A new venture: Wandering WordsWomen

Wandering WordsWomen Logo

At the beginning of the year, I posted about beginning some minor cancer treatment–as if any cancer treatment can be minor–and I want to let you know that although I haven’t posted again, I am fine. Although it will be a while before I can be declared cancer-free, all indications are good.

So then what have I been doing, you might ask? I’ve been dreaming of how I can develop a community for women writers and travelers who want to learn how to create location-independent lifestyles. After many different iterations, this has become Wandering WordsWomen, which I launched on September 1, 2018.

This means all of my attention will be going there for a while–probably a long while., so I don’t expect to be posting much here. But you never know.

If you’re a woman writer, I hope you’ll join my mailing list and hang-out with me in our Facebook groupWandering WordsWomen A learning community for women writers who love the outdoorsThanks for all your support!

Sexual harassment forty years later is still sexual harassment #MeToo

Unwanted sexual advances from someone in power over you is not about you. You are not the guilty one and you don’t have to let anyone get away with it (waves background)

Today is supposed to be my day off after an inspiring and exhausting weekend with three hundred and fifty writers at the James River Writers Conference in Richmond. In my stupor, I dragged myself from my bed to a recliner and settled in to read. Before opening my book, I checked Facebook. There, I read that my long-time friend “was taken to church to tell the priest in the confessional that ‘I allowed a man to take liberties with my body.’ I was eight years old.” “Me too,” she wrote.

I immediately felt sick. I read more status updates from more of my friends. Me too. Me too, Me too. That’s when I first learned about the #MeToo campaign, the social media campaign to document the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment of women.

My stomach churned and I kept reading. Me too. Me too, Me too.

My own story wrestled its way to the surface as bile gathered in my throat. I tried to force it down. I had rarely spoken about it. I had never written it. Was now the time?

I read some more posts. Me too. Me too, Me too. I could feel my doubts, my hesitation, and, before long, I heard myself whisper, “Me too.”

I was not eight years old. I was 22. It was my first job after college. For months, I woke up every morning and threw up.

A few months in, went to the doctor to find out what was wrong with me. The upper and lower GI the doctor ordered showed nothing. Although he didn’t say, “it must be in your head,” I knew he was thinking it.

I returned home, went to bed, woke up the next morning, and, as I got dressed for work, threw up.

My boss never threatened me with losing my job if I didn’t comply with his advances.

I could have said, “No” when he pressed the elevator stop button between floors of the County Building to kiss me or wriggled away when he pulled his car over to side of the road on a lonely highway as we returned home from an evening meeting, a meeting he stipulated I should attend with him so he could “mentor” me. I could have refused to open the door to my apartment when he showed up after I’d called in sick one day.

I did none of those things. I let him kiss me. Sometimes, I even kissed him back. He was an attractive older man who desired me. I fell into his trap. I let him fondle my breasts, and I might have even touched him – that part I’ve blocked from my memory.

I do remember that I resisted his invitation to go to his house for Sunday dinner with his wife and children.

And resisted.

And resisted.

Until I finally complied.

I remember the cross hanging on the wall in their dining room, the Bible reading before dinner, and the conversation about the importance of the Christian faith in their lives.  I remember making excuses to leave as soon as I could after dinner. I remember stopping my car on the side of the road on the way home, opening the door, and throwing up.

I left this job after only six months and, miraculously, I stopped throwing up. It wasn’t until years later, when Anita Hill was testifying before Congress about Clarence Thomas, that I made the connection, that I understood I was a victim of his sexual harassment.

I’m sure he’d say, probably even today, that this was a consensual relationship. If I could track him down I would ask, but so far I’ve been unable to locate him.

What I now know is that it was an abuse of power – his over me – and that I became an unwilling participant in his pursuit of that power.

I pray no one else fell victim to demands. However, I suspect this behavior was not directed only at me, that it continued long after he left Michigan for Wisconsin and might even continue to this day.

I picture him reading accounts of Harvey Weinstein, Garrison Keeler, Matt Lauer, and so many other men, and squirming with discomfort. Would the women he had relationships with accuse him? Would his past come back to haunt him? Might it still?

Let me extend an apology to the women who might work for him now for not naming him all these many years later. He has a common name and I don’t want to implicate someone who is not guilty of these offenses, so until I locate him, I will not name him. I’m hoping he is now retired but if not, I know that puts you at risk and for that, I am sorry.

Let me also apologize to his wife and children. I know what we were doing was wrong, even if I didn’t understand the power dynamics at play. I’m sorry I didn’t fight him off for those reasons.

I will not, however, apologize for not warning other women who followed me. Through no fault of my own, I did not have the consciousness to know that this was much bigger than me, that it reflected a patriarchal society, which still exists today, in which men assert their power over women through sexual conquest and claim it as consensual. I cannot be held responsible for what we had not yet named. Taking on guilt for this is yet another way women are victimized.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Why didn’t you report it five years ago, ten years ago, thirty years, or in my case, forty years ago when it happened?”

