Social Justice

My Coming Out Story (2012)

I am coming out to love again. As most of us in the LGBTQ community know, coming out is a continual process. I first came out at the end of a short marriage to a man. I could no longer live the straight life. I was almost thirty and was deep in the abyss of depression.

The minister of the UU church and the gay and lesbian group at church were enormously supportive. With the church group I worked on the No on 22 campaign. Unfortunately, California voted to pass proposition 22, to define marriage between a man and a woman.

After a couple of years I met my beloved. We were classmates then friends and our relationship evolved into an abiding love. We entered into a domestic partnership and had a commitment ceremony in 2002. Her mother and sister attended. Mine did not, not wanting to condone my lifestyle. At the time, I was not out to my father.

In 2007, I decided to heed the call to ministry. While waiting for the following fall semester, marriage equality resurfaced. Prop 22 was struck down, allowing a window of time to legally marry. My beloved and I worked for marriage equality, I with the faith community and she with the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

The week marriage became legal, my beloved and I were in line the first day licenses were available. We were mentioned in UU World, pictured on the front page of the local paper, interviewed for another paper, and filmed for a documentary show in the Philippines. We joyously married that Saturday with our UU congregation in attendance. My mother and sister, once again, did not attend. My father, however, was happily in attendance.

The passage of proposition 8 did not nullify our marriage. The significance of that became real when my beloved had an aneurism in January of 2010. The weeks of surgery, coma, recriminations, familial homophobia, friends’ internalized homophobia, and need for blame landed squarely on me, especially when I made the impossibly difficult decision to take her off life support after hesitating in fear of her family. Three major strokes after an aneurism had to be enough. The loss was devastating.

***

This past month I have started a ministry for LGBTQ folks in Los Angeles, starting small with a twitter feed and a meet-up, to honor her, and the relationship we had. There needs to be a safe place for people to go when something so devastating happens and other LGBTQ people will understand as the regular church may not be able to. Conversely, the LGBTQ community can come together with the regular church community in celebration.

So I am coming out to love again. I have begun to trust that love is possible with a wonderful woman I began dating this summer. I am honoring my beloved with a ministry to bring together the LGBTQ folks in LA to get to know one another, and build community.

The Wisconsin Tragedy

My first meeting with a Sikh profoundly changed my life for the better. I was new to the city, and he was the first person that I had met wearing a turban and an elaborate curved dagger. We were both volunteering at an event for the homeless and struck up a conversation.

I admired his knife, or kirpan, but also thought it strange that he could carry a sheathed dagger on his person, in full view. I had moved from Arizona, where guns were the norm, but knives were unseen. He then told me of its significance. 

He told me that he would fight to the death for my religious freedom. Mine. He would fight for the religious freedom of every person at that carwash. I learned later that a person carrying that dagger will fight to the death on behalf of any oppressed person. The caveat caught me up short. The dagger is used only after every peaceful means has been exhausted. The pacifist in me was honored to have met him. 

I left that carwash with the determination that I, too, would fight for freedom of religious expression, if only through peaceful means. It was not until reading Frantz Fanon more than a decade later, in seminary no less, that I could understand that sometimes, in some cases, violence is justified. 

I mourned in the days following 9/11 for the Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was shot to death in Arizona because the turban he wore. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a hate crime. The European American male killer mistook him for a Muslim. 

I mourn, too, for the members of the Wisconsin temple who were shot, and their friends and loved ones. Again, a dominant culture, European American, male has used an indiscriminate high-powered weapon manufactured for maximum lethality against fellow human beings. 

A kirpan is no match for an automatic weapon. Would it have made a difference if the killer knew that Sikhs value religious freedom as much, if not more, than other human beings living here in these United States? I think not. Intolerance has become more blatant, and normalized, as evidenced by the incendiary voices given airtime in the mainstream media. A culture of intolerance that has been allowed to flourish makes the deaths in Wisconsin all the more tragic.

