This morning we start with Keith Kron, Director of the Transitions Office, providing an overview of this fascinating period of our history. Now, I’ve known Keith from the time he was director of what was then known as the office of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender concerns. You know, as the office has changed, the title has changed. It reflects, I think, our growing understanding of gender orientation and gender identity. I think for many of us it has been a stretching time and that’s good, right? Another blank, blank strip, no. Keith served as the head of that office from 1996 to 2010 that is an eternity and UU speak.
He has visited over 450 Unitarian Universalist congregations helping them work in Welcoming Congregations Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops and on public witness. So it was natural that John and I turned to Keith as we struggled to lead our congregation in Baltimore and work in Maryland to establish justice, compassion and respect for all people. It was to Keith we turned for advice when we decided after some mulling took us a while, that we were not going to sign any marriage licenses until everyone could get married. It was to Keith we turned to when we were going to retire from Baltimore and we wanted to be sure that work would continue. And has been to Keith and his current position as the director of the transitions office that John and I turned to when we decided to serve as interim ministers.
It should be no surprise then that we’ve turned to Keith when we started to imagine these conferences. He has been committed to these conferences, returned my calls, my emails promptly more than promptly, brainstormed with me, batted a few balls around metaphorically. I am honored and delighted to introduce to you Keith Kron.
It is good to be here with you all today. This morning I’m going to do what we’re doing in a couple of different phases. First I’m going to talk about some people and then we’ll do an exercise and then we’ll take a break and then I’m going to come back and talk about some events and then get you talking with questions and answers. And not because we’re at a tennis ranch because it actually happened. I’m going to start with this story from 10 years ago at the Bellingham Washington tennis club when I was living in Blaine, Washington. And I’d finished playing a tennis match and I was in a locker room, I’d gone into the sauna. There was one other man there, and he asked the inevitable question that you always get asked when you meet someone, “What do you do??
You and I know both know those who minister, you sit there and go, “Okay, what am I going to say about this? How much do I want to get into this with another naked man in the sauna?” I thought about it for a moment and I said, “Well, I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” He looked at me and he stopped and he went, “That’s interesting. I grew up a Unitarian Universalist in the state of Massachusetts.” And I went, “Where did you grow up?” He said, “Well, I went to the church in Winchester. And I remember it very clearly, it was a really interesting church. We even had a gay minister.” And I said, “What year was this?” And he said, “It was in the 1960s and we all knew we couldn’t talk about it, but everyone in the congregation knew that our minister who was Bob Storrs was gay and if he was going to keep his job, we had to keep quiet too.”
And this story was confirmed a little bit later when I was talking with Ralph Mero who said, “Oh yes, every minister who generally was known to be gay or lesbian in the 1940s and 1950s and the 1960s were fired by their congregation for being gay.” He said, “I even know of one congregation that fired its minister, but in an act of compassion so that the man would have a job, re-hired that man as their janitor.” This is what compassion was like at that particular time. One of the things that I want to impress on all of us is that each of these stories, each of these moments happened within a particular time, not only within Unitarian Universalism, but what was going on at the world as well. In fact, for a congregation even think of rehiring someone who they knew was gay at that particular time probably was as much of an act of compassion as could have been had in the 1940s or 1950s.
So I mean, we look at all of what’s happening in the world and it’s like, “What else is going on? What’s affecting that?” So much of what happened in terms of our history around our ministers, around the different events in Unitarian Universalism definitely happened in multiple contexts. They happened within the context of our faith and what was going on in the wider world. One of the other people who was trying to be a pioneer was a minister named Charles Vickery. Some of you may know him from the service committee. He eventually went to Mexico City to try and start a Unitarian Universalist there and to work with the Americans and the Mexicans on trying to create a safe space for gay and lesbian people. And in 1970 that was too soon. He couldn’t do it. It wasn’t allowed by the larger society and for the church to happen.
Now, how do I know the story? Well, Carl Seaburg wrote about it and it is interesting. Who are the people who remember these stories? Who are the people who tell these stories so that future generations remember them? One of the things that delighted me about this conference other than probably being one of the youngest people in the room, is that there is a lot of known history here that is going to disappear and go away as time goes on and on and who is going to remember the stories? Not only the big stories, but the little stories of what people had to do. When I was in seminary at Starr King in the mid 1990s, Alicia Forsey arranged for me to have lunch with a UU minister, a man named James Stoll. Who remembers at least the name James Stoll? He was the first minister to come out in Unitarian Universalism in 1969 at a youth conference in Colorado.
