Religious Freedom and Judge Roy Moore

(I was asked to speak at the No Moore Rally today at the Alabama Supreme Court Building in Montgomery, AL.  Judge Roy Moore was being tried on six out of seven ethics violations when he urged Alabama Probate Judges to disobey US Supreme Court Ruling on the constitutionality of Same Sex Marriage. Here is what I said.)

We have been standing here for quite some time now awaiting the verdict that Judge Moore is found guilty of violating the Supreme Court orders to enforce marriage equality in this state. Judge Moore believes that he is above the law of the land.  He believes he is called to impose his brand of religion onto the citizens of this state. He believes that his brand of religion is the one true faith, that he has the pure and unadulterated interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. That all other interpretations of these sacred texts are heresy and therefore should be purged from the state of Alabama.

However, Judge Moore does not live in a country where only one religion is declared the official government religion.  Where only one interpretation of that religion is sanctioned. Where other religions are persecuted.

The United States does not have an official government sanctioned religion.  Here we have religious pluralism and the promise of religious freedom for all religions to not only be practiced but to have their rituals protected and recognized by the Government. This protection is found in our nation’s most sacred of texts, a text that Judge Moore vowed to uphold in his role as judge.

From the Declaration of Independence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Constitution of the United States, 1st Amendment:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Constitution of the United States, 14 Amendment, Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is from these documents that I stand here today to proclaim that my faith, which teaches me to love one another, no matter who you are or whom you love is to be respected under this constitution.  My religion, while a minority religion in the state of Alabama, has under the US Constitution the legal and moral authority to have its marriages recognized by the government of these states.  This right has been denied the members of my faith and other faiths for decades.  It was a right that was finally recognized by the Supreme Court as being fully constitutional.

Roy Moore and his ilk want to deny people, who do not agree with his religious faith, their rights as citizens of these United States. The followers of his religious faith are not hindered in any way by the practices of those who follow another faith or who follow no faith, just as my faith is not hindered in any way by the practices of his.  Where hindrance occurs is when followers of his faith demand that I and others adhere to his faith tenets.

In countries where there is one sanctioned religion his approach would be legal but here in the United States all people are free to practice their faith.  All people have the right to pursue happiness.

But here is thing; Judge Moore’s faith doesn’t even follow the tenets of his religion. His professed religion is Christianity.

Jesus declared that for his followers, and I am reading from the King James version, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Judge Moore violates this commandment. He is not loving his neighbor.  His behaviors show no respect for the diversity of his neighbors.  His behaviors show only contempt which goes against his very faith which insists on following the author of love, by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I feel sorry for Judge Moore.  I do.  Truly.  I feel sorry for him because he has no love in his heart.  He has walled himself off from knowing the freedom that divine love gives to each of us when we are willing to be embraced by that love.  He is afraid. And in his fear, he attacks others who have found the freedom that love bestows.

That love for one another is expressed in the Christian Scriptures of Galatians 3:28. Here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We do not need to be afraid of each other any longer because when love is present, when love is placed at the center of our hearts, the need to separate us into categories falls away.  The desire for ensuring mutual respect of our differences rises to the fore.

But Judge Moore has not experienced the very redemption his Christian faith teaches him.  Redemption is more than just reciting a few words on a page.  And the Redemption I am talking about is not just in the life to come, but redemption in this life. Freedom in this life which our founding parents of this nation in their wisdom codified into law—the redemption of being able to have life and the pursuit of happiness.  He does not know this redeeming love.  He only knows hatred for others who not only are different than he is, but have found happiness and love through that difference.

He is going to need a bit of a nudge from today to be told once again, that he does not have the right to enforce his hatred onto the citizens of Alabama.  He does not have the right to impose his version of Christianity onto the citizens of Alabama—who have found the power of love through other Christian denominations, through Judaism, through Islam, through Buddhism, through Baha’i, through Sikhism, through Taoism, through atheism, through humanism, through Jainism, through Wiccan, through indigenous faiths, and yes, even through my faith, Unitarian Universalism.

Judge Moore, you have betrayed the trust of the state of the Alabama by violating our most sacred creeds as a nation.  Not just once, but twice.  You must be removed from office this day.  And you cannot be allowed to serve a public office again because you have proven yourself as not being able to hold the people’s rights above your own interests and agendas.  Perhaps one day you will realize that Love is Love and that all people have the right to experience love and have that love recognized by the government.

An Open Letter to Chief Justice Roy Moore

 

29 April 2016

Dear Chief Justice Moore:

As a citizen of Alabama, I am rather disappointed in your press conference comments.  Not only did they portray the events on January 12th incorrectly, they expressed defamation of character of a private citizen.

The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on January 12th.  I did.  I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings. To have my faith honored with recognizing the marriages that I officiate is an example of the religious freedom that this country honors and values since the days of the founding of this nation’s constitution.  It is in the Bill of Rights that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the practice thereof.

Yet, for far too long, this country has forbade my religion’s right to solemnize marriages of same gender weddings and have them recognized by the state.  You say this is not about religion, but it is, Justice Moore.  It is.  By denying equal marriage rights, you are declaring your faith doctrines to be supreme over all religious doctrines and practices and that is simply not the American way in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom means being able to practice one’s religion without fear of government censure. Not being able to have couples’ marriages recognized by the state is a form of government censure of religion. For you to declare the wedding I officiated a mockery is a show of profound disrespect of the religion I serve as minister. A religion whose American roots date back to the founding of this nation.

The bills being passed under the guise of religious freedom are privileging a certain sect of Christianity.  It does not represent the whole of Christianity nor does it protect any other religions’ practice.  It is sanctioned discrimination against anyone whose faith does not align with this branch of Christianity. This is not religious freedom.  It is religious oppression.

I am authorized by my church and faith tradition to officiate marriages of same gender couples. The marriage I officiated on January 12, 2016, included the signing of the marriage license issued by a probate judge in Alabama. That certificate was filed according to Alabama statutes and a marriage certificate was issued the couple recognizing them as a married couple. If this marriage was illegal and in defiance of your order as you claim, then I would have expected the probate judge to not have issued the license. Further, I would expect that if this was illegal that you would file charges against probate judges who did not follow your order, making every probate judge who has issued licenses accountable to your ruling.  But you have done no such filing and therefore, you have not enforced the law as you claim exists. Why? Because you know you have no authority to overrule the US Supreme Court ruling that lifted the ban on same sex marriages.

But that is not what you stated at the press conference.  Instead you claimed the complaints were an attack on your character. You claimed you were a victim of the media misrepresenting your orders.  Then you made defamatory statements insinuating the mental instability of a private citizen. You are not a licensed Mental Health professional, therefore you have no authority to diagnose or even publicly speculate on the mental health of another person.

As a judge in the attempts to answer complaints on your defiance of a US Supreme Court Ruling, you have once again violated your own profession’s ethics by making these inflammatory statements against a private citizen. It was an attempt to discredit Ambrosia Starling’s and other’s complaints against your ethical conduct.  It was an attempt to inflict injury on Ambrosia Starling’s reputation. I see you.  I see what you are trying to do and it is offensive, not only personally offensive, but offensive to the citizens of this state.

You defended your orders based on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling which by your own quoting the US Constitution at the press conference revealed that it was over ruled by the US Supreme Court. Your own words convict you. Yet, you insist you are in the right. You have shown repeated disregard for the US Supreme Court which ruled that the bans against same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Your own colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court do not side with you in this matter. In fact, your colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed on March 4 of this year, a challenge to same sex marriages made by some probate judges and a conservative policy group. The Alabama Supreme Court is adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling.

You state your orders are still in effect.  Yet, even the Alabama Supreme Court by their dismissing the challenge declare your orders are not in effect any longer. If they were in effect still, then they would not have dismissed the challenge to same sex marriage. The federal and Alabama state courts have spoken on this matter.  Your legal opinion has been declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land.  There is no conflict between the courts as you stated at your press conference. They are now in sync.

If you, in good conscience, cannot abide by the highest court in the land then to protect your integrity you need to step down as chief justice. The tide of change is coming to this country. We will finally live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all.  We will no longer privilege one religion over another in this nation.  We will no longer privilege one class of people over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one gender over another or one sexual orientation over another. We will no longer privilege one race over another in this nation.  Those days are coming to an end. May they come quickly for people are suffering injustices in this land.

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, MS, MDiv

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

 

The Theological Doctrines of the Alabama State Legislators

We live in a country that was founded on the notion of religious freedom in the broadest sense.  Unlike the Diet of Torda in 1500s Transylvania, religious freedom was extended not just to the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians but to all expressions of faith and non-faith. This country early on determined that there was to be a wall of separation between the government and the people in regards to the practice of religion.  The government was not in any way to endorse or promote a specific religious belief above all others.

Welcome to Alabama.  Where our elected officials flout their religious doctrines as supreme above all others.  Chief Justice Roy Moore has made it a quest to make Alabama and the United States a Christian nation branded with his version of Christianity.  He has not once but twice in his terms as Chief Justice promoted his brand of Christianity in the State.  The first time was his insistence to have a statue of the Ten Commandments in the State Court House.  He was removed from office for that battle.  He is now, once again at odds, with the federal courts regarding his refusal to honor a Federal Court order to commence same sex marriages in the state.  Based on his past flagrant disregard for Federal Court Rulings, I predict he will continue his ban on same sex marriage in the state if the Supreme Court rules that the ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional in June of this year.

