“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.

Standing on the Side of Love & Dreams with Immigrant Families

by Bill Lace, Immigration Task Force Chair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Phoenix AZ

It seemed like a mid-January alignment of planets occurred in Phoenix, Arizona with immigration reform events, a human rights march protesting Sheriff Arpaio, and the “Dream Act” play coalescing over a period of a few days surrounding this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) and fellow UU congregations from the Valley of the Sun and Tucson, Arizona were busy in planning, participating in, and hosting the activities, along with interfaith allies, immigrant rights groups, and advocacy partners.

The Social Action Committee of UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix commissioned New Carpa Theater Company, a Phoenix company focusing on Latino and multicultural theater works, to present the “Dream Act” play at UUCP and First Congregational United Church of Christ of Phoenix on January 15th and 17th. “Dream Act,” written by James E. Garcia, tells the story of undocumented student Victoria Nava and her dreams of practicing medicine. In the face of anti-immigrant sentiment, she feels her dreams may be slipping away. The play is based on an National Public Radio interview of an undocumented student in Southern California and brings to life the plight faced by the 65,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school each year.

“Dream Act” was well attended by people from inside and outside the congregations including administrators, teachers, and students from several schools that teach many undocumented youth. Immigration reform activist groups CADENA – DREAM Act Arizona and Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) handed out information at booths. Each performance was followed by an interactive discussion session led by Mr. Garcia with experts on the proposed DREAM Act legislation and members of the cast.

On January 16th, thousands of people, including immigrants and immigrant rights organizations, church groups, advocates and anarchists, filled the streets outside Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail for the March for Human Rights. The march focused attention to stop human rights violations, racial profiling and use of 287(g) by Sheriff Arpaio and other entities in the State of Arizona. UUCP Minister Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray, several UUCP members and other UU’s from the Phoenix and Tucson area congregations rallied and marched with UU banners and Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts in prominent display. Rev. Frederick-Gray spoke at the rally calling for all to “Stand on the side of love with immigrant families.” Members of UUCP and others worked with local Latino and Indigenous Peoples activist group Puente Arizona in the planning of the march. Marchers can assure you that despite some media stories you may have seen, the vast majority of people involved were peaceful and respectful of police monitoring the march.

UUCP’s Immigration Task Force has partnered with the Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN) and RIFA Arizona in ramping up attention on comprehensive immigration reform and has crafted a presentation to be taken throughout Arizona. The presentation is based on recommendations from RIFA and explains that many present immigration practices are unrealistic—we cannot deport 12 million people even if we wanted to(!) and that through our shared values we can work together to protect and value ALL families, including immigrant families. The task force also participated in a RIFA press conference outside Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office on January 14th calling upon McCain to continue his support of immigration reform. RIFA Arizona is holding a Town Hall on immigration on January 19th focusing on the faith and business communities. Members of the task force will participate and some are scheduled to speak. I feel proud to stand up with my faith and interfaith community in partnership with immigrant organizations for human rights and justice. Si Se Puede!

To take action in support of Congressman Gutierrez’s Bill for comprehensive immigration reform, go to Reform Immigration for America. (The UUA is a member.)

For more information:

UUs Support CIW for Justice in the Tomato Fields

by Rev. Allison Farnum of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ft. Myers, FL

Unitarian Universalist congregations all along in Florida have been picketing with the CIW at Publix Supermarkets, delivering letters to the Publix managers that ask for Publix to come to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ table to talk about the tomatoes they buy. Documented cases of slavery have occurred in the fields of two large Florida tomato growers, 6Ls and Pacific. Publix continues to buy from both growers. Publix cites a policy that states they do not get involved in labor issues between those from whom they purchase and their employees. Since when is slavery a labor dispute?

Folks in our southwest Florida cluster congregations share that, when speaking with Publix employees, the managers themselves are disappointed that the corporate level will not cooperate. Even Publix employees on the front lines expect better of this corporation (the 4th largest privately-owned company in the United States, recently reported in Forbes Magazine) that claims it cares about its local community. As far as I can tell, Publix officials turning their backs on slavery in Florida tomato fields is far from caring.

Money talks. As Publix buys from growers that condone slavery in their fields, this giant supermarket chain is participating in a harvest of shame. This Sunday people of faith from Florida, Unitarian Universalists and all kinds, will gather in Lakeland, FL, home of the corporate headquarters, to send prayers of courage and caring to Publix. We will make our presence known as allies and supporters of the tomato pickers and stand on the side of love.

Help us End Employment Discrimination

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

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

Standing on the Side of Love with a Broken Heart

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

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

My stomach twisted and my heart sank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Anti-BGLT Violence in Tel Aviv

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

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

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

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

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

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

District of Columbia Recognizes Out-of-District Same-Sex Marriages

Today, same sex couples living in the District of Columbia are one huge step closer to enjoying full marriage equality. Those who have gotten married in other states and some foreign countries that have legalized marriage for same sex couples will now have their marriages officially recognized by the District of Columbia.

These couples will receive the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage under D.C. law, but will not, however be granted the 1,100 federal rights and responsibilities that married opposite sex couples enjoy all over the country. Click here for more information about D.C.’s new law.

Unitarian Universalist religious leaders in D.C. have been and will continue to be tireless and outspoken advocates for marriage equality as part of the D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality and D.C. For Marriage coalitions.

The Unitarian Universalist Association will also continue to work to end marriage discrimination as we call on the United States Government to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to grant full and equal access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage for committed and loving same sex couples.

Getting Ready for GA with Standing on the Side of Love

Lisa and I caught an early morning flight from National Airport to Salt Lake City, Utah for the annual business meeting of the UUA. I am really excited to be here. If memory serves me correctly, this is my 10th GA (yeow!).

But I don’t ever remember being as excited for a GA as much as this one. Not only are there three history setting votes (including edits to the Principles and Purposes of the UUA, the Peacemaking Statement of Conscience, and the election of a new UUA President), but I am really excited about the launch of the UUA’s new outreach campaign, Standing on the Side of Love.
Standing on the Side of Love is a way UUs can act upon their faith by working along side marginalized and oppressed people in American society.
Adam Gerhardstein (former Legislative Assistant for International Issues and former Acting Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy) is now the campaign director for Standing on the Side of Love. In the video below, you can see Adam overseeing the hanging of our Standing on the Side of Love banners in the Salt Palace Convention Center.
We will be posting videos like this all week long. You can see these videos and receive more updates by going to our companion blog for Standing on the Side of Love at http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/ or at youtube by subscribing to our feed.
You can also follow the Standing on the Side of love campaign through many different ways.
If you want text messages from GA sent to your cell phone from GA, just text STAND to 41411.
You can follow us on Twitter @SideofLove
And you can become a fan of Standing on the Side of Love on facebook

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