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?

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.

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 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).

Out of the closet and into married life

W&A outside the Henrico County Courts building with marriage license
Outside the Henrico County Courts Building with marriage license

On October 7, 2014, W and I became legally married in the Commonwealth of Virginia, less than a full day after it became legal for same-sex couples to marry here. We arrived early at the Henrico County Courts Building, expecting a line, and not only was there no line, it was not particularly early. The clerk’s office was already open. With at least a degree of mild apprehension about the reaction, I told the woman at the desk that we wanted to apply for a marriage license. She pointed us to a set of clipboards, labeled “Bride” and “Groom,” that sat on a table behind us. “The forms are both the same,” she said, expressing little affect. “Just pick one.” We both decided to pick clipboards labeled “Bride.” It somehow seemed most appropriate, although I have never thought of myself as a bride.

When we turned in the forms, two other staff people hovered around the woman at the computer who, with a wrinkled brow and pursed lips, set about entering the data. We weren’t sure if she was displeased with the fact we were both women, or if something was causing her distress. Soon she made it clear.  “The computer hasn’t been updated yet so it takes a while to put everything in,” she explained to the others. One woman expounded to us that she had to cover for her at lunch time so that’s why she was looking on. As the woman at the computer made progress, I saw her face relax, and as it did, I could feel myself relax. This wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Within minutes, we exchanged our money for the license and we were ready to leave.

As I moved toward the door on my immediate right, I read the sign posted on the door, “Closet, Do Not Enter.” I quickly rotated a little further to my right to the actual door, and as I did, quipped, “Oh, wrong door. I just came out of there.” The whole place, staff and visitors, alike, erupted into laughter. People followed us out of the building still laughing. “That’s going to be something they’ll remember,” one man said. I imagine it’ll be a moment the staff carried home with them on their first full day of granting same-sex marriage licenses in Virginia. I was glad to bring them joy on our joyous day!

Growing support for gay marriage: changed minds and changing demographics

This comprehensive study explores not only if people have changed their minds about same-sex marriage but what has influenced them to re-think the issue. The top answer: they know someone who is homosexual. Harvey Milk said it best, “Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters…”

Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics.

Marriage equality is not just for same-sex couples

Photo 2009 National Eqality March
Photo 2009 National Eqality March
2009 National Equality March

Forty years ago, I first heard the word “homosexual” applied to me. I was eighteen years old when my mother disclosed that a nun from my Catholic girls’ boarding school had called with the news that I was involved in “an unsavory relationship with another girl.” The news devastated her. She never recovered from it. For many years, I yearned for her to accept me as a lesbian. I needed her acceptance to feel whole and it hurt and angered me that she withheld it.

In the eleven years since her death, I’ve come to realize that my mother could no more change who she was than I could become a heterosexual. My mother’s homophobia was not fear of homosexuality, it was fear for her lesbian daughter. Because society disparaged same-sex love so vehemently, she could not reconcile her fear. She feared that others would mistreat me, or at the very least, think less of me, and that, ultimately, God would condemn me. What she feared most of all was that she had done something to cause me to suffer this fate. Ironically, it was her deep love for me in a society filled with hate and intolerance that prevented her from accepting me as a lesbian.

On March 26, 2013, I’ll be attending a 7:15 a.m. prayer service, A Prayer for Love & Justice at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C., and then witnessing in front of the United States Supreme Court to join the United for Marriage Rally as the justices hear the first of two cases related to marriage equality for same-sex couples. Later than evening, I will attend Parting the Waters: A Seder for Love, Liberation & Justice. As the LGBTQ and Multicultural Ministries Program Manager for the Unitarian Universalist Association, I will join others as, once again, we stand on the side of love. Most of all, I hope our presence there reminds people that affirming same-sex love matters. If you can join me, wear your Standing on the Side of Love shirt and look for the SSL banner outside the church after the prayer service at about 8:30 a.m.

If you cannot be in DC on March 26, I hope you will join one of the many faith events happening around the country or create one of your own. You can find the full list or register your event at United for Marriage.

In the years since my mother died, nine states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, and the District of Columbia–have recognized same-sex marriage. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two cases before them, more states, like Rhode Island and Illinois who are now considering bills, are sure to follow. Hearts and minds are changing. publicly and privately, people are reconsidering long-held beliefs about same-sex relationships and coming out in support.

And yet, I know that full marriage equality is not a panacea. Clerics will still blaspheme LGBTQ people from their pulpits; politicians will continue to deride us in the hope of attracting voters; employers will still fire us; detractors will still beat and kill us. And, because of the hate kindled by these clerics and politicians and employers and attackers, we will still kill ourselves.

But maybe, just maybe, as marriage equality becomes a reality for all Americans, the hate will subside. Maybe lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified youth, whether or not they eventually choose to marry, will have more hope about their lives. And maybe parents will be able to let go of enough of their fear to love and accept their children.

Marriage equality is not just for same-sex couples; it’s for the millions of people who love us and need to know society is not pitted against us. Please join me, so that together we can replace fear with love.

This post originally appeared on the blog.

