I am a Unitarian Universalist and a Kentuckian. For so many reasons in the last few years, my heart has broken with the horrific treatment of people who are made to suffer simply because of their LGBTQ/TGQNB identity. As a UU religious educator, my heart gravitates to young people, who are on a journey of self-exploration and expression, who then encounter hate filled and cruel treatment in our communities and greater culture.
On a recent evening when wrestling with a sense of true despair that 17 states had passed legislation to restrict gender affirming care, including Kentucky, I reached a breaking point with the painful awareness that of those 17 states, 11 are in regions of the UUA that I serve. Informing this sense of real despair was hearing from so many leaders, in particular religious professionals, whose lives, and the wellbeing of their families and congregants, are being directly hurt by these inhumane efforts.
I turned to my spiritual practices and sought a deepening of spirit to find a way forward through the despair. With awareness that my own spiritual wellbeing does not impact the harm being done in our communities, yet it began to prepare me for an exploration of what I, what we, can and must do to support trans families.
The blessing of being in faithful community is that we can take such despair, hopefully, to a small group, and in my case, a small group of colleagues. I then found that I was not alone. A sense of what I, what we, can and must do began to emerge. With clarion awareness it became apparent that our critically important comprehensive sexuality education, “Our Whole Lives,” of which we co-create with our faith partners in the United Church of Christ, was one direct and responsive way forward.
Further emboldened by the national message from the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) who challenged themselves, congregations, and the UUA:
- “We … are deeply troubled by the wave of hate sweeping the United States, targeted at our queer families, most especially families with trans, nonbinary and/or gender exploring children and youth. We express our unequivocal support and love for the trans people in our lives: our families, our colleagues, and the children, youth, and adults we serve.”
- “… We call on congregations to not only offer Our Whole Lives to their church community, but to their wider community as well….”
Shortly following this righteous message from LREDA, our President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray spoke directly to the hate filled passage of SB 184 in Alabama, which denies gender affirming care to trans youth, and who eloquently expressed “…We, as Unitarian Universalists, are in solidarity and in support of the identity and expression of trans youth, which we affirm unapologetically….”
Feeling a wave of momentum, I began reaching out to caring religious educators. An initiative began to take shape of a model of community collaboration and outreach with OWL at the center. With a covenantal core and intent to uplift, affirm, educate, support, welcome and inclusion for LGNTQ/TGQNB youth and their families.
Blessed to serve with Rev. Phil Lund, who came up with the genesis of an idea to reach out to our UUA OWL Program Director, Melanie Davis, and her counterpart in the UCC denomination, Rev. Amy Johnson, the idea took further shape. What if we approached congregations in areas where there have been concerted efforts to pass anti-trans legislation, who would be willing to offer OWL, with a community focus, who would partner with their UCC neighbors and with community-based groups such as Planned Parenthood and Pride Centers?
The intended outcome is that these focused efforts would provide OWL for young people in their community. The additional emphasis is that the hosting congregations for these OWL groups would engage in a multigenerational justice seeking component in their respective states and encourage their congregations to further welcome and consciousness raise by taking part in the Transforming Heart’s Collective course, “Transgender Inclusion in Congregations.”
The MidAmerica and Southern Regions are endeavoring to provide matching funds for these congregations to have OWL facilitators trained, in face to face and online OWL trainings this summer. This plan has taken shape with our national UUA OWL leader and UCC partner. We are currently in conversation with congregations in Iowa, Texas, Michigan, and Alabama, who are exploring ways to have face to face and online OWL trainings as they prepare to provide a community focused, safe, trusted, affirming space in OWL classes.
Intent on finding a way forward,