January 26, 2008

Transgender Rights Could Be Divisive in Florida

Haven't we learned anything from the failure of the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in Congress last year? Didn't we see how the delection of protections for gender identity didn't move the bill forward and still caused great and ongoing division between GLBT advocates?

Well, there's some folks down in Florida that apparently were not paying attention. This from the Express Gay News:

Gay political organizations are clashing over the best way to pass GLBT-friendly anti-discrimination bills through the Florida Legislature. The head butting is taking on strategic tones similar to those that emerged last year in the fight over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. Congress.

Gay rights organizations are taking different stances on whether to support a two-pronged effort that sends separate anti-discrimination bills through the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate. If passed, House Bill 47 sponsored by Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) would ban employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity and gender expression. Senate Bill 572, introduced by Ted Deutch (D-Delray Beach), bans discrimination based on sexual orientation only. Both bills are expected to go before the Florida Legislature during the spring session, which begins March 4.

There is little expectation that either bill will be successful in the conservative-dominated legislature. Last year, a similar bill that only included sexual orientation protections was not even read. Groups such as Equality Florida and the Palm Beach Human Rights Council have been active in seeking political support for the Skidmore bill. Equality Florida, however, a statewide GLBT political organization, has been lobbying legislators not to support the non-inclusive Senate bill.

“Our position is that we will not support a bill that leaves a portion of our community behind,” said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida. “We believe in a fully inclusive bill.”

I learned my lesson after supporting the deletion of gender identity protection from ENDA. GLBT advocacy needs to protect ALL people under that umbrella.

January 25, 2008

GSA, Once Strongly Opposed, Blends Into Daily Life

Parents of students at Hononegah High School raised a ruckus last summer when a Gay-Straight Alliance club was proposed for the school. Despite their protests, the Board of Education approved it starting last September, and the club has been, well, just another club that happens to have both straight and gay kids.

From the Beloit (IL) Daily News:

Citizens fiercely opposed Hononegah High School forming a Gay-Straight Alliance last summer, but since the Board of Education approved it in September the club has fallen under the community's radar as members meet weekly, sometimes just to play games or organize school-wide movie nights.“

It was such a big deal when it started that now I suppose when we're not causing some controversy people forget we exist,” said Brian Carrell, GSA president.

Public hearings on the GSA attracted dozens of citizens - most lived within the district boundaries, but a few traveled from out of town - who argued the organization would promote sexual activity among teens and worried the club's presence would change the school's climate because homosexuality would be constantly reinforced.

But, after talking with Carrell, it seems as though what the club's opponents feared have yet to come to fruition.

“It's not discussing sex,” the 18-year-old senior said. “It's not anything that would be inappropriate in a school environment.”

Although the alliance reached out to non-members by hosting a Friday movie night - “Pirates of the Caribbean” was shown - the group tends to keep to itself, meeting Wednesdays in a classroom.

Depending on how busy the members are, meetings may last for 90 minutes while others may break up after 30. Some days the teens just play games and eat snacks, but they've also discussed stereotypes and how sexuality is portrayed in popular culture. For example, the group discussed the positives and negatives of J.K. Rowling revealing that her “Harry Potter” character, Albus Dumbledore, is gay.

Attendance varies each week, but about 15 teens anchor the group, Carrell said, noting that aside from advertising the meeting times on posters throughout the school, the members haven't actively recruited.

“We want them to be there because they want to be there,” he said.

Once again, it's kids that show adults how to get along with one another.

January 24, 2008

Super Bowl Party, Focus on Outreach, and an Engagement at BCF

Super Bowl Party:
BCF is having our first Super Bowl party on February 3. We will be holding a special "seeker-friendly" service beginning at 3:00 PM followed by food and fellowship time leading up to the game's kickoff at approximately 6:30. You can enjoy the world's single biggest sporting event on our big-screen projection system, and there will be board games and other fun activities for those of you who aren't football fans and just like parties.