He’d been serving our congregation in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, Kennewick, Richland and Pascoe. This was two months after the Stonewall riots that he came out and two years after the UUA had said, “We don’t need to be promoting these issues.” There had been a survey done of Unitarian Universalists in 1967 that had said, “We don’t need to be promoting this. People can just not talk about this and be quiet.” And it was pretty overwhelming. So he came out to this conference, he was fired that year and never served another congregation again. He was, however, working as a chaplain in the city of San Francisco at a hospital which he had been doing. Now, he told me all of this story and so many more. And of course what I remember because it was a different time and era was the fact that he smoked and blew smoke in my face the entire time we were talking.
Still it was fascinating to be present to this kind of history because he talked about it was the youth who had encouraged him to do that. How often in our movement has it been the youth of our movement who have brought about the change, who have encouraged people to take risks that wouldn’t have happened at all. I mean, what was interesting as I was preparing to work on this, what I went and did is I pulled old UUA directories and just went down the list, whose name did I know, whose name did I recognize, who had told me a story about. And I started in 1961. Now, one of the fascinating things I did for 1961 was not only look at the people who were at least closeted at that particular time. But I also took account of the number of women who were serving in UU ministry at that time who were mostly Universalists and who were few and far between.
I noticed 12 women serving our faith in 1961. One of the things I was really noticing was how as a number of women increased in our movement throughout how much easier all of this became and the connections between the two. The number of ministers I saw who clearly were closeted, who would later come out at that particular time names like Ken McClean, Frank Robinson, Carl Whittier, Jack Loadman, Gene Navias, Dick Casey, Jay McElros who if you became a minister about the time I did, lived in Victoria, British Columbia, and was probably on the UUA chat more than any other minister that we had Deane Starr. It was in the 70s that some people began to not only become ministers, but it would eventually come out. Two weeks ago I was in Racine, Wisconsin where Tony Larsen was called in 1975 and just left after 43 years in the ministry.
That was a very interesting visit on so many levels. One of the things that fascinated me is that when he did come out in his congregation, the number of people who left. And there were people there when I was there two weeks ago or a month ago, who clearly remember the stories of the people who left. Then trying to figure out what are we going to do now that we are at this particular moment. He also on at least one Christmas Eve service, they had a ritual where people came up and wrote something down which Tony read. And at least one year during his ministry, he had to read something so homophobic that it made the entire congregation gasp and yet he felt like he had to read it. The other thing that, that story makes me think about are the context in which people served their ministry. What did people have to do in order to be a UU minister and be gay at a particular time?
One of the things that I was constantly aware of was how often or how little people actually got to tell their story in the 70s and 80s as an openly gay or lesbian and eventually bi and trans minister. There would be people in our congregations who would count how many times someone even used the words gay or lesbian. I’ll talk more about that later on. One of my favorite Tony Larsen story though is as he became out, as it became more public, as his congregation became deeper and deeper allies, Tony was very fond at pulling jokes on people in his congregation and doing this in kind of safe but embarrassing ways. Often these events would happen at GA, Diana Pavao, who is a long time member of the congregation would say Tony was notorious for being in a crowded elevator at GA, looking at one of his congregants getting this big grin on his face where the congregate knew they were in trouble and saying, “Well, how long have you known your mother is a lesbian?”
To which the congregant had no response whatsoever and then Tony would get off the elevator. The things you had to do to survive. Even at the UUA, one of the interesting pieces of history is the connections not only around gender and sexual orientation, but at race and sexual orientation. You see this in the creation of what would first become the Office of Gay Affairs, which lasted for less than a year and then became the Office of Gay Concerns. It was modeled after the Office of Black Affairs at the time. There was trying to be consistency and then it changed. But one of the reasons we had an Office of Gay Affairs Concerns, Lesbian and Gay Concerns and on and on and on, happened because of the walkout of the African Americans in 1969 when that happened at the General Assembly in Cleveland.
The UUA when a resolution came forward from Dick Nash, UU minister in California, one of the original pioneers within the movement, trying to do this work, started what would eventually evolve into Interweave, was when he began pushing for this and the idea of the office. The UUA one didn’t have the money but people voted for the office because they were afraid of another walkout. And that was probably one of the reasons why this started, why we had this particular movement. Now, we voted for an office in 1973. We didn’t have an office until 1974 with funding and we didn’t have a director until 1976. For the first at least 15 years or so I’m looking at Meg and Jay because they actually lived this, the office was only half time. People would find other work. Bob Wheatley was the director of the office of aging. When he was the director, Jay tried to be employed by what was it, when now called Interweave for a while, UULGC.
