Friday, September 07, 2007


During the past few weeks, either in blogs or face to face meetings, several people have called me an "ally" on GLBT issues. It happened again yesterday.

You may have heard the expanded letters "GLBTQQIA" to talk about people who might be considered part of, for lack of a better word at the moment, a sexual minority. It stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersexual, and assexual -- or to some people "ally", meaning heterosexual people who support the others.

But, somehow "ally" doesn't reflect my internal sense of why I am committed to full inclusion of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in society and the life of the faith community.

It's made me think back to the feeling that I had growing up when I learned people labeled me as "white." Growing up Jewish in an area dominated by White Anglo Saxon Protestants and White Roman Catholics, I somehow never felt like I belonged to them. In my childhood mind, Jews and Blacks were much more closely aligned than I was to the second grade Catholic girls who taunted me ruthlessly because I wasn't going to be confirmed and thus going to hell.

I similarly don't resonate to "ally" because my commitment to sexual justice, sexuality education for all, and affirmation of our sexualities as a gift from God transcends a commitment to supporting the rights of others. The people who would deny GLBTQQI persons their sexuality and their right to responsible sexual behaviors and expressions often would also deny the right to reproductive health services, erotica, sex toys, uncensored adult materials, the Internet, and sexual behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable. (Remember that sodomy laws in almost half the states were aimed at heterosexuals as well as gay people.)

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."

I wonder what the impact would be if all of us working for sexual justice would label ourselves as "queer".


Tom Richie said...

We do seem to be obsessed with labels these days, and they boil down to "good" and "evil" for many people. Labels give people a quick reference for what might otherwise take some thoughtful analysis and careful consideration. All in an effort to save time and discussion which keeps us from important tasks like eating, driving, and consuming useless products of all kinds. So it's interesting to me that one of the two anagrams for label is "All Be."

Labels promote polarization and never in my nearly sixty years have I sensed a greater polarization of attitudes than I do today. Especially threatening to the "faith" community are so called "liberal" attitudes toward sexuality. (Read "liberal" as non-judgmental or tolerant of what was unthinkable 40 years ago.) Where a dialog once existed between liberals and conservatives, and a respectful debate could ensue, there is now a great fear of reasoned discussion, especially among conservatives. Emotionally charged "labels" help to limit this discussion and appeal to people's need for the quick and easy. More thought than fits into a carefully labeled sound bite is getting to be beyond the ability of the average consumer. So I'm not surprised that one of the two anagrams for "label" is "All Be."

Jo Gerrard said...

It's an interesting question - I know that the GLBT community is working to reclaim the word, and I wonder how far such an action would go toward furthering that reclamation.

Robin Edgar said...

"I wonder what the impact would be if all of us working for sexual justice would label ourselves as "queer"."

Considerable confusion I expect. . .

Steve Caldwell said...


When facilitating Our Whole Lives training workshops, we briefly mention the term "queer" as an "umbrella" term that embraces other sexual minorities such as bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender.

During these trainings, I suggest that "ally" may fall under the queer umbrella and be part of the queer community in an analogous way that adult advisors who work with youth groups are part of the youth community.

Heterosexual allies and adult advisors are both intentionally giving up some of the power and privilege that our culture gives to adults and heterosexuals.

Another UU writer has explored the idea that a "white" racial identity is also tied a Christian identification as well.

Here's what Sharon Hwang Colligan has said about this in her work Children of a Different Tribe:

You'll hear a lot these days around the UUA about how UUs are a bunch of white, middle-class, individualists. I think that there is a grain of truth to that, but mostly it's a bunch of malarky.

If you ask the KKK, or the Christian supremacists, they'll tell you: the Unitarians are not "white" any more than the Jews are. Unitarians are heretics, unbelievers, subversives, communists, atheists, race-mixers, homosexuals, heathens, and dangerous religious frauds.

So long as we are busy pretending to be "white" and rehearsing our "white" identity, we will not be able to have an honest relationship with anyone, let alone our friends of color. The first step in cultural diversity is understanding what your culture is.

The rest of Children of a Different Tribe: UU Young Adult Developmental Issues can be found online here:

HTML version

PDF version

Finally, we had a rep from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation talk about how to speak to the media. His suggestion was not to use acronyms like GLBTQ. It's insider-speak that doesn't work with "movable middle" that one is trying to convince with a sound-bite.

"Queer" is an inclusive umbrella term but it not fully reclaimed for all Americans yet and the GLAAD rep recommended not using it for that reason.

Debra W. Haffner said...

Rev. Deborah Johnson of InnerLight Ministries sent me the following, and gave permission for me to post it here:

I feel the dismissal that the term “ally” appears to convey, casting one in a permanent state of otherness. Your personal sense of connectedness and universal interconnectedness with the groups that you support makes it difficult to be referred to in a manner which seemingly ignores this spiritual and political kinship.

As a diversity trainer, I’d like to give you another insight. I think the issue here is relative levels of power. When I hear your concern being put forth, it is usually coming from someone who emotionally identifies more with the marginalized groups than with the groups practicing the marginalizing. To be referred to as “ally” makes it plain that the person IS in fact a member of the group that is marginalizing which makes the support even more precious. It is a clear recognition that the “ally” has privileges/entitlements that are being jeopardized, shared, and used for the purpose of creating access for others who do not have the same position of power.

Allies are deeply appreciated. There is the perception that they don’t have to stick their necks out, but choose to anyway suffering some of the same indignations that the marginalized do. The “not having to do this” is a privilege that is being relinquished for a higher cause.

The concern with being called “ally” usually stems from one or two problematic perceptions:

1) the “ally” feels labeled, too invisible and too much outside of the community he/she is supporting and feels at one with; and/or

2) the “ally” feels some guilt or shame about technically being a member of the marginalizing community that he/she feels emotionally disassociated from.

On a more spiritual note, the whole construct from which duality emerges is out of alignment with the concept of Oneness that I strive to promote. I was taught to see people for all they can be but to meet them where they are. Hopefully, we will one day grow into such a sense of oneness that may be the heart of your concern, that none of this will ever matter.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the leaders of what has long been called the "Queer Caucus" at Union Theological Seminary. We're making a point this year that we are not the lgbt student group; our unofficial slogan is "Who's queer? Just about everybody." Just about everybody, that is, who supports sexual justice. That works in a community like Union, but I'm not sure it would in other places. I do believe in a Kingdom Without Labels, but depending on the community you serve, labeling can be a necessary evil, a tool for creating awareness of the sexual and gender diversity in God's creation.

Robin Edgar said...

Steve Caldwell said, "If you ask the KKK, or the Christian supremacists, they'll tell you: the Unitarians are not "white" any more than the Jews are. Unitarians are heretics, unbelievers, subversives, communists, atheists, race-mixers, homosexuals, heathens, and dangerous religious frauds."

Would they be wrong Steve? ;-)