Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter Thaw for Trans Equality

Cross posted from TransEpiscopal

We are at the end of February, and this year’s very long season of Epiphany is almost at an end as well. Here in the Boston area, side streets are still littered with chairs and other detritus-- markers of the you-shovel-it-you-keep-it parking culture-- but snow banks are finally showing signs of letting go. Last week the state’s transgender community also received welcome news that perhaps the long-frozen nondiscrimination bill, too, might be starting to thaw.

As recently posted on Walking with Integrity, last week Governor Deval Patrick signed an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression for all who work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Boston Globe both reported on the move and published an editorial praising it, and yesterday the local LGBT paper Bay Windows published a comprehensive article on it as well.

As reported in all three pieces, this development both creates a sense of momentum for the statewide bill which would add "gender identity and expression" to the categories of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, and marital status, and prevent discrimination on those bases in employment as well as in housing, public accommodations, education, and credit.

The dire need for this protection was just underscored by the major new study released on February 4th by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. They surveyed over 6,450 transgender-identified participants and learned the following, as summarized on NCTE's website:

"* Respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household income of less than $10,000.

* Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the population as a whole. Half of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace, and one in four were fired because of their gender identity or expression.

* While discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, it was particularly pronounced for people of color. African-American transgender respondents fared far worse than all others in many areas studied.

* Housing discrimination was also common. 19% reported being refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression.

* An astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to only 1.6% of the general population.

* Discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes were frequently experienced by respondents. 19% reported being refused care due to bias against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, with this figure even higher for respondents of color. Respondents also had over four times the national average of HIV infection.

* Harassment by law enforcement was reported by 22% of respondents and nearly half were uncomfortable seeking police assistance.

* Despite the hardships they often face, transgender and gender non-conforming persons persevere. Over 78% reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite the same levels of harassment in the workplace."

An interview from the Bay Windows story shows both some of the unexpected ways that people's transgender status can come up in an employment application process and the reality that there are indeed workplaces where people are free to do their jobs and be themselves. Diane DeLap, who works for the Department of Workforce Development, explained how her application process inadvertently revealed her transgender status to her prospective employer: "'One of the interesting things was that the Massachusetts Employment Application requires the inclusion of discharge papers if you have a history in the military,' DeLap said. She had served in the Navy for four years, and included her discharge papers with her application. 'Of course, the military doesn’t change names for anything,' DeLap said, laughing, 'so it had my old name on there and all the other papers had the new name on there, so the fact that I was transgender became a topic of discussion very early in the hiring process. They determined that it shouldn’t make any difference.'"

DeLap clearly had a good experience in her interview process, and others I know also have had positive experiences coming out at work. Increasingly, there is good news of that sort to tell, and it is important to share it along with the alarming statistics and stories, as both are realities right now. The latter tells us how much work we have to do while the former encourages us that it has already begun and we can indeed do it.

As with marriage equality, which received a major boost from the Obama administration this week, I am hopeful that the ice is truly beginning to thaw for transgender equality, that momentum is finally building toward passage of key legal protections. It is up to us to keep that momentum going.

The executive summary of the NCTE/NGLTF survey can be found here, and the full report here.

Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge is Interim Episcopal Chaplain and a Lecturer at Harvard University.

Who Thinks Integrity Needs a New Website?

We all do!

So, we've decided to retire our beloved website and develop a new one that will bring Integrity USA into the 21st century.


We need your help!!!

We are looking for some volunteers who would like to be part of Integrity's new web presence.

If you have experience in;
  • website design
  • graphic design
  • building a websites for other organizations
  • if you have ideas about what the new website should look like and how it should naviage
  • or, if you just have a passion for web-based communication

Send us an email detailing your experience and/or interest.

Send it to:  David Cupps

We look forward to putting together a great team to work on a fabulous new website. Contact us right away.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Obama Orders End to Defense of DOMA

Reprinted with permisssion from The Rev. Susan Russell's Blog: An Inch At A Time

I heard it on NPR as I was coming back this morning from a quick run to the grocery store for the bay leaf I needed for the soup I'm making. (Yes, sometimes I stop blogging long enough to cook! :) And then when I checked online there was this "News Alert" from the NYTimes:

WASHINGTON — President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday saying that the Justice Department will now take the position in court that the Defense of Marriage Act should be struck down as a violation of gay couples’ rights to equal protection under the law.

“The President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law,” a crucial provision of the act is unconstitutional, Mr. Holder wrote.

You can read the rest here ... and I'm sure there will be more news to come. But for the moment [a] let us rejoice and be glad in "another inch" reclaimed on that journey toward liberty and justice for all and [b] let us remember what our mothers taught us about good manners and thank you notes and send a note of appreciation to the White House post-haste ... you can click here to do that ... because you know for fact-certain he'll be hearing from the marriage discrimination crowd!

Ready. Set. GO!

Stories From the Pews: The Long Journey Home

Marty Shelley
Member, St. Andrews Episcopal Church
Birmingham, Alabama

I was adopted at 6 months old by parents that were Cumberland Presbyterian. They took me to church at least every Easter until I was old enough to walk to church by myself at about 6 years old. I didn't go to church, I was sent to church. I was told that if I didn't attend at least Sunday School or church, I couldn't go outside to play later.

There were about 3 churches within 4 blocks of our house. I attended all of them at one time or another. One was almost literally in our backyard. It was a 'Christian Alliance' church. On the corner of my street was a Church of God and two blocks beyond that was a Baptist church.

