On Monday evening, I was part of a group of sixteen representatives of different faiths gathered by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee at a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
We joined a thousand people gathered there to support our Sikh neighbors, and to hear a call for an end to the gun violence that kills at least 12,000 Americans a year. There were many speakers, including government officials, community leaders, and survivors whose lives have been shattered by gun violence.
Listening to the 13-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son of Sikh priest Prakash Singh who died in the shootings–listening to them speak of finding their father dead on the floor of the gurdwara a year ago, a bullet in his eye, I felt a dizzying grief that is with me still. They are healing, their mother is healing, with the help of the community. But what pain. Their family had only been reunited for a few months when the shootings took place.
The children spoke of how they’d heard what sounded like gunshots and how their father urged them to hide with their mother in the basement.
When the shooting stopped and they re-emerged, the children tried to wake their lifeless father. Nearby, they could hear the last words of another man who had been shot. He was saying, “Waheguru, waheguru (wonderful God, wonderful God).”
The daughter said, “We will never forget that day. My heart broke in two when I realized my father was gone.”
Two days before the vigil, my 14-year-old daughter and I went to the Chardhi Kala 6K Run/Walk, organized by the young people of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. Proudly wearing my Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt, we joined a thousand runners, walkers and supporters to raise funds for six $1,000 scholarships, in honor of the six people who died in the shootings last year.
Chardhi Kala, translated, means a spirit of relentless optimism; a philosophy that encourages us to remain centered and optimistic in the face of adversity, and to grow from moving through tragedy and hardship. Since the shootings last year, the Sikhs in Wisconsin have lived the philosophy of Chardhi Kala beautifully through outreach, education and community service–and I am proud that my congregation has been part of their “support team.” Immediately after the shootings last year, we reached out to the Sikh community in Brookfield, where I serve as minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West. Attending vigils and services, raising funds and sending letters, my congregation and I were able to offer our caring to the Sikh communities in Oak Creek and Brookfield and we reached out again to include our Sikh neighbors in the work of the Brookfield-Elm Grove Interfaith Network.
At the Chardhi Kala run, my daughter and I visited a touching memorial in honor of those who died, and we listened to speakers before the run began, including the families of the shooting victims: Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Kaleka, Sita Singh, and Suveg Khattra. Baba Punjab Singh, a visiting religious leader, was critically injured during the attack and continues to require around-the-clock, long-term care at an inpatient rehabilitation center. A representative from the Sikh Healing Collective, the mayor of Oak Creek, and Oak Creek Police Officer Brian Murphy also spoke. Murphy was the first responder to the shootings and was gravely wounded. We also heard from Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first Sikh allowed to serve in the military wearing the traditional beard and turban. Current U.S. military policy forces Sikh men to remove their religiously-required turbans and facial hair in order to join the military. Major Kalsi encouraged the crowd to contact elected officials to advocate for greater religious freedom in military service.
Our Sikh neighbors have forged new bonds, broken down barriers, and met hatred with relentless optimism this past year. The Chardhi Kala run proceeds will go to support scholarships to carry on this work for peace and wholeness.
This post was written by Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin.More >
Today marks the first day of Congress’s August Recess. It’s time to turn up the heat so that our elected officials know they are not off the hook for passing compassionate immigration reform this year!
Across the country, we have been standing on the side of love with immigrant families, and we can’t stop now.
I’m in my home state of Florida this week, working with over twelve Unitarian Universalist congregations, immigrant families, and interfaith partners to call on our House representatives to vote yes for a path to citizenship, vote yes for undocumented neighbors to come out of the shadows, and vote yes to standing on the side of love with immigrant families.
From Orlando to Miami, I’m joining a sea of Yellow Shirts to canvass our state so that our voices will be heard! Won’t you join us, and make your voice heard in your hometown as well?
Check out our updated immigration reform webpage with new resources to help you meet with your House representative and spur grassroots action in your own community.
We really are in the home stretch now. After the historic bipartisan vote in June, we saw something extraordinary happen in Congress: members working together on something that truly matters. We know that can happen again in the House, but only if your House representative hears from you!
Click here for more information about how you can take action, including ideas for holding your own in-district meeting.
Standing on the Side of Love
The message above went out on Monday, August 5, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.More >
I recently did something I never would have imagined doing a few years ago. I ran a 5K with my dad, but it wasn’t just any 5K; it was a gay pride 5K. It was his idea and even though I pretty much loath running I said I’d do it. I was grateful he’d be willing to do something so publicly gay, for and with his lesbian daughter. I still pinch myself when I think about my dad, the most Christian guy I know, running alongside lesbian couples, drag queens, and men in Speedos and tutus. If this story couldn’t get any sweeter, my mom came to root us on. She was so cute as she chanted our names and took pictures of us as we ran. I was overcome with gratefulness for both my parents and for what felt like a huge deal for them… their first pride.