We eventually were able to move it to full time, but the first director was not even a UU minister. The woman from the National Organization of Women, a woman named Arlie Scott and Nancy Hazelitt who was my predecessor is the administrator for the Transitions Office would tell a story that she would get on the elevator at the UUA in 1976 and people would walk off because they didn’t want to be in the same elevator as a lesbian. This is a part of our history. She wasn’t invited out to a congregation and tip for a year and a half. The first minister to invite her out to speak actually to a congregation was Ken McClean. And it is interesting to see how all of this evolved. There was a vote in 1974 to try and take the office away at General Assembly and it survived a close vote.
So we had a lot of trepidation and we do have a lot of liking to pat ourselves on the back, but this was a real struggle and struggle for people. They were slowly, again, like Tony, the people who began to come in who weren’t out but would begin at some point in their careers to come out at their congregation. Bob Shaibly, Jody Shipley, Joy Atkinson and one of my interim ministers, Tom Payne, the African American man who came out as bisexual at a certain point but most of their careers they weren’t out as they were serving. There was this group, at least two of them were here in around the turn of the 1970s, 1980s in between that time, 78, 82, Barb and Ann, you’re here, Doug Strong, Mark Belletini. All a part of a group of students at Starr King who were wrestling with, how are we going to do ministry and be gay or lesbian.
It was Diane Miller who did the first move and hired an out young minister named Mark Belletini in San Francisco to come and work with them for a year. Doug would then go to Maine and work with Eastport and then Ann and Barb would start their careers after that. But it was a time of real moment and time of real figuring that out. Also at this time was the person who would become my introduction to Unitarian Universalist minister Charlie Kast, who went to Lexington, Kentucky. Some of the search committee knew some of them didn’t figure it out. It was still a time where if you couldn’t figure it out, that was actually preferable by some people. But he came to Lexington and I happened to meet him one night. It was a month after I had come out and one of the little bars in Lexington, of which there were four, I was sitting, I’d gotten to known a couple of people in the bar and Tommy, this guy said, “You talk like a friend of mine and I want you to meet him, his name is Charlie.”
So he brings Charlie Kast over to me. We talked for a minute and I think, “Oh wow. Not only is there a gay minister, but he’s out on a bar on a Saturday night before he has to preach.” This is so different from the Southern Baptist Church I grew up in. I may have to go and see what this church is about. So I told them I was going to come and visit the church. I showed up the next day and the church was celebrating its 35th anniversary. And we ended the service after Charlie talked about the history of the church and the history of liberal religion in Lexington, Kentucky and we went outside and we gave the church building a hug. Now, we’d never done anything like that in the Southern Baptist Church I grew up in. But I was so impressed that a faith could actually be different than that, that I ended up staying and became a member within a month. And a lot of that is because of Charlie’s presence in the community.
These were so many of the pioneers, the people who could really not talk about themselves but were still expected to be the ministers of congregations and could and could not tell the stories of their lives. And that summer that I joined, this was 1985, one of our members went off to General Assembly and came back after having attended a UULGC meeting that literally sort of changed the history, even more of the Lexington church. Because one of our members had gone and heard a presentation by Lucy Hitchcock. Who at the time was serving as the minister of our congregations in Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota. She told the story of the work of her work in North Dakota was… and I mentioned this back there on the back table was the work was for the gay, lesbian, bi and soon to be trans people was to become ordinary in our congregation and realizing how profound that would be for our congregation.
And that sort of became the work of the Lexington Kentucky Church with what at the time was pretty remarkable because there were actually within five years there were actually five out people in the Lexington Kentucky Church. And you have to understand at that time, most of our congregation had the capacity for one out gay or lesbian or bi trans person in the 1980s and more made them nervous. But so often it was the ministers who are slowly coming out, going out into search and in the process another pioneer really worth talking about, who many of you remember very fondly. Dorothy used his words last night, was Mark DeWolfe, who had a huge impact in our moment. I remember going to my first General Assembly in 1987 Little Rock, Arkansas. The hotel room was $39 a night and there were like 1400 people who were a part of that particular General Assembly. And Mark was one of those popular speakers there because of the work that he was doing in the Toronto area and its church in Mississauga.
