UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love Campaign
Presenter: Dan Furmansky
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) Standing on the Side of Love Campaign has energized individuals across the country to transform their faith into action. Hear from Campaign Manager Dan Furmansky, clergy, and other leaders about how this public advocacy campaign is being effectively utilized to shape the debate on justice issues.
DAN FURMANSKY: Hello. Welcome love people. I'm Dan Furmansky. I'm the campaign manager of Standing on the Side of Love. What an honor. You know what would make me very happy—which I know is something you all want to do—is if you would you consider just moving in and making it a little bit more intimate. Making a love circle, if you will.
And we're going to go ahead and get started. We have some wonderful panelists here today. We have Reverend Chris Buice, who is the minister of the Tennessee Valley UU [Unitarian Universalist] Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. We have Reverend Theresa Novak, who is the minister of the UU Congregation in Ogden, Utah.
We have Susan Leslie, who is the Director of Congregational Advocacy and witness at the UUA. And she has been with the UUA for 18 years. And we also have Reverend John Crestwell, who is with the UU Church of Annapolis. And I assume he'll show up. And we'll just welcome him up here.
So we're a very visual campaign. And I wanted to start with just a quick video. And this was something that was filmed not long after we were in Phoenix for the National Day of Noncompliance last July.
Standing on the Side of Love is our way not just of living our values, but saying that we are joining with other people who share those values, who share the values of love and justice. Because it's not just about a campaign. It really is about a movement to make the beloved community something that everyone is a part of.
[MUSIC PLAYING: "STAND!"]
Standing on the Side of Love is really affirming an absolutely fundamental religious value that Unitarian Universalists have always held.
It's important to constantly work to make the world a better place. And that to me is what it means to Stand on the Side of Love
[MUSIC PLAYING: "STAND!"]
It's any time someone is treated as other. And love can overcome that. Once we get to know people as people, then and love them and care about, then it makes a big, big difference.
This part of our community is what's important. We couldn't be here without the support of our various UU communities. For every one person that's here, there's a community that stands behind them. And that's important too.
[MUSIC PLAYING: "STAND!"]
I am Standing on the Side of Love.
I am Standing on the Side of Love.
I am Standing on the Side of Love.
We are Standing on the Side of Love.
We are Standing on the Side of Love.
I am Standing on the Side of Love.
I'm Standing on the Side of Love.
We are Standing on the Side of Love.
DAN FURMANSKY: I already feel like we have the best workshop here because we started by singing. And I didn't even prompt anybody. What could be better than that? I have a PowerPoint presentation. Because again, the campaign is very visual. So I was all about the visuals today.
And I just want to start by saying it's been about a year. I mean, my first day in the job was last year at general assembly. And what an honor it was to join the campaign that Meg Riley and Adam Gerhardstein had birthed and really shepherded forth in such a tremendous way.
And so what I'm going to show you is a little bit about where we've been over the past year. And some of what we've accomplished together. So not everybody knows exactly what the Standing on the Side of Love campaign is. So I thought I would just start basic with a quick overview.
Standing on the Side of Love is a public advocacy campaign of the UUA, whose goal is to harness love's power to end bigotry and oppression against people because of their identity. And as the campaign manager, my job is to provide congregations and leaders with the knowledge, inspiration, resources, and opportunity to translate faith into action on behalf of marginalized communities.
And we do this a few different ways. So we employ social media to uplift stories of courageous love. We offer direct support to congregational leaders, clergy, policy organizations that are working to advance, specifically, LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] rights, immigrant rights, religious diversity and freedom, and also other justice issues.
We really have focused a lot this year on promoting interfaith partnerships. I'll talk about that. And we really are about encouraging those who are part of this movement, which is all of you, whether you've been before today or not, to translate your online action [INAUDIBLE PHRASE].
Sweetser is the Vice President for Stewardship and Development. He said before SSL, we didn't have—SSL. We say SSL. I loved it when somebody said, Dan, thanks for keeping SSL sizzling. So he said, "Before SSL, we didn't have anything people felt so unanimously positive about. It has made congregations feel empowered that they can make a difference." That's really what the campaign is all about.
So the community—what does it look like? We have about 25,000 plus people following us on Facebook. And I love posting things and seeing what generates lots of likes, what people are less enthusiastic about, what resonates. Our email list has about 30,000 folks across the country. We've really started to use change.org, which is a platform to communicate with all sorts of leaders in the country.
We're going on about 5,000 people. That number is even out of date as of a few days ago. We have about 2,000 Twitter followers. And there are roughly, I would say, even more like 325 congregations that have a banner. And the quote right here that I loved—this is a screen grab from the Facebook page. We were just talking about Japanese Americans speaking out about Representative Peter King's is anti-Muslim hearings that have been taking place.
And somebody wrote, "I can't tell you how important this campaign has been to keeping me and my fellow social worker students up on the many social justice issues and advocacy opportunities."
That made me feel great. Because part of what we want to do is just let you know what's going on and give you opportunities to take action. So, a perspective on how we fit into the UUA. We are part of the Multicultural Growth and Witness Staff Group, of which Susan Leslie is a part of.
The mission of this group is to help congregations and leaders minister effectively in a multicultural world. We have a steering committee. The steering committee is comprised of UUA leadership council individuals. Folks like Reverend Terry Sweetser, the Director of Communications at the UUA. Also, Fred Garcia with LOGOS Consulting, who helped conceive of the campaign.
And they're are huge part of keeping us focused and directed. We're also part of the Public Witness Team at the UUA. These are folks who work in communications. Individuals with UU-UNO, the United Nations Office, and the UUSC, the Service Committee.
And we all communicate. We share information. We figure out, how do we most effectively channel our energy to make a difference on important up-to-date social justice issues? I had some consultants that I work—I'm pretty much a staff of one. I work in partnership with Multicultural Growth and Witness staff. I have a couple of consultants who help me with technology issues, some strategy issues.
And I have right now one fantastic intern, who's staffing the Standing on the Side of Love booth. So the name is Meredith. Give her love. It's a tough group today. A lot of people.
So the power of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. I use the phrase a lot—faith in action. To me, that's what it is. I talked about the T-shirts before. And I said, this is faith, not fashion. Somebody said, I wish you had the shirts in a different color. I was like, this is faith, not fashion.
