We talked about this a little before the break, but I want to talk about, and I won’t mention as much of it now, the huge impact that religious educators had on our movement. Jean Navias’ impact is probably… will always be underrated in terms of what he did. He did so much behind the scenes. Frank Robertson who is a minister of religious education all over. I think I first met him when he was the MRA at Evanston when Barb and Ann were there, and you’d hear an occasional saying, “Some people are complaining that there are too many gay people on the staff at Evanston,” because the music director —
We’re all queer.
We are all queer.
We are all queer. Meg Riley, religious educator Minneapolis, I remember when you were selected as the new director. It’s like, “Who is this person? I have no idea who this person was.” We just hadn’t crossed circles before then. Liz Benjamin, religious educator in Ottawa, another person who had a significant impact in Canada. Wonderful women. A real role model up there for so many. And we talked about AYS and then our whole lives, and the impact that it has made on folks over the year. And we were talking about LRY and then YRUU. I remember I was a advisor at one of the YRUUs in… I forget which place it was in the mid-nineties and was in this conversation group about sexuality.
And one of the kids in the group just said in this very disappointed voice, “I used to think I was Bi, but I guess I’m straight.” And it was just like, this is how far we’ve come, that someone in the mid-1990s can no longer question their sexuality and now feels like the world is different. And it is interesting to see how quickly our understanding of what sexual orientation is and how clearly defined and not clearly defined it has become. Because it used to be that it really mattered if you were gay or straight. In the first welcoming congregation manual, Ellen Brenner, minister in Kent, Washington, that’s the only piece in the original welcoming congregation that really deals specifically with bisexuality.
There wasn’t a session on it. It was just an article that usually people read. But there were times when there were fights, even within Unitarian Universalism about there really isn’t such a thing as bisexuality. And so many of our ministers who identified as Bi would even say this to their congregations, but because they were in a relationship, the congregation would not remember that particular piece of their identity. They would just remember them as heterosexual or lesbian as opposed to being bisexual. Another person who I didn’t mention earlier, that someone came and talked to me, many of you remember Dean Starr who had a profound impact on who we are.
But I’m going to talk a little bit now about some of the events that really shaped who we are. We talked a little bit about civil unions in 1984 in Columbus. And that was a really significant moment for Unitarian Universalists about whether our ministers or not could actually take a stand and be public about this. Because so often, so many of our congregations were willing to be accepting of people as long as they didn’t have to talk about it too much. And we would see this, as I get to later, as I talk about the impact of Beyond Categorical Thinking. The early days of, Beyond Categorical Thinking, if we get a gay minister, we’ll become the gay church.
Yes, and they still say it.
And they still say it, but not with quite the frequency that they used to and how it works. Earlier, I mentioned that this is what I want to spend a little bit of time talking about because I think there’s such interesting history here. In 1987 in Little Rock, when we passed the resolution on sodomy laws and whether we should go to States that had sodomy laws or not. We passed it. People were worried about what it meant and what we would do. Fresh on people’s minds where the fact that we just pulled out of Phoenix, Arizona around Martin Luther King and it became one of the struggles of Unitarian universalism at a particular time.
In 1991 where we had our first opportunity, because ‘88 was Palm Springs, ‘89, New Haven, ‘90 was Milwaukee where they didn’t have sodomy laws on the books. In ‘91, we went to Hollywood, Florida, and the sodomy law protest was basically us handing out pink triangles. And that’s where the pink triangle pretty much originated within Unitarian Universalism. People attached them to their name tags, but there were a lot of questions as where is the public event? We thought Bill was going to… Bill Schultz, was going to be speaking at the rally in Miami for Pride.
And there was actually a lot of disappointment that this was all we were doing, which that was the GA where I was elected to serve on the GA planning committee. And so the next opportunity was a rather famous General Assembly and UU history, which is in Charlotte, North Carolina. Where not only where we had a presidential election and where I was in charge of the sodomy protest that Meg and Mark Belletini and I, and Denny all worked on, on trying to make it happen. Some of you may remember the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball that happened in ’93. And the two events actually have some common history. We had been very careful in the sodomy law protest to have something that was going to be very public.
