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UUA Social Justice

Action Alert – Support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act!

Yesterday, Rep. Lofgren introduced the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, H.R. 2269, into Congress. This bill would create 100,000 prevailing wage jobs and training opportunities for local and displaced gulf Coast workers in restoring infrastructure and the coastal environment with green building technologies.

Here are a few ways you can build support for H.R. 2269:

Sign up for UU Gulf Coast Updates (a joint project of Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist (GNOUU), New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) to receive bimonthly emails with more alerts & resources like this.

100 Days in Office

Today marks the 100th day in office for the Obama Administration. To recognize the event, the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy has made a report card for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress.

The Washington Staff is also recognizing the event by sharing some of the things we accomplished in the past 100 days.

Worked in my garden and made compost
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Read Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith
Watched the entire first season of
Mad Men on DVD
Made vegan macaroni and cheese
Went to the US National Arboretum
Co-founded a non-profit for UU young adults called the UU Volunteer Service Core

Began to incorporate fasting once a month into my spiritual practice
Read Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith twice
Enjoyed the famous D.C. cherry blossoms
Traveled to Chicago, Boston, New York City, Durham, and Pittsburgh
Made up a (brilliant, I’m telling you) series of “walked into a bar” jokes that all end with “You can put it on my tab,” spoken by a can of Sprite, a computer keyboard, and a file folder
Accepted admission to law school for this August
Emailed every nonprofit that solicits donations from me to tell them that I plan to be broke for at least the next three years

Moved three times
Learned to love Brussels sprouts
Started a new job
Turned 28
Bought my first suit, which came from a consignment shop
Took 6 trips on airplanes
Organized a national conference on comprehensive sexuality education

Got engaged
Got inspired at the Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministry
Conducted an Inspired Faith Effective Action training in Chicago
Got accepted into law school
Deferred law school admissions to keep working at the UUA for another year
Read Eboo Patel’s Book Acts of Faith
Traveled to Boston four times
Bought my parent’s Prius named “Tyler” and sold my Dodge Neon named “Awesome”
Was totally impressed by the participants at the 2009 Sexuality Education Advocacy Training
Hiked in Asheville with my siblings
Conducted a workshop at the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Religious Leaders Summit
Spent as much time as possible in my garden
Watched the Office and 30 Rock every Thursday

A Move Forward towards Equality for Trans people–Colorado Jury’s Historic Decision

Reflections from Keith Kron, Director of UUA Office of BGLT Concerns

Today, a Colorado jury became the first in the nation to find someone guilty of a hate crime against a trans person. Up until now, people were able to use a “trans panic” defense, saying that they were deceived and panicked when learning the person they were meeting was transgender. See a news report on the story.

This is historic and can now help prosecute other hate crimes in other states that are trans related. Colorado is one of 11 states that includes trans people in its hate crime legislation.

Many UU congregations observe the National Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov 20th), and the UUA has resources to help.

The decision comes down days before the National Center for Transgender Equality hosts its Lobby Days where many, including many UUs and the UUA, will gather to support a federal legislation to support trans inclusion in hate crime and nondiscrimination laws.

There is still much work to be done before we see full equality for trans people, but today’s decision is a significant step in a better direction. The decision begins to signal that being afraid of trans people will not excuse violence toward trans people. It’s high time.

My Vision on the Anniversary of the War in Iraq

On this sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, guest blogger David Pyle, military veteran and candidate to be a UU military chaplain, shares his perspective.

I remember watching television six years ago today as the U.S. Military crossed the border into Iraq, in an operation known later as “Iraqi Freedom”. I remember feeling a conflict between my identity as a military veteran and my identity as a Unitarian Universalist. My growing Unitarian Universalist faith had brought me to a commitment never to personally carry a weapon again, and yet seeing those young men and women going into harm’s way, I felt that somehow I was supposed to be there with them.

In the months that followed, I wrestled with whether my faith called me to a personal pacifism, or whether I should re-enlist in the Army to be with the soldiers I had once trained as they went to war. The political questions about the conflict, the justifications made, the words said by politicians… all of this was distant compared to this deep spiritual question: Which is greater, the responsibility I feel to my self and my faith, or the responsibility I feel to those young men and women with whom I had once served?