Take action for marriage equality

When my wife and I were married in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, VA, two years ago next month, we celebrated our love and our commitment openly with our family and friends in our spiritual home. At the same time, we knew that we would not be receiving any of the benefits and protections from the state and federal government we would have received had we been a man and a woman. So in lieu of gifts, we asked our guests to make donations to support Equality Virginia.

With just two weeks left until Election Day, there is great hope that 2012 could be a tipping point for LGBTQ equality at the ballot box. Voters in Washington, Maine, and Maryland have the opportunity to approve marriage equality laws, while Minnesota voters will hopefully vote “no” to writing discrimination into their state constitution.

No matter where you live, you can take action to support marriage equality. Click here to get involved.

There are several innovative programs that allow marriage equality supporters across the country to take action. The Human Rights Campaign has developed a revolutionary “Call4Equality” tool that harnesses the power of Facebook to connect you with people you know in these states. The tool automatically creates personalized call lists and scripts for you to drum up votes and volunteers. For the more travel-inclined, you can work on one of the equality campaigns through United for Marriage’s “Volunteer Vacation” program.

Please join me in standing on the side of love this election season. Click here to find out how you can speak out for marriage equality no matter where you live.

Two years ago, my wife and I knew that Virginia was, and still is, a long way from voting to approve marriage equality. But this year in Washington, Maine, and Maryland, we have a real chance – a chance to make it clear that attitudes have changed – that the majority of Americans now support the right of everyone to marry the person they love. And, in Minnesota, we have a shot at saying “no” to defining marriage according to a few people’s view of what love should be. Help us seize this opportunity. Please take action for marriage equality today.

This was originally published on

Coming out for freedom

Angel is twenty-three years old. He came to the United States right after his first birthday. His six younger sisters were all born in the United States–only he and his mother are undocumented. In November 2011, police stopped Angel for not having a light on his license plate. The officer who stopped him appeared to be letting him go but another officer arrived and that’s when all congeniality disappeared. Perhaps he didn’t like the fact that Angel, returning home after an AIDS conference, was dressed in drag.

undocubus_charlotteWhatever the reason, they arrested Angel and put him on an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold while they investigated his residency status. As a result, he spent four months in a Metropolitan Detention Center before being transferred to an ICE Detention Center in El Paso, Texas and then back to New Mexico, where he spent an additional three months.

Seven months total—ripped away from his family, denied the right to a trial, treated like a criminal—all because of a missing light.

But even under these horrendous circumstances, Angel found a way to make a difference. On, he wrote, “Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBT when we were in detention. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBT people in detention.”

When ICE finally released him from detention in mid-June, 2012, he heard about Undocubus, the “No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice,” and knew he had to join them. This bus of undocumented immigrants planned to travel through the southern US in order to “confront power with the stories, voices, and actions of those directly affected by these immigration policies.” All along the route, which started in Phoenix, Unitarian Universalist congregations, in Denver, Albuquerque, Austin, New Orleans, Cordova, TN, Ellisville, MS, Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Asheville, Raleigh, and finally in Charlotte, offered them housing, meals, moral support, and their love. The forty or so riders came to appreciate our Standing on the Side of Love banners and t-shirts and expressed tremendous gratitude for our encouragement and assistance.

I met Angel when the bus arrived in Charlotte, NC, on September 3, 2012. By that time, he and the other riders had been on the road for more than a month. He told me he had to leave the next day, only a day after arriving in Charlotte and before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the Undocubus’s final destination, even started, because he was taking his SATs the next day in order to get into college. Angel felt proud that he had come on this journey but missed his family and was anxious to get home to them. He hated being separated from them while he was in detention and told me he doesn’t believe anyone should have to go through what he did. That’s why he is continuing his work with Puente Arizona, who supported his mother while he was in detention, and with 3rd Space, a collective of queer migrants and people of color working on social justice issues in Phoenix.

Angel opened up a whole new world to me, the world of self-identified queers who are also undocumented immigrants. They call themselves Undocu-queers and they drip courage from their pores.

Because Angel was one of the first people from Undocubus I met, I assumed his story was unique. I asked him how he was accepted on the bus as an out queer. He laughed and said, “There’s a lot of us on the bus. It’s filled with queers.” It didn’t take long before I recognized the truth behind his words.

Some riders I talked with estimated that about half of them were LGBTQ people. One day, as an Undocubus news conference wound up just outside the gates from the arena where the DNC was going on, I asked a group of four young adults why they thought there were so many LGBTQ folks on the bus. They answered without hesitation.

“We already came out once,” one responded, “we’ve already had to claim our queer identity.”bus_charlotte

Another added, “This is another way we have to come out.”

“To be who we are,” chimed in a third.

One young adult explained further, “LGBTQ people have always been at the front of social movements. Look at Bayard Rustin who worked with Martin Luther King,”

Their clarity impressed me and their courage astounded me. They stood up against great opposition and proudly declared, “I am who I am and no one is going to take that away from me.”

Whether or not you agree with their strategy, these modern-day freedom riders, who rode thousands of miles through the hot August sun in a cramped, 1970s, un-air-conditioned bus, have to be admired for their willingness to put everything, even their own freedom, on the line to challenge a system that stands in the way of their dreams.

This post was originally published on blog.