The election is behind us, but I’m still smiling when I think of all of the ways love won out at the polls. I’m thrilled that in just a few weeks, same-sex couples will finally begin marrying in my home state of Maryland, and a bill offering in-state tuition for young DREAMers—affirmed by a popular vote—will become law. I’m also really excited by another development that has emerged since November 6th: commitments by both Democrats and Republicans to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. Within our grasp is the promise of a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals in the United States who currently live in the shadows. This is a tremendous opportunity!
The wheels in my brain are turning as I think about all the ways I might work with local congregations and community leaders to push Congress to make lasting, humane immigration reform a reality. Fatefully, National Standing on the Side of Love Month, our Thirty Days of Love, will begin just as Congress reconvenes in January. Our Thirty Days is a spiritual journey for social justice, and the ideal time for us to lift up our voices together for a law that focuses on real people, and on keeping families together.
Please start thinking now about how you can work with your congregation, local advocacy organizations, and migrant rights groups during the Thirty Days of Love, January 19-February 17, to make a difference.
The Fund for UU Social Responsibility makes funds available as matching grants of $500-$1,500 to UU congregations participating in the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. These grants are an ideal way to augment your social justice efforts during the Thirty Days of Love, whether your focus is marriage equality, anti-discrimination laws, or migrant rights. One year, our UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland received a grant that enabled us to make a video showcasing the breadth of religious support for marriage equality, and deliver the video to every legislator in the state. Another year, the grant supported a prayer breakfast for LGBTQ equality right near the State House, with legislators and press invited to participate.
As the New Year approaches, I make commitments to dedicate and rededicate myself to building the beloved community. I ask myself what more I can do for the underprivileged, marginalized, and oppressed. I love that shortly after the New Year we have a dedicated period called Thirty Days of Love where we actively strive to make the world a better place by centering ourselves, connecting with others, examining where we have been and would like to go, and engaging in sharing the love that speaks to our core values.
Please join me in making commitments now for Thirty Days of Love, January 19-February 17.Learn more about Standing on the Side of Love Matching Grants and make a plan to apply for one today. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. John Crestwell
The message above went out on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
Violence and discrimination against transgender people is in the news again after a video went viral of two females attacking another female — a transgender woman — allegedly because she used a women’s restroom at a McDonald’s in Baltimore County, Md.
“They started ripping my hair, throwing me on the floor, kicking me in my face,” Chrissy Lee Polis told the Baltimore Sun.
The attack is alarming and brutal. A recording by a McDonald’s employee who shoots the occurrence on his or her phone but does not help also seems to pick up laughter. None of the other employees intervene, and one warns the attackers to flee when the police are arriving. Only one customer comes to Chrissy Lee Polis’ aid.
At least one employee was fired, and the two attackers, one who is only 14-years-old, have been arrested.
The story has made national news, with media like Good Morning America and Ms. Magazine taking notice.
Chrissy Lee Polis is joined by advocacy groups in calling the attack a hate crime motivated by anti-transgender animus. Maryland has a hate crimes statute inclusive of gender identity that allows prosecutors to pursue these charges.
But the attack follows the failure just weeks ago by LGBT and allied advocates to get the Maryland General Assembly to pass the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act. The measure passed the House of Delegates, but was turned back by the State Senate without an up our down vote. The bill as written would have banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, housing and credit. A provision to ban discrimination in public accommodations (which would cover restaurants) was removed by the bill’s sponsor, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who cited difficulty in passing the inclusive legislation because of legislators’ fear of addressing the issue of bathrooms at public accommodations.
Assault victim Chrissy Lee Polis is recovering.
The legislation advanced farther this year without public accommodations than it had in the past years it was introduced, but in the end, anti-transgender organizations — some designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center — still used baseless arguments about bathrooms. The piece-meal approach divided Maryland’s LGBT community, with a few transgender individuals and allies faulting the strategy and actively working against passage of a partial anti-discrimination bill in favor of one inclusive of public accommodations.
During the legislative session, Maryland Senate President Mike Miller made horrifying comments to the press about the legislation, calling it “anti-family.” SSL Campaign Manager Dan Furmansky, who has lobbied extensively in Annapolis on LGBT issues as former executive director of Equality Maryland, and who spent a month in Annapolis during the legislative session on behalf of the UUA, publicly criticized Maryland Senate leadership for killing the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act in an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Blade last week.
The UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland actively worked to pass the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination measure, with clergy testifying in Annapolis and congregations gathering an impressive number of constituent communications to legislators in favor of the measure. The UUA’s LGBT Witness Ministries Coordinator, Delfin Bautista, also testified for its passage before a House committee.
“Maryland legislators need to display maturity — maturity that should be required of public office-holders — and debate the issue of protecting transgender individuals from discrimination, including discrimination in public accommodations and bathrooms,” Furmansky said.
Vicky Thoms stepped in to stop the assault
The silver lining has been the outpouring of support and solidarity from people across the country with the individual who was targeted simply because of her identity, and because of her bravery to live her life authentically. The support is standing on the side of love in action. Several hundred Marylanders held a vigil last night at the McDonald’s for Chrissy Lee Polis, the individual who faced such overwhelming violence and hatred, and to honor the one bystander who intervened, Vicky Thoms. Thoms says she was punched in the face by the one of the attackers when she tried to stop the assault.
