Monday, April 30, 2007

Deja vu

I feel like I've written this story before.

On Friday, the Deputy Secretary of State, Randall Tobias, stepped down from his position after admitting that he had visited a well known D.C. escort service now being prosecuted by police.

What most of the press reports failed to mention is that he directed the U.S.A.I.D. program called PEPFAR that promotes abstinence and monogamy as the best answer to HIV/AIDS around the world. On Huffington Post, one AIDS activist called him "Mr. Abstinence." Tobias has promoted policies that place condom education and distribution as a distant last in prevention. I stand with those who believe that public health policy should not be trumped by particular moral stances.

I imagine it was a very difficult weekend in the Tobias household, and I truly feel for the pain they must be experiencing. But, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Tobias also regrets his international calls for abstinence and monogamy which did not help HIM, and can only hope that he knew to use condoms to protect himself and his wife.

I also wonder, as I always do when I read about a Tobias, a Haggard, a Limbaugh, a Barnes, just to name a few, how it is that these men ignore the basic characteristics of a sexually healthy adult- one of which is to only engage in sexual behaviors that are life enhancing rather than those that could be destructive to oneself or others. That's not sophisticated morality -- but it would indeed be a start.

A Quick Bravo to ABC's 20/20 for airing an hour long documentary on transgender children. Despite it's unfortunate title, "God Made a Mistake", it was a sensitive view of a complex issue. You can read it at

Friday, April 27, 2007

Don't Get Attached to the Outcome

I've been working on my sermon all day and didn't get around to writing a blog post. I'm preaching Sunday at my home congregation, the Unitarian Church in Westport. My sermon topic is "Don't Get Attached to the Outcome" and I'll be looking at the balance between control and letting go and how our own attitudes and actions affect our lives. I won't be talking much about sexuality, although a little bit of that is sure to come up.

I am talking about lessons from the book of Ecclessiastes and what's wrong with "The Secret". I'll talk about the challenges of living each day the best way we can, and I quote the Talmud: “In the world to come, each of us will be called to account for all the good things God put on earth which we refused to enjoy.”

If you're in the area, I'd love to have you join us for worship. And, the sermon will be posted in a few days at our web site.

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Take Your Child to Work Day

Today is "Take Your Child To Work Day." Originally designed as "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" to expose young women in the work force, sons are now included.

I remember taking my daughter to work years ago when I was the CEO of SIECUS. I asked her what she thought at the end of the day. She said, "It doesn't look very hard. You talk on the phone, go to meetings, and play on the computer." Well, yes...and...

In many ways as a minister and the director of the Religious Institute, I still do many of those things. Since today was a sermon writing day, I didn't think it made much sense to take my 13 year old to my home office. He did accompany me last week to Washington, D.C. and made lobbying visits with the Connecticut delegation about ENDA and hate crimes legislation. He says that when friends ask him what I do for a living, he says "She's a minister and a sexologist" and that there is never a second question after that.

I do think it's important that we talk to our children about our employment and our work for justice in the world. It might be tonight's teachable moment.

P.S. If you are reading this on Thursday, April 26th, I will be on Univision this evening at 10 p.m. on a taped piece on congregations and sex offenders. They interviewed me in Spanish, and I did my best to respond. If you catch it, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hurry Up, Gov. Spitzer!

The New York Times this morning reports that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is planning to introduce a bill to support marriage equality for same sex couples. It will make him the first governor to do so, and the NYT editorial surely will help.

Back in the olden days of 2004, after the Massachusetts decision, it seemed that other progressive states would quickly follow suit. Friends of mine asked me if I would perform a ceremony for them in New York the following summer. It seemed a near certainty that New York would follow quickly.

Peter and Kenneth had met during the closeted 1950's, and had been together ever since. New York's law hadn't changed, but we went ahead with the ceremony anyway at their 50th anniversary party. I joked with the participants that this was one service where I wasn't worried about whether the relationship would work out.

But I also remember saying that it was beyond absurd that their relationship wasn't yet able to be recognized by the state. Surely they were married in all but the eyes of the law.

