Thursday, May 28, 2009

Complaining About E-Mail

This week, on the same day, California's Supreme Court upheld the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and President Obama announced who his pick for U.S. Supreme Court will be.

This led to a flurry of e-mails.

I think I got announcements about the California decision from Triangle, Michigan Equality, the Lansing Association for Human Rights (LAHR) (two or three e-mails), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the UUA. Fortunately, I did not get one from Jackson PFLAG, which sticks to monthly newsletters. I got announcements about Obama's decision from Planned Parenthood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), MoveOn, and President Obama (twice). That's at least a dozen e-mails to tell me two pieces of information.

Now I admit it could be worse. There are a lot more agencies I could've gotten e-mails from that I do get e-mails from regularly, and there are a lot of agencies I don't get e-mails from that I could subscribe to. But the problem is that I do want to hear from these agencies--about their events, programs, etc. And if none of them had sent e-mails, I might not have heard... until I turned on NPR, or logged onto facebook where probably three dozen friends & colleagues posted status updates about it, myself included.

But I do wish there was a way to consolidate this information, or that people from state-level lgbt organizations, for example, could assume you'd hear national news from the national organization, and so would stick to sending state-level information. That would definitely help with the e-mail overload.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Michigan

Michigan is having a hard time right now. No news there. My city, Jackson, Michigan, topped Forbes' list of the 10 Worst Small Cities for Jobs. Five other small Michigan cities made that top ten list as well. And of course we're well represented on the mid-sized and large-sized cities lists, as well, with Detroit coming in number one on the latter. Find any other gloomy list of worst places to be in this economy, Michigan cities are sure to be on it.

Michigan churches are having a hard time, too, of course. When times get hard, discretionary income goes down. And churches are, well, discretionary, particularly in the guilt-free UU version where tithing isn't a religious obligation in the same way that it is in some other faiths.

One measure of rough things are in Michigan might be to look at the level of ministerial transition. Sometimes these transitions are a result of ministerial tenures happening naturally, but sometimes they're because of a need to decrease the level of ministry due to budget. Even when the transitions are not budget related, the budget may pose problems for them finding a minister quickly, so the transition may last longer.

Michigan has 22 churches that are in our district (the U.P. churches are not). Of those, 20 have ministers right now. I count ten that next year will have interim ministers, consulting ministers, or no ministers of that twenty, unless either Muskegeon has called a minister (which is possible--I'm out of touch with their situation). That's half of our churches with ministers in transition in some way. And this is a year when transitions, overall, are down, because when things are stable, ministers are wanting to hang on to their positions right now. It's not a good time to try to sell a house or for a spouse to move jobs, so that promotes a lack of transition.

Even for those of us not in transition, of course, the difficulties in our communities translates into difficulties in our churches. Chip Roush writes in his blog that the UU church in Traverse is experiencing difficulties:
Our church budget (including and especially my compensation) has been slashed;
our four-year capital campaign has been terminated (I prefer "postponed," but
others insist it's now or never); and our Michigan economy continues to
decline--and these things open us to new possibilities.

We have yet to find out what the situation in our own church will look like, as we're still waiting on pledge data before building the budget, but I know that in the #1 worst small city for jobs, it's unlikely to be amazingly good. For those who still have jobs, rumors of more companies closing are circulating, which brings fear. If you're afraid you're going to be out of work soon, that often equates to not raising a pledge, even if that fear never manifests.

So with all that doom and gloom, here's an unlikely source for pride: Eminem.



I never thought I'd be posting him on this blog! But this video, reminiscent of Mitch Albom's "The Courage of Detroit" is well worth watching.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Next Up: Planned Parenthood

Once again, Planned Parenthood is coming under attack in the community, this time from the Columbia School District, where a group of parents have lobbied the school board to get PP removed from the sexuality education curriculum. The school board meeting was last night, and a number of supporters turned out. I don't know yet when they'll make their decision. Here's the statement I made to the board:

Hello; good evening,

I’m the Rev. Cynthia Landrum, and I am the minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty, a church that has been in this area for 153 years, often with members who are not only taxpayers, but parents of children in this school district, and sometimes teachers, as well.

