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).

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 www.StandingontheSideofLove.org blog.

A quiet revolutionary: Laura Matilda Towne devoted her life to a school for former slaves

Laura Towne marker
Laura Towne marker, Penn Center, St. Helena’s Island, SC

The Rev. William Furness’s sermons on the abominations of slavery angered wealthy members of First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia in the decade leading up to the American Civil War. Many withdrew from the church. Laura Matilda Towne (1825–1901) was among those who stayed to hear Furness preach, often with armed guards at his side, and his words left a lasting impression on her.

When shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861, the 35-year-old Towne decided she must act. With medical training from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and a love of teaching, she responded to Abraham Lincoln’s call for teachers to go to South Carolina to participate in the Port Royal Experiment. The Union Navy had captured Port Royal Sound, just off the coast of Beaufort and Hilton Head Islands, so quickly that the plantation owners there deserted not only their plantations but also thousands of people they had previously enslaved. The United States government declared these people (and other slaves who turned themselves over to Union troops) not freed but contraband of war. It set up the Port Royal Experiment to prove that if the former slaves could be educated, become landowners, serve in the military, and build a self-sufficient community, they could become productive citizens in other parts of the South.

This set the stage for Towne’s life work.

In 1862, Towne boarded a ship for St. Helena Island, South Carolina. There she found 6,000 people who had known no other life but one of bondage. In addition to putting her skills as a homeopathic physician to use, Towne began a school, first in her home and eventually in a building she had shipped in pieces from Philadelphia. She named it the Penn School, in honor of William Penn and Pennsylvania’s Freedmen’s Aid Society, which funded the school’s first years. Later, her family, other prominent Unitarians, and abolitionists of other faiths supported the school.

Within months of Towne’s arrival, Ellen Murray — described as Towne’s lifelong intimate friend — came to work at her side. Together they built the school into the center of community life on the Sea Islands. Towne became a bridge between the government and the people of the islands, often as an advocate for their needs and wages. She opposed speculators’ attempts to buy lands that had become delinquent through nonpayment of taxes, eventually making it possible for people to own the land they had worked on all their lives.

When Towne died of influenza in 1901, at the age of 75, several hundred of her island neighbors followed the simple mule cart that carried her body to the Port Royal ferry, singing the spirituals she had so loved. She was buried in Philadelphia, and a memorial marker was placed in her honor at the Brick Baptist Church Cemetery on St. Helena Island. But Towne’s impact did not die when she did.

Towne was a quiet revolutionary; she broke social barriers and attacked the assigned social place of African Americans by fighting entrenched patterns of subservience. As the people of the Sea Islands developed skills and knowledge previously denied them, Towne supported their journey toward independence. Rosalyn Browne, former director of history and culture at Penn Center (the former Penn School), said, “In 1862, before freedom came, [Towne] taught my ancestors how to free their minds long before the United States Congress freed their persons.”

When the school closed in 1948, it became Penn Community Services Center, an agency promoting self-sufficiency and the advancement and development of the Sea Island community and its residents.

Penn Center played an important role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It was, among many other things, a safe haven for civil rights conferences, training, and retreats led by the Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Penn Center is now a national historic landmark district.

Within the past few years, Penn Center has reconnected with its Unitarian roots through the efforts of the late Milton Rahn and the Rev. Dr. Audrey W. Vincent, members of the UU Church of Savannah, Georgia, and the work of the UU Fellowship of Beaufort, South Carolina. The Beaufort congregation has developed such a strong multicultural partnership with Penn Center that on May 18, 2013, the fellowship will be inducted into the center’s 1862 Circle, which honors supporters and luminaries such as Congressman John Lewis, Vernon Jordan, Phylicia Rashad, and Pat Conroy.

As Penn Center celebrates its 150th anniversary, it continues to inspire through education, leadership, and service—and Towne’s legacy lives on.

First published in the Spring 2013 issue of UU World magazine.

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 www.standingonthesideoflove.org.

The women of Katrina

Women of Katrina book cover

I am honored to announce that excerpts from my online journal, originally published on the Unitarian Universalist Association website, www.uua.org, are included in a new publicationThe Women of Katrina book cover from Vanderbilt University Press, The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race, and Class Matter in an American Disaster, edited by Emmanuel David and Elaine Enarson. My journal was about my experiences working as a mental health volunteer in an American Red Cross emergency shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the days and weeks following  Hurricane Katrina. To read all of my entries, please visit “A Personal View of Disaster: The Diary of Annette Marquis

Description of The Women of Katrina: The transformative event known as “Katrina” exposed long-standing social inequalities. While debates rage about race and class relations in New Orleans and the Katrina diaspora, gender remains curiously absent from public discourse and scholarly analysis. This volume draws on original research and firsthand narratives from women in diverse economic, political, ethnic, and geographic contexts to portray pre-Katrina vulnerabilities, gender concerns in post-disaster housing and assistance, and women’s collective struggles to recover from this catastrophe.

I’d love to hear your stories of Katrina. What did you learn from work you have done post-Katrina?

Coming out in faith

Coming Out in Faith Book Cover

Coming out as a lesbian is an everyday spiritual practice. Some days, in some places, to some people, it takes more courage than others. My faith as a Coming Out in Faith Book CoverUnitarian Universalist has sustained me, bolstered me, and inspired me to be fully who I am. That’s why I’m thrilled to have an essay of mine, “The Long Road Home,” included in a publication from Skinner House Books, Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists, edited by Susan A. Gore and Keith Kron.

This collection of poignant testimonials illuminates the lived experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Unitarian Universalists. Coming Out in Faith also helps to raise awareness of Unitarian Universalism’s active role in promoting a vision of humanity that not only embraces LGBTQ people but actively seeks to learn from the unique strengths they bring to questions of personal faith and organizational vitality.

Do you have a coming out story tied to your experience of faith?