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Orelia Busch

President’s Memo on Hospital Visitation Falls Short of Full Equality

On April 15, President Obama issued a memorandum supporting hospital visitation rights for partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and other Americans who are admitted to hospitals and whose caregivers or closest companions are not blood relatives or a spouse. It requests that hospital staff and administration respect any advance directives about visitation and decision-making people had in place before an emergency or routine hospital stay. While this move by the Obama Administration clearly shows support for LGBT families, it’s far short of what people of all sexual orientations and gender identities deserve: full equality in all matters under law.

The fact remains that even with this memorandum, and other legal documents and advance directives in place, same-sex partners can still be excluded from hospital rooms and prevented from providing love and comfort to their sick and dying loved ones.

Over the past several days, many blogs have publicized the heart-wrenching story of Harold Scull and Clay Greene, an elderly gay couple from Sonoma County, CA. When Harold was hospitalized after a fall in 2008, the hospital barred Clay from visiting his partner of 20 years. In a further affront to human dignity, Harold and Clay’s lease was terminated by Sonoma County and their belongings were auctioned off. The county placed Clay in a nursing home against his will and separated him from Harold, who passed away three months after the fall without his partner by his side. All this happened despite the fact that the couple had wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives all naming each other. The National Center for Lesbian Rights is currently assisting Clay’s attorneys in a lawsuit against the county, the auction company, and the nursing home.

Heartbreaking stories like Clay and Harold’s remind us that we have a long way to go before LGBT Americans enjoy their full and equal rights as citizens and members of society.

Please join our friends at GetEQUAL in calling on President Obama to step up and be a fierce advocate for LGBT equality.

Day of Silence for Safe Schools

This Friday, April 16, marks the fourteenth annual Day of Silence. Students and allies at schools and colleges across the country will take a vow of silence for all or part of the day in order to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools and communities and ultimately, to help make their schools safer for everyone.  Participating students may hand out “speaking cards” that read:

“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?”

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) will be among the hundreds of thousands of students taking action in this year’s Day of Silence.  Andrew Coate, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth Maine and a senior at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, is participating in his tenth Day of Silence.  Andrew writes:

“By doing something as simple as being silent we can symbolically represent the silence forced on those pushed to the outskirts of society.”

Ben Walter, a 16-year-old Unitarian Universalist from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, will spend the day at a table outside of his school cafeteria handing out rainbow ribbons and explanations of the Day of Silence to students and teachers.  The members of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance received support and materials from the Illinois Alliance for Safe Schools.

Day of Silence activities in many places will culminate in community-based “Breaking the Silence” events at the end of the day. Together, students break their silence with a powerful call to action to prevent the harm and trauma caused by bullying and harassment.

Margaret Low, a Unitarian Universalist seminarian at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, will speak to students at Haverhill High School in Haverhill, MA about breaking her own silence by coming out and the silence that her partner continues to endure as a member of the US Armed Forces.

Students as young as 11-year-old Carl Walker Hoover have been forced to remain silent in the face of harassment and abuse and have even taken their own lives a result of bullying.  Many Day of Silence participants will ask their schools to implement comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that could help protect all students and make schools safer.  There is currently no federal law to protect students in public schools from discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, but a bill to do just that has been introduced in the House of Representatives.  

The Student Non Discrimination Act of 2010, (H.R. 4530) introduced by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, aims to end discrimination based on actual or perceived.sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.  A companion bill will be introduced shortly in the Senate.

This bill would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from exclusion and discrimination as well as harassment. In Itawamba County, MS, Constance McMillen was banned from her prom because she wanted to attend with her girlfriend. When the school cancelled their prom due to the controversy that arose, a group of parents agreed to sponsor a private event for the students. Constance, along with several other students was sent to a “fake prom” while her classmates partied elsewhere. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would hold public schools accountable to treat all students equally, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And stay tuned to this blog early next week for a report on Day of Silence actions from the UUs listed above and others!

Blogswarm: Demand LGBT Employment Rights Today!

Note: This reposting comes from a blogswarm today with Daily Kos, Open Left, Americablog, Towleroad, Pam’s House Blend, Joe My God, Michelangelo Signorile, David Mixner, Daily Gotham, Culture Kitchen, Taylor Marsh, PageOneQ, Dan Savage, GoodAsYou, and many others all blogging about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employment rights. We’re asking our readers to contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask that she move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3017) to a floor vote.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, first introduced in 1994, would prohibit job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But LGBT people have never been able to achieve the enactment of the bill, known by the acronym of “ENDA”. Last year, the Administration’s highest ranking gay official, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, indicated that ENDA was highest priority on the LGBT civil rights agenda.

