This post was written by Annette Marquis, District Executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Southeast District and the author of a new eBook called Resistance: A Memoir of Civil Disobedience in Maricopa County.
Angel is twenty-three years old. He came to the United States right after his first birthday. His six younger sisters were all born in the United States–only he and his mother are undocumented. In November 2011, police stopped Angel for not having a light on his license plate. The officer who stopped him appeared to be letting him go but another officer arrived and that’s when all congeniality disappeared. Perhaps he didn’t like the fact that Angel, returning home after an AIDS conference, was dressed in drag.
Whatever the reason, they arrested Angel and put him on an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold while they investigated his residency status. As a result, he spent four months in a Metropolitan Detention Center before being transferred to an ICE Detention Center in El Paso, Texas and then back to New Mexico, where he spent an additional three months.
Seven months total—ripped away from his family, denied the right to a trial, treated like a criminal—all because of a missing light.
But even under these horrendous circumstances, Angel found a way to make a difference. On NoPapersNoFear.org, he wrote, “Although I will never forget how hard it was to be in detention, I am happy that I was able to be out as a queer person. I feel like it gave courage to other people who were also LGBT when we were in detention. We would get together, and would talk back to those who were harassing us. It taught me to stand up for my dignity, and to support fellow LGBT people in detention.”
When ICE finally released him from detention in mid-June, 2012, he heard about Undocubus, the “No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice,” and knew he had to join them. This bus of undocumented immigrants planned to travel through the southern US in order to “confront power with the stories, voices, and actions of those directly affected by these immigration policies.” All along the route, which started in Phoenix, Unitarian Universalist congregations, in Denver, Albuquerque, Austin, New Orleans, Cordova, TN, Ellisville, MS, Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Asheville, Raleigh, and finally in Charlotte, offered them housing, meals, moral support, and their love. The forty or so riders came to appreciate our Standing on the Side of Love banners and t-shirts and expressed tremendous gratitude for our encouragement and assistance.
I met Angel when the bus arrived in Charlotte on September 3, 2012. By that time, he and the other riders had been on the road for more than a month. He told me he had to leave the next day, only a day after arriving in Charlotte and before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the Undocubus’s final destination, even started, because he was taking his SATs the next day in order to get into college. Angel felt proud that he had come on this journey but missed his family and was anxious to get home to them. He hated being separated from them while he was in detention and told me he doesn’t believe anyone should have to go through what he did. That’s why he is continuing his work with Puente Arizona, who supported his mother while he was in detention, and with 3rd Space, a collective of queer migrants and people of color working on social justice issues in Phoenix.
Angel opened up a whole new world to me, the world of self-identified queers who are also undocumented immigrants. They call themselves Undocu-queers and they drip courage from their pores.
Because Angel was one of the first people from Undocubus I met, I assumed his story was unique. I asked him how he was accepted on the bus as an out queer. He laughed and said, “There’s a lot of us on the bus. It’s filled with queers.” It didn’t take long before I recognized the truth behind his words.
Some riders I talked with estimated that about half of them were LGBTQ people. One day, as an Undocubus news conference wound up just outside the gates from the arena where the DNC was going on, I asked a group of four young adults why they thought there were so many LGBTQ folks on the bus. They answered without hesitation.
“We already came out once,” one responded, “we’ve already had to claim our queer identity.”
Another added, “This is another way we have to come out.”
“To be who we are,” chimed in a third.
One young adult explained further, “LGBTQ people have always been at the front of social movements. Look at Bayard Rustin who worked with Martin Luther King,”
Their clarity impressed me and their courage astounded me. They stood up against great opposition and proudly declared, “I am who I am and no one is going to take that away from me.”
Whether or not you agree with their strategy, these modern-day freedom riders, who rode thousands of miles through the hot August sun in a cramped, 1970s, un-air-conditioned bus, have to be admired for their willingness to put everything, even their own freedom, on the line to challenge a system that stands in the way of their dreams.More >
As most of you know, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was the site of a terrible act of violence on Sunday, August 5th, when an armed man entered the temple in Oak Creek and began shooting. Six people were killed and three others wounded, including one policeman who had responded to calls for help.
The next day, Standing on the Side of Love sent out a call to supporters throughout the country to submit notes of encouragement and support for the Sikh Temple. Over 2,000 of you responded!
The Rev. Suzelle Lynch, minister of Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin, worked closely with UU seminarian Schuyler Vogel as well as a local contact with Brookfield’s Sikh Temple, to make arrangements for the delivery of the messages to the Oak Creek Temple.