It would be the next year later that he would come back and announce to people who knew that he was also living with HIV and then would pass away. But his impact in our denomination was significant for what he did. The 1987 GA was also critical and I’ll talk more about this in the next section. Because that was where we passed the resolution where we had to do some kind of protest anytime we visited a state that had sodomy laws. And that’s its own story, which we’ll get into more. But we passed that in large part from having decided to not go to Phoenix the next year, because the state didn’t honor Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday. So the connections again are significant. We also had ministers during this time who had never once wanted to talk about their identity.
I talked with a congregant recently who was a longtime member of one of our congregations. I won’t say who to protect the minister’s name, but they said she never once talked about being a lesbian the entire time we served. And we all knew it, but she didn’t feel like she could. And how many of our ministers did just exactly that in order to do that. I was doing Beyond Categorical Thinking in the late 90s at first church and in Houston, Texas. The late Mary Harrington, my good friend and classmate at Starr King was the interim assistant minister at the time. She said, “Bob has never once talked to the congregation in my entire year here about being gay.” And the number of people who made that kind of sacrifice to only share part of their lives or not share their lives at all in order to make it.
In the mid 80s, we also had different kinds of folks who really sort of shook things up. This was the time of the AIDS epidemic. It was a large part of some of the work that J paid attention to. Joe Chauncey, who is a chaplain in Atlanta, primarily doing AIDS chaplaincy work. Several of us who were at Starr King in the late 80s and early 90s did our CPE at San Francisco general hospital on the AIDS ward. And it was also a time when we stood up and took notice. But so much of the work that that Jay did, and I’m going to let you tell more of this story later in your… and you should talk to him about it, was around getting the Welcoming Congregation work going. That happened in the mid 80 with the late 1980s common vision committee trying to put together work. I’ll tell a few stories about that. Lesley Phillips was the chair of the common visions task force and we made it through.
It wasn’t always easy to make it through at that particular time. I remember that several of us went… Jay’s laughing, he remembers. Several of us went to Boston to sort of talk about what this program could be and we met at Arlington street church and somehow again, we made it through the workshop and put together a report that would become the Welcoming Congregation. We spent more time arguing about whether or not we should be Welcoming Congregation or Welcoming Church than anything else. There was some conversation about whether should we open and affirming, should we be affirming, should be welcoming. But the real conversation was about church or congregation. It left three of us the next morning, Helen Bishop, Joan Mason and myself who came up with what became the 15 guidelines and action steps for a Welcoming Congregation and Jay preached the sermon.
That’s literally what I remember from that weekend, other than I stayed in three different houses on three different nights because we were all doing home hospitality. But we began to see more changes and more women came into the movement and more lesbian women came into the movement and were out and that had a real significant impact. Dorothy, Gretchen, Terry Kime, Liz Benjamin, Nancy Arnold, so many people who would come and go and serve. Annie Holmes, Barbara Dunbar-Burke, Barbara, so many people who would get out and sort of reduce the stereotype and make it more of a multiple story as opposed to a single story because so often people were reduced to that single story, whatever it was. It was during this time and again, you should talk to Barbara and Ann. I remember talking with Ann one summer in Lake Geneva about what had happened in Community Church when they had tried to become called as the associate ministers at community in New York City. And the vote failed because people who had not been regular attenders but were still members of the church came in and voted against their call.
The interesting thing about that, I don’t know if this will just make you sigh or give you a new perspective Community Church just had a vote on whether to do a developmental ministry or to go into search. A group of people who weren’t regular attenders came in and basically switched the vote so that they would go into a regular settled search as opposed to the congregation had been leaning toward doing developmental ministry. It’s interesting what stays in our systems and where the power is. But this also happened to Terry Kime in Massachusetts, I believe it was Plymouth. I look at Diane, because-
Terry Kime, she’d been serving in Erie, Pennsylvania. I believe she’d been… Doris Hunter told me this story… Had been the candidate I believe in Plymouth, Massachusetts and had also not gotten a call vote because she hadn’t gotten the right percentage in there. It was just a reminder because we were always patting ourselves on the back because we were half a step ahead of society so therefore we were better. And it was easy for us to forget that we had real work to do and we’re still doing it. It was in the early 90s that Amanda Aikman won literally every sermon contest one could win. Jory Agate started at the youth office. Meg Riley came in after Scott Alexander.
