This is the time of year when many of us begin thinking about the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day in which groups across the world hold vigils to remember those that have been brutally murdered simply because of their gender identity.
This year, we honor yet more victims of the horrific violence that has gone largely unnoticed. On September 10th, Gaurav Gopalan was murdered in Washington D.C. Gaurav was 35. In August, Camila Guzman was murdered in New York at the young age of 25 and Marcal Caermo Tye was shot and dragged to death in Forrest City, Arkansas. These are just a few of the individuals whose lives were silenced this year by gender bias and gender hatred.
Last year, Unitarian Universalist Association President Rev. Peter Morales gave the following sobering statement:
“Anti-transgender violence is a stunning epidemic, embodying the darkest aspects of human nature. Perpetrators of such violence have succumbed to the moral plagues of fear, hatred, and cruelty, turning away from love and compassion. Sadly, the victims of their murderous rage are too often forgotten by society at large. They leave behind friends, family, and an entire community who also feel targeted.”
“Unitarian Universalists have long dreamed of a society in which our most valued qualities are those of character. Now we must do more than dream.
As long as anyone is harassed or ridiculed, we must demand an end to the bullying. As long as anyone is judged because of their gender identification or presentation, we must insist on a higher moral standard. And if, God forbid, anyone is ever again physically harmed or murdered because of his or her gender identity or expression, we must rise up and seek justice.
We must put our faith into action, not just on this day of remembrance, but every day.
In memory of those who have been murdered, to all who feel their loss, and to all who still struggle with oppression, you are not alone. We are with you, standing on the side of love.”
I’m reaching out to each congregation again this year to ask that you consider holding a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil. A vigil in your congregation and in your community can transform your faith into action and bring awareness to the senseless murders that continue to happen in our country as well as abroad.
There are many ways to have a vigil. Light a candle for each person and read their names aloud—it may be the only time they are recognized as murder victims. Put their names on a star or on a placard and lay down in a public die-in for 5 minutes to create awareness about the murders. Please join with local LGBT organizations or consider hosting the TDOR in your congregation.
This year’s names are once again being compiled at www.transgenderdor.org. There are also resources available through Standing on the Side of Love. Please feel free to contact Allison Woolbert at email@example.com if you desire help, information, speakers, or ideas for developing your TDOR Vigil.More >
Recently Wal-Mart has been trumpeting their transgender non-discrimination statement and I agree it is a lovely gesture; however, I fear this is nothing more than an “on paper” change. Wal-Mart has a well documented history of categorically discriminating against women, minorities, and people of non-heteronomative sexual orientations/identities. Wal-Mart takes great care to create a shield from liability by instituting corporate policy that forbids these actions and promise equal pay, equal opportunity for advancement, and equal voice. Instead they enforce discrimination by practice selectively promoting and giving undesirable shifts to those they do not want to see climb the corporate ladder. Most recently Wal-Mart has seen the triumph of these tactics when the courts ruled that a class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination could not proceed with one of the main cited reasons being that Wal-Mart has a corporate policy against gender discrimination.
This is part of Wal-Mart’s general tactic of playing to the progressive crowd. They have made large strides in public appearance by fabricating popular policies that have no teeth, by trumpeting their green policies, and by spreading charitable donations broadly to progressive non-profits. For Wal-Mart the cost of creating a feel-good policy that looks positive is almost nothing but the dividends of this false goodwill is massive. Wal-Mart is happy to claim that they are standing on the side of an inclusive, corporate environment but their behavior contradicts their words.
Wal-Mart cannot be trusted to police itself and any discussion about their practices should be met with a call to accountability. Wal-Mart has not changed. They still fire workers for talking about unions. They still discriminate against women and minorities. They still destroy ten jobs for every three they make. They still create and maintain sweatshops and they still pay huge sums into governments that murder and imprison transgendered persons. Wal-Mart has learned to talk the talk but they have not yet chosen to Stand on the Side of Love.
If Wal-Mart is going to change, we most hold them accountable to the policies they make and we must join with our community allies to do so. Please reach out to your local GBLT community and help them ensure that this policy becomes more than a paper-tiger. Wal-Mart can change but only if we make them.More >
Nicolas Cable is a Unitarian Universalist student at Chicago Theological Seminary pursuing a career in UU ministry. He has been actively involved in his church and district over the past several years, serving on several committees and work forces. Please follow him on Twitter or check out his blog to keep up with his writing and commitment to service, justice, and Unitarian Unviersalism.