It's about pride and an underlying principle of UU faith. This is really the way we translate that faith. It's an opportunity to bring our vision into the world. And it's about major visibility.
Again, we are visible. This works. We don't just show up. We show up and we get noticed. Because we mean it. And we're out there. This is also a great way to let our partners know when we're there, when we're showing up to be a part of something, they know who we are. They know we were there. They don't have to guess how many came with the UU congregations locally. They know that we were there and represented.
I like to talk about the positive messaging that we infuse into what might be known as a battle or a fight. We went to Annapolis to fight for marriage equality. Or we won this battle, but we lost this battle. But we're going to win the war. There's so much rhetoric involved with policy that for us to be able to talk about love and really reframe the messages I think is so powerful.
Of course, this is great denominational branding for the UUA. And I know that the denomination is very proud of that. And it's increased media attention just naturally that comes along with this. When you've got a sea of people in golden rod yellow, people take notice.
And also, we're an open source campaign. So that means that congregations—they take this campaign locally. So while we who work for the UUA primarily focus on LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and this year especially, responding to anti-Muslim bigotry, you'll see our banners out there in a host and variety of settings. Whether it's in Wisconsin responding to the public sector issues—people translate it in their own way. And we encourage that. We want you to use it.
And you don't have to be a Unitarian Universalist to use the campaign. You don't need to be a UU to Stand on the Side of Love. It's a principle that we all can share. I'm not actually a Unitarian Universalist, but you are my community. and I'm your community. And so I'm so proud to be a part of this campaign.
And I love this one. Michael Tino, the reverend in Northern Westchester had said, a newcomer to our congregation this morning said that one of the reasons that he and his wife came was because they saw our large Standing on the Side of Love banner at the front of our driveway. And they thought they might like a religion that would say such a thing. Talk about good advertising.
So how do congregations participate with the campaign? How do they connect with the campaign? There are a variety of ways. I'll go over these quickly. Social justice committees. So a lot of folks have had social justice committees for years. They've started using the tools of the campaign to do their social justice work, to enhance their social justice work.
In some cases, congregations have set up special Standing on the Side of Love committees. They passed resolutions in support of following and being a part of the campaign. Of course, we want you to be on the email list. If you're not on the email list, that's so simple. Go to the front of our website. Sign up.
We usually don't send more than an email a week. Sometimes, even less. But it's an ideal way to be connected. But actually, the way we communicate with most people is via Facebook. So if you don't like us on Facebook, you're missing a lot. Because we really have a strong Facebook presence. And it's the primary driver to our website, to our blog, to everything else that we do.
We do have webinars. We're hopefully going to have more webinars in the coming year. But we recently had a webinar that Susan Leslie put together, which was about how to put together a strong yet vibrant immigrant rights ministry in your local community.
So it's about giving people opportunities to cultivate their skills. Some congregations elect a Standing on the Side of Love spokesperson. Of course, we want you to be thinking now, in June, about what you're going to do for Standing on the Side of Love Day next year.
When is standing on the side of love day?
AUDIENCE: February 14.
DAN FURMANSKY: February 14. Yes. Although we might even think about Standing on the Side of Love week next year. Shouldn't we think a little bit bigger? Yeah. A lot of congregations, they hang a banner. And they actually hold a dedication service. It's very ceremonial and lovely. Of course, T-shirts—I mean, I'll talk more about the visibility. But the T-shirts, the banners the signs have such power to them.
And we have palm cards that people sometimes pass out. Susan, I believe you went out to the polls this year just to tamp down, maybe be where some of the Tea Party folks were and pass out cards that said, we Stand on the Side of Love with LGBT people, immigrants.
And we are looking for civil discourse in our community. It's such a simple act, but such a powerful act. Standing on the Side of Love grants, which are made possible through the UU funding program, are available for congregations in state networks. We want you to apply for them. We want you to get in touch with me and say, we want to apply for a grant. Let's talk about it.
We want to give you the money. We want you to use it. We want to share what you've done with this funding. It's really for a rapid response things on the ground that are happening in your local community. So it's seeking strategy support from the campaign.
A lot of what I do over the years—I mean, I've literally gotten calls from ministers who said, I'm testifying tonight on a local resolution to add gender identity to our anti-discrimination law. Help me with my testimony. I'll help people bang out testimony.
I called up John Crestwell. And I said, John, let's work together on what's happening in Annapolis this year. Let's brainstorm. Let's figure out how to channel money to your congregation. John will talk a little bit about that. But we are definitely available for strategy support.
Of course, the website is an opportunity to register your events locally. We offer tools for you to invite people to your events. It's a great way to—send us your photos. If you have something to say, send us a blog post. If it's good, we'll put it up there. And if it seems off, I might send it back and say, I love this. Maybe you should retool it.
But we share information. It's all about inspiring each other and making sure that we're sharing in each other's successes.
We on occasion can send organizers to local communities. I was in Annapolis for a month this year. We have an organizer on board right now who's been doing a lot of work in Massachusetts on a gender identity anti-discrimination law, on secure communities, and rallying ministers to go to these meetings about the secure communities program.
So it is possible to get local organizers. We hope we'll have a presence in Minnesota over the next year and a half responding to that anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. We're very much about partnerships. And that includes interfaith partnerships, interfaith coalitions. We love it when you send us—look at this great letter. We got every minister in the state to sign on to this letter opposing this copycat SB 1070 anti-immigrant legislation.
We love that. But what we love even more is when the let is an interfaith letter. When you did it, you got all the UU ministers to sign on. And then you went beyond the community. Talk about the strength of those interfaith partnerships.
And the website itself has—somebody came up to me on the booth yesterday and said, oh, the website is great. We did an action event. We had the press there. Because you had the media alerts. You had the press releases. You gave us talking points. We used it. And it worked. And of course, the last line—partnerships, partnerships, partnerships.
This is just a gratuitous slide to share a little love. The love people, the yellow shirt people, really started to take hold after Phoenix last July, that people started to call us the love people A lot of the folks on the ground, a lot of the immigrant families, a lot of the individuals that we were there to stand with—they knew us.
They didn't know Unitarian Universalists from the United Church of Christ from the Episcopal Church. What they knew was we were the yellow shirt, the love people. And that is an honor. Absolutely an honor.
