Sherry Warren, Director of Religious Exploration at Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence and Prairie Star District Youth and Young Adult Specialist, takes another opportunity to Stand on the Side of Love by wearing her yellow t-shirt at her family Thanksgiving gathering, attended by over 35 people from Kansas and Missouri.
How did you stand on the side of love this Thanksgiving weekend?More >
Thanksgiving has never been a holiday that profoundly resonates with me. I have long had issues with the traditional Thanksgiving narrative, which is steeped in ethnocentrism and historical falsities. I don’t watch football. I don’t even eat poultry. But there are a couple of things I deeply value about Thanksgiving.
I appreciate the sense of family and community that permeates the holiday. And I simply love any opportunity to truly pause and count my blessings. I have many great blessings in my life, and being a part of Standing on the Side of Love is one of the greatest.
At this time of reflection, I want to thank you for your amazing efforts to promote love over oppression. You are a blessing to the world. You are changing political discourse, inspiring your fellow activists, and assuring that those who face oppression are not standing alone.
There is a Jewish proverb that your work reminds me of: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
Indeed, when you see people being oppressed because of who they are, you do not accept it as a fact of life that cannot be changed. Rather, you look through your personal lens and wonder, what is my responsibility to speak out against this injustice? What difference can I make by allowing my voice to carry into the public square?
On this Thanksgiving, I feel so very thankful to be part of a community that views life from the side of love, a community that refuses to tire in our goal of making things better.
Remember, standing on the side of love isn’t just about responding to events, but about spreading our message. It is about having conversations with people, online and offline, in our network and outside of our network. When you show up at your Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family, or to volunteer, please consider wearing your Standing on the Side of Love shirt. When loved ones ask about your brilliant fashion choice, explain what this campaign means to you.
Friends – so many of you have contributed greatly to our society with your hard work and passion, taking our message of love out into the world. For this, I am so very thankful.
I wish you a mindful, joy-filled, loving Thanksgiving holiday,
Standing on the Side of Love
In 2005, Alanna Berger, along with several members of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, were recruited to help a local group called Silent Witnesses. Their job was to silently welcome the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the Central PA Pride Festival, holding signs of support – helping them ignore the dozens of protesters who showed up every year. But that day was the worst day of Alanna’s life. Although they were supposed to stand silently with their signs, Alanna watched as the protesters violated police directives and deliberately tried to start confrontations with festival goers. She could not stand idly by, and for five hours, she and her husband, Blaise Liffick, jumped the barricade time after time to break up arguments before they turned into physical altercations. They went home that day, hot, tired and exhausted.
They had been successful at preventing any fights, but the day took its toll – Alanna woke up night after night, sobbing as she relived that day in her nightmares. She – being straight – could not imagine what it must be like to be gay or lesbian and listen to that vitriol. She vowed it would not happen again, not in her town. So the following year, with friends from the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, the UU Congregation of York, the UU’s of Cumberland Valley and the UU’s of Gettysburg, Alanna and Blaise presented their idea. Instead of Silent Witnesses as counter protesters, the UU’s would be Silent Witness Peacekeepers. They would wear orange safety vests to clearly identify themselves, and carry giant rainbow umbrellas to shield festival participants from the protesters.
Following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Alanna and Blaise provided Silent Witness Peacekeepers with an intensive training program on how to respond non-violently to spiritual violence. That year, 26 Silent Witnesses led the first Central PA Pride Parade. Over 70 UU’s worked the event as peacekeepers. For the first time ever, there were no arrests at the Harrisburg Pride event. Harrisburg City Police insisted that the Silent Witness Peacekeepers HAD to come back the following year!
In January of 2007, Westboro Baptist Church announced their intention to protest York Suburban High School’s presentation of “The Laramie Project”. Local gays and lesbians wanted to support the students, but asked that Silent Witness Peacekeepers Alliance be there so they would feel safe. After that, Alanna received requests to be at other Pride festivals, plays, documentaries and public forums on GLBT issues.
