Archives for category: Radical Love and Justice For All

In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, North Carolina recently won our battle for marriage equality. While I intend to find (ahem) time to write more about this later, I wanted to leave you with this testimony that I delivered yesterday evening at the Interfaith Voice after-pride service. 

f79e9e4eb680bac233d97eac57d604d5The We Do campaign, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is the brainchild of the Campaign for Southern Equality working out of Asheville. Headed by UCC Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara, the staff works tirelessly across seven southern states, staging peaceful justice actions in pursuit of full marriage equality.

To tell you the truth, until yesterday, the reality of marriage equality in North Carolina hadn’t actually sunk in yet. I had anticipated a huge party; great rejoicings in the streets of Winston Salem filled with tears and hugs. After all, I had lobbied hard against Amendment One and Liam and I had been denied marriage licenses in three separate We Do actions. I know there were celebrations. I know the streets were filled with my friends, waiting out the news downtown, rushing in to claim long-deserved marriage licenses and witnessing weddings on the steps of City Hall.

In my case, I saw the news on Facebook during a quiet dinner with my son in the middle of torrential downpour. Liam was somewhere far away on a spiritual retreat with classmates from Wake Forest Divinity. At that point, more than two years after our first denial for a marriage license, the end of Amendment One felt more like a sigh, “finally.” And, I admit, more than a bit of “do we dare believe it?”

I have spent a lot of time since then thinking about our three trips to the register of deeds counter and I’d like to give you a glimpse of what it was like to participate.

Our first We Do campaign action took place May 10, 2012, just two days after Amendment One was passed. We had decided fairly suddenly to participate and I had no real expectation of what that action would mean for us. Upon returning home, I wrote the following:

I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

This is part of what I wrote after our third We Do action:

Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our drivers licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.

I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”

The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”

Since that action, more than a year ago, Liam’s legal name has changed and the gender marker on his driver’s license is different. For months now, the same couple who has been denied three times has been eligible to receive that marriage license. But we waited. I will tell you that I have been very jealous of all our friends and the other couples from We Do campaign actions who have married elsewhere in order to have their unions recognized on a federal level. While we had a big, wonderful wedding back in 2011 and consider ourselves married in the eyes of our friends, family, and God, we made a very deliberate decision not to make it legal until everyone in our home state had that option.

I originally ended this with an empowering plea not to forget how much work we have left to do, not just for marriage equality but equality for all: gay and straight, trans and cisgender, young and old, citizens and immigrants – but I’ll hope you already know all that. Instead, I’d like now to tell you what was so important about yesterday. It wasn’t so much the celebration of Pride, although that went a long way toward convincing me that here, at least in North Carolina, we’d won our long-fought battle. It was the honor of witnessing the marriage of two beautiful, highly spiritual young women who have chosen our state as home and have plans to raise a family here. I can’t imagine two souls more perfectly matched. When Pastor Roger Hayes began “By the power vested in me…” and faltered, there was not a dry eye in the place. “By the power vested in me by the state of North Carolina.” That moment, my friends, is when I realized why we did, and continue to do, the work needed toward full equality. Liam and I already had the ability to get married. Our friends did not. Today they are legally recognized by the state of North Carolina as a couple fully joined in matrimony, and that makes the whole struggle worthwhile.

Magazine-illustration-1950s-colour-lithoYesterday Liam and I participated in our third We Do Campaign action for the Campaign for Southern Equality. You can read about our participation in two earlier stages here and here. Recently, clerks in such places as New Mexico and Pennsylvania have been issuing marriage licenses despite the fact that their individual states do not sanction same-gender marriages (New Mexico neither approves nor prohibits them and Pennsylvania is not legally recognizing the marriage licenses issued in spite of state laws). Here in North Carolina, we have added Amendment One to the books, in spite of the tireless lobbying against it. Amendment One makes any kind of same-gender union illegal in this state. The Campaign for Southern Equality seeks, in this stage, to engage a clerk of court, bring them into our experience, and encourage them to stand with us in an act of conscience and award a marriage license to a same-gender couple. We hoped to be that couple.

In anticipation of our action, Liam wrote a beautiful and heartfelt letter to the clerk of courts here in Forsyth County requesting that we be granted a marriage license. Although the answer was a resounding and precipitating “no”, we still prayed that, when we got to the desk and actually presented our story to the clerk, our no would become a “yes”. Wishful thinking.