This is the online store. We created a new online store this year. All of the merchandise we sell is union made in the United States of America. It is not easy.
Thank you. It is not easy to always get the merchandise that's union made. We work really hard at it. We're constantly working to increase the kinds of things we can offer to you. The markup is very small. The proceeds go back to support the campaign.
And we have all sorts of things available for you. So if you don't yet have a banner, we created an even lower cost banner, different size banners. You let us know what you want. I know you want toddler T-shirts. We're working on. Tank tops. We're working on it. We want to give you what you want, so that you can Stand on the Side of Love publicly always.
While I was putting together this PowerPoint presentation—I have a little Google alert for Standing on the Side of Love. I got this Google alert that sent me to this YouTube video from Beverly, Mass. The congregation there had done a banner dedication. They had ordered a banner. They had done a whole dedication.
The minister, Reverend Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson said to folks, our faith teaches us to choose love. By placing this banner on our church, this is not the end of the story. This is the prologue of what we're going to accomplish together under this heading.
I didn't even know how to get in touch with them. I just posted on the blog. And I was really inspired by it. And the church itself dates back to the 1700s. So there's something really special about that.
So I'm going to give you some examples of what we did this year, starting with—I've already talked about our participation last July in the National Day of Non-Compliance SB 1070. This would not have been possible without the folks in the ground, the congregations in Arizona, building strong and meaningful partnerships over a period of time with immigrant rights organizations, with being present and active and engaged, and inviting us to invite you all to be a part of what was going on.
It was because of them that we were able to maximize the presence and to bring the love and the coordinated visibility to Phoenix.
After we got home, Kim Bobo, who is the executive director of this fantastic organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, wrote an article—an unsolicited article for this periodical, Religion Dispatches—entitled "A Primer on Activism from Unitarian Universalists."
And I know that for Susan and folks who have really been doing activism for years, it was such fantastic moment to be recognized for the way that we had really been leaders on an issue. And Kim Bobo said, "Of the several hundred religious leaders who showed up, only the UUA seriously committed staff, money, and organizing talents to the struggle."
We had about, I think, 13 or 14 UUA staff go down there for anywhere from a few days to a week. Obviously, you know a lot about Phoenix. I'm not going to talk about it too extensively. But what I will say is this was an example. And it was a tangible example for me being the first thing that I did with the campaign out in the field. I really understood that what this means, what this shirt means, what the love means, out there. And how it people take notice. About how it makes a difference.
So Kim Bobo said, "The UUs were very visual. Their yellow T-shirts could be seen blocks away. "Their giant banner was a good media visual. And they chose a smart downtown street location that attracted attention."
Look at this photo. Both of these photos—acts of civil disobedience. Such a powerful photo to somebody with love emblazoned on their chest standing next to police in riot gear. Talk about a contrast.
We really were proactive with earned media. That's something we've done a lot of this year. Reverend Peter Morales worked with our communications folks and got something placed into The Huffington Post right before the National Day of Non-Compliance took place explaining why he was coming down after he had been arrested and in jail—the only denominational leader to do that.
He had taken the opportunity, right? I mean, it all connects. We don't just go. What do we do after we go? It's all about continuing the cycle of activism in positive ways.
Part of what we really tried to bring to Phoenix was a sense of new media. It was letting folks across the country be engaged, register your solidarity events. Take part in those solidarity events. We did multiple YouTube videos. We had a few thousand people watching these videos in real time. We post them. And pretty shortly thereafter, several thousand people are taking a look at what was going on.
So whether it was the protests themselves. Whether it was standing vigil at the courthouse jail, and the joy and the dancing that took place, we wanted people to really understand and experience why we chose civil disobedience, why we were there, what it all meant. And we live tweeted. We send TwixPix out—pictures on Twitter. And we really got people following things on Facebook.
The result of that was we were able to raise $5,000 really quickly for a defense fund for those who had been arrested, so that they would have legal support and legal counsel. So our next big thing was September 11. As alarmed as you all were watching everything going on across the country leading up to September 11 last year, with anti-Muslim bigotry.
People talking about burning Qurans as a Jew. Remembering Kristallnacht. Thinking about burning Torahs, burning Holy Books. The idea of burning a Holy Book is just anathema to who we are as Americans, and who we are as people.
And hate crimes started to rise. The reports were alarming. And we all came together. And we really, in a matter of a few weeks, more than 100 congregations registered some sort of solidarity event with the American Muslim community. It was incredibly impressive.
The media picked up on it. We had so many hits. I was so proud to be a part of working with UU ministers to get these messages out. A few of them—this was a roadside vigil on the left. Folks just got their banner out there and held up signs and got their messages out into the local media.
In Cheyenne, they had a proposed Koran burning. And they planned a public witness. And the paper picked it up. I love this. "Their participation is part of a nationwide effort called Standing on the Side of Love with our Muslim brothers and sisters." I didn't coin that. We didn't send it out. But it worked out pretty perfectly. Talk about using the open source nature of the campaign. And also, turning that into a real interfaith event, which was fantastic.
My favorite story of all was in Alabama. Reverend Alice Syltie, I believe from Huntsville, organized members of her congregation to help Muslims celebrate the joyful holiday of Eid al-Ftir. Forgive me if I mispronounced that. And they went to the local mosque, and they passed out flowers as worshipers were exiting.
And it was such a hard time of year for American Muslims. As I said, the rhetoric was such a fever pitch. It was exactly what the campaign was all about. And it was beautiful. This church in Canton, New York—they actually placed a Eid moubarak banner, which is the Arabic greeting for the holiday out on their front lawn. It made the news. It was a sight to behold.
And this also came in. This was an email from Reverend Marian Stewart with Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington State. Small congregation. And she said, we have 121 members. We had 300 people in attendance for our 9/11 eleven interfaith event. Excellent TV news and coverage. The only church in the Seattle area to do something on this scale and inclusive.
Again, partnerships—it's great to hold a banner on the side of the road next to your church. It's even better to reach out to the American Muslim community locally and ask them, what can we do? We want to be there for you. How can we help? What kind of partnerships can we build? And to bring those interfaith partnerships into it. Also, what we really tried to do is use the blog to lift up voices, to personalize these stories. This was a woman we solicited, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, to write about their views on what was happening with that the Cordoba Center in New York—the alleged mosque at the ground zero site, which we, of course, know isn't actually at the site.
