
I was traveling alone which basically meant that I was sat down in a chair and ignored for about two hours. When we finally boarded I was sitting next to a woman who liked solitare and we exchanged small talk. I’ve flown on a plane many times before but this was different from those times, everyone except the stiff-necked businessman used the name Obama in every other sentence and there was an aura of tingling exhilaration that couldn’t be forced down by any number of delays and missed flights. This was a sample of what was to come during my stay in Washington.
January 17, 2009
Today we went to get Obama souvenirs. First we went to the “Official Obama Store.” As we entered the small street shop we were greeted by women, children and men milling around the little tables plucking buttons, pins, and stickers out of metal tubs.
In the museum of D.C. there was a show of wall hanging quilts from all over the states and world . All of these quilts were inspired by the Obama campaign.
January 19, 2009
My long time friends Lina and Renci have an aunt that was the main commissioner on the obama campaign in the whole state of Michigan. And this aunt just happened to have tickets to the Disney kids inaugural. She had an extra ticket and she insisted that she couldn’t just leave me behind so I went to this Disney concert at the verizon center. It was great! I really admired how all the free tickets went to military families, many whom had a parent overseas. I also liked how they incorporated the inauguration into a kid friendly place.
January 20, 2009
photo by Jie Wronski-Riley
The excitement in the crowd was in-comprehendible we rushed, well as fast as we could which is about as fast as a slug who pulled a muscle. There were long wide masses that muddled along buzzing energetically about where they were from what had brought them here and how long the line was. It was a very bleak, freezing, almost sunless day, this was the day that we had been waiting for. The day which to some was a miracle when Barack H. Obama became our president after 8 long years of the bush reign. We had high hopes and frost-bitten but elated spirits. While we were standing about people were hopping up and down, swaying from side to side, and watching the monitor intently. After about an hour of waiting the jumbo-tron switched from showing pictures of the momentous American flag and high and mighty capitol to the red carpet of the 56th presidential inauguration. There were the powerful house representatives, the mighty senators, the old but noble former presidents and the celebrities. The crowd played a game of guess that big shot and most of the time there was a cry of “An old guy in suit and wearing a tie!”. When the crowd recognized someone other than by the color of their neck garment it was soon accompanied by a unanimous wave of boos or a great mass of encouragement and cheering . Then following hours of waiting in these bone-chilling temperatures and huge face buffeting gusts of wind Barack Obama walks down to his family as rigid as I’ve ever seen him. The mobs go wild! While Joe Biden is sworn in as vice president I wonder aloud what an odd duo Biden and bush would be. Then Obama steps up and places his hand on the bible. Everything is focused on this inspiring man and the oath he is taking. Some of the tension is let out when the jumbo-tron is about ten words behind the speakers and a whole clog of tall people are right in your line of vision, people who have an uncanny knack to sway right when you try to see right and to swing left when you attempt to catch a glimpse left. “So help me god.” repeats Barack Obama, seconds later the picture of Barrack Obama moves his mouth saying “so help me god.” The applause was tremendous! It was like a booming waterfall rushing down and rolling long and deep. There was a small sense of relief, that this actually happened, that Barack Obama is really the president of the United States of America!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now this day we’ve renewed the pride and steadiness that America is famous for.
The time is Now For the Change We Seek Hope is in the air
For more photos of the Inauguration in DC, visit the Advocacy & Witness facebook page.
The first time that I visited Washington, DC, it was as a tourist. As I stood in awe of monuments and grand buildings, shuffled past the Declaration of Independence, and tried to take in all that the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian had to offer, I could not imagine that anyone actually lived in this city. To me as a tourist, Washington was like a marble theme park where presidents and Congress members made history of one kind or another.
A couple of months after I had moved to the neighborhood of Columbia Heights, I caught sight of the far off Washington monument down Meridian Hill and remembered how I once could not fathom being what I had become, a DC resident. I, like other staff members of the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy, live in DC. We go to work, go home, buy groceries, go to church, go out… and know a city that is not evident from vacation visits and media coverage. The Washington that tourists see is disproportionately white with a smattering of foreigners, and an emphasis on lawyers and the military, lobbyists and diplomats. The DC that I know as a resident is a mixture of ethnicities – Euro Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and others – living in neighborhoods of varying degrees of integration… policemen and nurses, shop keeps and community organizers. There are neighborhoods of extreme poverty and despair in the same city with the marble facades and luxury hotels. I live in the capital of what is still the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth and yet our school system fails its children, some neighborhoods are plagued with violence, our residents do not have true Congressional representation, and everywhere the divides created by both racism and classism are evident.