Our action took place early in the morning and we arrived at the public staging area at 8:15. We were greeted with hugs and an overwhelming amount of love and respect from friends; some live locally but others drove from the far reaches of our state and from South Carolina to support us and the We Do Campaign. Our incredible friends from Gender Benders got themselves up at 2:30 a.m. to make the 3 hour journey. My heart skipped a beat to bear witness to the support of our friends. After greetings, we filled out our license application alongside the other couple, our friends L Rankin and Kristin Hedin (who would also be requesting a license in the action). The inimitable Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara gathered us into a small circle and gave voice to our prayers and wishes for the day’s event.

The group at large circled up and prayers were spoken by the clergy present. Our own UCC pastor was in attendance (his third time accompanying us as well), along with two of our very good friends from the UU church in Asheville, NC (a couple who had participated in a We Do Campaign action in the last stage). My heart was racing as we queued up to head into the registry of deeds and I clung tightly to Li’s hand.

Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. As a pastor and educator, he is used to public speaking and does so well and eloquently. This was no exception. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.

I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”

The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”

I don’t know why I thought these actions would get easier as time goes on. You’d think we’d be old hat at this and it would be no big deal. The truth is that it gets much more difficult. The fact that we are second-class citizens is thrown into the harsh light of day. The fact that the majority of my home state chose to discriminate against me and went so far as to put a constitutional amendment on the books banning me from legally solidifying my marriage to the person I love is staggering. We turned from the desk and I walked out, ahead of Li, and into the loving arms of a friend who literally held me up as I my breath caught and my chest heaved. I had no control over the sobs that escaped me and clung to her as other friends rushed over with tissues and comfort. My heart shattered and I was left feeling very much less than.

Less than the couple that left before us, smiling and on their way to lifelong recognition of their marriage. Less than respected. Less than a citizen. Less than human.

The remainder of the morning was filled with prayer, support, love, friendship, coffee, and a few interviews with local news agencies that never made it into print. I awoke this morning to a text informing me that my photo was plastered all over the local newspaper’s website. I have yet to see a print version, so I’ve no idea whether our action warranted ink or not.

In the end, we accomplished a great deal. We made a connection with someone who is in a position to make a difference. We told our story, publicly and honestly, and asked her to see us as worthy of the same human rights as our heterosexual counterparts. We looked into her eyes and she looked back at us. She “saw” us. While we were not granted equality at this time, my prayer continues to be that someone, somewhere, will come out from behind that counter and say “Yes, I will grant you the right to marry your partner. The laws are unjust, you are hurting no one in so doing, and I want to stand on the side of love.” The action continues and we will pray for just such a day.

Page001The South doesn’t have the best reputation for being liberal or accepting. My own state of North Carolina has become somewhat of a police state and bills are being passed on a near daily basis that restrict our rights. Unless you are a white upper-class male you can’t vote and unless you live somewhere not North Carolina, you can’t get a safe abortion. But you can carry a concealed weapon into a bar. So that’s something (says the pacifist with the Quaker upbringing).

In the midst of all of this frustration with my home state, Liam and I traveled deeper into the south last Friday afternoon for the most unlikely of events: Camp GB. Through the Campaign for Southern Equality’s We Do Campaign, Li and I got involved with a rather ragtag group of renegades called the Gender Benders. They are a rapidly growing non-profit organization consisting of trans* and genderqueer folks—mostly young folks—who offer each other support, education, and resources for mental health and physical transition, to name but two. We have been blessed to attend a couple of legal workshops and Liam was invited to present his work on spiritual reconciliation, which was received with so much positivity that we carried a glow in our hearts for weeks. Out of that opportunity rose a discussion about a day-long retreat. That discussion turned into the possibility of a weekend retreat and Camp GB was born.

It was born five weeks ago, to be precise and it was built on a prayer and a spitball. There was dust in the coffers and no time to plan but these hard workers made it happen. My hat (you know, that straw fedora with the black band?) is off to the two original members/leaders and their respective partners. They embarked on a mad Internet fundraiser and in no time had all that they needed and then some to house and feed every single member that wished to join us, free of charge. In the end, the attendance, at its high point, was likely around 30 (the overall membership is into the 200s, but distance/jobs/short notice made it difficult for some). At Sunday’s family/friends meeting we saw numbers well into the 40s, but more about that later.

