Assumptions

Like many across our nation and the world, I am grieving the tragic events that have once again beset our country. The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager by Ferguson, MO police is troubling regardless of one’s position.  I have been trying to make sense of it all–and I admit these shootings in our nation against our own people is increasingly hard for me to understand. I was chatting with a relative of mine who is in law enforcement and they said something that I found interesting. They stated that assumptions are being made before the investigation has played out and now the investigation is tainted.

Assumptions.  They are like the operating system behind this computer program.  They are running always in the background, informing the actions of the person, mostly unaware, until one takes a long hard look at them.  My relative and I are operating from a different set of assumptions. People have experiences and they try to make sense of those experiences. They develop assumptions about those experiences and then use those assumptions to predict / plan how to respond to future events. Sometimes those assumptions are spot on, and sometimes, more times than we would like to admit, those assumptions are wrong.

But it is through assumptions that we act and have our being.  My relative has explained to me countless times that police have to make a decision in a split second regarding their safety.  Is the person a threat or not?  They have to assess what is going on, observe accurately all that is going on and make a decision in a split second.  That split second may be all they have between surviving a violent assault. It is not an easy job being a police officer. How aware the officer is about their own assumptions seems to me to be an important necessary skill that they need in order to do their jobs professionally and ethically.

There have been studies that have shown repeatedly that we see what we want to see.  I haven’t shared those studies with my relative but it is true.  We will see things that weren’t there and we will not see things that were there.  Have you seen the video with the man in the gorilla outfit? We are given instructions to count how many times a basketball is passed.  During the ball passing a gorilla walks their way through the crowd.  Up to 40% of people failed to see the gorilla.  We were not assuming that something strange was about to occur so we didn’t see it.  Or when a traumatic event happens how very disparate the stories are in relating what happened.  Police officers are supposed to be trained to be excellent observers of their surroundings and one would hope of behaviors in order to make those split second decisions.  But even with such training, assumptions are running beneath the surface.

I tell the story of my first time in Georgia.  It is not a story that I am proud of but it clearly indicates how assumptions play in our actions.  This was back in the mid 1980s, I was heading up towards Dahlonega, GA with my friend Glenn.  As we were driving. I am seeing these gorgeous plantation buildings with these shacks next to them.  You could see through the walls better than you could through the windows.  I was in total amazement.  I had no idea that people lived in such poverty in the United States.  I lived in CT at the time, one of the richest states in the nation. I told my friend that I needed to have a picture of these shacks because no one in CT would believe me it I told them.  It was simply beyond my experience.  We find a shack that had stuff strewn all over the yard and hanging from the rafters of the shack porch were these brightly colored dresses.  We stop so I could take a photo.   I get out of the car and I realize that this is a yard sale and on the porch was a woman with a shotgun in her lap. I hesitate and then ask if I could take a picture of her house.  And she gave permission.  I told this story of the woman with the shotgun numerous times but I didn’t have the photo in hand.  Then one day I am going through some photos and there was the photo– the woman on the porch surrounded by these hanging brightly colored dresses.  But where was the gun? It wasn’t in her lap as I recalled it.  The gun was not on the floor of the porch either. It simply was not there. I had an assumption in my mind about folks who lived in the hills of Georgia so firmly planted, that I placed a shotgun into her lap.  Now she may have owned a shot gun but it was not with her outside.

Assumptions change how we see the world and then we shape that world to fit those assumptions.

It is hard to fight those assumptions as well because even when we have the facts that contradict the assumptions, those assumptions are being proved true in our heart of hearts.  Re-read the paragraph above about my first trip to Georgia.  The assumption that I had still plays out in the very last sentence.  I apparently accommodated it to fit the facts but the assumption is still being played out.  I am embarrassed about it as it is not how I want to live my life. We are taught assumptions from an early age by our families, friends, and church.

These assumptions may or may not be true, that is the thing about assumptions. Just because you have one deeply ingrained does not mean it is correct.  Some assumptions some people may have:

1. There is only one true religion. (Funny thing about this assumption is it is always the person’s personal religion that is the one true religion.)

2. There is not enough to go around, so get yours before anyone else.

3. Those people are destroying America.  (those people is whatever the group du jour is. For Westboro Baptists they are Gays, for Tea Party folks they are the undocumented and Obama, for anti-abortionists it is Planned Parenthood, For Democrats it’s the Republicans and the reverse is true.)