That summer day, I promised to come back and make it official, God and the state willing. My friends will be 85 soon. Mr. Spitzer, can you hurry up and get this done?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Abortion IS a Moral Decision

One of the best things about having a blog is it's an outlet for my frustration with what I read in the national media.

I've just sent a letter to the NY Times about my dismay with David Brook's column yesterday called "Postures in Public, Facts in the Womb." In it, he says that people who are pro-choice treat "abortion as the moral equivalent of a tonsillectomy" and ignore the fetus.

I wrote the NY Times this letter this morning:

"In fact, Mr. Brooks, millions of people of faith ground their moral commitment to the right to choose in their religious beliefs. We believe that abortion is always a serious moral decision, and we affirm women's moral agency to make the decision as to whether or not abortion is justified in their specific circumstances. We know that religious traditions affirm the value of fetal life, often according greater value as fetal development progresses, but believe that the health and life of the woman must take precedence. Further, we know that it is precisely because life is so precious, that it should never be created carelessly."

Further, in his column Mr. Brooks differentiates between pregnant women who he calls mothers, "adults" and people he labels "abortion professionals." Surely Mr. Brooks knows that we are also mothers and grandmothers, sisters, and daughters, and that we too value our children. Surely he did not mean to carelessly imply that pregnant women don't have a role in this discussion or that they are not adults with moral agency. Indeed, central to our commitment is that it is precisely the pregnant woman who must ultimately decide.

Perhaps, Mr. Brooks, instead of decrying our work to support women's rights, you should come talk with us. I'm ready and able.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Personal Story

It's been a heart breaking week.

And how quickly organizations and the media have jumped to frame issues in their political context -- even as opportunities for fundraising. Gun control/gun access. More treatment for mental illness/more restrictions. Abortion -- yes/no. I've wished for more moments of silence, less talking heads.

A friend and colleague wrote this this morning, about what's at stake in yesterday's Supreme Court decision. I asked her permission to share it with you.

"When I heard the news, I did not move to my usual stance of policy concern. I thought first about December 23, 1998 while Brian, my husband and I waited for Jacob to be born after "induced labor". He had not formed necessary parts of his urinary tract in the 20 weeks of pregnancy thus far. After numerous medical tests putting his and my life in danger - all for the possibility of saving him. It was conclusive that his kidneys had failed and his lungs would never develop - he could never function outside of my body. Our choice to induce labor was medically and politically defined as abortion.

The Supreme Court ruling, if in effect when we had Jacob, would have prevented us from inducing labor. We would have had to wait until he "died" (as in no more heartbeat sustained only by my body serving as a life support machine)- making me carry him potentially to term and putting my health at risk. People don't think about cases like ours when they hear second trimester abortion ban. They just think about "reckless young women" who don't want their babies (don't get me started on issues of class, access, and sexuality education).

Consider the emotional stress and possible life threatening consequences of facing each day not knowing what would happen to Jacob or me as we waited. And pro-life folks say what about the pain of the fetus, IF that is a potential of in utero nervous system development - I can't imagine suffering through days, weeks or months, with no funtioning kidneys, shrunk space, bloated belly, and possible toxicity unknown for days in between check-ups. After he would have "died" - they would have done a D&C to remove him and we never would have had the opportunity to meet him, take pictures, and hold him as a whole-loved son. He would have been in pieces and treated as waste.

Makes me think that folks who stand in one extreme corner or the other do not have a deep enough experience of the complexity of "honoring life."..

In honor of Jacob - I felt compelled to not sit silent today."

In honor of my friend, the baby that was not to born, and the thousands of women who have faced similar agonizing moments and the tens of thousands who will, we cannot be silent today.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Supreme Court Breaks My Heart

Of course, we predicted this when Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were confirmed as the Supreme Court's newest justices.

So, why does today's ruling upholding bans on late term abortion procedures come as such a blow to my heart? Should it be a surprise that Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy were the 5-4 majority that decided that Congress and politicians have more right to determine which procedures are available than doctors and women?

Justice Ginsburg spoke for women everywhere in decrying this step today that undermines women's moral agency and women's rights to safe and legal procedures. I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to listen to one's only other colleagues -- eight men -- debate women's lives and bodies, knowing that their words may tragically cost women's lives.