Meg again can tell more of her story than I can, but it was Meg’s work in the office that really sort of shifted our work beyond what was going on within our congregation to us. Look at what’s going on outside in the wider world, particularly in regards to what the far right was doing. And helped create a shift that would launch what we would do around social justice and being willing to be a voice. Which took a long period of time for us to really be able to do. It was during this time, I look at… Dee where are you? There you are. Dee was at Starr King teaching a class on gay, lesbian and bisexual spiritualities. That was well attended in which people from other seminaries had to take for not credit because they couldn’t have it on their transcripts. Amanda we’ll have time for questions.
Yeah, but it’s being recorded so…
I just want to show you what the… You could tell who was coming to Dee’s class. These priests from the Catholic seminaries they would come down the sidewalk looking just like this.
It was very scary for so many people from other denominations. And when I taught the class a couple of years later, these first questions to me, first statement to me was, ask Rebecca to come, has she come out to you yet? And it was like, “Really? Oh, wow.” But there are all these stories that weren’t told and weren’t known. It was when Dee speaking of work that we still had to do was doing her internship at West Side in Knoxville that she had to take her children to Tennessee Valley because they were treated better there than they were at our home congregation in West Side. Still so much work that we had to do. We had Lesley Phillips as a first out trans minister. Those of us who knew her remember her more as a Philadelphia lawyer turned minister than we did trans. Then there was a woman at Starr King named Erinn Melby who wanted to be a chaplain.
Who when I was working in the Starr King office, for those of you who knew Bob Kimball, she wanted him desperately to speak at her ordination and it was the most… What’s the word I want? I’ve never seen him so avoidant of anything in particular other than not wanting to speak at her ordination service. It was after this time that we started having more and more African American and people of color ministers starting to come out, Carlton, Elliot Smith, Alma Crawford. People who would lead the way, Cheryl Walker, other folks who would join our movement. I remember it was about 10 years later when I was at Lake Geneva and it was how Howell Lind who had suggested to both Barb and Ann, you all need to think about doing co-ministry again. It was in the summer and we were still all waiting to hear the vote on pins and needles was had this happened in Evanston, had you all been called.
I remember being at camp and there was a cheer that went up when we learned that it had actually happened. Because I can’t remember speakers before or after that, but I think it was after. But you were well known by everyone at camp and much loved. Also in 1989, those of you who are at General Assembly may remember a somewhat contentious conversation at General Assembly at Yale about the Welcoming Congregation. We are talking about supporting gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights of passage. And people were like, “What’s a bisexual rights of passage? What does that mean for our congregations?” And it was quite a time. It was also then there had been various previous efforts that we really solidified and launched from the association Beyond Categorical Thinking program which was directed at congregations. This is where we passed the resolution and saying we were not going to allow discrimination as part of the search process. And this program was created and officially launched at General Assembly.
Those of you who remember Jacqui James who was also working on the hymn book at the time, was the person who oversaw this program. It was at this time that a really wonderful man, many of you will remember, Dick Hasty came out, had served for a long time at our congregation in Portland Maine. Had gotten divorced, had come out and he was one of the lead trainers in Beyond Categorical Thinking in the early years. And often he would go to a congregation and people would say, “Well, you could be our minister.” And it got to the point where he had to figure out where could I not do a BCT as he was trying to find a place to serve. Because once you had done the training, all of a sudden you were ineligible to serve. He was eventually called to Springfield, Illinois where he finished out his-
Massachusetts, Springfield Massachusetts. Where, he made a difference. But this program was intentional about and is intentional about work around helping our congregations look at the biases they have towards ministers of color, ministers who now identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender. Transgender didn’t happen until the late 90s and ministers with disabilities. And now it’s expanded even beyond that to talk about mental health issues, which we really didn’t talk about. In the first year that we had Beyond Categorical Thinking, seven of our congregations in search, there were like 45 that year elected to do BCT because they thought they might need it. Today, just to give you some sort of a balance, it’s almost at 100%. I’ll talk more about that later. It was in the late 90s that we had Pam Langston-Daly serving our congregation in Aptos who transitioned, was in the process of transitioning from Pam to Paul. Pam was not able to survive the transition and still be the minister at the time. It was just simply too much for the congregation to be able to weather.
