January 17, 2009

Stand With Bishop Gene Robinson

The Human Rights Campaign has sent out a message from Bishop Gene Robinson, the only openly gay bishop ordained in the American Episcopal Church, regarding his participation in the upcoming Inauguration activities. Here are some excerpts that I thought should be shared:

Tomorrow, in one of the most humbling honors of my life, I will deliver an invocation at the first event of inauguration week.

Though many of us were deeply upset when President-elect Obama chose Proposition 8 supporter Rev. Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration, the fact that he also invited me – a proud gay man – is a hopeful sign of our president's commitment to reach out to all Americans.

Now it's up to all of us to capitalize on this moment and ensure that President-elect Obama works for equality.

As a gay American, a bishop, and a member of HRC's Religion Council, I was open about my shock and anger last month at Warren's invitation.

But I now feel it's time to turn the page on that controversy – to come together and tackle the next set of challenges.

The blueprint calls for President-elect Obama to sign hate crimes legislation into law, to support a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to end unequal taxation of domestic partnerships and more.

In the spirit of hope, we ask President-elect Obama to follow this blueprint and keep his promises.

Tomorrow, I will be blessed to stand at the Lincoln Memorial before the next leader of our great country. His message has inspired countless Americans who have waited many long years to feel represented by their government.

I owe President-elect Obama the utmost thanks for allowing me to participate in such a historic event.

I love the balanced perspective Bishop Robinson demonstrates, further confirming how excellent a choice he was to represent the GLBT community of faith in these ceremonies.

January 14, 2009

Do Gay-Straight Alliances Make a Difference?

That's the question asked in this article from the Chicago area Pioneer Local newspaper which focused on the impact of gay-straight alliances in American high schools. The answer may seem like another DUH! moment, but it is important to have data to support initiatives like this.

High schools with gay-straight alliances may be safer places for homosexual, bisexual and transgender youth, new research suggests.

The 2007 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nations Schools was conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network known as GLSEN, a New-York-based national education association.

This survey found that when high schools had such alliances, these students reported hearing fewer homophobic comments and experiencing less harassment or assaults because of their sexual orientation or gender expression than students attending schools without gay-straight alliances. They also said they felt more of a sense of belonging to their school. Yet only just over a third of surveyed students surveyed reported that they had such an alliance at their school.

This survey indicates how a GLSEN-affiliated organization helps attitudes toward GLBT students and makes their high school experience (which can often be traumatic) more manageable. The relative scarcity of these groups, however, shows that there is still much more work to be done.

Click here to read the Pioneer Local article.

January 13, 2009

More on Rick Warren

I was determined not to do another post anytime soon on Rick Warren following all the attention (and anger from GLBT people) given to his pending prayer during the Presidential Inauguration next week, but some news items regarding the Rev. came up that I thought should be noted here.

Warren and his wife Kay have received international kudos for their activism regarding the AIDS epidemic in Africa. This article on AlterNet makes me wonder if that is justified:

Warren's defense against charges of intolerance ultimately depends upon his ace card: his heavily publicized crusade against AIDS in Africa. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod cited Warren's work in Africa as one of "the things on which [Obama and Warren] agree" on the Dec. 28 episode of Meet the Press. Warren may be opposed to gay rights and abortion, the thinking goes, but he tells evangelicals it is their God-given duty to battle one of the greatest pandemics in history. What could be wrong with that?

But since the Warren inauguration controversy erupted, the nature of his work against AIDS in Africa has gone unexamined. Warren has not been particularly forthcoming to those who have attempted to look into it. His Web site contains scant information about the results of his program. However, an investigation into Warren's involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren's allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent's most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is "resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred."

Warren's man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempa enjoys close ties to his country's first lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa's stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.

To me, that makes this story even worse. From the Southern Voice:

The Atlanta Black LGBT Coalition last week called on Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic church where Dr. Martin Luther King served as pastor, to remove Pastor Rick Warren as the keynote speaker for its upcoming MLK Day service.

“Rev. Warren’s hateful opposition to civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and reproductive rights for women, and his intolerance of diversity contradict the values of freedom and equality that this day represents,” the group said in a Dec. 24 press release.

The coalition called on Ebenezer’s pastor, Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, to rescind the invitation to Warren to speak at the Jan. 19 service.

The church did not respond to an interview request by press time.

“Bestowing Rev. Warren such a prominent role does not foster greater understanding between divided communities. Instead it drives more wedges between disenfranchised communities that are continually pitted against each other by the agents of racism and homophobia,” the gay coalition said.

Now this bothers me. How can someone who has been recently exposed as someone strongly opposing civil rights for GLBT people be a keynote speaker on a day honoring one of the greatest civil rights leaders in history? Folks, if you want to protest something, this would be a good place to do it. To celebrate a day of inclusion in a house of worship with a leader who supports exclusion is inexcusable.

Now Rev. Warren is offering refuge to any Anglican congregation that wants to break away from the Episcopal church because of their ordination of gays. From Christianity Today:

But since last summer... I’ve been on Gene Robinson and other’s attack list for my position on gay marriage. ....[Our] brothers and sisters here at St. James in Newport Beach lost their California State Supreme Court case to keep their property.

