Wednesday, April 30, 2008

21st Century Parent on TV

I'm in San Francisco speaking for two days. I presented a program for 50 parents at the Calvary Presbyterian Church tonight, and tomorrow I do programs at two schools and then an open program at the JCC.

I was on a local San Francisco afternoon TV show about my new book. You can watch it here:

Maria Shriver was also there, speaking about her new book.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Report from LA -- GLAAD media awards

I had the good fortune of being at the GLAAD media awards in Los Angeles this past Saturday night. They were held at the Kodak theater (where the Academy Awards are!), and the room was filled with beautiful and beautifully dressed people and lots of celebrities. My current favorite TV drama "Brothers and Sisters" won the award for best drama for their full inclusion of gay characters. Sharon Stone, Janet Jackson, Joss Stone, Ellen Degeneris, and Rufus Wainwright were some of the stars of the night.

It was incredibly moving to see all of these people turn out to support full inclusion in Hollywood. What was even more moving to me were all of the corporate sponsors for the event -- maninstream, every day U.S. corporations who donated lots of money to support GLAAD's work for full inclusion. It was also remarkable how many shows they had to choose between -- I still remember when a gay character on TV was an oddity -- now many if not most shows cover themes of full inclusion.

Change is happening. I was happy to support GLAAD's work in bringing about that change. I am proud to be colleagues with Neil Guiliano, their President, and Rashad Robinson, their national media director. And I am grateful to work with them.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Day of Silence -- High School Students Speak Out for Sexual and Gender Diversity

My son told me at breakfast this morning he wouldn't be talking to me today.

I couldn't have been prouder.

Today is the annual "Day of Silence", a day created by the GLSTN, to get high school students involved in understanding the struggles of GLBT people. My son's school is one of 6500 high schools in the U.S. that will be participating today. Students wear T shirts and their silence proclaims them as allies in this struggle. They receive information about the injustices faced by GLBT persons, and I hope they experience a little bit about what it is like to be denied the ability to authentically claim their own identity. The school's involvement is a strong signal that discrimination will not be tolerated.

A day without talking at a high school may sound insignficant or even silly...but I can't help but wonder if some of the changes we are seeing in attitudes about full inclusion among young people under 30 don't begin in these high school days.

And it's a great teachable moment for parents...perhaps while your child isn't talking, you can tell them how proud you are of them for stepping forward on this issue. I know I did.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Update on Congressional Briefing

I found it thrilling to finally get to watch Congress take on abstinence only education at a formal hearing.

You can read the testimony here:

And congratulations to the colleagues who testified so eloquently, especially the two under 25 year olds who shared how abstinence-only programs had hurt them.

Let's hope speaking truth to matter matters.

Congress Hearings on Sex Education -- Hundreds of Religious Leaders Exhort Congress to Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education

On April 23rd, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding its first hearing on the "Public Health and Ethical Concerns with Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs and the Need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education."

I'm trying to put behind me my strong feeling that these hearings should have been held in 1997 when the first federal funding for abstinence only began, but better late than never.

As soon as the Religious Institute heard about the hearings late last week, we developed a statement to be submitted into the hearing record and turned to our colleagues for their endorsment.

In two days, we were able to obtain the endorsements of more than 250 clergy and religious leaders, including the heads of four denominations and the leaders of more than 30 national religious organizations. You can read it at

The statement concludes, "It is time for the federal government to support comprehensive sexuality education programs for youth and to cease funding programs that are not only ineffective but may put our children and teenagers at risk -- for disease, for short changed futures, for denial of the gift of their sexuality. It is time to provide all young people with accurate information that respects the diversity of values in a community. It is indeed a time to speak and a time to act. May our religious voices help you understand that it is also the only moral response."

In other words, it's time for Congress to finally "Just Say No."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Would It Be Enough?

I love celebrating Passover. I love the big family gathering at my dad's home where we gather for the seder, tell the story, sing the songs, and eat the same food each year. I love our own somewhat quirky traditions and the history that we build together each year.

The Haggadah we use reminds us that we must tell the story of the Exodus as if we were there ourselves -- and that the struggle for liberation continues around the world. We sing a song called "Dayenu", it would have been enough, that says that each step towards liberation is enough.