But that in some ways is not atypical. I mean if you got divorced at that particular time, you were pretty much counseled, you’re not going to be able to survive at this particular time. Our congregations could only handle so much change and we have seen that change. Sean Dennison and Laurie Auffante, two ministers who also came into our movement identifying as transgender. Sean we still know, Laurie we have basically lost to all of that. And so much of what happens to the people who go first is very different from the next generation. I’m sure if you were to talk with so many of our women or people of color or gay, lesbian, bi people with physical disabilities, the people who were the first people to go through had a much harder time and had a much harder time escaping being seen as anything other than one identity. But these are the people who helped create the way so that…
I mean, my favorite story so far from this year’s search is we have a congregation looking at a minister who uses gender neutral pronouns, which even five years ago they wouldn’t have looked at this person. And the chair of the search committee said, “At our last meeting, we spent 10 minutes practicing, they, them, theirs.” I mean, this is how quickly in the last time, but it was all set up by people who were there so many years ago and then we had different kinds of pioneers. People who all of a sudden were treated a little differently. Rob Hardies after a year in Northern California being called to All Souls DC. Jean Pupke after serving a couple of small congregations in Washington going and working with Richmond. The next group of in particular people of color, women of color who came in, Marta Valentin, Sofia Betancourt, not only the first woman president, but the first queer president we’ve had of our association. Alicia Ford, Cheryl Walker, Jacqueline Duhart.
Jacqueline Duhart is the first ever contract minister named minister emeritus of a congregation in Oakland. In the early 2000s, we saw our first folks who identify as polyamorous beginning to enter the ministry and doing that particular work. We also saw Cynthia Kane, who was one of our chaplains struggling with how out she could be until the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It had actually gotten to the point where she had actually married Drew Johnston for a period of time, basically to give her cover and to help him too. And we really got to see some things change as different events happened in history. I’ll talk more about this in the next half, but when the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws was a big moment. When we ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When civil unions came to Vermont. When marriage equality came to First Massachusetts, and then to other places, things that really shifted the barrier.
I think so much of the work that happened in Unitarian Universalism that then I’ll tell a story in the second half about Vermont was led by Unitarian Universalist ministers who were willing to be brave, willing to be out, willing to do things that hadn’t really been done before in so many places. So I’m going to stop for questions about this in a minute. But I’d like to do an exercise just to really sort of contextualize and to get us thinking about where we fit into the movement and how that fit in. So what I would like for you to do, starting in this corner with 1950 and over to this corner, maybe up here to present day. Line up in chronological order as best you can about when you became a Unitarian Universalist. So if it was 1950 earlier start here. People who are newer start here.
Joe, what year are you Joe? Joe Weaver. What year are you? All right, let me try someone else. Dorothy, what year are you?
81. Dee, what year are you?
76. All right. This side of the room right here I want 1950s and 1960s. 1970s and 1980s down to that corner.
1990s, 2000s, 2010s.
You’re born into it. What year?
Jim? What year?
So Unitarian or Universalist? All right. Well, it’s interesting for this to happen, it’s actually what I was hoping was going to happen. Ann what year?
93. Jane what year?
Addae, what year?
Now think about when you either knew because the people at this end all were born…
But I mean all of these people were born Unitarian. I didn’t see, any anyone born a Universalist? One. Then where is 1970?
70, 71. Because 70 and 71 is the first time we made a public statement in support of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. I mean, for those of you who were before, I’m sure you remember this just wasn’t talked about in any kind of —
We were kids. We weren’t paying attention. I went to AYS in 1973.
But that was 73. I mean the Stonewall riots, and as we celebrate the 50th anniversary, that was the moment when we went from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in general to all of a sudden this is something that we’re beginning to talk about, we’re beginning to explore. How many of you went as a kid through “about your sexuality” back in the 1970s?
How many of you talked about your sexuality? How many of you’ve taught our whole lives? Interesting. Because it was interesting that it was once again, it was our youth who really started things off for us. How many of you think about the first time you met a UU minister who was openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
How many of us think about it?
How many of you remember the first time you learned of a minister who was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? Because often that is such a key moment in so many people’s understandings of when things began to shift in terms of what our faith could be. We’ll do an exercise in the next moment that asks you some more questions about when you learn just about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks in general. How many of you went to a General Assembly in the 1960s? How about in the 1970s? 1980s? 1990s? 2000s?