I didn't understand why my parents didn't attend church except for Easter, yet insisted I go. When I finally got the nerve to ask my Dad about it he said, "I don't want to go somewhere where they shake your hand on Sunday and don't know you the rest of the week!" He also said when I was older, I could decide whether or not to go. It didn't take me long to find a way around it. I learned how to play and entertain myself in my room on Sundays. It didn't take him long to catch on! Unless it was I went.

There was one Sunday when my Dad said he didn't want me to go to church. It was September 15, 1963, the day of the tragic 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in which four little black girls lost their lives. I didn't really understand what was going on at the time as I was only 8, but I had a terrible feeling inside. How could Jesus let that happen? I thought Jesus loved the little and yellow, black and white.That church bombing made me scared to go to church, but because I was more afraid of my Father's temper, I went.

Most often, I would make a brief appearance long enough for a neighbor or two to see me there, grab a church program and out the door to the Jitney Junior for candy and sodas with my offering money. I was convinced I was already going to do 'hell time' for that!

By 7th grade, my parents sent me to a Catholic school for my last two years of grammar school. That was the year the schools were desegregated and my Dad wasn't having any part of that! Again, what happened to red and yellow, black and white, I wondered. I grew to like it. We were all required to attend Mass each Wednesday morning before class. I was fascinated and though I was not an Honor Roll student, I made straight A's in religion. I decided I wanted to be Catholic...but Dad said NO!

By high school, I chose to attend United Methodist churches because that's where most of my friends went and because it wasn't as stuffy as Baptist or as formal as Catholic. Halfway through high school, I came out and was subjected to six months of psychiatric abuse...drugs, shock treatments, etc. Eventually, my parents and I worked things out and I was free to be myself......what was left of me. I wasn't really thinking much about religion during those years.

In 1974, I heard of a church on Birmingham's Southside that openly accepted gays and lesbians and didn't require us to take one of those infamous "I ain't a homo no mo courses". It was a small Episcopal church called St. Andrews. I knew nothing about the Episcopal faith and didn't think about trying it then. It would be 36 more years before I did.

In the meantime, I attended some of the "gay churches" like MCC, but something was always missing for me. After years of alcohol abuse and the subsequent sobering up one more time, I decided to visit some other churches. I went to about 2 or 3 and found them to be 'nice', but I was hungry for something more than 'nice'. I wanted spiritual fulfillment.

One Sunday, out of the blue, I decided to go to that little Episcopal church I remembered hearing about in the 70s. I walked in the big red doors of St. Andrews and sat down in the very back. Within about 15 minutes I had a feeling wash over and through me that I had never experienced before. It would be 3 more weeks before I learned that it was the Holy Spirit making its presence known for the first time in my life.

That was four months ago and in that short amount of time, my life has been transformed from spiritual starvation to spiritually fulfilled. I have never felt quite so blessed and am so looking forward to the Catechumenate classes that start this Sunday and my official Confirmation in April. At last I know I am home...with a and yellow, black and white! ~Peace~

If you have a story you would like to share, please contact Integrty USA Director of Communications Louise Brooks. We would love to post your story.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stories from the Pews: You Can’t Take Love Away From Me

A response to Rhode Island Bishop Geralyn Wolf's stance against same-sex marriage

By: Dante Tavolaro

There are many aspects to who I am. I am a partner, little brother, friend, student, musician, cradle Episcopalian and I identify as gay and transgender. Out of all of these things, being an active member of The Episcopal Church is closest to the core of who I am. Since elementary school I have become increasingly involved in my parish, my diocese, and the wider church. When I’ve had nowhere else to go, it has always been – and continues to be – my Church that I can turn to. It is this passion and love that led me to have the response I did to an email I received from the Rev. Susan Russell, past president of Integrity USA on February 9, 2011.

Russell's email went to the House of Bishops/Deputies listserve. The subject was “Teachable Moment on Holy Matrimony vs. Civil Marriage.” Since I was headed to the annual Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) Rally at the Statehouse I thought what better time to read this email. The moment I began to read the email my stomach was in knots and I had a huge lump in my throat. These intense feelings were brought about by reading the words,  "As the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, I firmly support the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one male and one female. I believe that Holy Matrimony is a sacred religious rite, whose definition should not be re-interpreted by legislation or civil courts." I paused, took a deep breath, and with great trepidation read the Bishop's entire statement in The Rhode Island Catholic and Russell’s response on her blog: An Inch At A Time.
Within the hour I began getting phone calls, emails, and texts asking what I thought about the Bishop’s support for “traditional” marriage. It was not a surprise that Bishop Wolf is against same-sex marriage: she has made that clear both in personal conversation and in broader contexts. What was shocking and – in my opinion – slightly insulting was that she released these comments to The Rhode Island Catholic (a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence). Nowhere on the Episcopal Diocesan website or blog was a copy of the statement. I have the utmost respect for Bishop Wolf and the office she holds. However, as Bishop, she should be honest with her own diocese before going to other denominations. I would have had much more respect for her actions if she first had posted these comments on our diocesan blog. I do not think that I am being irrational in asking for transparency and honesty from my Bishop.

As I stood in front of the Statehouse that afternoon waiting to get in, I looked down the hill and there right in front of me were the diocesan offices and Cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. As I waited to go into the Statehouse, to say that I am a citizen and taxpayer of Rhode Island and deserve all the rights and privileges thereof, I felt as if I was doing the same for my diocese. It was as if the Statehouse and the diocesan offices were a reminder that as current law and policy stands I am not equal, that despite my contributions to my community – both religious and secular – I am something less than, that I am not good enough simply by the virtue of who I am.