They lost their son in 9/11. And they were really looking for avenues to be spokespersons on this issue. So this was an opportunity for us to lift up their voices. And that's really what the campaign is focused on a lot, in terms of using our blog—giving people an opportunity to speak out, to use their voice, to tell their stories.
These are just some examples from the year. We did a lot of focus on—we all remember with heavy hearts that the media really started to take notice of the rash of teenage LGBT identified suicides. And we did a lot of dialogue about that. And asked ministers, congregations, and people as part of a campaign to speak out about it.
And letters to the editor popped up in papers. We used an online tool to encourage people to find their local paper and just enter, personalize a letter and send it in. And we were present across the country. People held services. Unfortunately, of course, these suicides continue. And the media doesn't always keep up their attention to it. So it's our responsibility to make sure that even after the media cycle is over, we're still there.
This is my colleague in Multicultural Growth and Witness. And during one of our staff retreats, I learned that Reverend Alicia Forde had been in the armed forces, and had been in the closet at the time. And so, as much as possible, when we're engaging people to take action on policy issues, we want the voices of folks that are taking action to be personal. We want you to connect.
You get plenty of emails from me. But I always prefer to figure out, who can this email come from besides me? Because the issue affects so many of us, so many people that are within our community.
While all this LGBT identified teenage suicides was going on, there were a rash of murders against trans-identified women. And the media really was not picking up on it. Only some sectors of the LGBT press were picking up on it. And the November International Annual Transgender Day Remembrance was coming up. So we really focused our next big online to offline action on encouraging congregations to take part in the National Transgender Day of Remembrance.
For the first year, we had message go out to the press from our UUA president about discrimination, and violence, and harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression. It's, again, an opportunity to use the campaign to lift up voices of people who are marginalized, and whose voices aren't being heard.
This was something I was really proud of it, which was a campaign that we took on. We were contacted by somebody from a Denver congregation who said, my husband is undocumented. We are facing a deportation hearing. Help us. So I said, all right. OK. Let's get your story out there. Let's figure out the best way to do this.
We gave them some money to have a local congregation member produce a short video. I'll show you just a snippet of that video. I might not show you a snippet of that video, Well, all right. Skip that video. About 5,000 people watched the story of the Cardenas family—Raul, Judy, and their children.
We set up a few different mechanisms for people to get involved. First, we had people communicate with DHS, Department of Homeland Security, on the family's behalf. The way to get people's deportation halted is to increase attention, to make sure the DHS knows that these individuals aren't going to be deported without the local community being up in arms about it.
This was a fantastic opportunity. The video was entitled What Undocumented Looks Like. Part of my goal here was to make sure that all of us know that when we're talking about undocumented, it's not about them. It's not about standing with them. It's about us—that we have undocumented people in our congregations, that as an inclusive community, as a welcoming community, as a community that seeks to create more beloved community, we want people to know that this is us. It's not us and them.
And this campaign was successful. It was multipronged. On the day of the deportation hearing, a number of UU ministers were there to be present with the family. And the deportation was indeed postponed. This was our first change.org campaign. It was successful.
But it's not the end of their story. November is the next hearing. And we really hope that we'll be able to continue to advocate on their behalf. And I know you will all be there for this family. So we worked on a number of national campaigns trying to really use a combination of multimedia and social media, creating little YouTube videos. How many times can you ask people to take action on Don't Ask, Don't Tell over a period a few weeks before fatigue sets in?
So different ways to ask you to do it. Different pressure points. And again, using local voices, really highlighting local voices, of who are the UUs who have been fighting? Oops. See? I did it right there. I said fighting. Who are the UUs who have been actively engaged on seeking repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell over the years? How do we lift up their voices?
This is something that Susan and I are very proud of. Shortly after Dream Act enactment failed in Congress—we were so hopeful. We had already been circulating a letter to our interfaith partners about secure communities programs that enlist local police to do federal immigration enforcement.
And we were collecting signatures from different faith leaders, calling on the president to halt these ICE ACCESS programs that instill fear in entire communities. And after the Dream Act failed, it was really when our NFA partner stepped up and said, we'll sign on to this letter, we had Who's Who of denominations. We had the National Coalition of American Nuns, the Episcopals, the Quakers, the UCC, Mennonites, Disciples of Christ. It was a really fantastic moment, again, for our denomination in being leaders on an issue. And we're proud of that.
Again, a little bit more about the work that we've done locally. When I was in Maryland, I was able to—just simple things. Noticing that there was a press conference going on about the statewide Dream Act and nobody was filming it. So I filmed it. I got it up on YouTube later. And Casa de Maryland was so appreciative that somebody had taken the time to do that, so that the press conference could live beyond it's 45 minute shelf life and could be shared with legislators, could be shared more broadly.
In Florida, we communicated with local ministers there and said, you've got copycats SB 1070 legislation going on. What can we do? And they said, we want to draft a letter, and have it be an interface letter. And we said, all right. We'll take a stab at a draft. Do with it what you will. And we'll send you press lists. And we'll make it as easy for you as possible.
And that letter did have a broad intersection of interfaith signatories. And it appeared to local press. We were so pleased. And we've kept up the campaign. Of course, we were in Arizona in July. We've paid special attention to Arizona as we've moved past July, trying to highlight, for instance, Sal Reza with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network was banned for life from the Senate building up by the Senate President, author of SB 1070.
We did a national campaign, invited others to participate. And within I think just one week, we had enough people phoning in there and faxing in that the lifetime ban was reduced to two weeks. And he was able to go back to the Senate to advocate.
National Standing on the Side of Love Day—second year for this. It was a really huge success. We had about 120, 130 congregations spearheading local justice events. Our activities generated 71 media hits. We were in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post. The Advocate featured us. Foxnew.com, Forbes magazine, The Columbus Dispatch. 71 papers covered Unitarian Universalist Standing on the Side of Love on this day.