So there we were, two old fogies lugging our bags up the porch steps on a Friday evening. The air was thick with the humidity that would stick to us like Saran Wrap for the remainder of the weekend and the porch was already full of beautiful young people in all states of glorious gender non-conformity. I will admit that I was full of trepidation and experienced the first of several moments of self-consciousness. I would estimate that the average age of this group falls around 22 or 23, maybe even younger. We are twice that and then some. I was acutely aware of my silver hair and Li’s face well-lined with character. The camp was held at Ivy Acres in Piedmont, South Carolina, and is an RV Campground for those 45 and older. I imagined that the campers thought we were wayward old folk, heading up to the office to check in. I could hear the creaking in my joints.

Yet, as they welcome every single person they encounter, so too did they welcome us. They welcomed us as allies, as compatriots, as their pastor (by the end of the weekend, Liam was being introduced as such) and his wife, as friends and confidantes. I felt an overwhelming motherly love toward each of these incredibly brave souls. These are my heroes. Each of them–where they are now and where they have been and where they are heading. Some of them I had met, briefly, during one of the previous workshops or meetings; some of them I had seen only on Facebook. By the end of the weekend, I felt as though I had formed the first groping tendrils of bonds that will last a lifetime.

I’m not going to recap the schedule, but I will refer you here, should you wish to learn more. Suffice it to say that our time was jam-packed with a wide variety of offerings. We had meditation sessions and breakout groups and a Spirit Walk (which, sadly, I slept through as I had hit a wall of emotional overload and came away with a particularly nasty headache) and meetings to learn more coping skills (who knew that my own husband could still teach me a thing or two about getting through panic and anxiety?). I had the wonderfully good fortune to co-facilitate a partners and allies group, which I expect will lead to more support of my own ministry. And the food! Oh, the food. Dancing! Birthday cake! Team building exercises filled with laughter and camaraderie!

I could go on and on about what an amazing time was had by all, but what I really want to say is this: these people really are the bravest human beings on the planet. They are the intrepid explorers of the road far less traveled. They are, by turns, exuberant and introspective. Many are fledglings, just shaking their tentative wings in preparation for flight. Several are confidently pointing the way, having gone before and beaten back the underbrush. My own husband is early in his physical transition and it seems that testosterone becomes the great equalizer—at times I felt surrounded by pre-teen boys ranging in age from 20-50. I know that he felt a true kinship with these young men and women and those that blow my mind by being able to see their own fluid place on the gender spectrum that is neither one nor the other.

At the close of the weekend, we wrapped with a family and friends meeting that was facilitated by a local family therapist, Landa Basham. We had gone for a tour of the extensive and beautiful grounds and came back to see the porch, living room, and front yard filled with parents, friends, siblings, partners, and children. All of them there to offer various levels of support. I really had managed to hold my tears all weekend (unusual for me as I am a crier, but I think the constant laughter kept my weeping at bay), but I admit to misting up then. Growing up as “other” I never had this kind of support system, and I know my husband would have benefitted from a group like the GenderBenders. Their mantra has become “You are not alone,” and I felt that so keenly in that moment. While some family members were still expressing doubt and hesitancy and insistence upon using birth names and pronouns, some were not there at all.  Yet the overwhelming message was clear: no one was going through this stuff alone. Each of these pioneers has each other. A whole group of caring individuals that love each other unconditionally and accept each other where they are and where they’ve been and where they are heading.

I realize that this sense of magic will wear off quickly. We return to the real world and instantly we are confronted with life and all of its discrimination. I already see members, who just spent a weekend wrapped in the loving arms of acceptance and encouragement, struggling against self-doubt, self-hatred, deep depression, and even suicidal impulses. As a much older woman who has been there (yes, I have been there), I want to take each of these children (to me they are children, my children) and shake them by the shoulders. I want to tell them to look around at each other and remember that they have all that they need to succeed right here. They are part of the luckiest group in the world; a group that holds each other up and lets the light shine through the cracks and into the deepest, most hurt part of their souls. “You are not alone.” And, when they are ever in doubt that their lives will never be more than they are right now, they should look to these two old veterans and be reassured: it really, really does get better.

