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Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere!

Report from UU World

Public Witness

Across this country and around the world Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are helping lead the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights. Join Rev. Peter Morales, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kampala, Uganda, Ian Palmquist, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina Interfaith, and community partners in a witness to help spread our values of equality and justice, inclusion and acceptance.

In Uganda, members of the UU Church of Kampala, led by Rev. Mark Kiyimba, are leading efforts, at great personal risk, to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from violence.

In North Carolina, the only state in the south that has not written discrimination against LGBT families into its state constitution, proposals to ban marriage equality—as well as civil unions or any legal relationship between same-sex couples—have been introduced and could reach the ballot in November.

Hear testimonies, join in song and prayer, and take action. Come stand on the side of love!


[SINGING] JAY LEACH: Wow. You look great, and you sound great. Thank you for being here. We are all here to give witness to religious values which call all of us to justice and equity for the LGBTQ community. Welcome, Unitarian Universalists. Welcome, interfaith partners. Welcome, Charlotteans. Welcome, North Carolinians. Welcome, neighbors near and far. I am the Reverend Jay Leach, and I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, and I am delighted to see you here.

ROBIN TANNER: Welcome, allies and partners for equality. Welcome, gay and lesbian, transgender and bisexual members of our community. Welcome, community activists and justice seekers. I am the Reverend Robin Tanner, and I serve as the minister of the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist church here in Charlotte. We welcome all today who would stand with us on the side of love. Standing here with us are clergy from other religious traditions, as well as Unitarian Universalist colleagues from right here in North Carolina.

JAY LEACH: We are here to give witness to the religious values of Unitarian Universalism, values that call us and many of you to justice and equity for the LGBTQ community. We recognize that we stand in company with clergy and with members of many religions, declaring a shared truth. We are all one human family. As faith leaders, we are called to speak out whenever people are demeaned for who they are. LGBTQ people face discrimination, harassment, and violence all over the world, in our nation, and here in North Carolina. We gather to proclaim a vision, a beloved community where all are respected and valued.

ROBIN TANNER: I am pleased to introduce our friend and colleague, Rabbi Judy Schindler, senior rabbi of Temple Beth El here in Charlotte.

JUDY SCHINDLER: I was scheduled to speak early for this rally, because in just a brief while, I need to be with my congregation to usher in the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of peace, of equality, a day of being at one with ourselves and with our world. Yet I could not answer the sanctuary of my faith with a sense of peace without coming here first. For today, we recognize that not everyone in our community can enjoy lives of wholeness and peace. Those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are not free from discrimination. Those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender cannot live their lives free of fear.

Prior to last Shabbat, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted in favor of a resolution declaring grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented that this landmark resolution affirms that human rights are universal. As she has said in the past, gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

The Jewish tradition teaches that when you see a person who is different from you, you say the following blessing: [SPEAKING HEBREW]. Praised are you, the eternal one, our God, who makes all living creations different. May we each use our respective Sabbaths to commit to creating a world of oneness and peace, not only for ourselves, but for all. May we use our respective faiths to teach our co-religionists and our children the divinity of every human soul. May we use our voices to speak out against hatred. May we use our words to lift up rather than tear down, to build up pride rather than destroy self-worth.

May know youth ever feel shamed by their sexual orientation or gender identification. May being GLBT lead no youth to consider taking their lives on one extreme, or even to hide their authentic selves. May our state legislators not create laws that cause our GLBT youth and adults to feel that they are anything less then holy. May all of us be able to look into the eyes of the other in our community, every other in our community, and say, "Blessed are you, oh God, who creates all human beings differently."

All of us, no matter what our orientation or identification, are holy. May we create a state and society that affirms and protects that most esteemed value. Amen.

JAY LEACH: Thank you, Rabbi Judy. We now welcome our friend and colleague, Bishop Tonya Rawls, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church here in Charlotte, and one of our local leaders in the LGBT fight for justice and equity. Tanya.

TANYA RAWLS: Good evening. I am here today with my fellow clerics from the Unitarian Universalist congregations and others to affirm what many people of faith in our state recognize and support, the sacred worth and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Because of that, we stand in solid opposition of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit all forms of legal relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

I was born in 1958, and so as I came of age I did not see my classmates drafted or coming home maimed from war. I was a beneficiary of liberties already hard-won through the Civil Rights Movement that allowed me to attend quality schools and not to have to think about the color of my skin in reference to privileges I received. I drank water from whatever fountain was available at the time, and I played with white and Latino and Asian friends, because reasonable people stood and said no to laws and efforts that might rob me and others like me of the right to not just be free, but to be free in deed.