Our church is a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood, a decision we made by congregational vote about four years ago. We are also part of a denomination that believes strongly in the importance of comprehensive sexuality education. In 1994, we passed an “Resolution of Immediate Witness” in support of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools. It asks for us, as a member congregation to advocate for:

the availability of comprehensive, objective, unbiased, up-to-date, age-appropriate, sexuality education curricula in public schools, including information about:
· the reproductive system and its functions;
· the proper use of all forms of contraception, including the option of abstinence;
· sexually transmitted diseases, their prevention and treatment;
· sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape (including date rape), and incest, as well as their prevention and treatment through counseling, information, and resources;
· pregnancy counseling and options including information about organizations such as Planned Parenthood and…
that sexuality education curricula be taught by teachers specifically
trained to educate youth on the topic of sexuality education…[1]
The Unitarian Universalists, together with the United Church of Christ, have a series of curricula, called Our Whole Lives, which provides us with a way to teach comprehensive sexuality education in our churches: “The curricula are based on the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education produced by the National Guidelines Task Force, a group of leading health, education, and sexuality professionals assembled by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).”[2]

We do this important work in our churches, but we do this hoping that we are building upon the basic sexuality education provided in schools by adding to it sexuality education that includes our beliefs and values. Moral education may rest in our hands, but basic scientific education about reproductive health rests in yours. We recognize that some people may have objection to their children learning basic reproductive and scientific information, and we support the rights of those parents to remove their children from the classroom during those occasions. However, their religious beliefs should not govern the way our school is run, or deny other students the access to important information, which is scientific in nature, not religious, and which can literally be life-saving for them.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there is a gap between what parents want and what schools teach when it comes to comprehensive sexuality education. Schools are often pressured by a vocal, and deeply committed group of parents and community members to drop sexuality education, but the truth is that most parents want this type of information provided in the schools. Many do not feel equipped to cover the information at home. The study states:
Parents look to sex education to provide their children with practical skills that students and teachers report are not consistently covered. More than eight in ten parents say how to use condoms (85%) and other forms of birth control (84%), as well as how to talk about them with partners (88%), should be taught. They also want schools to address real-life issues, such as pressure to have sex (94%) and the emotional consequences of becoming sexually active (94%). Three quarters say abortion (79%) and sexual orientation (76%) should be discussed; most (74%) further specify when issues such as these do come up in the classroom they should be presented in a “balanced” way that presents different views in society.[3]
I know that I, as a parent, am not yet equipped to talk about all of this with my own child, although I hope to become better informed as she grows older. I know of only one agency in Jackson County that consistently provides the type of excellent education on sexual and reproductive health that we need. That agency is Planned Parenthood. To what extent we have achieved success in lowering teen pregnancy rates and rates of sexually transmitted diseases, they can be credited; to what extent we have not, is a measure of how much we need the valuable tools that they have to share with the community.

[1] http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/socialjustice/statements/14260.shtml
[2] http://www.uua.org/religiouseducation/curricula/ourwhole/
[3] http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/upload/National-Study-on-Sex-Education-Reveals-Gaps-Between-What-Parents-Want-and-Schools-Teach.pdf

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lobbying with HRC

I'm back now from the whirlwind HRC Clergy Call. I want to tell you about the experience of lobbying itself. Amongst the 300+ clergy and other participants from all 50 states, there were only two of us from Michigan, myself and a very wonderful staff person, Heather Grace, from the Faith Action Network of the American Friends Service Committee. HRC provided a staff member to go with each state team, as well. We had Cristina Finch, who grew up in Michigan.

So the three of us together went to see Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow, and we met with their staff representatives (although not the senators themselves). Levin is already a co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Act, which is wonderful, and we're hoping for Stabenow's co-sponsorship, as well. The meetings were upbeat and very friendly to our message. We're hoping both of them will vote for the employee non-discrimination act when it is introduced. Since the AFSC doesn't have a position yet on the Matthew Shepard Act, I talked about that one and Heather Grace talked about ENDA, and Cristina Finch backed us up with numbers, dates, and other information.