He has support for his actions in the State House.  The Republican controlled house has submitted bills and resolutions that suggest that the Alabama State Legislators are operating on a Theological doctrine of how they view not only their role as legislators but also how they view the people of Alabama.  Last year the Health Committee passed a resolution that they believed that Life began at Conception and therefore the bills they were going to pass would reflect that belief.

This is a theological statement.  It is a religious doctrine of a specific sect of Christianity.  It is not a universal belief across Christianity nor across other religions. Jews, for example, teach that life begins at birth, the moment that the child draws their first breath akin to the breath of God that was breathed into Adam.  So here we have one example of the State House imposing their religious doctrine unto the citizens of the state.  Recently a public hearing was heard on House Bill 405, a bill that last year passed the house but did not make it through to law, makes it a criminal Class C Felony if a doctor performs an abortion without determining if the fetus has a heartbeat or if the doctor performs an abortion of a fetus that has a heartbeat.  When does a fetus develop a detectable heart beat?  Around 6 to 7 weeks.  When do most women learn they are pregnant?  Around 6 weeks.  The fetus is still in embryonic stage meaning it still looks more amphibian like rather than human.  Given that most women receive confirmation that they are indeed pregnant around 6 weeks, their decision to abort the pregnancy is one of urgency under this bill.  This means that if the woman was raped and becomes pregnant, she may have to live with the painful reminders of that rape for a long time. And in Alabama, the rapist has the right to demand custody and visitation rights.  This bill would negate anyone’s religious belief that life begins when the fetus can be viable outside of the uterus. In fact it declares their religious belief as a false doctrine.

There was another public hearing on House Bill 491 which authorizes health care providers to refuse to perform services that violate their conscience.  This means that a health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion but it also means that if they have an aversion to Transgenders receiving treatment enabling them to live in a body congruent with their gender, they can refuse to serve them as well.  This bill allows for shaming and discrimination against women and transgenders who claim the inalienable right to have control over their bodies. Rights that are taken for granted by cisgender males in our society. Again, it is a very narrow slice of Christianity that sees women’s bodies as not their own but their husband’s as the head of household.

In the state of Alabama, we do not yet have a personhood law that states that the fetus has all the rights and protections that other citizens have but this is the direction the State House is headed and it is a matter of time for such a law to be presented and passed.  HB 405 is the closest to making this claim and it would restrict further the ability for a woman to receive a medically supervised abortion in the state of Alabama. Personhood laws in other states have resulted in manslaughter charges if the woman is addicted to drugs and miscarriages or is unable to access prenatal care and miscarriages.

The doctrinal belief of the Alabama State House based on the bills they have passed and are proposing regarding human life is as follows:  Life begins at conception. Regardless if the conception was through an act of love or through violence, it must be protected at all cost. Any attempt to choose an abortion, regardless of the reason–life threatening to the woman, life threatening birth defect, rape, economic viability–is inconsequential to the shaming and shunning bestowed on the woman by medical providers because their personal religious beliefs trump the woman’s circumstances.  Any attempt by providers to perform an abortion that does not adhere to this doctrine are to be punished with a Class C Felony branding the provider as a criminal to be shunned and faces loss of career.  While not all of these reasons are currently codified as forbidden by law, this is the direction the State house is going and with each passing session they move closer to their goal of enforcing their doctrinal beliefs on the rest of the state. This is akin to the coercive moves the Taliban and Isis have taken where they are in control, though done at a much slower pace so as to be imperceptible to the populous until it is too late. Alabama State House is not afraid to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money to defend their doctrinal stances, in fact they are poised to do so at every turn and then cry poverty after wasting taxpayers money.

To be clear, religious practice is a very personal and intimate expression of faith that each person has the right to hold but it is not in the purview of any government, federal, state, or local to tell people how they are to practice their faith.  And for the State legislator by passing laws that favor a specific religious doctrine over others is to violate the sacred trust that this country was founded on. In this country where religious freedom is highly valued, no one should have the right to impose their religious beliefs on another.  Not an individual, and especially not any governmental entity or any representative of that government.

It would be one thing if the State House were consistent in their doctrinal beliefs in all of their creation of laws but their doctrine of protecting the fetus at all costs unfortunately ends at birth. Once the child is born, the theological doctrine I have just described is no longer on the table. The actions of the State House are antithetical to the ability of a person to pursue life, liberty, and happiness once the child is born.

On April 21 of this year, the Senate passed a  resolution forbidding the expansion of Medicaid, sentencing up to 700 individuals to death this year because they along with 300K Alabamians fall into the gap between Medicaid and the provisions covered in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Refusal of expanding medicaid will result the closure of some dozen hospitals, many of them located in rural and inner city areas where the majority of Alabama’s poor live.

How our state administers Food Stamps also reflects a conflicting doctrine to their doctrine regarding the sacredness of life.  Federal guidelines include employment requirements such as being registered for work but Alabama places added twists to this requirement. Striking employees, even if the strike is justified for better wages that would lift the family out of poverty, disqualifies the household unless the strike occurs after the household applies for food assistance. Food Stamps are not eligible to undocumented citizens.  This stipulation follows the federal but there is a caveat in Alabama–the income the undocumented citizen brings into the household is counted towards eligibility. Alabama legislators have already spent millions defending its hatred of immigrants. Here is their hypocritical stance, Alabama Legislators hate foreigners unless their presence helps keep citizens off the public dole.   And here is something of a catch-22; Social Security Numbers (SSN) are requested for each member of the household in order to receive food stamps.  The provision of SSN is stated as purely voluntary but not providing them disqualifies that member of the household.  If a SSN is a requirement for qualification, then providing it is not a voluntary act; it is coerced.

Apparently, the doctrinal belief of the State House is that each life is precious until it becomes a burden and then it can be ignored or thrown away or incarcerated for slave labor. Alabama has passed more laws restricting the freedoms of its citizens  Their approach to the welfare of the citizens of this state is one of total disregard of their inherent worth and dignity.

And then we have the infamously named HB 56--in its latest incarnation as a Religious Freedom Act.  This bill was created in response to the striking down of the same sex marriage ban by federal court and the upcoming SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage.  The proponents state this is not in any way an anti-gay legislation because it merely states that clergy and judges (the current people authorized in the state) can refuse to marry anyone for personal religious convictions and not face litigation for doing so.  They claim this is a save people from litigation bill not a codification of religious discrimination against the LGBTQ community.  Clergy have always had the right to refuse to marry any couple for any number of reasons–domestic violence, couple not of their faith tradition, and yes, doctrinal beliefs regarding what constitutes a marriage.  This bill is really aimed at giving judges the legal right to discriminate against those who do not hold their religious convictions regarding marriage.

There is a difference here– marriages performed before a judge or justice of the peace is not a religious ceremony.  It is a civil union.  Regardless of what a judge may personally believe about religious marriage ceremonies, a wedding officiated by her is not under the auspices nor  blessing of her church. It is not a religious ceremony.  It is merely a legal recognition by the state and federal government of a contract between two people. In the eyes of the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic god, the same sex couple married by the state is not married. In the eyes of the Presbyterian (USA), United Church of Christ, American Baptist god, the same sex couple is married.

So what is this law really about?  It is about a subset of Christianity imposing their doctrinal belief of marriage onto the citizens of the state. It is declaring their doctrinal belief as supreme trumping all others.  Judges have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state and federal government and regardless if their personal religious convictions place them at odds with those laws be it officiating a same sex marriage or enforcing the death penalty, they are required to do so. They do not have the right to impose their religious doctrine onto the people as an act of shaming and discrimination.

But this is Alabama– where theocracy is well rooted into the archaic 1901 state constitution.

HB 50 Disenfranchises Voters with STDs

State Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) after hearing about a minister in Montgomery who engaged in ministerial misconduct with multiple women from his congregation and had infected several with HIV/AIDS presented a bill in the state house, HB 50, that would increase the penalty for knowingly transmitting a sexually transmitted disease (STD*)  from a Class C Misdemeanor to a Class C Felony. This was a horrible event.  Ministerial misconduct even without the transmission of disease is an act of betrayal of calling and trust from the congregation that alters the member’s lives of that congregation for generations to come. Few denominations have been willing or able to train their leadership in developing healthy boundary skills and effectively deal with the aftermath when those boundaries are broken.  That said, criminalizing transmission is not an effective disease prevention strategy.

The result of criminalizing transmission of STDs only increases the stigma and shame that already surrounds STDs and the behaviors that transmitted them.  It makes it harder for people to come forward to seek testing and treatment because they, themselves, do not want to know and risk the penalty of this law.  This is on the front end of the law.  Once convicted of a felony in this state the person is disenfranchised of their voting rights. More on this later.

For complete disclosure before becoming an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith, I was the co-founder of the Interfaith AIDS Ministry of Greater Danbury in Connecticut where I served as executive director for eleven years.  I was also a certified HIV/AIDS prevention educator through the American Red Cross for 15 years. I am also a gay man.  So I believe I come to this topic with some expertise and years of experience in preventing the spread of HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

What exactly is happening in the state of Alabama regarding STDs? It is no secret that Alabama has some of the highest rates of STDs in the country.  Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis cases are statewide double the national average and in some counties like Montgomery and Dallas, 4x the national average.  It is also no secret that Alabama, like the rest of the south, has among the highest rates of transmission of HIV in the country.

