About the Author
Orelia Busch

Back to School for Comprehensive Sex Education Advocates

In his speech today, President Obama expressed these hopes for our nation’s young people:

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.

The President also said that he expects a lot from our nation’s youth, but one thing he can’t expect is for them to be able to make healthy and responsible decisions about their lives without all of the facts.
That’s why we are calling on Congress to support the President’s vision of teen pregnancy and disease prevention programs by funding comprehensive sex education in schools and communities around the country.
Take action today! Tell your Senators that you support eliminating funding for ineffective abstinence-only programs and dedicating federal funds to proven, comprehensive sex education that teaches our youth the facts they need and prepares them to put their own values into action.

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.

Call Your Senators in Support of Hate Crimes Legislation

Today and tomorrow, please call you Senators at the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) and urge them to support the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is being offered as the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crime Amendment to S. 1391, the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act significantly improves our current hate crimes prevention laws. This bill expands the coverage of existing hate crime laws to include crimes based not only on race, color, religion, and national origin, but also crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

This bill does not infringe on freedoms of speech and religion, but provides the federal government jurisdiction to prosecute hate crimes where current law or local law enforcement actions are inadequate. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will protect people that are subjected to violence and intimidation just for being who they are.

The Senate is likely to vote on this bill before the end of the week. Please call your Senators TODAY and TOMORROW and ask them to pass the Leahy/Collins/Kennedy/Snowe Hate Crime Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill, S. 1391.

Massachusetts Sues the Federal Government Over Marriage Discrimination

Today, the State of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the Federal Government stating that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) “constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.”

The lawsuit alleges that by passing legislation which excludes same sex couples from the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage in the United States, the federal government has overstepped its bounds and infringed upon the States’ rights to define marriage on their own terms.

All of the same sex couples who have wed in Massachusetts, as well as in the other states that recognize same sex marriages, are denied access to the benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including federal income tax credits, employment benefits, retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security payments. According to the lawsuit, DOMA requires the state of Massachusetts to treat same sex and heterosexual married couples differently, and is therefore unconstitutional.

The Random House Dictionary defines a patriot as one who regards oneself as a defender of individual rights, especially against presumed interference by the federal government. Thanks to all of the hardworking champions of marriage equality in Massachusetts, many of whom are Unitarian Universalists, for challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in court. You are all truly patriotic.

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.

Our Whole Lives Featured in "O, the Oprah Magazine"

Look for the July 2009 issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine” on newsstands now, which features a cover story on the Our Whole Lives (OWL) adult sex ed curriculum. Amanda Robb, who wrote the article, attended a session of the Adult OWL class at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, and interviewed participants as well as the course facilitator Barbara Tuttle. Also quoted are Unitarian Universalist OWL trainer Jane Detwiler, Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, who co-authored the OWL Young Adult curriculum, and UUA Public Relations Director Janet Hayes.

Comprehensive sex education is important and meaningful to people of all ages and must address the changing needs of participants from childhood into adulthood. That’s why OWL is designed not as one curriculum, but as several age appropriate programs based on the experiences and needs of young people and adults across the lifespan.

To learn more about “Our Whole Lives,” check out UUA.org or visit your local Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ congregation.

Celebrate Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Pride!

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.

Interfaith Service Honors the Life of Dr. George Tiller

Reflections by Orelia Busch

Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is a matter of the heart: for until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.

– Dr. George Tiller
I learned more than I could have expected about Dr. George Tiller last night at his memorial service at the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. From his eyes in the photo at the front of the sanctuary, I could tell that he lived as a shining light into a broken world and into the lives of women in the greatest need of compassion. His philosophy was governed by five words: kindness, courtesy, love, justice and respect, and he served as a fine example of a physician and a human being throughout his career. He trusted women and their moral authority to make choices about their reproductive health, and he cared for his patients as whole and sacred beings physically, emotionally and spiritually. He will be deeply missed by friends, family and colleagues.
The words “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” engraved on the table on which Dr. Tiller’s photo rested, seemed to hold so much meaning. I am privileged to be among those who honor Dr. Tiller’s life by working to ensure that every woman is free to make her own fully informed choices about her reproductive life and health. May his light shine on our continued struggle and may his contributions never be forgotten.

