Progressive, gay-friendly church assembly convenes in Charlotte today

Unitarian Universalist Association's annual convention attracts thousands of social justice-oriented people of faith, focuses on intersections of oppression

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: June 22, 2011 in News

CHARLOTTE — Some 4,000 people arrive in town today for the start of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ (UUA) annual general assembly. The event, which runs through Sunday, will mark the 50th anniversary of the association’s founding, established by the merger of the two much older groups American Unitarian Association (1825) and Universalist Church of America (1793).

The convention has been held here before. In 1993, the association held its 32nd annual gathering in Charlotte. Then, as now, the denomination’s leaders spoke out forcefully for LGBT equality.

“Oppression still plagues this world in many forms,” the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, former UUA president, said at the time,” but one of those forms against which Unitarian Universalism still stands virtually alone among religious bodies is the denigration and scapegoating of gay, lesbian and bisexual people…Unitarian Universalism’s commitment to gay and lesbian rights is now more than 20 years old. But, unfortunately, my friends, this battle is just beginning.”

Much has changed across the nation for LGBT equality since Schulz and the UUA last visited Charlotte. One constant, however, is the denomination’s support for progressive, social justice causes. Today, as more and more faith groups become more welcoming and affirming of gay and lesbian people, the association has expanded its focus. Daisy Kincaid, the UUA’s spokesperson, says her association is now doing more to combat transphobia.

“We are trying to integrate more transgender awareness in the UUA in general,” she says.

Faith Rally Against Homophobia & Transphobia

Friday, June 23, 2011

4:30 p.m.: March begins at Convention Center. 4:45 p.m.: Rally begins at Marshall Park

Featuring: Rev. Mark Kiyimba (UU Church of Uganda), Rabbi Judy Schindler (Temple Beth-El), Ian Palmquist (Equality NC), Rev. Chris Ayers (Wedgewood Baptist), Rev. Peter Morales (UUA), Loan Tran (Time Out Youth), Rev. Robin Tanner (Piedmont UU Church), Rev. Jay Leach (UU Church of Charlotte) and Bishop Tonyia Rawls (Unity Fellowship Church).

Co-sponsored by Time Out Youth, Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Standing on the Side of Life” Campaign, Faith in America, Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina.

On Friday, the UUA and local congregations and LGBT groups will team up to present their “Faith Community Rally Against Homophobia & Transphobia.”

“It’s a great opportunity to talk about transphobia and the work we can do to stop some of that,” Kincaid says.

The event, which will also focus on an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage proposed at the state legislature, begins at the Charlotte Convention Center at 4:30 p.m. Participants will march to Marshall Park; the rally should start by 4:45 p.m. Participants will include the Rev. Mark Kiyimba, a founder of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda and an outspoken critic of that country’s proposed “Kill the Gays” bill, as well as pastors from a variety of local faith groups. Ian Palmquist of Equality North Carolina and the Rev. Peter Morales, UUA president, are also scheduled to speak.

For Morales, these basic issues of LGBT equality are a part of his faith’s commitment to ensuring the “inherent worth and dignity” of every person. He sees great parallels between current struggles for sexual minorities and immigrants, two communities who have found themselves facing an intertwined movement for justice and opportunity.

“These are people,” Morales says, “who are seen as the other and different and that it’s somehow okay to treat them as less than fully human.”

Last December, queer activists and “DREAMers,” as they became known, pushed hard for repeal of the anti-gay military policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and for the passage of the DREAM Act for undocumented youth. Many folks who’d fought for both pieces of legislation found their emotions pulled in opposite directions when the U.S. Senate passed DADT repeal but rejected the DREAM Act.

“I and thousands of Unitarian Universalists were delighted on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;’ we’d been working on that for a very long time,” Morales says, “but we were very disappointed in DREAM Act’s failure. I’ve met some of these young people, including a young woman in San Antonio who came over with her parents as a toddler more than 20 years ago. She has no memory of Mexico, knows no one in Mexico and is facing deportation as the result of being pulled over for not coming to a complete stop. She’s a summa cum laude graduate; I just don’t know whose rights are being trampled on by her being able to fully participate in American life.”

Morales says the American immigration system is broken and that the “time is long overdue” for comprehensive reform.

“We have a system now that is tearing families a part, it’s causing thousands of deaths in the Southwest desert; it is a human tragedy that serves no one,” he says.

Immigration reform and LGBT equality are issues that have long been closely-tied. Many bi-national same-sex couples face some of the same fears and injustices experienced by undocumented youth and families.

Morales says it’s important to speak out on all of these issues: “Our association believes it’s essential to take these public positions and leaders such as myself are expected to and encouraged to speak out on issues on which there is broad agreement in our movement — essential human rights issues and issues of compassion.”

Morales is excited about the UUA’s presence in Charlotte this week. He sees it being of mutual benefit to the area and his denomination.

“I hope we give people the chance to see there are progressive and active, hard-working people of faith who believe in full inclusion, who believe in marriage equality, and what I hope our own 4,000 delegates learn is something about this part of the country,” he says. : :

more: Stay tuned to goqnotes.com this week for more features from this year’s Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly and be sure to pick up a July 9 print issue for a full recap of the conference.