This is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed by our state legislature.  The question is how to address the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the state to prevent its spread.

Public Health protocol in stopping the spread of any disease is to find out the population that is most affected by a disease outbreak and to then target that community with prevention efforts that includes broad based education of the entire population about the disease and how it is and is not transmitted.  In Alabama the transmission of HIV/AIDS, already high, has been increasing every year since 2005 in young adults ages 15-29. This group is twice as likely to become infected with HIV than other age groups. Young African American males of this cohort is 10 times more likely to become infected with HIV than “the average Alabama resident” (read White).  In Alabama, African Americans are 7 times more likely to become infected with HIV than non-African Americans. African American females in Alabama are 8 times more likely to become infected with HIV than non-African American females.  I’m curious as to what happened circa 2005 that would be a factor in the upswing of infections.

In December 2011, Governor Bentley  wrote executive order number 26 forming a task force to address HIV/AIDS in the state.  No where in this executive order is the word education mentioned as a priority prevention strategy. And within the state plan that was developed, outside of mentioning the various good work done by AIDS organizations,  only one line mentions the need for education services but it does not indicate how these will services will be developed or what authority this plan has in the development of state budgets.  This is problematic. It reveals a lack of serious commitment by Governor Bentley to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.  His refusal to expand medicaid and to find ways to increase access to medical care in rural areas of the state is troubling to say the least in light of this STD health crisis that affects over hundreds of thousands people in Alabama.

In those states where there is comprehensive sexuality education mandated to be taught in schools there is a significant drop in STDs and HIV/AIDS transmission.  In Alabama it is not mandated and if sex education is taught it is abstinent based only. Further the sexual behaviors of gays, lesbians and transgender must by law be taught as unacceptable behavior and illegal in the state of Alabama.  Rep. Todd has prefiled a bill HB 252 to remove this from the abstinent based curriculum.

According to the Guttmacher Institute review of State Policies on Sex and HIV Education, Alabama is not mandated to offer sex education, it is mandated to offer HIV education.  But here is the caveat, it is only mandated to be age appropriate not medically accurate, not culturally appropriate and unbiased, nor is it mandated to not promote religion.  Parents can opt-out their children from this education. When abstinence is the only approved method being taught STDs will soar.  This is not opinion.  This is a fact proven over and over again in the raw data.

Add to this the factors of poverty in the state. Lawrence Robey, Madison County’s health officer focused on this factor regarding the high rates of infection of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.  “On average, residents in poorer communities are at greater risk to contract and transmit STDs because of substandard public education and transportation as well as smaller tax bases to pay for medical centers and physicians, Robey said. Likewise, wealthier counties in northern Alabama often have average or below average STD incidence.”  All of these diseases and HIV/AIDS are transmitted in exactly the same manner through unsafe sexual practices.

So any effective prevention strategy cannot simply be the tracking, monitoring and treating those infected, which is the primary focus of Bentley’s task force.  It must include comprehensive sexual education that teaches not only how to use safer sexual behaviors such as properly and correctly using latex condoms and dental dams but also relationship building skills including respecting the word NO from potential partners, how to talk about sexual history with a potential partner, and negotiating the limits and boundaries of the relationship. Without an all out concerted effort in talking honestly about healthy sexuality and how to develop positive sexual behaviors that promote health, this plan will and is failing.

Sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase in Alabama.  In 2012, the last year  the Alabama Department of Public Health posted a full year  of numbers of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infections,  41,042 cases were reported nearly double the number of cases reported in 2004.  As in HIV rates, there is a sudden and sustained upswing in infections beginning in 2005.  What policy changes happened in 2004/2005 that placed thousands of people at risk of STDs?

The four sexual transmitted diseases I have mentioned are not the only ones in Alabama.  HPV is also high in Alabama. There is about a 25% prevalence rate in young females age 15-19 and  45% prevalence rate of HPV in females aged 20-24 in the United States!  The numbers that may already be infected in the state is outlandishly high. This STD is a cause cervical cancer that can be prevented through a vaccine.  This fact alone should result in a public health policy that mandates all adolescents before they begin sexual behaviors are vaccinated. The rates of death from cervical cancer in Alabama is among the highest in the country.  Two issues here.  The first is this is a disease that is now preventable with vaccinations but because of our stigma regarding sexual behavior we are not protecting our children.  The second issue is the access to timely medical care to treat the cancer once it develops.

There are other viruses such as herpes simplex  (HSV) that while not a notifiable disease is sexually transmitted.  There are estimates that upwards of 76% of the American population have this virus.  This infection can cause severe medical complications in a person whose immune system is compromised.  Should 76% of Alabamians be convicted of a Class C Felony for transmitting HSV?  They know they have it, it is those lip cold sores and genital sores that develop on the body from time to time.  Have they disclosed their HSV status to their sexual partners before engaging in intimacy (kissing)?

Rep. Givan’s HB 50 targets those who knowingly transmit a sexually transmitted disease to an unknowing partner with a class C felony.  Given the fact that in this state the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who are living with sexually transmitted diseases but are perhaps too ashamed because of Alabama’s cultural mores surrounding shame and sexual behavior to discuss their illness with potential partners before engaging in sexual behavior makes this bill a disenfranchising law that will potentially remove thousands of African Americans disproportionately from the voting rolls. This felony could be considered to be under the sexual abuse category of those felonies that cannot have voting rights restored after serving the sentence.  I realize disenfranchising voters is not her intent.  As an African American woman, she is painfully aware of the history of voting rights in this state against African Americans.  Her bill is one of enabling others to take revenge on their sexual partners failure to disclose with the unintended consequence of mass disenfranchisement.

The responsibility for safer sexual relationships is on both partners.  I recognize the power dynamics of this particular case and unfortunately it is a power dynamic that is prevalent in many relationships regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  But if we are serious in reducing the spread of sexual transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS then we must, absolutely must, teach and empower women to stand up for their sexual health in relationships. But to do this we must create a culture that is open in discussing sexuality.

Our schools must teach comprehensive, medically accurate, culturally unbiased, and free from religious proselytizing.  Our schools must teach safer sexual relationship in a manner that does not stigmatize or marginalize the LGBTIQ persons in their classes. Rep. Todd’s bill HB 252 must be passed to remove the mandate to send a negative message regarding a minority of our students.  We must de-stigmatize sexual behaviors so we can talk about sex in an open and healthy way with our young people.

My denomination, The Unitarian Universalist Association in partnership with the United Church of Christ developed a comprehensive sexual education curriculum called Our Whole Lives.  It is curricula that is developed around the  core values of self worth, sexual health, responsibility, and justice and inclusivity. It is an excellent program in teaching healthy sexuality and reducing the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS. It is just one model of many that provides the resources our young people need in making healthy decisions about their most intimate relationships.

HB 50 is not the solution.  It merely slams the jail house door on the person, nothing more.  It does not curb the spread of STDs.  There is no empowerment of the partner to take control of their sexual health only the taste of revenge which does not soothe the heart; only forgiveness can offer lasting resolution of this pain.  Plus this will disenfranchise potentially thousands of African Americans and others from being able to vote in our state.  HB 50 must be defeated as it serves no healthy purpose.  Todd’s HB 252 must be passed as it will save lives.

 

*the more current medical term is Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) since not all result in disease but because this bill uses the older nomenclature of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) I am also using this term.

Alabama Creating a Religious Jim Crow

On February 9th, same sex marriage became the law in Alabama. The grandstanding by Chief Justice Moore was a classic Governor Wallace move.  Probate judges refused to honor the federal court ruling. Marriages performed in other states are still not recognized in Alabama. Rev. Paul Hard’s case to have his marriage recognized on his partner’s death certificate continues.

Yesterday, Representative Hill fast-tracked a bill, using the infamous HB 56 nomenclature, that would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships do not line up with judges religious convictions.  It would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships are not recognized by religiously owned institutions.  If this bill is passed we could very well be seeing signs at court houses that say: “Straights only.” “Gays not welcomed” “No marriage licenses to divorcees will be issued.”  This bill would allow a judge to discriminate against a person  of a Non-Christian faith if the judge believes his faith is the one and only true faith. It allows the judge to stand in judgement over the Christian faiths that have welcomed and honor sexual and gender diversities as part of God’s universal love and will.  It would allow a religiously owned hospital to deny the partner, legally married, from seeing their spouse or from any consultation to the life and death situations the spouse may be facing.  Governor Bentley has already stated that he would not prosecute any judges that refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples, so this bill would essentially codify his intentions.

Imagine the torment already being experienced when a loved one is critically ill and the only hospital available will not allow the partner to see their loved one or to have any input into their medical care.  Imagine the exponential emotional trauma that this law will create for this family. This is what happened 50 years ago here under Jim Crow–it cost the lives of thousands who did not make it in time to a hospital that would treat a person of color.  Imagine a couple longing to experience the joys of parenthood being denied by the adoption agency purely on the basis of their same-sex marriage. Jim Crow is being resurrected again if this law is passed.  This time he wears the clerical garb of the inquisition. This is insulting and outrageous!

Read the bill as presented here.  The hearing is this afternoon at 1:30 in room 429.  A tiny room for a bill that will essentially codify a Religious Jim Crow in the State of Alabama.  We need to pack this room to over flowing to express outrage of this bill.

