People across the country are profoundly saddened, and called to action, in response to the stories of bullying, suicide, violence, and anti-gay rhetoric. Members of the SSL community are speaking out for LGBT equality and an end to bullying and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Below are a few inspiring actions from the past week.
Want to see your local community’s actions featured? Email email@example.com!
ALABAMANS RALLY IN SUPPORT OF GLBTQ YOUTH
Members of the UU Fellowship of Montgomery gathered Oct. 10th on the state capitol’s steps with dozens of members, friends, and allies of the GLBTQ community to remember Tyler Clementi and other victims of bullying. The event was one of three interfaith vigils in Alabama sponsored by the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition.
UUFM minister Rev. Paul Britner told the vigil participants that state law still requires schools to teach that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle.
“Laws like those in Alabama give political cover to the bullies,” he said, urging the crowd to remember which candidates in the upcoming elections stand for hate and which ones stand for love.
SSL’ERS SPEAK OUT ON THE SIDE OF LOVE
Ann Mullen, a member of the Adirondack UU Community, wrote in the Daily Enterprise:
“It is clear that the safety of our children is the job of our entire community, that the whole community needs to teach and model love, that we all need to encourage our children to value difference; at the same time we seek the sameness in all. Our children look to us for guidance, and we can’t let them down.”
Rev. Debra W. Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Executive director of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization dedicated to sexual health, wrote “An open letter to religious leaders on gay youth suicides: It’s time to act out loud,” in the Washington Post. She asked faith leaders to offer sermons on LGBT equality, saying:
“Our young people are dying because we are not speaking out for them. Ask yourself honestly, do the LGBT youth in your community know that you welcome and support them? How would they know? Would they come to you as their minister, rabbi, or imam to talk about these issues? Would a LGBT youth feel welcome in your faith community’s youth group? What have you done to make sure that these youth know they are loved and supported, that you understand that they too are God’s children?”
Anthony Culver, of Cordova, TN, wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
“Being gay is not a sin. And religious leaders who cling to this belief must be challenged to agree that publicly breaking down the spirit of vulnerable young people — setting the table for their despair, isolation and demise — is a perversion of God’s love.”
Rev. Julie Stoneberg, Minister to the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough, Ontario, wrote in the Petersborough Examiner:
“My Unitarian Universalist faith teaches me that all people have inherent worth and dignity. I am called to stand up against exclusion and violence, and to speak for those who are young and vulnerable, and who feel alone. I invite all the people of Peterborough and the Kawarthas to join me in this effort.”
Carla Wood of Brewster, MA wrote in her her local paper, the Cape Cod Times:
“Tyler Clementi’s suicide in New York is but the latest of many tragedies resulting from the anti-gay rhetoric, bullying, shaming, emotional and spiritual violence experienced by those deemed “different.” Our elected leaders must act now to promote and defend the dignity and worth of all people.”
Rev. Robin Tanner, Minister of the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, in Charlotte, NC, wrote on her blog, Piedmont Preacher:
“Religious persons who would condemn love in any form have lost the essence of faith. From 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ”1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Without love, we gain nothing. Without love, sermons and prayers fail. Without love, we’ve lost religion.”
PAYING TRIBUTE WITH VIDEO
The First Unitarian Church of Oakland’s Interweave Chapter took the time to make a heartfelt video for the “It Gets Better” You Tube Channel.
OGDEN, UTAH RESPONDS TO ANTI-GAY LDS RHETORIC
The UU Church of Ogden, Utah organized a march over the weekend, in conjunction with the Mountain Desert District UUA district conference, to offer messages of love to young people who may have been damaged by disturbing anti-gay remarks by LDS Church leadership.
The Standard Examiner Newspaper reported: “Among the hymns the crowd sang was a song originally dedicated to Matthew Shepherd, a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1997, and reworked to include the names of other young people who have been killed or who have committed suicide because of their sexual orientation.”
Said Rev. Theresa Novak, at the rally: “Our young people in particular need to know that they are worthy of love, care, dignity and respect, no matter who they are or who they love.”
Rev. Novak sent a message to those participating about how to approach criticism of LDS church rhetoric. “This is not a march in opposition to the LDS faith,” she said. “I have a great deal of admiration for many of my LDS friends and neighbors. I also believe in ongoing revelation. Apostle Packer was not speaking for God in his message, but was speaking instead from his own ignorance and prejudice. Many devout followers of the LDS faith were deeply hurt, disappointed, and disturbed by his remarks. We have a song in our hymnal that contains the words, ‘Reflections of Grace in Every Embrace.’ I love those words and I know they are true. I also have faith that the leaders of the LDS church will know that truth someday as well.”
SHOWING THE LOVE IN ORLANDO
The First Unitarian Church of Orlando was standing on the side of love on October 10, during the annual Pride Parade. Sixty-five members of The First Unitarian Church of Orlando participated.
Said Lay Leader Martha Harnitt, “This year, the end of the 33-year adoption ban for GLBT people in Florida meant that our Pride Parade in Orlando was particularly joyful this year!”
