Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called Plenary VII to order on Sunday, June 24, 2007, at the Oregon Convention Center, and informed delegates that the day's business included voting on the Open Space presentations and debating Actions of Immediate Witness.
Open Space Technology—Voting on Priority Statements
Courter called on Open Space Technology Chair Dr. Helen Bishop to explain the process for voting on statements expressing priorities for the Association's work. Bishop explained that people can vote for five statements, and that they can either vote for five separate items, or for any specific statement more than once. In response to questions, it was clarified that ballots with more than five votes would not be counted, however tellers can provide new ballots if errors are made.
Voting occurred, and ballots were collected by tellers.
In response to a question from the procedural microphone, Courter stated that the results of the voting will be available by the time the UUA Board's packet of information (for its October 2007 meeting) is published on UUA.org in September. The Open Space Technology volunteer facilitation team was acknowledged, and it was repeated that this is the largest number of people ever to use Open Space. At this GA over 1400 were involved in the process, Bishop said, whereas the typical size of a group is 200-400.
Actions of Immediate Witness (AIW)
Courter explained how the AIW discussion and debate would work, with time allocated for discussion on the proposed AIW for up to twenty minutes before considering amendments. If, however, there is no one discussing the overall merits of the proposed AIW, amendments could be made immediately. All AIWs are admitted to debate by motion of the chair of the Commission on Social Witness, Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull.
AIW 1: Support for the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Read Support for the UN CEDAW.
Debate began on this AIW. The only person speaking against the proposed action stated they were doing so in fear that this AIW was asking for lobbying elected officials in a way that would create difficulties for congregations and their tax-exempt status. Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy, stated that there are no clear cut guidelines on this issue, but that the rule of thumb is that as long as non-profits are not spending more than 5 percent of their time and financial resources on any specific piece of legislation by name, they are not in legal jeopardy. Congregations do not have to restrict their work as issue advocates on general issues, Keithan said, provided they are not speaking about specific legislation.
Some of the points made by delegates from the pro microphone:
- This is a powerful tool for women all over the world; since it was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (U.N.) on December 18, 1979, 185 of the 192 member states of the U.N. have ratified it. The U.S. is not one of the ratifying nations even though the U.S. has signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- A member of the Board of the UU-United Nations Office and a UUWF member named the proposed AIW as a way to support the empowerment of women and girls.
- The president of the Unitarian Universalist Men's Network (UUMeN) said his organization is opposed to all forms of discrimination against women.
Seeing no one at the con microphone, Courter called for the vote on AIW 1, and it carried.
AIW 2: Support Immigrant Families—Stop the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Raids
The debate on AIW 2 began with a series of procedural questions, including the definition of "fair and legal," and the difference between something that is legal, and something that is fair. One person rose in opposition to the proposed AIW expressing concern that the language in the Action needs to be accurate "so that we will not appear silly to the outside world." One person spoke in favor of the proposal as a whole, citing experience as a union organizer and the impact on workers' lives when immigration issues hang over them.
There being no one at the microphones to discuss the overall merits of the proposal, Courter turned to the amendment microphone. One amendment moved to insert bulleted text to urge religious communities to speak strongly about these issues. Without this, it was stated that the AIW would be too narrow. No one spoke against the proposed amendment, the vote was called, and the amendment carried.
An amendment was presented to delete the amendment incorporated by the Commission on Social Witness at its mini-assembly. The language urged congregations to create a dialogue with their local business community, politicians and minority coalitions. The concern was specifically about language calling for fair and legal deportations: "instead we need to call for simple cessation of immigrant deportations," said the individual moving the amendment. Another person speaking in favor of the amendment indicated concern that this would lead to confusion about what is legal and illegal.
Those speaking against the amendment stated that the incorporated amendment points out action that congregations can take, while another indicated that a discussion on what is fair and appropriate is necessary. Yet another said that in their community immigration reform is a local issue that necessitates conversation at the local level.
Courter called for a vote on the amendment to remove the incorporated lines, and the motion failed. Courter then called for the vote on the overall AIW 2 as amended, and the motion carried.
AIW 3: Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education Legislation
Speakers in support of the proposed AIW included the co-author, who is a member of the Church of the Younger Fellowship, and another delegate who urged for options other than abstinence to be taught since not all people choose that option. One person spoke against the AIW stating that it is not the job of the federal government to fund sexuality education, and that the local and state governments should be doing so. With no other people at the con microphone, and no amendments pending, Courter called for the vote, and AIW 3 carried.
AIW 4: Stop U.S. Sponsored Torture—A Religious Call to Action
One person spoke in favor of the proposed AIW, saying that torture violates the basic dignity of human persons that all religions in their highest ideals hold dear, and urged delegates to vote to abolish torture now without any exceptions. With no one wishing to speak against this AIW, and with no amendments pending, Courter called for the vote and AIW 4 carried.
Courter declared a break in debate on Actions of Immediate Witness, and the Right Relations Team came to the podium to share their report.
