Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden’

Sermon Sunday: “Happy and Gay”

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Rev. Theresa Novak, Dan Arnow and Tom Taylor join with the choir to sing  "Stand."

Rev. Theresa Novak (right) is the minister of the UU Church of Ogden.

This week’s Sermon Sunday feature, entitled “Happy and Gay,” comes from Rev. Theresa Novak and was delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah on June, 3, 2012.


“You can be anybody you want to be, you can love anyone that you will. You can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything possible for you. The only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.”

I cried the first time I heard that song – and the second time. OK, I cried today too.

Tears can be from pain, but they can also be tears of joy. My tears are happy tears.

I am so glad that I am gay! Don’t you wish you were? You don’t have to answer than just yet. Maybe later you can answer that question, but not yet.

It is pride weekend, and while I know a lot of you identify with the slogan, “straight but not narrow,” this morning I want to lift up how wonderful it is to be in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

As much as I appreciate the reasoning behind the argument that being gay is not a choice, it also bothers me. It leads to quickly to the idea that no one would choose this life, that what gay people need is tolerance and pity, after all, we were born this way, and we just can’t help it.

I don’t pretend to understand the science behind the argument, and I also know that many gay people have tried really hard to become heterosexual and have failed both miserably and painfully.

It may not be a choice, at least for everyone.

But I want to say clearly and proudly today, that if it is a choice, it is one I am both happy and proud to have made. It is GOOD to be gay. Yeah, there is a lot of discrimination; it would be great if the larger society were more accepting. It is getting better, but even when it was really terrible, even when it was illegal everywhere in the world, it was still worth it.

It may surprise some of you because I am so young at heart, but I am in my 60’s – early 60’s, very early 60’s. I was 15 in 1965 when I fell in love with my best friend we will call Kathy. We were in Rainbow Girls together if you can believe it. Anyone know about the Rainbow Girls? It is an organization for young women affiliated with the Masons and Eastern Star. Job’s Daughters is another one; the boys were in DeMolay. We would dress up in floor length formals, and conduct very serious rituals. In 1965, the rainbow was not yet a symbol of Gay Pride – that did not happen until 1978. I like to think the creators of it got the idea from me. Not true, but I like to think that, because I was, and still am, a Rainbow Girl. I just don’t wear floor length formals anymore. Floor length clerical robes, yes, fancy formal dresses, no.

As young girls often do, Kathy and I shared our hopes, our fears, our troubles, and our souls. One night we hugged each other and neither one of us wanted to let go. We knew something was happening while we held each other, but it took us awhile to figure it out.

In 1965, in a small town, we didn’t know any other gay people, any other lesbians. There weren’t any on TV and it wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper.

We did know that if you “wore green on Thursdays it meant you were queer.” That was the playground taunt when I was growing up. But what is one to do if March 17th falls on a Thursday? If you didn’t wear green on St Patrick’s Day, you would get pinched. Get pinched or be queer? Any sensible person would choose queer.

Seriously, we knew enough to know that what we were doing was not something that others thought was OK. But we knew it was wonderful; we were, after all, in love. I wrote in my journal the following question: “How can anything so wrong be so right?”

We were good for each other and we were glad that we were both girls. If one of us had been a boy, our parents would never have let us spent the night together. We had a whole lot of sleepovers in the year and a half that we were together.

After Kathy and I broke up, she was a year older and we began to have different friends and interests, I dated a few boys. I even lived with a man for three years while I was in college. That was OK. I like men, but to be honest, for an intimate relationship, for a life partner, for me, women are just better. I decided to come out and to identify as a lesbian. It was a decision, a choice to lead a more fulfilling life. Because of that choice, I was lucky enough in 1975 to fall in love with my dear Anne. It has been good, not perfect, no one’s life is perfect, but Anne and I have had a very good life together. We have had children, children that always knew they were wanted. Lesbians don’t tend to get pregnant by accident. Having children was a choice, a choice I would definitely make again.

If being gay is a choice, it is also one I would make again.