4. Racism is a thing of the past.  (If only those Socialist Liberals wouldn’t keep bringing it up.)

There are assumptions being played out in Ferguson.  These assumptions didn’t start with the shooting of Michael Brown.  And that is another assumption that is being made by some people, that this shooting is an isolated event that has no contextual environment in which it grew into being.  My relative wants me to keep this event separate from the hundreds of unarmed young black men who were shot by police across this nation.  There are reasons for attempting to separating out each individual event.  Some of these reasons are good ones.  One good reason is that there may be some unique aspect of this case that would be lost when forced into the conglomerate of all the others.  Some are not so good.

There are also reasons to look at this horrific event in the context of what is happening in the United States. As another blogger wrote:  “There are reasons why white gun’s [sic] rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys.”  There are assumptions of who is dangerous and who is not.  Whether we want to agree or not, being white in the United States in 2014 still carries privileges.  One of these privileges is carrying an automatic rifle into a Chipotle or a Target and not being seen as a threat despite the fact that all of the mass shootings in recent history have been committed by white men. That is some powerful assumption we are carrying and they are tilted towards perceived race.

Since 9/11 there has been a steady increase of militarizing our police force.  There is also an assumption at work here–what is it?  My hunch is that the assumption is that United States is now a battlefield.  Many cities are applying for federal grants to purchase military grade equipment in preparation of possible terrorist attacks on our soil even in small rural communities where the biggest threat is the pumpkin festival being rained out.  They are using this equipment in SWAT offenses for drug raids, storming houses with a no-knock search warrant in full military garb.  They have used it in ICE raids of factories where suspected undocumented personnel may work.  When the police are militarized it is small leap of thought to begin seeing towns as battlefields to be conquered rather than homes to be protected.  Ferguson is one such community that has militarized their police force and the pictures show they have turned their town into such a battlefield.  But they already saw their town as one long before the shooting of Michael Brown, long before the riots after the police responded with nonchalance and disregard of this event. Is it any surprise that increased militarization of police increases the anxiety level of the citizens.

When you treat people like they are enemy combatants, you are going to get enemy combatants. People do not respond well when their personal safety is threatened.  When peaceful demonstrations are met by militarized police, what is the assumption the police are operating on? The assumption is not that demonstrators are going to remain peaceful.  It is an agitation towards violence.  When police tell demonstrators, like they did last night (8/18/2014)  that they had to return home,  and the demonstrators attempt to do so only to find the way home is blocked by different police, and so they dutiful turn around as told and go back, to be met again by the first group of police telling them to turn around, this is an invitation to escalate. And it did.  The assumption is that the demonstrators are the enemy and not the police officer’s fellow citizens, an assumption that the trapped citizens couldn’t refute by their failed attempts of compliance. And the police would not listen to them when they asked how can they get home when roads are blocked. Such a response was considered non-compliance and arrests ensued.

I realize that I am operating on a set of assumptions as I write this piece. My assumptions tell me that our government is moving towards a police state unless someone speaks up and stops it.  My assumptions tell me that there is fear of the other in this country against one’s documented status, race,  class, sexual orientation and gender identification, and religion.   Prove me wrong.

Set aside fear of the other and begin listening to one another, without judgement, without critique, just listen to the very real pain people have experienced here.  We all share that pain.  Set it aside to listen to someone else fully attending to them.  America, prove me wrong and rise up to your ideals of Liberty and Justice for all.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Thank you Dear Readers, I had no idea how far this blog has traveled this past year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on January 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  

School of America’s Watch Delegation

I will be posting my experiences of the School of America’s Delegation this week along the Militarized border of Arizona and Nogales.

A brief introduction:  School of America’s Watch is a non-profit organization whose goal is to close the School of Americas located at Fort Benning, GA.  The School of Americas trains military and police from Latin American countries which then have used the training against their own people.  You may remember the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980’s under Reagan where in exchange of weapons sold to Iran, hostages held in Iran would be freed and the money would allow US Intelligence Agencies to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  The Contras were trained by the School of Americas.

This trip by SOA Watch is to learn about the militarization that is happening at unprecedented rates at the border. The first few days will be with Borderlinks, an organization that grew up out of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s.  The Sanctuary Movement  provided shelter within congregations to refugees from Nicaragua and El Salvador where violence caused by the trained personell of the school of Americas.  To provide asylum to these refugees would have implicated the US in their participation in the violence in these countries.  In the years since,the passage of NAFTA displaced another 6 million people who lost their source of income.  Many of these individuals came north to seek employment.

Today’s schedule inccludes a discussion with Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanas, a grassroots organization that promotes respect for human and civil rights and fights the militarization of the border region in the American Southwest.  She is also the legal defender of Pima County, Arizona.  After Lunch we will meet with John Fife at Southside Presyterian Church.  He was convicted in 1986, along with others, of a felony for aiding the illegal entrance of migrants into the US.  We will also meet with Stephanie Quintana of the Southside Day Labor Center.

