The students of Cypress Ranch High School in Cypress, Texas got together last month to film an original Lip Dub video speaking out against bullying in their community. The video begins with a young man standing up for a fellow student and then erupts into a song recorded by a Cypress Ranch student entitled “Who Do U Think U R?” The camera follows various students through the halls, passing pass classmates holding signs that read “Stop the Hate,” “I am proud to be me,” “Choir stands against bullying,” and others. In the video’s description, the Cy Ranch students declared, “we’d love this video to help make a difference and to enforce that we, the students, the teens, want bullying to stop!”
Moreover, the entire project was student-led. Every step of production, from writing and directing to filming and editing, was done by Cy Ranch students. What an amazing group of teenager. Thank you, Cypress Ranch High School, for standing on the side of love!
Check it out here:
This article originally appeared in the Interweave Continental newsletter. To learn more, visit: http://www.interweaveuu.org.
When I came out to my friends as transgender some years ago, one question that friends often asked me was “When did you know?” I wondered, “What had they missed?” It seemed pretty clear to me that I was always male and had been born into the wrong body. For friends and allies who had come to accept and even celebrate masculinity in the female body, some were confused as to how I could have been so active in the lesbian and gay civil rights movement for years and then “change” my identity to transgender. The simple answer was “I am still me. This is about my spirit. My body is the house of my spirit.” Some who were not involved or invested in queer community questioned me as if I had suddenly lost my mind.
A gay male friend told me, “You lesbians are always inventing something new!” Some long-time lesbian friends were not comfortable with the thought of me modifying my body so that the outer appearance was congruent with my inner feelings. For all the talk about freedom of expression and choice, apparently it was not applicable when it came to me and my choices.
Since my coming out as a queer teen had been tumultuous for me, I was not looking forward to more of this. It was time to deal with a dirty word: transphobia. Some might call it, Queer phobia, and it is alive and well in our cities and towns.
Intellectually, we all must be the stewards of our own development, mentally, physically and spiritually, but in the face of injustices such as lack of protection in the workplace, we have a communal obligation to work together for communal change and development. Right now, my friends, it is looking like a long road ahead. I began to think about what I personally could contribute to the larger society’s understanding of the journey that many are on.
The Unitarian Universalist’s in New England, had been so amazing to work with during the worst of the AIDS epidemic that I thought, “Surely we can take this on.” We could become more aware of the intersections between freedom of choice as it pertains to a woman’s basic right to choose and freedom of choice as it applies to the lives of LGBT people, without forgetting that final “T”.
Life choices or body modifications for a Trans-person may come under fire, even from allies in the struggle for equality. Push-back from within the queer community came as a shock to me. There is a perception that some individuals expressed to me that transgender individuals are “selling out” by “becoming straight”. Sexual identity is often confused with gender identity, which can prevent trans-people from receiving the understanding and full inclusion they deserve within our congregations.
So what can we do?
We can all participate in educating ourselves and each other on trans-issues and the differences between gender, sex and orientation. Talking to one another and listening deeply are always great places to begin when it comes to providing a hospitable environment. Having a trans-person speak in each congregation can go a long way towards valuing each person’s story and voice. Hearing sermons on trans-issues and people makes a statement about the importance of this to all of our spiritual lives. Having a trans person invited to speak at the pulpit beyond their identity as issue moves from merely educating and valuing a personal story to honoring the individual in their wholeness as an accepted part of that religious community.
We know from experience that there is power and healing in telling our own stories. Our congregations and in addition, our Interweave groups nationwide provide a safe haven for those who are seeking community. At this time in history, we need one another more than ever. We have many who are wondering where they can go to find compassionate community, even in seemingly liberal locations where the perception is that the population is well informed and open minded.