I didn’t report it for the same reason women don’t report the millions of other abuses of power we’ve experienced — because we are made to think it is our failing, our guilt to take on, our indiscretion. It’s part of the control perpetrators exert over us — to make us feel guilty for the part we play but never allow us to feel like the victims we are.

So although I cannot protect his other victims, what I can do is let young women of today know that unwanted sexual behavior from someone in power over them is not about them. You are not the guilty one and you don’t have to let men get away with it.

If you find themselves throwing up every morning, seek help, and not necessarily from a doctor, but rather from someone you can trust with your story.

You do not need to be taken advantage of.

You do not need to engage in behavior that makes you uncomfortable.

You do not need to throw up every morning before you face your boss at work.

Me too. Me too.

Stop the World, I Want To Get Off … at Pride

A mosaic made by Pride participants

Breathing is hard this morning. My heart lies heavy in my chest and tears well in my eyes. I feel immobilized by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the unimaginable devastation left in their wake. I am horrified at the looming threat of nuclear war. I am disgusted by the senseless pain caused by hatred, bigotry, and ignorance. I weep for the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people around the world driven into refugee camps and immigrant detention centers. I grieve for young girls forced into sexual slavery and people shot on a Sunday morning in a Tennessee church. I fume over health care debates, inequitable school funding, mass incarceration, and hunger in my own community. Add to that, concern for aging relatives, family members and friends with health problems, and the mulberry tree in the back yard invaded by tent worms, and I am not feeling very hopeful today.

I am reminded of the early 1960’s musical, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” Get me off this planet intent on devouring itself with hatred and division. Let me fly unfettered as a leaf freed from a tree by a gentle autumn breeze. Take me to a land of plenty filled with kindness and compassion, equity and generosity, respect and reverence. Take me to a land of peace where disputes are solved with jello-rolling contests, and laughter and joy ricochet off the hillsides, where the only floods saturate the ground with sparkles and starlight and the only grieving is for ice-cream that has fallen off a cone onto the ground.

I see this world sometimes. It is as real to me some days as the horror is on days like today. I can see it when a monarch lights on our butterfly bush, when a neighbor shares greetings over the backyard fence, when my wife greets me with a kiss at the end of the day.

I saw it this weekend at the Virginia Pride Festival on Brown’s Island in Richmond. Thousands of people of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, and gender identities came together on Saturday to laugh, play, and dance together in the fullness of who we are — unrestricted, unencumbered, unified – for one delightful day.

Overview of Pride Festival
2017 Virginia Pride Festival, Brown’s Island, Richmond, VA

LGBTQ Pride celebrations haven’t always been like that. In the first Pride march I attended in the late 1970s in Boston, some people wore paper bags over their heads to conceal their identities for fear of losing their jobs and their families. Determined to march, they exposed their bodies but not their faces to a hostile world.

At that and other marches over the years, counter-protestors yelled obscenities, damned us to hellfire, and threatened our very lives. We were told we were sinners, mentally ill, diseased, a plague. That still happens in some parts of the world, and, even in some parts of this country, despite how far we have come.

But for the first time this Saturday, in all my years of attending Pride, I did not see one person standing in opposition. I didn’t see one banner condemning us to hell.  I didn’t hear a single person with a megaphone misconstruing the word of God and berating my life and the lives of those I love in the process.

Instead, this year, I saw children running freely with rainbows painted and smiles plastered on their faces. I witnessed white, African American, and Latinx people holding hands, laughing, and talking together, running to hug each other, and sharing food and hula-hoops with equal abandon.

I admired young six-foot, four-inch women with slinky skirts and fishnet hose strolling side-by-side with short-cropped, gray-haired women wearing boots on their feet, ball caps on their heads, and key chains hanging from their belts. I met a food-truck worker elated by the steady stream of customers waiting to be served and a local police officer who expressed how honored he felt to be there.

I saw our society’s most conservative institutions, insurance Richmond Business Alliance brochurecompanies, banks, grocery stores, realtors, and even Amtrak vie for customers who defy convention, who break the rules, who live and love without regard to society’s expectations. I saw entrepreneurs, street vendors, and retailers willing to accept our money and cater to our needs. I saw churches, synagogues, and other faith communities, who used to condemn us as sinners, reach out to us in love and acceptance.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that there wasn’t discord among some of the people who attended Pride on Saturday. I know people there said and did mean things – cutting things – things that would scar even the most hardened souls. I know that somebody’s phone was probably stolen, or car broken into, or heart broken.

But I had a choice to see those things or to see – and remember – the pervasive love that overflowed that island paradise for a single September day.