“If we can get ENDA enacted and signed into law, it is only a matter of time before all the rest happens,” he said. “It is the keystone that holds up the whole bunch, and so we need to focus our energies and attention there.”

Hearings were held last Fall in the House and in the Senate to demonstrate the need for the bill, and testimony was heard on the severe unemployment, underemployment and harassment experienced by LGBT workers. Witnesses testified to the scientific studies demonstrating this.

International Women’s Day 2010 – Ending Discrimination Against Women

On March 8th, thousands of events in countries all over the world will mark International Women’s Day and call for full equality for women in every nation.  International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time at a 1909 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark – its creation largely inspired by the courageous actions of women who worked in deplorable conditions in garment factories in New York.

Today’s  “Democracy Now!” news report details the irony that although women from the U.S. helped to shape what we know as International Women’s Day, the day passes unnoticed in many parts of this country.  The United States also remains among the seven UN countries, including Iran, Somalia and Sudan, that have not ratified the Treaty for the Rights of Women, officially known as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

CEDAW was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and has since been ratified by 186 countries around the world.  The Unitarian Universalist Association supports CEDAW as “essential to a claim by the U.S. of moral leadership in human rights,” and asserts that its ratification would “deter discrimination against women and advance their political and economic equality.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Barbara Boxer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all voiced their support for US ratification of CEDAW, but Congress and the Obama Administration have made no moves yet to ratify this important treaty.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by learning more about this issue from the advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions and taking action to support CEDAW.

Senate Bill Introduced to Repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

UPDATE: Watch news Coverage of UU Joan Darrah.

Earlier today, Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced legislation in the United States Senate that would end the ban which prevents bisexual, gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Carl Levin, and Roland Burris were among the 11 original co-sponsors of the bill (officially titled the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010), which would repeal the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and instead ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

It’s been a busy day for UUs! Retired Navy Captain Joan Darrah, and Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett (ret), both members of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, VA, spoke today at two different press events in Washington, D.C. announcing the introduction. Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, sent a letter to all 50 Senators asking them to support the bill. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on the version of the bill that is currently before the House of Representatives.

In addition to celebrating this step forward, let’s move our advocacy efforts into high gear. Please take a moment now to email your members of Congress and tell them how important it is that they pass legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010!

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.

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.

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.

Marriage Equality Day in D.C.!

This morning, I watched with about 300 other people as Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. I watched from the pews of my own church, All Souls Church, Unitarian, as D.C. City Council members called the bill a victory for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. The ceremony made it abundantly clear that people of faith stand overwhelmingly for marriage equality. This bill does not in any way impede those whose faiths do not solemnize same-sex marriages from practicing their religion, and it allows clergy all over the District of Columbia to solemnize unions for their congregants of all sexual orientations.

For Unitarian Universalists and many others, marriage equality is an expression of our deepest values of fairness and justice for all. Although I have celebrated other victories for equality in the past year, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotional reaction to the council’s vote and today’s bill signing. Something shifted inside of me, and I was in tears. I realized that until this week, I didn’t truly believe that I would ever live in a place where I could marry another woman. I had taken for granted that I was in a fight that I could never win. It feels so much more urgent for me now to work for a day when I don’t have to worry about losing my rights if and when I move to another city. It seems even more ludicrous to me than it did before that some people have the right to marry and others are still waiting.

I left the ceremony with renewed hope and a renewed commitment to full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. Of course, equality encompasses so much more than the right to marry – it includes things that many of us take for granted – like being able to use the bathroom safely, the right to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive sexuality education, safe schools, the right to do meaningful work, and so much more. The road ahead of me seems long and full of twists and turns, but if it is paved with victories like today’s, I will be blessed indeed. If you are as grateful for this day as I am, please take a moment to send a thank-you note to the D.C. City Council members whose support made this day possible.

(Rev. Rob Hardies holding one of the pens Mayor Fenty used to sign the bill.)

Speaking out Against Stupak – Important Vote Today in the Senate

Author and sociology professor Carol Joffe’s blog post on Beacon Broadside shares the stories of three women who found out, late in their pregnancies, that their babies were unlikely to live past birth. Joffe poignantly illustrates the complexities surrounding a woman’s decision to have an abortion. These stories show one more reason why the UUA opposes the Stupak Amendment, and the similar Nelson-Hatch Amendment in the Senate, which could take that decision away from millions of women and their physicians.

The UUA is among 13 religious organizations calling on the Senate to preserve the insurance coverage that most women have today by placing NO further restrictions on abortion coverage in health care reform legislation. You can read the full story and the letter that was sent to all 100 U.S. Senators on the RH RealityCheck blog.
The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the Nelson-Hatch Amendment today. Please contact your Senators and ask them to defeat this amendment. Learn more here.