Friday, November 30, 2012

God Bless Us, Every One!

After years of work by Integrity USA and its allies, The Episcopal Church approved a Rite for the Blessing of a Same-Sex Relationship at the 2012 General Convention. The Rite is now available in a final format - click here for just the rite, or click here to buy a full book with the Rite and the other liturgical resources.

The Church has authorized the use of this service - depending on the assent of each diocesan bishop - beginning Advent I (December 2) of 2012. Does your diocese have policies allowing (or not allowing) this rite, or same-sex marriage? Please email us the information so that we can create a record of what’s happening across the country.

Is your parish considering whether to have these blessings in your church? One resource you might find helpful is from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Click here to read their story, watch a video, and find links to additional resources.
The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed a tremendous resource which is not yet published but is still available online in the Blue Book on the 2012 General Convention website. It includes a section on canon law, a pastoral resource section, particularly the declaration of intention and the model congregational guidelines.
In addition, Gary Hall, Dean of the National Cathedral and  Ruth Meyers  of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific edited a study guide entitled Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, which doesn’t directly address these particular resources but is intended to help Episcopalians reflect on the subject more broadly.
 If you, your clergy or bishop want to go even deeper, CDSP is hosting a week-long discussion of the blessing and its implementation as part of its 2013 Epiphany West program,  January 21- 25.
Are you and your sweetheart getting blessed? Send us a photo and tell us your experience. Integrity will be participating in providing feedback for consideration by the next General Convention.

Searching for Hope on World AIDS Day

by Bruce Garner

World AIDS Day is December 1, this coming Saturday.  (The secular world did not consult the faith community when it chose a date to declare as World AIDS Day, so the observance is almost always in competition for either the first or second Sunday in Advent.)

I am painfully reminded of another Saturday in November, the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1987.  It was the 28th, which falls on Wednesday this  I received a phone call letting me know that my dearest, closest and best friend had died from AIDS on Saturday, November 28, 1987.  I knew Alan's death was coming.  I had seen him the previous weekend, evening sitting by his hospital bedside the entire night after I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale where he lived.  Most of the night I prayed that God would take him home... would give him peace... would free him from the pain and confusion the virus was wreaking on him.  It would be yet another week after I returned home before my prayer would be answered.  

Alan and I were like brothers born from different mothers.  We spent vacations together and developed a bond so strong that whenever one called the other, we could tell within minutes if all was okay with the other.  His death was devastating... and in ways I didn't even realize for months.   My grief took time... and I didn't realize how much time I actually needed. Some of the anger still lingers... always will.

Those were the times during this epidemic that we never had a chance to grieve our losses. Those were the times of multiple funerals a week.  Those were the times when we wondered who would be next.  Those were the times when death was a constant companion.   I stopped counting the number of friends I had lost when the total reached 200.  It was, in more ways than we realized, like being in a war. We were in a war.  We were fighting a virus about which we knew little except that it seemed to have almost a hundred percent mortality rate.  And those were the times when politicians rarely uttered the word AIDS except in some derogatory context.  Those sick and dying were expendable... after all they were people of color, fags, intravenous drug users, sex workers and immigrants from an island where a nation called Haiti was located.  The only group impacted that generated any degree of empathy were those who relied on blood products to live... mostly hemophiliacs.  Even then there was the disdain shown to those with chronic health problems.

Those were the times when airlines dumped people with AIDS on the tarmac or sidewalk rather than take them as passengers.  Those were the times when a landlord could kick you out of your house or apartment just because you had AIDS.  Those were the times when you could be fired from a job... especially in public contact positions... for having AIDS. (Some people still can't comprehend that unless you are having a sexual relationship or swapping needles with your wait person, you will not get AIDS from them... imagine how it was then.)  Those were the times when funeral homes would not handle the body, much less the funeral of someone who had died from AIDS.

So what has changed since those first AIDS cases were reported in June 1981?   That depends on your perspective, I suppose.

There are medications available... very expensive medications.  Yet their efficacy is highly dependent on a certain level of literacy and ability to comprehend the regimen required for them to fight the virus.  If you read at a second grade level, the chances are good that you have no clue what you should be doing with your meds and why, much less the consequences of not following the regimen you have been given.  And if you don't have significant resources or can qualify for compassionate care resources for the medications or don't have access to insurance or Medicaid or Medicare, and on and on and on... there may as well not be any medications.

There have been great advances in the treatment of what we now call HIV.   See above paragraph before proceeding.  

It is fairly rare to hear of someone being evicted for having HIV... rather they get evicted because trying to treat the condition has exhausted their resources and they become dependent on public assistance for their income.   We do have laws prohibiting most forms of discrimination based on having HIV... but as always there are those who get around the law by careful use of language.

We do have more effective prevention education programs... provided you live in a state that allows something other than abstinence only education.  Yet even with improved prevention education, some entire communities have failed to benefit from it.  You have to acknowledge the practice of the behaviors that transmit HIV before you can teach how to avoid infection.  Dishonesty can be deadly... regardless of the reason.  The phrase from the early years "Silence equals Death" takes on a different meaning when the topic itself cannot even be discussed.  And yes I am speaking the truth to a pseudo power that still claims that some populations cannot be open about who they are and what they do.  The consequences are still death.  Tell the truth and shame the devil!