It was fantastic. We had television hits. I was on the radio doing an interfaith program. We solicited some earned media. some examples of what took place. We really encouraged people to uplift stories of courageous love this year. People gave out awards to individuals in the community, in their congregations, local LGBT leaders, Dreamer students—you name it. We had folks just using it as an opportunity to uplift courageous love.
On the left—this is a great story. Standing on the Side of Love Day coincided with the Minnesota LGBT OutFront Minnesota Advocacy Day. The congregations showed up in their SSL garb. The youth got a chance to speak to their representative. And this individual that they spoke to ended up voting against the constitutional amendment that was approved by the legislature. So don't ever think citizen advocacy does not make a difference.
I was so honored to spend National Standing on the Side of Love Day in two places. On the 13th, I was with Reverend Chris and his congregation at Tennessee Valley UU Church, presenting an award to them up for their courageous love in so many realms. Especially for their impressive social justice work over a long period of history.
I gave a little talk. And part of what it said was, I know this campaign is changing the world we live in because it's changing me. I used to be much more hateful. When I first started, I remember not long after, I had something on my Facebook on one of the UU ministers that I now work a lot with. Had commented, your Facebook post about Sarah Palin went too far. I'm giving the abridged version.
And I looked at it. And I realized I used some harsh rhetoric. I guess Sarah Palin had made me angry. And I really was having hateful feelings. I was sort of upset. Because it was sort of very wittily worded, what I had written. Sort of scathing.
But then I really started to think about it. And I realized, it starts with me. If the goal is to put love into the world, it starts first with you. The campaign has definitely changed me. When I think about who I hate so vociferously, I feel much more pity for a Fred Phelps than I can say that I feel any hatred.
And this is challenged all the time. It's constantly challenged. As I say, Standing on the Side of Love is not an end goal. It's not an event. It's a process. And it's a process that we're all doing on a daily basis.
And then right after Knoxville, I was in Annapolis, Maryland for a whole month. This was a rally that took place on February 14 in front of the statehouse we had the standing on the side of love banner with the attorney general and then lead Senate sponsors of the marriage bill saying love. Yes, love. Love was the predominant message that day. And we were so glad for it.
So while I was in Maryland some of the things that we did—I testified, of course, for the marriage bill lobby, provide direct strategy. I got in touch with Brendon Ayanbadego on the left there. He is a player for the Ravens. He's a linebacker. I knew that he was supportive of marriage. And I said, will you film a video that we can pipe out. And then we'll send it to legislators.
And so we did this video.
Hello. My name is Brendon Ayanbadego. I'm a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. And I'm proud to be a part of something that brings Marylanders together. Another issue that should unite Marylanders that I'm quite proud about is love and marriage. And right now, an important issue in our state is whether or not to allow gay and lesbian couples who love each other to marry.
This should not be a subjective issue. Gay and lesbian couples want to marry for similar reasons as we all do—love and commitment. It's time to allow them the opportunity to build a family through marriage. It's a matter of fairness.
This is why I'm asking Marylanders to join me in supporting marriage equality for same sex couples. Having the freedom to marry means committed couples and their children will have the same crucial protections under the law as other families.
Churches can always have their beliefs. But government is supposed to treat everybody the same, and that's equal. America is supposed to be the land of the free. But in order for this to be true for all of us, then we must have the ability to marry whom we love, regardless of their gender. Think about it. And join me in the land of the brave for Standing on the Side of Love. Thank you.
[END VIDEO PLAYBACK]
DAN FURMANSKY: So we had about—oh, we lost our point there. We got in touch with the Baltimore Sun and we said, hey, you want a video? We'll give you the inside track on it. And they ran the video. We have, at this point, I think about 25,000 hit on it. And I worked with Brendon to make sure that it was emailed to every member of the general assembly. I got the list, sent him the list.
And we did that all on the day before the Senate voted. And the Senate did vote to approve marriage. Unfortunately, it failed in the House. So some other things that I did. I was just about lifting up voices. There was such a need for it there. And I was able to do it.
I actually have found I knew a Mormon, Lieutenant Physician Colonel in the Army, who has already been to Iraq and is going back to Afghanistan in the fall. I knew he was supportive of marriage equality. He has a gay son. I invited him to Annapolis.
We extracted his—it was not easy—we extracted his footage from his testimony. Put it up online. Got in touch with bloggers. Sent it to them. Got several thousand comments on it. Sent him around to speak legislators. So that was quite a month.
Our LGBT activism is certainly not limited to Maryland. We've been present all across the country, both in our congregations and as a campaign. Reverend Meg Riley over here, who was the campaign chair, did this video for us shortly after Minnesota passed their constitutional amendment to send to the voters. The UUA's already come up with the $2500—just a small amount to send to the Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance. We're really going to be present again over the coming year.
When we looked at North Carolina, we said, we're going North Carolina for GA. Let's think about what sort of value-add we can have. So we got in touch with Equality North Carolina. And we said we're going to be in town. We spoke to our local ministers here. And we all decided this was an opportunity to lift up our voices of faith against the proposal to ban what is already banned—marriage and other relationships between same gender couples in the state constitution.
It's a proposal that is being deliberated. And people think that they'll be voting on it in September. So we got in touch and we said, what other value can we add? How are business leaders being reached out to? We created the change.org petition in partnership with Equality North Carolina, targeting national companies that are based in North Carolina, like Bank of America, and BB&T, and Krispy Kreme and Hanes brands.
The outreach continues. We have about 2,000 people who signed this petition. We're gathering signatures here. I think we have another 1,000 signatures that will enter into the petition. And of course, on the right, these are photos from both local periodicals and The Advocate of activism that's taking place in Tennessee, specifically in Knoxville, against awful Draconian bills—this Don't Say Gay Bill in Tennessee, as well as a proposal that passed and was signed that nullifies local anti-discrimination measures.
And that's the final clip here. Reverend Stacy Horn, "Thank you for the work you do. It is so important to have religious organizations at the core of this struggle for human rights. Blessed be. I want to pass the microphone on now to Reverend John Crestwell. Actually, I'm sorry. I'm actually going to pass it on Reverend Theresa Novak from Ogden, just logistically speaking.
REV. THERESA NOVAK: You mean I don't get to use the podium?
DAN FURMANSKY: You can—anywhere you want.
REV. THERESA NOVAK: I want to get up there. It's just easier.
DAN FURMANSKY: Great.