In the days following the rally, I continued to have conversations, emails, texts, and even facebook messages from laity and clergy of the Diocese of Rhode Island. It was – and is – these messages that reminded me why I am so committed to my ministry here in Rhode Island. Message after message of love and support came through. One priest even asked when the next rally was, because she was working on her sign that says, “I’m an Episcopal Priest and I Support Marriage Equality.”

Time and history have proven that the majority of people, both lay and ordained, in this diocese do not agree with the positions of Bishop Wolf on this matter. It is with this knowledge that I can carry on: That no matter what I can still go to my parish church day in and day out and be loved and supported for exactly who I am. There is nothing Bishop Wolf can say or do to take that love away from me.

Integrity USA is committed to Marriage Equality for all couples, within and outside the Episcopal Church.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great News From Our Colleagues at TransEpiscopal

Executive Order for Transgender Non-Discrimination in Public Agencies in Massachusetts

A Letter from legislators:

We are happy to share with you that this afternoon, Governor Patrick has taken an important step towards ensuring equal protection for transgender state employees. Please see details of the Executive Order, signed today, in the letter below.

Protecting state employees from discrimination is an important step on the path towards equal protection for all citizens of the Commonwealth and highlights the need to secure comprehensive protections through the passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill.

Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the scope of the Executive Order, and why the legislation is the necessary next step to ensuring full equality.

Representative Carl Sciortino
Representative Byron Rushing (a well-known Episcopalian)******
Senator Ben Downing
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

  • Served as a deputy to General Convention
  • One of the founders of the Episcopal Urban Caucus 
  • Served on the boards of the Episcopal Womens Caucus
  • Served on the Board of the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice 

Letter from the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition:

Today, Governor Patrick signed an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in state employment. We are thrilled with the Governor’s commitment to giving all employees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including transgender workers, the chance to earn a living free from the fear that they could be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.

The Executive Order applies to all state agencies in the Executive Branch, including executive offices, boards, commissions, departments and quasi-state agencies, as well as businesses and organizations that contract with the Executive Branch.

We know that this Executive Order is badly needed and will make a real difference in the lives of transgender people and their families in Massachusetts. Governor Patrick has done what is within his power to prevent discrimination within state government. But the Executive Order is only a first step. There are still many people who will not be protected under this order because they do not work in state government. Additionally, the order does not and cannot address the many other areas where discrimination based on gender identity and expression persists. It is not a statewide law, and it can be overturned or ignored by successive governors.

Only a statewide law can:

• Can address the problem of violence and hate crimes against transgender people.

• Ensure equal employment opportunities for transgender people in the private sector.

• Protect transgender people from discrimination in housing, credit, education, and public accommodations.

That is why we are asking you today to act quickly to pass “An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights,” which was filed by Sens. Benjamin Downing and Sonia Chang-Diaz and Reps. Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing. Only this bill would ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, including transgender people, are treated fairly and equally by the laws of our state.

The Transgender Equal Rights Coalition:
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC)
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD)
National Association of Social Workers, MA (NASW)
Mass Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus (MGLPC)
National Organization for Women, MA (MassNOW)
ACLU of Massachusetts
Mass LGBTQ Bar Association

The Anglican Covenant: Who's Against It?

Who’s against the Anglican Covenant?

This is the fourth installment of Integrity's series on the proposed Anglican Covenant, written by the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall. Integrity USA offers this infomative series as a teaching and resource for members, parishes and dioceses as we continue to study the proposed Anglican Covenant which will be an important topic for discussion and debate at our upcoming General Convention.

If you missed Part 1: Where Did it Come From? Click here.

If you missed Part 2: What's in it? Click here.

If you missed Part 3: Who Want's It? Click here

At this point people at both end of the spectrum are opposed to the Covenant. Those who originally wanted it quite badly are now opposed because it doesn’t go far enough – that is, it doesn’t say that if you believe God is okay with gay sex (maybe even invented it?) that you can’t be an Anglican. Progressives are opposed because it’s too vague or because they don’t think it’s Anglican to have a covenant at all and/or because they disagree with the disciplinary procedures in Section Four.

In the first group are the so-called GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) Primates of Uganda, Rwanda, West Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Southern Cone, their provinces and their supporters. In a statement from their Primates Council meeting in November 2010 they said “while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.” It doesn’t actually say why, but back in April 2010, 130 delegates from the Global South met in Singapore. Their statement said “We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation…” Obviously they were unable to “strengthen” it in the way they wished and so they’re taking their ball and going to play somewhere else.

On the progressive side there are many people in England, North America and elsewhere who don’t agree with the Covenant for a totally different set of reasons. The No Anglican Covenant website provides an excellent resource for why not to support it. Here are the Cliff Notes:

1. By (a) formalizing the “Instruments of Communion” (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council(ACC) and Primates Meeting) and

(b) giving significant new disciplinary powers to the Standing Committee (formerly the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC )and the Primates, the Covenant would for the first time create a centralized governance and polity. This is something that has been strongly resisted up until now.

2. The whole thing is vaguely worded and so we’ll have the same problems of different interpretation that we now have with Scripture.

3. Section 4 is open to all kinds of abuses. Canon Alan Perry of the Anglican Church of Canada has focused at some length on its fairness according to “Natural Justice”,  (part 1 and part 2)  and concludes that it isn’t fair because there’s no appeal and no process for reviewing the decisions of the Standing Committee. Moreover the Standing Committee has so much latitude in who it does or does not consult that there is no way to know that it has acted fairly in hearing both sides.