Anyone there at the 1970 General Assembly where we did the first resolution in support? Carol, Diane. The UUA and the UCC both voted that year to support non-discrimination toward I believe the actual word in the resolution is homosexuals and bisexuals and yeah.
Yeah. And then in 1984 we had a resolution in 77, basically against Anita Bryant, but in 1984 was when we voted to support civil unions. Who is there at that General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio? 84. Some of you may remember that this came about because there were a lot of ministers who were wanting to do ceremonies of union and were having fights with their congregations about could they do them, where could they do them? Could they happen on church property? And the resolution came at the request to support ministers doing that. Who was there in 87 in Little Rock? That’s where we voted on a sodomy law protest, which I’ll talk about in the next one. 89 when we voted on Welcoming Congregation and non-discrimination for ministers. 96 when I know that Dee was on stage, but all the people, in supportive equal marriage and all of our ministers who were in same sex relationships were brought up on stage. How many of you were up on stage?
In the choir.
You were in the choir. You’ve always been in multiple choirs Gretchen, I mean. So this work, how many of you were ministers serving a congregation that went through the Welcoming Congregation process? Sometimes it would have been sometimes 91 Brewster was certified as the worst Welcoming Congregation.
First not worst.
The first. The first Welcoming Congregation, when I come into the office, there were 57 Welcoming Congregations that had been certified. Today it’s something like 87% of Unitarian Universalists go to a Welcoming Congregation. I think we only have two or three congregations, over 100 people that aren’t now.
It was after we were called to Evanston that they did the work they’d signed on to be one, but hadn’t done the work. And Linda McPlant may her name be praised got people to actually do the work and get certified. Sometimes you just got to know what to do.
Right. Well and so often congregations would do the process because of one or two people in the congregation. I remember working with a congregation in Duxbury where it was a PFLAG mom who was insistent she was going to pass this on for her late son. She was going to make sure the congregation did that. And fortunately she was a matriarch in the church so she could make it happen but it was because that’s also a dynamic too. Okay. You all can go back to your seats now. We’re going to take a break and a couple of minutes, but I want to get people and we’ll have more time in the next section. So don’t worry about it, but about anything I said or any memory that came up that you want to take, we’ll take about five minutes for questions. We have a microphone, that since this is being recorded I encourage everyone to speak into. Dwayne.
Just a brief story Keith mentioned Erinn Melby who was a member and affiliated minister at the church in Palo Alto where I did my internship and then served as sabbatical fill in the next year. She was in the VA hospital. I went to visit her and brought flowers and she told me later that some of the other patients were remarking on her boyfriend who had brought those wonderful flowers to her. It was just so complex. There was no way to process all of that.
Keith you mentioned, but I really want to lift up an emphasize AYS because I think, and you’re going to be hearing, I’m going to be talking about Gene Navias tomorrow, who was one of the people who started AYS. But he said that AYS really provided a turning point for the UUA’s attitude toward GLBT people because AYS was so liberal and the youth were pushing this.
Well, I also think that, that one of the people to really talk about, and since you’re talking about him. Gene Navias really was working behind the scenes, going to the UUA in the late 1960s and doing the work that he did. Before he died, he became a Beyond Categorical Thinking trainer. And in typical Gene’s style, I literally spent an hour and a half with him one day on the phone so he’d get every piece of the workshop just right. Was maybe the most exhausting one-on-one training I’ve ever done but he was going to do this in a particular way. I think it was that exactness that really helped in the creation of about your sexuality and how it was moving out. It was almost like we have to do it in a particular way, otherwise it might fail. That was so much of the attitude that was going on at a particular time. I also think that, just simply having…
I mean, it used to be and how many of you remember… I didn’t think to talk about this in my notes, but you remember when Concord made national news, Bryant Gumbel for showing, I mean, it used to be that you had to have a parent session, have them work through things, show them everything that was going to be in the curriculum, get both parental approvals. Concord only did it for one parent and Bryant Gumbel and Bobbie Nelson was on the show talking about it. But I think because the way the program was set up and the way that the parents sessions was set up, it almost invariably led them to talking about, gay, lesbian, bisexual orientation issues as a way to really be introduced to the program. One of the stories that I didn’t tell was that there was a woman in Lexington, Kentucky Church who was determined to diversify the church. This was back in the 1980s, a woman named Barbara Vance who died a few years later of cancer.