Tomorrow we will meet with Matt Lowen and Murphy Woodhouse about the criminalization of migration.  And in the afternoon, attend a hearing of Operation Streamline which began in 2008.  This is a zero tolerance program targeting illegal entrants apprehended along the Arizona border with Mexico.  They currrently process 70 -100 immigrants a day and with the passage of the current Immigration bill proposed in Congress will have their funding increased to process over 200 immigrants a day.  On Wednesday, our last day in Tucson we will go on a hike with No More Deaths.  A deverse coalition of individuals, faith communities, human rights advocates who provide humanitarian aid along the desert.

More to come…

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm  Comments Off on School of America’s Watch Delegation  
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“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,

Banned in Tuscaloosa

I am always amused when a group proclaims something does not meet community standards.  I immediately jump to ‘by whose standards’? And then begin pointing out all the places that equally do not meet those alleged standards already existing in the community that the  group has said nothing about.

Two conservative churches declared that a film, “Turn me on Dammit!” was not appropriate to be shown at the local arts film festival in Tuscaloosa, AL. In fact one pastor sent an email to the sponsoring business basically declaring an all out campaign against her business and the Tuscaloosa Arts Council if she continued sponsorship of this film.

They have not seen the movie, in fact, no one has as this was to be an advance screening of the film before it opened in Los Angeles.  If the promoters are wise they will add Banned in Alabama to their advertisement for the LA opening. It will offer yet another example of why we are the laughing stock in the union, but perhaps if enough people laugh at our narrow minded  attitudes  we Alabamians will finally get the message and grow out of our prepubescent thinking and begin reaching towards rational emotionally mature adulthood.

The director of the film, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen,  was saddened by the news that her film was banned and not even seen by those objecting, had they seen it they would have  seen “it actually has a Christian conservative message about waiting.”

So what does all of this mean?  Besides the obvious that narrow minded people are always threatened by people expressing opinions  that might be parallel to their opinions but just not expressed in the same way.

In a country that claims to have a wall of separation between church and state, such use of religious beliefs against freedom of expression is bullying. This form of religious  intimidation has become endemic in this country and is even more pronounced here in the south.

So what if the film is an honest portrayal about coming of age in the 21st century. So what if the film is honest in discussing sexuality. If these topics offend, then don’t see them.  Remain in the imaginary bubble where everyone is to remain chaste and pure until after marriage–between one man and one woman–but don’t force that bubble of naïveté on others. That is not a right given in the United States.  A right to state displeasure, sure. A right to write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, yes.  A right to protest, yes.  But to threaten someone’s welfare for showing a film which they have not even had the critical thinking skills to see first before judging? No.  Nor is it a right to demand the mayors of Tuscaloosa and Northport to apply funding withdrawal pressures on the  Bama Theatre and Tuscaloosa Arts Council if the movie was shown.  A film series by the way that was not funded through government funds.

It is ironic that this occurred on the day that Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, died.  He once said, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”   The same could be said for movies.

Modes of Communication in a Disaster

When the tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011 all sorts of communication lines became useless.  I needed to find a way in which to find out the welfare of my congregants, where they were, and what their immediate needs were.

Within minutes after the tornado ripped a one mile wide six mile long swath of destruction, I began trying to find out the status of the congregation.  What I discovered was that the congregation was terribly ill prepared for this kind of emergency.  We simply did not have the information on how to reach people to assess what was happening.

Internet was down so emailing was out. This meant that our Yahoo group or Google group that we use to send out a bulk email was not going to work.  Land lines were down so calling people’s homes was out.  Face book, Twitter were only options for folks who could access them on mobile phones but that required the ability to charge the phones. These relatively new forms of social networking became important to get information out to the community at large but only for those who had access to them. For those folks who had no available means to re-charge their phones, there was needed another way to get through. We found that only a few people in our congregation have a Twitter address. Therefore, texting became the mode of communication because it took less signal strength / less battery charge than logging on to the internet or in making mobile calls.  But even this method was not fool proof in getting vital information to and from people.  Texting was sometimes delayed by several hours.

We had families who had cell phones on different plans and this became important because some carriers were working better than others depending on what carriers cell towers were damaged or destroyed.  Who would have thought that any particular cell phone family plan offer would not be the best option in an emergency situation of this magnitude?