I do not mean to give the impression that everyone walks around distrusting each other. Far from it. But just like other large cities in the U.S., there are barriers in our daily lives that are perhaps more visible in DC because of the stark contrasts. But this week we watched those barriers tumble down. On Sunday, I attended the “We Are One” concert with Taquiena Boston and her sister Mishan. We met in the neighborhood of Adams Morgan for brunch and then walked down to the National Mall, an over two mile walk. Along the way, we joined hundreds of others walking there as well. And we smiled at each other and shared stories. At the concert itself, the crowd was even more diverse than the performers on stage. The spirit of unity continued through the weekend, culminating when two million people – from all over the nation including DC, from all walks of life – converged again on the National Mall. When Barack Hussein Obama completed the oath of office, people everywhere hugged the nearest person they could find, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation…. We truly were one. This spirit of good will has continued long past that one moment. People greet each other with smiles at metro stops and chat while waiting in lines.
We live in an age where self-sufficiency is valued over cooperation. Where people intentionally avoid eye-contact when passing each other on busy city streets. Only twice in my life have I experienced the loving good will that is still embracing DC right now. The other time was in New York City after September 11th, 2001. While a lot of anger was unfairly directed at Muslims following the attack, there was also an encompassing feeling of intimcacy amongst usually gruff New Yorkers. People held doors open for each other, used their car horns less, and were generally more patient and kind. In our moment of collective grief, as a nation searched for meaning out of tragedy, we could have listened to the better angels of our nature, instead of the demons of fear and self-centeredness. People were ready to serve a higher purpose, if only we had had the leader to inspire us in that direction. Instead, our president at the time told us to “go shopping” and then took us into two wars.
The inauguration of President Obama cannot erase the harm we have done in the last seven years (and for hundreds of years before that). But at least now we have a chance. May we hold on to this feeling of unity in the trying times to come.
This inaugural weekend, there was love in the air. Washington, D.C. was filled to the brim with the most polite, positive, life-giving people I have ever met. I have never heard so many “excuse me’s” and “thank you’s.”
Two stories, neither of which I witnessed, demonstrate the willingness of the masses to find love even where hate is what they saw. An All Souls Unitarian, D.C., member, was walking towards the Lincoln Memorial with his husband, and their son, for the We Are One concert, when they came across a small handful of people protesting homosexuality. The protesters had a large sign that read “Homo-Sex Is Sin.” My friends were saddened, but they decided not to pay the protesters any attention. However, a group of gay men down from New York were not going to let it pass. In an act of creative counter-protest, they started chanting, “Homo-Sex Is In! Homo-Sex Is In!” Thousands of people all around them took up the chant and the protesters were left scrambling to reclaim their hate.
The handful of protesters returned on Tuesday for the Inauguration. A man, who I randomly hugged on the street, told me that as he was filing out after the swearing-in, he saw two men climb up on an electrical box, right next to the protesters, and start making out. The thousands of people witnessing this brave couple’s statement of love erupted in cheers.
It was abundantly clear to me this weekend that the millions of people who filled D.C. came because they were ready for more than a new President; they were ready for a new love; a love of country, a love of their fellow citizens, and a love of those who have for so long been victims of hate.
One final thing. For the first time in my three years in D.C., African Americans with cameras and fur coats are everywhere. I didn’t realize it until they appeared, but black tourists are highly underrepresented among the many tourists who come to D.C. It sort of feels like a portion of this city is being reclaimed by its rightful owners and those of us who have been occupying their portion are jubilant that its owners have found their way home. Everyone seems ready for reconciliation and reconnection. I started the day with a moment of this reconnection.
I walked out on my porch at 7:30 a.m. and an African American man was bundled up and walking hurriedly towards the route downtown. I was already feeling the historical nature of the day and when our eyes met I raised my fist in the air in a motion closely resembling the black power salute. While retaining the blanket he was holding, he awkwardly returned the gesture. Now, I am a white guy, and as he was walking away, I was thinking to myself – was that really an appropriate thing to do? Sure enough, he stopped and turned around. He walked back down the sidewalk to the bottom of my stoop. He pulled out his camera and said, “Could you do that again? I want to document everything today.” I smiled and proudly thrust my fist back in the air.
The staff of the Washington Office, Kat, Lisa, Grace, Alex, Alida, and I, met each other at 10:30 this morning in front of the White House for our weekly theological reflection. We all agreed that the White House looked different this morning. It looked more approachable.
We opened with words from Barack Obama’s Springfield speech when he announced his candidacy. A speech which ended with: “Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this earth.”
We shared what Sen. Obama’s victory meant for us personally, our communities, our nation, and the world. We were all emotional. Alida shared a snippet she had heard a man say on NPR, “Martin walked so Obama could run so our children could fly.”
We all agreed that progressives, especially spiritual progressives, have much work to do. We committed to working in coalition, to having patience, to being welcoming.
We then took the time to dream. We envisioned what our perfect union would look like. We articulated a vision that included excellence in education, access to health care, marriage equality, just immigration reform, reduction in our military expenditures, an end to the Iraq war, a green economy, no border walls, protection of women’s right to choose, and much more.
Knowing that this future will not be handed to us, we each took responsibility for helping build such a future. With this commitment in the forefront of our minds, we closed our theological reflection by reciting the pledge of allegiance while standing directly in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. All of us recited it loudly and proudly as dozens of tourists milled about us.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”