REV. THERESA NOVAK: Do I need this microphone up there? Or does this one work?
DAN FURMANSKY: You can use this one too.
REV. THERESA NOVAK: I will use this one. Much easier. Love is stronger than fear. I really believe that. And you should too. I am here today to testify, to testify, that if we stand firmly on the side of love, if we put our faith into action with courage and conviction, we can conquer fear.
There was a lot of fear in my town back in 2010. And we really needed an extra big dose of love. While people in other states were working on marriage equality issues, in Ogden, Utah, you could still be legally evicted from your home or fired from your job if someone even suspected that you were gay.
Our church was already running a weekly drop in center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. But it did not seem like enough. The teen suicide rate remained very high. Lives were quite literally at risk. Love multiplied is even stronger. The UU Church of Ogden is small, roughly 100 members. Three of them are over there. One's back, taking pictures.
We have very big hearts, however. But there was only so much that we could do alone. The UUA's Standing on the Side of Love campaign gave us a push when they asked congregations to do something special on February 14, 2010. Should we just do a worship service? Or maybe something more?
Equality Utah had recently helped pass a local ordinance in Salt Lake City to provide for housing and employment protections. We were 45 minutes north. We were not Salt Lake City. But why not try to do the same? We decided to hold a town hall meeting after the worship service. Equality Utah was eager to participate.
We invited everyone, including the mayor and the entire city council, as well as a wide variety of community and interfaith groups. At first, all of the government officials either ignored us or declined to attend. We did press releases, wrote letters to the paper, set up a Facebook event. And we kept up the pressure on the council and mayor, asking them to come.
Finally, one council member said that she would be there. The worship worked rocked that morning, with lots of guests in attendance. And the town hall meeting afterwards was moving, with many individuals speaking of the discrimination they had experienced. We got great press coverage. And the national campaign also helped with their press releases.
We signed petitions that day, asking the city council to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. Such ordinances were then drafted by Equality Utah and were presented to the city council by local activists in April of 2010. Many of us spoke at that meeting—you're a little ahead on the slides. OK.
Then the real work began. The mayor was opposed. We had three of the seven city council members in favor. And the other four were pretty quiet. We again called, emailed, and wrote letters to the paper and even to the president. And this was one of our young people that did that. We contacted local businesses and asked for their support. A popular newspaper columnist wrote an article in favor.
The mayor and city attorney started to meet with Equality Utah, but there still wasn't much action. But then in November of 2010, the Mountain Desert District Assembly was held in Ogden. And we had a couple extra hundred UUs in town.
And coincidentally, the week before, Boyd Packer, who is next in line for the presidency of the LDS Church—and the Mormon Church is very big in Utah, which you probably know. He said publicly that homosexuality is unnatural and can be overcome. Which generated a whole lot of hurt within the whole community.
Opportunity was knocking with these two events coming together. So in a matter of days, we organized a march to city hall. And we again invited everyone via press releases, Facebook, and email. Two city council members attended. And one spoke. We sang songs and offered prayers. Great press again, but still no ordinances.
In December, we started going to the weekly council meetings and just asking—at the end of the meeting, they have a short open mike time—when they would be on the agenda. And finally, a fact finding session was scheduled early February. The evangelicals showed up for the first time then and started lobbying against passage.
We were in the council chambers almost every week, and doing a lot of work behind the scenes as well. And actually, the evangelicals, I think, helped our cause in many ways, because they did not praise their arguments always with love. And almost, finally, on March 8, 2011, over a year after we started, the council passed the ordinances with a four to three vote.
No. Don't say hallelujah yet. The mayor promised to veto them. And we needed five votes for an override. Frantic negotiations for the next week. And one week later, revised ordinances—revised. It was a lot of work coming up with the revisions. Revised ordinances were passed unanimously. And the mayor signed it. Now can I hear hallelujah?
So we're a small church. We have big hearts. And we're part of something larger. Much, much larger. Larger than just the people in this room and this convention center. And we're very proud that our town is now just a little bit safer. We did not do it alone. Lots of groups and individuals not connected with our church worked very hard as well.
The national campaign was very supportive. But we did it. And it was something we never really thought that we could do. UUs are now known in the town And you people are coming to church because of all the press coverage.
The quote I used at one of the city council meetings is from First Corinthians 16. It reads, "Stand firm in your faith. Be courageous. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."
One of our preschoolers calls us the I Love You Church, because of the Standing on the Side of Love hearts we have on banners and T-shirts. Love is stronger than fear. That is my testimony. Believe it.
DAN FURMANSKY: Thank you. I'd like to invite Reverend John Crestwell to join us at the podium. John?
REV. JOHN CRESTWELL: There's some Maryland people in here, I see. We're going to look at a little video first. This is something we produced. I'll talk about it after the video finishes. I think.
I'm Reverend John Crestwell at the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland. And I have something to say. We have something to say.
I'm Jeanine Granite.
My name is Reverend Sarah [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
I'm the Reverend David Gilmore.
I am Reverend Sam Offer.
I'm Dr. [INAUDIBLE]
My name is Father Jim Iglaseis.
My name is Reverend Doctor [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
And I support marriage equality. And non-discrimination for transgender individuals
[END VIDEO PLAYBACK]
REV. JOHN CRESTWELL: Of course, I would love to take credit for that. But that was as a result of a call from Mr. Furmansky over here. A gentleman I met back in 2006 when I didn't know very much about marriage equality. And I was called into this arena. Dan I've known for a while because he was the Executive Director of Equality Maryland. He built that organization up from pretty much nothing. You can see why I'm so glad we have—aren't you glad we have Dan Fumansky?
Yes. I'm telling you. You need to know how appreciative we are. And how you bring so much life into Standing on the Side of Love. I'm the Associate Minister in Annapolis, Maryland. But I wear another hat. Part of my income, which I love—it's about eight hours a week—comes from being the Director of Outreach for the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland.
So working for the state advocacy networks, I really want to be a part of a Dr. King's legacy of working for justice. And so I don't see a separation in a parish minister and a community minister. That is one thing to me. And so I was thankful for the call.
The call came. And Dan said, I have an idea. What do you think of it? He shared it with myself, Betty Crowley, who is one of the co-chairs with UULMMD. And we loved the idea—a two minute video, a short video, that we would mass produce and give every delegate and Senator a copy.