I can choose to focus on the devastation that permeates my news feeds or I can put myself to work making Beloved Community real, not just for one day of the year, in one city, but every day, in every place, around the world.

As long I remember that all I can do is what I can do, as long as I don’t let hurricanes of negativity flood me with despair, what I can do matters.

Every thing of beauty I grow in my garden, every meal I share with my beloved, every laugh, every song, every generous gesture matters. We cannot give those things up out of a sense of guilt or obligation and expect the world to change. The world changes right here, right now, in this moment, in this place, in this time when I extend myself in love, when I reach for understanding, when I bring joy to the lives of those around me.

I didn’t plan to write about Pride today. Quite frankly, I didn’t know where this post would go when I started writing. I only knew that I could feel the grip of hopelessness bear down on me. The fact that even in those moments when I want to stop the world and jump off into another reality I am grounded in a vision of Beloved Community, a community I have witnessed only a few times in my life, is comforting and reassuring to me. I hope it is to you, too.

Now, it’s time for me to research where the best place is to donate to the people of Puerto Rico. What are you doing today to hold onto hope?

Five things to consider before participating in a protest

Black Lives Matter protest

Seven years ago this month, I moved to the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. I didn’t expect to like it. It didn’t take long, however, before I was enthralled with the region’s history. From the Native Americans who have lived here since before colonization, to the first settlers of Jamestown, right through to the Civil Right Movement and beyond, I became fascinated with the stories, events, and ethos that make Richmond what it is today. Richmond is literally swarming with history. But, it’s the Civil War history that dominates the culture here.

Black Lives Matter protest
Richmond Black Lives Matter Rally and March, Nov. 25, 2014

From massive monuments to Confederate military leaders, Sons of Confederate Veterans recruiting signs, and weekly protest by “the flaggers” who are upset that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts removed the battle flag from the Confederate chapel, it’s hard to avoid the reality that the Civil War is not over here. Indeed, it has devolved into a 150 year-old cold war that ebbs and flows depending on who’s feeling empowered at any given moment.

It’s no wonder, then, that those who claim allegiance to the Confederacy as an expression of Southern heritage would find Richmond an attractive gathering place to assert their beliefs. In fact, we expect that representatives from CSA II: The New Confederate States of America will converge on Richmond this coming Saturday, September 16, and, although, no one seems to know for sure, it’s probable that other pro-Confederacy, white supremacists, neo-Nazis groups will join them.

It’s up to those of us who are committed to fulfilling Martin Luther King, Jr. vision of Beloved Community to be accountable to this vision by showing up and making it clear that hate, racism, and discrimination will not be tolerated here any longer.

And yet, I know many people have never participated in a protest before. They saw the videos and heard the stories from the August 12th Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and are scared about what might happen. I was in Charlottesville that day and, although I’m a veteran activist, I can attest it was terrifying. Figuring out who was who, from the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, to the militia and Antifa, to the non-violence protesters and supporters, confounded even the most seasoned among us.

So how do those who are less experienced, who want to oppose hate, but who don’t know what to expect and are terrified of what might happen, find their place in answering the call of love?

As you evaluate your place in Richmond this weekend or wherever or whenever you decide you need to be part of a movement that aligns with your beliefs, the following five questions (and the related sub questions), organized and curated by Wendy DeGroat, will help guide what action is best suited to your personality and your goals:

Why?

  • What is the goal/message/purpose of this protest? Read up on the protest and make sure you understand what is being protested and the context(s) within which it is being protested.
  • Why do you want to participate? Reflect on your motivation. Do you feel strongly about the issue(s)? Do you believe protest is an effective way to raise awareness of the issue(s)? What other personal actions (e.g., donations, letter-writing) contribute to your commitment to influence change on the issue(s)?
  • If you are considering participation in a protest organized by an historically-marginalized group and you are not a member of that group, have the organizers asked for allies to join them, and if so, what role(s) are they asking allies to play? If allies are invited, are you comfortable serving in the role(s) expected? If those roles aren’t clear ahead of time, are you willing to take directions from the protest leaders if you attend?
2009 National Equality March
2009 National LGBT Equality March, Washington, DC

Who?

  • Who is organizing the protest? If a group is organizing it, what is the group’s larger message/purpose? As a protester, you’ll be supporting the message of the protest as well as the message/purpose of the organizing group(s). Are you comfortable with both? If so, and you have the means to do so, have you made a financial contribution to the organizing group(s) as well?
  • Who will be your protest buddy? Who is someone you trust who will go with you to the protest? It is safer to go to a protest with a buddy/group than alone.

Where?

  • Where is the protest being held? Consider what the location suggests about expected conflict.
  • Will the protest be on public or private property? This can impact your rights as a protester.
  • Does the organizing group have a permit, and if so, what are the permit’s parameters? Knowing these parameters can improve your planning and your ability to steer clear of trouble.

What?