I quickly (less than 3 minutes in) realized I should have trained for this run. I began to wonder, “Oh dear god! How am I ever gonna make this 3 miles when I feel like I’m going pass out 3 minutes in?!?” I looked over at my dad and he was going strong. I felt proud that my 62-year-old dad was in shape and strong, but simultaneously wished he wasn’t in such good shape so he’d want to stop the insanity of it all as much as I did and walk. I had pictured us running the whole thing together, but the second a woman jogging with a stroller approached us my dad looked at me and said, “Candice, we can’t let a lady with a baby carriage pass us! Come on, let’s go.” I knew I was in trouble because there was no way I could go any faster, in fact I was ready to take it down a notch. Through heavy breathing I murmured, “Dad, go ahead. I’ll meet ya at the finish line.” And off he went.
People, running this 5k was not easy! My legs felt like they were going to give out, I was covered in sweat and couldn’t get rid of my side ache for almost the entire 3 miles. But I was determined to finish and not walk the entire thing. So I alternated jogging and walking as much as I could muster. By the end I was exhausted and just as I could see the finish line, I looked over to my left and I saw huge, and I mean, huge signs that read, “God hates fags,” “You’re going to hell” etc. We’ve all seen them before and honestly the big signs don’t really bother me all that much. But, over a loud speaker a man yelled out, “Why can’t you be normal??!!” “Why can’t you be normal??!!” He said it over and over again. I told myself they were extreme people and to shake their words off. I’m not sure if it was because I was so truly exhausted that I couldn’t ignore them, but I had to fight back tears. My heart hurt. And as I ran past them I began to pray. I prayed for my heart, I prayed for their hearts, and I prayed for those whose own self doubt and hatred increase when they hear words of hate like this. I also began to pray for my current patients and those who I don’t know yet, but will someday see as a patient in therapy.
I’m a gay, Christian therapist and not the kind that says being gay or straight is better. My goal is to help people become more alive, connected and okay with who God created them to be, no matter what their sexual orientation. As I ran, I connected with something deep inside that reminded me of what it was like to ache with not feeling normal. I remembered begging God to change me and make me straight. I remembered feeling that there was no hope and no way out. It all came back in that moment as I ran down the middle of the road towards that finish line.
As I reflect back on this experience, I’m really glad it happened. Even though I no longer am filled with an ache and desire to change, it feels important to remember what it was like. It’s important so that I can join my patients in deeper ways when they too feel the ache and desire to be “normal.” I see people in therapy who need a place to process this ache of wishing they weren’t gay; people who are in gay relationships, but having problems within them; people who aren’t sure if they’re gay and have no one to talk to about it. I also see family members of those who are gay who need a place to talk about their feelings and beliefs around their gay family member. I beg you, do not let the voices of those around you, questioning why you can’t be normal, shut you down.
I want you to know there is hope. There is peace, joy, and a wonderful life that you can have. To see a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy, suicidal, or mentally unstable. It simply means for a time you need someone to help you sort through your internal world as you figure out what it means to be you. While it might always sting when we hear hateful words screamed through a bull horn, I promise you that there will be a time when you will be able to shake those feelings off and instead be filled with joy and gratefulness. Reach out today.
Candice Czubernat is a licensed mental health therapist and founder of The Christian Closet. The Christian Closet is a therapy practice for people who need a safe place to process their LGBTQ and faith identities. She sees her clients over Skype so that no matter where they are in the country, they can get the support needed.More >
A Letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature:
My name is Arjuna Greist and I live in Greenfield, Massachusetts. I am a musician, a genderqueer woman, and a Unitarian Universalist.
I am writing to urge you to support An Act Relative to Equal Access in Hospitals, Public Transportation, Nursing Homes, Supermarkets, Retail Establishments, and all other places open to the public, introduced in the Massachusetts State House by Representatives Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing and in the Senate by Senators Ben Downing and Sonia Chang-Diaz. This proposed law would prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation. These are venues that all sorts of people use every day, including hotels, nursing homes, polling places, and convention centers.
I imagine that the majority of testimonies you will hear in support of this bill will focus on how it will positively affect the lives of transgender and transsexual citizens. People like my partner, people like many of my friends, people who are under constant threat of violence and discrimination for engaging in perfectly legal and often vital activities such as eating in restaurants, voting, shopping, taking a bus or taxi, and going to the hospital. This bill, when it becomes a law, will make the Commonwealth more fair, more free, and less dangerous for my partner and my friends.