Mother's Day Proclamation

Author: 
Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Feeling Battered

battered heart

Tweets of the day by @TPEquality (Think Progress)

MT @thinkprogress: BREAKING: Following Obama's lead, Sen. Reed announces his support for same-sex marriage http://t.co/7D87eBqk 

RT @NancyPelosi: A great day in our fight for civil rights-President Obama adds his support for marriage #equality. #BeautifulDay

@LogCabinGOP: Obama Announcing Support For Marriage Equality Is 'Offensive And Callous' - http://t.co/pnTb4lc8

OBAMA: "I think same sex couples should be able to get married" http://t.co/K5zVupEL

I feel battered. I do not say this lightly, having been in a marriage with domestic violence, a straight marriage. I should be grateful that Obama has finally come around to support marriage equality. Yet, I understand where the Log Cabin Republicans come from. Marriage equality continues to be a wedge issue in electoral politics. The collective holding of breaths in anticipation of Obama's announcement came from the straight mainstream media and straight folk who have nothing to lose in this fight.

The congratulations, and requests that we thank Obama for "evolving" on this "issue" do not feel right on a day after 61% of North Carolina voters enshrined bigotry in their constitution for the second time. There will be no legally recognized same-sex relationships. The congratulations and requests do not feel right in a calendar week when Methodists voted to uphold same-sex relationships as incompatible with their dogma. Nor do they feel right in a week where Colorado Republicans filibustered so as not to address same-sex marriage in their legislature.

I think that I am supposed to be happy that democrats will start coming out in favor of marriage equality. Well, pardon me if it feels like too little, too late. The GLBT folks in North Carolina will not see marriage equality unless there is a drastic turn of events.I met a wonderful couple there. The female half of the couple is in a ecclesiastical limbo, having been a Methodist clergy person who supported marriage equality.

Yesterday a video went viral about a young gay man who was devastated by the death of his partner and the homophobia of the partner's family. It hit a bit too close too home having lived that just two years ago. Fortunately, I was legally married because it could have been a whole lot worse, hard as it is to imagine. Just months after my beloved and I were married, California voters were able to vote on marriage equality. We continued to be married, but I was devastated for those who had that chance snatched away. I feel sad for LGBT folks, especially UU's, for whom the democratic process was not used for right of conscience, or liberty and justice for all; for whom justice, equity and compassion are mere words; for whom wedding cake is used to celebrate taking away the inherent worth, dignity, and humanity of a single group of people. Our UU principles and hearts have been battered.

Having no need to be politically savvy in this moment, I will acknowledge the hurt, and the broken hearts. I wish I could wrap each and every one of you in the softest cotton batting with rainbows and sparkle, and lift you up to the universe and declare that you are loved beyond measure. I may not be able to wrap and lift you up, but I do declare, you are loved beyond measure.  We'll move forward, and our battered hearts will heal again.

What is a Hymn to Vatos?

Tweet of the Day: @Urrealism: Hey! RT @Aunt_Feather: "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" by @Urrealism for #PoetryMonth http://t.co/wnuhjm3c via @Latinopia

This YouTube video, retweeted by the author of the poem, Luis Urrea is particularly relevant because Arizona is attempting to erase the history of Mexicans and the indigenous, by banning a Mexican American studies program in Tucson. "Hymn to Vatos Who Will Never Be in a Poem" is one of the "texts" that have been banned, and the video shows the poem being read to students last month. This is not "new" news, but this past week has been especially inane in Arizona. I have been living in California for a good number of years, yet I am still capable of being shocked by the irrationality and hysteria of the power brokers in the state. I am refraining from using the words insane or insanity in deference to real mental illness, rather the current political climate is simply a continuation of a inextricable history of racism from before the beginning of the state.