  • What kind of action(s) are planned? Are the protest organizers committed to non-violence? Are groups who advocate violence likely to show up as well? Is an act of civil disobedience planned? Know what’s anticipated and decide ahead of time what you’re comfortable with. If you choose to participate in civil disobedience, make sure you can attend any training the organizers offer in relation to that action.
  • What level of conflict is anticipated? Prepare accordingly (see Beginner’s Guide from Seattle Weekly), paying attention to any regulations about prohibited items and/or rules about signs, backpacks, etc.
  • What role(s) could you fill? Other than being on the front lines, there are often support roles that can enhance the protest’s effectiveness and the safety and wellbeing of participants and their loved ones.
2017 Women's March on Washington
2017 Women’s March on Washington

How?

  • How prepared are you to be on the front lines of the protest and/or engage in civil disobedience?
    • Reflect deeply on what to expect and anticipate how you’re likely to react.
      • What is your level of physical, mental, and emotional readiness? Consider that protesters who are arrested and have medical or other needs may be put in isolation when in custody.
      • How do you handle loud, chaotic environments? Are you comfortable with uncertainty?
      • How do you respond to taunts, threats, hateful or degrading comments, or being spit on?
      • How will you likely respond if you witness violence or become a target of violence?
      • Consider how discrimination and/or implicit bias may influence how you are treated.
      • If you have a child with you, keep in mind that minors are processed separately by police.
    • Know your rights (as a protester; if rights violated) & PREPARE! (taking photos; tips from Colorlines)
    • If possible, attend a formal training session in your area about engaging in non-violent protest
    • Research possible ramifications of participation or arrest on your job, scholarship eligibility, and other statuses by checking policies about neutrality, conflict of interest, etc.
  • How can you BEST support the protest? In addition to being on the front lines, there are many ways to support a protest. Talk with the organizers and choose a role that leverages your strengths and the level of risk you’re willing to assume.
SB 1070 Protest, Phoenix AZ
SB 1070 Protest, Phoenix AZ, July 29, 2010

By carefully considering these questions before you find yourself participating in a protest, not only will you feel more confident in your decision, you will be a stronger, more reliable contributor to the overall effort.

The key is to believe in what you’re doing, engage in whatever level of risk you can reasonably handle, and push yourself to do just a little more each time. As you become a more experienced protester, you will find more ways to challenge the things you want to change, and one day, you might even find yourself organizing a protest of your own.

The time for resistance is now

Annette getting arrested in Phoenix

Seven years ago last month, I spent twenty-six hours in Sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s jail in Phoenix, Arizona. I engaged in civil disobedience to bring attention to Arpaio’s unabated abuse of power. I was arrested, along with a hundred other people, for allegedly blocking traffic in front of Joe Arpaio’s office in the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Phoenix.

In my brief stay in Arpaio’s jail, he didn’t require me to don one of his signature pink prison uniforms, but he stripped me of my dignity, nevertheless. There I witnessed everything I needed to know about Joe Arpaio through the fear and intimidation exacted by his deputies. I saw them beat a woman who looked at them the wrong way. I saw them order prisoners to mop up her blood and then use the same mop to swab the only floor a group of prisoners had on which to sleep. I saw them refuse medication to a person with a life-threatening medical condition and a blanket to a woman who had spent three days shivering in a cold cell. Later, I talked with another protester who they locked in a cell by herself with no ability to use the toilet because she dared ask for a wheelchair after growing faint standing for hours in the searing Arizona heat. Interestingly, she was the only black woman arrested with us – hard to believe it was a coincidence.

Joe Arpaio was convicted last month in a federal court for criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a court order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants. Although this is only a misdemeanor, it is something. At least someone is taking a stand to say that his actions are not tolerable in a civil society.

Tuesday night, in Phoenix, President Trump told an audience of his fans that Arpaio was just “doing his job,” and insinuated that he doesn’t deserve to be punished for it. He assured the audience that it is his “prediction” that “Sheriff Joe is going to be just fine.” In other words, he’s going to take care of his friend.

I am outraged at President Trump for even flaunting the idea of pardoning Joe Arpaio. A pardon by this President is patronage at its most egregious.

Trump and Arpaio are cut from the same white, nationalistic, racist, misogynistic, ableist, homo/transphophic cloth. In just one example, Joe Arpaio was a self-appointed investigator determined to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. He conspired with Trump to perpetuate this racist lie, despite all evidence to the contrary.

What Trump was really saying in Phoenix on Tuesday night was that the law doesn’t matter as long as you’re on the side of making America great, er, white — I can’t say “again” here because America has never been the great country they seem to remember and it, certainly, was never the white country they fantasize about. Despite its stated aspirations, the United States of America was founded on colonization, extermination, enslavement, and domination. But even as millions of its people were enslaved, massacred, or forced from their lands into reservations, it has always been composed of a diverse population of people.