There will be plenty of food and fun for everyone featuring a chili cookoff (we have some great cooks there!), and the admission is free! We only ask that you bring some non-perishable food to donate to our Helping Hands ministry, which supports Food and Friends that serves the metro DC area, helping people with AIDS and other life threatening illness receive nutritional meals at no cost to them.

Regardless of whether you’re rooting for the Patriots or Giants, you'll have fun sharing the Super Bowl experience with our church family. We hope to see you for the big game.

Remember, there will NOT be an 11:00 AM service that Sunday, only the one beginning at 3:00 PM.

Focus on Outreach:
BCF is getting serious about reaching out beyond the walls of the church to make an impact in our community. In my role as Pastor-In-Training, I brought a message last Sunday focused on the Great Commission (Matthew 26:28-30). I emphasized the urgency of sharing Christ with others, whether they be family, friends, or strangers, and discussed how to overcome the biggest obstacle toward doing so—ourselves and our fears of doing so poorly or being rejected.

BCF has also started a Loose Change collection for World Vision, and has also established a blog to keep members and guests alike updated about events, sermons, and prayer requests. Our goal is to develop a sense of community online that rivals the one in our Sunday services.

Someone is Getting Married:
Pastor Anita returned from her cruise with her boyfriend Dennis and closed the service with an exciting announcement; they are engaged to be married. Dennis popped the question on the cruise, and Anita happily accepted his proposal. They have been together a little over two years, and Dennis has been a regular attender of our services. The congregation was ecstatic about this wonderful news and wish them nothing but the best.

These updates will become a weekly feature here. For more information:

Church website: http://www.believerscovenant.org/

Church blog: http://www.believerscovenantblog.blogspot.com/

January 23, 2008

Al Gore Supports Same-Sex Marriage

It's not every day a former Vice President, Academy Award winner, and Nobel Laureate (now there's a narrow niche) sticks his neck out to take a stand that he doesn't need to, but that's the story I'm happy to share with you now.

Al Gore has come out clearly, unequivocally, in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.

Even Wolfson. the Executive Director of Freedom to Marry, contributed this entry to The Huffington Post today. Wolfson linked to the video of Gore's statement and shared this quote:

I think it's wrong for the government to discriminate against people because of that person's sexual orientation.

I think that gay men and women ought to have the same rights as heterosexual men and women, to make contracts, to have hospital visiting rights, to join together in marriage, and I don't understand why it is considered by some people to be a threat to heterosexual marriage to allow it by gays and lesbians.

Shouldn't we be promoting that kind of faithfulness and loyalty to one's partner regardless of sexual orientation?

...[T]he loyalty and love that two people feel for one another when they fall in love ought to be celebrated and encouraged, and shouldn't be prevented by any form of discrimination in the law.

Wolfson added:

Gore is right -- ending same-sex couples' exclusion from marriage will help families and hurt no one. Same-sex couples across the country are doing the work of marriage in their everyday lives by taking care of each other and their families. For the same reason as non-gay couples, these couples and their kids need and deserve the freedom to marry, with the security, dignity, and safety net it brings through the ups and downs of life.

All I do is agree and congratulate Al Gore for adding his voice to the growing support for GLBT equality.

Click here to read the rest of Wolfson's post.

January 22, 2008

Support for Projection From Job Discrimination in Utah

The state of Utah would seem to be a tough nut to crack when trying to push through legal protections for GLBT people, but that effort is current being made in the state legislature. It has found support from the Salt Lake Tribune in this editorial.

Rep. Christine Johnson knows it could take years to win passage by the Utah Legislature for her bill aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers from job discrimination. Many years.

Still, she's in it for the long haul, and we congratulate her for standing up for equal rights for these Utahns. It's a battle that has to start somewhere.