REMEMBERING IN PORTLAND, MAINE
“I was moved to bring these roses as a visible symbol of the beauty and tragedy of these young lives lost,” said Reverend Mykel Johnson. “Our theme Sunday…”The Power of Love.”
The actions continue, with vigils and marches still underway and in the planning stages across the country.
Looking for a simple action you can take today? Write a Letter to the Editor to your local paper. Click here for more information.More >
by Allison Woolbert
Lying in a hospital bed three days after major surgery, I read the news of a horrific murder in Maplewood, NJ. A transgender woman, Victoria White, was brutally murdered in her apartment on September 12th, 2010. The silence in my ears was deafening, and the tragedy of yet another life lost was heart-wrenching. It was all the more painful for me, as I had just completed gender reassignment surgery and was struggling to get back on my feet after such a painful surgery. Victoria had gone through the same surgery a few years prior to mine to proclaim her true gender.
At first, there was significant confusion brought about by a callous police department. They announced her death by citing her as a male, using her birth name – a name she was no longer known by. Victoria had legally changed her name years before, and after gender reassignment surgery had also legally changed her gender. Yet the police chose to deny Victoria White the respect she deserved by not recognizing her as a woman, or by her chosen, legal name. The next day, the police corrected themselves, calling her Victoria, and saying they would investigate this blunder.
For the next few days, I hoped that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community would rise up and call for immediately action in finding Victoria’s murderer and that Victoria be given the dignity of her name and gender. I hoped that the media and the community would reflect on the pain and suffering it took Victoria to come out as her true self. I looked for the community to have vigils and spread the news of the murder.
Day after day, the papers were silent. Day after day, the LGB community was silent. Day after day, the discussion on the news blogs was a question about her “true” gender. Yet the most important question of all was not raised – Who murdered Victoria White and what was law enforcement doing to find her murderer? Today, the investigation is ongoing, the public and most of the LGBT community is silent. There are no cries to find her murderer. There are few voices advocating for Victoria. There is simply a deafening whisper from our community.
On September 22nd, ten days after the murder of Victoria, Tyler Clementi had his privacy invaded, and his sexual orientation blasted throughout the web. It was a horrible act of bullying and Tyler could take no more of it. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge and was found dead two days later. The press exploded, and the LGBT community overwhelmingly took to the streets. Equality groups immediately called for investigations and enhanced penalties, bloggers across the country picked up the story, and a national firestorm erupted to discuss the roots of school bulling. Vigils and town hall meetings were held. The death of Tyler Clementi was on the national news every day, and a national call to end bullying resounded on every major news network.
There was a drastic difference in how the LGBT community responded to the deaths of two people. A drastic difference in how the community looked at two very different people and concluded one was more highly valued than the other. Let me share some of the differences with you. Tyler was young, gay, and white, and a promising musician who was attending a New Jersey state college. Victoria was young, transgender, and black, and a promising model who lived in a struggling neighborhood. It’s that simple. Gay, white college student. Black struggling transgender woman. My question is, given such horribly injustice and loss of so many in the LGBT community, why isn’t Victoria’s murder given the same outcry as Tyler? Is she less worthy of justice? Does our community have a racism issue? Is our community transphobic? Has our community missed the realities of oppression and the need for equality for all individuals? It certainly begs the question of why the reaction from our community was barely a whisper for Victoria, and Tyler became the rally point.
In all fairness, I do have to say that Garden State Equality in NJ consistently has raised Victoria and transgender bullying up in their town hall meetings the past few weeks. Not one of the media outlets published a single line about the transgender violence that is happening daily in our communities despite real stories of transgender individuals who were murdered and bullied. Censoring of transgender violence is a major dilemma to get the word out about our lives when national media refuses to allow our deaths to be known. It has been up to the LGBT community to insure that we remember transgender deaths and suicides and bring attention to the horrors that happen within our community.
For several years now, I have observed that when a young gay man is murdered or commits suicide, the LGBT community rallies around that individual to seek justice. But every year, as transgender individuals are murdered and dismembered, our same community remains silent. It’s a sad commentary, but it is a long-standing pattern. The message from the vast majority of the queer community is that the lives of transgender individuals are worth less, and that nobody cares.
Every year, around November 20th, the transgender and allied community observes Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a ceremony to honor and bring voice to transgender women and men that have been murdered based solely on their gender identity and expression. Last year, more than 150 transgender individuals were murdered. It is the largest number ever reported. At a memorial service in Princeton, NJ, my expectations were that a few hundred people would come out to honor our dead, to remember them, and to seek justice for their murders. I was wrong. Fewer than 50 people attended the vigil. In stark contrast, a few weeks later, thousands of individuals turned out for a Marriage Equality rally in Trenton. I sat in the room as thousands spoke of their desire for equality and hope. I saw clergy, teachers, activist groups and community leaders stand proudly to confront a cowardly legislature for denying marriage equality. And yet, where were the thousands of voices for Victoria? Where were the clergy seeking justice for those transgender people who were murdered?