Yes, we should do everything we can to end unplanned pregnancies. Yes, we should be sure women know that the safest abortion procedures take place earliest in pregnancy. Yes, we should assure that women have access to abortion and prenatal services early on. Yes, we should encourage teenagers to involve their families as soon as possible. In a perfect world, there wouldn't need to be abortion procedures late in the second trimester...but there are.

Teenagers and low income women who didn't get care early enough. Wanted and love dpregnancies where the fetus develops a life limiting or life threatening anomaly. Health conditions that threaten the future well being of the woman involved. And in those cases, the government simply should NOT have a role in overriding a doctor's decision.

My blood ran cold when I read this online: "Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, said: “With today’s Supreme Court decision, it is just a matter of time before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 will also be struck down by the court.”

We must do everything we can to make sure that does not happen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Speaking Truth to Power

It was cold, cold on those risers at the faith leaders press conference this morning, as the east coast continues to experience winter in April.

But, I couldn't have been happier to be there. There were 220 religious leaders -- at least one from every state in the country -- who had come to Washington, D.C. to meet with their legislators about the Hate Crimes Bill and the new fully inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

We sang together -- "We Shall Overcome", "We Have Peace Like a River", "We Are a Gentle Angry People." Tears unexpectedly rolled down my face as the words mirrored the commitment of these clergy to justice for all. I felt grace and hope and promise and happy to be part of this day.

Our meetings with the Connecticut offices all ended with commitments to cosponsor these bills. They would have done it without us, but each expressed how important it was to see clergy support full inclusion.

We sang "This Little Light of Mine, I'm going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." And today, 220 clergy, speaking truth to power, did just that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marching in the Light of God

I wish you could have been there..actually I know some of you WERE there this evening, at the worship service before the HRC clergy action day. The preaching was inspiring, the music was spirit filled, and as we sang during the processional, we were marching in the light of God.

The sanctuary was filled with clergy from different faiths worshipping together for justice and equality. I was asked by HRC to lead a responsive reading based on the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing....AND the word became flesh. Three hundred voices joined together to recognize that sexuality is one of God's life giving and life fulfilling gifts and that there must be full inclusion in our faith communities.

I felt very spirit-filled, and so so grateful that God has brought me to this place.
I can't wait to tell you what happens during our hill visits tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Abstinence Only Programs Don't Work

Well, yes, I've been saying that for a long time. Since 1997 when the programs were first proposed to be exact.

But a just released evaluation study, funded and directed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that students who took abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs were no more likely to abstain than students in the control group. They also had the same average age of first intercourse and the same number of partners.

Ten years into the program, and a billion dollars expended, the federal evaluation study confirms what those of us who are sexuality educators knew all along -- that telling teenagers to "just say no" was not effective education.

The press releases from organizations that support abstinence-only education are trying to find the best spin on the story. One said that it doesn't matter that the programs aren't effective because they offer the right moral message.

But, they don't. As our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sex Education" says we have a Scriptural and theological commitment to truth-telling. And programs that lie or deny young people life saving information about their sexuality are wrong.

And immoral.

And now we have clear evidence that they are ineffective.

I'm sure that there is a Biblical prohibition about gloating that I am violating right now. But young people's futures, indeed, their lives have been at stake because of this program. One can only hope that the Congress and the Bush administration will pay attention to their own report.

It's time we offer America's young people education that works -- education that helps them abstain from sexual behaviors until they are physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready and education that helps them protect themselves from pregnancy and disease if they become sexually involved. Those programs have been shown to be effective -- and to this minister, they are the moral response as well.

Standing up for Everyone's Rights

The Connecticut House Judiciary Committee passed the marriage equality bill yesterday, and it now goes to the full House for a vote. As my regular readers know, I was there for the hearing on the bill and I'm just delighted that this has passed this legislative hurdle.