Since their first event in 2006, Alanna and Blaise have trained Pennsylvania UU’s in Harrisburg, York, Carlisle, Gettysburg, Lancaster, Reading, State College, Bethlehem, and Wyoming Valley, as well as UU’s in Towson, MD and Charlotte, NC. They have trained students on Pennsylvania college campuses in Millersville, Shippensburg, and Kutztown as well as Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS, and they have offered consultations to students at high school and college campuses on the East Coast from New York to Georgia. They have trained over 1,000 individuals, and provided Peacekeepers for over 70 events.
Quantitatively, their goal of zero arrests continues to stand – no one has been arrested at any event where there are Silent Witness Peacekeepers. In fact, one of the anti-gay protesters recently changed his sign to focus on Unitarian Universalists instead of the ex-gay movement! But most importantly, the impact of their work shows in other numbers – in the increasing number of letters and emails from LGBT individuals who finally feel safe enough to come to a public event, and the decreasing number of protesters who show up at events when Silent Witness Peacekeepers are there.More >
Today is a day of mourning and remembrance for transgender people who have been killed by hate, cruelty, and ignorance. As we mark this day, let our grief resolve into action. Here are three simple things any of us can do to make our religious communities more hospitable and life-saving spaces for transgender people:
- Use language that includes all transgender people. This means going beyond gender binary language such as “brothers and sisters” and “his or hers” in order to create an affirming atmosphere for multiple gender identities. Here are some good alternatives to use instead of gender binary terms: “people of all genders and all gender expressions,” “our whole human family.” In hymns and songs, “brothers and sisters” can be replaced by “people together.” For example, “Come build a land where people together, united by God…” rather than, “Come build a land where sisters and brothers…” Know that re-inscribing the framework of only two genders is salt in the wound for some members of the transgender community; it continues the “only two genders” framework that puts people’s lives at risk. Learn to add the pronouns “ghe” and “gher” or “ze” and “hir” or “phe” and “per” to his and her – to acknowledge the there are are than two genders: “his/her/gher.”
- Educate yourself and others about transgender experiences. Our stories are available in films (“Call Me Malcolm,” “Beautiful Boxer,” and “Transamerica”) and books (“Becoming a Visible Man” by Jamison Green, “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finely Boylan, and “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation” by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman). For basic information on “Transgender 101” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender or http://www.fenwayhealth.org/site/DocServer/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has created transAction: A Transgender Curriculum for Churches and Religious Organizations available at http://www.welcomingresources.org.
- Advocate for the affirmation and advancement of transgender religious leaders. This is one of the best things we can do to enable our religious communities to become more welcoming and supportive environments for at-risk transgender people. Unfortunately, many religious traditions, including Unitarian Universalism, remain contexts in which transgender religious leaders struggle to find or keep employment and contend daily with unspoken and explicit prejudice. The people who know this best are transgender religious leaders themselves. It is important that progressive people of faith listen to their own fellow congregants and transgender ministers as we work together to make our own religious communities into affirming, inclusive and safe space. Supporting transgender religious leaders will enable our Unitarian Universalist movement to become a much more welcoming and supportive environment for at-risk transgender people.
For further resources and ideas: the Transgender Roundtable of the Center for Lesbians and Gays in Ministry and Religion (www.clgs.org ) brings transgender religious leaders and allies together. TRUUsT (www.TRUUsT.org) advocates specifically for Unitarian Universalist transgender religious professionals. We welcome your support.
Yours in struggle and hope,
Rev. Laurie J. Auffant, Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, Mr. Barb Greve, Rev. Paul Langston-Daley, Rev. Rebecca Parker, Rev. Josh Pawalek,
Steering Committee Members, TRUUsT.org
TRUUsT advocates for the gifts, safety, liberation, and leadership of transgender religious professionals in Unitarian Universalist ministries and institutions.