So I spent the first few days after the tornado literally going door to door trying to find people and assessing damage and immediate needs.  In many cases I had to park my car one to two miles away in order to walk into these neighborhoods that were obliterated. One of the homes was central in location to several of the others in our congregation and that became a place where messages could be left with people to be passed on to others.

What I learned from this experience is that our congregation needs to have a directory with all possible routes of communication available.  We need to have landline numbers, cell phone numbers of each family member; twitter, facebook, and email addresses.  We also need to have a complete listing of contact information of next of kin.

The church became the conduit for concerned family members in other parts of the country who were unable to reach their kin and vice versa. The Sunday after the tornado we had several laptops set up to access our wi-fi so that members who were unable to connect with family members could do so.  For many this was the first time they were able to post to Facebook or contact others beyond Tuscaloosa via email.

Now I know that multi-generational congregations like ours do not have all of their members on all of these social network tools.  And we have folks that for everyday non-crisis mode communications have preferences regarding how to communicate with them. Yet, when we need to connect with everyone for that emergency situation in the future; we will have to have on hand all of the possible ways to connect with folks. Even if the methods used are not the preferred methods.  When disaster strikes of such a magnitude such as it did on April 27th any and all communication links that work need to be accessed.  Blessings,

So you are heading to AL to help…

Hargrove looking towards Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa, AL

So you are heading to AL to help with the horrendous devastation that has occurred in our state in the April 27 2011 tornadoes.  I think that is wonderful that you thinking about doing this.  I think it is wonderful that you are in fact planning on doing so.  However, there are a few things you need to know before you load up your van and bring your youth group with you to descend on Alabama.

First, most municipalities and counties are requiring that you register with them before you are allowed to volunteer.  This is for your protection and to protect the victims of these tornadoes.   We need to know what skills you are bringing so we can place you where the need is greatest. And we also need to be able to tell you, thank you very much but your skills are not needed at this moment in time.  Perhaps later or perhaps you were too late in offering but we need to be able to tell you this before your arrival not after you are here.

I received a phone call from a rather frustrated minister from a progressive Christian church in the Midwest.  He wants to come down Memorial Day weekend with his teens and other able bodied folks and spend a week.  He was turned away by  Samaritan’s Purse because they required a doctrinal faith agreement statement for volunteers.  His is a liberal church and he has members who are gay who would not be allowed to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse.  Hey, it might be ethically wrong but it is their organization and their rules.

He was turned away by the Methodists for the same reason.  And he was told by the Disciples of Christ that they won’t be organizing their efforts until later in the summer when they expect their services will be needed.  This minister did not understand how we could be so unwilling to pitch in and help immediately. He gave me quite the lecture on what I was doing wrong in my ministry by not establishing a mission center to aid in the efforts.

He wanted me to house them at our congregation.  It might have been possible for us to do that but before I would answer that request, I asked what were they going to do?   His group was going to come in with chainsaws and remove trees from houses to enable electricity to be restored and get people back into their houses.  He stated he thought his congregation could get 50 houses to be able to reconnect to electricity and water within a week.  I told him based on the information I had, the houses that were livable were reconnected to power. He did not believe me.  When I told him the people who were displaced had no homes to go back to;  he became irate with me. How could I be so cold as to refuse to help people in need?   I wasn’t  being cold hearted.  The services he was providing was no longer of service to Tuscaloosa.  Every house that was livable has power  and water restored to it.

He did not want to register with the city to volunteer.  He did not want to call the American Red Cross to find out if other communities in Alabama could still use his congregation’s specific services.   I doubted this was a huge need as the last update I heard was that all homes that were livable had power restored to it in the state but since my attention has been on Tuscaloosa I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and have him call.

Second, we are busy trying to get the 13K displaced people in Tuscaloosa into temporary housing.  Some are currently staying in hotels, some are starting to receive FEMA trailers, and some are staying with friends and relatives, some are still in emergency shelters, and some are staying in churches.  So just where do you think you are going to be staying?

Have a plan in place before you come.  Finding a hotel available might be difficult.   And staying at a congregation that is also dealing with many of their members still reeling from the trauma of losing everything they own, might not be the best solution.  It places an additional burden on the congregation to not only care for their own members but now they have to care for you too.  Just be considerate in your ask and be willing to reduce the burden of hospitality.

Third, one of the things that I have learned in this crisis is that needs change very quickly.  What is needed today might not be needed tomorrow or even next week.

Remember, my minister friend who wanted to come down with chainsaws.  That sort of help was needed one, two, three, and four days AFTER the tornado.  Tarps were also once a big need.  But chainsaws and tarps are no longer the urgent need.   Then  suddenly the need that was on everyone’s radar was clothes, new underwear, diapers, formula, shelters for pets, those lost  and displaced and those who couldn’t stay with their owners, pet food.