4. It just isn’t Anglican to try to come up with a clearly defined boundary. We are a communion of churches operating in different contexts, not an international church.

North Americans have more reason not to agree to Section 4 than other churches in the Communion because we have seen what can happen when there is an orchestrated effort to make an issue controversial enough to warrant so-called “relational consequences”. In the final blog of this series I’ll discuss whether the reasons for agreeing to the Covenant appear to outweigh the reasons against.

The Reverend Dr. Caroline Hall is priest-in-charge of St. Benedict's Church in Los Osos, California. She is a former member of the Integrity Board of Directors where her portfolio included international affairs. She is a frequent contributor to Walking With Integrity.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's Called "Clergy Call"

by Susan Russell

Again this spring the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is mobilizing to field a great cloud of witnesses from across the country to descend en masse on our nation's capital for two days of teaching, training and lobbying. It's called "Clergy Call" -- and as a founding member of the HRC Religion & Faith Council I'm delighted to once again be making plans to be among those who will gather in Washington DC to proclaim God's love, justice and compassion (in general) and to lobby for justice for LGBT Americans (in specific.)

I'm looking forward to being able to network with clergy from all over the country as we learn from some of the best political strategists in the business about how our voices can help turn the tide on securing marriage equality, ending employment discrimination and continuing to move forward on issues that impact the LGBT community.

In 2007 here was what we looked like at our "photo op" in front of the Capitol before we headed off to pay calls on our representatives and senators.

Episcopal clergy included the Revs Kate Lewis and Pat Hendrickson ...

... and me:

In 2009 we were back again ...

... with a crowd that included another great cloud of Episcopal witnesses:

And now we're gearing up for Clergy Call 2011. Let's make this the "best ever" turnout of Episcopal clergy for what I know will be another grand opportunity to put our faith into action on behalf of LGBT justice.
  • Clergy folk: check your calendar, visit the HRC website and make your plans now to be in Washington in May.

  • Lay folk: talk to your clergy, encourage them to attend, volunteer to water their plants or feed their cat or walk their dog so they can come.

  • EVERYBODY: give thanks for the work and witness of these voices who have helped move LGBT justice forward in the public arena ... for progress on marriage equality, for an inclusive Hate Crimes law and for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. And keep the prayers and support coming as we work for an inclusive ENDA, the repeal of DOMA, Just Immigration Reform and ... well, "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
Ready. Set. GO!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Albert Ogle Steps Off Integrity Board of Directors

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Integrity USA’s Vice President of National Affairs, announces his resignation from the Integrity organization in order to work full time with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, retired Bishop of West Buganda, Uganda. The Rev. Canon Ogle leaves Integrity USA to serve full time as President of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which will focus on deepening international relationships and support for Bishop Christopher’s ministry of reconciliation to all Ugandans.

“It is with regret that we accept Albert’s resignation from Integrity’s Board of Directors. We owe Albert many thanks, as he has devoted himself faithfully to our mission. However, so that he can focus on this new critically important work, Albert has expressed the desire to turn his full attention to this new direction. We wish him well,” said the Rev. David Norgard, President of the Board of Integrity USA.

Integrity USA has been a prime supporter of Bishop Christopher and his work for the last decade and will continue to do so. We commend both the work of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and that of the Rev. Canon Ogle, as they join together to be a force for inclusion in Uganda, where LGBT persons remain at risk for being open about who they are. Ogle, a skillful organizer around HIV, AIDS and human rights issues in Uganda, coordinated two recently successful tours in the USA raising awareness and funding for the Bishop’s St. Paul’s Center for Reconciliation & Equality in Kampala. The tours deepened international support for inclusion and equality.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve Integrity in my capacity as Vice President for National Affairs and to work with a dedicated Board and staff over the past 16 months”, said Ogle. “Integrity continues to be at the forefront of issues of inclusion in the church at a local and national level. I know Integrity will continue to be a strong and prophetic voice for inclusion in the US and internationally.”

Integrity USA will continue to advocate for full inclusion of all the baptized into the life and ministries of the Church and will continue to keep both The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo in our
thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Valentine's Day present for ME supporters in New Hampshire

A WMUR-TV Granite State Poll showed 62 percent of survey respondents oppose repeal of the 2009 law that legalized same-sex marriage in New Hampshire

DURHAM, N.H. -- A new poll shows strong opposition to a bill that would repeal the law allowing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire.

The Republican takeover of the Legislature in November raised questions about whether lawmakers would tackle social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

But House leaders have asked that the fight to repeal gay marriage be postponed until next year, and the latest WMUR Granite State Poll shows only 29 percent of New Hampshire adults support repealing the law, compared to 62 who want to leave it in place.

The telephone poll of 520 adults was conducted Jan. 27 through Feb. 6 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and had a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You've Got Mail: Letters to and from the Archbishop of Canterbury

Integrity's Executive Director, Max Niedzwiecki, recently spearheaded a call to action by writing the Archbishop of Canterbury, imploring him to speak out following the brutal murder of David Kato in Uganda.

In Max's letter wrote:

I am writing to respectfully request that you use your influence with leaders of the Anglican Communion, and specifically the Anglican Church of Uganda, and urge them to proclaim the following statement:

All people are beloved children of God. While we acknowledge that we are not of one mind on issues of human sexuality and gender identity, we state unequivocally that it is absolutely unacceptable for a person to be persecuted or murdered because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), or because a person speaks out in favor of people who are LGBT. Violence that is perpetrated against people simply because they are "different" is against the basic principles of Christianity, and a grave sin.