Right Relationship Team
Courter told delegates, "This has been a good General Assembly relationally, and that this was in no small part because of the Right Relations Team—they have figured out how to do their job well."
Petra Aldrich, chair of the team, began by delivering a personal message to the Moderator from the members of the Pacific Northwest District. They are concerned that they are not in right relationship with the Moderator due to her continued mispronunciation of the name of the state of Oregon —it is "or-eh-gun," not "or-eh-GONE." Much laughter ensued as the Moderator practiced her pronunciation.
Aldrich continued in a more serious note by speaking about scooter and wheelchair etiquette. She reminded plenary attendees, "These are not armrests—unless it is your chair—nor should you pull yourself up with it. When approaching doors or hallways, it is generally more polite to allow scooters to go ahead rather than jumping in before them. When in rooms where there are indents in chair rows for wheelchairs or scooters, it is polite to leave the adjacent seats for scooter/wheelchair companions." Aldrich also pointed out that some of the people who are using scooters at GA do not do so at home, and so their driving abilities might not be perfect—so be understanding and flexible. She said that there were enough complaints received that she wanted to offer these statements, but that "there are also wonderful reports of people making enough space and being conscious of mobility issues."
Aldrich stated that some of the most difficulties come up around music: how it is used, how it is sung, what is sung. "Issues of cultural misappropriation have been some of our most broken relationship issues." She noted that "the musicians are working hard, supported by DRUUMM and the Committee on Cultural Misappropriation. We're not quite there yet, and we appreciate the time, effort, and attention that has gotten us this far."
She pointed out that having 6000 UUs together is nice for so many of us. UUs of color are a smaller group, and it is rare to have so many people of color at GA—the celebration, joy, care, healing, and networking here is fundamental to their core. We should all be celebrating their presence.
Aldrich also pointed out that at past GAs the Opening Ceremony has included a welcome from and acknowledgement of the original peoples who lived on the land on which this General Assembly gathers. This has been an effort to be in relationship with the local Native American tribes, and an acknowledgement of the land's history and the violent takeover of those lands. Aldrich reminded those in the hall that the city of Portland has not always been here, and that this land was once Mexico. She invited the delegates into a moment of silence in recognition and remembrance of the history of the land.
Aldrich said that many youth and young adults had mentioned how painful it was for them to see so many people leaving the Plenary the previous day rather than staying for the Bridging Ceremony. So often, Aldrich said, UUs state that youth and young adults are our future. Half of the Right Relationship Team are young adults, she said, and "youth and young adults are our present, not just the future. Working to recognize this needs to be a priority for all of us." Applause greeted this statement.
Beth Norton and Leon Dunkley from the Cultural Misappropriations Task Force were introduced. Dunkley, an ethnomusicologist and seminarian, stated that the Task Force has taken on large issues, some of which have names, and others which are not yet nameable, and that many are difficult. The Task Force is examining issues with as much integrity and compassion as possible, and "we know that we will be making mistakes." In recognition of our humanity and our inevitable mistakes, Dunkley and Norton asked delegates to join in a sung litany of forgiveness. The piece, from "Singing the Journey," was written by Rob Eller-Isaacs and Les Kleen, and is entitled, "We Begin Again in Love."
Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) Continued
Moderator Gini Courter returned to debate on remaining Actions of Immediate Witness.
AIW 5: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
Many people rose to speak to this proposed AIW. The discussion included the following:
- Pro: The momentum for repealing the legislation "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) and replacing it with a policy of non-discrimination is growing. The tipping point is near and concerted action can help repeal the legislation.
- Con: The delegate identified himself as a queer person and believed that BGLTQ people should be as out as they desire, and while affirming all those who serve in the military. However, there is a "poverty draft" in this country that forces low income people into the military, and this AIW has chosen to ignore the impact of racism and classism on people. Service is being forced on low income people and people of color around the world, and therefore this AIW should be defeated.
- Procedural: The question was asked whether DADT is federal law or policy, and Courter replied that it is federal law.
- Con: A former marine with several family members and friends in the military stated his concern that this AIW doesn't address what will happen if DADT is repealed, and his fear that more hate crimes will be created. He expressed concern about the lower class military members who are involved. He also stated that joining the military is a free will exercise, and people don't have to join.
- Procedural: The question was raised what the default policy would be if this law is repealed. The answer was that there are regulations in place to protect service members that are not specific to gender or sexual orientation and would be applied to all military members.
- Procedural: A delegate asked if the included amendment concerning supporting elected officials would challenge a church's non-profit status. Washington Office Director Rob Keithan stated that it is prohibited for non-profits to act on behalf of candidates, but that he believed that supporting elected officials would be in line. The UUA's legal counsel supported this interpretation as well.
- Pro: A delegate said that heterosexism is one of the worst issues. She has family and friends whose options appear to be jail or military, and yet this is not an option for same-gender loving friends. Repealing DADT means you still can't tell, or otherwise you die.
