Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stop Asking - Stop Answering -- Gender (M or F) on Forms

I just made a decision that I'm hoping you'll share.

I was asked to sign up for a listserv for a professional network of people working on international sexual and reproductive health. The form required me to give my gender, and the drop down box gave two options, M and F. I skipped the question, pushed submit, and got an automatic message that I had to answer that question.

I contacted the organization, who basically replied that it couldn't do anything. I told them I couldn't sign up. My gender has no relevance to my participation on this listserv, and I have no need to share it.

To stand with my friends and colleagues of transgender experience, I've decided I'm no longer going to answer gender or sex questions that don't provide another option to M & F. And when they are required, I'm going to write and tell the organization why I can't participate.

If enough of us do it, forms will change -- and people will be educated that the gender binary doesn't apply to all of us.

Will you join me?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arizona Immigration Policy: Why It Matters To A Sexual Justice Advocate

I am outraged, as I know you are, about the new immigration policy in Arizona that allows police to question people about their immigration status and requires them to produce documentation that they are in the United States legally.

It is nothing short of a full frontal attack on people of Latino descent in Arizona and xenophobia at its worst. I'm also pretty confident that it will be found unconstitutional. I'm proud of the work my denomination is doing in Arizona in their Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

I asked a colleague whether there was a pending sign on letter by national religious leaders, and she seemed surprised that we would want to be outspoken on immigration laws. Now as a small organization, we do concentrate on a small number of sexual justice issues, but there is no question that they are affected by these laws.

At its core, my strong faith commitment to the dignity and worth of all persons means that I do not think any person is "illegal" or unworthy of equal treatment. But, these issues also intersect in more practical ways. What's going to happen to Hispanic women in labor in Arizona when they go to a hospital? What about when they visit a public health clinic for birth control? What happens to gay and lesbian Hispanic immigrants who live with U.S. citizens in families but because there is no marriage equality are denied immigration status that their straight married friends have? There are many such questions where these issues intersect.

I'm also acutely aware that the same people who support these types of laws also fight against sexual justice issues. A recent poll of Tea Party activists for examples show that 82% of them think immigration is a very serious problem, 84% oppose marriage equality, and 79% don't support the availability of abortion. (A third believe that President Obama was born in another country.)

SO, why would I speak out against the Arizona law? Because all of these issues are interconnected, and because as long as there is injustice for any group, there cannot be, "liberty and justice for all."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1st Denomination Database on Sexuality Issues

Wondering how yesterday's decision by the ELCA to allow partnered gay clergy came about?

Wondering about the history of the Roman Catholic Church's policies on child sexual abuse -- or how other denominations respond?

Needing to find a church or synagogue that supports sexual justice issues?

Look no further. I'm delighted to let you know about the first online searchable denomination database on sexuality issues.

The Religious Institute database includes statements and studies from 28 religious denominations on 22 issues, including adolescent sexuality, assisted reproductive technologies, contraception, homosexuality and sexual orientation, marriage and marriage equality, transgender and gender identity, sexuality education, and sexual abuse and violence. Each entry consists of the full text or excerpt of the denomination’s position, as well as a link to the original source.

The database was created as a research tool for journalists, scholars and educators. It will also assist clergy, seminarians, theologians, congregational committees, and others engaged in writing, teaching, policymaking or discernment. Individuals seeking a religious home may also use the database to understand how different traditions address sexuality concerns.

The database includes documents from a range of Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions, reflecting both conservative and progressive perspectives. Because the collected resources date back to the 1970s, researchers can examine the historical evolution of a denomination’s positions on contemporary issues, such as sexual orientation and assisted reproduction.

You can search the database here:

The full press release is posted at

We hope you'll help us spread the word on your blogs, web sites, newsletter, twitter, and FB pages.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Newsweek on Abortion: Only Half the Story

This article appears in today's Newsweek: It's major points are that young people don't care enough about abortion rights and that the pro-choice movement needs to be begin to address the "moral complexity" of abortion.

Here's the letter I just sent them:

To the editor:

Your article on supportive attitudes about abortion rights among young people only tells part of the story. Yes, it's difficult for some people born a decade after Roe to conceive abortion being illegal, but my experience with young women activists is not represented in your article. In fact, your writer chose not to interview the many organizations headed by young women working on abortion rights.

But more concerning to me as a minister who runs an organization of more than 5000 religious leaders committed to sexual justice, are the assertions that the pro-choice movement has ignored the moral complexities of abortion. Religious leaders have been in the forefront of the movement for abortion rights for more than fifty years. The Clergy Consultation Service in the 1960's and 1970's were among the first to advocate for repeal of abortion laws. More than thirty years ago, many religious denominations passed courageous resolutions in support of women's moral agency and their right to a safe and legal abortion. Our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders On Abortion As a Moral Decision" has been endorsed by more than 1100 ordained clergy, and calls for a world where abortion is safe, legal, accessible, and rare. Rather than ignore the moral complexities, we call on leaders of all faiths to prepare themselves to support women compassionately as they also affirm women as moral agents who have the capacity, right, and responsibility to make their own decisions about unintended pregnancies.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Friday, April 16, 2010

The United Church of Christ Gets It

It's thrilling to share this new video from the United Church of Christ with you.