Today the needs that are being posted and  I have included the links in case you are seriously interested  are the following:

Tuscaloosa City Schools needs large plastic bins, boxes, and crates with lids. Persons interested in making donations should contact the School Supply Center at 205-759-8300 or the Central Office at 205-759-3700. Monetary contributions may be made online or by calling the Central Office at 205-759-3700.

Temporary Emergency Services this morning was looking for 8-10 long-term volunteers to help us cook and distribute food to needy areas, based at our Northport location (5510 McFarland Blvd, in Northport). Do you like to cook? Do you want to help, and have some time to donate today, and over the next couple of weeks/months? Give us a call at 205 758-5535, or show up at our Northport location today. Thanks!

Temporary Emergency Services on 1705 15th Street Tuscaloosa, AL  is in desperate need of cleaning supplies.

Soma of Christ Church needs: toilet paper, paper towels, Diapers (NB, 4 6 sizes), Pull-Ups, 1st Aid Kits, new underwear, flashlights, batteries, non-electric can openers, canned meat, noodles, rice, crackers, canned corn / tomatoes / tomato sauce, oatmeal, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. 212 44th CT NE Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 Call: (205) 553-2877

Board of Education in Hackleburg: Currently they have a need for plastic totes to store things. They are assessing everything else and will let us know what needs are. So, if you want to help kids in Hackleburg…totes are needed.

These are the needs that are being posted today on the Facebook page Tuscaloosa Tornado Donations.   The two school districts had several schools that were destroyed in the tornadoes. Tomorrow this list will change and some new and urgent need will arise. Another Facebook page with community needs for Tuscaloosa is Rebuild Tuscaloosa.

We are not yet in the rebuilding mode yet. Debris from destroyed homes and businesses still need to be removed before new homes and businesses can be built.  This means that Habitat for Humanity and other home building charities are  not yet ready for volunteers to build new houses for families.  That need will come but not today and probably not next month either.  So if that is what your group wants to offer, wait.  Raise some money to cover your expenses.  Raise some money to donate to one of the many funds that have been established to help in rebuilding.

So again some simple advice before packing the van with supplies and volunteers please do the following:

1) Call the American Red Cross or United Way of Western Alabama and find out what the current needs are for volunteers in Alabama.  Perhaps what you are willing to offer is not yet needed or may never be needed.  This will help in your planning and save you the aggravation of showing up and feeling dumb for not asking first.

2) Register your volunteers in the community where you are headed.  This might be with the city or it might with a county.  We want you to be placed where the need is the greatest.  If you want to volunteer in Tuscaloosa here is an online form to register.  More information is located here.

3) Be considerate of your hosts.  If a congregation is willing to put you up in their building, don’t expect them to wait hand and foot to your needs.  They are already trying to help their members to cope in the loss and grief they are experiencing.

4) Don’t become belligerent with the people you are offering to help.  We may have lost our community but we still know our needs.  We are living with this daily.  You are the outsider looking in.  We do not need self-appointed saviors to swoop in and save us. We have capable leaders who are mapping out the steps of what needs to be done today and what can wait for tomorrow, or even next month.  Allow us to take the lead in this. This is our home.

Blessings,

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm  Comments Off on So you are heading to AL to help…  
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Where fools rush in…

Mississippi state legislature is rushing to pass SB 2179, a copy cat law of the controversial SB 1070 that went into effect in Arizona on July 29, 2010.  Rushing to pass legislation is a huge red flag that something is amiss in this proposed law.  Good legislation does not need to be rushed through.  Good legislation can take its time to bear up under the scrutiny of debate and democratic process.

It is only bad legislation that needs to be passed quickly in order to squelch the questions that are raised regarding it.  And this bill has all the earmarks of an unjust law that will cause unnecessary  heartache and economic disaster for Mississippi.   Lt. Governor Bryant has already stated publicly that he wants to “scare Latinos out of Mississippi.”  He has not minced words on how racist his opinion is about Latinos.   This law will indeed scare Latinos.   Latinos who are here legally will be negatively impacted by this law.

And for those who argue that if a person does not break the law,  they have nothing to worry about,  is in denial of Mississippi’s own racist treatment of African Americans in years past.  Law abiding African Americans also should have had nothing to fear in the mid-20th century but they were harassed and falsely arrested and accused at every turn.   Here the proposed law states if it is “reasonably believed”  that the person may have committed an act that would cause their deportation they can be arrested without warrant.  What might constitute reasonable belief?  Speaking Spanish?  Participating in day labor because unemployment rates are high and this is the only paying gig in town?

