Posts Tagged ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’

UUs Support Gay-Straight Alliance in Lake County, Florida Schools

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UUs in Standing on the Side of love shirts gather at the at Lake County School Board workshop.

Yellow shirts get organized: Andrea Coburn, Nelson Hay, Carole Clark, and Diane Lamontagne of the UU Fellowship of Marion County. Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry of the ACLU is on the far right. (Credit: Martha Hartgering)

For the past two months, Unitarian Universalists from three congregations–the UU Fellowship of Marion County, First Unitarian Church of Orlando, and the UU Congregation of Lake County–have been actively standing on the side of love by supporting the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club to help counter bullying in Carver Middle School. So far, they have attended five different events to support the measure.

In response to the club proposal by eighth-grader Bayli Silberstein, members of the Lake County School Board first proposed banning clubs, potentially including even sports and service clubs, which are not directly related to academic courses. After this failed, the board tentatively proposed allowing clubs, but requiring parental permission for students to participate. Then, reportedly at the request of one or more Lake County School Board members, the Florida legislature passed and Governor Scott signed a change in the definition of “secondary school” that may allow the Board to discriminate among clubs without violating the Federal Equal Access Act.

After a law suit was filed by the ACLU, the school board has now allowed the club to go ahead at Carver Middle School, but only until the end of this school year. In the meantime, the Board has opened an evaluation of a half dozen policy options regarding school clubs.

Rev. Janet Onnie of the UU Fellowship of Marion County  issued the following statement, which was read into the record at a Lake County School Board workshop in Minneola, Florida:

In times of disagreement Unitarian Universalists stand of the side of love. One of our seven principles affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each individual. We express that by witnessing and working for justice for disenfranchised groups of people. Sexual orientation or gender identity is not a choice. It’s like the color of your eyes; only one aspect of the complete person in a relationship with a loving God.

We understand that there is great fear surrounding those who are different from us – whether it be skin color or socioeconomic class or political persuasion or sexual orientation. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility as a society to create conditions where people feel safe so that their individual gifts might flourish. This is especially true in our schools. It is the job of the schools to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning. If an individual or a group feels threatened or bullied because of something over which they have no control, the learning environment is compromised. When we allow our fear to override our commitment to raise our young to be productive and kind individuals, we have failed in our duty to them.

It seems to me that answering the question, “What would any of our peacemakers do?” is a good test of any policy. I believe Jesus or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the formation of an alliance among different people attempting to understand each other. I believe these peacemakers would stand on the side of love.


This post was written by Nelson Hay. Nelson is a member of the Welcoming Congregation Committee and Communication Committee at the UU Fellowship of Marion County, Florida.

Adam W. Hackel Receives 2012 Interweave Mark DeWolfe Award

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Adam W. Hackel

Adam W. Hackel

Adam W. Hackel, a member of the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Warrington, Pennsylvania, and the Band Director for Montgomery Middle School Upper Campus in Skillman, New Jersey, has been selected as the recipient of the 2012 Mark DeWolfe Award. Dr. Hackel will be honored, together with the winner of this year’s Interweave Sermon Contest, at Interweave Continental’s annual banquet on Friday, June 22, at Justice General Assembly in Phoenix.

Dr. Hackel works with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at the state and national levels and serves on the Board of Directors of GLSEN-Central New Jersey. He is well known for his work with students, parents, educators, politicians, and community members throughout New Jersey to promote safe schools for all students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Dr. Hackel, who has also worked with the Rainbow Room, an LGBTQ youth group in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, sponsors GLBT History Month projects and GLSEN’s National Day of Silence at his school, which was recognized for having the top middle school GLBT History Month project in the nation in 2010. Dr. Hackel also helps to train future school administrators about the importance of diversity, including diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity, and he is a tireless advocate for LGBTQ youth and school personnel.

During the past year, Dr. Hackel has worked with the GLSEN Student Leadership Team project to develop an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum for use in middle school social studies classes. This curriculum addresses issues including the development of the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement and the history of laws and court rulings that have expanded or curtailed the rights of LGBTQ individuals. Dr. Hackel also led a team of students from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Interweave Continental confers the Mark DeWolfe Award each year on a Unitarian Universalist who has substantially contributed to improving the lives of LGBTQ people, whether in or outside of Unitarian Universalist settings. This award was established to honor the memory of the Rev. Mark DeWolfe, the first openly gay minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association to serve a congregation.

Knoxville Area UU’s Organize Rally to Oppose Dangerous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

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Knoxville Area UU Congregations Mobilize Community Against Anti-LGBT Bill

Knoxville Area UU Congregations Mobilize Community Against Anti-LGBT Bill

The current legislative session in Tennessee could be a very damaging one for LGBT individuals, families and allies. A proposed bill by State Sen. Stacy Campfield (R-Knoxville) would prohibit elementary and middle schools teachers from discussing homosexuality. The legislation has already been recommended for passage by the Senate Education Committee. It could go for a vote of the full Senate this week.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as is is dubbed, has made national news. Time Magazine reported:

“…in only restricting speech about homosexuality, not heterosexuality, the measure seems to have a more one-sided agenda than the sponsor purports. That point has led gay-rights activists to call the bill a form of discrimination, especially as it bars teachers from talking about gay issues or sexuality even with students who identify as gay or have gay parents.

People of faith, educators and students in the Knoxville area are not allowing Sen. Campfield’s dangerous proposal to go unanswered. Rev. Chris Buice of Tennessee Valley UU Church and Rev. Jake Bohstedt Morrill of Oak Ridge UU Church — both in greater Knoxville — reached out to the TN Equality Project, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, as well as youth groups and educators, to organize a rally on Thursday in opposition to the legislation. The rally in Knoxville is particularly important, since Sen. Campfield, the lead sponsor, is homegrown.

As you can see from the photos, the Standing on the Side of Love banner is shining brightly in the sunshine!

Knoxville UUs Utilize Standing on the Side of Visibility & Messaging to Maximize the Impact of Their Rally

Knoxville UUs Utilize Standing on the Side of Visibility & Messaging to Maximize the Impact of Their Rally

The rally was covered across the country by the Advocate, as well as local newspapers. Knoxvillenews.com reported:

Waving posters and cheering on speakers, some 80 people rallied Thursday afternoon to express opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill now before the state Senate.

If the legislation passes, “students that are gay will be ostracized more than ever,” warned student Alesha Hicks, president of the Gay/Straight Alliance at Oak Ridge High School.

School guidance counselor Matt Koehler recalled an incident several years ago when a middle school boy came into his office in tears because he’d been called “gay, fag and homo.”

Any effort by him to defuse those verbal attacks would have been illegal under the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Koehler said.

Local publication Oakridger.com also got to the heart of the issue:

Those who spoke at the rally, organized by the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church and the GSA at ORHS and Karns High School, said gay students have to endure ignorance, intolerance, and regular name-calling — and they sometimes live in fear of brutality.

“I am sick and tired of the violence of body and spirit directed against people just because of who they love,” said Rev. Chris Buice, minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

Standing on the Side of Love in Knoxville!

Standing on the Side of Love in Knoxville!

To take action against this dangerous anti-LGBT bill, you can sign this Change.org petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-dont-say-gay-bill-in-the-tennessee-state-senate and ask your friends and family to do the same — especially friends and family in Tennessee!