It's hard for me not to rebel against its message. Partial victories are not enough. I've been working on sexual justice issues for more than 30 years now, and although we are farther on many, there is indeed so much work that remains to be done. Yes, abortion is now legal in the U.S., but inaccessible for many and still illegal in much of the world. Yes, women in the U.S. have greater equality than before, but the glass ceiling still very much exists in most industries, women still make less than men, violence against women is still epidemic, and the two largest denominations in the U.S. still don't ordain us. Yes, we've won the battle that sex education belongs in schools and faith communities, but the fights over content continue. Yes, a majority of Americans now support anti-employment discrimination for gays and lesbians (except in too many of the nation's religious communities) and some states recognize civil unions, but civil and religious marriage is denied most. And I could go on.

But, perhaps "dayenu" is to remind us that each of us as individuals can only accomplish so much, and that to paraphrase Henry James, "we will act as though what we do makes a difference." I'm also reminded of this quote by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.

Together, we are making a difference, even though it is not enough.


P.S. This weekend, two religious leaders (from considerably diverse theological backgrounds) applauded the work of the Religious Institute on their blogs. I am so grateful to the Women's Caucus of the Church of the Brethren and this Unitarian Universalist minister for letting their readers know about our work. Dayenu.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Help Support Women in New Orleans

I'm sure I am supposed to be blogging about the Pope's visit, but I'm going to leave that to my Roman Catholic feminist friends. I am glad that the Pope finally spoke out against clergy sexual abuse (and that he didn't equate it with homosexuality), but really, couldn't he have said something sooner from the Vatican? I understand they do have a press operation there.
But, instead, I've been meaning all week to ask you to support the women of New Orleans. That's my mom, daughter, and I in beautiful scarves produced and sold by women from the ASHE Culture Arts Center. They are working through their art to reclaim a part of New Orleans.
They've designed a special scarf "The Ashe Scarf" to help them become self sustaining. For $25, you can have a beautiful scarf and support the women of New Oreans. Read more at, 504 569 9070.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We Are Still So Far From Equality

I've been thinking a lot about the status of women in the United States this week.

After my raising the issue of the lack of women religious leaders selected as questioners at the Compassion Forum, a colleague emailed me that half of the Presidential Candidates were women, half of the CNN questioners were women, and the CEO and the Chair of the Board of Faith in Public Life were women. And he has a point -- although it still doesn't address why only one of the pre-selected religious leaders recognized to ask questions were women.

But, yes, there is change, and we can celebrate that.

Yet, the two largest religious denominations in the United States (the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Association) do not ordain women clergy. As the Pope's visit is celebrated this week, there has been little analysis in the national press about the role of women in the Catholic church. Two of my colleagues, Catholic feminister author Angela Bonavoglia and Catholic theologian Mary Hunt do a far better job than I can about what's so wrong with these positions.

I also happened to watch a horrifying interviewing yesterday morning on the Today Show. Meredith Viera interviewed three identically dressed women in their twenties from the FDLS compound in Texas. It was like watching a scene from The Handmaiden's Tale or the Stepford Wives. They either looked drugged or brainwashed, as without expression, they struggled to respond to Viera's questions. I'm still trying to figure out what I think about all of their children being taken by the state, but I am certain that the safety and well being of girls who have reached puberty and are then forced to become second or third or fourth wives to older men is being compromised at a fundamental level. I also keep thinking that someone should be pointing out that the FLDS compound is as close to the actual Biblical depiction of marriage as we are likely to see.

And I've also just read the report from the Katrina Warriers Network on the disproportionate impact of Katrina on "Women and Girls in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast", released at the V-Day event. The needs to assure the safety and health of women and girls during such disasters -- and the failure to do so during Katrina -- are horrifying to read.

So to my correspondent, yes, there are indicators that on some levels, women are making strides. But, oh, do we still have a long way to go to attain women's equality.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why Doesn't Compassion Include Women and GLBT Persons?

The Religious Institute's newsletter goes out tomorrow morning. I've just finished my editorial and wanted to share part of it with my blog readers. Our monthly e-newsletter is free; if you aren't receiving it and would like to, send an email to and we will add you to the list.

Here's what I said:

I keep hearing Eve Ensler exhorting all of us there to “be braver, be bolder” to stop violence against women.

I couldn’t help but think of those words as I watched the so-called “Compassion Forum” sponsored by Faith in Public Life on CNN this past Sunday night. Although I support and indeed applaud Faith in Public Life for holding this discussion of faith and politics, compassion toward women and sexual minorities was largely missing. The discussed 'compassion issues" are intimately connected with racism, sexism, and homophobia.