The original code that authorizes who may perform marriages in the state of Alabama is already Christian-centric.  It is already an offensive statute.  I have only included the language that refers to religious entities. It reads:

(a) Marriages may be solemnized by any licensed minister of the gospel in regular communion with the Christian church or society of which the minister is a member; …
(b) …Marriage may also be solemnized by the pastor of any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society.
(c) Quakers, Mennonites, or other religious societies. The people called Mennonites, Quakers, or any other Christian society having similar rules or regulations, may solemnize marriage according to their forms by consent of the parties, published and declared before the congregation assembled for public worship.

This wording is already offensive. It creates a hierarchy of religious status in the state with Christians as the supreme religion and places Quakers and Mennonites as second class Christians by spelling them out. I recognize that the attempt is to include religious societies that do not have ordained clergy but the wording here is clear, Christians as defined by the State is the state recognized faith.  It is presumed that people are of a particular Christian sect. Sections B and C are afterthoughts.  I suppose section b of the code is meant to include Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Earth-Centered faiths, Jains, Hindus, etc. Instead it sends a clear message of Christian supremacy.

The better wording to be clearly inclusive of the diversity of faiths celebrated in Alabama would be a revision of section b and have b alone in regard to religious entities.  Marriage may be solemnized by any designated person, so designated by any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society. period.  Designated person would include the clerk of the Quaker society, it would include the Imam of the Mosque, it would include the Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, it would include the Rabbi of a synagogue, it would include lay-led congregations. It would include all faiths without giving preference of one faith over any other.

But the current wording with the legal discrimination amendment strengthens the stance that the Christian faith, defined in a fundamentalist fashion, is the only faith accepted and recognized by the State of Alabama.  That stance is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States.  And that stance creates a religious Jim Crow law in the state of Alabama.

As a minister of a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, I do not want the members of my congregation to face the discrimination that this bill legalizes.  I do not want the LGBT, Inter-racial couples, and divorced members of my congregation to experience the emotional trauma that this law will create for them.  My faith teaches me that all people are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness with a person that they love and cherish.  I thought this was a common belief among all of our religions.  Sadly, I have been mistaken.

 

Alabama, Equal Marriage is Here February 9th

Alabama is a special breed.  On February 9th the stay that Judge Granade placed on her rulings on two cases that Alabama’s constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage is unconstitutional will expire. The 11th circuit has refused to extend the stay until the SCOTUS rules in June.  The backlash has begun. First we had the the Probate Judge’s Association stating that the first ruling only applied to the couple in the law suit and therefore they did not need to heed her ruling. Attorney General Strange applied for and received a 14 day stay on her decision. Her second ruling clarified she meant the entire state must comply.  Then we have the ongoing chest beating of Chief Justice Roy Moore stating the federal courts have no jurisdiction over the state in matters of defining marriage. And now we have the magistrates and counties stating that they will simply no longer officiate civil unions of any marriages regardless of gender make-up.

“Marriage licenses and ceremonies are not available at the Pike County Probate Office,” the judge’s office said on Facebook Friday afternoon. “Pike County residents who are seeking marriage licenses can do so at any Probate Judge’s office in the state that offers that service and are not required to apply for their license in their county of residence.”

[Pike County Probate Judge Wes] Allen  said in a news release that the decision allows him to obey the law and his Christian beliefs. He cited state law that says marriage licenses “may” be issued by probate judges. “I am choosing to take the Pike County Probate Office out of the marriage licensing business altogether.”

He is not alone.  Several counties in the state are taking similar stances.  And some magistrates have reportedly resigned rather than fulfill the court order leaving a void for Monday’s enactment of the court ruling.

Before this latest protest stance against enforcing same sex marriage, I have been in several debates with colleagues within Unitarian Universalist circles, as well as with gay friendly clergy of other faiths regarding the sanctity of marriage and what we should be doing come February 9th.  Should ministers rush to the court houses to marry gay couples in a civil union when it is not a religious service?   The concern is an ethical one.  Clergy see marriage as a holy union, sanctified by a higher calling and therefore should not be a commitment that one enters into lightly.  They require pre-marital counseling.  The style of counseling varies with faith tradition.

One non-Unitarian Universalist clergy person who has been officiating holy unions between same gender couples for decades stated this is a spiritual journey that requires prayer, contemplation, discernment and the development of a covenantal relationship before entering this path together.  Therefore, on the 9th, they will only sign marriage licenses for those couples who have already under gone a holy union ceremony. This is according to their doctrinal beliefs and the state is merely catching up in recognizing the spiritual reality of their holy covenanted union.   If a couple comes to them on February 9th seeking to be wed in their church, then they will have to under go their traditions prescribed process which takes time. No jumping on the quick-marriage-ceremony-just-because-it-is-legal band wagon.

Many Unitarian Universalist clergy also require some form of pre-marital counseling.  And there have been UU clergy who are concerned with the suspension of pre-marital counseling for same gender couples when equal marriage rights are first enacted. Pre-marital sessions have been used by clergy to get to know the couple and to discern with the couple any areas of potential concerns that might need addressing in order for the relationship to thrive in a legally binding marriage.

I understand the debate.  But here is where I am in my internal debate with myself. There are factors that need to be considered.  I know many same gender couples that have raised and are raising children together. I know many same gender couples who have already spent up to 50 years together. I have a difficulty making a couple that has already proven their commitment to each other over the years  in the face of severe prejudice and down right hatred to go through pre-marital counseling as if this is the beginning of their journey together.  Doing so discounts the reality that their relationship commitment is already further down the journey than most newlyweds. By my denying services unless they jump through our unique hoops is in my mind and heart creating an injustice upon injustice.  Who does this hoop serve–the couple who has been together already through thick and thin or the minister?   For same gender couples already committed to each other for years– my role as officiant is in restoring to them the affirmation that society should have already affirmed.

After this law has been in effect for a few years and those looking to marry have been together for a brief time then yes, I will resume pre-marital counseling for same gender couples.  They are beginning a new journey together and are seeking to deepen the relationship. But it is arrogant of me to insist on this as a requirement of marriage for a couple who already have raised children together and maneuvered through their children’s experience of being taunted for their parent’s relationship.

But we now have counties where courts are saying — ‘fine, the federal courts are making courts give out marriage licenses to same sex couples then this court will not offer the service of a civil marriage to any couple.’ One court said about 42% of the couples receiving licenses have the magistrate perform the marriage. Because I am a minister willing to officiate same gender marriages, should I insist that they have a religious service which includes the pre marital sessions because that is my personal preference religiously?  Especially when they do not want a religious service and a civil service is not being offered to anyone? This is another form of oppressive coercion that is in my mind equally as unjust as Alabama banning same gender marriage in the first place.

Unlike my Non-UU ministerial colleagues, I am not bound by an ecclesiastical doctrine of marriage that requires a series of steps in order for a person to enter into marriage.  I interpret my UU faith to see the sacred in the ordinary.   For me, justice is not served when I mandate a set of religious requirements on a couple who have been denied recognition of marriage status for decades and now have the freedom to marry.  For clergy to do this is what the courts who are refusing to perform civil ceremonies are hoping for. By denying all marriage licenses to couples or denying the service of a civil union is an attempt to prevent same gender couples from getting married because they know that here in Alabama, the majority of clergy will not officiate their weddings as a matter of doctrinal belief.

Yes, Alabama is a special breed.  And I am sure even after February 9th when equal marriage is the law of the state, we will not have heard the end of this.  There will be people who will angrily protest. Judge Moore will  beat his chest some more until he is once again removed for disobeying a federal court ruling.  And the legislature will dream up new ways to circumvent the federal ruling as they have in every federal civil rights issue in the past.  Integration of schools, voting rights, and reproductive rights to name a few.

Alabama, equal marriage is here February 9th!  It is a victory but it is a victory that will come with a price. In Alabama employers can still fire a person for being gay or transgender. If there is any deterrent to marrying on the 9th, it is the injustice of being fired on the 10th.  My willingness as clergy to officiate on the 9th is not going to be one of them.

A Transgender Naming Ceremony

The following is a Transgender Naming Ceremony that I developed with a member of my congregation.  There does not seem to be many Transgender naming ceremonies out there in the Unitarian Universalist sphere so we both agreed it would be important to put this one out there for others to use and adapt.

 

A TRANSGENDER NAMING CEREMONY

 

Minister:  The tradition of naming people is as varied as there are countries.  In the US it is typical that a person would be named by their parents at birth and that name would follow the person all the days of their life. But that is not the way it works in many countries around the world and it does not always happen here that way either.

For example my Grandfather was born James Millard but he was always called Millard.  His son, a junior, is called Jim.  But my Grandfather’s brother, born Frank, was called Jim. My cousin, Robert Craig changed his name to Robert Avery when he was 13 in order to be a junior and then adopted the name Avery.  [The celebrant may substitute their own family’s naming story examples.]

Some children are given new Christian names at confirmation and then will go by that name from that point on. Some have names that are only used by the family and their formal name is used only by those outside of the family. Still others adopt a nickname by which they are forever called. Names are not always cast in stone at birth. Some Native American tribes do not name their children until some attribute is discovered about the child.  And the name might change again when the child becomes an adult.