On the evening of August 30th, the Rev. Dr. Drew Kennedy from First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen from Olympia Brown UU Church in Racine, Schuyler, and I went to the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. There we were warmly welcomed by Mr. Gurmukh Singh, who was our guide and host. The walls of the foyer and fellowship rooms were covered with banners from congregations and communities of a variety of faiths, all offering good wishes and support for the people of the Sikh Temple.
We had a good discussion about Sikhism and Unitarian Universalism and then joined their worship service. At the end of the service, during their announcements, we jointly presented the messages from Standing on the Side of Love and a booklet from the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville (click here to see a copy of our remarks). Afterward, we joined in eating the delicious community meal (or langar) and chatted with several of the congregation’s members while we ate.
It was a humbling and inspiring experience, to see how this faith community has supported one another and reclaimed their space, which was so violently invaded. Mr. Singh took a few minutes to read some of the good wishes sent in from Standing on the Side of Love. He was deeply touched by the sentiments offered, and by the fact that so many people had taken the time to write notes of support. The members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin are grateful for all the support from other faith groups, and remain open and welcoming to others. I’m sure we all left with hopes of continuing to build relationships between all our churches and the Sikh community.More >
As an Italian-American, I dread the second week in October. This is, of course, when my cultural heritage is celebrated with parades and festivals in the name of Christopher Columbus, whose arrival on this continent heralded an era of European conquest. Each year, I am forced to confront my ancestors’ complicity in the European colonization of the rest of the world—and the dehumanization, genocide, and enslavement that accompanied it. Each year, I hear the language that proclaims that Columbus “discovered” America, and I struggle, knowing where this language comes from.
The language of “discovery” comes directly from a European doctrine, developed by popes and embraced by monarchs. It claimed that when Christian Europeans landed on a shore inhabited by non-Christians, they assumed all rights to the land and its people as if they had discovered it. The Doctrine of Discovery, as it has come to be known, is still the legal basis for the modern-day treatment of indigenous peoples by the U.S. government. Federal control of the lands of Native American nations, immigration policies with respect to the indigenous peoples on the U.S.-Mexico border, and Native Hawai’ian peoples’ rights to religious freedom are all decided by remnants of a centuries-old doctrine that is based on the belief that non-Christian people lack souls.
This June at our annual General Assembly, delegates from Unitarian Universalist congregations passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. We were asked to do this by a coalition of indigenous peoples with whom we were working on issues of immigration justice. We answered their call to accountability with action.
Now, we must continue to educate ourselves, our congregations, and our communities about the impact of the Doctrine and its persistence in our laws and policies. Honoring Indigenous People’s Day this October 8th provides an opportunity for us to do just that. Click here to learn more about how you can take action against the Doctrine of Discovery.
In repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, our delegates decreed that it was incompatible with a theology that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We declared that right relationship between indigenous peoples and those whose ancestors came from other continents is only possible if we sit down together as equals. We affirmed that our call to stand on the side of love means that we must work to dismantle systems built on a foundation of intolerance and division.
This means pledging ourselves to working to repeal and repudiate this doctrine wherever it shows itself in our society today. While that includes asking the U.S. government to fully implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it doesn’t end there. Right now, there are probably policies in your local communities that mean that landowners are not in right relationship with the native peoples whose ancestral lands they live on. Coalitions of indigenous peoples in your state or region are likely signing up allied organizations in their struggles to gain equality, recognition, and respect. In the coming weeks and months, there will be legislation and advocacy efforts with the potential either to perpetuate the Doctrine of Discovery or to heal wounds inflicted by it.
Native American communities have for many years asked their allies to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Doing so means more than just changing what our calendars call the second Monday in October, however. It means educating ourselves about the very real issues facing the indigenous peoples with whom our faith calls us to be in right relationship.
This Indigenous Peoples Day, I invite you to seek to understand how the Doctrine of Discovery is still at work in your community and in your country. I invite you to seek partnerships with native peoples and to practice accountability in answering their calls to action. I invite you to unite in support of policies and laws that honor those whom centuries of discriminatory policy have disrespected.
Click here for more information on how you and your faith community can honor Indigenous People’s Day and work to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
I also invite you to help me to honor my cultural heritage—with all of its complicated and messy parts—by helping me to decolonize our faith. Together, we can reject those parts of our faith that are rooted in the superiority of one group of people and embrace a radically inclusive, all-encompassing love. I invite you to practice love with me this Indigenous Peoples Day.
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester
Board of Trustees, Unitarian Universalist Association
PS: For more information on the history & significance of the resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, watch this interview that I did with our partner organization Tonatierra:
The message above went out on Thursday, September 13, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >
Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Continues Marriage Equality Advocacy He Began with the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign
“Whether it was women’s rights or interracial marriage or civil rights, whatever it was, it’s all led to where we are today. And now it’s gay rights. And it’s all the same issue even though they’re all different things. They’re all predicated on equality and treating people fairly. So I just see it from that standpoint. I see it a little bit broader than everybody else, but there’s always been someone that’s been discriminated against. And we’re just trying to tackle one issue at a time. Right now it’s the time for gay rights and it’s time for them to be treated equally and for everybody be treated fairly, in the name of love.”
–Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo
Across the country, homophobic and transphobic legislators are trying to prevent legal and social progress for LGBTQ people. Sometimes, their rhetoric is so inane it actually furthers the cause of equality. Take Maryland Delegate Emmett C. Burns. Del. Burns, a Democrat who is also a Baptist minister, never fails to shock and awe. A few years ago, he told the Washington Post, “I don’t want to live next door to people who have a same-sex relationship and have children and have my children playing with them.”
Or try this gem on for size:
“Now, a lot of people have accused me of being homophobic. I’m not. If homosexuals want to go at it and do their thing, that’s fine. But don’t sashay your way up to the altar and demand marriage.”
“Go at it?” “Sashay?” Seriously?
Thankfully, a majority of Maryland legislators don’t subscribe to Del. Burns’ poppycock. Earlier this year, the legislature voted for a marriage equality bill that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law. But opponents like Del. Burns worked to gather enough signatures to prevent the law from going into effect until it is approved this November at the ballot. LGBTQ Marylanders are on the defensive, hoping that voters won’t reject the newly-passed marriage equality bill.
Marylanders are now stepping up to the plate to support the measure. From Republican Ken Melman to Democratic Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, people are encouraging Marylanders to vote YES on Question 6. One such “Marylander for Marriage Equality” is Brendon Ayanbajeo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Mr. Ayanbadejo first filmed a short video advocating marriage equality in 2011 for the Standing on the Side of Campaign YouTube Channel. To date, it is the most widely watched video the campaign has done. That year, he also sent a note to every member of the Maryland General Assembly urging them to vote for the measure.
This year, Mr. Ayanbadejo has been even more outspoken in his work with the newly formed Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition. While the media has paid some attention to a new video he filmed, it wasn’t until Del. Burns took notice of Mr. Ayanbadejo’s advocacy and wrote a letter calling on the team’s owner to silence him that the footballer’s support became the talk of the nation.
Thankfully, Del. Burns’ attempts to intimidate Ayanbadejo backfired. Fellow National Football League (NFL) player Chris Kluwe, a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, penned a searing open letter to Del. Burns that quickly went viral. Soon, media outlets from New York to California were reporting on support for marriage equality within the testosterone-laced world of football. “Players’ Support of Gay Marriage Alters N.F.L. Image,” declared the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Del. Burns was roundly criticized—the Baltimore Sun even called him unfit to serve. Within days, Del. Burns backed down, saying he didn’t intend to interfere with Mr. Ayanbadejo’s First Amendment rights.
The Ravens’ owners also backed up Ayanbadejo. “The Ravens reached out to me,” Ayanbadejo said in a Huffington Post interview. “[Ravens president] Dick Cass and [Ravens] owner Steve Bisciotti said, ‘Brendon, you’re a great person. Keep doing your thing. We believe in you. This is not a team that believes in discrimination in any way, shape, or form. You have this tremendous platform here. Use it. And go ahead and continue to be you, and grow and shape and change the world while you have the ability to do it.’”
As we say here at the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, Brendon Ayanbadejo truly embodies courageous love.More >
Last month, Norfolk, Virginia held its annual “Out in the Park” Pride festival with an estimated 17,000 attendees. The Unitarian Church of Norfolk (UCN), the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula (UUFP) in Newport News, and the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists (WUU) joined together to spread the news about Unitarian Universalism and UU LGBT history.
In 2011, our table at Pride was bare, staffed only by members of UCN, and had a homemade cardstock display with only a few brochures. We had very few visitors.
This year, we had tablecloths, professionally prepared banners and signs with UU chalices, and a professionally done LGBT timeline depicting UU LGBT history. And beads; lots of beads. After a while, the UU booth became a magnet for Pride attendees. Visitors not only received our ‘special’ rainbow beads, but many also talked with UCN Minister Cyndi Simpson or other volunteer representatives from the UU congregations in Newport News and Williamsburg. One young adult visitor kept exclaiming to her friend, “I found it! This is MY church! This is MY church! I’m a Unitarian”! A very good time was had by all.
Much appreciation and world of thanks to our Rev. Cyndi Simpson and all the volunteers from UUFP, WUU, and UCN who gave their time and energy to showing love, care, and concern for the LGBTQ community of Hampton Roads. Thank you all!
This post was contributed by J Kila Chong, Office Administrator at the Unitarian Church of Norfolk (UU). More >