One cannot adequately address poverty, health care, and the economic justice without acknowledging women's needs for reproductive health services. It is poor women who suffer most when contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion services are not readily available, both in the United States and around the world. Similarly, it is poor same-sex couples who are most affected by laws prohibiting the benefits of civil unions and marriage, and poor transgender persons who have no access to medical treatment. Yet, rather than asking the candidates about how they would reduce unplanned pregnancies, sexual exploitation, violence against women, discrimination against LGBT persons, and so on, the moderators asked about their favorite Bible stories and whether they think life begins at conception.

Senator Clinton apparently “forgot” that she has sponsored legislation on sex education and family planning services, never using those words at all; instead she repeated “abstinence” and “adoption” as how she would make abortions “rare.” Remarkably, only one woman religious leader was called on to ask a question; indeed, the majority of the religious leaders who had the opportunity to speak were white male Evangelical Christians. How did that happen in 2008? And neither the candidates nor the questioners took the opportunity to talk about compassion for the struggles of LGBT persons, even while the debate took place at Messiah College, a college that on its web site promotes such anti-gay organizations as Exodus, Homosexuals Anonymous, and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality."

On April 7th, the Religious Institute sponsored an all-day colloquium for progressive religious leaders and leaders of sexual and reproductive health organizations to discuss how together we can raise a progressive voice on sexual justice during the coming election season. More than 30 leaders agreed that we must do more to assure that reproductive justice and justice for LGBT persons are not buried under calls for common ground. We count on their organizations speaking out each and every time these issues are ignored or dismissed. I hope and pray that you, too, will speak out for sexual justice in your faith community, in your state, and in national debates in the coming months. Together, we must amplify the voices of people of faith who support women’s moral agency, who support sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services, who support full inclusion and marriage equality, and bring them into the public square.

To quote Eve Ensler, we must all be braver and bolder.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

V Day New Orleans Day Two

Saturday was a whirlwind and I never did get back online.

Entering the SuperLove Super Dome, Saturday morning FELT different than it had on Friday morning. There was a sense of energy, connection, even welcome that had not been there the day before. It was as if it had been healed. Eve Ensler (left) said "it is nothing short of a vagina miracle."

Here's some of what stands out ---

*The rites of passage ceremony for tween and teen girls from New Orleans, speaking their truths and their demands for respect.

*The four lovely under 30 movie stars sharing the pressures they face to be thin and conform.

*Suzie Orman who gave the single best motivational talk I've ever heard, sharing her own story, and telling the women of New Orleans that they must own their destiny...and to leave relationships that are hurting them.

*Women from around the world sharing their stories of rape and violence, but also organizing and love.

*Young slam poets using their art and their voices to call us to action.

*Jane Fonda closing the day, reminding the listeners that patriarchy is the issue, not men -- that there needs to be support for feminist masculinity -- that the answer to patriarchy is real democracy -- and that Katrina was not a natural disaster, but a man-made one. (My favorite t-shirt in a tourist store said "Make Levees, Not War.")

I can't possible do justice to the Saturday night performance of the Vagina Monologues, including a new monologue written about Miss Pat from New Orleans. But how amazing that women filled the New Orleans arena, that each of the actors and the musicians donated their time and paid their own way, that there were women and men of every age, race, and orientation taking it in together, reclaiming the power of their bodies and their lives.

At the end, Eve Ensler asked every woman in the arena who had been raped, abused, sexually harassed, or tortured to stand up. Before she did, she shared her story of incest and abuse. I stood up. So did the woman standing next to me. We reached for each other. I'd guess one in three women in that teeming audience stood up. It was horrifying to see in uncountable numbers women who had been violated.

But it was also powerful beyond my words at the moment. And then we joined Faith Hill and Jennifer Hudson and Charmaine Neville in singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" together, thousands of voices joined to reclaim and heal and rejoice together -- and to promise each other that violence against women will end, must end.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Day 1 - V to the 10th

Back in February, I blogged from the NGTLF conference that it would be the Far Right's worst nightmare.

Actually, I think SuperLove, the V-Day take over of the Super Dome would surpass it.

I walked into the Superdome replaying the horrifying images of Katrina in my mind. It's impossible to use the restroom without REMEMBERING.

But, today women took the SuperDome back, filling it with feminist energy and love. It's late, but here are some of what I remember from today:

*Walking into the arena through a huge sculpture of a pink vagina.

*Native American women dancing to purify the space.

*Buddhist priest Joan Halifax gracing the stage and us.

*Beautiful women of every age, color, race, and orientation sharing together.

*A choir of girls who called us to our feet.