And in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures names would change as the person was transformed and embraced their true identity. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul all to indicate a new person in relationship with their god.  Today, we are celebrating the adoption of a new name that reflects a truth that has been hidden but is now revealed.

 

 

Poem:  “how to love a person” by AJ Tigarian[i]

just press your palm to their palm

warm and full of possibility

skip across their soul like

a flat stone flung from the river’s edge

and then sink into them

come to rest amid the silt and debris

wiggle your toes in the particles

of everything they are

you don’t have to do anything different

you don’t have to try harder

you don’t have to re-mold yourself

into something that makes you

somehow less you

and neither do they.

stand beside them

as they meet their true self

let them introduce you to their “me”

as they find it, one bit at a time

or all at once.

gather up their tears, their smiles,

their joys and their discomforts

when they can’t carry them anymore

remind them where they’re going

go along with them, whenever they ask

witness their struggles and triumphs

open your heart and your arms

press your cheek to their cheek

and love them more when the sun rises

than you did when it set on the day before

 

 

#211 / #212 We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder/ We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle

[Sing one verse from We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder then one verse from We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle using the same key. In the Unitarian Universalist  hymnal Singing the Living Tradition there is a key change between the two songs.  In We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, we substituted “sisters, brothers, all” with “We are Dancing On” for two reasons:  The first and primary reason is to be inclusive of people of  all gender and non-gender identities and second to be parallel with the call in the first song to be climbing on.]

 

 

Minister: By what name shall you be known? [ii]

Partner or Family member[s]: The name shall be ________.

______: My name shall be ______.

Minister:  May the community respond by repeating—Your name shall be ______.

Minister: Bear this name as a reflection of your true self.  Share this name as a reflection of Mercy.  Offer this name as a reflection of Justice.

 

Created and Celebrated in a service led by Rev. Fred L Hammond of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 9 March 2014  ©

 

[i] “how to love a person” © by AJ Tigarian. Printed here with permission.  Permission is granted by the author to use this poem in other naming ceremonies with acknowledgement of the author.

[ii] This last section is a wildly loose adaptation from a section of a naming  ceremony written by Lutheran priest Nadia Bolz-Weber http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/01/liturgical-naming-rite-for-a-transgendered-church-member/    While there is sufficient changes in wording of the final three sentences to stamp my name to it, the origination of the idea is unmistakably the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber’s. And at Rev. Nadia’s site, credit is given for the naming ceremony there as being adapted from one used by Episcopal Priest Michele Morgan. There is a genealogy of adaptations going on here.

Dangerous TImes

If you received a phone call from Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales or Moderator Jim Key asking you to assist Ugandan gay refugees to flee that country into South Africa or the United States, would you say yes? Would you say yes, if it meant you had to volunteer your time and depend on whatever resources you could raise? Would you say yes, if it meant leaving your 2 year old daughter and 5 year old son behind?

These are dangerous times to be gay in Uganda and Gambia. Now to my knowledge, Peter Morales or Jim Key has not asked anyone to go into Uganda to assist the Unitarian Universalists there in helping sexual minorities and those suspected to be sexual minorities in fleeing the country.

But such a phone call occurred for Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp prior to World War II. They were asked to go to Czechoslovakia to provide support to the Unitarians of that country. The Unitarians had already been making inroads for an underground network but now there was a need to have someone or someones to move people through that network to safety.

Some background. The Rev. Norbert Capek had established the largest Unitarian congregation in the world in Prague with 3800 plus members. Unitarianism because of its inclusivity as a creedless faith became a safe refuge for Jews in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, the Munich Accord gave Germany the region of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Refugees were being tortured and shot by the Nazis as they fled for Prague. When the Sudetenland fell to German control in 1938, the American Unitarian Association sent ‘commissioners’ to assess the needs of the refugees and the Prague church.

The phone call came to the Sharp’s towards the end of 1938. When Waitstill questioned why them; he was told that 17 people were asked first. Waitstill asked if his understanding was correct that 17 people were asked and said no to this request to assist Unitarians and refugees in Czechoslovakia. Would you be one of the 17? It is a very hard question to answer.

Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp were distraught over what was happening in Europe. ‘These were our friends’; Waitstill would state later and something needed to be done. While reluctant to leave their two young children, the Sharps set sail for Prague on February 1st 1939, on March 15th the Nazis marched into Prague. The Sharps escorted Jews out of Prague and across Germany to freedom in England. They were followed by the gestapo. They burned their notes and documents to protect the people they were helping. They found their offices ransacked and furniture thrown onto the streets. And when they left in August 1939 to return to the States, they discovered afterwards that they were days away from arrest by the Gestapo.

The following year, they were called again by Unitarian President, Frederick May Eliot, to go to Paris to set up offices to assist people escaping Europe. Unfortunately, when they left for Europe this time, France fell to the Germans before they arrived. They moved their office to neutral Portugal. From Lisbon, among the many tasks they undertake, they managed to arrange for the escape of some 29 children and 10 adults to leave Nazi-occupied Europe to the United States. It was while they were in Portugal that the flaming chalice became a symbol for their official documents. The Sharp’s work combined with the founding of the Unitarian Service Committee ensured the rescue of 3500 families from Nazi controlled Europe. The Sharp’s became known as the ‘Guardian Angels of European children.’

Waitstill and Martha Sharp were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. Of the more than 20,000 non-Jews who risked their lives on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust, only four Americans have received such distinction to date.

Flash forward to February 1965. These were dangerous times to be in the south. Jimmy Lee Jackson had been shot in attempts to stop the beating of his mother by police during a non-violent protest in Marion, AL over the arrest of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader. There was outrage over Jackson’s death and a march was planned to carry his coffin from Marion to the capitol steps in Montgomery in protest of his wrongful death. This march was re-routed to begin in Selma and as the marchers crossed the Edmond Pettus Bridge they were brutally beaten by Alabama State Troopers. The horrendous force used by the police christened this day as Bloody Sunday. The next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. issued a call to clergy from across the nation to come to Selma, AL to join them.

One young Unitarian minister, James Reeb in Massachusetts heard this call. He had been working as a community minister in the inner city of Boston. While the issues facing people of color in Boston were not the same as the issues facing those in the Deep South, the core roots of the issues were the same: institutionalized racism. James Reeb spoke with several people about leaving for Selma that day. He was reminded of the dangers but he decided this is where he needed to be. He tucked his children into bed and caught an 11 PM flight for Atlanta and then another plane to Montgomery. By morning, he was joined by some fifty other Unitarian Universalist ministers who also answered the call.

The day of the march, there was an injunction against it and Governor Wallace was not going to lift it. The question was clear, obey the injunction or obey the moral call? King announced his decision to the people who assembled: “I’ve made my choice this afternoon. I’ve got to march. I’d rather have them kill me on the highway than butcher me in my conscience.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

King led the march over the bridge where they were met by State Troopers who told them they could proceed no further. Could they pray, King asked? So there were prayers for those injured on the previous Sunday and prayers for those who caused the injury, the very police standing there blocking their passage.

King explained the reasoning for what happened to those participating: “We decided we had to stand and confront the State Troopers who committed the brutality Sunday. We did march and we did reach the point of the brutality … and we had a prayer service and a freedom rally. And we will go to Montgomery next week in numbers no man can number.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

Later that evening, James Reeb with the Reverends Orloff Miller and Clark Olsen went for dinner at an integrated diner not far from the gathering place. As they left Walker’s Café, they hear four white men calling them the infamous derogatory slur. They quicken their pace, and Clark turns around just as he sees one of the men swing a club or a pipe as if aiming at a baseball.

James Reeb is struck down. He is incoherent and in pain. The ambulance gets a flat tire just outside of Selma. They wait for another ambulance. The police surround the second ambulance and question them. They refuse to provide escort. The nearest hospital that will treat him from Selma is Birmingham. His injuries are too great; he is removed from life support and dies two days later. His death became the lightening rod President Johnson needed to pass the Voting Rights Act.

In the eulogy that Martin Luther King gave he attempted to answer the question of not who but rather what killed him. He states: “James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice.”
The truth is what killed James Reeb is the same that killed 6 million Jews and 3 million political prisoners and homosexuals in Germany. It is the same that created the genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. It is the same for threats against sexual minorities in Uganda and Gambia—where homosexuality is seen as a worse threat than hunger, disease, and abject poverty.

If you received a phone call to act on behalf of justice, would you answer yes? These are also dangerous times. Every generation has to answer the call before them. The Sharps and others answered the call in the 1940’s. Reeb and other clergy answered the call in the 1960’s.

And closer to home it is the same people who stand by indifferently as people’s rights are eroded away under the guise of religious freedom in Mississippi to allow businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities or here in Alabama to allow nurses and doctors to refuse to treat a woman who has an abortion, regardless of reason.

There really is no difference between the death sentences for being gay in Uganda and refusal to sell to a gay person in Mississippi. It is only a matter of degree of the indignity suffered. They are rooted in the same ignorance, the same intolerance, the same hatred against humanity’s diversity.

And while we can easily point to the atrocity of what is happening in Uganda or in Syria or in Ukraine as being dangerous times, it is harder, much harder to point out what makes living in America today as also living in dangerous times. We are like the frogs in the pot of water with the water slowly increasing in temperature and when it hits boiling it will be too late for us to jump out.