Arizona’s economy has suffered a serious blow after its passage of SB 1070 and not because of any boycott but that estimate alone is $141 million in just four months after the law passed.  Latino’s have left that state taking with them disposable income that supported apartment complexes, restaurants, mom & pop stores, and a host of other businesses have failed since they passed their racist law.   Arizona’s Latinos purchasing power in 2009 was $30.9 billion annually.  Latino owned businesses in Arizona had sales and receipts totally $4.3 Billion.

Mississippi cannot afford to turn away businesses in the state.  They need the revenue.  They cannot afford to close down businesses that are caught hiring undocumented citizens.  Imagine the devastating economic  impact if the Howard Industries ICE raid were to happen after the passage this bill.

Immigration is a complex issue.  There needs to be rational discussion on how to address it.  To rush in and pass this bill is to repeat the shameful behavior that Mississippi participated in the past.  This bill does not serve the good people of Mississippi well.  It needs to be defeated.

Throwing the First Stone

“Throwing the First Stone”

10 October 2010 ©  Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

There once was a young boy who dreaded going to school.  Oh he was bright enough.  And he liked the subjects well enough.  But he did not like getting on the school bus because even though there were plenty of seats, he had to fight to get one.  The bus driver would yell at him for not sitting down immediately, oblivious to the fact that the other students on the bus would refuse to let him sit.  And then when he arrived at school, he always had his books knocked out from under his arms. This was before back packs were allowed in school.  He was told he carried them like a girl.  When he tried to carry them in the more manly fashion at his hip, they would be knocked from his arms.  The books would scatter to the floor and then others would gleefully kick the books down the hall.   He would be late for class trying to retrieve them. The teachers would then send him to the principal for being late.  No amount of explaining what happened would make a difference.  It was his fault that he was late for class yet again.

Sometimes he would just be shoved in the hall way.  Once could be considered an accident, perhaps, but five or six shoves in a row by the other boys passing by was a deliberate act.  It was thought funny by the girls.   Sometimes the shoving and knocking the books to the floor were combined.  One would shove, another knock, and a few more would kick the books down the hall.

And there would be the threats of violence after school let out.  He somehow managed to slip through the crowd to avoid those encounters, even when he planned to hang out in town instead of catching the bus home.

He tried to man up.  He tried to be tough.  He tried to let the name calling and the physical affronts to his person roll off his back.  But he could not.  He knew crying would confirm in everyone’s mind that he was indeed what they called him; a faggot, a sissy, a homo, those were the names used then.  He didn’t want to live anymore, not like this.

One day after enduring what seemed like a continuous onslaught of bullying; he entered his next class and sat sideways at his desk.  He was numb.  His whole body just vibrated numbness.  His teacher asked him to turn around in his seat.  There was no response.  His teacher asked him again, and then, the tears began to fall.  The young boy just began sobbing full body sobs.

The teacher took him outside of the classroom and talked with him.  Found out what had been happening. The guidance counselor came and also listened to his story.  The guidance counselor gave a stern lecture to his classmates about their behaviors.  Told them in no uncertain terms that their treating of this young boy was wrong and they must stop this behavior or suffer the consequences of what could happen to this young boy which would be on their conscience forever.  They would be held responsible.

Life got better for this young boy after that.  Oh he still got the verbal taunts but it was nothing compared to the daily emotional and physical torment that he received that year.

The media has highlighted several suicides of young people this past month as a result of bullying.  Whether it was verbal taunts, physical assaults, or cyber-bullying, the results were the same, the ending of a young person’s life.  These young people were either gay or thought to be gay by their peers.  Their life was driven into the ground and their possibility and the hope for shining their light brightly in the world was snuffed out.

It is difficult to know how many teens commit suicide because of homophobia.  The once touted 3 in 10 deaths is now considered to be grossly overestimated and it is now thought that the deaths of sexual minorities is no greater than in any other demographic.  But this does not diminish the seriousness or the grief these families are suffering because of the loss of their children.