Today he received the following response from Lambeth Palace.

Dear Mr Niedzwiecki,

Thank you for your message to the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to his statement on the murder of David Kato. It is to be hoped and prayed that this will indeed be a moment to take stock and address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities.

Yours sincerely,
Isobel Owen
Lambeth Palace

Lives are endangered indeed. Today there was also news that The Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, Retired Bishop of West Buganda and Director of the St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation, Kampala has written an open letter the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In it he says......

As human beings, we must respect our differences and be united in our call for listening and sharing with each other. To understand God, we are all called to understand the mystery of each other, including our sexualities. God has given us this gift and to defame, condemn, imprison and kill human beings because of their God-given nature, is a great human error.

To read the rest of his letter, click here.

We anxiously await the Archbishop's response to Bishop Christopher.

A TEACHABLE MOMENT: Holy Matrimony vs. Civil Marriage

Posted with permisssion from The Rev. Canon Susan Russell's blog: An Inch At A Time

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A TEACHABLE MOMENT: Holy Matrimony vs. Civil Marriage:

OR: Why the Bishop of Rhode Island Gets It So Wrong She Gets It Right

Rhode Island finds itself on the front-lines of the marriage equality battle as the House Judiciary Committee prepares for hearings on a same-sex marriage bill tomorrow (February 9th.) Last week, Bishop Geralyn Wolf, the Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, weighed in with a statement to the online publication The Rhode Island Catholic.

It was a statement I frankly had to read a few times before I realized with some amazement that the good bishop had gotten it so stunningly wrong that she actually got it right! Let's take a look:

"As the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, I firmly support the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one male and one female. I believe that Holy Matrimony is a sacred religious rite, whose definition should not be re-interpreted by legislation or civil courts."

OK. This is the part she gets right. Which is NOT to say I agree with her about the "traditional definition of marriage." It IS to say that I also believe that "Holy Matrimony is a sacred religious rite, whose definition should not be re-interpreted by legislation or civil courts."

Not only shouldn't the legislature or courts be messing with sacred religious rites ... THEY CAN'T. See also: The First Amendment -- which guarantees freedom of religion and means we have the freedom within our various and sundry religious traditions to interpret how we define the sacred religious rite we call Holy Matrimony.

Roman Catholic priests have the freedom to refuse to marry previously divorced couples and Orthodox Rabbis have the freedom to refuse to preside at inter-faith weddings. And Bishop Wolf is as entitled to her belief that Holy Matrimony is only between "one male and one female" as I am to mine that the values that a couple bring to a marriage transcend the gender of the couple and that God blesses same and opposite sex marriages equally. How we sort that out together within our religious tradition is up to us to work out -- and in the Episcopal Church we are well and truly knee deep in the process working it out.

But (and it's a BIG "BUT" ...) ... none of that has ANYTHING to do with what the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee is considering tomorrow.

What the Rhode Island Judiciary Committee is considering tomorrow is whether the equal protection of CIVIL MARRIAGE -- the contract between two people who pledge to love, honor and cherish each other til death do they part -- should be equally extended to both same and opposite sex couples.

Another way to put is: Holy Matrimony = Apple. Civil Marriage = Orange.

So Bishop Wolf gets it right: the state should not be messing with Holy Matrimony. What she gets wrong is that the church shouldn't be messing with Equal Protection.

And here's where she gets it REALLY wrong ... in the second part of her statement:

Legislators could honor the civil rights of all individuals by eliminating the term “marriage” and substituting the term “civil unions.” Religious organizations could then make their own decisions as regards to the recognition or non-recognition of these “unions.”

On first glance, that seems like a kind of radically egalitarian solution that could have some appeal. Eliminate civil marriage altogether -- give everybody civil unions. Except (and it's a BIG "EXCEPT") ... civil unions do not guarantee the more than 1,138 federal rights, protections and responsibilities automatically granted to married heterosexual couples.

So Bishop Wolf -- in a misguided attempt to protect the already-protected-by-the-First Amendment-right to define Holy Matrimony as "the union between one male and one female" -- would take away from all Rhode Island families the protections given by federal marriage rights. Like the right to make decisions in a medical emergency. Like Social security benefits, income and estate tax benefits and disability benefits. Like inheritance rights, parenting rights and ... well, it's a very long list.

Throwing out all those rights, protections and responsibilities in order to "protect" marriage from gay and lesbian couples who both want and deserve equal protection for the life they are building together isn't protecting marriage. It's throwing out the baby out with the bathwater. The people of Rhode Island deserve better. And the Bishop of Rhode Island should know better.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ugandan Activist Frank Mugisha Remembers David Kato

At the beginning of a Sung Compline service hosted by Integrity USA during the Creating Change Conference in Minneapolis on 4 Feb 2011, Frank Mugisha spoke movingly about the life and death of his friend and colleague, David Kato.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Please don't be discouraged. God created you. God is on your side."

Commentary by Susan Russell from Minneapolis at the "Creating Change" Conference

I missed Rachel last night. Turns out it was a bad night to miss, because she aired a segment on the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato. It's a "must watch" ... and so here's the link to the six minute feature, which you don't want to miss like I did.

I missed it because I was at a prayer vigil here at the Creating Change Conference in remembrance of David and all victims of homophobia and violence ... a prayer vigil that included the moving witness of these two courageous Ugandan leaders: Frank Mugisha and Moses Mworeko.