It is a stirring, moving photo montage demonstrating their commitment to justice, full inclusion, and diversity.

It's an invitation to join their churches...but I think it's a challenge to other denominations to do as well for all. They are creating a viral movement. I hope you'll take a moment and watch it.

Regardless of your religious background, I think you'll find "God is still speaking."

I'm having a bit of denomination envy myself.

The Language of God from United Church of Christ on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sexually Healthy Rabbis, Ministers, and Priests

I spent Monday with a group of United Methodist officials who are working to create a new policy for training for clergy and seminarians on sexual boundaries and harassment prevention. The Religious Institute is helping them place this work in the context of working with clergy on becoming sexually healthy religious professionals.

A sexually healthy religious professional of course understands appropriate sexual boundaries and how to deal with their attractions. But, they are also knowledgeable about human sexuality, familiar with their sacred texts on sexuality, have engaged in reflection on their own sexuality and how to integrate sexuality and spirituality, trained in pastoral counseling on these issues, skilled in preaching, and able to serve as a role model, discussing sexual issues with comfort, ease, and respect.

The good news is that a number of denominations are now understanding that assuring the sexual health of their religious professionals is central to ministerial formation. The UUA, as I've written here before, will now require all of their candidates to demonstrate competency in sexual health, education, and justice. We're working with at least five other denominations to help them more forward on these issues.

Maybe it's time for the Vatican to call on us for advice too.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Bristol Palin's PSA on Teen Pregnancy

Candies released its new PSA with Bristol Palin.

There are a lot of things that are troubling about it. It implies that only families of means (or even perhaps with famous parents) can adequately support their pregnant teen daughters. That is of course patently false. And teen parenthood is hard, no matter your family's resources.

It also doesn't begin to mention that teenage pregnancy can be PREVENTED through the use of contraception.

But, I like the overall message that teenage parenthood is tough, and I find "pause before you play" compelling. To me, it says think about sex before you have it, always a good message for teenagers AND adults. No matter what your age, thinking BEFORE sex is always a good idea (although as a sexologist, I'd tell you that thinking DURING is rarely.)

I think this ad would be a great trigger for discussion with teens in your home or in a classroom. One could point out the classist assumptions -- and still point out that preparing for sex, making sure it's right for you and the circumstances, and then choosing to abstain from intercourse or get contraception and condoms before anything physical happens.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Adults Are The Problem With Teen Sexuality

Adults set up a fake prom in Mississippi rather than have a lesbian teen couple attend the actual prom.

A district attorney in Wisconsin threatens to charge sex educators with sex abuse if they teach condom use to teens younger than 16 in accordance with state education law.

A Vatican official on Easter Sunday suggests that the faithful avoid the "petty gossip" about sexual abuse of children and youth by priests.

These recent events reported in the news in the past few days appal me. I'm guessing they do you, too.

And what do they teach our young people? That some adults so devalue gay and lesbian youth that they shouldn't be included in important events. That some adults would rather deny young people life saving information than acknowledge that some teens engage in sexual relationships. That some adults turn their back on young people who are being sexually abused by adults.

What do I want teens (and the adults who care for them) to know? That forming a sexual identity is a developmental task of adolescents. That adults need to support the teen virgins and the teens who engage in sexual behaviors. That truth telling should be the hallmark of all of our programs. That adults will do everything they can to protect youth from abusive adults, regardless of profession. That young people have the right to ask questions and a right to have answers. That they deserve our respect and our support as they become adults.

The good news for today is that the teen birth rate went down last year, after increasing for the past two. More teens are protecting themselves, either by abstaining from PVI (penile-vaginal intercourse) or by using contraception. While the adults are fighting, they're seeking out what they need to be safe. Shouldn't we be on THEIR side?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Celebrate the 9th Anniversary of the Religious Institute!

Nine years ago, Rev. Larry Greenfield and I created the idea for the Religious Institute (then the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing) in the refectory of the Union Theological Seminary in NYC.

We saw the need for an organization to promote the goals and vision of the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, then a year old and endorsed by some 800 religious leaders.

Today, the Religious Institute is a thriving not-for-profit organization and recognized as the leading organization working at the intersection of sexuality education, reproductive health, and sexual justice.

During the past 9 years, we've grown to five full time staff people with professional offices in Westport, CT. Our network has grown to more than 5000 religious leaders from more than fifty traditions who work in every state and 12 countries. We've published 9 major guidebooks for congregations and seminaries, 7 theological frameworks, a website visited by tens of thousands of people, and have offered more than 600 speeches, training workshops, and sermons. We work closely with the leadership of 15 major religious denominations.

Want to help us celebrate? This year, we are moving our ministry from the pulpit to the pews. If you support sexual health, sexuality education, and full inclusion of LGBT people in faith communities and society, we hope you'll join us. Take the pledge today at

Thank you for your support and friendship!