As “Shock and Awe” was talked about and images of combat and falling statues dominated our media, I sat at my television in this spiritual conflict. I talked to recruiters about how I might put the uniform back on, and I kept silent at church for fear they would not understand. Over a period of months, I came to the realization that my personal faith would not allow me to carry a weapon ever again. That seemed to be the end of the question, until I realized over a year later that it was possible to do both, as a Unitarian Universalist Minister serving as a Military Chaplain.

One of the most common questions that Unitarian Universalists without military experience ask about military ministry is whether our liberal faith is attractive to or can be understood by those serving in the military. Unitarian Universalist military veterans never ask this question, because they know from their own lives how much our faith can speak to the military experience, how it can even seem like salvation. Even with my own experience as a soldier, I do not think I realized the profound depth of what Unitarian Universalism offers to those who serve until I began presenting weekly Unitarian Universalist Worship at the Great Lakes Naval Station, Recruit Training Command.

For over two years, students at the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago and members of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, Illinois have facilitated a Sunday Morning Unitarian Universalist worship service for the naval recruits going through basic training. Begun by myself and a fellow UU seminarian and military servicemember, Seanan Holland, the service reaches almost 1000 young women and men per year with a message of inherent worth, interdependence, love, and hope. Though some of our recruits have been life-long UU’s or attended UU churches before, the vast majority are encountering our liberal faith for the first time. Depending on the time of year, each service draws between 20 and 90 recruits every Sunday morning.

If there is one thing I have personally learned from being with these young women and men these past two years, it is that Unitarian Universalism speaks deeply to who they are, and what they are facing in basic training and in the years to come. A faith that recognizes the inherent worth of all is profound, because they are often questioning their own worth. A faith that teaches interdependence is profound, because they are learning to be interdependent upon one another. A faith that challenges them to spiritual growth is profound, because basic training is a time of deep personal transformation. It is empowering to show that they can have a profound impact on who they want to be in this world.

In the last six months, we have encountered a new trend among the recruits who attend UU Worship. Many are seeking ways that they can continue to practice and identify as Unitarian Universalists in the years to come. They ask for help in finding the nearest UU congregation to their next assignment. They ask for a way to connect with the Church of the Larger Fellowship while they are serving overseas (www.clfuu.org/military). They ask for a symbol of a chalice that they can wear on their Identification Tags. While we can help with the first two, we do not have the funding to provide the ID Tag Chalices… yet.

Because for me, this ministry is about planting a seed of Unitarian Universalism, a seed of liberal faith. That seed may grow now, in the case of those who are asking for ways to identify with and connect to our religious movement beyond basic training. That seed may also grow later, when the experiences of their lives show them that they need a faith and a church with the healing message of universal love and grace. Such a seed sprouted in me, almost ten years after a military chaplain first said “Unitarian Universalism” to me, and was a part of my healing after I served as a Peacekeeper in Bosnia y Herzegovina.

I believe that there is no more profound act of social justice than bringing our values and principles into communities where they are needed, before they are needed. If we begin these young men and women on a path of thinking of the inherent worth and the interdependence of all at the beginning of their military service, perhaps we bring the military as a whole closer to our values and principles. And maybe, just maybe, bringing our principles and values into our military communities can bring our world closer to healing and peace.

This is my vision on this anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War.

Yours in Faith,

David Pyle
MOD Minister, Great Lakes Military Ministry
Candidate for the UU Ministry
U.S. Army Chaplain Candidate

On the Path to Socially Responsible Investing

Julie Skye is a member of All Souls Tulsa and is a Registered Investment Advisor. She acts as a Family Back Office to 85 families and helps them organize, manage and co-ordinate all aspects of their financial lives including tax, estate and retirement planning. She has been doing pro-bono work with Foundations and non-profits for two decades and sees the connection between SRI and Social / Racial Justice. Passionate in her belief that we can do well, while we do good, she is Vice Chair of the All Souls Endowment Committee and offers seminars at the Sunday Emerson Forum titled “The Free Church Financial Forum.”

October 10th 2008: I arrive home Sunday night to learn I’ve been appointed to the UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. I’ve been doing work in the areas of SRI, Social Justice, and Racial Justice for two decades, but I had never made it an integral part of my client’s portfolios. I’d held seminars on the topic and included a few SRI funds for clients, but in the back of my mind I knew that once I was fully committed to SRI there could be no turning back

Putting it into practice at All Souls in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I hadn’t realized how much work there was to do, although I knew our congregation had not embraced the concept of putting our social values and ethical beliefs first. It’s understandable when they hear pundits say things like, “Index Funds outperform actively managed funds” and “Index Funds outperform those lack-luster socially conscious funds.” Yet why would someone want to be a Unitarian and not align their social values with their financial decisions?