What you may not realize is that it will also make Massachusetts more fair, more free, and less dangerous for you. Though those in the trans* community will undoubtedly benefit in profound and life-saving ways from this law, it is not actually a law banning discrimination against trans* people. It is a law banning discrimination due to gender identity and/or expression, which, though some are more conscious of it than others, applies to every single one of us; we all have gender identities, and we all express those identities in a myriad of ways. When we measure up to the idea of how a particular business owner, police officer, administrator, doctor, poll worker, paramedic, mall cop, waiter, or bus driver thinks we should look and act, then there is no problem. It is only when someone decides that we do not fit neatly enough into their definition of masculine or feminine that discrimination – which at least results in denial of services and often leads to humiliation, harassment, arrest, assault, disenfranchisement, medical negligence, and even death – enters the picture.
When authority figures in public spaces have legal power to discriminate against anyone whom they judge to be expressing their gender in a questionable or incorrect manner, we are all at risk. It does not matter if you traveled the average path from girl to woman. If you have short hair, or don’t shave your legs, or prefer pants to skirts, or forego wearing make-up, or assert yourself boldly, there is someone waiting to tell you that your expression of womanhood does not match up to their standards or their dress code, and that you have to leave. You can bring out a photo album and show evidence of your lifetime membership in the masculinity club from blue bunting to boy scouts, but if someone in charge thinks long hair doesn’t belong on a man, or that men shouldn’t wear pastels, or that men ought not to dance so flamboyantly, or they draw the line at any other arbitrary gender marker they deem inappropriate, you are out of luck and out on the street, without legal recourse.
There is a lot of attention in these debates given to public bathrooms, with fans of discrimination theorizing endlessly and histrionically about all of the terrible things that will happen if everyone is allowed to choose for themselves the most comfortable and appropriate restroom without fear of harassment or arrest. They assert that illegal behavior such as stalking, spying, or sexual assault will somehow magically become legal. They fear that no one will think of the children, dismissing the lives of trans and genderqueer youth – kids I think about every day. They ignore the fact that everyone needs to relieve themselves, even if their gender identity doesn’t match the accepted definition of normal. They pretend that, when one of my friends goes into a public restroom, others in that restroom are somehow in danger. The sickening, infuriating, sorrowful truth is, due to the discrimination enshrined in our culture and supported by current law, the only person in potential danger is the one judged to not belong. That judgment, though most often and most devastatingly aimed at trans* people, can be brought down on anyone.
With the passage of this law, Massachusetts would send a clear message to its citizens that all people are entitled to feel safe in their communities and to be offered the full protection of the law, regardless of their gender identity or expression.
By offering protection in places of public accommodation where people experience harassment and discrimination, this law would increase productivity, freedom, and safety for employees, customers, residents, and students.
If we are to keep our commonwealth’s reputation as a leader in civil rights, we need to join the many communities – including the states of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine – that already provide protection in places of public accommodation on the basis of gender identity and/or expression.
We are all diminished by discrimination, and we are all at risk.
This post was written by Arjuna Greist, a lifelong Unitarian Universalist and member of the UU Society of Northampton and Florence in Northampton, Massachusetts. Arjuna is also on the steering committee of the People’s Music Network for Songs of Freedom and Struggle. You can find more of Arjuna’s work at www.facebook.com/arjunamusic.More >
More than ever before, the Unitarian Universalist message of “Love Beyond Belief” was front and center in the Houston Gay Pride Parade this year. Houston Area UUs produced an exciting flower-covered float for the parade on June 29, 2013. Themed “Come Dance With Us,” the float held youthful UU’s dancing joyfully to the pop music piped in overhead. Attached to the guardrails of the truck hauling the float were two 50-inch televisions showing a 30-second video by the Rev. Joanna Crawford that featured UU commitment to LGBTQ equality and the right to marry.
Congratulations to Gail Wilkins, the float Leader-in-Chief, and her crew of 20 to 30 who constructed the float that day, drove the vehicles, danced on the float, marched, threw beads, and monitored the vehicles. Special kudos to Gail, Bill Wallauer, Richard Braastad, Jon Naylor and Craig Oettinger, who spent many hours on this project planning the float, organizing the UU’s to join in, raising money, purchasing, borrowing equipment and building the basic structure. In all about 70 UUs participated, by far the largest contingent of UUs to march in the parade in years. You should have come!
This post was written by Lois Hardt, a Unitarian Universalist from Houston, Texas.
Want to get involved in Pride in your area? Check out the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “10 Ways to Celebrate Pride” resource for congregations.More >