Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stride Toward Freedom

Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association, is bringing out the collected works of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have to confess that until this weekend I had never read more than speeches by Rev. Dr. King. I couldn't put "Stride to Freedom" down, and read it cover to cover in two sittings.

It is his telling of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was gripping. More than 50,000 people stayed off the Montgomery buses for more than a year. It was led by African American ministers and their congregations, who often faced personal violence, harassment, and arrest. It was a mass movement of people saying "ENOUGH" and standing up for their freedom at great personal cost.

Now, of course, I knew something about this, but I was deeply moved and inspired by this book, and it's starting me thinking about how in today's world, the movement towards full inclusion of LGBT people is at a similar "tipping point." This past weekend, as I participated in Minneapolis Pride and even attended a Kathy Griffin concert, I was moved to see the diversity of people supporting full inclusion. Holly Near is right: "we are gay and straight together and we are singing, singing for our lives." I have no doubt that if he were alive, Dr. King would be working with us on these issues. He writes in this book, "the inseparable twin of racial justice is economic justice." I would amend it to say that "racial justice, sexual justice, and economic justice are inseparable triplets." (Oh, I think I need to tweet that!)

I loved this quote from the book, as it also describes the ministry I hope I am doing in the world:

"Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal...any religion that professes to be concerned with the soul of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is as dry-as-dust religion."

Looking to be inspired this summer by your summer reading? Check out

Friday, June 25, 2010

Raise a Faithful Voice for LGBT Pride

Rev. Haffner is on the road this week. This guest blog is by Tim Palmer, director of communications and outreach for the Religious Institute.

It's supposed to be hot and humid in New York City on Sunday, but I'll be stepping out with my fellow Episcopalians in the city's 40th annual march for LGBT Pride. The Village Voice has a terrific first-person account of the first march -- in 1970, one year after the Stonewall uprising of June 1969. Since that article isn't online, I'll direct you to Michael Musto's column instead.

Musto asks an important question: For all the progress and visibility LGBT people have achieved in popular culture, why are our civil rights still lagging behind? Here we are in Year Two of the Obama administration, and there's still no
ENDA, no DADT repeal, and no mention of challenge to DOMA.

But -- unlike Years One through Eight of the previous administration -- there is reason for hope. The U.S. House of Representatives has authorized repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell; the Senate Armed Services Committee has followed suit; and now we await action by the full Senate. ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- has at least gotten a hearing or two on Capitol Hill, and some advocates remain hopeful that the bill will finally pass. (Does
89% public support count for nothing?)

No surprise that the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention are mobilizing to forestall both of these steps toward justice. The Religious Institute offers two ways for progressive people of faith to make their voices heard.

First: If you are a member of the clergy or a religious professional,
read and endorse the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity. The Open Letter makes a faith-based argument for LGBT civil rights and full inclusion in our congregations and denominations. We launched this sign-on campaign earlier in the week in the hope of getting at least 1,000 signature by Monday, June 28th -- the 41st anniversary of Stonewall. We are more than halfway there. Please add your name, and forward the invitation to your friends and colleagues.

Second: We invite all people of faith -- laity and clergy, from all traditions -- to become part of the
Faithful Voices Network. The network is a multifaith, grassroots movement of people of faith who support sexual health, education and justice, including LGBT equality. Take the pledge today!

If it's too hot to join in your local Pride march, do your celebrating online. Help us raise a faithful voice for LGBT justice. And have a happy and blessed Pride.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

UN Efforts to Decriminalize Homosexuality A Start But Not Enough

I had the privilege of attending a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office on "Exporting Homophobia" around the world. Ugandan Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who is leading the effort against the anti-gay bill in Uganda, was the featured guest. A "dream team" of religious LGBT advocates were at the meeting, including Yvette Flunder, Cindi Love, Michael Adee, Stephen Parelli, and Michael Schuenemeyer.

I learned a new UN acronym at the meeting: SOGI. That stands for "sexual orientation and gender identity." A representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights pledged her support to work to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Other speakers talked about educating people of faith in the global south on alternative scriptural understandings of homosexuality and one person from Kenya spoke about moving people from seeing homosexuality as the sin to understanding that it is sodomy that is sinful.

Although I was happy to be there and moved by Bishop Senyonjo's presentation, I can't help but feel that the United Nations representatives aren't thinking BIG enough, and that many of the participants don't really understand the sexology of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. I wonder how SOGI became code for LGBTI issues, when all people have a sexual orientation and a gender identity.