I hope someone taped their witness to David's life and reality of the lives they live as Ugandans under constant threat because of their sexual orientation in a place where homophobia has been fed, watered and fertilized by the Religious Right in this country.

I wish you could have felt the spirit of God's love, justice and compassion in the Minneapolis Hilton ballroom-turned-chapel as we gathered for a candlelit service of Compline sung in remembrance and celebration of David's life.

I wish you could have shared in the poignancy of the tears and embraces when the service was over and faith leaders from many traditions spoke words of hope and assurance to these young men who have been reviled and rejected by the pastors in their homeland. "We never could imagine such a thing," one of them murmured through his tears.

So that's why I missed Rachel last night ... and this morning as I'm preparing to head home I wanted to make sure and post this before I head to the airport. To share the words and wisdom of our friend and hero, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo who was the lone voice of Christian love and compassion at the funeral of David Kato ... captured on video and aired on the Rachel segment.

Imagine being a gay or lesbian Ugandan and hearing these words for the first time:

"Please don't be discouraged. God created you. God is on your side." Words from an Anglican bishop whose orders are not recognized by the Anglican Church of Uganda because of his ministry to LGBT people at the grave side of a gay rights activist bludgeoned to death and then denied a Christian burial by the church whose homophobic rhetoric continues to inspire violence against LGBT people.

No wonder Jesus wept. Kyrie eleison.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thousands of LGBT Advocates Pause to Grieve the Death of David Kato

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2011
Media Contact: Pedro Julio Serrano 787-602-5954

In the wake of the brutal murder of David Kato, gay advocate in Uganda, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders attending the Creating Change conference in Minneapolis, February 2-6, paused to remember his life and vowed to work even harder to tell our stories and move public opinion to accept LGBT people in all countries. 

At a memorial vigil on Friday night, February 4, LGBT faith leaders and advocates from across the country and the world grieved the loss of their brother, David.  

“No form of intimidation will stop our cause,” said Mr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). “The life and death of David will be honored as we struggle for justice and equality and win the hearts of people around the world because we are your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  David is gone but the struggle will be won. David wanted to see a Uganda where all people will be treated equally. It is our turn to pick up the mantle and carry on.”

“Faith leaders have been working for the last year to expose the efforts of some American Christian conservatives to spread anti-LGBT attitudes to Africa, and Uganda in particular,” said Dr. Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition.  “So-called ‘ex-gay’ ministries have failed so dismally in the United States that they are now exporting their damaging beliefs.  They will continue to fail because diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is inherent to humankind.”

“Jesus taught us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.  But some of our Christian brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world turn Jesus' ministry on its head,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “They preach judgment, condemnation and rejection and use fear to raise money and stoke violence.  Where is the love?  The murder of David Kato must be investigated and those responsible need to be brought to justice.  But all of us--Ugandans, Americans and all our neighbors around the world--need to build societies in which love, respect and human dignity rule the day, no matter what faith tradition or culture we come from.”

“David Kato was a member of the Anglican Church of Uganda. Sadly, most Ugandan Anglican leaders preach messages of rejection and condemnation under the guise of religion,” said the Rev. David Norgard, president of Integrity USA.  “As members of the Episcopal Church, we have a long standing relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda as members of the global Anglican Communion and must face the fact that the Church has been a big part of the problem.  It is long overdue for Christians, and good people of all faiths, to be the solution: to stop this violence, to sow love where hatred now festers and to respect the dignity of every human being.”

“As African Americans and Baptist/United Church of Christ clergy, we minister to straight, same-gender loving and transgender people in the District of Columbia. We are devastated by the loss of David Kato, a powerful advocate for justice in Uganda,” said the Revs. Dennis and Christine Wiley.  “We have seen how the strategy of fear mongering is being used to drive a wedge within the African American community despite a long tradition of accommodated differences in gender identity and love partnerships among our own.  Today, some religious leaders make a living on the backs of gay and transgender people through fear and misinformation.  They preach a message of exclusion rather than a gospel of love.  In Uganda, this led to a murder and ongoing persecution.  It is time to stop.”

“My prayers go out to the people of Uganda who lost a courageous soul to brutality.  As a Bishop and pastor to same gender loving and transgender African American Christians in the United States, I have seen firsthand how true faith saves lives and how hate in the guise of religion destroys people and communities,” said Bishop Tonya Rawls of Unity Fellowship Church Movement.  “Africans and African Americans know firsthand how Scripture has been used to justify slavery, colonialism and racism around the globe.  Using Scripture to condemn people for their sexual orientation and gender identity is just as wrong.  God’s love always trumps hate.”  

“My heart aches for David Kato's family and the good people of Uganda who have lost a hero and prophetic voice for justice,” said Dr. Sharon Groves, interim director of religion and faith for the Human Rights Campaign.  “I hold my faith dear; it is faith that can heal and helps us understand that God is love.  So, I cannot sit idly by while a few radical preachers from the USA use the Bible to foment hate crimes in Uganda.  As we mourn the death of David Kato, I call on faithful people worldwide to speak out against the export fear and lies in the name of religion.   Let us say in a unified voice, ‘not in my name.’”  

The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “Around the world MCC is known as the human rights church.  We honor the life of David Kato who lived boldly and settled for nothing less than his full humanity.  We pray for people in Uganda, the US and everywhere who fear people because of who they love and who they are. We pray for advocates who risk their lives every day and commit ourselves to work even harder to bring a day of peace, understanding and respect.”