We had it outside of the Omni Hotel. We had alerted the police that there might be some sort of counter demonstration. There might be some sort of a protest in some kind of way, trying to make sure that the event would happen safely. And then so when all of what happened around the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball happened, one of the things that was a part of the story is that when the police came, they actually first thought that people who were protesting the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball, were showing up in response to the sodomy law protest from the night before. And some of our folks actually had to go and explain to the police what this was actually about.
And it was when we did a program this last year at General Assembly about the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball, which was a very interesting piece of history, but it was both were just reminders that the work is never done and there’s always more work to do. It also impacted the ‘94 General Assembly in Fort Worth because no one wanted to do another sodomy law protest the year after we’d done one in ‘93. And the compromise, Meg remind me, remember this, we could get Mel White who is to come and speak to the General Assembly as sort of our sodomy protest. And it affected how we were public after that in ‘97 when we actually did go back to Phoenix, the sodomy law protest was relegated to a GA workshop.
And Harry Hay came and spoke. If those of you who remember the Mattachine Society in the GA workshop. And then so it was like, okay, what do we do in ‘99 when we go to Salt Lake where there had been strong concern about… I was chair of the GA planning committee that actually picked Salt Lake City as a place to go to. And the questions were, were we going to go to Long Beach where we’re going to be safe or were we going to go to Salt Lake City where we actually would do something visible. And a couple of my favorite stories about this, Barbara Prairie, some of you may remember, is the GA administrator. She and I did the search site. We went to all three sites. Salt Lake City was clearly the best site.
We met with some local gay lesbian Bi leaders in Salt Lake who said, “Please come.” So and I look at Diane the day before I did my career assessment center in Boston in 1994, I spent the weekend with the board of the UUA talking about should we be a place where we go and protest or should we just boycott particular places. They decided at that particular point to go with Salt Lake City as the GA site. And we began to plan what are we going to do after in ‘98 to do a public protest. And that was the time when I think I went out six different times to Salt Lake City to work with the local community about what would be useful.
Some of you remember that. Who was at the 1999 first Salt Lake? Sue Redfern-Campbell was actually a minister at South Valley during that particular time. And my favorite story was my first visit to Salt Lake City as part of the planning, because it was a full year in advance and I stepped off the plane in Salt Lake City. And there was a huge sign that said, “Welcome, 1998 Southern Baptist Convention.” It was like this will be even more interesting. And for those of you who remember the history, which I suspect most don’t, the Southern Baptist had encouraged an additional 3,000 people to come to Salt Lake City to try and convert the Mormons to Southern Baptism.
I show up at the hotel and the woman nervously asks me, “Why am I here?” And I tell her, “I’m here because our convention is here in 1999,” and she actually breathed a sigh of relief. And she said, “I’m a Mormon. We’ve heard all these stories that they’re going to be people who are going to try and convert us as we’re going to our cars, anytime we’re out in public.” Well, sure enough, that night on the way to dinner with Sue and some other people from the Salt Lake City community, I’m walking and there are two guys walking behind me. And they start asking, they say, “Hi, are you from here?” And I go, “No, I’m from Boston, Massachusetts.” And they were disappointed.
But still because they were Southern Baptists, and just so you know, I grew up a Southern Baptist, they started asking me all kinds of questions. And then they asked me what I did. They told me that they were here for the Southern Baptist Convention and I was like, “Okay, this is the one time not on an airplane when I’m actually excited to tell people what I do.” I said, “Well, I’m Keith Kron, I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” And they kind of were like, “We don’t think we’ve ever heard of Unitarian Universalists before.” They asked a couple of questions about that. They’re still puzzled by it because they just didn’t understand it out of Christian context.
But one of them did ask, “What do you do for… ?” And it was just like I just got this smile on my face and went, “I’m the Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns.” And they flinched. And I’m just really enjoying myself. And I said, “I’m here because our national convention, denominational General Assembly is here next year and I’m here so we can support the local gay, lesbian, BI and Trans community at Salt Lake City.” And they flinched again and then they wanted to argue theology. I said, “Well, you do need to know I grew up a Southern Baptist and I left Southern Baptism because it was so homophobic, and I didn’t agree with the theology.”