The trans journey is not easy, speaking from personal experience. There are challenges that no one could have convinced me of before I chose to start telling others how I identify. I have a conservative Christian family that mostly does not understand my choices. During the mid 90’s AIDS pandemic in Provincetown, MA, amidst a wave of death in our community, my church community became something of a chosen family. It was there that I began to see my potential as a gender variant person living in my own skin. It was there that I was called to community ministry and working with those who are historically or currently marginalized and in some cases, forgotten.
I recall my early work in AIDS ministry and a team of gay men who were my volunteers referring to me as one of the boys. This was a safe and welcoming environment for me, as no one cared about my gender identity: we were too busy dealing with life and death. AIDS ministry taught me to value every precious moment and not get caught up in the small stuff. Life is a gift.
We may assume that our trans congregants are doing OK because everything looks fine on the surface, but the world outside the walls of our congregations may not be very welcoming to us. Being a young trans person today almost guarantees that 75% of the peer population, may not be supportive. So when we ask you to listen or read or to help us educate, please hear this: your very action today may change a life. Right now, there is a Trans person in your community who is hungry for welcome. I am so inspired by how many of you are working on the front lines for equality; what a gift that is. Yet, I want you to know, especially if you are not normally someone who sees yourself as that interested or engaged in social justice, that inviting someone to coffee hour can be an act of profound welcome and justice. Making a place at the table for someone who may not have a community is grace in action.
We need one another on this journey. We need Interweave groups that provide a safe place to connect. We need our ministers to keep those who are marginalized in the justice conversations. We need to be courageous and speak the truth with love. We need to open our hearts as well as our wallets and make it possible for young trans people to attend our conferences and General Assembly. We need to reach out to the gender variant teenager with authenticity and care.
We need you to join us in the ministry of hope, as we turn our collective conscience to the work of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
With love & light,
North Texan Kimberlyn Crowe donned her Standing on the Side of Love shirt for an important interview with her local news about her role in knitting uterus replicas.
Yes, uterus replicas.
Crowe has joined a movement of people across the country who are holding uterus-knitting parties and sending their hand-knit replicas to elected officials.
The message: If we knit you a uterus of your own, will you stay out of ours?
Crowe says she wants lawmakers to laugh, and think. Along with others in her knitting circle, she will send the hand-made gifts to Gov. Rick Perry and other legislators that cast votes to cut funding for women’s healthcare and limit access to birth control. Gov. Perry’s will be delivered in person at a march later this month in Austen.
We are proud that Kimberlyn chose to wear her Standing on the Side of Love shirt as a backdrop to this important consciousness-raising effort!
Rev. Meg Riley, Sr. Minister at Church of the Larger Fellowship and one of the founders of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, is crossing borders in the unlikeliest of places: her dentist’s office. Facing an odious constitutional amendment on the Minnesota ballot this November that would ban marriage for same-gender couples, Rev. Meg is not remaining silent.
Change-makers rarely do!
Here’s a video Rev. Meg made about talking to her dental hygienist about the marriage amendment.
This is such a fantastic story of self, story of us, story of now. Pass the video on, or make your own!
As Terri Burnor said on Rev. Meg’s facebook page:
Love! I especially appreciate your reminder that convos with people who think differently can be made meaningful (and safe) when we go beyond labels and find commonality. It also makes me wonder if we shy away from reaching out to the “other” because we think we have to change their mind to make the convo “worth it.” How freeing to release that unrealistic goal and instead find ways to simply relate to each other.
MN Governor Mark Dayton recently told a crowd of LGBT and allied advocates that he had a dream that Minnesota would become the first state in the nation to reject a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-gender-loving couples.
May it be so.
Post by Taquiena Boston, Director, UUA Office of Multicultural Growth & Witness
Someone recently asked me my thoughts and feelings about the Trayvon Martin case. It was not an easy question to respond to. “Mostly, I feel like I need a soft place to land,” I answered first. Because, like many African Americans my age, a part of me just feels tired. When will it stop?