November 12th, 2008: Emails from Boston start coming in. The official appointment. Tim Brennan’s “Welcome.”

The first thing I do is Google “Unitarian Socially Responsible Investing.” I click my way to the Board Appointed Committees and print off the last three year’s worth of meeting minutes so I can see what work has been done. Pretty impressive…we are having dialogs with the big dogs. These are real companies…real people, real issues. Is there anyone NOT affected by what big business does? How do we affect change? Can we make a difference?

Then I search for Socially Responsible Investing and find there are 5,350,000 results, each with a different definition, focus, or slant. Obviously there are many different ways of looking at SRI. The Social Investment Forum states, “As a result of its investing strategies, SRI also works to enhance the bottom lines of the companies in question and, in so doing, delivers more long-term wealth to shareholders. In addition, SRI investors seek to build wealth in underserved communities worldwide. With SRI, investors can put their money to work to build a more sustainable world while earning competitive returns both today and over time.”

Wikipedia defines SRI as: “also known as sustainable investing or ethical investing, describes a strategy which seeks to maximize both financial return and social good.” Who could say that isn’t something worth striving for? Why wouldn’t every company want to maximize returns and the social good?

Once again I go back to the UUA site to see what other congregations are doing, and I find the Congregational Socially Responsible Investing – Spectrum of Involvement.

The purpose of this spectrum is to help congregations identify where they
stand along the path to socially responsible investing and financial practices.
This will allow them to better identify the steps required to reach the goals
they set for investing their congregation’s funds in a socially responsible

Stage I: Rising Awareness and Request for Transparency
Stage II: Opening Doors to Active Investing
Stage III: Strategic Alignment/ Implementation
Stage IV: On-Going Oversight: Keep Walking the Talk

After going through the Spectrum Worksheet, I realize that even though All Souls Tulsa is one of the largest Unitarian congregations in the world, we don’t have even a rising awareness for Socially Responsible Investing. I’m feeling pretty discouraged…what is it going to take to raise the awareness of our congregation? What will it take for our Board of Directors and the Endowment Committee to begin integrating SRI into our investments? Will battle lines be drawn over entrenched views? Will open minds come to the table because so much is at stake?

I share my sense of futility with my attorney friend Ron who sends me his thoughts. I’m encouraged that it seems so simple…his email shows me how he sizes up SRI. He shows me that SRI simply makes sense:

“The thirst for individual profiteering is difficult to overcome for those that have been feeding on the entitlement mill. I understand profit, efficiency, barriers to entry, and the concept (completely unworkable in its purest form where corruption, oligopolies, and monopolies exist) of free markets. I do not think those concepts incompatible with social responsibility.”

Today our country is facing challenges that are formidable: every day I am surrounded by three screens of charts, financial news, and performance reports. Never has it been clearer: maximizing shareholder wealth is not simply a matter of making money in the short-term. Many stock prices are lower today than they were ten years ago.

For those who say that SRI just doesn’t perform as well as traditional investments, we suggest that the data does NOT support that statement. And that they ask: “Where are those excess profits and returns today? Are the companies who put profits before providing a quality environment for their employees still in business? And were the CEOs who found angles to maximize their salary also maximizing shareholder wealth or leaving companies in ruins after their short sighted business plans short circuited?

Americans want ethics and morals to return to the boardroom. We want to know we will leave our children with a healthy world that sustains them and our grandchildren. We have many change agents in place; now each of us needs to take action and voice that now is the time for Wall Street, Washington, and Main Street to come together and rebuild Corporate America.

February 10th 2009: I spent the week in Boston for my first face-to-face meeting with the other members of the UUA SRI Committee. We also sat in on the UUA Investment Committee meeting for the year end report on the UUA endowment. I am so impressed with the education, experience and commitment that each member of the various committees brought to the table.

Next time: We are presenting the first “draft” of our work to All Souls Tulsa’s Emerson Forum on March 8th…a presentation that the SRI Committee has been working on for much of the last year. Our goal? For the first “test drive” of the material we hope to turn into a workbook: a presentation that helps other congregations integrate their values, social justice work and corporate activism into their investing decisions.

Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Where the Money Is Going

President Obama signed the $787 Billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law earlier this week. The law marks a monumental shift in how we choose to allocate our resources. We saw the Bush administration pass emergency spending measures to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan time and time again. Then, in the face of the economic crisis, President Bush chose to bailout banks, financial institutions, and insurers. One month into the Obama Administration, his first emergency supplemental will save our schools, environment, and infrastructure, things that benefit every American. Here we take a look at how the bill impacts the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress. While it advanced many of our objectives, it must be noted that on some issues (immigration and reproductive health), we took some steps backwards. But on the whole, given our objectives, this law is cause for celebration!

Environmental Justice

In 2007, both the Green Jobs Act and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant were made law, but the necessary funding was not appropriated. Times have quickly changed and we see an unprecedented commitment towards green jobs and energy efficiency. The Economic Recovery bill invests $500 million in the Green Jobs Act, an increase of 400% of the original allocation. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant is getting $3.2 billion, an increase of over 50%. And the Weatherization Assistance Program is getting $5 billion. These investments will create green jobs, creating employment opportunities for unemployed and under-employed workers, as well as reduce the energy costs of low-income families.


Peacemaking means creating safe places for children everywhere – including the United States.

$54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, with up to $10 billion for school repair will allow children in the US to learn and grow in healthy and comfortable environments.

Gulf Coast Recovery

$375 million is going to the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen Mississippi River levees.
$500,000 is going to create an ombudsman for FEMA to arbitrate Rita and Katrina related damages
$100,000 is going to support volunteer efforts for Gulf Coast Recovery through Dept of Labor (Americorps)

Violence Against Womens

The Economic Recovery bill includes $325 million in critical funding for the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act. This money will provide states with grants for doing work to combat domestic violence and help fund transitional housing for survivors of violence. $100 million of this money dedicated to the Victims of Crime Act will create and sustain thousands of jobs for victim advocates and specialized law enforcement officers.

Reproductive Health

However, funding that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to allow more women and families to obtain contraception and family planning services was one of the first things to be cut from the original stimulus package. Women living in poverty are four times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times more likely to have an unintended birth than women who live above the poverty line. The family planning funding in the stimulus plan would have increased the reproductive freedom of thousands of women and saved money on health services due to the consequences of unintended pregnancy in the long run. (From the Claremont Port Side magazine). $87 billion over the course of two years was provided that will protect people who are currently eligible to receive family planning services through Medicaid comprehensive coverage.


$720 million is going towards improving security at the border and ports of entry. A significant proportion of that money is going towards the continued construction on the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. This wall is opposed by a broad coalition of immigration activists, environmentalists, ranchers and other property owners, and local governments. Not only does it increase misery and risk of death for undocumented workers, but also for endangered wildlife. The wall should be torn down, not further funded.

For more information on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its impact, see the White House’s new website devoted to providing full transparency on the recovery process: recovery.gov.

25 Things–from the UUA Washington Office

Surely by now you’ve heard of the “25 Things” trend circulating on Facebook. We wrote one for the UUA Washington Office on our Advocacy & Witness Initiatives of the UUA Facebook profile, and decided to share it here for those of you aren’t on Facebook.