I said, “I really have more of a Universalist theology that God loves everyone without the judgment.” And they wanted to just argue with me for the entire time, but you could just see the wheels spinning in their head the entire time they were talking. And it still remains one of my all-time favorite conversations that I’ve had as a Unitarian Universalist minister in our movement, because it was really a chance. And that General Assembly, we actually did pretty amazing social justice and public witness work. This was the General Assembly where we had the prom you never had. And we worked with the local Salt Lake City gay, lesbian, Bi, Trans community and invited them, over 500 people from the local Salt Lake City community came to this event.
John Buehrens was on a panel with the Catholic Bishop, the Episcopalian Bishop and a Mormon elder came, and talked. And we were making news all over the place in Salt Lake City. And it was in some ways a turning point for us that we could do witness and we could be public about it in a way that helped launch us into being less afraid and less inwardly focused in terms of what we did. And in conjunction with Meg having really begun to lay the groundwork for all of this public witness work by coming back after national gay lesbian task force meeting in 1992, I think, where she’d become very aware of what the religious far-right was doing and how we needed to step up a religious voice and stop it.
And in some ways this was one of our shining moments about that. But I also think there was a huge reluctance for so often in Unitarian Universalism for us to be public about anything. I mean, one of the truisms, for example, that we learned in the welcoming congregation work was that a lot of our congregations would report, well, we’ve discovered we’re not really welcoming to anyone, let alone gay and lesbians. And that’s still true in a lot of places. But this was actually, it’s like because there were suggestions in the manual about how to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian people. And congregations were realizing we’re not doing this for straight people, let alone gay and lesbian people. And so it was a real moment.
One of the other credits that Meg should get is that Meg hired, at the time, a young lesbian to be the administrator for OBGLTC, a person named Barb Greve. And three months into the job, Barb suggested to me, at that time, she was still using female pronouns, that maybe we needed to add transgender to what the office had done, had called itself. And I was like, “Sure, let’s alphabetize in that way no one can assume that we are playing favorites other than alphabetically.” But that launched a period of work that has continued to really transform our world. And we had to do a lot of education not only about ourselves. And we look at how far we have come in really 23 years around all of this.
I mean, I predict in 10 years we’re all going to be they, them, theirs or that will become the new standard for who we are in terms of pronouns. And as it worked, it helped bring Trans ministers really more into our movement. It’s only been in the last couple of years that has become a significant less issue than it was and where Trans ministers can now really apply as openly Trans ministers. And now the words that we’re using; gender non-binary, have become used quite frequently in our congregations. How many of you are in a congregation where you list your pronouns on your name tag? Some. Some. We’re just going to see more and more of this.
One other event that I think was critically important to Unitarian Universalism happened in 1998. I was out doing the Beyond Categorical Thinking in Golden Colorado where Barbara and Jaco were serving as the interim ministers. And that was the weekend that Matthew Shepard had been left at the fence in Laramie, Wyoming. And the congregations, McKenna and Bob Morris, were serving in Cheyenne at the time. No one was serving in Casper. A man named Steve Johnson, who some of you may remember, was serving in Laramie part-time. They asked if there could be some sort of UUA presence because Cheyenne was hosting an interfaith gathering and Steve really didn’t know what to do in the face of this tragedy.
This is one of the more surprising moments of my ministry in the old office because we went back, we were on a staff retreat that entire week and then had a public witness meeting where John said, “I really don’t think you should go back to Wyoming this weekend.” And I just thought it was really important that we have to show up and have some presence there. And in talking with Bob and Makannah Morris, and with Steve, we worked it all out. I flew back out. We did an interfaith service. The only other religious person there besides Bob and Makannah, and I was Troy Perry who had founded the Metropolitan Community Church.
Both of us were interviewed for local Cheyenne TV, which in one case the videographer for the interview turned out to be the evening newscaster. That’s how small the operation was in Cheyenne. They had one reporter and one news broadcaster, and they worked as a team. And then the next day I went over to Laramie to talk with the congregation. And Steve had said, “I’ll have you say a few words and then we’ll take people out to the fence and leave some flowers.” And so that Sunday morning, you’ve all had a moment similar to this, Steve gets up and lavishes lots of praise on me. And I said, “And now Reverend Kron will now give the sermon for this morning.”