Now fortunately, the bill had already passed the Senate. Dan was partly responsible for that—25 to 21. And we knew that the next fight was going to be in the House of Delegates. And so we were hoping that this video could maybe be a tipping point for the House. And we got very close. Dan can tell you details of how close it was.
Essentially Maryland, it's a very interesting place. You have these very large liberal counties—Baltimore county, Baltimore city. You have Prince George's County, which is about 60% African American. The wealthiest, most educated blacks in the United States. Then you have Montgomery County—very wealthy county.
So you have these big counties that keep Maryland a very liberal state. But when it came to this specific issue, African Americans are quite conservative. So part of my mission has been to do education. This video was part of that education. And this is just a first part of that education process.
The Standing on the Side of Love grant through funding panel is allowing us to do this. They gave us, actually, a double grant to make a short, medium, and eventually—we're still filming—a long version like a movie version. You never know what's going to go viral. You just never know what people are going to pick up on. And so we're hoping that the next couple of versions of this will have some impact.
That's one thing we did with the grant. The other thing we did was something called—for Valentine's Day, we gave out Valentine's Day s We Stand on the Side of Love. These red petition cards. And we made sure UULMMD, that every Maryland congregation had copies of them.
And what members of the church did was filled out the cards. They signed them and put their delegate or Senator's name on it. And then we organized these stacks of cards. And then they were all delivered to various delegates and Senators. We feel we had some impact in Maryland. I mean, are we there yet? No. It was a very huge disappointment.
And you ought to know that there's still people who believe that this could decide—delegates and Senators who believe that this could decide their eternal salvation, the yes or no on this bill. No matter how many times we tell them, your pastors can do whatever they want. This is a civil rights issue. This is a human rights issue.
And the other thing we did was work smart. Now Unitarian Universalists are some of the most brilliant people in the world. But we don't always work smart. You've been working with us on that, Danny Boy. So in Maryland, you have all these coalitions working on the same cause. And it's very exhausting because everybody is doing the same thing. And so, why not work with Standing on the Side of Love for a National UUA Office? Why not work with UULMMD so we gather the UU congregations?
And then there was the Human Right's Campaign's Washington office. And then Equality Maryland. They had a contingent. There were a couple of other organizations too—National allegiance—
DAN FURMANSKY: National Black Justice Coalition?
REV. JOHN CRESTWELL: National Black Justice Coalition. So we were able to form an alliance. That's what allowed us to do some clergy lobby days. We had two and several other things. But Dan is giving me the time sign. So work collaboratively with people in your area. You don't have to do all the work by yourself. And be creative. Thanks.
DAN FURMANSKY: Thank you, thank you. Reverend Chris Buice from Tennessee Valley UU Church.
REV. CHRIS BUICE: As many of you know, on July 27, three years ago, a man came into the sanctuary of our church, opened fire on a group of unarmed men, women, and children. Killed two people. Wounded others. Traumatized the rest of our community. And brought home to us that the politics of hatred is real. The man who wrote a letter that said, this is a hate crime. And the letter contained hatred directed toward people of different races. Hatred toward empowered women. Hatred toward the GLBT community.
And no one really knows how you're going to respond when something like this happens. But there was somebody who put on the comment page of the Knoxville News Sentinel about a week later who said, I get the feeling that if I were to go into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with the intention of harming other people, they would put me down on the ground, take my name, and add me to the prayer list.
So it's not only what we do. It's how we do it. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Alliance, just within a day or two, put out words in front of our church that said something we say every Sunday, love is the spirit of this church. And love is the spirit of this campaign.
One of the reasons I need a campaign like this is I'm not nearly technologically savvy as some of the other presenters. And it's a wonderful opportunity for inter-generational cooperation. Because there are young people who understand. I did a wedding recently for two people who met on Twitter. And I asked them what attracted them to each other. And she said, I liked his tweets.
So this is a whole new world that we're entering into. And being part of a campaign of different ages and different strengths and different possibilities is really a powerful thing about it. We have a Standing on the Side of Love Committee. If you get one of those going, one of things you first learn is we can't do everything. We can't do everything. So what is the one thing, or the two things, or what are the things that we're called to do? What are our unique gifts? What, if we don't do it, no one else will?
These are kind of discernment questions that have helped establish our priorities. One of the things that we learned is quick action. We had a neo-Nazi rally that was scheduled in Knoxville. Neo-Nazis gathering from across the East coast. And for whatever reason, they picked Knoxville. I think because it was geographically central. There was a big debate in the community. Do we ignore them? There was some integrity to this. Do we ignore them?
Because giving them attention is counterproductive. Do we protest? Or does that feed action and reactivity? And our answer was Standing on the Side of Love. We had people gather wearing the T-shirts, carrying the banner. And we didn't have to—because these things are short notice, we had the tools. We had the banner. We had the shirt. We didn't have much notice, but we could act quickly to respond hatred. Very articulate hatred.
It can also be part of just ongoing things. We carried the banner and wore the T-shirts in the Martin Luther King Day Parade. It's an annual thing. We're always part of it. But it's a great way to raise the visibility about Unitarian Universalism and partner with other faiths.
We've had many events. We're known as a place for interfaith dialogue. I remember one powerful moment when a Muslim woman walked into the sanctuary of our church and said, I love this church. This is a church where everyone is welcome. And it's such a powerful place.
We had interfaith response to the first September 11, and have had events. And our Standing on the Side of Love campaign on Valentine's Day was to reclaim our politics. To reclaim our politics from the vitriol that's poisoning not only our political discourse, but our family relationships.
I know a member of my church whose stepfather will no longer talk to her because the election didn't go the way he wanted it to the last presidential election. The vitriol, the hatred that's poisoning our families, poisoning our workplace, poisoning our places of worship—can we debate? Can we disagree and learn the distinction between opponents, and traitors, and enemies?
That was a very big, important part of, this is what's unique. It may not be what everybody is called to do. But in light of the hatred that walked into our church, that was empowered by that poisonous rhetoric, it's very important for us to stay in and witness to that.