  1. Our acting director, Adam, begins emails to office staff with the phrase, “Dear Friends of Justice.”
  2. On Adam’s first day as Acting Director, Lisa, Grace, and Alex stayed up all night filling his office with balloons.
  3. The Washington Office for Advocacy is the largest UUA office located outside of Boston.
  4. We drink two pots of fair trade coffee every day!!!!!!!
  5. Over 4,500 people subscribe to our weekly Advocacy Newsletter, which keeps folks updated on federal legislation and other opportunities for action.
  6. After the shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church this past fall, we folded dozens of paper cranes and mailed them to the affected congregations.
  7. Some of the resources we’ve put out in the past year include Lisa’s Welcoming Our Neighbors: An Immigration Resource for Unitarian Universalists and Alex’s Unitarian Universalists and Islam: An Introduction to Interfaith Dialogue and Reading Group Guide.
  8. Our director, Rob Keithan, is currently doing a ministerial internship at First UU Church of Portland, but will return in June to be our fearless leader again. Rob’s other religion is beer.
  9. The Washington Office is located at 666 11th St. Sadly, the new building owners have decided to change our address to 1100 G Street, so we’ll no longer have the “Mark of the Beast” as a conversation piece.
  10. We have fourteen legislative objectives for the 111th Congress.
  11. To avoid implying rank of importance in lists, we alphabetize. That’s why we say “BGLT” instead of “GLBT” or “LGBT.”
  12. The Washington Office is part of the Advocacy & Witness (A&W) staff group, directed by Rev. Meg Riley. Meg’s other religion is gardening.
  13. We begin each A&W staff meeting with a quirky question to determine the order of the agenda. For example, what’s your favorite cartoon? Kat’s is the Power Puff Girls.
  14. Along with Congregational Advocacy & Witness, we maintain the Social Justice pages of the UUA website.
  15. We set aside time at every A&W staff meeting to celebrate the successes of the past week, from press conferences to lobby visits to a good tomato harvest in our gardens at home.
  16. Lisa bakes vegan muffins for her Interfaith Immigration Coalition meetings and they are delicious.
  17. Our annual Sexuality, Education, and Advocacy Training (SEAT) program is in its fifth year of bringing Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ members, and Reform Jews from across the country to lobby for comprehensive sexuality education.
  18. While Alex is a life-long Unitarian Universalist, he’s been deeply influenced by his Quaker college, Earlham, and is our resident “listener.” His other religion is burritos.
  19. Our staff blog Inspired Faith, Effective Action got the most traffic when we covered the Compassion Forum last fall and the Inauguration last month.
  20. The Washington Office uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper for our daily printing needs.
  21. The newest member of our office, Orelia, recently returned from two years of Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso.
  22. Every Wednesday morning, our office members meet for Theological Reflection (TR) with our office minister, Alida DeCoster, to help keep our work always grounded in our faith. On the Wednesday following the presidential election, we held TR outside the White House.
  23. Our current Action of the Month for February is Speak Up for BGLT Equality.
  24. All members of the Washington Office walk, bike or take public transportation to and from work.
  25. The Washington Office shares space with Taquiena Boston, the director of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries (IDBM), and will share a booth with IDBM at General Assembly. Come by and visit us!

The Freedom to Marry – For Free

Rev. Elizabeth ‘Kit’ Ketcham has been serving the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island since 2003. She leads worship services there approximately twice a month, and her efforts have included assisting the congregation in becoming a Welcoming Congregation, open and welcoming to sexual minorities. She also provides pastoral care, consultation to committees and individuals, and rites of passage ceremonies. You can read her blog: Miss Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show.

Beaming at me before our worship service that Sunday, Maggie and Andrea (not their real names) confided their good news: they were engaged and planning to be married next summer. And, by the way, would I perform the ceremony for them?

“Congratulations!” was my immediate response and “Of course I’ll perform your ceremony! It will be an honor.”

When these two radiant young women lighted a candle that morning at Joys and Concerns to announce their engagement and upcoming marriage, the delight on the faces of our Whidbey Island congregation was clear. In the short time they’d been attending our services, they had won the hearts of all who had gotten to know them.

Of course, civil marriage is not yet a civil right in Washington State, though our legislature has enacted increasingly protective domestic partnership laws. To complicate matters further, one of these young women is in the Navy, stationed in Oak Harbor on the north end of the island. She risks her career if she even registers as a domestic partner.

After church, I got to thinking. At present, I serve this congregation part-time and must charge a fee for extra services such as weddings and memorials.

But I didn’t want to charge Maggie and Andrea. I wanted them to use our beautiful new sanctuary for their wedding and as members of the congregation, they would have that benefit. I wanted their wedding ceremony to be a gift as well.

And then an idea popped into my head: what if we as a congregation offered the use of our new sanctuary and my services as officiant for any Whidbey Island same sex couples who wanted to celebrate their marriage of the heart, as a gift during the year 2009, and as a way to offset some of the heartache and distress caused by the passage of Prop 8 in California and similar measures around the country?

So I started vetting the idea with colleagues and friends, garnering in the process a lot of good will and good feedback about how to make it successful. After pulling together all the ideas and getting the approval of our board of trustees and the enthusiasm of the congregation, I wrote a press release and an op ed essay for our local newspaper.

When the editor of the South Whidbey Record received the information, he sent out a reporter and placed the news story on the front page of our twice-weekly paper, with the op ed essay and press release in a later edition.