The lead sponsor of the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, issued a strong statement to her colleagues, reported in Metro Weekly:
“Incidents such as this illustrate why the transgender community in Maryland and elsewhere needs to be protected through antidiscrimination legislation. It is time to rectify the wrong that has been done to transgender citizens of our State…This attack, which took place in District 8, has been broadcast all over the national news, and the video has gone viral, bringing shame to the State of Maryland for allowing such things to take place. I challenge each of the Senators who voted to recommit HB235 on sine die to serve as primary sponsors of a stronger version of HB235 in the 2012 legislative session.”
Del. Pena-Melnyk’s call for a “stronger” version of the legislation is a reference to the necessity of adding public accommodations into the bill that the State Senate must pass next year.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, lead sponsor of Md's Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Bill
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz also condemned the attack:
“Last week’s beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in Rosedale once again reminds us of our responsibility as citizens to do all that we can to ensure that our neighborhoods provide a safe and welcoming environment for residents and visitor…It is the conversations around our dinner tables and the casual chatter among friends that develop patterns of behavior…Each and every one of us plays a role in deciding what kind of a society we deserve and what kind of a society we will help create….That responsibility is shared by each of us who call Baltimore County home.”
The legislature has adjourned and does not reconvene until January 2012. Meanwhile, local activists are pressing Baltimore County to join other Maryland jurisdictions in implementing a local gender identity anti-discrimination law, inclusive of public accommodations.
Said Furmansky: “The Baltimore County Human Relations Commission should call for a county-wide anti-discrimination law similar to Baltimore City and Montgomery County, and the County Executive should issue a statement indicating that he is in full support of such a measure. Laws are not the ultimate answer, but they serve a fundamental role in moving society forward. Anti-discrimination and hate crimes statutes provide legal recourse for individuals who face violence and discrimination, and serve as a prosecutorial tool for law enforcement responding to such cases. More importantly, laws serve to educate communities, spur important conversations that open people’s minds, and make our society more welcoming and safe for all.”
Click here to learn more about how you can make your religious community a more hospitable and life-saving space for transgender people.
Things are heating up in the Old Line State, also known as Maryland, also known as the Free State.
After years of working to end marriage discrimination, equality is finally in sight.
Unitarian Universalists are playing a leading role in these efforts. Two weeks ago, the UU Church of Annapolis hosted a press conference for interfaith leaders, announcing support for the legislation.
Rev. Lisa Ward of the UU Fellowship of Harford County presented testimony on the bill in the State Senate, telling legislators:
I stand with many colleagues, of many faiths, who know God’s presence is in the dignity, freedom and fidelity of loving couples and recognize same-sex marriage as equally sacred to heterosexual marriage.
Standing on the Side of Love Campaign Manager Dan Furmansky is working full-time to help Equality Maryland prepare for the Senate vote and the hearing in the house.
The UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland applied for a Standing on the Side of Love grant to augment their efforts to reach legislators. Here is a video initiated by the UULM that they are sharing with legislators and faith communities:
Rev. John Crestwell of the UU Church of Annapolis is preparing to testify this Friday during the hearing in the House of Delegates.
Stay tuned – the Maryland Senate will likely vote up or down on the marriage bill by the end of this week!
For those of you who follow advancements in LGBT civil rights closely, you already know the stakes are high in Maryland.
The full body of the Maryland State Senate is poised to vote towards the end of next week on legislation to end marriage discrimination, and 23 out of the 24 votes necessary for passage have already been publicly committed. In addition, Maryland has the best shot ever to pass legislation protecting transgender individuals from discrimination.
The potential for positive change here in Maryland, as we take a step back in other states like Indiana and Wyoming, is heartening.
There is also proposed legislation here – the Maryland DREAM Act – that would provide in-state tuition to Maryland residents who graduated from state high schools, regardless of their immigration status.
The progressive potential in Maryland is all quite personal to me. I am a Marylander at heart, having spent 10 years living in this state that I profoundly love. For more than half of that time, I served as Executive Director of Equality Maryland, the state’s LGBT civil rights group, which is paving the way for these advancements under strong new leadership.
The following video footage is from the Equality Maryland rally in Annapolis on National Standing on the Side of Love Day, aka Valentine’s Day. I was honored to be one of the featured speakers on behalf of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, along with leaders in the state legislature and the Maryland Attorney General. Love was definitely in the air that night!
For the time being, I have moved Standing on the Side of Love campaign headquarters from Boston here to Maryland, and plan to devote significant time on behalf of our campaign lending my support to the important efforts here, working with the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, Equality Maryland, and other partners.
The UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland has been active this session. With a Standing on the Side of Love grant, they hired a videographer to make a film about support for marriage in faith communities which they will deliver to all 188 legislators next week. In addition, they dropped off hundreds of postcards to legislators on Feb. 14th from across the state.
Stay tuned for updates, and ways that you can help.
Standing on the Side of Love