Infection rates have slowed in many areas of our own country, not in others.  The geographic area that makes up Province IV of The Episcopal Church continues to have rising infections rates, never having had a time when they decreased.  It is the cradle of HIV infection these days.   Circumstances come together to provide the perfect storm for ongoing HIV infection: poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, apathy... need I go on with the list?  We are rapidly approaching a situation eerily similar to the mid-1980's again.  This time the fastest growing group of infected are young, gay males of color (even though some claim such a group does not exist).  Sadly however, as the problem continues to grow, the resources that were pulled together in the early days of the epidemic are not there... they have been exhausted... private resources, government resources.

Notice that I have confined my comments to the situation in The United States?   Contrary to popular myth, HIV/AIDS has NOT moved overseas.   It still lives and thrives among us.  Yet there has been a substantial change in how we see or do not see those infected.  Most are people of color.  How many of our congregations have significant numbers of people of color in them.  There are exceptions....but the norm is still pretty white.   What we no longer see, we no longer think exists... at least that's the way it seems to be for most of us... regardless of the subject.  The Episcopal Church has even bought into that myth.   Few dioceses have commissions on AIDS anymore or any ministry to those with HIV.  The various forms of the Commission/Committee on AIDS of the church, of Executive Council, of whatever have ceased to exist.  We don't fund what we do not see.  Although they have stated reasons they consider legitimate, even Episcopal Relief and Development does not address HIV/AIDS on the domestic front... only overseas.  We do not see those who do not have a face that we find familiar.

Clearly I do not find much reason to find real hope in this continuing health problem that impacts every one of us.  And obviously, my comments contain a touch of negativity if not bitterness.  I will not deny either nor will I shrink from that stance.  I see it from a perspective much different than most.  Aside from losing so many friends, I have also served on non-profit board after non-profit board for organizations struggling to address an issue that so many do not see a need to address.  I've watched as public funding gets cut for medications, treatment and prevention education.  I've served on state wide bodies whose mission was to create a comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS, only to have good ideas torpedoed by politics.  So no, I do not find much real hope.  

I made a panel for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt for my friend Alan.  A picture of it hangs in my home.  I once made the comment in a presentation that "when" a panel was made for me... not "if" a panel was made for me.  I don't know if it was the proverbial Freudian slip or not.   I do know that I have now lived with HIV for over 30 years.  By the grace of God, prayer, good medications and good medical treatment and a streak of stubbornness I plan to fulfill my doctor's prediction that I would die from old age and not from AIDS.  

Many portions of the AIDS Quilt will be on display around the country on December 1.  Will that move us to action?  Will it make us angry instead of just sad?  Or will we just make a note that we have seen it and allow it to go back to the warehouse where it lives until this time next year... perhaps hoping someone might do something?   The Quilt really isn't like the Christmas decorations we trot out once a year... the problem exists all year long every year.   But then again, how many of us only think about the gift of the Incarnation other than once a year?

December 1 is World AIDS Day.  What will we individually do on that day?   Was it Mother Jones who said "pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living?"  I don’t know, but it sounds like a good plan to me.  But then I am reminded of a carpenter from Nazareth who told those who were burdened and heavy laden to come to Him and He would give them rest.  He also called upon each of us to do as the Samaritan did upon finding a man beaten and bloody on the roadside:  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.


Bruce Garner
Provincial Coordinator for Province IV, Integrity USA
Former Board Member and Chair of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition
Former Member of the Standing Commission on AIDS (now defunct)
Former Member of the Executive Council Committee on HIV/AIDS (now defunct)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks & Remembering the Lost

Stephanie Battagliano
On Sunday, November 18th, the Church of Redeemer, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner in Morristown, N.J. (Diocese of Newark) observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance at its 10:30 Eucharist service.  Stephanie Battagliano, a trans activist and longtime member of the congregation, gave a powerful sermon sharing her own journey from the "purgatory" of secretly living in gender conflict, through transition and coming out to her family and friends, and realization of a calling to speak out on behalf of other trans persons.  Stephanie transitioned while remaining at her corporate job, and being a parent to her son Andrew, who was a preteen at the time. Andrew gave his own witness at Redeemer several years ago, and parishioners still talk about it. Today Stephanie is on the board of the LGBT Center in New York as well as the Transgender Legal Defense Fund, and -- along with her partner Mari — works with GLAAD on transition issues in the workplace.

Stephanie drew strength from her faith and expressed gratitude for how much the community at Redeemer helped her not just survive, but thrive, during her transformation into the person she regards as her "true self."  She contrasted this with the isolation, poverty and violence that is reality for many trans people around the world, and charged the assembly to do everything in its power to reach out to the trans community and others that society regards as "different" to offer the sense of hope and worth that made such a difference in her life. 

The service continued with the reading of the names of the documented deaths of trans people that had occurred since last year's observance, along with the often grisly details of their deaths.  As each name was read, a member of the congregation extinguished a candle on the altar.  A startling number of the cases occurred in Brazil, which is described as the LGBT murder capital of the world, but some of the locations were distressingly familiar: Miami, Baltimore, Chicago.