"As a Jew, I know what it means to be persecuted for who you are.  The headlines, attacks and religious drum beat of judgment and rejection has an all too familiar ring to it.  Human beings can be fomented into horrific acts.  We must be vigilant to make respect for difference the most basic of human values for all civil societies because we are created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God," said Dr. Joel L. Kushner, director of Judaism and sexual orientation, Hebrew Union College – JIR.

“The United Church of Christ is a denomination that continues to stand up for LGBT people,” said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy.  “We urge all denominations to turn the tragedy of David Kato’s death into a moment of gospel clarity that no individual or group should be persecuted in the name of the Bible.  False ideas and fear have no place in Christianity.”

Bishop Yvette Flunder, presiding bishop of The Fellowship, said, “We know that David Kato’s life laid the ground work for what is to come.  He had a vision and he pursued it.  It was a vision of a country and a world that is safe for all of us to live and love and pray together as beloved children of God.  David shone the light and all of us are better for his work and life.”

“David fought bravely against a rising tide of persecution fomented and fostered in no small measure by a conservative evangelical network emanating from the U.S. that uses disinformation to spread fear and mistrust,” said Pam Spees, staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. "We call for accountability and for people in religious communities to publicly stand against the persecution of LGBT people. We can do no less."


The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an interfaith network of leaders from eighty-five pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faith, spiritual and religious organizations. We work in partnership with other groups to promote understanding of and respect for LGBT people within society at large and in communities of faith. We promote understanding and respect within LGBT communities for a variety of faith paths and for religious liberty, and to achieve commonly held goals that promote equality, spirituality and justice.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Integrity Members and Church Leaders Respond to the David Kato Murder

Just as word spread about the brutal murder of Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato, Integrity released a call to action. In it, we said "Enough is enough. In Uganda and around the world, our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion and other churches must insist that all people are treated with dignity. We reminded them that all people are members of the human family and loved by God.

David Kato's murder is a wake-up call. Now is the time for church leaders to proclaim that there is no excuse for killing a person simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Christianity - and the Anglican Communion in particular - must be a force for good in the world.  Integrity calls on all faith leaders to speak out for peace and justice in the face of violence and hatred.

The Call to Action asked Integrity members and friends to send an email to the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Anglican Communion, of which both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Uganda are members). We suggested that the emails request that the Archbishop urge bishops within the Anglican Communion to proclaim that: “All people are beloved children of God. While we acknowledge that we are not of one mind on issues of human sexuality and gender identity, we state unequivocally that it is absolutely unacceptable for a person to be persecuted or murdered because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), or because a person speaks out in favor of people who are LGBT. Violence that is perpetrated against people simply because they are "different" is against the basic principles of Christianity, and a grave sin.”

Since Integrity released this call to action, the Archbishop of Canterbury and several leaders of the Episcopal Church – including the Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the bishops of the Diocese of New York, and others - have spoken out against the hatred and violence that take the lives of LGBT people in Uganda and throughout the world.

On January 28, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, "The brutal murder of David Kato Kisule, a gay human rights activist, is profoundly shocking. Our prayers and deep sympathy go out for his family and friends - and for all who live in fear for their lives. Whatever the precise circumstances of his death, which have yet to be determined, we know that David Kato Kisule lived under the threat of violence and death. No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others. Such violence has been consistently condemned by the Anglican Communion worldwide. This event also makes it all the more urgent for the British Government to secure the safety of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK. This is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities."

Integrity welcomed the Archbishop’s condemnation of bigotry and violence. But we were disappointed that he supported the Archbishop of Uganda and his anti-gay stance in his country. We called for an end to mixed messages as well as the blatant homophobia.

In response to David Kato’s tragic death, many of the top leaders of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion have explicitly condemned violence that is perpetrated against people simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender – often for the first time. There is much work to do, but it has been gratifying to see this progress.

Integrity will work to continue such progress with the activity of our thousands of members, dozens of chapters, hundreds of allied churches, and countless partners and friends. Out voice makes a difference and we have seen where our bishops of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion respond to the priorities they hear from the people in the pews. Our members have been and will continue to be wonderful witness to God's inlcusive love. As we witness to the Archbishop of Canterbury at General Convention 2009, the LGBT faithful are not the problem, we are the solution.

Here are a few excerpts from those great witnesses who answered our call to action:

The murder of David Kato and the call for harm to Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and others is horrendous. Our Baptismal Covenant asks each of us: "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" I don't see the words "only men" or "only white people" or "as long as they are straight" or "only if they are just like me and believe what I believe.” I see the words "all persons" and "all people" and "every human being.”

D.M. - LaPlace, Louisiana

As the father of two gay kids, I know what it is like to be vilified, marginalized and unloved. I have had to do too many funerals ofkids who have killed themselves because there was no love for them in their families, in their schools and even in their churches. We in the Episcopal Church are daring enough to proclaim in concert with Isaiah and Jesus, that God's church is "A House of Prayer for all People.” Without regard to race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation, we believe in accord with the scripture that we are all ONE in Christ.

Blessed Paul the Apostle has urged us to recognize that whether Greek or Jew, Slave or Free, Male or Female, we are indeed ONE in Christ. We agree with Paul. No racial/ethnic, class or sexual barrier exists to our oneness in Jesus. For believing this we face the sting of sanction.

We are upbraided good and proper for our "inclusivity.” We have been marginalized by great swaths of the Communion.

In the meantime, I am reassured that the Episcopal Church has the courage of its convictions. We are paying a dear price for our faith and our courage. We await your help.

God bless you as you squirm about this. I do not envy your position.