In the meantime, to my dear Gender Benders: I love you. I am grateful for each of you. You, you are my heroes.

 

tumblr_m4hnevXrah1qa70eyo1_500Less than two hours ago, the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. They have also struck down Prop 8, which means that same sex marriages in California will now be recognized on both a state and federal level. As someone who has participated for two years in peaceful actions for the We Do Campaign sponsored by the Campaign for Southern Equality, I should be jumping up and down and shedding tears of joy, right? Except, I’m not.

 

For one thing, I live in the State of North Carolina. In May of 2012, the citizens of our state stuck a lovely little addendum onto our constitution called Amendment One. Amendment One denies any union between same sex couples. Our beautiful wedding ceremony in 2011 was just that, a ceremony. It remains as the single best day of my life and I feel married in the eyes of God, my church, and my family and friends. But I still check the “single” box on all forms put in front of me. While “wedded,” we are not actually “married.”

 

But, you say, you have a “husband,” your spouse is male and you are female, so why can’t you get married? Right. My spouse identifies as male, presents as male, lives as male…but that North Carolina driver’s license? It says otherwise.

 

Today I feel very much othered. We are no longer a lesbian couple. We are not recognized as a heterosexual couple either. We drift in this purgatory; this space between one and the other, happy for both, belonging to neither. I want to be legally married to my husband. What I want more is for his major medical insurance to cover the sexual reassignment surgery he must have in order to change his birth certificate. What I want is an alignment with others who get this feeling of not belonging. What I want is so much broader than the marriage equality we’ve been fighting for these last two years.

 

Just a few years ago, we would have been holding hands in solidarity with our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters. We would be crying tears of joy and embracing each other in celebration. Am I ungrateful for this decision? Of course not. But I stand as an ally and no longer as a lesbian looking for equal rights. Like it or not, my situation is different. It has changed. I am a queer woman in a queer relationship, and queer rights? Not quite on board yet. Queer is odd. Queer is uncomfortable for people. I’m not lesbian but I’m not straight. I’m queer and I’m trying to get used to it.

 

We have made a pact that even when Liam’s gender marker has changed, we will not get married until all can. But I feel as though the country is moving faster than we are. What happens when everyone in this country can get legally married but us? If we get married as a same sex couple, we are not being authentic to my husband’s gender. Additionally, what happens to that marriage when his gender marker changes? Is it declared null and void? Do we marry again as a heterosexual couple? Where are the folks in the gay and lesbian community who will stand up for the trans* couples and say, “hey, it’s all good. We’ll wait for YOU, now!”

 

Oh, I see them…they are all celebrating their good fortune. It’s okay, we’ll just wait here and hope they don’t forget us.

 

vintage_wedding_groom_carrying_bride_newlyweds_card-r992e137e1e7a4ad8b043304288939dc8_xvua8_8byvr_512This is the first anniversary of the devastating passing of Amendment One to the Constitution by the State of North Carolina. As of this writing, 11 states have now passed marriage equality. We are currently awaiting two rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that will determine federal marriage equality. My home state continues to dig itself further and further into a hole of right-wing “moral” majority defiance and indignation. I continue to be both saddened and appalled. This was written after the first time Liam and I applied for a marriage license as part of the We Do Campaign. Early this spring, we participated a second time and were again turned down. In honor of our ongoing work toward marriage equality. I am reprinting this story that originally appeared on my other blog.

 In May of 2004, my then partner of 11 years and I cried tears of joy to learn that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had decided it was unconstitutional to allow only heterosexual couples to marry. On May 17th we sat in our car outside our tiny town hall and waited for the doors to open, chatting with the one other couple there. There had been no formal proposal; no engagement; no long, drawn out wedding plans—because we had a child together, it was the thing to do, and so we did. When we entered the town clerk’s office at 8 a.m. we filled out the request for marriage license, handed over our respective identification, and were one of the first lesbian couples in the country to receive a marriage license.

And so, when I found myself standing at the registry of deeds in Winston Salem, North Carolina, on May 10th, 2012, with my partner of 3 years (although we’ve known each other for 28, but that’s a long story for another time), I had an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu and an unrealistic sense of expectation.

