What does it mean to be a man working for reproductive justice?
It’s been particularly on my mind this week because I’ve been asked to participate in a webinar panel spearheaded by the UUA called “Reproductive Justice Ministry with Men” this Monday.
While I work at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – our mission is to lift up religious voices for reproductive justice – I’m not that much closer to an answer today than I was when I started my job over a year ago. Not for lack of trying, mind you, and not for lack of good intentions. It’s quite possible that I continue to do what I’m doing now and not have an answer when I’m enjoying my last breaths because, if being called to reproductive justice has taught me anything, it’s that there are no pat answers. As a white man who has benefited from a system that was set up to privilege men like me, it can be hard to not have a definitive answer. About anything. I grew up in a military, Mormon family that settled in a mountain valley straddling the Idaho/Utah border. If you’re male in that kind of environment, many of the questions are being answered for you – whether you want them to be or not. The answers usually end up benefiting you regardless.
Change one aspect of that equation, like race, and the answers are suddenly different. Change another, like gender, and they change even more. Changing any aspect that varies from the white, male, Christian norm and the answers that life gives you are incredibly – and often heartbreakingly – different.
Recognizing that people at the margins – especially women of color – weren’t part of the equation in the reproductive health or rights movements, a group of visionary women of color claimed their own answers, and in doing so started the reproductive justice movement. They said, “We have the right to bear children. We have the right to not bear children. We have the right to raise the children we do have in healthy and safe environments.” These seem like simple statements, but like scripture, they richly resonate because of the lived experiences of the women who wrote them: women who were forcibly sterilized because of the color of the skin; women who didn’t have the resources to effectuate their reproductive choice, therefore making choice moot; women confronted by poverty-stricken, violent, and poisoned environments in which to raise their families.
How does a middle-aged white guy like me locate myself in reproductive justice given that very little of that is my lived experience?
Engaging in this work means taking leadership from the very people who are affected, which means being led by people who are nothing like us – most notably, women. Men are enculturated to look for leadership from people who are like us: men, white men, “powerful” men. In this and many other ways, we, men, need to wonder together about our cultural backgrounds, assumptions, and identities if we are to do this work well. It will be necessary to have a deep sense of openness, willingness to listen to and be led by people not like you, and authentic humility. Lots of it.
I hope you’ll join us on Monday as we dig into this conversation more. I’m going to be joined by Kashif Syed and Colin Adamo, two ridiculously smart and committed men who work at Advocates for Youth.
Perhaps you’ll hear the answers that you need to hear.
It’s about love. It’s about two people, no matter what race or size or shape or sexual orientation loving each other. When two people are in love and want to be legally married, they should be able to do so!
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage, and our Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, repealed the Defense of Marriage Act. They knocked it down.
But still, 32 states deny same-sex couples the right to be legally married. Inequality trumps federal law! It’s just crazy that my partner Barb and I, both Navy Veterans, who have been together for 28 years, can be federally recognized as married, but still denied the right to marry in Virginia. I can legally officiate heterosexual marriages in Virginia but can’t be married here myself! We have much work yet to do.
So when artist and performer Sarah Jebian came to me last fall and said, “I have an idea.”….I was all ears. She told me how inspired she was when Barb and I filed for a marriage license in Fairfax, Virginia in 2012 and were denied the civil right to marry.
Sarah talked to me about how important equality is for everyone. She told me of her passions and her hopes for all of us, especially her daughters. Her vision of a world that is motivated by love and not discrimination shone like a bright light and thus her show “Taking Flight: Songs of Hope” was born.
Sarah writes, “What does it take to wake up a generation? How do you make someone take off and fly? If we don’t act soon and shake up the nation, we’ll eat the dust of the world wondering why. These lyrics from ‘Louder Than Words,’ from the musical ‘Tick Tick Boom’ by Jonathan Larson, really speak to the passion I feel about equality. We can no longer afford to stay out of the game and wait for others to do the work.