We expected to have some blowback, but it has virtually all been positive. Even an online criticism was polite, not hostile. Instead of hostility or vandalism or outrage, our attendance at worship immediately jumped. People stopped me at the gym and wanted to know more. Local merchants have offered discounts—20% off a wedding cake for same sex couples getting married; a local caterer has added our information to his website; and a local photographer has offered her services for wedding photos.

In addition, a few UU colleagues are considering how they might use this idea in their own communities and some of my local colleagues, pastors who don’t have the same freedom granted by their denominational governing bodies, have expressed their support and their desire to be helpful if possible.

Offering this gift of acceptance and honor for relationships between people who love and are committed to one another has been a great boon for us as a congregation and has demonstrated to the larger community that we are standing on the side of love.

Click here to see the article in the South Whidbey Record. The op-ed piece written by Rev. Ketcham, as well as the press release detailing the congregation’s offer were published in the print version of the paper.

Freedom to Marry – A Wave of Action

All over the country, people have been speaking out for marriage equality and Unitarian Universalists have been overwhelmingly showing the nation that we stand firmly on the side of love and equal rights for all. Same sex couples from Hawaii to New York have been applying for marriage licenses, marching, and speaking outside of city halls.

Read and listen to the words of Rev. Bryan Jessup of the UU Church of Fresno.

See photos of the Freedom to Marry protest in Dallas, Texas from the Dallas Voice.

Learn more about how you can support marriage equality and what others are doing nationwide at Join the Impact, and Tell-three.org.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch this video that was put together by the Courage Campaign, and share it with your friends and loved ones. Marriage equality is about love and justice for so many families in this country.

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Freedom to be a Family

Zach Walls is a senior at West High in Iowa City, Iowa. When he graduates this spring, Zach plans to spend a year in Germany with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange before attending the University of Iowa. You can read about him in this article from his local paper, the Iowa Press-Citizen.

I remember it pretty clearly. I was playing with a friend at my house, I was four or so, and I burst into my mom’s room screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! Where’s Daddy?” I was sooo confused.

She sat me down and explained in-vitro fertilization to me, but I didn’t really understand until I was in my later elementary school years. Through seventh grade I lied about having a dad. I told people that he took me skiing and the like every so often. Complete fabrication. I’ve never met Donor 1033 and probably never will.

It wasn’t until my eighth grade year that I began to hear about the problems that certain people had with my family structure. I remember watching the 2004 Republican National Convention at school and listening to all these straight white men bash homosexuals and their families. I took notes on all the things that these people said, compiled a list of flaws in their arguments and presented them in class when the convention was finally finished. My notes were filled with words of immense hatred directed at the gay community: that same-sex marriage is un-American, that it threatens the sanctity of marriage (but Britney Spears doesn’t?), that it’s unethical, that it will lead to polygamy, that it will lead to bestiality, that it’s harmful to kids.

I took personal offense at the last one. Mom, my biological mother, and Jackie, her partner of twelve years, are damn good parents. Of course our family isn’t perfect: my sister and mom fight like mothers and daughters will; Jackie incessantly reminds me to do my chores; the dog barks at other dogs.

To argue that same-sex couples can’t raise children who go on to become productive members of society seemed simply ridiculous. In the eighth grade I thought I was really smart. I was twelve. I had taken accelerated classes in elementary school. I knew everything. For these people who had never met me, who didn’t know me and didn’t want to know me, to insult me and my family, was outrageous. It made me angry and I took up the traditional liberal line of resenting and opposing intolerance.

It wasn’t until a few years down the road that I began to think I might have it wrong. Sure, there are people who hate me (a straight, white, male, for the record), hate my family and hate everything we are. But that’s their prerogative.

I can’t truly understand why they feel the way they do, but I can see how they would potentially arrive there. We are often afraid of what we do not understand and if we are unwilling to make an attempt at understanding, there is little hope for reconciliation. I remember the words and wisdom of Yoda, who was way smarter than he is given credit for. He counsels, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

My anger has ebbed. I still fight for the advancement of civil rights for homosexuals and will gladly debate an opponent when the issue is raised, but I have come to understand that I cannot hate somebody for simply holding a particular belief. It is as Dr. King once said, “Darkness cannot extinguish darkness. Only light can do that.”

So I’m going to let my light shine and work and fight, but I will not succumb to the hate and anger that people may try to bait me into. That’s the easy way out. It is much more difficult to try to understand and love and resolve differences. But it’s worth it. It is most assuredly worth it.