What makes this time dangerous is the very eroding of the values that we have based this nation upon. The Supreme Court has made it easier to undermine the protections of the voting rights act. The Supreme Court has ruled money equals speech. The Supreme Court has weakened the Affirmative Action mandates. Alabama passes legislation that allows medical personnel to discriminate against patients whose choices offend someone’s religious doctrines. Mississippi passes legislation that allows businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities under the false guise of religious freedom. Yet we remain passive like those frogs in tepid waters. The Democratic process is a core principle to our faith yet we take it for granted and assume it is safe from harm.

I see a lot of feigned outrage in society today. People outraged that the owner of a sports team declared his bigotry. People outraged that a sheriff in New Hampshire called the President the N word. People outraged over the racist remarks of a rancher. A group of students up in arms over the denial of admittance to a sorority on campus but not one ounce of outrage when the student government refuses to officially integrate the Greek system. Feigned outrage over one person’s slight not one protest over the institutional racism that sways power over others. Hypocrites! We as a nation are more concerned about the blatant surface appearances of racism than the hardcore insipid reality of it that courses through our veins. Symbolic rage while the system churns on its racist oppressive policies unabated.

These are dangerous times. We don’t need to travel across the world or even across the country to address it, the call is right here in Tuscaloosa.

Sixty years ago this month we commemorate the anniversary of a major integration victory that declared that separate is not equal in education. Central High School became the pride of post Brown v Board of Education. It was fully integrated with successful students of all races. The school district proclaimed that they were successful for a generation in integration and therefore no longer needed the court mandated integration ruling. Tuscaloosa claimed they would continue integration without being told but Tuscaloosa lied. Tuscaloosa voted to build two high schools and then gerrymandered the district to not only racially but economically segregate Central. The students in Central High School are being prepared not for a better life but for a life of continued poverty and very likely for prison. Central’s top students are not even able to qualify on college entrance exams.

We live in a nation where 1 in 3 black males born today will spend time in prison. We live in a nation where 1/3rd of black students between grades 7 and 12th grade are suspended or expelled from school. Tuscaloosa because of gerrymandered district lines has created a disproportionate number of whites and middle class blacks to attend the wealthier North Ridge and Paul Bryant schools. Central High is 99% black and predominantly poor. 80% of their students qualify for the federally funded school lunch program. Tuscaloosa’s 2012 Demographic study for a school district that told the Supreme Court that they could ensure integration of all of their schools, does not even mention the racial or economic breakdown in this report. Tuscaloosa has lied again. Where is the outrage over this injustice? But keep one pledge out of a sorority and we are up in arms over the indignity.

These are dangerous times not because of the potential of loss of life, though if we continue on this path of oppression it could result in this, but because of the loss of our moral compass as a people.

I never quite understood the scripture verses where it states that our fight is with principalities and powers, until now. It is not the spiritual warfare against demons as our Christian siblings believe, but rather against those human made systems that rob humanity from reaching its full potential. Racism is a power and the system in which it flourishes is the principality.

The principalities and powers of yesterday included fascist governments. Today they include the superficial righteous who parade their holy scriptures with no true understanding of the words or the spirit of love those scriptures contain. They hide behind the feigned outrage over the symptoms of racism while encouraging the real forces of racism and oppression to press on unfettered and unaccounted.
It is up to us to answer the call even in the midst of these dangerous times to call out the false outrage and point towards the heart of the matter. Even to do this takes courage because the temptation is to go with the flow and join the chorus du jour but this is the task before us to root out injustice where ever it grows. From east to west, north and south, we are called to speak to our Unitarian Universalist principles in a nation that has forgotten the true meaning of our founders’ words of inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and which are echoed in the words of our pledge: liberty, and justice for all.

The only way these words can become true in America is if we seek to ensure that our neighbor, regardless of their creed, race, sexual / gender identity or class has at their disposal all the resources necessary to reach their full potential. When my neighbor does not have the resource then I become the poorer for it.

This is the call that the Sharps answered. This is the call that James Reeb answered. They went to ensure their neighbor is treated the way they would want to be treated. This is the way of love. This is the mantle that is laid down before each of us. Will we pick that mantle up in these dangerous days? I pray that we will in our own way and according to our own conscience.
Martha Sharp is said to have asked her grandchildren, ‘What important work are you going to do for the world?’

 

Dangerous Times was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL by Rev. Fred L Hammond 18 May 2014 (c)

Beyond Dreaming

Martin Luther King had a dream for this nation. It is an important dream. The dream was more than voting rights for people of color. The dream was more than desegregation of lunch counters, buses, and schools. The dream was more than little black boys and little black girls holding hands with little white boys and little white girls. These are all wonderful aspects of Martin Luther King’s dream but it is not the whole of his dream.

His dream included ending the terror of living in America as a black person. And that is a much nobler dream than all the other pieces of the dream that people speak about when they talk about King’s dream.

The emotional history of African Americans in our nation is one of terror . The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. was to rid this terror from the experience of people of color in this nation. The world that Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into included this fact: If an African American even so much as looked at a white person, that African American might at best have been beaten unconscious or worst lynched from a tree. With no consequences to the white people who committed such heinous acts. No person should live a life where fear is the norm.

The gift Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to African Americans in the 1950s/60s was to no longer be afraid of the consequences of seeking to do what is morally the right thing. When confronted with the morally right thing—sitting at a lunch counter, remaining seated on a bus, requesting voting registration, confronting Jim Crow laws, refusing to be humiliated—white America responded with violence to put African Americans back into their ‘assigned’ place of subjugation. When people stand up for their rights and are willing to absorb violence and not strike back, not defend their bodies, then those people are free. They have reclaimed their agency to self-determination in a society that denied this basic human right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was expanding his dream beyond racism to include classism. King was speaking up about the effects of poverty in America. He was speaking up about the effects of exploitive work practices on the white and black poor in America. His last days were to apply pressure on the city of Memphis regarding the work conditions and poverty wages of sanitation workers who were on strike for better treatment. His assassination on the 4th of April 1968 brought an end to the focus on poverty in America. The status of the average American worker has deteriorated ever since. The class divide in this country has not seen such a widening gap since the eve before the Crash in October 1929.

I believe that if King had lived, he would have achieved the same for people of poverty that he had for people of color. He would have instilled the ability to face their own fears of not being able to provide for their families by organizing and demanding justice in the work place.

It has been fifty years since King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Fifty years to take his dream and move it beyond dreaming and into reality. But it hasn’t happened. The time is now.

The march had a list of goals that are still relevant today as they were then. Here is a sampling of the goals for the March on Washington that may not be well known:

• A Federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring;
• A $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide;
• Enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from States that disenfranchise citizens;
• A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas

Do any of these issues still sound familiar? In 1963 the federal minimum wage was $1.25 an hour. In 2014 dollars that pay scale would purchase the same as $9.58. Our federal minimum wage is $7.25. This amount does not allow a family of four to afford the average rent. The proposal in 1963 was to increase minimum wage to $2.00 an hour or in 2014 dollars–$15.33. There is a current push to raise the Federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. This is a start but it still does not even bring the middle class back to the purchasing power they had in 1963.

Alabama does not have a state minimum wage. The federal minimum wage only applies to businesses of over $500K, businesses that involve interstate commerce, and hospitals and schools. Domestic workers are only covered if they work 8 hours or more a week for one or more employees. Therefore there are many people, such as farm workers, who may not even be earning minimum wage because their jobs fall outside of the purview of the federal law.

I recently saw a poster that said The Middle Class is too big to fail. If the Middle Class fails in our nation, then all our ideals collapses as a failed experiment. It is time for us to move beyond dreaming and address minimum wage for all workers, including restaurant workers whose minimum wage of $2.13 has remained static for 22 years.

The business community has lobbied successfully against such measures. They are only looking out for their shareholders, those people who are in the top 10% of controlling the wealth of the nation. A recent report came out stating that 85 people control the same about wealth as half of the world’s population . We are approaching 7 billion people on this planet.

Winnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director stated, “Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. ” Dream in this case means fantasy, not feasible goals like Martin Luther King’s dream.

But the argument against a rise in minimum wage is that it would take money from the shareholders, approximately $11 Billion dollars based on a 2007 study so this is a dated figure, but only $1.6 Billion of these dollars would benefit the working poor. It is argued that the Earned Income Tax Credit would be a better way to go as it can be adjusted upwards, cost $2.4 Billion of which $1.4 billion would benefit poor families. But if we as a people of faith even have an inkling of considering remediating income inequality and improving the quality of the lives of the poor, then we need to consider doing both; raise the minimum wage and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

A recent empirical study of what happens when poor people get cash showed something rather amazing. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino when it opened in 1996 decided to proportionately share its profits with its 8,000 members. A professor from Duke University had already been following the rural children with a good percentage of them being Cherokee. A substantial baseline had been established over a course of four years prior to the casino opening.

In 2001, when each Cherokee was receiving an additional $6,000 in income a year, the poverty level of the Cherokees had dropped by half. But what was also discovered is that the frequency of behavioral problems within the poorest of these families dropped by 40%. It was also discovered that the earlier this money arrived in their children’s lives the better their children’s mental health. What was also discovered is that the supplemental income saved money in the community in the long run. The children were one third less likely to abuse drugs or to have psychiatric issues as adults and this reduced community costs. On schedule Highschool graduations increased as there were fewer children repeating classes. This means that students were able to focus on their studies and not worry about their next meal.