Johnson, one of three openly gay Utah legislators, is carrying the banner for her constituents and other gay and transgender Utahns, many of whom have described to her their fear of being ostrasized or even fired if they are open about their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

Utah law should not tolerate these people living in fear of losing their livelihood if they are honest about who they are. Anti-discrimination statutes now forbid unequal treatment of any employee based on race, color, sex, pregnancy, age (40 and over), religion, national origin or disability. Discrimination against anyone, simply because they belong to a specific group, should be illegal.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list simply puts into Utah code a recognition that all Utahns deserve the same civil rights and bosses in the workplace are obliged to base personnel decisions on only two things: qualifications and performance.

It seems pretty simple, doesn't it? That's what happens when you approach a situation with common sense.

January 21, 2008

Presbyterians Considering Ordination of a Lesbian Minister

From the Christian Post:

An openly lesbian minister's bid to join the clergy may be the first national test of a controversial policy adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA).

After being denied ordination twice over the past couple of decades because of a ban on ordaining openly gay persons, Lisa Larges made some headway this past week when she gained support from a regional body of the PC(USA).

The San Francisco Presbytery voted Tuesday 167-151 to support Larges' application for ministry. The vote came after a long debate and despite warnings that the action violated the church's constitution and would be appealed.

According to its constitution, the PC(USA) requires "fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman" or "chastity in singleness" for its clergy.

But Larges' third bid comes after the Presbyterian national assembly adopted an "authoritative interpretation" of the ordination standard in 2006 – a decision that opponents say allows some leeway to churches for homosexual ordination.

Larges' latest attempt is thought to be the first test of the 2006 policy, said Jerry Van Marter, news director for the PC(USA).

"I'm in shock," Larges, 44, said of the support she's receiving, according to The Los Angeles Times. "I still feel stunned, honestly, and deeply grateful both to the folks who supported me and to the presbytery for stepping up."

I pray that this is a step toward another major denomination opening the path or ordination up to ALL people willing to answer the call of God to serve Him.

January 20, 2008

A Blueprint for Change in New Jersey

The state of New Jersey is moving toward equality faster than most states in this country, and one of the reasons for that is the inclusive approach their largest advocacy organization, Garden State Equality, takes.

Here is a feature about them from Bay Windows newspaper in Boston.

Activists in New Jersey, which passed a gay rights bill in 1992, landed a one-two punch in 2006 and 2008, passing first a non-discrimination bill and then a hate crimes bill covering gender identity and expression. Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization, said that it took little effort to win over lawmakers on the bills because many of them were already familiar with members of the transgender community and understood the discrimination they faced. He said transgender people have served in leadership positions in Garden State Equality and other organizations, and they lobbied lawmakers on a wide range of issues, including marriage.

"If you make sure that transgender people are in every facet of your organization, if you make sure they’re in the leadership of your organization, you’re providing constant exposure to politicians. ... Here transgender people are front and center in the fight for marriage equality," said Goldstein. "The politicians here see transgender people year round at the table."

One of those trans activists at the table was Barbra Casbar Siperstein, vice-chair of Garden State Equality and president of New Jersey Stonewall Democrats. Through her work with Stonewall she became one of the delegates to the Boston Democratic National Convention in 2004, and she used that event to network with many of the lawmakers who would later help pass the non-discrimination and hate crimes bill. Prior to the convention advocates had searched in vain for a Senate sponsor for the non-discrimination bill, but Siperstein said during the DNC she connected with the eventual sponsor and talked to her about transgender rights."

We had spent a couple of hours talking -- she was in the front row one night at the convention -- so she was familiar with me," said Siperstein. "So when this individual [lobbying for Senate sponsors] went to speak with her, she said, ’Oh yeah,’ she remembers me from the convention."

Garden State Equality also leveraged considerable resources on behalf of the campaign to pass the legislation. In 2006 the organization aired a television commercial featuring a transgender woman named Carol Barlow talking about being told during a job interview that she was unemployable because she is transsexual. The outreach to lawmakers and public education paid off: The non-discrimination bill passed by an overwhelming 102-8, and hate crimes passed 100-10.

Click here to read more of the article from Bay Windows.