And from the very onset of colonization, people have resisted. Millions have worked to wrest power out of the clenched fists of white, heterosexual, cisgender men and it is their success that has brought us to where we are in 2017. Trump and Arpaio dream of returning to a time when men who looked like them controlled everything.

Joe Arpaio set and enforced policies in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that promoted racial profiling and ignored court orders to stop illegal detentions, traffic stops, and raids. He was held liable in a civil contempt-of-court trial and, subsequently, convicted of criminal contempt in a prosecution by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. Arpaio repeatedly violated court orders and thumbed his nose at anyone who dared tell him he needed to rein in his illegal treatment of immigrant communities.

On July 29, 2010, the day that AZ SB 1070, often referred to as the “Papers, please” law, was set to be enacted, I joined with thousands of others who were, and continue to be, on the ground fighting every day for the rights guaranteed by our constitution and, in many cases, for their very lives. I chose to place myself in a position of potential arrest in Phoenix because I couldn’t sit back any longer and see families torn apart by Arpaio’s quest to rid Maricopa County of people with brown skin.

Arm-in-arm

What I did, however, pales in significance to activists from NDLON (National Day Laborers Organization), Puente, and Mijente, to name just a few of the organizations dedicated to ensuring that the US protects the human and civil rights of all people within its borders.

Joe Arpaio cares nothing about the people in his former jurisdiction — only about his own nationalist agenda. And now, he has a collaborator in the White House who showers him with praise for trouncing on the rights of immigrants and citizens because they fit his definition of “the other.”

I have to admit that I rejoiced, this last November, when Joe Arpaio lost his bid to be re-elected to a sixth term as Maricopa County’s sheriff. In fact, it was one of only a few bright spots in an otherwise catastrophic election. I rejoiced again last month when a US District judge found him guilty of contempt – a small piece of justice served.

I know Arpaio probably won’t serve any jail time, but I also imagine that taking on the moniker of criminal is a lot harder for him than that of racist. He is used to being called a racist, but before now, and probably, even still today, Joe Arpaio believes he is above the law.

If the President follows through on his threat to pardon Apario,  I can’t say I will be surprised. We elected a kindred spirit in Donald Trump – Joe Apraio on steroids. I will say, however, that my work, and I hope yours, has never been more clear. We have cried “havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” It is up to us to contain them once again if we ever hope to grow into the country we dream about, one that, above all else, protects the human and civil rights of all its people.

It is up to us to rip open the cloth that is white supremacy and expose the evil behind it.

It is up to us to make the hate-filled language of today unacceptable in public dialogue.

It is up to us to end the violence directed at people who have been marginalized.

It is time to center the lives of people of color and other marginalized communities. 

It is up to us to demand that people, all people, be treated with dignity and respect.

Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County CoverIn 2014, Skinner House published a book, Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County, about my experiences in Joe Arpaio’s jail. In writing it, I wanted to draw attention to Joe Arpaio’s abuses, to the everyday experiences of people imprisoned by Joe Arpaio, and to explore my process, as a white, middle-class lesbian, for deciding to engage in civil disobedience.

Even after I made my decision to go, my doubts didn’t go away, as you can see from this passage, “Would I find the courage to stand up for my beliefs or would I keep pretending I was working for justice?  I knew the answer. I could feel it rise up in my body like the blinding sun as it peeks out from behind dark clouds after a storm. I had to do this if I was going to stay credible, even to myself. I had talked too long. It was time to do something real.”

Whether or not you believe that civil disobedience is your way, or even the right way, to do the work that must be done, you must find the thing you can contribute, the thing that is real for you, and do it. We have no time to waste unless we want to see more people like Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio feel emboldened to destroy the gains we’ve made. We have come too far and have too far to go to lose ground now. Will you join me?

An LGBTQ Love Letter: Remembering Pulse

Rainbow flag over water

It’s been almost three months since forty-nine people were killed and fifty-three injured at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It just so happened that Wendy and I were in Provincetown when we heard the news. We participated in a vigil and a march to The Boatslip nightclub where together we shared this moving moment.

I wrote this letter later that night and shared it with Standing on the Side of Love and with my home congregation, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond. I am sharing it here on Marquistory to keep it present to me, even as the pain dissipates and I forget to remember.

June 13, 2016

An Open Love Letter to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer-identified People,

Today, we are a people in mourning – mourning not from natural causes but from an unnatural act of hatred directed against us. We hear the horrors of what happened at Pulse in Orlando and it cuts into us like a hot blade. Suddenly our world, which, with the tremendous gains we have made in recent years, had begun to feel a little safer, is ripped open, bleeding and raw, once again.

We hear the words of US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, just last month, when she addressed the transgender community by saying, “no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward,” and those words ring hollow today.  “You can’t protect us,” we scream! Not when hatred and division are the order of the day.