I was recently asked by a gay man why I care so much about full inclusion for GLBT persons in faith communities and society. I was reminded of the "field trip" my parents took us on when I was a young teenager to Fire Island to see gay people and how from that time, I knew that everyone deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. As a sexologist, I learned that sexuality was complex and that people experience their sexual orientation and gender identityt in so many diverse ways. As a person of faith and a minister, I understand that we are all God's children and that God created and blessed sexual and gender diversities. I believe at my innermost core that sexuality is a gift, that an act centered morality is not adequate, and that it is in how we treat each other that we know God's intention for us on earth.

That's part of why I'm going to Washington, D.C. on Monday and Tuesday to participate in a national clergy rally for GLBT rights that is being sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. Monday night I will be a co-leader at a multifaith worship service at All Soul's Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., starting at 7 p.m. If you are in the D.C. area, I hope you will consider joining us.

Have a blessed weekend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Say No To All Hate Speak

I've been resisting commenting on Don Imus and his remarks about the Rutger's basketball team, but as this continues to be front page media news, it now seems like indeed past time to weigh in. (That's what blogs are for, right?)

I don't watch Don Imus...I have never appeared on Don Imus (I vaguely remember turning it down once when I was at SIECUS.) I think he is racist, sexist, homophobic...and obnoxious. Just like Howard Stern, I wonder how listeners don't feel debased just by tuning in.

I do wonder though how it is that the media condemnations have all focused on the racial aspects of his comments and seemingly ignored their sexualized and sexist connotations. The airwaves have been surprisingly absent of feminist leaders decrying his characterization of these strong, athletic, and beautiful young women as "ho's." Does racism trump abject sexism, or do we need to understand that such "isms" of any kind are both interrelated and immoral?

The bright side in this media circus is that his comments are not being brushed off but condemned loudly. We seem to have reached a tipping point in the past year in our culture...whether it's Mel Gibson, Ann Coulter, Isaiah Washington, or Michael Richards, hate speech is no longer excusable, at least in the public square. And that's something that's long overdue.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What the New York Times Can Teach You About Sex Today

I spoke this morning at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University at the first conference of the University Consortium for Sexuality and Research Training. I reviewed the research about how religion affects sexual attitudes and behaviors as well as the importance of sexuality researchers to reach out to faith communities. I was warmly received, although I seem to be the only presenter who didn't have a power point.

I told the conference that sexuality researchers can play a vital role in providing information to clergy, congregations, and denominations as they address sexuality issues. I also talked about attacks on sexuality research by the Religious Right (most of the senior researchers in the room had been on a list by the Traditional Values Coalition for defunding), as well as the Religious Right's distortion of sexuality research findings to support their conclusions. I also told them that itt is critical that research about sexuality be translated for both the public and policy makers.

Today's New York Times does just that. The Health Section of today's NY Times focuses on sexual desire, sexuality and aging, and sexual pleasure. It's all online and I think you will enjoy reading it.

The A section of the paper also includes a feature on the situation I've blogged about before at the church in San Diego which is trying to develop a policy for dealing with sex offenders AFTER a person with this history has come to the congregation. I'm quoted fairly extensively in the article, and was able to make the point that congregations need policies BEFORE a crisis. Unfortunately, my book for congregations, "A Time to Heal", isn't mentioned, but I hope you will get a copy to help your congregation avoid front page New York Times stories. Nevertheless, it's the first national print article I know of about this issue, and I am happy to have been included.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter musings

Easter is a difficult holiday for Unitarian Universalist ministers. Most of us don't believe in the literal meaning of the holiday, but we appreciate how very important it is to our Christian neighbors and colleagues.
But, I think we all can relate to the story. Surely all of us understand what it is to be crucified -- to be filled with such dispair and lack of hope that we indeed feel forsaken. Surely we also can all resonate to the hope of resurrection -- of rolling back the rock and finding a new hope, a new sense of life, a new beginning. The crocuses on our lawn today in 32 degree weather offer the hope of certain spring, if we can just be patient.
Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, wrote this about the truth of the Easter story:
…We have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to be God too—that’s what we have to tell finally. We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us. We have it in us to bless…and forgive…and heal…and once in awhile maybe even to grieve … at another’s pain and to rejoice at another’s joy almost as if it were our own….on this side of Paradise, it is our business…to speak with our hearts…and to bear witness to, and live out of, and live toward, and live by, the true word of the holy story as it seeks to stammer itself forth through the holy stories of us all.”
May this season of hope bless us all.
I spoke at Harvard last week and am off today to Indiana University to be one of the plenary speakers at the Kinsey Institute's conference on sexuality research. More about these talks to come.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

5th graders and sex

I just saw the news story of the 5 fifth graders who were arrested for having sex in a classroom. A man from the Family Research Council was on the news, saying that it was the result of the media and families that don't have a mother and a father.