We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.

I have both of Warren's popular books, The Purpose Driven Life and, before that, the Purpose Driven Church. I got a lot out of the former and found the latter to be a turning point in my ministry work--both were books full of amazing insights.

As long as one isn't gay, that is. What a shame. A man who could do so much good is blinded to God's love for GLBT people.

Yes, Rev. Warren, even a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person can live a Purpose Filled Life pleasing God without renoucing the way God made them.

January 12, 2009

There's Strength in Working Together

A few days ago, I posted about how GLBT activism did not need new organizations, they needed more effective ones. According to this story from the South Florida Blade, some folks in Florida are thinking the same way. As an aside, for a straight guy I DO spend a lot of time reading GLBT focused publications.

Anyway, back to the story:

The Nov. 4 passage of Amendment 2 has led to a groundswell of activism and protests, as organizations—primarily associated with the national Join the Impact movement—continue to stage equality rights demonstrations. It could as well lead to new grassroots strategy among Florida’s gay political organizations.

On Tuesday, two months after the November election, leaders of several local and regional gay political organizations including SAVE Dade, Palm Beach Human Rights Council and Sarasota Equality Project announced the launch of Organizations United Together (OUT). OUT will act as a network of myriad local GLBT groups and allies to address equality issues throughout the state and attempt to bring increased visibility in communities where gay groups are lacking.

The organizers announced they will hold their first organizational meeting in Orlando Jan. 24.

The passage of statewide anti-GLBT amendments in Florida, Arizona and California was a wake up call for many in the movement, said OUT spokesperson Karen Doering.

“After Amendment 2 we did a lot of soul searching,” said Doering, a veteran gay rights attorney. “This last election has caused leaders in the gay movement to do some serious thinking.”

Advocacy is not effective when individual agendas are pursued. Rather, it makes the most impact when people are working together for a common goal. Organizations gathering together to focus on that goal, especially when they are coming at it with different resources and approaches, can draw strength from that diversity and speak with a stronger voice.

I hope people outside of Florida are paying attention to this.

Click here to read the rest of the story from the South Florida Blade.

January 11, 2009

I Have Something In Common With Equality VA's New CEO.....

....we're both straight. Even since I became involved with the GLBT community, I've wondered if a straight person would be accepted in a leadership position of an advocacy organization. Now I'll get to watch that situation play out just down the road from Straight, Not Narrow headquarters (otherwise known as my house).

From the Washington Blade:

The board of directors for Virginia’s statewide gay rights group announced Wednesday it has chosen a straight man to serve as its executive director.

Jon Blair, the newly appointed chief executive officer of Equality Virginia, joins the organization after working as campaign manager for freshman U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) in the 2008 election. Blair succeeds Dyana Mason, the former executive director for Equality Virginia, who left the organization Dec. 31.

Blair, who was unavailable for comment before Blade deadline, said in a statement, “I believe in Equality Virginia’s mission of basic human rights for all, and I am proud to fight for it.”

Blair’s experience includes work for Virginia State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) and State Del. Paula Miller (D-Norfolk).

Equality Virginia’s 10-member search committee recommended the selection of Blair unanimously, according to the statement. Jay Fisette, a gay member of the Arlington County Board and a member of the committee, said Blair’s “experience and talents will take Equality Virginia to the next level.”

From Equality Virginia's press release annoucing the appointment:

Blair's selection concludes a six-month nationwide search by Equality Virginia’s eleven-member Search Committee, co-chaired by EV Board members Allison Weinstein and John Sternlicht. This diverse group of GLBT leaders and straight allies provided a broad perspective to the search effort. The Committee recommended Blair unanimously.

Mark Board, the Chair of EV’s Board of Directors, hailed Blair’s selection. "In his time working for federal and state legislators, Jon has built a reputation as a tough, results oriented manager,” Board said. “His leadership has been instrumental in winning victories for forward-thinking legislators across our country. Jon has earned the admiration and respect of voters and legislators, and the public service realm as a whole. He is the ideal leader to take the helm as EV's Chief Executive Officer."

"It is a privilege to take the reins of this great organization from one of the country's true trailblazers, Dyana Mason," said Blair. "I'm thrilled with the opportunity to be a leader in the continuing battle for human rights and to have a role in helping to achieve full equality, in law and spirit, for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians. I couldn't be more excited."

Jon Blair is the first straight ally to lead Equality Virginia. Blair commented, “I believe in Equality Virginia’s mission of basic human rights for all, and I am proud to fight for it.”

I applaud Equality Virginia for going outside the box with this appointment. Not all straight people are the enemy of or indifferent toward the important issues of equal rights the GLBT community has to deal with.

I believe a straight person can believe in this cause passionately enough to be an effective leader of an advocacy organization. After all, many other groups of this type are led by individuals who have not been directly impacted by the situation they are fighting for--you don't have to be a cancer survivor to lead a cancer support organization, for example,but you must be sensitive to their needs.

I wish Jon Blair much success as he leads Equality Virginia . Attending church in Northern Virginia, I am aware that there is still an uphill battle for equality in that state, even if it did turn blue in the presidential election. Gay, straight, or bi, he will have his work cut out for him.