The amount of money the casino disbursed amongst its members was not enough for anyone to not need employment but it was a substantial unconditional cushion. As a society, we might not be able or even want to provide what King advocated for which was a guaranteed minimum income to abolish poverty in this nation. But if we were to raise the minimum wage and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, we would be offering the same type of assistance as the Cherokee Casino. Just as the members received a lump sum check disbursement, the income refund check would be a similar boost. We would give back personal control to those who are desperately poor in this nation. It is time to move beyond dreaming and working towards creating the society that we know we can be.

The 14th amendment was as much an issue in King’s day as it is today. In fact, it may be even argued that the problems this amendment caused in our society have only compounded in the years since the March on Washington in 1963.

The 14th amendment which was written to grant full citizenship to emancipated slaves is now being used to enslave all of American workers. It is said that a law has no real influence until it is faced with litigation. It is in the litigation that the law comes alive and develops teeth. This amendment was litigated 150 times between its passage and 1896. Only 15 of these cases had to with the citizenship of the African American, the remainder had to do with the personhood rights of the corporation. We have seen the devastation this gross misinterpretation of this amendment has caused throughout the 20th century and now with the Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United four years ago; our very democracy is at stake. Citizens United has created the ability for Corporations to have the privilege to create and purchase passage of laws that benefit solely the shareholder’s profit and not serve their purpose of serving society’s welfare. As we observe our society today, it is clear that corporations do not have society’s welfare best interest at heart.

We have created a protected class in giving corporations personhood. They are able to poison our water supply, cause irreversible environmental damage through oil spills, and destroy the economic lives of thousands without assuming any accountability for their actions. We have allowed corporations to become too big to fail which has placed the very quality of our lives at risk when they violate laws and are allowed to continue to do so after paying what amounts to a mere penny of a fine.

We have seen corporations in the form of for-profit prisons make contract deals with the government that turns people into nameless quotas to be filled. This requires the creation of laws that change misdemeanors into felonies and condemns a class of people to a life of perpetual dehumanizing institutionalization. Our nation represents 25% of all incarcerations in the world, yet we only represent 5% of the world’s population. Contrary to our national myth we are not the land of the free; we are the land of the incarcerated.

The 5th and 14th amendments should be ensuring due process and equal protection under the law. But instead we are feeding our corporations quotas by creating laws such as stop and frisk. Minorities are disproportionately singled out for stop and frisk in direct violation of the 14th amendment . It is time to move beyond dreaming and reclaim the 14th amendment for its intended purpose, strip it of its litigated purpose and assure that all citizens, born or naturalized, have equal protection under the law.

We live in a state that still allows discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We shame our young LGBTQI teens by teaching abstinence until marriage and ignore the realities of their lives. We still require our Alabama schools to teach homosexuality is a criminal offense and do not consider the ramifications of such a statement on our gay children. Housing and employment discrimination against the queer community is still a reality. Homophobia is still an acceptable behavior in the state. We need to support pending legislation that will protect their rights and limit the damage that homophobic religions in our state spew on these innocent lives. We need to move beyond dreaming and stand up for our siblings of sexual and gender diversities.

We need to move beyond dreaming that things were different and begin embodying our values in our daily lives. T. E. Lawrence also known as Lawrence of Arabia stated “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible. ”

How we decide to move beyond dreaming is open for discussion but the issues that Rev. Martin Luther King sought to address are still with us today. We must not be afraid to speak out about them. If we move together in community to address these issues we need not be cowering in fear. Sister Simone of Nuns on the Bus said, “The antidote to fear is community. In community, we know we are not alone and that someone has my back. This shared responsibility calls us to exercise our civil obligations. In fact, community can only exist if everyone contributes to the shaping of our society.

Let us as a community move beyond dreaming of how things might be into the light of day of making it so. Blessed Be.

[Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa  on January 26 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Sources:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/29/1011562/-Most-of-you-have-no-idea-what-Martin-Luther-King-actually-did

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world

http://modeledbehavior.com/2010/10/26/why-the-minimum-wage-should-go/    The link for this study actually sent me to the Congressional Budget Office’s study from 1986 and not to the 2007 study it reportedly was quoting.
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/what-happens-when-the-poor-receive-a-stipend/
http://www.progress.org/tpr/martin-luther-king-on-guaranteed-income-social-dividend/ http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stop-and-frisk_tactics_by_new_york_cops_violated_fourth_and_14th_amendments

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/t_e_lawrence.html

http://standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/day-8-the-antidote-to-fear/

“A Hearty Welcome: Removing Hetero-sexism from our Church Culture”

I was invited to offer a workshop at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford in Mississippi as part of their seeking to become designated by our denomination as a Welcoming Congregation.  In talking with the leadership in what had been covered, it became apparent that there was a need to discuss heterosexism.  My process in putting this workshop together included exploring what our Unitarian Universalist Association had in their resources on their website. To my surprise while the website ( http://www.uua.org/re/youth/identity-based/queer/47416.shtml) acknowledged the word heterosexism there was very little on the website in terms of resources on heterosexism. And so began my journey to find what exactly was out there.  So what follows here are some resources I found and some of the things that I used or created in putting together a workshop on heterosexism.

I began the workshop with passing out a Heterosexism Scale.  It was not a perfect scale because some of the questions assumed the person taking the test was heterosexual. But taken as a tease to begin the thinking process and used as a personal self awareness of how pervasive heterosexism is, this test was effective. I did not ask for participants to share their scores as that was for them, but I did ask for participants to share if they were surprised by anything that was on the test.  Discussion was good and it served to set the tone for the journey we were beginning. I purposely had the test be the first piece of the workshop before doing any icebreaker because I wanted people to have a sense of where they may be regarding heterosexism.  Source: Heterosexism Scale created by Celeste Bowman, CASAC of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services in New York State

I followed this with an icebreaker asking for their name and one thing taught as a child about gender roles. For example I was taught that boys do not cry.  I purposely had the icebreaker follow the test because I wanted people to have a sense of where they may be regarding heterosexism.

Then I introduced two definitions:

Homophobia v Heterosexism

Homophobia:    The American Heritage Dictionary (1992 edition) defines homophobia as “aversion to gay or homosexual people or their lifestyle or culture” and “behavior or an act based on this aversion.” Other definitions identify homophobia as an irrational fear of homosexuality

Heterosexism:  The system of oppression of persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender based on homophobia/ transphobia. It includes these three components:

  • The assumption that all people are heterosexual.
  • Prejudice and discrimination against persons who are LGBTIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Asexual)  based on the assumption that heterosexuality is the only “normal” sexual orientation and therefore preferable.
  • Systemic display of homophobia in societal institutions, laws, and policies by excluding the needs, concerns, and life experiences of persons who are LGBTIA.

Examples of Heterosexism:

  • Assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
  • Assuming that everyone has or is interested in having an opposite-sex partner.
  • Assuming that all mothers and fathers are heterosexual.
  • Assuming all sexually active women use birth control.
  • Assuming that all unmarried people are “single,” while in reality they may have a same-sex partner.
  • Assuming all children live in families with a male-female couple in parental roles.
  • Using language that presumes heterosexuality in others, such as husband or wife, instead of gender neutral language such as partner.
  • Using official forms which allow only for designation as married or single.
  • Denying equal employment benefits to people with same-sex partners (i.e. spousal insurance).
  • Omitting any discussion of persons who are LGBTIA as part of educational curricula.

This definition and examples comes from the Safe Zone training manual at Duke University.

I handed out a more detailed sheet on heterosexism that gives examples in several categories: Family, Education, Healthcare, Workplace, Legal System, and Media.  This handout was adapted from two sources:

Adapted from  © Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Second Edition, Routledge, 2007  AND James Madison University in Virginia

We discussed the legal aspects of heterosexism and pointed out that while the US Supreme Court ruling on Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 struck down sodomy laws it did not remove sodomy laws in many states.  For example Mississippi’s law is still on the books and is unenforceable as it pertains to homosexual behavior but it is still considered criminal behavior.

 The legislation is MS 97-29-59. Unnatural intercourse

Every person who shall be convicted of the detestable and abominable crime against nature committed with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term of not more than ten years.

Because this law is still on the books the law can and will influence other laws and interpretations.  “Mississippi sexuality education law dictates that if homosexuality is taught, it must be presented as ‘unnatural and dangerous’ and be discussed within the context of Mississippi’s law outlawing sodomy.”

Source: http://www.abstinenceworks.org

It also influences Judges decisions in custody cases. “A Mississippi court used the state’s sodomy law to justify denying custody of a boy to his gay father, despite the fact that the court also found that the father would provide better care because the boy’s stepfather was physically abusive to his mother.” http://www.thetaskforce.org/issues/nondiscrimination/sodomy

This example shows how heterosexism is institutionalized.  My use of the example of Mississippi was because I was talking to a congregation in Mississippi.  However, there are some 13 states where Sodomy was struck down by the Lawrence v Texas US Supreme Court case but the laws were not repealed which means they are still on the books and still influences the writing and enforcing of other laws pertaining to Sexual Minorities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States

For example in Alabama, where I am currently living, former (now re-instated) state Chief Justice Roy Moore denied a lesbian mother custody of her child based on the state’s sodomy law stating, “Common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil, and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent.” Moore also wrote approvingly of the state’s right to imprison or even execute homosexuals.