But, I also feel somehow that concentrating on the goal of decriminalization isn't BIG enough. Yes, we need to work to make sure that it is not a crime to engage in same sex sexual behaviors everywhere in the world, and yes, we need to help the UN understand and advocate that the rights of LGBTQI persons are protected as human rights.

However, we need to be articulating and working toward a world where it is understood that sexual and gender diversities are part of God's blessing to us, that sexual rights are human rights, and for a relationship-based rather than an act-based sexual ethic. I want to help create a world where participants in this type of forum would affirm the rights of consenting adults to sexual pleasure, regardless of the sex or gender of the partners and which body part goes into another. I want to be at meetings where we discuss how to move people of faith to a broader affirmation of sexual rights and pleasure for all of us.

This wasn't that meeting. I'm thinking about how the Religious Institute could help facilitate that type of dialogue. Ideas welcome!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Non Virgins Need Not Apply

I've just published a Huffington Post blog on the decision by a Christian school in Florida to fire a 39 year old teacher for having sex before her marriage.

You can read the full post at

It's inconceivable to me that in today's world having premarital sex can be used as a reason to terminate employment -- or is seen as some how debased. Remember that more than 90% of Americans have premarital sex, and that's been true for at least the past forty years.

What do you think?

Friday, June 11, 2010

US State Department Rocks: Revised Standards for Passports for Transgender Persons

You all know that I've been critical about how slow change has been by the Obama administration on LGBT issues. I wish that ENDA had been passed, the end of DADT had been an executive order, and that the President would support marriage equality.

But change is happening. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department announced new rules for people who are undergoing gender transitions who need passports. It used to be that only people who had had gender reassignment surgery could change their passports. No longer true. All a person will need is a doctor to certify that they have undergone gender transition. There's even an option for someone in the process of transitioning. I would have preferred that sex be removed from the passport application completely, but this is an important step forward. You can read the new policy at

The President promised us that his policies would be based on science and not ideology. I'm grateful to all of our colleague organizations who have worked to bring these changes about to recognize the humanity and equality of us all.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

International Family Planning Saves Lives -- Get Involved

I started my professional career 35 years ago this summer at the Population Institute, where as the Director of the Resource Center, I developed fact sheets on population and family planning.

Last night, I read two outstanding articles on how vital family planning services still are to the world's women and how much unmet need still exists.

Dr. Willard Cates, President of Family Health International, wrote in the new issue of Contraception that family planning is the essential link to achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals. Family planning will help end poverty and hunger; prolongs education; empowers women; saves infants lives; reduces the risks of abortion and childbearing and thus reduces maternal mortality; prevents HIV transmission by women to their babies; and promotes global partnerships. A "new" fact for me was learning that family planning is "five times cheaper than conventional green technologies for reducing CO2 climate change."

Susan Cohen wrote an excellent article, "Family Planning and Safe Motherhood: Dollars and Sense" for the Guttmacher Policy Review. that concludes that "doubling the modest, current global investment in family planning and maternal and newborn care -- to just over $24 billion combined annually - would reduce maternal mortality by at least 70%, half the number of newborn deaths and do so at a lower total cost than investing in maternal and newborn care alone." Her analysis also concludes, "the most effective way to reduce the incidence of abortion overall, including unsafe abortion, is to increase use of modern contraception - making it easier for women to avoid unintended pregnancy in the first place."

The moral imperative was clear to me that first summer I went to work after college. It's the same today. Family planning saves lives.

Get involved. Join our Faithful Voices Network to learn more or sign up to host a Rachel Sabbath in your congregation next year.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Gay? Whatever, Dude," NYT Headline

As stunning as the facts presented in a Friday New York Times Op-Ed column were, in some ways it's the headline that shows just how much things have changed.

"Gay? Whatever, Dude" was the headline on the center of the op-ed page. It's hard to imagine that headline even a few years ago in a major national newspaper.

Charles M. Blow reported that more than half of Americans now think that "gay and lesbian relations" are morally acceptable, and for the first time, more men than women do. Male positive attitudes have increased by 48% since 2006.

He pointed out that more people answer affirmatively to questions about gays and lesbians than they do to questions about 'homosexuals." He wrote, "the inclusion of the root word sex still raises an aversive response" by some. It's noteworthy, then, that the headline writers didn't use, "Homosexual? Whatever" in their national newspaper. There is still the "ick" factor that gets in the way of people being okay with sexual diversity.

But all of this points to a maturing of sexual attitudes, and gives me hope that one day soon there will be an end to employment discrimination, an end to marriage discrimination, an end to military discrimination, and an end to social discrimination because of people's sexual orientation.

May it be so.