The hollow silence rings in my ears to this day.
There is something you can do. This year, I hope you will join me in having a Transgender Day of Remembrance Ceremony in your community and congregation. Use your voice to come out and say that murder of anyone is unacceptable, and that all life has value. I am sure you agree that Victoria White was just important as Tyler Clementi, and that law enforcement must aggressively pursue the murderers of transgender people. It’s your voice that can make the difference. Will you remain silent?
If you would like to know how to organize a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil or need assistance or guidance in the planning your event, please contact me directly by emailing Allison Woolbert at firstname.lastname@example.org .
As a Gender and Transgender Advocate Allison Woolbert shares her experiences and knowledge about living in today’s society as a gender affirmed woman, bringing clarity to the many facets of gender that has been portrayed as a binary societal construct. She is the parent of five children, CEO of Phoenix Consultants Group, Inc, a software systems development firm, and co-founder of the Rainbow Gatherings at Murray Grove & the Interweave chapter of South Jersey. She served as Transgender Advocate for the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office in 2009, and is an event organizer/coordinator for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Allison can be reached at email@example.com
More News on Allison:
UU World – Fall 2010– “Allison Woolbert… is one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s most vocal advocates for passage of a bill guaranteeing the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the workplace”More >
I burst into tears Sunday while reading the New York Times. I had spent the previous few days celebrating my father’s 70th birthday with family, in a cocoon from the chain of depressing current events. Sunday, though, I forced myself to read the devastating news from the Bronx. City officials described it as the worst anti-gay attack in recent memory:
The authorities say nine young men who called themselves the Latin King Goonies lured the gay man to the building with the promise of a party and tortured him and the two 17-year-olds they suspected of having sex with him, subjecting them to beatings that went on for hours, gruesome sexual attacks with a small baseball bat and the wooden handle of a toilet plunger, and cigarette burns on the genitals of the older man.
Unimaginable. What more can can be said? It is simply unimaginable. And yet, unless we are those who choose to ignore it, we have no choice but to imagine it, and to make sense of it.
As news of this sickening anti-gay violence spread, so too did the anti-gay remarks uttered by the Republican candidate for Governor — Carl Paladino, a member of the Tea Party. Sunday, Paladino told a fringe group of far-right Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn that he doesn’t want children “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality” is an acceptable lifestyle. The next day, Paladino chose to pour lemon juice in the wound, going on talk shows to defend the bile that spewed from his mouth, and offering more offensive proclamations, oblivious to what his insensitivity means given the rash of suicide deaths that continue to rock the LGBT community.
Yes. They continue. The suicide deaths continue.
Metro Weekly, an LGBT publication, just reported on a vigil held at Howard University for a former student, Aiyisha Hassan, 19, who killed herself last week at her home in California:
Lauren Morris, 21, a senior at Howard, who lived in the same building as Hassan from 2008-2009, said she introduced Hassan to [the LGBT student group at Howard]. Morris added that friends have reported Hassan’s suicide was related to her struggles with her sexuality. ”She was having a lot of trouble with a lot of different things,” Morris says, ”but mainly her sexual identity and just trying to express that.”
Sterling Washington, co-founder of Howard’s LGBT group and its former president, told Metro Weekly:
What happens in a large group trickles down to the junior members… so in this case it’s members of society so it affects youth in general. Those straight-identified youth who already had a proclivity, who already had from their parents, their socialization, this idea that gays are less than, it sort of gives them permission and facilities this whole bullying thing so that those that are most vulnerable to it sometimes see suicide as an out.
I, like you, am afraid of the next headline. Will it be a violent attack, a murder, a suicide?
Today, this is what I know:
There is a time to cocoon ourselves from the news,
a time to digest the news,
and a time to sit with our fear, sadness, anger, and tears.
There is a time to focus inward,
and a time to act for the change we want to see,
to shout from the public square, and bear witness with candles and songs and words and prayer.
Today, I write this blog post as an offering for new, meaningful ways to make it better.
The Standing on the Side of Love campaign welcomes your ideas. What can our unique, values-driven campaign do as a community to address the plague of transphobia and homophobia? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.
Standing on the side of love is not easy. But if we stand in community, in partnership, then we can buoy each other when the news crushes our spirits, and link arms so that each voice is a booming chorus.
Standing on the Side of Love
SSL wishes all LGBT people, our friends, and our families a meaningful National Coming Out Day. Today we celebrate life, and reinforce our commitment to change. Enjoy this musical tribute from New York City’s Youth Pride Chorus, which activates the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight youth ages 13-22 in the movement for change.
New York City’s Youth Pride Chorus is proof that it really does get better. YPC performs “Ooh Child.”More >
We pray for an end to the suffering, to the suicides, to the murder. We remember with love. And we bear witness. View this powerful video footage of Friday’s “Homophobia Kills Die-in” flash mob at Grand Central Station during rush hour.
The Incredible success of the Homophobia Kills Die-In FlashMob in Grand Central, NYC.More >