Integrity continues to raise awareness of the need for trans inclusion in our churches.  The film Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, which we distributed to all the bishops and deputies before this summer's General Convention, features transgender clergy telling their own stories. It is available on YouTube and DVD, and we commend its use for parish forums and other settings for education and discussion.  Stephanie and other speakers are available to speak with congregations and groups; please contact us for details.

Stephanie Battagliano at Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012

by Vivian Taylor, Boston Massachusetts

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDoR exists to remember those who are murdered for the simple reality of being trans. Today isn't a day where we explain being trans, or defend ourselves for being trans, or any of that. Today is simply the day to remember those who have suffered for no reason other than that the powers of the world hate us and would rather we not exist.

I look forward to the day when we won't need things like this; but until we do, I offer the following meditation for personal or corporate use at Compline.  Click here to see the names and circumstances of the murders of trans people in 2012.  You may want to read these names out loud as you remember them.

Dear Lord, tonight we come to you in memory of Rita Hester and all those who have died and have suffered on account of their being transgender or gender nonconforming.
Dear Lord, remember them.
Dear Lord, give these souls the peace that they were denied in life.
Dear Lord, remember them.
Dear Lord, help us to remember and work for all people who are seen as less than in this hard world.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, you who made, know, and love all of human diversity — set us free from the systems of the world, and shield us from all scorn and violence that those systems expose us to.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, help us to discern the path you have cut for us into the possible.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, give us strength to speak truly, give us courage to love wildly, and give us faith to live oddly.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trailblazing Bishop Retires, Shares Blessings with Nation

by the Rev. Caroline J.A. Hall, president of Integrity USA

We will always need trailblazers – people who go out first and do something that has never been done before, and then live with the scars to prove it. Bishop Gene Robinson has been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community – the one who was willing and who was chosen by the Church and the Holy Spirit to go out ahead and be the first openly gay bishop. Our lives have been changed by his ministry and leadership.

Bishop Robinson with
parishioner Kevin Therrien
When Bishop Gene was elected and confirmed in 2003, it brought to an ugly head the deep differences that were growing in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It was not his becoming bishop that created rifts and even schisms – his charism was to bring to the light of day the crisis that was already well underway. His willingness to talk to the media, and to keep talking, brought the country and the Communion a new understanding that people of faith can be gay and that God welcomes us. Along the way Bishop Gene suffered isolation, ostracism and death threats.

Now he is about to retire as Bishop of New Hampshire after 26 years working in the leadership of the diocese.  In February he will become a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, in Washington, DC – a think tank founded in 2003 by former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta.  Bishop Gene’s new role will be “to bring a moral, religious voice to the issues that face us as a nation:  immigration reform, healthcare reform, poverty in America and the world, the growing divide between rich and poor, as well as ongoing efforts to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the nation and in the communities of the church, synagogue and mosque.” Bishop Gene says, “It will be my challenge and privilege to try to provide that moral voice.” You can read his message to his diocese here.

Integrity USA is deeply grateful for the leadership that Bishop Gene has provided in our work for full inclusion and for his willingness to embody that inclusion even at great personal cost. If you would like to make a donation in honor of Bishop Gene, the Diocese of New Hampshire is setting up an endowment fund to continue work in the chaplaincy program at The New Hampshire Prison for Women in which Bishop Robinson did ministry while Bishop of New Hampshire. You can contribute here.

Thank you, Bishop Gene, for all you have given us. We look forward to seeing the blessings that come from your new ministry.

British-born Caroline "Caro" J. Addington Hall serves as President of Integrity USA and is Priest in Charge of St. Benedict's, Los Osos, California. Her book A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church will be published in the late Spring of 2013.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Integrity USA Cautiously Hopeful about new Archbishop of Canterbury

Integrity welcomes the announcement today of the next Archbishop of Canterbury: Bishop Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham. It is a difficult position – to be the designated “instrument of unity” for a Communion which is increasingly diverse and attempts to draw together peoples and countries with competing needs. Bishop Welby comes well equipped to take on the challenge, having worked in Africa and being familiar with the Church in several different countries.

Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the relatively conservative Church of England, and is said to oppose gay marriage. Caroline Hall, President of Integrity USA, said, “Our prayers will be with Bishop Welby as he takes on this enormous challenge. I hope that he will be able to build on the experience of his predecessor, Archbishop Williams and manage not to cave to the tactics of bullies. The majority of Anglicans want to work together to further the reign of God, and it will be Bishop Welby’s task to provide leadership for this cooperation. In the reign of God there is neither male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight. I hope that he can help us to make this vision of inclusivity a reality throughout the Anglican Communion.”

When visiting the Episcopal House of Bishops earlier this year, Bishop Welby said, “I pray and hope that we live with confidence and hope, and grow in the ability to live in complexity. That we are able to have diversity without enmity. God has made the churches full of diversity, that is the miracle of unity, praise God for diversity, when lived in love and integrity.” Integrity's hope is that the Bishop will be able so to do.