And inwardly you’re going, “What?” But then you just start talking because that’s what you do. And then we go out to the fence where Matthew had been left. And we’re out there and Steve said, “I have some flowers and now Reverend Kron will lead the Memorial service for Mathew Shepard.” I talked again for about another 5 to 10 minutes, probably said exactly what I’d said that morning before and left. And yet it was still one of those profound moments I had in my old job, just to stand by the fence to think of this young man who had been left to die, and what had happened.
I went to Casper that evening where Matthew was originally from and met some people from the congregation and some community members came. One of them was one of Matthew’s good friends and he was able to say, “You know what, I grew up with Matthew. He was my good friend.” And then he just started to cry. And I watched this community of people surround this young man to give him support. It was just a moment. And it was a turning point for Unitarian Universalism and the welcoming congregation, because all of a sudden, the number of congregations starting to do welcoming congregation every year basically tripled after Matthew Shepard.
It was a real wake up call for the people in our congregations who said, “What’s wrong? Everything is fine.” We now had the realization in the moment that everything wasn’t fine and that we needed to do something and to say that we were different, that we were not like this particular place in Wyoming. And I think that that moment probably changed Unitarian Universalism and the United States as much as any moment around gay, lesbian, Bi and Trans issues, in particular. And Meg, you knew Judy Shepard, you know Judy Shepard. You’ve worked with her over the years.
The other significant event was our work toward marriage equality. And it really started with Bill Sinkford because he was actually one of… he was a friend of one of the judges in Hawaii who had made the initial ruling around this that then got quickly overturned. But he actually came to the UUA one day and talked to many of us about marriage. And then in 2000 when all of the work in Vermont happened around civil unions, our ministers there were instrumental in making that happen, particularly in the state of Vermont. I look at Jane who lives in Vermont and served in Derby Line and the committee. But so many of the ministers in the interfaith group supporting equal marriage were in fact Unitarian Universalists, and they did a good job of rotating the non-Unitarian Universalists into public speaking roles so that it really did look like it was an interfaith group. But it was primarily Johanna Nichols, Nancy Crumbine, any number of colleagues who are working on this particular issue of marriage equality Anyway.
Right, right. There are all kinds of people who did significant work and it was so important for the people in Vermont to hear that religion was not of one voice on a particular issue. And I really think that was maybe some of the most significant work that some of our local congregations did to really shift the tide. Because what you discovered as soon as people who weren’t particularly interested in church or had an issue, realized that religion did not agree on one issue. There wasn’t one place on the moral compass to turn to, it allowed them to make up their own minds. Which is also a hallmark for Vermont, but I think it also just made a difference.
2003, Goodridge case in Massachusetts. We were very lucky that we 140 congregations in the state of Massachusetts. And all the work that happened there, 7 of the 14 plaintiffs identified as Unitarian Universalists in the Massachusetts Supreme Court case. The clerk who issued the first marriage license in the state, Unitarian Universalist in Cambridge. The impact of the work that we had done really built all of this and was just a huge significant. And Bill Sinkford started the Freedom to Marry Fund. One of the things that we had learned, by the way, is when I went to Wyoming, the stewardship and development folks put out an appeal saying we showed up in Wyoming and they raised close to $100,000 just by having our presence be there.
And by having this presence, the Freedom to Marry Fund Bill started, we raised a lot of money to encourage work happening in our congregations. A lot of you, Phyllis (Hubbell) referenced this, refuse to sign marriage licenses for a while. How many of you actually did that? A number of you did that. Anyways, that we made news. Some of you may remember Rhett Baird in Macon, Georgia being the first person who said they weren’t going to sign a certificate. So huge impact and then the work that happened afterwards, Lindi Ramsden in California, in many ways became the tipping point state on this particular issue.