Then our team of three divided up and Heather Grace and Cristina Finch went to visit with two Michigan Congressmen together, while I went to meet with Congressman Mark Schauer, who I got to see in person after talking for a while with his staff member. The Matthew Shepard Act already went through the House successfully, with Schauer voting for it, so part of the purpose was to simply thank him for his support and tell him how much it meant to us.

ENDA is a trickier sell in our district, with the high-profile firing for being transgender of Julie Nemecek from Spring Arbor University happening in this congressional district. In fact, I was told later, this case was brought up as an argument against supporting ENDA by an congressman that Heather Grace and Cristina Finch visited. Given the touchiness in this area around this case, it would be understandable if Schauer felt he couldn't vote for ENDA. However, after our visit, I have high hopes that he will be able to. I stressed with his staff member that it's important for people in our area to understand that there is a religious exemption to ENDA, because of separation of church and state. The truth is, as a religiously affiliated university, Spring Arbor University would still be free to fire someone for being transgender, even after ENDA passes. I'm sure they know and understand that. Of course, I wish they would change their hearts about how they treat lgbt employees, but that's truly a separate issue. And much as it enables people to take actions I personally disagree with, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. And, as a religious professional, I believe we need to be able, as a church, to choose who we hire and to hire people in keeping with our religious beliefs. I wouldn't want to have to hire someone for religious education director who believes lgbt people are sinners and should be stoned to death right now, even if he or she was the most qualified applicant, after all!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why This Is Important

Today is the lobbying day with the HRC Clergy Call. We're spending the morning in lobbying training. As I sat down in the bench marked "Michigan," I introduced myself to a man standing in the aisle from South Carolina. He told me about his step-son, Sean William Kennedy. Sean was in his twenties when he was killed in an anti-gay hate crime. His murderer got a very short jail sentence, cut shorter because hr earned his GED.

Some people don't believe hate crime legislation is necessary, because it's already covered by other laws. I invite them to learn about Sean: http://www.seanslastwish.org. And another quick answer... This federal legislation kicks in when local law enforcement doesn't adequately prosecute, for example because of prejudice.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Do We Need the T?

Why do we need the T in lgbt? That was the question we started with at the HRC clergy call today. And well we should examine this. One of the hard truths being told here is that HRC hasn't always been a strong advocate for transgender people. Another hard truth is that it's still not always easy to be transgender in Uu congregations, even "Welcoming" ones. This is still our cutting edge.

One answer is that transgender people help us to break out of the tired question about whether or not sexuality is a choice, and move us to a question about the societal construction of gender, breaking us out of binay paradigms.

One speaker pointed out how many places where sexual orientaion is becoming a protected status, where gender expression is not. Even repealing"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will not protect a transgender person in the army. And in Jackson County, we know well how easy it is to fire someone for being transgender.m

HRC Clergy Call 2009

My morning of the HRC Clergy Call began with waking up in the wonderful home of UU minister Ginger Luke, who was kindly hosting six ministers coming to clergy call. She kindly took us in groups to the Metro station. Cynthia Cain, from Lexington, KY, and I bravely started out, but our train broke down at Dupont Circle. Because of the crush trying to get in the already-full trains, we decided to go out (in thr rain) and try to hail a cab. Two unsuccessful blocks later, Cynthia went into the Peruvian embassey and asked for help. Thet pointed us to a hotel at the corner--The Beacon, if you can believe it! I looked over to the Beacon and atRTED LAUGHING. Right across the street was the HRC headquarters! We went in from the rain, and the friendly receptionist called a cab for us. We arrived at the beautiful Calvary Baptist Church just in time to hear the end of Bishop Gene Robinson's kmeynote address. It's so good to be here, in a room full of clergy of different faiths, who all celebrate diversity and support our lgbt brothers and sisters.