- Procedural: Tamara Payne-Alex, UUA Board member, stated that she understands that people have been speaking of the complexity of issues, and the intersection of race, class, politics, and faith. Payne-Alex said, "I would like to recognize that what is probably more important about whether this AIW is passed is the conversation and its complex issues." She asked the Moderator if there was time for prayer.
Courter responded, "There should always be time for prayer," and the delegates entered into silence. Courter said, "To whomever we pray," and asked "that delegates be reminded there is enough love to go around if we create it, that we need to be sensitive and caring for each other, [that we] learn to speak more for what we need than for what we don't believe others are entitled to," and asked that delegates be centered, forgiving and caring as the plenary votes on this and other resolutions today.
Discussion on the proposed AIW then continued:
- Procedural: The question was raised that if there were more abstentions than votes either for or against the issue, would they count in the determination of whether the motion carries. Courter replied that on the UUA Board they "have the feeling that if you came all this way, you didn't do so in order not to vote. Abstentions," she said, "encourage us not to wrestle with moral dilemmas."
- Procedural: A delegate wondered if, in order not to appear anti-gay, there was a third option which was to table the motion indefinitely. Courter replied that the proposed AIW could not be tabled indefinitely, and would have to come back later this afternoon for action.
Time having elapsed, Courter called for the vote, and AIW 5 carried. Courter then said that she thought she heard concerns about this proposal from people of color, and in particular that we only care about DADT, and not about the fact that for many young people of color there are only two options, jail or the military. "We need," Courter said, "to take back the nuanced conversation we've had here." She suggested that people set up a projector in their congregations and show this debate to them for further reflection and discussion.
AIW 6: Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act with Transgender Inclusion and Protection
Immediately after admitting this AIW to the floor, a delegate appeared at the procedural microphone. When acknowledged, he identified himself as Rev. Ken Collier, minister in Santa Barbara. He rose, he said, to a point of personal privilege. Collier said to the Moderator, "I don't always agree with you, but you are running these proceedings superbly, and I want to thank you." The delegates responded with enthusiastic applause. Courter said in response that "this is magic we make together, and we are at our best when we look at each other. We are so smart and caring when we dig deep."
Debate on the AIW then began and included these highlights:
- Pro: This legislation has been in Congress for many years, and in all those years it only covered sexual orientation, but now after many years of lobbying, the various organizations supporting ENDA are in support of transgender persons being included and being offered support. It is time for the UUA to really address transgender issues.
- Con: A delegate at the con microphone said that she had a moral dilemma—she wishes to support the legislation, but if no one appears at the Con microphone, she won't get a chance to speak. She said that she is delighted that after 10 years this legislation finally includes transgender people. In order to turn her statement into a con statement (since she was at that microphone) she encouraged delegates not to vote for this unless they are willing to go back to their own congregations and entertain the possibility of hiring and employing a transgender clergy person as their own minister.
- Pro: A delegate spoke about how, when people have to hide who they are, we all suffer because we lose their gifts. About one-third of the states in this country have protection for transgender people and so we need to work to provide all people with protection.
- Procedural: A delegate asked why Transgender is included in the title, and Jan Carlsson-Bull, the chair of the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) said it was included to be more comprehensive.
- Con: The delegate stated that he stood up for the right of the transgender person who was fired as a city manager in Florida. He was curious, he said, to find out from the CSW why this issue is before us today—there is an existing resolution from 1994 that is already in place. Carlsson-Bull explained that the AIW passed in 1994 only carries the authority of that particular GA and it is difficult to sustain the authority of a thirteen-year-old resolution. The delegate then asked, "If this AIW is defeated, would the work of the staff on transgender concerns end?" The answer from the staff area of the Plenary hall was a loud "no."
- Procedural: A delegate asked for clarification on this AIW and whether the legislation includes protection for transgender people. Rob Keithan, Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy, said that when the last AIW was passed in 1994, transgender issues were not included. This AIW would support the current version of ENDA that includes transgender rights for employment. Housing rights are not covered by the current ENDA legislation.
- Pro: A delegate who self-defined as transgender said that there are only three classes of people who should be concerned about an individual's transgender status: themselves, their sweetheart, and their medical doctor team. For everyone else, "I am a person with value, skills, and ability in the world. I speak in both of my voices, the femme one (said in a higher tone) and in the masculine one (said in a low tone) to say 'pass this resolution for everybody'."
- Con: Another delegate who worked in Florida and supported the fired city manager stated that he continued to be puzzled why an AIW is being proposed when the work is already being done. This is not a faith statement of what we broadly believe in, and it does not include education around the issues, he said. Such language was not incorporated, and he hopes that actions to correct these omissions will be presented in a Responsive Resolution this afternoon. This AIW, he stated, is not the prophetic voice of this Assembly.
Courter called for the vote, and AIW 6 carried.
This Plenary session concluded after announcements, and the singing together with music leader Sarah Dan Jones of Blue Boat Home.
Reported by Lisa Presley; edited by Deborah Weiner.