Today I stand because it is now my turn to fight, not just against the homophobia and transphobia that a small yet powerful minority want to write into our constitution, but for this entire state and the country that I so love. Regardless of race, gender expression, sexual orientation, or land of native birth, our state has promised her citizens that we will treat every man, woman, boy, and girl justly, and offer to each access to the basic protections and opportunities needed to build a prosperous life for them and their descendants.

One of these most basic rights is the right to have covenant relationships and have those relationships protected. The framers of the state and federal constitutions got that right. And so we stand today against the effort is being offered up to legislate discrimination and bias. We must awaken old sleeping giants and realize that this issue is one that is worthy of our sacrifice and our efforts. Let us join our collective forces and power together. Ask your elected officials boldly in the House and the Senate to stand with the clergy gathered here today in opposition of this amendment to the constitution.

Ask them to stand not just for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender tax-paying citizens in their districts, but for the children who will lose health care because their parents' domestic partner benefits will go away. And for the family that will be denied hospital visitations because they will not be considered next-of-kin. We must not allow the clock to be turned backward. We must, together, press toward the mark of the high call, a state that is truly welcoming and supportive of all her citizens. One that is big enough for our varied beliefs and practices, yet honoring the fact that no one has the right to impose those beliefs on another, particularly not through amendments to our constitution.

May God bless each of you and may God bless the great state of North Carolina.

ROBIN TANNER: Thank you, Bishop Rawls. As Bishop Rawls noted, we are here with faith leaders from many traditions who share our vision of beloved community. Our colleagues here in North Carolina, I would invite you now to step forward as a demonstration of your commitment to oppose all efforts to write discrimination into our state's constitution. And you? Will you support them? Yes.

I would like to invite a few of my colleagues now to speak to how their faith tradition calls them to bear witness.

ANN MARIE ALDERMAN: Ann Marie Alderman, minister in Greenville, North Carolina. I am here because religious community teaches us to be good, do good, make promises to each other that count. I don't want the state to take that away from me or the people I care about.

CATHERINE HOUCHINS: I'm Reverend Catherine Houchins, Metropolitan Community Church of Charlotte. I'm here to stand in solidarity for laws that would defeat what we have tried to do as a denomination for 43 years, as a local church for 30 years, to provide people with civil rights and the right to celebrate that with their faith communities.

NANCY KRAFT: My name is Nancy Kraft. I'm pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte. Lutherans are people of grace and love, and I am proud to stand with you today.

JAY LEACH: Whether the issue is threatening gay people with violence or jail, relegating them to a closet, or denying them basic protections under the law, this struggle is both global and it is here in North Carolina. I now welcome Ian Palmquist, executive director of Equality North Carolina, to explain what is happening now in North Carolina with our legislature and a possible ballot measure. Ian.

IAN PALMQUIST: Welcome to the Tar Heel State. And welcome to the Queen City. All right. Our fight against prejudice truly is global, and it is local. And we have real challenges right now, here in North Carolina. Right-wing legislators have introduced a constitutional amendment, as Reverend Rawls mentioned, that would not only deny our families access to marriage equality, but potentially civil union, domestic partnership, and even domestic partnership protections that so many of our employers now offer. This amendment is bad for business. It is bad for North Carolina. It is bad for communities of faith. And we will not allow it to become part of our constitution.

All across the country, we are working for justice. Tonight, we hope that New York will join five other states and become the sixth state to legalize marriage equality for same-sex couples. It is time, and justice is on our side. We know that we will win. But we have to work to make it happen. And wouldn't it be great if North Carolina, right here in the south, could be the first state to turn back one of these constitutional amendments?

I believe we can do it. I believe we can stop it in the legislature. And I believe that if they put this thing on the ballot in 2012, we will do everything we can to win and to build a movement for equality that will change this state and change this country for generations. So I need your help, whether you live in North Carolina or are from across the country. How many people here are from North Carolina? Raise your hands. All right, Tar Heels. I need every single one of you to take a simple action today. We have volunteers wearing these t-shirts working the crowd, asking you to fill out a postcard to your legislators, asking them to oppose this amendment so we can stop it when they bring it to a vote in September.

And if you're from out of state, I need every one of you to join us in signing a petition to our largest employers here in North Carolina, including companies like Bank of America right here in Charlotte, to ask them to stand up for their gay employees, their gay customers, in North Carolina to stop this amendment. Please do not leave without seeing one of our volunteers. And for every one of you that raised your hand and is from here in North Carolina, I'm going to ask you to raise your hand again if you will commit to taking twenty five postcards with you. Take them to your church, take them to your family, take them to your friends. Hell, take them to the grocery store and get people to sign these postcards and stand up for equal rights. How many of you can do that for me? Raise your hands.