Last week, the teacher who is the director of the Mexican American studies program in Tucson was fired by the school district. Next, the republican instigator is planning to go after college level education. One of the most memorable aspects of my 4th-7th grades in Tucson was learning the history of the different native American tribes in Arizona. Having started school, Head Start and first grade, with children from the White Mountain Apache reservation, I was interested in the whitewashed, Arizona dry histories. I did learn something, if not just respect for the people who originally settled in the state. The Mexican American studies program had yet to be designed.

I chose to learn much more in adulthood. One would think that banning books would be a bad idea, looking at the history of banning books. When I learned that not only books by Latino authors banned, but Native American books, as well, I was alarmed. Shortly thereafter, my mom called me concerned that her Dad came here illegally. "Mom, he came here before Arizona was even a state." My grandmother was also born before Arizona became a state. The fear fostered by the political climate had come home.

In the 19th and early 20th century, the mineral riches in the territory were exploited, and the political process was used to define who was in the in group and the out group, whether Chinese, Mexican or Native American. Those with brown skin have been in the out group since the beginning. An early example is the a group of Irish American "white" orphans adopted to Mexican American families by the Catholic Church, which resulted in an orchestrated kidnapping by vigilantes on Morenci and Clifton, Arizona.  My grandmother was born in Morenci just seven years later.

 

 

I'm concerned about the consequences of cutting off links to Mexican and Native American  history in Arizona. Only since the 1970s has the program to send Native American children off to boarding schools to "kill the Indian and save the man" discontinued. Many of those affected are are still living. I hope that the youth of today are not doomed to repeat history on the ordinary brown skinned men, the Vatos, as well as the women and children of the state who deserve respect because of their inherent worth.

Note: The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly will be held in Phoenix in June. While I agree with the spirit in which it will be held, I have a great deal of ambivalence in anticipation of attending in my home state.

How Will Social Media Impact LGBTQI Muslims?

I found the article, "How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?" of interest because it was highly critical of social media in the Muslim context. Dr. Guessom referenced an article, "Twenty five reasons why Twitter is Spiritual," that was a list of spiritual practices from different faith traditions. As a Unitarian Universalist(UU), I appreciated the breadth, and what amounted to a vision of twitter's potential. Guessom dismissed the list entirely. I will acknowledge that the list does not fit within the aims of Islam. 

Still, just in the past several days I have been witness to, and peripherally involved in one such transformative experience that the author Frederic A. Brussat wrote of in the "Twenty Five Reasons..." article. The conversations, facilitated by Twitter and a blog were poignant and beautiful.

A young Muslim is opening dialogue about different aspects of Islam on her blog. She posted interviews with a number of  LGBT Muslims. The comments section includes the usual comparisons of LGBT people with pedophiles, practicers of bestiality, rapists and serial killers. These arguments were not original by any stretch. What I did find original was an interview with a UU that I've met on Twitter. He wants to convert to Islam. 

After at least a year of reading his tweets, I have observed that he truly loves Allah. He loves Arabic music. He loves to  give thanks and praise. It's genuine, not forced or fake. I remember when he was utterly heartbroken several months ago, after he was rejected by yet another imam for being gay.

There was such an outpouring of love from the blogger and numerous other Muslims who signed on to the love letter she wrote. A
n imam in his area would like to meet with him. My Twitter acquaintance was brought to tears. In a side conversation, the blogger told the imam she wished she were local to study under him, and the imam responded that they teach each other. I watched this unfold over the past couple of days with awe. A gay man finally found an online community, and has a real possibility of finding an embodied community with which he can worship in the way he desires. A brave young woman was affirmed for her own contributions to her religion.

The Internet has been revolutionary for LGBTQI folks since the advent of the World Wide Web in  the 1990's, because people who were isolated and alone have been able to find others like themselves. Whereas moving to a city had been the main strategy in the past, LGBTQI folks could find one another and become a part of online communities. The explosion of the social media onto the scene should enable more folks to find their voices and find each other. 

I suspect that there are individuals who have been isolated and by social pressure forced to work within the dominant culture of Islam. LGBTQI Muslims may be just such a group. Social media may prove to be a Godsend to LGBTQI Muslims.

