On May 4th and 5th, 2009, 25 Unitarian Universalists (UUs) gathered in Washington, DC, to take part in the second HRC Clergy Call for Justice and Equality. They joined over 300 other clergy and religious leaders who serve dozens of different religions, faith groups and hundreds of congregations in all 50 states for the two-day conference. Clergy Call participants spoke passionately and from their deepest religious and moral values in over 100 Congressional offices about the importance of passing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 1913; S 909) and the Employment Non Discrimination Act, which would help protect Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Americans against the violence and discrimination that they face every day.
The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a bishop of the Episcopal Church, blessed the opening of the conference, and Monday’s panels included a session with Joshua Dubois, Director of the White House Office of Neighborhood and Faith Based Partnerships, and Paul Montero, the Obama Administration’s Religious Liaison. UUs asked several questions, including one from Diana Sands, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (BGLT) Program Associate from the UU United Nations Office, who asked Montero if President Obama was aware that international law protects Americans of all sexual orientations and gender identities from bias-motivated violence and discrimination.
Throughout the conference, secular and religious advocates alike insisted that progressive faith voices, often represented by clergy, need to support human rights for all people with loud, strong, and authoritative voices both in coalition with other activists and in the media. Conservatives and fundamentalist groups can no longer be allowed to monopolize the religious voice on issues of BGLT equality. Rev. Robinson said, “We ought to have the gumption to speak on God’s behalf” to be “used by the living God in ways that build up the faith of humankind.”
Rabbi Denise Eger of California added that leaders need to cultivate interfaith relationships, lay leadership, and promote visible diversity in media messages in order to for successes, such as this week’s passage of marriage equality legislation in Maine, to occur. Faith organizing is strongest when it continues after a “win” to build relationships and a supportive community response to new policies or legislation.
During the closing reception, UU ministers gathered with staff from the Washington Office for Advocacy to share their reflections. Many felt that their congregations and the denomination as a whole have significant work to do before they are fully welcoming and inclusive of transgender congregants. Participants felt they gained resources that they said will help them in their pastoral and social justice work towards BGLT equality and inclusion. On moving forward in this work, Rev. Manish Mishra, Senior Minister of the UU Church of St. Petersburg, FL, added, “Our presence and our voice is essential. We need to step into public space that is empty, that is ours to claim and fill. We need to stick our necks out.”