First having the failed vote and then the work that all moved forward. Lots of work that she did when she was working for the California legislative justice work. And then now that we have equal marriage in the United States, the difference that has made and the way that people talk and perceive one another. Huge, huge change. Couple of last things that I want to talk about before we stop for questions and answers. I talked to several of you during the break about Beyond Categorical Thinking. Many of you know it existed in forums before 1989 working on discrimination towards women. There were workshops that were done.
Marni and Diane, and who else was just telling me about some of their work with this, significant work that we did, because people would go into churches and hear things like, “You are our second choice. Our congregation just isn’t ready for you yet.” And we began to hear those stories not only from women, but also from BGLT folks, from ministers of color, from ministers with disabilities, and really started that work. And when I came on and did… Jackie James just told me one weekend, “You’re coming with me to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, you’re going to do a BCT with me and learn how to do it.” Which I went to, I ended up doing like four that year.
I began to keep track of what some of the typical things that were said around ministers, some of the typical things that that came up, these included like will our children be safe around a gay or lesbian minister. In fact, in 1996, it was the number two concern that I heard in my visit. In 1996, if you think that’s something, in 1996 around ministers of color, whom at that time we assumed were all African-American. The number two concern was will a minister of color, will an African-American be smart enough to be our minister. Significant work that we had to do.
And Congregations would also say as they would apply, “We don’t need to do this. We’re welcoming to everyone. Anyone can come in.” And we’ve seen that change and people who have committed themselves to being trainers. Jane, how long have you been doing?
21 years. People who have done this for a very long time committed to the work. For some of our folks, it’s their primary way that they are Unitarian Universalists now depending on where they are. And we have seen some breakthroughs. It was about 10 years ago, though it still will come up occasionally that I stopped hearing, “Will our kids be safe?”
We don’t hear that bisexual ministers [inaudible 00:31:47] were even around.
Right. Still in 1996, we didn’t cover transgender ministers. Here’s an example of the evolution. Five or six years ago, we would always hear our congregation isn’t ready for this yet. It has slightly shifted and I still think of this as progress to our older people aren’t ready for a transgender yet. How much of that is projection? Who knows? But I still see it as a shift away from people saying, “We’re not ready for it yet.” I still occasionally hear about a bisexual minister will be promiscuous. And then I just sorted out, well, here are the people who have been promiscuous in our movement and they primarily fall under the straight white male categories.
But the big changes, it’s like there are almost no concerns now raised around calling a minister who’s gay or lesbian. We just simply do not hear that at anywhere close to the same level as we did even 10 years ago. And this last year, I take this as a major accomplishment of the program. For years, the number one concern about an African American and for a long time gay, lesbian, Bi, Trans minister that we’d hear all the time is they will be a single issue minister. This is all they will talking about. This year for the first time, the number one concern I’ve heard in our movement in the BCTs and the other trainers have said this too, we have more prejudice here than we think we do.
And that I think is in support of all the work of the white supremacy teachings of having Susan Frederick-Gray, in particular, raised this as an important value for us to be looking at. So we’re finally beginning to see some change which then produces some good challenges. I want to talk about the role of Interweave and its various installations, particularly in the early years, 1985. I know that Meg and Dorothy, and Dee were you there in 1985 in Houston?
Donna was there too.
Donna was there too. First one was in Houston, Texas, first gathering. Doug Strong tells me there was a gathering of queer ministers before Brunswick in ‘82, he’s the only person who’s told me that. I don’t know how public that was. But in ‘85, it was a grant and a lot of people converged in Houston, Texas for the first meeting to actually begin to organize about how do we make our denomination more welcoming. And a lot of people came from a lot of different congregations in places to make this happen. But what I noticed about four of the first five congregations, they were all congregations that were being served or had been served by a minister who was gay or lesbian.
Because ’86, the one exception was San Diego. But Helen Bishop was a part of that congregation who as some of you know, could be a very loud and determined voice in our movement. And Tom (Owen-Towle) had written the book with Chris Hassett, who was a member of the congregation, about a straight man and a gay man becoming friends. ’87, we were in the Toronto area where Mark was serving. ’88, we were in Portland, Maine, where Dick Hasty was still well remembered at the time.