Unrealistic, because just two days earlier, this state that is once again my home state (the state that I grew up in) passed an amendment to the constitution banning gay marriage even though gay marriage has been illegal in North Carolina for 16 years. We were not there to get a marriage license. We were there as part of a peaceful protest organized by the grassroots Campaign for Southern Equality and we were joined by nine other GLBTQ couples and more than 100 supporters. The scene bore little resemblance to that chilly, quiet early May morning in Massachusetts and yet I still had this nagging point of excitement in my gut that had nothing to do with the media frenzy or the many faces of the county workers that stared down at us from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls that circled the courtyard in which we gathered for a blessing before our act of civil disobedience.

We had walked, undeterred by any antagonistic protestors, from a loft a few blocks away. A long, determined chain of average folks: young and old and middle-aged (us) and black and white and not and some with kids and some without and clergy in the front and police on bikes alongside and cameras following our every footstep and we each held our partner’s hand. Because that’s what you do in the face of adversity. You cling to the person you love and you show the world that you aren’t some monster that is going to rape and pillage and convert their kids as you’ve been so recently portrayed on television and in the papers.

And so we walked.

And when we arrived we circled the wagons and we were surrounded by loving support from all sides. We were blessed in prayer and we were led by the organizers of this incredible action into the building and up the escalator (or was it stairs—the details have become blurred by the whirlwind of the before and after, the little things slip away from me as the days go by). We stood in line, holding fast to one another and watched each couple enter the glass-walled “room of decision,” flanked by the director, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, at least one support person from the Campaign for Southern Equality, and any family or friends who had come along for moral support. Some couples came out so quickly I wasn’t sure that they had even been asked for their identification. It all seemed to be happening too fast. I was becoming angry. I wanted to have a speech prepared–something profound, something scathing, something that would go down in history. And still, for some inane reason, I kept expecting things to be different for us. I joked with my partner to use a really low voice and maybe we could trick them, forgetting for a moment that our identification would immediately give us away. Forgetting for a moment why we were there in the first place.

We could hear the roar of the crowds as each couple emerged into the huge group of supporters outside. They were cheering their bravery. We were buoyed by the energy, fueled by the wave of radical love. And before I knew it we were being ushered into the inner sanctum. Joined by a beloved young adult from our church, the three of us were beckoned to the far end of the long desk. I had a vision of a line of grave countenances of the county workers seated at their stations and behind them a sea of photographers, cameras everywhere. Right in our faces. All thoughts of saying anything coherent went out of my head.

I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

No.

Oh, no.

No!

That weirdly irrational, stupidly unrealistic part of me just threw up a little bit in my mouth. I knew why we were there. I’m not a dumb woman, far from it. But dammit, I’m also an idealist and a dreamer and somehow I thought it would all turn out alright. I thought that if I could get a marriage license on a chilly, quiet May morning and marry someone to whom I had to pay an enormous amount of money to divorce just two years later (because sometimes you should really take the time to think things through before you leap into something just because it’s legal), then I should be handed a stupid piece of paper legalizing the big gay wedding I’d shared with my partner just seven months prior.

I felt deflated. All I could say–numbly, dumbly–was “We’ll be back,” like some female version of the Terminator. My partner asked if the clerk could document our denial and we were denied that as well with a flat statement that it was “not policy,” although we later learned that other couples did get their requests documented with the date and “request denied.” The rest became more of a blur as we somehow found ourselves outside and I had become deaf and mute and put on a smiling face for the paparazzi and quelled the hurt and ache by mentally punching myself in the stomach.

When the last of the couples’ requests were denied, three remained to await arrest. For some reason they decided to extend office hours until 7 p.m. and so we made the trek back to the loft to gather in a huge circle and briefly process what had just occurred. I talked a bit about my feelings of surprise at not receiving a marriage license. I fought for this once already. I lived in a state where I took so many things for granted. I now live in a state where I am a second-class citizen. I am viewed as “less-than” and “other.” I am fighting for my rights all over again.

My Pollyanna viewpoint is definitely tarnished. I’m feeling a little worse-for-wear these days. But I am sure that, like every one of the other “Winston Salem Ten” as they are now referring to us in the media, I am down but not out. My partner and I believe very strongly in the work that the Campaign for Southern Equality is doing and in the WE DO campaign itself. We’ll just keep on going. My skin will toughen up and I’ll get used to denial.

Sooner or later, they’ll have to say yes.