And the young people that we heard about in the news do not comprise every teen that committed suicide this past month or even this past week, only those we heard about.  According to a U.S. Suicide Statistics of 2001, a young adult between the ages 15-24 ends their life every 2 hours and 12 minutes.  So that means we only heard of a very few of the young people who died this past month at their own hands out of the roughly eleven young people who died every day.  The numbers add up quickly and these are only statistics on the completed suicides, not the incompleted attempts of suicide.   It is the third leading cause of death in this age group after accidents and homicides.  It is the 5th leading cause of death in children age 5-14.
Gay, Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) has been conducting an annual survey[1] of high school students since 1999 on bullying as it relates to sexual orientation.   Here are a few findings from 2009’s survey: 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students – outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

On October 1 2009, a new law went into effect in Alabama mandating all schools to have an anti-bullying policy.  It is basically a good law but there are few flaws. It is only aimed at student to student bullying and did not include harassment from authority figures such as teachers or coaches.   It defines bullying as an ongoing pattern by an individual and it requires the victim of the bullying or their parent to fill out a written form to report the bullying.  A onetime bullying event or an oral report is not sufficient to bring actions against the bully-er.  Yet, as we know in the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, a onetime event on the internet is all it might take.   The law did not specify any specific class for protection.  Focus on the Family attempted to make the case that Alabama’s anti-bully legislation would open the door for gay activists to seek special protections.

Our school district in Tuscaloosa already had a fairly comprehensive bullying policy in place which did include sexual orientation as part of its policy.  The law now reinforces their policy.  A recent news story states that Tuscaloosa is considering broadening their policy to jurisdictions beyond school property such as “when a student interferes with another student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the operations of a school or school-sponsored activity.[2] This would include cyberbullying through an electronic device such as the internet and sexting, the sending of explicit photographs and texts through a cell phone.

Tuscaloosa would become the first school system in Alabama to have a broad jurisdiction policy on bullying.  It is certainly a step in the right direction.  GLSEN affirms this action as being a positive step.  Their report confirms that  “Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.[3]

There are other positive actions that could be done to reduce bullying behavior as it relates to sexual orientation and gender expression.  GLSEN stated that schools with Gay-Straight alliances increased the positive experiences sexual minority students had and reduced the reports of negative experiences.  Having safe zones and supportive teachers “contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.[4]

There are currently no gay straight alliances in our public high schools.  University of Alabama has two student groups, Spectrum and OUTlaw, as well as a faculty/ staff group on campus. So where are students in high school to go where they will be accepted for who they are and not fear being bullied?  –Where they will be encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being and nurtured to allow that light to shine bright?

I will let those questions sit for a moment.  I want to shift our attention to why this is a concern for us today. What is it about bullying, and why is bullying sexual minority youth so important for us to examine and to end it?  The reason is not just because a few individuals commit suicide, albeit a very sound reason indeed.  There is something else at work in bullying sexual minority youth and suicides are just one of the consequences of this behavior.

Iris Marion Young in her essay Five Faces of Oppression looks at oppression not in the traditional format of a few people in power oppressing the masses as in tyrannical forms of government but as a form of systems that are in place to maintain dominant culture.  She describes oppression as being structural.  There are embedded in the dominant culture “unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules.[5]

So while the intent is good to pass anti-bullying legislation or passing laws protecting rights of sexual minorities for housing, employment, etc., the assumptions of what is normal behavior remains operative in the culture.  Those who affirm the dominant culture resent what they see as the deteriorating of their traditional values and norms with the passage of such laws.

While all of the five faces of oppression, Young describes also apply to homophobia and bullying on some level, there are two that I want to highlight specifically.  She describes what she calls Cultural Imperialism which is the universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture.  This becomes considered as the norm and therefore the norm for all of humanity. So in America, up until very recently, one did not see positive images of gays on television.  If gays were viewed on television or in the movies it was in negative, often stereotypical images.  It was the gay man dying of AIDS.  It was the flamboyant gay who everyone could laugh at. It was the manipulative and weak-spirited Mr. Smith on Lost in Space who preyed upon unsuspecting young Will Robinson and therefore had to be under constant surveillance. These images sent very strong messages of what gays deserved, of what manhood was, and the dangers to our children.  They each deserved what they got.

Young writes, “The dominant group reinforces its position by bringing the other groups under the measure of the dominant norms.[6] These groups become reconstructed as deviant and inferior and as the other. The stereotype becomes the known example of these other groups.  Those who do not fit that stereotype are rendered invisible.  Young writes, “Just as everyone knows that the earth goes around the sun, so everyone knows that gays are promiscuous…[7]

We see these assumptions in operation when Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church declares that “God hates Fags” or when the Family Research Council declares “… that homosexuality is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies.[8] Those who are members of the groups targeted even if they refuse these stereotype values and desire “recognition as human, capable of activity, full of hope and possibility;[9] they must react to the dominant culture’s perception of them as different, inferior, and immoral. The further they are from the stereotype the more invisible they become because the dominant culture only sees the stereotype and not the person before them. It is assumed that they meet the stereotype even when they do not. The dominant culture does not recognize that they have a perspective on the culture that is based on their status within the culture.  Simone Weil said, “Someone who does not see a pane of glass does not know that he does not see it. Someone who, being placed differently, does see it, does not know the other does not see it.[10]

The dominant culture does not see the pane of glass through which their world view is shaped and altered.  It then is up to those who are placed differently and do see the pain of glass to point it out and demand that it be recognized as such—a perspective and not a universal truth.