Now, I need a lot more information...what did it mean that they were having sex? Can 10 and 11 year olds even have penile vaginal intercourse? Or, was this exploratory sex play without penetration of any kind?

But more importantly, where were the adults? And, what's the background of these children? And why was this released to the national news media -- at least until more information was known? And who is helping these children and their parents now?

I'm not sure what to think about this -- except that if there was ever a teachable moment to talk to your children, this is it. Tell them why sex is for grown ups -- not children. Tell them your values about sexual behavior for preteens and teens. Tell them you want them to wait. And ask your schools and faith community to start educating children about sexuality as well.

In most schools, puberty education begins at the end of the fifth grade. Regardless of what actually happened at this school, that's too late.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not Enough...

I love our annual Passover seder at my dad's house. There were 21 of us there last night, ranging in age from 15 months to the late seventies. We asked the questions, told the story, ate the ceremonial foods, and sang the songs -- like families across the world.

The Passover story surprises me each year with its sharp messages for today. The slavery and the terror of the Exodus story must make us think today about Iraq, Darfur, the Middle East -- and all the ways that injustice and hatred still prevail.

The song "Dayenu" recounts the story and at the end of each event, we sing "Dayenu" it would have been enough. The Haggadah tells us that if we had only been brought out of Egypt, it would have been enough. If we had only passed through the Red Sea, it would have been enough. If we had gotten to Sinai but not gotten the Torah, it would have been enough. And so on. It is, I guess, intended to make us thankful for each step of God's grace.

But, I find myself rebelling against its message. I thought a lot about the struggles of women and gay and lesbian and transgender people for liberation during the seder last night, and incremental steps towards justice are not enough. Health insurance for poor children is a step -- but it is not enough. Civil unions for same sex couples is a step -- but it is not enough. Limited lines for stem cell research -- not enough. Sex education that doesn't include information for sexually active teens, not enough. Civil rights laws without an end to racism, sexism, heterosexism...not enough.

We need to recommit ourselves to FULL inclusion, to liberty and justice for ALL. Only that will be enough.

Happy Passover and Holy Week.

Monday, April 02, 2007

It's Back...

I still remember the day in 1972 when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress and sent to the states for ratification. I was a senior in high school, not yet quite a feminist, but convinced that I had a place in the Constitution.

I also remember the day ten years later when it failed to get the necessary 38 states to ratify it. Now, 28 and very much a feminist, I couldn't believe that people like Phyllis Schlafley had scared enough people in enough states with the threats of unisex bathrooms and women in the military to defeat it.

Well, I read this weekend that the Equal Rights Amendment, now known as the Women's Equality Amendment, has been introduced again in the Congress. It reads, as it did in 1972 and indeed in 1923 when it was first introduced,

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

I've also read that Ms. Schlafley is once again protesting it in states. (How old could she possibly be now -- and where has she been since the 1980's?) The spectors she raises today include same sex marriage and revised Social Security Laws.

There is no question that things have changed in the past almost 35 years...and some of Schlafley's fears are now facts of life, ERA or no ERA. More women are working, more women are professionals, more women are legislators, Title IX means girls are playing sports, some places indeed have unisex bathrooms and there are women in the military.

But women still make less money then men in the same professions...there still isn't gender parity in many professions...the double standard in sexuality is still alive and well...and as I wrote about last week, women are still too often victims of sexual harassment and violence.

And, 35 years later, I'm the mother of a young woman who is about to graduate from college...and even more committed to the concept that women belong in the U.S. Constitution too. Ms. Schlafley, this time it's going to happen.