It is times like this when retreating into the safe place inside ourselves beckons.  We long for security, for safety, for peace. And many of us have learned that the sanctuary of a dark closet with a locked door offers the safety we seek. So we stop reaching for our lover’s hand as we walk down the street. We scrape the rainbow sticker off our car. We seek shelter in our welcoming congregations but don’t lift our voices too loudly. We opt for the thousand little cuts that slash our souls instead of the bullets that rip open our hearts.

For others of us, we defiantly fly our rainbow flag and dare anyone to mess with us. Our anger turns to rage that we direct at a perceived enemy, in this case, Muslims, and, in countless other cases, Christians. We want to fix what allowed this to happen. We assert the need for gun control. We demand that the government do a better job of tracking and shutting down the terrorists among us. We blame the politicians, the trolls on social media, each other.

And still there are others of our community who feel so overwhelmed by grief, so devastated by this senseless attack, that we find ourselves immobilized — unable to cry, unable to act, unable to love.

If you’re like me, you have traversed the full range of these emotions in the last thirty-six hours. You have felt the urge to hide, to strike out, to give up. Whatever your response today, know this. We are an intrepid people, a people whose only demands are that we’re free to be ourselves and to love who we love.

It is because we love so well that we hurt so profoundly. Love is our gift to the world.

Let your love shine through today.

Start this with loving yourself.

Start with believing, with knowing, that it is only by loving ourselves that others love us in return, and that when others love us in return, the world shifts on its axis.

We’ve seen this so many times before. It was only a year ago this month when we celebrated our legal right to love, something that most of us never believed would happen in our lifetimes. And it wouldn’t have happened without the thousands upon thousands of Unitarian Universalists who harnessed love’s power to end oppression by standing on the side of love.  Love is our theology. Love is our spiritual practice.

It’s OK not to be brave today. It’s OK to let your heart be heavy, to let yourself cry, to wallow in your pain. It’s OK to be angry and, perhaps even for a moment, to cast blame where blame does not rightfully belong.

But then, when you’ve cried all the tears you have inside you, when the rage has washed through you, I entreat you to reach out to a friend and help them empty their well of tears, tear down the wall of rage inside of them.

When the two of you have fortified each other, then reach out to someone else.

Eventually, one by one, two by two, community by community, we will restore our wholeness and regain our beautiful audacity. I believe that as deeply as I feel the pain that sears my heart today.pulse

We will not forget Pulse, as we have not forgotten Stonewall. In the years to come, it will motivate us to transform violence into peace, hatred into love. And someday, we’ll find ourselves in the place we have created through our love and courage, that place over the rainbow.

Open our doors to refugees

welcome_refugees_statement_graphic

I welcome this message from the Rev. Peter Morales.

I call on all governors to open their hearts to these refugees who are escaping the same terrorists we are trying to destroy. This is a time for compassion, not for fear, for building friendships, not creating more enemies. It is a time for love.

The revolution toward gender justice

Transgender Day of Remembrance Flame“Is it a boy or a girl?” is the most common question asked of parents-to-be. The answer to the question makes us think we can imagine the child’s life and the experiences the parents will have raising them. We are taught that knowing this will determine what presents to buy, what color to paint the nursery, and what yarn to choose for the baby blanket. In places like the United States since colonization, people have had two gender categories in which to place the people they met: boy or girl, male or female, woman or man. Every day, many of us define people according to a whole host of binaries: If we are male or female; If we are white or a Person of Color; If we are able-bodied or disabled; If we are cisgender or transgender and on and on.

What happens when we do this is obvious: a paradigm for dominance, power and privilege emerges. If your identities are privileged, you are taught your identity defines what it means to be normal. If your identities are marginalized and dehumanized, your ability to move in the world is profoundly impacted and limited based on existing systems of power.

In the 1960s and 70s and on into the 80s, second-wave feminists, of which I was one, tried unsuccessfully to overturn this paradigm. We challenged gender roles in ways that had never been done before. Why couldn’t a woman be an attorney, a doctor, a CEO? Why couldn’t a woman live by herself, get married when (or if) she chose, get a credit card in her name? And though these efforts to challenge traditional gender roles provided a platform and increased opportunity for cisgender women, this organizing rarely included and failed to center the priorities of transgender and gender non-conforming people- in an effort to achieve gender justice more broadly.

In addition to demanding wider access to roles that had previously been restricted to men, second wave feminists challenged language in new ways. Policeman, mailman, any use of the word “man” excluded women. Policeman became police officer. Mailman became postal carrier. “Goodwill to man” became “goodwill to all.” “He” became “he or she,” “she or he,” or even “s/he.” Diminutive suffixes such as “ess” were also discouraged. Stewardesses became flight attendants. Actresses became actors.