Huh? Maine. Did I say? Oregon? Maine, Maine. And in ‘89, he came to Lexington, Kentucky where Charlie Kast had been the minister and we are currently served at the time that we didn’t know he was going to come out by David Blanchard, who was Diane’s intern some years ago. So there are people working behind the scenes to make a lot of work happen and we watched a lot of work being started by people who never got credit, and who helped really make things happen. I’m going to close with my favorite story in the office and it was… and I’ll blame Meg because Meg made me go to this conference in my first year.
She goes, “You should really go to this.” It was a gathering at the seminary in Nashville of religious leaders to talk about gender, religion and sexuality. And I was there representing Unitarian Universalism, and this was a wide ranging group of folks. To my left was a representative from the Church of God, and to my right was a representative from the Church of Christ. And we’re going around the circle, and the man from the Church of Christ whose name was either John or Paul, I can’t remember who is who, said, “Hi. My name is…”We’ll say he’s John. “My name is John. I’m from the Church of Christ and you should just know that we are to the right of the right.”
And then he turns, passes the microphone to me. We’re all sitting at this U-shaped table. And I go, “Hi, my name is Keith Kron. I’m with a Unitarian Universalists. I direct the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns. And we are to the left of the left.” Now what you should know is in that moment of me introducing myself, I had to stop and pause because John and Paul were scooting their chairs away from me because they didn’t want to sit that close. And we had three days of conversations about gender, sexuality, and religion. And on the last day, they come up to me along with two other folks who are fairly conservative and said, “We would love to have lunch with you.”
And I went, “Oh, this is going to be so fun.” And I went it’s also going to be a learning opportunity because it’s all or any, let’s just see what happens. And I went, “Sure.” We were in Nashville and I went to the University of Tennessee. I’m from Tennessee. We started talking about safe subjects, we started talking about Tennessee football and they were all surprised. I knew more about football than any of them did. And then we got to what they really wanted to talk about. They said, “We wanted you to know, we have listened at what you have said this week and we have disagreed with every single thing you have said. But we just wanted to know, we have respect for you because at least you are clear about what you believe.”
And as we got to talking throughout the conference, what really had driven them crazy were the denominations that were waffling on various issues of gender, religion, and sexuality. They had more respect for me and for Bill Johnson from the UCC for being clear than they did for the people who simply couldn’t make up our minds. And I think about that moment and I think about all of these different moments, and I think about all the people who came before us who helped make that moment and the subsequent moments possible. Because we have done all of this work collectively together, whether we identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender, non-binary, questioning and it has been a common work of which we still have work to do.
But has gotten to this point where we can be here today and celebrate and commemorate the years of work that we have done that have put us in a place where there is without equivocation. This is what Unitarian Universalism stands for. To all of those of you who have done this work, who have suffered from this work, who have been allies to this work, let me just conclude by saying thank you for what you have done and let’s not stop here. We can always be more welcoming, more inclusive, and a better religious faith. And we’ll stop now for questions.
Thank you. Thank you by the way. I’ve always said to congregations when I show up for the first time, what I say will be a reflection of your sound system. Questions, Phyllis?
I have two and they’re about the future. When John and I first started working in Maryland in their General Assembly, it wasn’t about same sex marriage because nobody was talking about same sex marriage, they were talking about civil unions. But we were talking about equality of the right to work, the right to have housing. And Maryland did pass such laws, but many States, I believe the overwhelming majority of States do not have such legislation now and there’s no federal guarantee. It feels to me like that has gotten —
Well, let me tell you a slight story about this. One of the things that Barb and I discovered when we were in the office as the UUA actually didn’t have an official statement in its hiring practices that they didn’t discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. It was just assumed that we wouldn’t do that. And there were people who actually said, “Well, why do we need to add this in?” And it was just like, you’re probably better served by having this in, I mean, and just being public about it. And I think now people assume it’s just done. We don’t have to worry about this anymore. They never go to Chick-Fil-A. I mean.