Ethical Eating: Produce

On Friday, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating. I had been practicing the principles, imperfectly, since it's inception. What I've learned is to remember that it is just that, a practice.

I live in a predominantly Latino and Black neighborhood in a medium sized city in Southern California. I just completed ny second seminary year which included field education. Before I took the internship (not UU), I did have a part-time office job. I was earning the same hourly wage that I did 15 years before, but with full benefits back then. To be clear, the last year and a half, I've been living on my spouse's death benefit, taking a full load in seminary, and only doing the internship once it became clear that I could not keep my grades up and work, as well.

As money becomes tighter and tighter, I anticipate the ethical eating part of my life to become more difficult. I do wonder if the resolution on ethical eating, coming from place of privilege, is irrelevant and elitist to a country in the grip of economic hardship and a class war that has a grossly unequal income distribution.

Beans and rice are staples of the poor, and I grew up on them. I do love vegetables. When I was very young, there were pitched and protracted battles regarding vegetables vs. meat, fish and poultry. One particularly memorable battle was over having an artichoke to myself and the expense of said artichoke. That said, here are some thoughts, just on produce:

In my neighborhood there are two major grocery stores, two ethnic grocery stores, and several small ethnic markets. Before my spouse died, we wanted to buy a share in a farm. We just never had enough money to invest up front into a season or more of organic vegetables. The stores in my neighborhood are overflowing with inexpensive, plentiful produce. The first time I met a new dean at school, she asked which Pasadena neighborhood I lived in. She proceeded to enthuse over the cheap produce at one of the ethnic grocery stores.

My theory is that the produce are loss leaders, and every thing that is processed is overpriced. The people that shop there walk, ride bicycles or take the bus. The store has a shuttle to take people home. The cyclists are of the variety that ride the wrong way down the street or on sidewalks, not the pannier, helmeted set. The clientele at the particular store do not speak a lot of English. Beer and sodas are incredibly expensive, as are virtually all other brand name and processed foods. Before a ill-planned condominium complex was built across the street, small items from deodorant to razors were locked behind glass, and cost more than the big name grocery stores. This is the reality in poor neighborhoods. How would we begin to address the inequalities of access, before the pesticide laden produce?

Most of the ethnic grocery shoppers do not have the choice to buy local or sustainable, nor the education to desire or request change. I use the store when I'm not feeling flush, but I have begun to have anxiety over doing the "right" thing since so many issues come into play. When buying, my first thought is food miles. Where did most of these inexpensive vegetables come from? In this neighborhood, they come from Mexico, and further South. With the unfortunate exception of my attachment to bananas, I am intentional about buying produce from California, staying within the season. (By the way, when in the world did garlic begin to be imported from China? I thought the garlic capital is in Northern California.)

The people who bring food to the table have such appalling working conditions. They have been documented not to be given breaks, shade, decent living conditions, fresh water, subject to wage theft, exposed to herbicides and pesticides. Yet, when grocery stores charge more for "organic" produce, I wonder just how much of that extra money is passed on to the farmers and the migrant workers.

About eight years ago, there was a grocery store strike in which the workers lost badly over healthcare and wages. I refused to walk into one of the big name chains until a couple of years ago. I will only go for the very few things that can not be found in Trader Joes, or the store fondly known as Whole Paycheck. I was appalled at the price of produce when I did return. According to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), a strike is imminent. We UU's passed an Action of Immediate Witness, but how will that support the workers once they go on strike? Trader joes pays fairer wages, but Whole Foods is anti-organizing and their produce is ridiculously high. However, they have some organic things not found elsewhere. Reconciling these choices is difficult.

At Trader Joes, food miles and packaging come into play, as well. Not only do they sell out of season produce from Mexico and Chile, the produce comes prepackaged in plastic, in a family size. Trader Joes has begun to improve based on consumer pressure, but as soon as one item is sold individually, different prepackaged items arrive. I limited my produce to the staples, organic: carrots, celery, in season lemons, onions and tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower. Squash is plentiful, inexpensive, good and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things not organic.