One of the last things, as Dan mentioned, was we have this really absurd Don't Say Gay Bill that's tried to prevent teachers from mentioning any other sexual orientation other than being straight. And after talking with Dan, there's lots of ways you can go at it. But as I was talking with Dan and Jake Morrill—talking with Dan. We realized one of the central issues was simply freedom of speech.
Because as I pointed out in the rally was if you pass this law, then you can't even talk about it in school. Because that law says you can't say gay in school. And you can't pass this law. And you can't read the newspaper that covered the passage of law. So, just basically, we took a real fundamental issue of freedom of speech—this is also part of intergenerational component. Because out of that rally came a number of youth that approached us and said the youth wanted to lead a rally.
Our church asked us if we could make home so that they could stand. And this is youth led, adult supported. I have to tell you, in Tennessee Valley, the whole business about the rapture and the end of the world reminded me of a story of story of somebody who said, when the end of the world comes, I want to be in Tennessee. Because everything happens 20 years later in Tennessee than the rest of the world.
We don't always organize because we think we're going to succeed. We organize because silence is deadly. And we want to speak out. And so the youth said, we want to have a rally. We held a rally. We created the space. And the leading candidate for mayor, without an invitation—because we wouldn't even have thought to send an invitation—showed up and spoke in support of our rally.
So we're Standing on the Side of Love. And surprising things can happen. I invite you to stand with us and join in that surprise.
DAN FURMANSKY: We have just a few minutes left. And the note we all want to leave you on is one of honoring courageous love. And I want to welcome Susan Leslie up here again. Susan's 18 years with the UUA. And really, it's an honor and a pleasure to work with her on a daily basis. She's also really part of the heart of this very campaign. Susan?
SUSAN LESLIE: Come on up, now. Come on up. The folks who are joining me are leaders from the first UU Church of Rochester, Minnesota. And the reason they're standing here with me is because they are the recipients of this year's UUA Congregational Social Justice Bennett Award.
And I have a report from them this thick. And we're going to get a great article on the UUA website. But there's also one in the current issue of uuworld.org. The reason they are receiving this award for among other things is the congregation has formed a 45 person Standing on the Side of Love rapid response team. They have a dedicated web page and a written procedure for how the congregation decides to respond to local incidents.
They kicked off the campaign with 50 of their members marching in the MLK Day Parade this year. They have a racial justice task force, which has joined with their interfaith congregationally based community organization, ISAIAH. And they are conducting a listening campaign in the community.
They have formed a GLBT and allies task group, which is going to take on the proposed constitutional amendment coming up in Minnesota. And so much more. But we just have a few minutes. And I wanted to give Reverend Carol Hepokoski a chance to accept this award. I want to name Gail Bishop, Social Justice Chair. Julie—
JULIE LARSON KELLER: Larson Keller.
SUSAN LESLIE: Larson Keller, the Standing on the Side of Love committee chair. And other members here from the congregation. Let's give them a big hand.
They also are receiving a $500 check to help them continue this ministry, and a signed plaque from Reverend Peter Morales.
REV. DR. CAROL HEPOKOSKI: We are proud, and we are humble. And we are just getting started. And one sentence of advice—use all the resources from the UUA and Standing on the Side of Love. It's what's made this possible. It's energized us.
DAN FURMANSKY: We have time for a couple of questions, and then Susan's going to lead us out in song at the very end. Oh, she looks so shocked. Couple of questions or comments? Yes?
AUDIENCE: Did you bring the palm cards?
DAN FURMANSKY: We have palm cards down at the booth.
AUDIENCE: OK. OK. The question is, I'm from a conservative, rural mountain town here in North Carolina. And I would like to use this banner with other denominations. And I know some churches I think I can join up with. But how much do you emphasize that this is a UUA banner versus this is a banner standing for justice? Because I think if we make too much emphasis on UU, that some people who think we're probably a godless, sinful church may shy away. And so how much do you emphasize UU or not?
DAN FURMANSKY: Do you want to answer that?
SUSAN LESLIE: Sure. Meg Riley, who kicked off this campaign, said, if you saw somebody out in the public square that you wanted to stand with. And they were saying, reform Jews, are Standing on the Side of Love for whatever. You'd say, isn't that great they're doing that? But would you think that you should be there too if you were not a member?
So the slogan came up as Standing on the Side of Love without the emblazoned Unitarian Universalist. But as Dan said, we're known as the love people. People in Phoenix didn't necessarily know who we were. But now people have been knocking on the doors of those churches. Does that help you?
AUDIENCE: He said it was an open source.
DAN FURMANSKY: My best answer is that it's an open source campaign, and you need to determine with each situation and each scenario how much you want to emphasize the Unitarian Universalist Association angle. We allow you to personalize your merchandise through our online store. You can put your congregational name on the T-shirts for a small price.
What I personally love to see if are interfaith partnerships. I think everybody knows that the local UU congregation took the lead in putting something together. But if you build it, they will come. But if you build it and it only appears to be for Unitarian Universalists in your community, they might not come. So I think that's an important point.
AUDIENCE: So try to take a midline.
DAN FURMANSKY: Try to find the balance, yeah. And also be proud. I mean, the UUA should be proud of this campaign. Absolutely. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Obviously, I have mobility problems. There is or was a scheduled smaller demonstration to be held at the corner of Brevard and Stonewall this afternoon at 4:30 for those of us who cannot get to the park. I understand that the UUA is going to pay for taxis.
I have cancer problems too. I cannot stand in the sun for an hour and 15 minutes. So my question is, is that smaller demonstration still going to be taking place at the corner of Stonewall and East Brevard as it says in the catalogue?
SUSAN LESLIE: It's really not a smaller demonstration. It's just if people want to be part of a send off, they can send people off. But it's not in any way the same thing as being at the rally.
AUDIENCE: Right. But it's certainly something I could attend—
SUSAN LESLIE: Of course. Of course. It's rush hour. And it's downtown. And people see there with the banners.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
DAN FURMANSKY: So we're actually at 2:15. I'll be around for a little while longer to talk to all of you. But Susan, we came in song. We came out in song. I don't know. What do we all want to sing? Stand? Yeah?
DAN FURMANSKY: Thank you so much for coming. Keep Standing on the Side of Love.
UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love Campaign General Assembly 2011 event number 3029.
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Tuesday, December 13, 2011.