The concept of a UUA Common Read should be viewed as a wonderful resource for Unitarian Universalists in this country. Our chosen faith tradition advocates an unequivocal commitment to our individual freedom in spiritual and ethical discernment in life. As we progress along our personal life journeys, it is intriguing to consider what a shared text could mean for our collective spiritual movement. I believe it can and will be a powerful experience for those who choose to participate in the Common Read because after we read it we can come together and share our thoughts and feelings about the book in relation to our unfolding lives and our progressive faith tradition.
This year’s Common Read is Eboo Patel’s book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Eboo Patel is a young man who is the President and Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, one of the most successful interfaith organizations in the country dedicated to training young leaders to help foster interfaith cooperation. I have worked with Patel and the IFYC, and what is more powerful than the work they do today is the amazing journey the visionary took to arrive where he leads today.
Patel’s book is an embodiment of the universal struggle we face of coming of age, reconciling our diverse understandings of identity, and living a life of union between our beliefs and our actions. Dr. Patel shares his story of not fitting in growing up, his self-hatred of his “otherness”, and reconnection to his origins of faith, culture, and family. The issues raised in this book are not just relevant to the teenager or young adult. While they are a large target audience for the book, people of all ages can understand our common longing for understanding and learning to love our diverse identities. Unitarian Universalism promotes a freedom and responsibility in our search for truth and meaning, which includes self-understanding and locating one’s “place” in the web of life.
Acts of Faith, however, is not just about coming of age as a minority in a diverse country. Patel also seeks to find a way to leverage the diversity of religious and culture demographics to be a means of social cohesion and change. He longs, as many Unitarian Universalists do, for a world where we can view religious and spiritual traditions as a part of the solution rather than the problem. Countless people, especially young people, are eager to respond to the pressing concerns facing our world. Patel believes, as I do, that if we can come together, uniting around our shared beliefs in service, stewardship, hospitality, and peace, we can truly make a powerful impact in the world. The fact is that we do this everyday in the workplace, the PTA, our neighborhood organizations, etc.
But, it is time for greater intentionality in the social justice work we do in society. We must ask: In the midst of rapid social change and globalization, how can we live our Unitarian Universalist call for greater justice and peace in the world most effectively and extensively? Sharing stories is a powerful way of processing life’s greatest mysteries. My hope is that Acts of Faith invites all of us to enter into a time of reflection and introspection, as individuals and as a religious movement, in order that we might stand ever more squarely on the side of love, united in diversity and driven by our shared acts of faith.More >
Gail Forsyth-Vail is the Adult Programs Director in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Ministries and Faith Development.
In recognition of the many ways in which Unitarian Universalists are called to carry their faith into the world, including standing on the side of love with immigrant families and GLBT people and families, Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel (Beacon Press, 2008), has been chosen as this year’s UUA Common Read. Congregations and individuals are invited to read the book, and then to gather to share reflections and personal stories and to consider how to apply wisdom from the book in their congregations and social justice and service work.The discussion guide, which is free online, offer materials for a single 90 minute session or for three 90 minute sessions, each expandable to two hours, and is suitable for adult groups, campus groups, youth groups, and mixed generation groups.
“..The twenty-first century,” writes Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) founder Eboo Patel, “will be shaped by the question of the faith line. On one side of the faith line are religious totalitarians…On the other side of the faith line are the religious pluralists, who hold that people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together…It is the belief that that common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its unique contribution.” In his memoir, Patel shares his faith journey as an American Muslim and frankly discusses the appeal of religious fundamentalism to young people, observing that young people’s spiritual hunger entwines with their desire to make a mark on the world. Patel challenges those who believe in religious pluralism to support young people, providing what is needed to help them ground themselves in a faith that both fuels their deepest passions and feeds their cooperation across faiths to make the world a better place.
Although Patel’s work specifically addresses the often untapped strength of young people, his work and his writing offer something much broader. His work challenges Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals to ground their justice-making and service work not just in ideas about public policy or politics, but in deeply rooted spiritual values and beliefs. It is only in joining action to spiritual reflection and celebration that we are able to sustain justice making work for the long haul.