All right, I want to see every one of you over at this table right after the rally to get your packet of postcards so we can take action before September. Together we can stop this amendment with our friends here in North Carolina, and faith voices are going to be a critical part of that effort. We know that we are sick and tired of hearing the right wing act like they have religion on their side, when we know people of faith are standing up for justice and equality. So I ask you to stand with us over the next three months, and over the next two years if that's what it takes, to stop this amendment and make North Carolina a state of equality. Thank you.

ROBIN TANNER: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ian. I welcome now Loan Tran, Youth Board Member of Time Out Youth, a community organization in Charlotte that supports our LGBT youth.

LOAN TRAN: My name is Loan Tran, and I'm a high school student here in Charlotte, North Carolina. And I'm a little too short for this. Throughout my childhood and education, I've experienced a ridiculously unfair share of bullying, harassment, and alienation on multiple levels, on multiple fronts, and for multiple reasons. From being called a rice picker, being teased because my parents were assumed to be fresh off the boat, and being looked down upon because for two years, I had an accent that revealed the intricate life I led covered in an immigrant identity and a Vietnamese language, to coming out in the sixth grade, only to have my closest friends tell me, hey, we support you, just not your LGBTQ friends. Only to have my mom feel like her entire world has crumbled, or at least most of it, and that's the narrative that she had composed for me would be no longer.

I don't know if that's good or not, still. I'm figuring it out. Only to still be hiding away in a shell and pushing myself through a vicious cycle of self-doubt, and at times self-loathing, and carrying around an unshakable fear that I will never be out, because someone stronger than me, someone bigger than me—at least in character and degree of intimidation—and, most of all, intolerant of me as a person will come around, pick me up, shove me in a locker, call me fag, and tell me that I'm unworthy of happiness and friendship.

Now, I didn't experience most of that in middle school. And by the time that I left eighth grade, I was so convinced that the clouds would clear out and things would get better. I was wrong. And it hurts even now to look back and say that I was wrong. As a rising junior, I can say that thus far in my high school experience, I have made lots of friends. It's been great. I have teachers I adore. I have friends I adore. But the start was not how I had pictured it to be.

My first bus ride freshman year was that sad and miserable unnecessary wake-up call. The world was so out to get me, to victimize and dehumanize me. Getting on the bus for the first two weeks of school was pure discomfort. My gender identity was put into question. My sexual orientation was assumed out of ignorance, and was their only justification for throwing words at me that bruised so badly. Fag, faggot, dyke, queer, homo, gay. These were weapons of violence against my own being. Power had been taken away from me, or at least the little that I had.

I eventually lied to my mom about it, telling her that the bus came too early. I wasn't getting enough sleep to make it through the day. There was some truth in that, though. I couldn't make it through the day without feeling that the words fag, or dyke, or trans was tattooed on my forehead, to provoke the shaming that others inflicted on me, or to elicit the snide remarks of, is that a girl or a boy? To completely isolate me in a heteronormative and heterosexist society.

I've risen from those situations though, and I've stopped blaming myself for the mean spirit of others. I've grown stronger and I found myself stepping into the shoes of a well-seasoned advocate for social justice, anti-bullying policies, and safer spaces for LGBTQ youth like myself.

I've come to realize that my stories merely reflect the stories that are still developing and have ceased to exist in this nation and across the world. Marriage equality has become the icon representing the fight for equity and dignity for LGBTQ people. And I can understand that. But please remember that this can be about love, but it is also about existing before you hit the age where you want to marry and have a family. This is about living beyond 13 or 14 or 15 years old. And this is about, once you make it past your teenage years, you are not only surviving, you are thriving and succeeding. And for once in my life, I'd like to see LGBTQ teenagers thrive and succeed as teenagers.

This is about being seen and heard, and we cannot continue to facilitate an environment that says life, education, and work is just about making it out alive. Remember to fight with us, with youth like myself in this struggle, and dismantle this system that tries to bend and break us and then expects us to reshape and rebuild with our own hands. But because we have to, we should, and we will. Thank you.

JAY LEACH: Stay up here one second. Look at this. Thank you so much. We are with you. You know that, right? Guys—I don't know how many of you had that kind of courage and were that articulate in high school. I'm still waiting to get there myself. And for all of our other GLBT teens, we stand with you on the side of love. Thank you.

Homophobia is in every community, often backed by unjust laws. Sadly, in many parts of the world, homophobic laws cause violence. Some even call for the death penalty. Reverend Mark Kiyimba, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kampala, Uganda, has experienced this firsthand. I am honored to welcome Mark now to talk about how faith leaders in Uganda are responding to the government persecution of LGBT people. Mark.