She was the one who brought back the story of Lucy Hitchcock. But she said two things, one, “I’m resigning my position on the board so that you can be the first openly gay person in the church to serve on the church board because we needed to diversify it that way.” And two, “I’m going to make you teach AYS this year.” I was a 25-year-old student and a teacher at the time but I was actually really quite delighted to do both of that. The first session we did with the parents, it was like, this is what we ended up talking about because this is what really sparked the conversation. Meg, you wanted to say something?
You lifted up Jim Stoll coming out in LRY conference, but I just really wanted to lift up LRY a little bit more. At that conference on the exec of LRY at the time were Wayne Arnason, Rob Eller Isaacs homophobia became so central to the whole youth group because they love Jim Stoll. So often it is the love of one person that changes things. But when youth love you, they really love you. I just think, I don’t know if anybody was in LRY at that time, but I think that LRY really deserves a huge thank you for the denomination moving.
I think that’s very true. Are there other questions? Barbara.
Little story talking about AYS. When I took AYS when I was 13 or 14 and I so remember the section on same sex relations, which was a big part of the AYS curriculum. And the reason I remember it is because we were looking at the slide show and up popped a picture of my father. And of course it was… but it’s not as bad as it sounds because it turns out that in Massachusetts when they were creating AYS, they took, they used the Unitarians as the nonsexual pictures. And what they showed was a picture of two men, one of them happened to be my father with their faces pressed together, very close. And it was a closeup like this and you were supposed to respond, how did that make you feel to see these two men so close together. Then it pulls out and you see they’re at a bar and it’s one of those sort of jolly guys at the bar picture. But it’s of course stayed with me for lots of reasons.
But how did it make you feel Barbara?
How did it make me feel. It was memorable, I’ll tell you.
One more question and then we’ll take a break. Craig.
I’m curious about the evolution of our seminaries of Meadville and Starr King when they’re accepting students who are openly gay and the story behind that, I’m just curious.
Well, others may have more of a story here. I just remember him talking about this with Ron Cook at Starr King when I was there. He did say, Jim Stoll never talked about this when he was there and could talk about it. Even though he said as a student it wouldn’t have surprised him and he thought at least Bob Kimball would have been supportive at that particular time. Starr King was such a radical place for so long. I mean, I arrived at Starr King and there were stories of nude chapels and for a while, anything goes. One of the things that would be a really sort of interesting to talk about in general are the effects of the late 60s and 70s on Unitarian Universalism. I mean, because that and not always positive ways. There were some positive things, but some of the stories of indiscretion, misconduct, hot tubs.
Yeah. And sort of a reaction to what was going on in the world. And gee, it can be different still profoundly affects our congregations 40 years later.
.. wasn’t only UUA seminaries.
It wasn’t only UUA seminaries, no, no. But the one story, this has nothing to do with your question Craig, but Roger Jones, who many of you know, good friend of mine we had decided in the early 1990s at the Dallas ULGC convocation that we were probably headed towards seminary at some point. It was at 1993 convocation that he told me because you didn’t have email then, you didn’t have anything. You just picked up the phone and wrote letters. Told me, “Guess what? I’m going to seminary, I’m going to meet the Lombard.” And I went, “Guess what? I’m going to seminary, I’m going to Starr King.” And both of our experiences there, because we would see each other, we’d room together at GA.
I mean by the time we got to the early 90s, it just was not paid attention to in the ways that it had been in the 70s and 80s. It had been no big deal. And for those of you who went to seminary in the 70s and 80s, your stories are different. I really think the story of Barb and Mark, it’s really one of the pioneering seminary stories that we have in our movement, Lindi was a little later.
Anne Heller. But this is really your all story to tell because you remember most of it and all I got was secondhand information from various folks, mainly from Mark actually as he would talk about what it was like to be then. And Ron said that when Mark was in seminary, he was just terrified that how is he going to be a whole person and yet, how could he be a minister at the same time. Would this just going to dominate his ministry to the point where he couldn’t do anything else about that, about talk about this.
No, it was Mark DeWolfe and it was one of his struggles. But even in the 90s, I can’t remember Ron Cook talking to Doddie Stone. Doddie, where are you? Talking and preaching class. And I remember Ron saying to me at one point, be careful how much you talk about this because that’s what we had to do to survive. Let’s take a break. We will come back at 11:10 and talk about some of the key events in Unitarian Universalism and the ministers who were part of that. Oh, it’s 11:45 sorry, I misread the clock because I don’t have on my glasses. Let’s come back at 11:00.