Note: As a result of this talk, I was interviewed on the UU Perspective podcast by Sharon Marrell. You can listen to the Podcast by clicking here.
(I presented this at the Unitarian Universalist Church where I am a lay minister. The segment is also on YouTube. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”)
When I heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage, I was sitting in a diner in Levittown with my 96-year-old father and his 91-year-old lady friend. The sound on the TV was muted when the news broke so I read the captions and then read them again to make sure that I wasn’t imaging things. I clapped and loudly exclaimed “we won!”
I was the only one in the diner who was paying any attention to the news. As my father and his lady friend quietly agreed with me, I noticed a white man about ten years older than me, with a bandanna on his head and who sported a grizzly beard, staring at me with a hostile glint in his eye as if thinking, “so you’re one of those.”
I stared back, pleasantly, until he lowered his gaze.
I grew up in Levittown — a working class suburb of Philadelphia. In the 1980s, several years after I had moved away, a young gay man named Anthony Milano who lived in the area was brutally murdered by two men who confessed to killing him and are still on death row.
I always thought that it was some kind of innate survival tactic that I came out after I moved to the relative safe haven of Germantown/Mt. Airy (liberal, diverse neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pa.). My partner Barbara and I have been together for 31 years and during that time have occasionally come to this church — mostly for Folk Factory concerts. When we first started attending somewhat regularly several years ago, I mentioned to Barbara that it was nice to come to a church that was so accepting of gay people.
“If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here,” she replied without missing a beat.
I had to admit that — once again — she was right.
Lots of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) people avoid religion because we have experienced religious intolerance.
When I started attending this church in earnest, I learned that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have been marching for
marching for LGBT social justice as long as I have, if not longer. The Unitarian Universal Association website states that, “As Unitarian Universalists, we not only open our doors to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, we value diversity of sexuality and gender and see it as a spiritual gift.”
When I heard that the theme for this month is abundance, I wanted to do something on marriage equality. For me, there is an abundance in being yourself. This probably fits every UU principle, but it especially resonates in the First Principle of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
It was, fitting, perhaps that I was in Levittown when I heard the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. I had no idea how amazed I would feel that marriage equality is actually a reality in the entire country. And I am proud of my country because this ruling is having a ripple effect around the world: in countries where people are still being imprisoned because of who they love.
But the man staring at me with hostility was a reminder that much work needs to be done — especially in small towns and in the South, especially in the areas of discrimination in housing, employment, and for the rights of transgendered people.
In being myself, in being out, I feel the abundance of being able to change the world by being who I am. By being myself, I make room for others to be themselves. Perhaps that is true for all of us — regardless of our sexual orientation. If we are ourselves and if we are secure in ourselves, we make it easier for others to be themselves.
In researching and writing my latest novel titled Art: a novel of revolution, love, and marriage, I explore how social movements in the lifetime of my characters (who are adolescents in the 1970s) overlapped to re-shape society. These movements include Civil Rights and racial justice, feminism and reproductive rights, labor and economic justice and gay liberation which became LGBT rights.
Add climate change, another UU priority, and it’s easy to see how these issues are all connected. We are all human and we live on this planet.
We are all connected. We are larger than ourselves.
There is abundance in the struggle.