MARK KIYIMBA: Thank you. This is another moment of truth in my life as well. To be able to stand here and be able to tell you that we have a long way to go, in spite of the fact that we have some achievements as well. All over the world, starting in Africa, here in America, and in the Caribbean, as some of you are celebrating liberty, some people are still celebrating captivity. But it calls for everyone to be able to stand as we are here this evening, to be able to say, enough is enough.

Even at this moment, I wouldn't have been here, but because I am compelled, I am beyond a reasonable doubt that I have to do what I did. Because I couldn't sit down, and I see my people being killed, and I say, as a minister, I have to say something.

You all know very well the bill which was termed as the Kill Bill, which was introduced in the Ugandan parliament. The gays and the lesbians, after today, are still in hiding. Some of them are fearing even to go to the hospital for treatment. And some of them, because of that law, were killed, like our brother, David Kato. And I want to remind you that some of these homophobic tendencies were exported into my country by evangelical ministers from the United States of America. And therefore, as I stand here and I see ministers from the interfaith, I make a preach that you may be able to talk to your brothers and sisters in their ministry, to be able to stop all this homophobia.

But at the same time, I want to thank you so much for everyone who has ever to stand, who has ever signed a petition on that was recently sent out to you, in which you and I and everybody all over the world were able to stop the anti-homosexuality bill that was introduced in the Ugandan parliament.

And finally, as you celebrate some liberties, remember that there are other people who are not even able to stand, and able just to confess that, this is my sexuality. That means we still have a long way to go. Thank you so much.

ROBIN TANNER: Thank you, Mark. All around the country, LGBT people are facing forward movement as well as setbacks in their struggle to be free from violence and discrimination. Colleagues from throughout the country and world, please join us in expression of your own pledge to work for a world of justice and equity for the LGBT community. I invite you in the midst of thunder and rain to boldly sing your pledge, all of you, and join us in singing, "I Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around."

SARAH DAN JONES: Hello. We're going to sing a song from the civil rights era. Specifically it came out in about 1961 in Albany, Georgia. And while the struggle then is a bit different than the struggle now, we are still struggling. And as my mentor and friend, Ysaye Barnwell, asked, when we sing this song we think, what would you go to jail for?

So I will sing it. I'll always sing the first verse. And then please join me. So we're going to start with "I Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around."


SPEAKER 1: We need a doctor, please. Is there a doctor in the house? We need them over this way. A doctor in the house, please? OK. Go ahead and take—Let's go on.

MATT MEYER: They're OK. I'm getting word that they're OK. We can continue on. That was quite an ending, huh?

JAY LEACH: My friend, my colleague, our president, Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

PETER MORALES: Will you join me in prayer? Dear spirit of love and life, you are a gentle spirit, but you are also a courageous, a resilient, and a stubborn spirit. Remind us that everyone has worth and dignity. Everyone should be free from fear. No one should be marginalized. And let us reaffirm every day, with all of our being, respect and love, and affirm that everyone matters. Today let us rededicate, and never let us forget, oh spirit, that we shall prevail. Amen.

JAY LEACH: Please remember the actions that Ian mentioned earlier. If you are a North Carolinian, sign a postcard. If you're a North Carolinian, step over here and get a packet of postcards. For all of us, please sign the petition to our North Carolina-based companies, so that we can tell them to stand up for their own workforce and for the best business interests in this state. Thanks to all of you for coming out. Thanks to our colleagues for standing with us. Thanks to our musicians, Matt Meyer and Sarah Dan Jones. And thanks to all of you for standing today on the side of love.

We have one more announcement.

SPEAKER 2: To the people needed the cabs back, please come to the table that's standing on the side and we'll arrange that.

JAY LEACH: As we close, Matt Meyer and Sarah Dan Jones are going to lead us in "There Is More Love Somewhere," as you continue your march, and as you continue standing on the side of love.


Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere! is General Assembly 2011 event number 3062.

A woman in an electric scooter proudly displays her 'Sitting on the Side of Love' placard.

Sitting on the Side of Love

The Rev. Peter Morales began to speak at the public witness event, 'Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere!' as the rain began to fall.

The Rev. Peter Morales began to speak at the public witness event as rain began to fall.

Participants in the Public Witness Rally returned to the Convention Center in the rain. Under the banner protected from the rain in the scooter is Therese Solo of Portland, OR.

Participants returned to the Convention Center in the rain. Under the banner protected from the rain in the scooter is Therese Solo of Portland, OR.