There is a song that comes to mind. Ella’s Song, by Sweet Honey in the Rock. They sing:
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
Like so many, I see loved ones in Travyon’s familiar face. Trayvon looks a lot like Marcus, the son of one of my cousins. I think about how in the wrong circumstances this could have been Marcus at 17 — another smart, pleasant, happy-go-lucky kid who dressed like his peer group. I’m imagining what it must be like for Trayvon’s parents. It’s hard enough to lose a child in such a senseless act of violence. But then, to know that the person who took your child’s life isn’t held accountable for his actions? It must feel to Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton like they have been told “your child’s life is nothing.”
I also think about my nephews. One just had a son. Is this the future we want for our children? When will the time stop when little boys who approach age 12 won’t have to have “that” talk: be careful how you behave, how you carry yourself, where you are seen. Why can’t you just move around in the world being who you are and not have to worry about someone hurting you because of the color of your skin, your age and your gender?
On top of all these thoughts, what I am struggling with most right now is how much young black men are criminalized in our society. The very things young men may be doing to protect themselves from aggression are the same things that make them targets. For instance, I know that as a teen you want to fit in. That’s just part of being that age. And one of the ways you fit in is by dressing like your peer group, because if you stand out, you can be taunted and ostracized. At the same time, wearing the kinds of clothes teens wear, influenced by the media and celebrities, actually makes these young men appear to some like thugs. Projected on them is this image that they are dangerous, when often all they are doing is being teenagers, dressing in ways that identify them with their own generation.
These have been times that I felt a need to be present in community, and particularly African American community. I need to find comfort and solidarity, and also just know what people are thinking and feeling. I have also sought comfort in my faith community. As a member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., it is a helpful to see that my congregation is rallying around this. They are raising this up as a tragedy, as a time to express solidarity, and a time to move beyond the symbolic.
Symbolism is important. Wearing the hoodie says, “Let’s stop judging these young men and stop projecting this image of danger on them.” But we must go deeper, and take a hard look at the emergence of so-called “stand your ground” laws in numerous states. I equate them with apartheid, with Jim Crow laws, and with vagrancy laws put in place during Reconstruction. With “stand your ground” laws in place, how far have we come really?
We must reflect on how stories evolve in the media. There is such a tendency to create heroes and villains, victims and victimizers. We started with a sweet, innocent photograph of a 17-year-old. Then we saw other images, out of context, that tried to offer a rationale for George Zimmerman’s actions. As a person of faith, I am praying for reactions that focus more on what Trayvon Martin’s death symbolizes than on villainizing George Zimmerman.
At times like this, I am thankful to be a Unitarian Universalist. The work I have done in UU community around racial justice has provided crucial context for understanding how we can still be in this place – and how the case of Trayvon Martin represents an element of racism very much alive in our society. This is a 21st century version of racism that has its roots in a long history of deciding who belongs and who doesn’t, whose life is valued and whose life does not—all based on identity.
When we are faced with a situation like this, those of us who identify as Unitarian Universalist may remember the importance we place on continuing to build the world we dream about. We can put into practice and action all of the anti-racism and anti-oppression work we have been doing. We can appreciate we have the Standing on the Side of Love campaign as a platform to publicly express solidarity; to amplify the voices of Trayvon Martin’s family and community, and other communities whose children are victimized and targeted in this way.
Let us continue to use this moment as an opportunity to talk in our congregations about what our role is as UU’s in shedding light on this kind of racism in our society. Let’s examine how youth of color in our congregations can fully know that their congregations aren’t only sympathetic to what they face in their lives daily, but also truly safe spaces of support and caring for them.
All of this is the work of our office—Multicultural Growth and Witness—as well as other offices at the UUA. To help congregations create the capacity to minister effectively, and to provide a container and tools for congregations and communities to reflect and act.
If you are interested in deepening your congregation’s multicultural journey, increasing your cultural competency, and engaging more deeply in anti-oppression and anti-racism work, the UUA has resources to help you do just that. Click here to learn more.
Director, UUA Office of Multicultural Growth & Witness