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UU Church of Ogden: Best Practices in Public Witness

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Feb 07, 2011
Last October the UU Church of Ogden, Utah organized a march to offer messages of love to young people who may have been damaged by disturbing anti-gay remarks by LDS Church leadership.

Last October the UU Church of Ogden, Utah organized a march to offer messages of love to young people who may have been damaged by disturbing anti-gay remarks by LDS Church leadership.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden will celebrate National Standing on the Side of Love Day this Feb. 13th with a worship service followed by a public witness event at Ogden City Hall.

Understanding that standing on the side of love has the strongest resonance when it is done in interfaith partnership, the congregation has made a point to invite clergy from other denominations to have speaking roles at their public witness event.

Clearly no novices to making sure their public witness has a ripple effect, the Church sent out a press release announcing the events, which resulted in a story in the Standard Examiner.

“Last year at this time,” read the congregation’s press release, “the church asked Ogden officials to enact ordinances to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Those ordinances are now very close to being a reality. Public witness does make a difference.”

The UU Church of Ogden has been active in supporting Equality Utah and other local activists in advocating for the local anti-discrimination law. Last Tuesday, the City Council heard testimony on the measure, which would ban discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Several members of the church turned out for the hearing, joined by members of the local college’s diversity club. Rev. Theresa Novak presented testimony, which helped counter the opposition of a local Baptist minister.

“The city council took no action following the two-hour fact-finding work session and plans to hold another meeting later this month,” reported the Standard Examiner. “A vote on the ordinance could come following the next work session, said Council Chairwoman Caitlin K. Gochnour.”

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Such an ordinance is sorely needed to counter potential anti-LGBT legislation on the state level. The Advocate reported that “a Utah legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would require all publicly funded programs, laws, and regulations, to ensure they exclude families headed by gay and lesbian couples.”

When Ogden protects its LGBT citizens from discrimination, the local UU congregation will certainly have played a leadership role in making it happen.

TESTIMONY OF REV. THERESA NOVAK BEFORE THE OGDEN CITY COUNCIL

This is a happy day!

Almost a year ago, on February 14, the church where I serve held a special worship service and a town hall meeting at which the city of Ogden was asked to pass ordinances such as we are discussing tonight. It has been a long year in some ways. The pace of democracy is not always as rapid as one would like. Patience may be a virtue, but it is not one of mine.

But I want to give credit tonight where credit is due.

So, thank you city council members, mayor Godfrey, city attorney Gary Williams, Brandie Balken and Cliff Rosky from Equality Utah. Thank you, James Humphreys, and all the other citizens of Ogden whose presence and activism has been critical to bringing us to this day.

First Corinthians, 16 reads “keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” All faith traditions teach us to love our neighbor and anyone who looks around has to know that God treasures diversity. If that were not true, there would only be one type of flower, one shape of snowflake, and only one type of human being.

This is a happy day and we almost have the ordinances we want and need. We are very close. I ask, however, for the council to consider two changes, in the draft ordinances.

The city of Ogden should not be excluded from the ordinances.

While I am very grateful that Mayor Godfrey has agreed to sign an administrative order, administrative orders can be changed at any time by the action of whoever happens to be mayor. Our city employees should have more permanent protection and the city should also be obligated not to discriminate in the housing area should that become relevant sometime in the future.

The other issue causes me much greater concern. As written exception 3 would allow some landlords to discriminate in situations with separate leases but shared apartments. This exception is, I understand, not included in any of the ordinances passed by other cities in our state.

I understand that these apartments are mainly leased to students, to young people. Some of these young people will just be in the process of coming to terms with their sexual orientation and so are among the most vulnerable. Picture a kid, just realizing that she is most likely gay, picture her finally gathering the courage to tell one of her roommates, and then the next day she is told she has to leave her apartment. I don’t want that to happen and it will if the ordinances are passed with this exception included. Too many of us have been to the funerals of young people who struggled with who they are, and were met not with understanding, compassion, or even toleration but instead faced condemnation and discrimination.

Young people sharing space can have lots of issues with each other. I don’t envy Mr. Campion at all. But if the policy is clear, then anyone renting will know before they sign a lease that they may be sharing an apartment with someone of a different race, a different religion, or a different sexual orientation.

The issue for the landlord simply goes away, and his tenants can complain about more important things like whose turn it is to clean the kitchen. Martin Luther King Day was just a few weeks ago. I am sure that many of the business owners in his day argued that their white customers didn’t want to sit at a lunch counter with someone of a different race. It wasn’t a good argument then, and it isn’t now.

These ordinances will truly be life saving if we make them both effective and fair.

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

Thank you, bless you all for the work you do.

2 Responses to “UU Church of Ogden: Best Practices in Public Witness”

  1. Muriel Roberts says:

    Thanks, Rev. Theresa, and the Ogden Congregation! You are an inspiration to us in Pocatello UUF!

  2. Peggy Bon says:

    Successfully tackling the Ogden City Council and the dear Mayor of Ogden showed us that activism and being on the right side of love can make things happen. And now we’re going to try to make some more things happen that have to do with love and not hate with the immigration problem. Problem with a capital “P” for everyone concerned. But we can do it; we’re an AWESOME group of people!

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