B.P.+ - Salem, Massachusetts

We saw Bishop Christopher preach love and understanding. He is committed to helping gay and straight people work together toward common, worthy goals such as vocational training for widows and jobless LGBT people. He is truly a man of God.

L.M - San Diego, California

I beseech you to stand up for the inherent worth and dignity of all Abba's children. We can no longer stand behind the sin of judging some based upon biblical tradition when that particular tradition calls human beings an abomination. The same tradition that justified burning brothers and sisters at the stakes and reminds all by label some of us "fagots" centuries after the flames of righteousness sacrificed its last precious child of God.

Q.J.D. - Lafayette, Louisiana

Silence is equivalent to support of such violence and hatred. Please make use of your pastoral office to lead us in addressing this deathly issue.

B.M.B. - Dallas, Texas

If we have reached a point in the Anglican Communion where the condemnation of cold-blooded murder, clearly motivated by hatred fueled by misguided religious beliefs, is considered too controversial a position to be adopted swiftly and explicitly, I no longer wish to be a member of that communion. I am sure that hundreds of thousands of Anglicans and Episcopalians throughout the world feel the same way.

C.R. - Granby, Massachusetts

Evil prevails when good people do nothing. If we say nothing, we are culpable. If we do not stand up for the rights and lives of "the least" we are not living the Gospel.

G.L.N.+ - Savannah, Georgia

It concerns me greatly that so much energy seems to get expended on other issues when the church has been completely silent about the policies of terror towards LGBT people in Uganda, including the recent murder of David Kato. In order to help stop this violence against our LGBT sisters and brothers, it is imperative for you to speak out.


Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Anglicans throughout the Communion are grateful for your call for greater protection of sexual minorities in response to the murder of David Kato. And, we yearn for you to be a strong voice calling the Communion to a basic and informed understanding of the God-given nature of our sexuality.

Silence allows those who demonize us to do so without having their consciences challenged. Teaching the truth about human sexuality is required of us today, just as teaching the truth regarding slavery became a mandate for the church in the nineteenth century.

You are a most respected leader, theologian and teacher. We look to you to break the silence and lead the Communion into a new day in which the murder of a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender person because of their sexuality will be abhorrent in all parts of the Communion.

+O.C. - San Francisco, California

That the clergy of the Anglican Church of Uganda who were present at David Kato's funeral should turn it into an anti-gay rally and then refuse the rites of Christian burial to our departed brother is un-Anglican and un-Christian. This hatred, fueled by western Christian fundamentalists and supported by the Anglican Church of Uganda, as well as many other churches within the Anglican Communion must stop.

P.J.L. - New York, NY

I am a baby Episcopalian, having been confirmed two years ago. I am a Licensed Eucharistic Minister. If I lived in Uganda, I would be dead...because I am gay. Please speak out against the violence in Uganda. God loves all of His children, and we should do no less. Gay Christians in Uganda deserve our support.

J.F. - Quitman, Georgia

Where is the outcry against this murder that would equal the outcry that ensued over the ordination of Bishop V. Gene Robinson?


The murder of David Kato makes it all the more clear that the Church must be a prophetic voice on behalf of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sisters. It is actually not just on their behalf, but for those of us with heterosexual privilege as well since practicing, or even silently permitting, hate and discrimination is soul-killing for all of us.

L.B. - Oakland, California.

Thanks to ALL those who wrote emails.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bishop Gene Robinson Spearheads Call for Prayer and Remembrance of David Kato

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire joins Auburn Theological Seminary to urge National Prayer Breakfast organizers to pray for slain gay rights activist

Here is their press release:

February 1, 2011
New York, NY

Key religious leaders are calling for ‘A Prayer for David Kato' on February 3rd, the first day of the National Prayer Breakfast, to honor the Ugandan gay rights activist who was killed last week, amidst a storm of anti-gay sentiment in his country. Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and Auburn Theological Seminary are spearheading this national call for prayer and remembrance.

Mr. Kato was one of the few openly gay Ugandans willing to speak out against the anti-gay fervor spawned by a bill that proposes life sentences and even the death penalty in some cases for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Members of “The Family,” the private group that organizes the influential National Prayer Breakfast, were widely reported as having inspired this legislation last year.

"Coming off of the brutal murder of David Kato, and with this death penalty legislation potentially heading for a vote, it is vital now more than ever that the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast join us in ending this hatred and violence," said Bishop Robinson. "As an act of good faith, we urge that at the National Prayer Breakfast this Thursday, they lead a prayer of compassion and concern for the family, friends and colleagues of David Kato, and pray for their protection from further harm."

Bishop Robinson and a coalition of religious leaders organized the American Prayer Hour as an alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast last year, and asked President Obama to use his appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast to denounce the anti-gay legislation in Uganda. He did, calling the legislation "odious"; and this past week the President released a statement about David Kato's recent murder: "David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate... The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work."

Building on Mr. Kato’s work for LGBT people and others, Auburn Seminary in collaboration with the organizers of last year’s American Prayer Hour, are gathering faith leaders committed to justice nationwide to come together across region, religion, demographic and issue, to embody the majority and stand with all those whom religious extremists have shunned or persecuted, such as Muslim-Americans, immigrants and LGBT people.

"Many participants of the National Prayer Breakfast recognize that prejudice and violence against any group of persons goes against all of our faiths," said The Reverend John Vaughn, Executive Vice President of Auburn Theological Seminary. "However, the Breakfast’s organizers have embarked on a path that has led to dangerous situations in places like Uganda. We implore them to change course and they can begin with a prayer in memory of David Kato.”