“I am the mother of two little girls and roughly half of my friends identify as LGTB. I don’t know if my children are gay or straight yet, but it is my job to make sure they inherit a world where whoever they are and whomever they love, they will be free to live however they see fit. As for my many LGTB friends – so many of them, like Kären and Barb, have been waiting for too long. I don’t think they should have to wait any longer. My friends want and deserve every right and opportunity that I, as a straight woman, enjoy. To settle for less than this is to settle for less than full humanity and that’s just not an option. ‘Taking Flight’ is my song of hope, my call to action and my promise to my friends and my children that I will never stop fighting for them.”
“Taking Flight: Songs of Hope” is an empowering night of music and social justice that is part cabaret show, part motivational speech. With laughter, tears and cheers, show-goers will be moved to take the passion that Sarah awakens within their hearts and channel it into activism. Sarah personally wrote and crafted “Taking Flight,” which intertwines music from some of the most popular musicians of our time, from modern-day musical theater composers and chart toppers. She weaves the songs together with intensely personal and challenging dialogue/interludes that resonate with some of today’s most important social justice issues, such as gender equality and LGTB rights. She uses her over-the-top creativity and vocal prowess to bring us the light of hope for a better future. Sarah’s goal is to raise $10,000 for Standing on the Side of Love, between now and December 2014 through ticket sales. To bring “Taking Flight” to your congregation, please visit www.takingflightcabaret.com.
It’s about love.
Reverend Kären Rasmussen
Minister for Social Justice
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax
Why I’m Committing to a Shared Spiritual Journey for Social Justice (and why I think you should too!)
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk at length with a supporter of the Thirty Days of Love campaign. Teresa shared with me that she took her pledge to be a part of the campaign very seriously, and that while it was a hard commitment, it was one that she felt compelled to stick with. She said that in the fast paced world we live in, being present and committing to things greater than ourselves is tough. However, because she really took the time to connect with the campaign every day, it opened new doors, caused her to do things she never would have and allowed her connect with new people and ideas.
Now, I have the great honor of getting to work with this campaign on a daily basis, and I know how powerful it is when we listen to other’s personal stories and take time for reflection. And yet, it is hard for me also to actually take those moments to pause as well. In our quest to stand on the side of love, it can sometimes be exhausting, depressing, frustrating… but also exhilarating, joyful and life-affirming. There is lots to celebrate, like winning marriage equality last week in New Mexico and Utah, even while we also have heavy hearts over news like the passage of the terrible “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda. How do we hold all of this joy, and yet all of this pain, without also pausing for spiritual renewal?
So, let’s take the time together; to pause, reflect, celebrate, learn, advocate, educate and more. We crafted Thirty Days of Love for you: spiritual advocacy, educational resources, opportunities to learn more about the social justice issues of our day, and taking the time to let it all really soak in.
The best way to stay connected to the Thirty Days of Love is through the daily emails, but there is lots more you can do. This year, the campaign will run from Jan. 18- Feb. 16, 2014. Get your congregation or spiritual community involved and sign up for Share the Love Sunday on the last day of the campaign. February 16, 2014, will mark the end of thirty days of amazing social justice actions and demonstrations of courageous love. We invite you to celebrate this journey with your congregation by holding a special worship service on Share the Love Sunday. To sign your congregation up, just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for sharing the love!
Standing on the Side of Love
“There’s a river flowin’ in my soul, and it’s telling me that I’m somebody, there’s a river flowing in my soul.” –Faya Rose Toure
One of my favorite songs that we sing in my congregation in Garden City, NY “There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul”. Its words buoy my heart and soul and guide my work with the Living Legacy Project as we plan for UU and interfaith participation in the May 2015 commemoration of the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama during the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights. A few weeks ago, I was shocked to read about the jailing of that beautiful song’s author, Faya Rose Toure. In addition to being a songwriter, Faya Rose Toure is a community activist, educator, and civil rights attorney who changed her name from Rose Sanders in order to more clearly represent her African roots. She is also a wife, a mother and a grandmother who served as Alabama’s first female African American Judge. Faya Rose was arrested in late November for disorderly conduct before the Selma City Council when she protested the city donating land for a monument in honor of the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard and Confederate Army General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a slave trader before the war. Faya Rose refused to post bail and was jailed overnight, until the charges were dropped the next morning.