Yeah. Yeah. So there is more work to be done on that. The other thing is the last couple of years as we had been focusing back on how we are with regard to race relations and white supremacy, it has occurred to me that those same kind of attitudes, probably our LGBTQ folks are still getting that. And many of us who are straight, and I’ll speak for myself, have just assumed, “Oh, the battle is won.” So any —
Well, that just makes me think, in 1996, I went to… how many of you remember the 1990s version of our anti-racism work with Crossroads Ministry and The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. And my first experience was being at Riverside church in New York City. Tracy Robinson Harris, Hope and Janice Marie Johnson were there. And I remember sitting at this training and thinking they’re talking about systematic oppression. And I remember thinking we get to talk about this because I had just assumed we were not going to ever get to talk about this in my lifetime.
That what we could talk about his individual oppression toward gay, lesbian, Bi and now trans people. But the idea of looking at something systematically was so off my radar screen. I mean, and I remain forever indebted in particular to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond because they were I think much… well, they were much easier for me to work with than Crossroads Ministry because they were less Lutheran in their theology about how they approach this. For beginning to help me think about all oppression in a systematic way because I didn’t think we were going to get there.
And I think the work, at least for our denomination happened way too soon. It would be interesting to take a look at some of that work and if it were done now, how people would refer to it. Dequenne and I still refer to it as the best training on racism we’ve ever been to. And having led it in any number of our congregations for seminarians, doing it for a Quaker group one time, you think we resist? The Quakers were worse at the resisting. There are parts of it I think are absolutely brilliant and I think many of our folks just simply weren’t ready for it to talk about this in this particular ways.
And there wasn’t the added element at the time of an intersectionality approach to oppression, which I think is probably critical to talk about. Because they were times when it would often feel like people were fighting over who got the most resources. Dee.
Keith mentioned briefly about our experience being a lesbian family with children. And I don’t know if we were the first ones to search as an out lesbian family with kids or not. But I can tell you, my kids were the first, at least they seemed like they were the first at General Assembly to go to Young Fun and to be in kids’ programs, and educating the caregivers who would say, “Where’s your mom? Where’s your dad?” And they’d say, “Well, we have two moms.” And then of course because they were different colors, it would be, “Yes, we’re sisters.”
And I just am really proud of my kids, that they went through countless workshops and UU gatherings and other places where they were the kids explaining this to the grownups who were supposed to be responsible for them. Yeah, I’m just so grateful to have kids that could grow through that and grow up and be somewhat successful at this point. Thank you all for supporting them.
You didn’t mention anything about the No On Nine campaign in Oregon. I was wondering about that because that was very significant to us in the Pacific Northwest.
Yeah. That was a critical moment. And that golden opportunity where Marilyn Sewell was able to wrap the congregation in a red ribbon and declare it a safe zone. The whole block, it was pretty amazing and it made a real impact. And again, it was evident we could do social justice in the public arena. But it was very interesting also to talk to congregations who weren’t in large liberal cities about what they thought they could do. And there was more of a struggle and yet there were still congregations that were willing to do it. I mean, but it was just hard.
But there was like, “Oh, we can do this.” I mean, I really think the fact that it was Portland, really helped. I think the fact that it was Marilyn who had a good reputation in the wider Portland area in terms of being a woman minister of a large congregation really helped. I think all of that just contributed to that success. I mean, there were lots of campaigns that happened and other ones and that was the first big one that a congregation really undertook that people would talk about for years, actually.
There’s a lot I want to say about that time, that’s really critical history. Can I jump off for you?
Yeah, just… I know, but this is related too. I just want to say every one of these things you are mentioning, please put it on a sticky note and put it on the timeline, so that way it’ll become at least a mention in this. So please do that. Fill this in.
I just wanted to lift this time up because I think it was absolutely critical. That’s when I was in the office, 1992 and Colorado had amendment two and Oregon had a particularly hateful amendment nine, and ballot measure nine. And I remember going out to the ministers gathering in PNWD and let’s talk about imperfect people. Peter Rable saying to the colleagues, “The UUA, really, we’re on our own here. Let us commit to raising for organizers right here and right now.” And the ministers in that room committed to raising $5,000 right then and there and that money went to pay an organizer a pitiful amount of money in Oregon, in Idaho and in Washington.