*Women from Iraq and Afghanistan, telling us that their lives were worse now than before, and begging us to tell our leaders that it is time for the US occupation to end.

*The debut of "Swimming Upstream", a play written by Eve Ensler and 16 Katrina warriers, that made Katrina oh so real.

And the gratitude, deep deep gratitude, in my heart to be there, be HERE, offering prayers and receiving God's grace.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

V-Day to the 10th

I'll be traveling to New Orleans on Thursday to spend the weekend at the "V-Day to the 10th" celebration. I'll be meeting with women activists, supporting efforts to end violence against women, and listening to speeches and workshops, seeing Eve Ensler's new play on the women of Katrina, and attending a performance of the Vagina Monologues starring among others:

Salma Hayek, Oprah Winfrey, Faith Hill, Jane Fonda, Glenn Close, Ali Larter, Calpernia Addams, Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Beals, Didi Conn, Christine Lahti, Jennifer Hudson, Doris Roberts, Liz Mikel, and Charmaine Neville.

And I'm bringing my 22 year old daughter and my mother, so that three generations of women in our family can experience this together.

I offered my prayers and blessings to the extraordinary Eve Ensler on Wednesday. Hold all of the women and men who are attending this weekend for the women of the gulf in your hearts and prayers. I'll blog from New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Answering Phone Surveys...

I've always wanted to be randomly selected by the Nielson Ratings to monitor my television use or by Gallop to be part of one of their surveys we are always reading about.

Last night, I was "chosen" to be part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control 2007 survey on adult health. It took about 25 minutes on the phone with a very nice but very humorless interviewer.

I was asked lots of questions about my health status, a few on my opinions on smoking, a few on "the child under 18 living in my household." I was NOT asked any questions that related to sexuality, except if I had ever been HIV tested (I have), the date and year (I don't remember, he didn't like my answer of "early on in the epidemic"), and one question that listed only 4 risk factors for HIV/AIDS. I was not asked about my pregnancy status, constraceptive use, STI history, sexual behaviors, or sexual partners. I checked this morning at to read the actual questionnaires wondering if for some reason I had selected out of them -- no, this survey doesn't ask anything really about sexuality. (I know there is one survey that does, but it still seems very odd to me that it wasn't included at all.) I am happy though to report that when asked my marital status "partnered but not married was included" and I was asked neutrally the sex of the other adult in my household.

I'm basically a very healthy person, and as a former health educator, I am very committed to health promoting behaviors, so I found it easy to answer the questions on exercise (yes), smoking (no), average number of drinks a week (1 - 2), annual physical (yes), colonoscopy (yes). For some reason I'm still puzzling, I took a pound off my weight, and I'm pretty sure I underestimated my weekly television use. I have a new awareness of a desire to give a socially acceptably answer to certain questions, even on an anonymous survey. The only non-healthy response was "no, we don't have a carbon monoxide detector." (Do we need one in a house without a garage?)

Mostly though I felt fortunate and aware of my privilege when I finished. Yes, we have health, dental, and vision insurance. No, fees have not kept me from obtaining health care for myself or my son. No, I don't have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or strokes. Neither do my parents (who are both alive and healthy.) I feel blessed and grateful for all of those, and acutely aware that they are not true for too many others.

So, Gallup and Nielson, I'm ready. (And I'll even admit to watching about 2 -3 hours of television most days.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

And The Review Said...

Publisher's Weekly just published it's review of my new book,
What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know.

Here's what they said, and the link to the actual column.

What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs to Know: Facing Today's Challenges with Wisdom and Heart Debra W. Haffner. Newmarket, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-55704-787-8
Haffner (From Diapers to Dating), an ordained Unitarian minister, isn't afraid to tackle the big questions, including drinking, drugs and teen sex. But while Haffner “tells it like it is,” she also presents the research and statistics to prove that many of parents' worst fears are unfounded. Instead of a media-hyped view of the challenges parents face in the 21st century, Haffner concludes that most kids are on the right track; in fact, she claims that they are “smart, committed, and engaged in their families and communities,” and that they are making better choices about health and related issues than many of their parents did at the same age. The author stresses that parenting style can have a significant impact on whether kids go down undesirable roads. Utilizing what she calls the “Affirming Parent” style, she offers a number of viable solutions to common problems, ranging from Internet use to overscheduling. Haffner covers a great deal of ground in this compact book; readers will appreciate her just-the-facts-please approach as well as her tendency to interpret the stats from the bright side. (May)

Nice, right? It's exciting to get this type of review. If you are a parent or a grandparent, or someone who works with youth professionally, I hope you'll buy the book. If you do it at the link on the right side of the blog, a portion of the proceeds will support the Religious Institute. You can read excerpts at

And if you do read it, tell me what you think. After all, it's the opinions of parents that matter to me the most.