As her husband, State Sen. Hank Sanders, explained to a local newspaper about opposition to the monument, “That’s just unacceptable for someone who built the KKK into a power and was the first grand dragon. They hung and killed black folks for a century and a half.” Said Faya Rose: “I had no choice but to speak out. My grandchildren live right next to that park.”
Faya Rose Toure has been protesting the Forrest monument for years. Will you join me in standing with her to stop the monument from being erected using city land? Click here to sign a petition to the Selma Mayor and City Council.
The Living Legacy Project is working with the UUA and other UU entities as well as with interfaith and educational groups that understand that we have to learn and share the history of Selma and the civil rights movement in order to make a real difference. What happens in Selma matters to each of us. To all of us. We are all in this together.
“Sometimes we have to take a stand,” said Sen. Sanders. “Even if we stand by ourselves. Even if standing costs us dearly. Even if those refusing to stand do not understand. We just have to stand.”
Today, let us stand on the side of love with Faya Rose Toure, Sen. Sanders, and the people of Selma who deserve better than a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in their backyard. Just last week, Jacksonville, Florida high school officials announced that a school whose name commemorates Nathan Bedford Forrest is to be renamed. Let’s make sure we don’t take a step backwards in Selma.
Sign the petition today.
More importantly, let’s stop thinking about what else can we do to stand with the people of Selma. What bridges can be built now that will make a difference? What lessons have we all learned from Selma? How can we prepare for a presence in Selma in March 2015 that will be more than a “Special Event?”
Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson,
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City
Co-Leader, 2013 Living Legacy PilgrimageMore >
The UUA and Standing on the Side of Love campaign calls all passionate marriage equality advocates to help make phone calls from your own home or congregation to encourage sympathetic voters in Indiana to call their legislators to urge them to defeat an anti-gay amendment.
When I realized I was gay in my 20’s I was already part of an accepting UU community, the UU Fellowship of Raleigh (in NC), and I was embraced for who I was – before and after my realization. I want everyone to experience that same level of acceptance and inclusivity, yet too many of my fellow gay siblings live in unwelcoming communities – faith or otherwise. As our UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign advocates, no one deserves to be misunderstood and mistreated with laws which deny them their basic dignity, including the freedom to marry the person they love. While I had been a marriage equality advocate, blogger and speaker for years before NC put an anti-gay amendment on the May 2012 ballot, I could not sit on the sidelines. I led the charge for our UU Fellowship to pass a statement of conscience against our amendment and laws like it, and then, based on our unanimous support, organized thirty-three phone banks, the state’s largest, at our Fellowship. Before NC’s amendment passed, I decided to leave my job to become a full-time marriage equality advocate, and I now do this nationally for the National Equality Action Team (NEAT), led by Marriage Equality USA.
As a faith tradition with a long and proud history of supporting marriage equality, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign stand as proud members of NEAT. We joined this coalition so that we could keep you informed of chances to get involved and make a difference with active state marriage campaigns – no matter where you live.
Right now the state in need is Indiana. The Indiana General Assembly will be voting early in 2014 on whether to put an extreme anti-gay amendment on the November 2014 ballot that bans marriage and anything “substantially similar” to it for same-sex couples. Just as our nation has been making tremendous strides toward the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples, we cannot afford to lose ground and momentum by allowing one state to take a huge step backwards.
Take a courageous stand for Indiana and for us all!
UU congregations in Indiana are already doing their part; now the UUA and UU congregations and members across the county can do ours, from our own homes or congregations. Helping is easy: just sign up at www.theneat.org to be part of a phone bank from 6-9pm ET on one or more Tuesday or Thursday nights from now until 1/16/14. Then at 6pm on the day you signed up for, either at home alone or with a small group of people in a wifi location (such as your congregation), call in to receive training and instructions from NEAT staff. We’ll support you during the calls when you have questions.
Won’t you join me and the UUA in this effort to build an unstoppable momentum toward full marriage equality? Same-sex couples and their families are counting on you. If many of us do just one evening for Indiana, we can ensure that NC is the last state to pass an anti-gay amendment.
Thank you in advance for being the change you want to see in the world,
Program Manager, National Equality Action Team (NEAT) with Marriage Equality USA
Member of UU Fellowship of Raleigh