I introduced an exercise that was created for college students. The exercise has more to do with gender roles but I used this exercise to not only discuss gender roles but also to discuss the history of pink and blue being designated for specific genders and used this exercise to also introduce microaggressions.

A June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said,
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html

This led to an important discussion on how capitalism markets heterosexism and gender differences. It was in the 1940’s when pink was re-classified for girls and blue for boys.  And I pointed out that photos of boys in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had them wearing white dresses and long locks of hair.  These were considered gender neutral clothing for ease of diaper changes and cleaning.  it wasn’t until a boy was about 6 years old that his hair was cut short and he wore knickers. Keep in mind the changes that were occurring in the world after World War I,  Freud was arguing for heterosexual expressions of sex for pleasure instead of being for procreation only and denouncing homosexual expressions as effeminate and deviant. Factories were once again booming and needed to find ways to sell their wares. Suffragists were fighting for women’s right to vote. Lots of changes were taking place that were causing a divide between what was feminine and what was masculine behavior in ways that were not brought to the surface before.

Exercise: Straight sculptures 20 minutes

Ask for two volunteers to come to the front of the room. One volunteer will play a 10-year old girl, the other a 10-year-old boy. Distribute pink and blue sticky note labels to the rest of the participants. Instruct the rest of the group that they are now responsible for “training” the children to act in their appropriate gender roles, and especially to handle themselves so that they will never be suspected of being lesbian (the girl) or gay (the boy). Students can act the part of older brothers/sisters, parents, coaches, teachers, and so forth. The task is for the male students to write their instructions on post-it paper for the “boy,” and for the female students to do so for the “girl.” When they have prepared their paper, they take turns, one at a time, in affixing their notes to the appropriate character’s arms, sleeves, or shoulders, explaining the instruction in the tone of voice appropriate to the part they’re playing (“parental voice” for parent, for example).

Instructions can include any of the following, and other things participants can think of:

  • • Colors of clothing you wear
  • • Type of clothing you wear
  • • Hair color/arrangement you choose
  • • How to sit in a chair
  • • How to walk
  • • Voice you use to talk
  • • Things you talk about
  • • Jewelry you wear
  • • Appropriate athletic activities
  • • Appropriate subjects to do well in
  • • Kind of car to be seen driving
  • • Appropriate jobs/careers to train for
  • • How you greet other people of your gender
  • • How you show affection to other people of your gender

Have participants complete the exercise. Then, have each of the two volunteers take turns walking into the room, pulling up a chair, sitting down, and saying hello to the class, doing their best to enact and obey all of the instructions that have been attached to them. Encourage them to have fun, exaggerating their roles if they wish.

At the close of their performance, stop the action and have each actor say how it felt to act out this role—funny, odd, uncomfortable, “normal,” &c.

Have everyone applaud the actors. Have participants break into mixed-gender triads or groups of four. Have participants take turns answering the following questions:

  • • What ways do I act or dress, or avoid acting or dressing, in order to keep from being called “gay,” “fag,” “butch,” or any other names that might identify me, even in fun, as lesbian or gay?
  • • What ways am I limited, or what does it cost me, to have to do these actions?

Return everyone’s attention to the full group. Have a few share what they notice in their own experience regarding these questions: what does it cost participants to protect themselves from being identified as gay/lesbian? What is the fear about being so identified? Who are they most likely to be afraid of? Remind participants to speak for themselves, not referring to what other people in their small group said.

This exercise worked well over all. Because most of the participants were older than the exercise was originally designed, the discussion questions did not take well because most of the participants were no longer concerned about being called gay or queer.  But this exercise did bring up the topic of peer pressure their children are feeling in schools to conform to heterosexist rules and how they might encourage their children to be who they are.

Telling the two volunteers how to act in this exercise is an example of being microaggressive. So the other benefit of this exercise was to introduce the notion of microaggressions.

“Micro-aggressions are the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.” (Microaggressions in Every Day Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation by Derald Wing Sue)

I gave additional examples from the website microaggressions.com

“Oh, you’re dressing like a lady today. You should keep that up. You make a much better girl.”Nurse where I work to me, a 22 year-old who identifies as male. Makes me embarrassed about my body, afraid, sad.

“LGBT people are six times more likely to attempt suicide than normal people.”  A lecture on suicide prevention at UCLA.

“Of course I love you, I just prefer the straight part of you to the gay part.” My ex-girlfriend after telling her I’m bisexual.

“My mom says she is okay with my sexuality but doesn’t want me to tell anyone else in case I change my mind”. Age: 16

“Stop acting like a princess! You’re acting like a princess!! Ooh… little princess… boo hoo.”Parents talking to their crying, four-year-old son.

“Oh my god! Will you be my new gay best friend? We can go shopping for clothes!” A straight, female coworker to me upon learning that I, a male, had a boyfriend.  I said, “No” and walked away, confused. I don’t have any interest in shopping or clothing, much less being a “gay best friend.” It makes me angry that just by coming out, I can instantly be transformed into a romantic comedy stock character even when someone had seen me as a real person prior to knowing that I’m gay.

“Bisexual people don’t exist. Gay people just say that so they can walk down the hall with a girl holding hands.” Kurt on Glee, a seemingly gay friendly show. Made me feel TIRED.

Group Discussion:   We have been discussing the effects of heterosexism on LGBT people, but what are the effects on Heterosexuals?  Martin Luther King said something along the lines of when one group is oppressed we are all oppressed.  How does heterosexism oppress heterosexuals?

I had the group discuss this for a bit and then closed the discussion with some quotes from this resource on the topic, especially highlighting those not mentioned.

Detrimental Effects of Heterosexism & Homophobia on Heterosexual People
Taken from Diversity Works, Pelham, MA

“We often think only of how heterosexism and homophobia are hurting LGBT people. However, this oppression also limits and harms members of the dominant group, heterosexuals. The most effective heterosexual allies have recognized that it is in their own self-interests to interrupt heterosexism and homophobia.

  • Limited cultural exposure perpetuates myth and mystery about LGBT persons.
  • Lack of information causes heterosexuals to live with a false, distorted reality.
  • Codes of behavior determined by homophobia impose rigid patterns of interaction and relationship among heterosexuals.
  • Close friendships between men and between women are limited by fears and not valued as highly as cross gender relationships.
  • Deep love, support, and nurturing is assumed to be available only from the other sex.
  • Contact between women and men is always sexualized. Other forms of friendship and intimacy are not recognized as options.
  • Heterosexuals consciously and unconsciously modify and restrict their own self-expression to avoid being targeted as gay or lesbian.
  • Behaviors that do not conform to traditional gender roles are suspect.
  • The full range of individuality is squelched.
  • Contact with lesbian, gay, and bisexual people is avoided, depriving us of their friendship, the appreciation of LGBT people, and the dispelling of our socialized ignorance.
  • We are kept ignorant about friends and family members who may not be out as an LGBT person. Distance and fear are maintained in these relationships.
  • Fully appreciating and loving our own bodies is limited by our socialized fears of homosexuality.”

We also discussed in detail What is Heterosexual privilege?

Privilege is the overall unearned advantages and rights that systematically empower certain groups over others. Heterosexual privileges are the benefits gained automatically by being heterosexual that are denied to homosexuals. It can also be the benefits an LGBT person gains by claiming heterosexual identity and denying homosexual / transgender identity.

We closed the workshop with the beginnings of what we can do next specifically as a congregation.  I posed this as a group discussion:

Group Discussion:  How can I contribute to a Homophobia/Heterosexism free environment? What would we need to do as a congregation to create a heterosexism free environment?

The workshop participants discussed this by also including what they are currently doing that helps create a heterosexism free environment. Such as the two bathrooms in their building are not gender designated but open to all.

I used the following to highlight areas that might not have been mentioned:

· Be non-judgmental. Sexual orientation and gender identity is not something to be judgmental of or ashamed about. Be supportive and open to listen to friends no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity.

· Remember that it is not possible to assume someone’s sexual orientation based on what you perceive it to be. Assuming that everyone is heterosexual “unless you know otherwise” or assuming someone who is “acting gay” is homosexual puts people into specific roles that create certain stereotypes about people. It can be hurtful to assume one’s sexual orientation.

· Engage in inclusive practices. Create work, study and living environments in which gender and sexual diversity are included, modeled and valued.

· Be mindful of the language you use with others. One of the main ways heterosexism thrives is through language. Saying things such as “that shirt is gay” or “that guy throws like a girl” could be offensive to others. Use words that are gender inclusive like partner instead of wife, boyfriend, etc.

Speak up against teasing, harassing, slurs, comments that you witness against those who do not fit in with gender roles or heterosexual characteristics. Silence condones and encourages such behaviors.

· Educate yourself. If there are things you don’t know or understand about LGBQ issues, do some research, ask questions or contact a group that deals with these issues.

 Source: GenEq is a department within Campus Life & Leadership, http://cll.berkeley.edu Last updated 02/06/2008

The workshop went well. People seemed energized by the discussions and empowered to  begin to ensure a heterosexist free environment. If you would like me to present this workshop to your congregation please feel free to contact me. It will be an evolving piece of work.  It was clear that this was only the beginning of a deeper and broader conversation to be had within this congregation.   Blessings,