This leaves the small family owned markets and the farmers markets. This is where I have to be most intentional. I will admit to being exceedingly blessed when it comes to farmers markets in the area. There are several going on each day of the week during the day, with some in the evening. It takes planning to go. There is a small health foods market that is in the next town to the North straight uphill. The farmers market that is in my neighborhood is held on Tuesday mornings, but there are numerous other in the area. As much as I want to support the mom and pop shops, knowing where the produce comes from is more important.

So, the anxiety continues. I have stopped eating quite as large of a variety of vegetables for fear of pesticide residues, perpetuating unfair unhealthy working conditions for those who pick and package produce, environmental impact and the impact on migrant workers of herbicides and pesticides, economic justice for grocery store workers, supporting small business, lack of time to shop at farmers markets being a student, and my own economic well-being. Fortunately, by putting together this post, I found a CSA that was not available before, which allows payment on a week to week basis.

Domestic Violence

Yesterday, a speaker from the local domestic violence shelter spoke to our spiritual care class. It was the second time I've heard her, and she is just wonderful. Some things to think about:

  • 1 in 4 women have been subjected to domestic violence. Yes, men have been victims, too. Domestic Violence happens in same-sex relationships, as well.
  • Domestic Violence is not limited to physical violence. There are others: Emotional, Sexual, Financial, Spiritual. Her stories are heartbreaking. 
  • Her shelter won a grant to do presentations in the local churches. Not one of 65 churches in the city wanted a presentation. Domestic violence is a pastoral issue. If one can not learn about it in church, then where? Happening to see something on television? There is one UU church in that city.

I wrote and preached a sermon about relationships, addressing both domestic abuse and good relationship behavior. I think I should rewrite it. What started it was that male members of a church were discussing the prevalence of domestic violence at a lunch. I sat at the table as they looked around and said one of ten women could be or have been abused. Not only was their statistic incorrect, they were pretty clueless.

I kept my mouth shut, but at the same time looked around and thought, there's one, there's another, there's another, and little do they know, one is sitting right with them. Having heard the speaker prior to this conversation, I realized that she was right. If not church, then where?

Education is highly valued in UU churches. We need to educate ourselves and others in the church to recognize the signs and be willing to provide at least the Domestic Violence Hotline number: 1-800-799-SAFE.

There Must Be Religious Witness

Author: 
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

In the midst of a world marked by tragedy and beauty there must be those who bear witness against unnecessary destruction and who, with faith, stand and lead in freedom, with grace and power.

There must be those who speak honestly and do not avoid seeing what must be seen of sorrow and outrage, or tenderness, and wonder.

There must be those whose grief troubles the water while their voices sing and speak refreshed worlds.

There must be those whose exuberance rises with lovely energy that articulates earth's joys.

There must be those who are restless for respectful and loving companionship among human beings, whose presence invites people to be themselves without fear.

There must be those who gather with the congregation of remembrance and compassion, draw water from old wells, and walk the simple path of love for neighbor.

And, there must be communities of people who seek to do justice love kindness and walk humbly God, who call on the strength of soul-force to heal, transform, and bless life.

There must be religious witness.

A Few Drops in the Ocean

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
-Mahatma Gandhi

This was one of my favorite quotes. A year ago, it took on a particularly poignant significance when the Deep Water Horizon well exploded and the earth began to hemorrhage crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. With the Pacific garbage patch, mercury laden fish, and now Japan releasing exceedingly radioactive water, I wonder just much longer this quote will be relevant. Or, it it already a relic from a time just over a century past?

Spring is here fulfilling its promise of renewed life. What other new metaphors can we use to restore a belief in humanity, especially in the face of a tiny minority (Not Japan but the top 1%) who is in a race to exploit, sell and use up our beloved earth’s gifts.

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