And the UUA was embarrassed enough to cough up a little bit of money to match it. But those organizers then works… I mean Marilyn Sewell got a lot of press, but Corvallis, these Salem, all kinds of places were really stepping out and I know because I was driving around the Northwest, how much it would mean to see these oases. So just want to lift up the leadership of that ministerial gathering, which was very moving.
I mean and can I just add? I mean there is a whole lot of information in both Meg and Jay that we should just be tapping into because they were in the heart of it before I was. And there’s a whole lot of people, a whole lot of work that basically went unseen that I might know snippets of stories, but they know so much of it. It is interesting and Meg, you mentioned Colorado and you think that they are now the first state served by an openly gay governor. One and then two.
Really, really quick, I was the summer minister at First Unitarian in Portland in ‘92. And Marilyn had said, “Please have a gathering for the gay people. I don’t know what they want, so find out what they want.” I have all these people over to the house I was borrowing, just filled up the whole place. And I said, “Marilyn wants to know what do you want?” And they all just said, “We don’t want anything. We’re so exhausted. We just want to be someplace, we’re so happy to be someplace where straight people don’t hate us.”
Well, and Lindi was talking about when they were deciding whether or not to work again after the first decision in California where they voted down equal marriage. It was like, do we want to raise this issue again now where if it fails again, will the impact it’ll have on a young generation of folks or do we want to wait a few more years? I mean, we’re talking about the toll on people and what some of these campaigns did was just unbelievable and amazing.
Meg reminded me that Sam Hall was one of the organizers for the No On Nine Campaign, and we hadn’t met before, now we’re very good friends. But that organizing meeting was held at our home in Salem and the place was packed. I could also add that one of our daughters, our firstborn was in high school at the time. She was very open and wearing her No On Nine button and had posters probably in her locker, I don’t know. People threw food at her. People pushed her as she walked down the hall. People wrote hateful things on the blackboard of classrooms before she got to the room.
In one case, her teacher erased what was on the blackboard before straightening the Bible that was on the corner of his desk. We ended up withdrawing her from school. I was on practically a first name basis with the principal who told me high school is a microcosm of the larger world, just essentially get over it. And we ended up withdrawing her from school and homeschooling her, and our congregation was so supportive. We had people coming up to us saying if she would like tutoring and chemistry or biology, or whatever, just count on us. It was it was very powerful.
It would be interesting to know how many of our congregations at some point in their history were the haven and their community of safety of a place where people could go and talk about their kids, where people could be out. Because I suspect there are a lot of congregations, there’s still congregations in conservative areas where that’s true. Judy.
I have a response to that.
And then I’m going to have you tell a story and then we’ll break for lunch.
I don’t know what a story, we have a story in mind. Okay. What I wanted to say about congregations being safe havens, we served a brand new congregation in central Pennsylvania, which is quite conservative religiously and politically. And there were many, and I would say many meaning like maybe four or five lesbian couples, who were aware that we existed but not sure if it was safe to come to our congregation. And I remember one couple after they joined telling us that they had driven over several times and cruised through the parking lot to see what the bumper stickers were on the cars. And they decided based on that observation that it probably would be okay if they came to our church.
So Judy, exact opposite story I want you to tell, tell about marching in the Pride Parade when you were in seminary.
Oh, that was cool. Amanda was there too. I was friends with a lot of lesbians at Starr King and the Pride Parade was happening and it was even then, this is probably 1992 or ‘3, something like that. It was early. But even then, the Pride Parade in San Francisco was a big deal and there were a bunch of us who proudly wore our SLUTS t-shirt. They’re black and the teacher was black, and then it was pink lettering on it and it said ‘SLUTS’. And then on the back it said Seminary Lesbians Under Theological Stress
And it was very hot that day, so we marched for a while wearing our SLUTS t-shirt and then we all took our SLUTS t-shirt off and we just marched down Market Street in our bras. I don’t know if that’s what you were thinking of.
Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking of. It was like I heard this story in my first semester of seminary, and it’s like I’ve come to the right place. Anyway, thank you. We are past lunch break. Let me again thank you all. Please keep sharing your stories. Please keep putting stuff, things you remember up on the timelines. Let’s capture it and not forget it.