Not all welcomed this revolution against language. People recoiled from demands to use non-sexist language. But feminists of the day would not be ignored. I’ve attended church services where when the celebrant used the word “mankind,” women in the pews collectively shouted out “humankind,” or “men and women” or “people.” I’ve been in meetings where women left of the room because the speaker used sexist language. I’ve done it myself. I’ve shouted out, walked out, and corrected sexist language on too many occasions to count.

Language matters. Language determines whether we feel included or excluded, considered or ignored. I know this because I’ve felt excluded and ignored by language. I still do, at times. It’s become a part of me.  The language you choose tells me how much you’ve considered my needs, my perspective, my sensibilities.

Today, organizing and action call for an urgent recommitment to work for a revolution towards gender justice. A revolution that seeks to overthrow the concept of gender as we’ve know it. Boy or girl, male or female, woman or man become fluid and self-determined constructs in this revolution. Today’s youth and young adults are leading us into a new world, one where biology is no longer immutable and the roles we assume are no longer defined by or restricted to our biology. Gender justice, and its connection to collective liberation, has been a consistent and central message of the Movement for Black Lives. 

Those of us who are older can choose to oppose this revolution, but if we do, we’re denying the work of prior generations who paved the way for this to be possible.  Instead, I’ve come to believe that we have only two moral choices: join the revolution or step out of the way.

As we head into Transgender Awareness Week and commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, 2015, it’s time for us, especially those of us born before 1970 who are cisgender (someone whose gender corresponds to their assigned biological sex) to, once again, consider the importance of language. One way to do that is by making a point of asking each person we meet what name and personal pronouns speak to their identity. It seems like such a simple thing but, if we’re committed to making people feel welcomed in our congregations, our movements, and our families, it’s a simple thing that matters. Will you join the revolution with me?

I use she, her, hers. What about you? Which pronouns do you prefer?

(Originally posted on Standing on the Side of Love 11/16/2015)

Making dreams come true

Marriage equality celebration at UUA General Assembly

As I traveled from my home in Richmond, Virginia to Portland, Oregon, I entered Kentucky with a feeling of trepidation. For the next 1300 miles, I would be driving in and out of states where my wife and I would no longer be considered married. Before I left home, Wendy made sure I had our paperwork with me – medical and legal powers of attorney, advanced directive, even my will – because that’s what we had to do to protect our rights in places where our marriage wasn’t recognized.

Within days of our arrival in Portland, on June 28th, the Supreme Court announced its decision that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to marry. Wendy and I were so overwhelmed by emotion that there was nothing we could do but hug each other and cry. But we couldn’t cry for long. We were at Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, and in just ninety minutes, UUs would be gathering for the morning’s general session. There was a celebration to plan.

If you want to get a taste of the joy from that morning, watch the first seventeen minutes of General Session III as President Peter Morales invites same-sex couples to join him on stage, much like President John Behrens did in 1996 when the General Assembly passed an Action of Immediate Witness in “Support of the Right to Marry for Same-Sex Couples.” What an honor it was to celebrate with thousands of UUs who had given so much to this struggle.

We made this happen. We turned what seemed like a far-fetched dream into a reality in our lives. No, we didn’t do it alone. We worked alongside countless others committed to this same goal. But Unitarian Universalists played an undeniable leadership role in this movement. From the very first ceremony of union that a UU minister performed forty or more years ago to the UU role in the 2004 Massachusetts court case, Unitarian Universalists and other people of faith lifted our voices and convinced a nation that love is never wrong.

Thank you for everything you did – every door you knocked on, every conversation you had, every banner you flew, every phone call you made, and every email you sent — to make it possible for Wendy and me and thousands of other couples to share in the legal protections that marriage affords us, and more importantly, to have our love recognized as legitimate and equal.

When we traveled together back across the United States, our marriage was recognized in every state we passed through. What a feeling that was. On July 11 and 12, UU congregations from the Atlantic to the Pacific offered free weddings to same-sex couples in our #justmarriage campaign to celebrate marriage equality. Couples in California, Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and many other places had their marriages recognized, religiously and legally.

Marriage equality was a momentous victory, but our work is not over. We will work to ensure that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodation. The Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project showed us that although marriage equality is important to many, income inequality tops the list of issues for LGBTQ UUs. LGBTQ people make less, are hired less often, and are fired more. The Equality Act, introduced in the US Senate (S. 1858) on July 25, 2015, amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while expanding protections against discrimination for women. Far and beyond legal protection, we still have much work to do in shifting social and cultural norms to stop and interrupt violence against LGBTQ people. Studies by advocacy organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition  lift up the disproportionate discrimination face by Black transgender people.

Many of us never imagined that we would live to see marriage equality. Let’s make full protection- legal, cultural and social- for LGBTQ people happen in our lifetimes. We just did the impossible. We can do it again.

And what other dreams – dreams which might seem unreachable today — can we accomplish in the next twenty years?