Join in reading, discussing, reflecting, and acting. Organize a discussion group in your congregation, district, campus group, or on-line community. Gather with other religious pluralists in faith-based justice making and service, bringing more love into our world!More >
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Friday, October 7, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
“I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I pleased.” -The log of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to America in 1492
“Merely being part of the United States, without regard to our own acts and ideas, does not make us moral or immoral beings. History is more complicated than that.” -James W. Loewen
For many reasons, I love Dane County, Wisconsin, home to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Some people reduce Dane County to just a bastion of liberals. Well, those liberals in Dane County replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day a while back. But so has South Dakota, which honors “Native American Day.” Several California cities, and my employer, the Unitarian Universalist Association, honor Indigenous Peoples Day as well.
Many people think this is political correctness gone too far, or oversensitivity. I’m not even curious what Fox News might say about it. To all the naysayers, I say, as lovingly as possible: I couldn’t disagree more.
Honoring Christopher Columbus is just another symptom of our country’s fundamental denial. It means lifting up a man who sent the first slaves across the Atlantic. More slaves-about five thousand-than any other individual, according to historian after historian. It means honoring a man who kidnapped indigenous Americans to take back with him to Spain, with several dying along the way. It means holding up as an example a man who demanded food, gold, and spun cotton from indigenous Americans, and used punishments like cutting off their ears and noses and hands to make sure the goods were received. It means celebrating someone who instituted policies of rewarding his lieutenants with indigenous women to rape. As educator and historian James W. Loewen writes in his book “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, “All of these gruesome facts are available in primary source material-letters by Columbus and by other members of his expeditions, and in the work of Las Casas, the first great historian of the Americas, who relied on primary materials and helped preserve them.”
I’m not saying we can’t be glad that we live in the United States of America. I know I often am, especially after some time in a state or national park, or while reading about curbed freedoms of speech or assembly in other countries, or while realizing that I have access to hot, clean water every day. But honoring Christopher Columbus-though he was skilled as an explorer-as some sort of national hero just makes me sad.
Each time we hallow Christopher Columbus over indigenous people, or Rick Santorum over a gay soldier in Afghanistan, or Sherriff Joe Arpaio over a migrant, I believe our moral amnesia is flaring up.
For many of us, commemorating Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day is one way to show that we understand the symptoms of the lies that have been embedded in our country’s collective consciousness. Let’s face it. We live in a country where children grew up playing ‘cowboys and Indians.’ Saying our country is in denial about our own story-our roots, our history-doesn’t make us unpatriotic, ungrateful, or unaware of the staggering beauty of our land, our freedoms, and of so many people in our nation, including people who may not agree with us a lot of the time. But we can’t authentically move forward if we don’t truly know the ground we are on, and where we have been. Honoring Indigenous People’s Day is one important way to do that.
On this Indigenous Peoples Day, people are taking to the streets, hungry for a change that is sweeping the world, chanting for a country where those in power govern with love and justice, and heed the moral imperative to serve the needs of humanity over the needs of consolidating wealth or power.
The United States is full of countless children who go to bed hungry every night, overwhelming environmental degradation costing us our health, and a colossal disparity between the very few uberwealthy and the millions of everyone else. Our deeply ailing nation is full of people who think that constitutional rights should be abrogated in favor of their God-beliefs over others’ God-beliefs, or non-God beliefs. It is full of individuals who have convinced themselves that undocumented people-the poorest, most hard-working people in our country-are somehow taking something away from them, and that if immigrants end up being abused in border detention, it’s their own fault.
I believe those of you who are taking part in Occupy Wall Street protests across the country are trying to deliver these messages through inspired love. And I thank you.
This evening, I begin a 24-hour period of Yom Kippur fasting, contemplation, and prayer. I’m overwhelmed by the need for change-from deep within to that which connects us all to one another, and to all.
Wherever we are this long, Indigenous Peoples Weekend, let us think. Let us pray, however we may choose. Let us speak. Rally. Commit. Act.
And, above all else, let us love.
Standing on the Side of Love
P.S. Here are ten ways to transform Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day.More >