Frankly, being gay is so great that heterosexuals really should be jealous of us. You have all heard the line, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” If you are part of a same gender couple, at least you live of the same planet!

Seriously, there are so many gender related cultural attitudes and approaches to life that it is just easier to understand and get along with someone of the same gender. There is also the fact that we are still a male dominated society, and with same gender relationships, the external power differential, including earning capacity, tends to be less.

If you live with someone of the same gender, you also don’t have to argue about whether or not to put the toilet seat down.

If you are close to the same size, you can even share clothes without anyone else noticing. We did that some before I gained so much weight, but then again I have always like purple more than Anne does.

No two people are exactly the same, but the standard gender roles require a lot more negotiation in heterosexual relationships. Our oldest son, when he was about 12, made the comment that he liked having two moms partly because it gave him the freedom to be who he was. He could like cooking, he could like doing yard work, and could just be whoever he was. He wasn’t locked into a stereotypical gender role just because he was a boy. He’s a heterosexual and he is going to make some woman a wonderful husband one of these days.

Studies show that children raised by same gender parents turn out pretty much like other kids do with the small, but not insignificant difference, that as adolescents and as adults they are more accepting of all kinds of differences. We need more people like that in the world.

When our kids were small the other mothers we met would often comment as they saw us both changing diapers and dealing with the kids that they would love it if their kids had an extra mom to help with all the mothering duties. Not that men can’t do those things, and not that there aren’t some dad’s, both straight and gay, who are awesome at all the nurturing tasks, but for at least most of those women, their husbands were just “helpers” and the childrearing duty was not fully shared. They said they were jealous and I think they really were.

There are also all the straight women friends who, when their relationships with men just didn’t seem to work out, have told us that they wished they were lesbians because it just seems a whole lot easier. They were jealous of what Anne and I have together.

Jealousy can be a good thing. It is much better than tolerance, and it is certainly better than disgust.

The point of this sermon is not, however, a recruiting effort. Yes, I think it is great to be gay; it makes me happy. But even if straight people have it harder in some ways, they can be happy too, and the real message is that we all need to find the good that is in each of us, in each of our lives. There are advantages and disadvantages to almost everything.

A lot of things have and will break our hearts. There is so much that we would change if we could, about the world and about our own lives. There is loss, and there is grief, discrimination, and oppression. There are tragedies of all kinds in life. Most of us would like more of something in our lives. More time, more money, better health, better weather, more peace, or more excitement, there is always something that we think will make our lives better. I’d love it if we had marriage equality throughout the world. I would love it if all churches were as accepting of diversity as this one is. We can work for the changes we would like to see. But in the meantime, let us count our blessings. Let us be happy with who we are and what we are doing.

Each of you has positives in your life. Recognize them and celebrate them. Celebrate who you are, a complex human being with a complex life. Know that there is a river than runs in each of our souls; we are all somebody. Don’t get stuck in the negative messages. No one is less than anyone else. We all have inherent worth and dignity. Relish it, enjoy it, be who you are. The song Beth sang addresses a young child,

You can be anybody you want to be, you can love anyone that you will. You can dream all the day never reaching the end of everything possible for you.”

But the message of the song isn’t only for children, although I wish all children could hear it. We all can continue to dream. Our dreams need have no ending; no limits imposed by others who would tell us that they know better than us what our lives should be like.

We have only to remember that “the only measure of our words and your deeds will be the love we leave behind when you’re done.”

Stand on the side of love. Choose to stand on the side of love. It is the only thing that really matters. Amen and halleluyah!

A Budding Young Activist in Ogden

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This fantastic note comes from Theresa Novak of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah.

cora[1]

Note from Cora’s mom:

We may have a budding activist on our hands. All the students in Cora’s class were asked to write a letter to the President; most asked questions like “what’s your day like?” and “how’s your dog?”

Not our Cora!

She asked President Obama to help Ogden pass the Non-discrimination ordinances!

UU Church of Ogden: Best Practices in Public Witness

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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.”

ogdenlogo

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.