(Originally posted on www.standingonthesideoflove.com 7/28/2015)

Pride: then and now

We can do it on Rainbow flag

Two years ago this week, I was scheduled for an afternoon flight from Boston to my home in Richmond, VA. I was anxious to get home, but had to wait another day for my flight.

Much to my delight, I discovered it was Boston Pride weekend. I could go to the Pride parade on and still make my flight. I love photographing parades. I love all the colors and smiles, the marching bands, and the glad-handing politicians. As a lesbian, I especially love Pride parades.

The last time I had been to a Boston Pride parade was in 1981, just as I was finishing my social work program at Boston University — more than thirty years earlier. I was excited to see how the parade had changed and what it would be like in a Boston where marriage equality had been the law for almost ten years. So early Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and headed down the street to secure a great spot at the corner of Beacon and Arlington Streets.

When I first heard the thunder of the motorcycles, I was transported back to the late 1970s when I saw Dykes on Bikes leading the parade for the first time. That was a scarier time. A time when those who road and marched risked everything, if they had anything left to risk. Some people wore masks to maintain their anonymity. Others, like Dykes on Bikes, roared in defiance – proud and strong lesbians daring to be out front.

Before the last motorcycle passed, I was jarred back to the present, and maybe, for some parts of the country, into the future. Behind the Dykes on Bikes, stepped a group of Montessori children, then parents with babies in strollers, followed by the Boston Police, and the Mayor’s Office!

Students from a Catholic college marched alongside a Jewish group. A female Episcopal bishop road atop in a bright red convertible proceeded by a group of Episcopal priests in purple robes swinging incense and brandishing signs that read, “Non-judgment day is coming,” and “Blessed are the fabulous.”

Boston Pride 2013And, yes, the UUs were there standing on the side of love. I spotted the unmistakable SSL yellow and I knew my people were coming up the street. The Mass Bay and Clara Barton Districts marched with congregations from all over the Greater Boston area.

However, I longed for something more than just banners. I wanted a way for our long history with LGBTQ Equity to be more apparent, for better ways to outreach to people there so they knew they might find a spiritual home with us. I want better ways to communicate our important historical milestones, like when in 1970, just one year after the genesis of Pride celebrations, the Stonewall Rebellion, UUs passed a resolution calling for the end to all discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals, and that ten years later, in 1979, a UU congregation called its first openly gay minister. Or, how UU congregations passed the first resolution in support of same-sex unions almost thirty years earlier, in 1984, back in the day when onlookers to the Pride parade feared losing their jobs, their families – or even their lives. Although many of these same concerns are real today, especially violence against trans women of color, many more LGBTQ people can come out at work and to their families without the same fears of reprisal.

Unitarian Universalists have played a leading role in the transformation I witnessed that day between the 1981 and 2013 Pride parades. We have welcomed LGBTQ people into our congregations and into our ministry when almost no other faith community would. We have witnessed one-on-one to our families, friends, co-workers, and strangers on the street to change hearts and minds, and have performed countless other actions to prove that our stated affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, truly means ALL. And yet, I know through my work hearing from people all over the country with the Multicultural Ministries Sharing Project, there is still much work to be done, even within our congregations that have been “Welcoming” for so long.

Sometime this month, it is conceivable that same-sex marriage will be declared a constitutional right for all Americans. It is expected that the United States Supreme Court will announce their ruling on one of the remaining Mondays in June. All indications point to a positive ruling. However, other, narrower decisions are possible. Whatever the outcome on marriage equality, we have to remember that it doesn’t mean our work is done.

Continued violence directed toward LGBTQ people and persecution by faith communities, employers, landlords, and government takes an emotional toll and promulgates a system of injustice and economic insecurity. This must change before same-sex marriage can begin to fulfill its promise. As long as LGBTQ people can get fired, landlords can discriminate, families can throw their LGBTQ children out on the streets to fend for themselves, and LGBTQ people can be violently attacked and murdered for who they are, there is no equality.

LGBTQ people want to know that our faith communities are working for justice. We want to know that we can live in safety. We want to know that our lives are important and that we matter. Only when every one of us has the freedom to live freely and openly will we achieve equity.

If the Supreme Court rules that we all have a constitutional right to marriage, it will be a time to celebrate. Every individual, every congregation who has worked to support this right deserves a time to dance in the streets. Make it visible so that your community knows the important role your faith has played in bringing to this day.

Then, when the celebration is done, we need to get back to work to assure that every person, regardless of their desire or opportunity to marry, is afforded full equity under the law.

Watch for an announcement later this week about how your congregation can participate with other congregations across the country in celebrating or, possibly mourning, the Supreme Court’s decision. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about how we can better show up as the Love People, not only in Pride celebrations, but every time we stand on the side of love. What are the most effective ways to communicate our values?

(Originally published on Standing on the Side of Love on June 6, 2015).