‘Blame the Gays’ and Other Children’s Stories

(Cross-posted from the Huffington Post)

The latest clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has led to some interesting conversations with my 13-year-old daughter.

Always eager to differentiate herself from her minister mother, this teenage child/demon/Boddhisatva has been telling me for a while that she is “Churchophobic,” hates religion, and is an atheist. This latest scandal gives her a lot of material to work with.

“You see?” she said to me, holding up the front page’s latest allegations about the Pope’s complicity in this scandal. “This is why I hate churches! The world would be a much better place without religion.”

My primary parent-of-teen reflexes are shrug-and-ignore and tense-up-and-argue. Neither of these is ever effective, including now. In the tense mode, I have already told her, many times, about all of the good that religion and the church bring into the world. In this case, however, beyond my reflexive responses, I am called to a deeper listening to what she is telling me and asking me.

This is a 13-year-old child, after all. Underneath her dismissal, underneath the scorn, there is a vulnerable soul wondering about her own safety and well-being in the church and in the world. She is asking me who and what can be trusted. She is asking for reassurance.

It’s hard, as non-Catholic clergy, to know what to say in response to the current scandals. Too often, those of us with verbal privilege simply keep our mouths shut. No one can be smug about clergy sexual abuse, after all. We know far too much about sexual abuse victims of any faith, including our own, whose healing process involves the added trauma of sorting out God from all of the other betrayal and pain.

Yet my own daughter’s scowling countenance makes me realize that there are thousands of kids who are watching this story unfold, not because they care whether the Pope is implicated, but because they wonder if adults truly care about their well-being as vulnerable sexual people. Nothing in the current story lines they are reading would make them believe that anyone does. So I look for ways to speak clearly, with my daughter and with all teenagers, about how to keep themselves safe.

The latest development in the unfolding Catholic story gave me a new angle from which to talk to my daughter about the trustworthiness of adults. According to last Monday’s Washington Post, “the Vatican’s second-highest authority says the sex scandals haunting the Roman Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality … Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, made the comments during a news conference Monday in Chile. He said that ‘…there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.'”

I tell my daughter: don’t trust anyone who completely blames someone else, including you, and especially whole groups of people whom they label as ‘other,’ for problems. Though they say, “That is true,” they are always lying. It doesn’t matter who they are, with what kind of authority they are cloaked, or whom they blame. They are not to be trusted.

When anyone participates in this kind of blaming and distancing, I tell her, they are hurting the world and not helping it. The church, sadly, participates in that because the church is a human institution. The church is no better and no worse than all of the human beings who make it up.
I am particularly concerned by the story from Chile because it involves the Vatican’s second highest authority, and because we already saw an anti-gay witch hunt follow the church’s last pedophilia crisis. I know many fine Catholic clergy and women religious, including gay and lesbian people, whose loss of service would diminish the world and the good work of their church. Forcing them to serve from closets makes the church less honest and more secretive regarding sexual ethics, not a healthier place.

Cardinal Bertone’s words might simply evoke my shrug-and-ignore reflex if he did not have so much power over so many people. Would that we could so easily root out evil — always safely located in other people who are not like us — and dismiss it. Would that we could so easily dismiss the pain that we cause by doing so.

Fortunately for the world, there will always be smart-aleck 13-year-olds to point at us and name our own problematic behavior, just exactly the way that they see it. May every single one of them be safe from harm.

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.

Creating Change

I hadn’t been in 15 years!  But last week I packed up and headed for Dallas to the Creating Change Conference, an annual gathering of the glbtq clan.

My 13 year old said, “I don’t get it.  What is it, again?  It’s some dance and comedy, some classes, some lectures…”  I said, “It’s kind of GA for gay people.”  “Ohhhh…” she said.

So, how was it?  It was much younger, much less white, and much more ‘genderqueer’ than it was 15 years ago.  Clearly the margins of the margins are being identified as leaders and visionaries, and they are coming into the center of this movement.

There were moments that I really did feel as if I was at GA.  When the youth had a panel, and basically told us oldsters how we had failed them and what we had done wrong, I felt THRILLED.  This is how a movement should work!  New leadership, new vision , constant evolution.

(How have we failed them, you wonder?  Well, they said, focusing on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and marriage equality completely overlooks the realities they are living with.  GLBT youth are estimated to comprise 25-40% of homeless youth, just for instance.  How is the glbt establishment taking leadership in addressing this epidemic?)

Then there were moments I felt like the chaperone at a dance, standing at the edges watching others have a great time, longing to put on my jammies and hunker in for my own more solitary enjoyment.

It was thrilling to see all of the faith based organizing going on.  MANY UUs were present, and actually there were a number of workshops led by UUs.  The staff from the UU-UNO office led a stellar workshop on their work, and made it very real by introducing two gay men who are refugees from Iraq.

Hated in their own country for their sexual orientation, these two brave souls went to SYRIA—where one spent eight months and the other four years!—waiting to get papers to come to the US.  However, once they arrived here, they were put into a housing complex in Houston with the same people who hated them back home.  Their only place of support in the US?  Catholic Charities!

The UU-UNO folks are focused on creating a registry of gay immigrants so that no one else will be in that kind of situation.  Meanwhile, they have paired up these gay men with the leaders of the glbt center in Houston.  I’d love to see our churches take the lead on this.

That’s what Creating Change always does for me—it makes me rethink what I’m doing, and refocus on what’s important.  To all the UUs who were there, let’s take all that energy to GA in Minneapolis and see what we can build together!

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.

American Prayer Hour – Protesting the National Prayer Breakfast

This week, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists and faith communities are uniting in Washington DC and around the country to protest the involvement of members of the international organization The Family, (also known as the Fellowship) a religious group with disturbing ties to proponents of anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is currently under consideration by the Ugandan parliament. The bill was put forth by parliamentarian David Bahati and initially backed by President Yoweri Museveni. If passed, the new law would unleash a vicious campaign of persecution against LGBT citizens in Uganda. Bahati and President Museveni are key members of The Family in Africa. The Family hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is scheduled to take place this year on Thursday, February 4th at the Washington D.C. Hilton. President Obama is scheduled to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast.
A coalition including Faith in America, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Full Equality Now DC, an organization the emerged from the National Equality March, is responding with the American Prayer Hour. On the morning of February 4th, people of faith across the country will gather at American Prayer Hour events to affirm our inclusive values and show that cruelty and extremism have no place in our communities. A list of events is available at the American Prayer Hour website.
A press conference announcing the National Prayer Hour will take place at the National Press Club on Tuesday, February 2nd. Scheduled speakers include Moses, a gay Ugandan man seeking asylum in the United States, Bishop V. Gene Robinson of the Episocpal Church, and Harry Knox, director of the HRC Religion and Faith Program.
Full Equality Now DC has also organized a protest and rally on Wednsday, February 3rd at 5:30pm at the Family’s “C Street House” headquarters at 133 C Street SE, Washington, DC.
If there is an American Prayer Hour event in your city, please consider attending. If you are in Washington, DC, please come the rally on Wednesday night as well. For more information, see www.americanprayerhour.org.