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Watertown Unitarian Universalists Lead Interfaith Community Rally to Rededicate Vandalized Rainbow Flag
(Boston, July 26, 2009) On July 14, 2009, a rainbow flag displayed at First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist was burned in an act of vandalism. The rainbow flag is a symbol of diversity and inclusiveness and an expression of being a Welcoming Congregation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
At a special meeting held by the congregation on July 19, the Sunday after the incident, the members committed themselves to these principles by installing a new flag. They planned a community vigil for the following Saturday, July 25 to be held in Watertown Square, followed by a short march to the church to rededicate and display a new flag.
Morgan McLean, an active member of the congregation and an organizer of the event reported: “Over 200 people joined us in Watertown Square, including ten other UU congregations, and local United Church of Christ, Episcopal, and Jewish faith communities, along with many community organizations and allies! The police provided an escort for the gathered crowd to process to the church for a brief ceremony led by the congregation’s minister, Rev. Mark Harris, where a new flag was placed on the wayside pulpit. We were deeply touched and encouraged by the community support.”
Rev. Mark Harris said during his rededication speech:
“The rainbow flag, while usually associated with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights we affirm at First Parish, also holds a broader meaning about the acceptance of diversity in our community. We want everyone to feel safe and respected here. This is what many of us believe is so vital to our life in Watertown, where different groups from many lands and cultures have traditionally been welcomed. This is why we love living here. Fire can burn and destroy, but fire can also renew. As the rainbow flag flies once again outside the church, we restore a sense of welcome and affirmation, well being and peace to all in our community. We gather to restore the symbol of this belief in understanding and diversity, to show that we welcome all who live in love.”
An article in the Watertown News reported that “Entire families came, fully decked out in rainbow clothing, chanting ‘We stand on this side of love’ to insure that Watertown remains the opening and welcoming community that residents say attracted them to the town in the first place.
“Representatives from more than ten surrounding towns also joined hands as a new rainbow flag was raised outside the First Parish Church. [Rev.] Harris assured the community that, though this incident struck at the very heart of their faith, they need not live in fear of being attacked for their beliefs.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has officially opposed discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people since 1970, and the organization has called for marriage equality for same-sex couples since 1996. The UUA recently launched “Standing on the Side of Love,” a national visibility campaign that addresses hate crimes and other acts of exclusion and oppression based on personal identity, including sexual orientation.
Rev. Keith Kron, the UUA’s Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, wrote in a letter of support to the Watertown congregation: “Almost forty years ago, Unitarian Universalism began its public support for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The payoff has been enormous—our congregations are more diverse, richer places for it. In the wake of hatred and ignorance, your efforts are yet another shining example of your commitment and leadership.”
Leaders of First Parish of Watertown indicate they plan to continue to ‘Stand on the Side of Love’ and respond whenever individuals or communities are dehumanized because of their identity. Their outreach to Boston area UUs by contacting the Mass Bay District and UUMA Chapters and calling interfaith and community leaders were key to the success of the event and played an integral role in helping build community partnerships.