Friday, April 04, 2008

40 Years After Martin Luther King

It seems fitting to pause for a few moments this morning to think about the life and minister of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My colleagues at the Shalom Center sent around the text of King's April 4, 1967 speech on Vietnam. It's worth reading in its entirety, not just for its historical significance, but what it should say to us today.

Here's what King said to religious leaders:

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

He could be talking about Iraq. He could also be talking about the struggles for full inclusion of LGBT persons or women's rights or poor people today.

I quote King in most of my speeches and sermons (and probably a fair number of blog posts as well!) He said, "injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere." Let us be reminded today that we must stand on the side of justice for all.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Premature Obituaries...

Over at Religious Dispatches, there are two blog entries today that look at the question of "Is the Religious Right dead?"

Having just finished reading both, I find my pulse racing, as sexual justice issues are once again pushed to the side, as problems to be solved to create an evangelical center rather than moral justice issues at the center of millions of people's lives. Laura Olson in her blog says that progressive religious voices "are afire with discussion of a different kind of marriage between religion and politics that emphasizes peace and justice issues instead of socio-moral concerns." I think she means the issues I care about: women, sexuality education, reproductive health and reproductive justice, full inclusion of LGBT persons.

My colleague Robby Jones quotes Dr. David Gushee at a meeting this week of Third Way:

"Abortion more than any other issue poses a problem in gaining the vote of centrist evangelicals. If a Democratic presidential candidate proposed a serious demand-side plan to reduce abortion by half over the next eight years, and invested real political capital in the effort, it would make a significant difference for centrist evangelicals.”

But that would mean supporting comprehensive sexuality education, defunding ineffective abstinence only education program, and providing family planning service, goals that many of the people who don't believe in women's right to make her own moral decisions about abortion don't support.

Robby Jones provides interesting statistics on how progressive evangelicals and evangelicals on the right differ dramatically on sexual orientation, abortion, and stem cell research. He writes:

A majority of left/center evangelicals support stem cell research, legalized abortion, and access to the morning after pill without a prescription. There is a remarkable 50-point gap between left/center and right Evangelicals on each of these issues. Importantly, more than 8 in 10 in the evangelical left/center want to find middle ground on abortion laws, while 6 in 10 in the evangelical right think there’s no room for compromise on abortion.

On gay and lesbian issues, while only a quarter of the left/center evangelicals support allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, a near majority (49 percent) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples, compared to only 11 percent of the evangelical right.

Jones concludes:

"...there is indeed a new evangelical center emerging. .. This new movement is no less evangelical than the right. But it promises to be less strident, less partisan, and less defensive; it also promises to be more creative and more willing to follow conclusions into unconventional places to work for the common good... the evangelical left/center—half of evangelicals and 13 percent of voters—has the real potential to partner with political progressives on a range of issues going forward in ways that defy the conventional wisdom of “the era of the Religious Right.”

Just don't expect that reproductive health and justice and full inclusion for LGBT persons, including marriage equality, are going to be among those issues. The extreme Religious Right may be losing some of its momentum, but for those of us who support sexual justice, it's not time to let down our guard.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sad Story From Texas

Did you hear or read this news story late last night about the 14 year old middle school student who delivered a stillborn baby on an airplane and left it in the bathroom? She has told police that she didn't know she was pregnant?

Oh, that that was the beginning of an April Fool's joke.

How is it possible in today's world that a 14 year old could be pregnant and not know? How is it possible that the adults around didn't notice anything different about her?

Unfortunately, the possible answers seem clear. I'm willing to bet that she had had no sexuality education -- at her school, at her faith community, or much in her home. I'm willing to bet that her parents didn't talk with her about sexual decision making and that she had hidden the sexual relationship with the baby's father. Based on the research about pregnancies in girls 14 and younger, I'm guessing that the father was much older, that they didn't use contraception, and that she didn't have many adults in her life that she could turn to for help and assistance.

And I am pretty certain she woke up this morning scared and confused...and feeling alone.

My heart goes out to this young woman -- and suggests that rather than concentrate on how to penalize her, the folks in Houston examine how they failed her...and other young people. And that those of us in other places ask ourselves are we doing all we can to educate young people and provide support to them so these tragedies don't happen.