Many thanks to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for organizing this beautiful service.

Marriage Equality in New Hampshire!

Yesterday afternoon, Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire signed into law a bill legalizing civil marriage for same sex couples. Unitarian Universalists in New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts have worked tirelessly towards this victory, and we applaud their efforts. New Hampshire became the sixth state in the union that recognizes civil marraiges for same sex couples. Following the passage and signing of the bill in New Hampshire, a state Senator introduced legislation that could bring marriage equality to Pennsylvania.

Read UUA President, William G. Sinkford’s remarks on the New Hampshire marriage law, and watch the video of Governor John Lynch on this historic occasion.

Click here to send a letter thanking Governor Lynch and the courageous lawmakers who made marriage equality possible in New Hampshire.

DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality

Below are the remarks of Rev. Rob Hardies to his congregation, All Souls Church, Unitarian, upon the unprecedented gathering of Washington, DC clergy today in support of marriage equality. It was truly a blessed and spirit-filled gathering. Leaders from all three UUA affiliated congregations in the District of Columbia have reached out to bring clergy together from within and outside of the denomination for this important work. The fruits of their labor of love – the text of the new coalition’s declaration of religious support for marriage equality – is reproduced below. Over 100 clergy and religious leaders, including the ministerial staff at All Souls, the Washington Ethical Society, and the Universalist National Memorial Church and other UU ministers residing in DC have signed the declaration.

Dear Friends,

An historic and spirit-filled event took place today deep in the heart of Anacostia.

At 11:00 am, a multiracial group of over 50 clergy gathered at Covenant Baptist Church to declare our religious support for marriage equality for same-gender couples. In addition, we were able to announce that in the last 7 days alone, more than 150 DC religious leaders–of all faiths and denominations, and representing every ward in the city–have signed our declaration.

The event was covered by all the local television stations, as well as the Post and other print media. Be on the look for coverage this evening and tomorrow.

Afterward, the clergy who gathered said they’d never seen such a religiously, racially and ethnically diverse gathering of clergy in this city. And we all were amazed that it was THIS issue that brought us all together. Each of us felt as though we’d experienced a special and holy moment.

That holy moment was a gift to this city from our church. Many, many people played a role in making today happen, but All Souls played the leading role in organizing this coalition. As I said in church on Sunday, everything in our history as a congregation has brought us to this leadership role: our legacy of prophetic justice-making, our identity as a congregation that is diverse both racially and in terms of sexual orientation, our location at the crossroads of the city, and, most importantly, the store of “solidarity capital” that we have built up over years of working side-by-side with others for justice.

I believe that the cause of equality for gays and lesbians is, along with the struggle for immigrant justice and the on-going struggle for racial equality, one of the defining civil rights struggles of our generation. As in previous generations, dating back almost two centuries, All Souls will take a leadership role.

I’m grateful–and I know you are too–to be part of a church that has repeatedly stood up for justice, and never failed to stand on the side of love. Thank you for making our ministry possible.

Declaration of Religious Support for Marriage Equality

We are District of Columbia clergy and religious leaders of many faiths, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. We represent religious institutions in every ward in the District. We have worked together over many years for peace and justice and now join our voices again to speak a faithful word for freedom and equality.

We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couples.

Our religious traditions and scriptures teach us that wherever love is present, God is also present. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is our human capacity to love one another. The ability of two people to enter into relationships and form families of love and care is one expression of this gift. It is holy and good. We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.

We recognize that there are principled differences on this issue within the religious community. We affirm that the state should not require any religious group to officiate at, or bless, same-gender marriages. However, the state also should not favor the convictions of one religious group over another by denying individuals their fundamental civil right to marry whom they love.

Recognizing that there is heartfelt disagreement on this issue, we call on all people of the District of Columbia to engage in a respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality. As religious leaders, we commit ourselves to such a dialogue and encourage our colleagues on all sides of this issue to do the same.

God is love and love is for everyone. In this spirit we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry.

You can read more about this story in local press coverage, and on npr.org.