Cultural Imperialism feeds into another face of oppression which is systemic violence.  Groups which are oppressed live with the reality that they “must fear random, unprovoked acts on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person.[11]

Taken on its face, no one, not even Focus on the Family, which advocated not passing the Alabama anti-bullying bill, believes bullying behavior is good.  Their stance against the law was purely on the basis that it might condone or encourage sexual minorities to come further out of the closet.  Bullying then becomes one method to send a clear message to sexual minorities that they are not to be seen as a valued contributing member of the society. Those caught in bullying might only receive light punishment and to that extent the acts are acceptable behaviors. Bullying is therefore on some level viewed as an acceptable behavior in society because it serves the function of maintaining the dominant culture’s control.

The work that must be done to bring bullying to an end is on the cultural level.  It will take diligent and persistent messaging into the main culture stream to change what is considered boys simply being boys.  This is more than passing laws and school policies against bullying. In order to change the culture, positive interactions on the relational level with the perceived other must become the norm.  Our work for justice lies in the vigilant vanguard position of overt acceptance of different perspectives, different cultural norms across all avenues of being human.  This includes sexual orientation, gender expression, racial and ethnic, and class differences—all must be in our sights for radical acceptance in order to change the cultural norm of oppression.

To bring this back to the question asked earlier.  Where are students in highschool to go where they will be nurtured and encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being?   Our youth group which meets every Sunday is one place where gay teens are welcomed. Because there does not exist a gay straight alliance in schools, our youth group becomes one of the places where gay, and lesbian, transgender, bi, questioning, and intersexed teens are free to gather to ask the questions they need to ask and relax in who they are.

Many of the teens who attend the youth group are not from families from this congregation.  And so this youth group becomes our congregation’s calling card into the community.  We need to do all we can to support them in their journey.  We must listen to their experiences, honor their integrity, and show unconditional love for their dignity as people here with us.

A few weeks ago, our teens offered a worship service that was poignant and moving.  They could only have done that particular service if they knew that we loved them.  We do love them.  We must continue to love them and celebrate their lives here.  We can support them by standing up to bullying that we see in our schools and elsewhere.  We might not be able to change the nation but we can and we must do all that we can to change the culture where we live.

You might have surmised the identity of the young boy at the beginning of this sermon as my personal experience of seventh grade.  You would be right. I was very close to failing that grade level until a teacher and guidance counselor intervened.  That was all it took, two people who believed in me and acted on my behalf to turn that year around.   I still struggled with my gay identity.  I still faced random acts of taunting against me but things began to change that day.  And I found other people who also accepted me and valued me as I am and life got better.  I want to make sure that every gay teen who walks through our doors knows what I have come to know.  There are people who love them, and cherish them, and life will get better.

Not everyone in the world is looking to throw the first stone. Here is a place where stones are put aside for building bridges of hope and love.  Blessed Be.

Benediction:  In the Hebrew scriptures Leviticus states “you shall the love the alien as yourself, for you were once the alien in the land of Egypt.[12] The land of Egypt is anywhere we felt isolated and different from the dominant culture.  It is the place where we are the other, the outsider of the group, the one longing for acceptance.  We all know what that feels like; we have been there, therefore love the other as if he or she is not the other but rather us here in this setting.  Love the other as you would love yourself.  Go in peace.


[2] Jamon Smith Staff Writer “New plan to prevent bullying examined” Tuscaloosa News September 17 2010.

[5] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[6] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[7] IBID

[9] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[10] IBID

[11] IBID

[12] Leviticus 19:34

New blog started

I have begun a new blog which will be a bit of an experiment for me.  One of my dreams that I want to fulfill is to write fiction.  So this blog will be completely fictional including the author of the pieces, a character by the name of Avery Van Dien.   There will be short stories and hopefully a continuing storyline or two that will be developed as well as the story of Avery Van Dien as well.  It is my intention that this blog will be a form of spiritual practice for me.  And we will see where it takes me.   You may see this blog if interested at averyvandien.wordpress.com

I will continue to post here my 6-9 times a month on various issues affecting Unitarian Universalism.  Blessings,

Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm  Comments Off on New blog started