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Sunday Out at the Piazza — Equality Forum Concludes

May 4th, 2010 No comments

At about 1 pm this past Sunday, I set out with my pre-school twins for the newly chic Northern Liberties section of the city, where Equality Forum‘s Sunday Out event had moved. I was especially looking forward to the interfaith blessing of a slew of same-sex commitment ceremonies. Our neighborhood is very progressive and we have many friends but everyone else is either (1) straight or (2) if gay, childless. (Just a couple of weeks ago, a gay couple on the next block adopted a kid. Hooray!) So I thought that watching all of those commitments would provide a cultural corrective to the onslaught of straight messaging and iconography that is so, er, wedded to marriage that I sometimes worry that my kids have trouble understanding anything else — in spite of the evidence right in front of them.

Before I get to that event, though, I want to talk about the misnamed “Family Fun Zone.” It was for LGBT families, all right, but it wasn’t much fun and was hardly a “zone,” unless that term can be accurately applied to a rectangle of scorching blacktop at some distance from the epicenter of the Piazza. When we got there, only a handful of other kids were on hand, and the events were few. Hoping for something jumpy or watery, we settled for face painting — which was actually quite good. Alexa, heavily into a dinosaur phase, opted for T-Rex, whose teeth were cleverly painted around her mouth for a terrifying effect when she spoke. Courtnee opted for a full arm’s worth of rainbow butterflies.

After that, Alexa looked around and said, “There isn’t much to do.” There was no arguing with that (a much better effort needs to be made for next year), so we stopped for some ice cream and then headed back to the Piazza for the interfaith blessing.

We entered from the side furthest from the stage, and at first I wasn’t optimistic about the event. The Piazza was barely half full, and it was hard to see where the undifferentiated crowd gave way to the couples. So we wandered closer. And then I was delighted to be in attendance. The celebrants complemented each other perfectly: Tim Safford, who’d appeared at the History panel earlier in the week, was bright and affirming; Joseph Tolton, of the Rehoboth Temple, was emotional: happy, yet visibly angry at the continued injustice (here‘s a nice thumbnail of his ministry and activism); and Rabbi Linda Holtzman closed the proceedings with a heart-felt Hebrew chant and the ceremonial breaking of the glass. When has that act, meant to reflect the challenges facing the newly married couple, held such rich symbolism? Holtzman offered a communal narration of the ritual, reminding the couples that their joy would be found even in the face of the challenges that not only their relationship but the broader society would throw in front of them.

The kids were quiet and attentive. The only comment I recall during the ceremony was Alexa’s statement that she wanted to stay. Remarkable, given that it was easily 90 degrees on the paved piazza, and that we’d by that point been walking around for about an hour and a half. More than once, they asked me whether “all of these people” were two men and two women. Yes, look around. Two men in matching tuxes. A lesbian couple, with one in a dress and one in a beautiful pants and flowing blouse. An African-American couple, with one man in a wheelchair pushed by his spouse. Some very unconventional couples; others conventional in all but their sexual orientation.

How liberating! Not just for us, but for everyone who just wants to be able to define their marriage in their own wonderfully idiosyncratic way. By now, the crowd had doubled and a huge cheer went up at the end of the ceremony.

Why, oh why, is this so hard for people to understand or, failing that, to at least allow? In an image that flashed briefly in a video following the ceremony, I read this familiar but forgotten sign:

Some people are gay. Get over it.

Is it really more complicated than that? Does anyone still believe that our most virulent opponents are free of their own pyscho-social issues; problems that animate their vitriol? Just today, another story emerged of a sad man, George Alan Rekers — co-founder of the dangerously homophobic Family Research Council — who was spotted with a male escort disembarking from an airplane after a long vacation together. No one’s even surprised by these stories any more. (This guy was really nasty to the community. Read the whole stories for the infuriating details.)

Sorry…where was I?

After that, we wondered around a bit more, found a horse stable (fillies in Philly?) to spend some time, ran into a few folks, and left. While the Family Fun Zone needs some improvement to live up to its aspirational name, the kids learned plenty about family on Sunday.

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My piece on the Saturday conversation with Dan Choi will appear sometime during the next few days on 365gay.com. When it does, I’ll link from here. Then I’ll offer a wrap-up piece on the week-long event.

Equality Forum’s History Panel: Spotlight on Religion

May 1st, 2010 3 comments

Social justice

You couldn’t swing a rainbow cat at Equality Forum’s History Panel without hearing that phrase. In fact, social justice has been one of the recurring themes at the panels I’ve attended so far, suggesting that the movement is entering a newer, more mature phase and looking toward the day when we can move beyond the identity politics that circumstances have required of us to date.

Of course, one is entitled to expect that the panel of religious leaders would emphasize social justice, and the LGBT rights movement within that context. Although some misguided religious folks seem to spend most of their time on the attack against everything from our community to Obamacare to women’s reproductive rights, any religion (or part thereof) that takes its founding messages to heart invests both belief and blood in ameliorating the difficult conditions in which many people live.

But I was nonetheless heartened (not quite amazed, but…) at the panelists’ willingness to be as direct and forceful as they were. Perhaps the most progressive of the lot were Timothy Safford, who is the Rector at the historic Christ Church Episcopal Church in Old City, Philadelphia. I’ve been there. Two of our closest friends are congregants, and when my partner David had the honor of being named godfather to their second child we attended the baptism. Safford, who’s straight and married, will be one of the three officiants at tomorrow’s blessing of some 100 same-sex unions.

The Episcopalians, of course, are known and celebrated (well, by some) for their progressive stand on women’s issues and for being increasingly welcoming to the LGB (and, to a lessser extent) T community. ¬†Safford and his gay twin (at least as far as dress was concerned — they looked as though they’d decided to confuse us by selecting almost identical clothing for the event) Rodger Broadley, Rector at St. Luke and the Epiphany, had a nice sort of back and forth on issues ranging from the debt the LGBT movement owes to the women’s movement (Safford is particularly eloquent on this point), and on the on-going struggles between the U.S. church and the “home office” back in Britain. With a second gay (lesbian, in this case) bishop to be ordained soon in L.A., both men expect that the U.S. church will be “voted off the island” and made to forge ahead, alone. But that didn’t seem to trouble them, and — oddly, to some — they thought it important not to walk away from the table no matter how exasperated and angry they became. Safford expressly decried his own “moderation” in supporting the compromise reached a few years ago, by which Bishop Gene Robinson’s ordination was “traded” for a promise to ordain no more openly gay or lesbian clergy. As Broadley so movingly put it: “Who are we to tell God who can serve?”

Approaching issues of history and faith from a more academic perspective was L.A. Rabbi Denise Eger. She explained the evolution of the various movements (less formally, “branches”) of Judaism on LGBT issues; as might be expected, the Reform and Reconstructionist sects embraced their LGBT fellow worshippers decades ago, with Conservative Judaism by now fairly far along on that path. She also mentioned that even the Orthodox branch had recently begun discussing our issues, and not in the kind of negative dismissive way that might have been the case earlier, but in a real effort to come to terms with the reality that can no longer be ignored.

Interfaith matters are an area of special interest to Eger, and she described the efforts of a female Muslim cleric in L.A. who is now trying to apply reform principles to that religion. Her comment reminded me that all four of the panelists — as good as they were — represented only the Judeo-Christian tradition. The panel would have been even more compelling had it showcased clergy from Eastern religions.

Rounding out the panel was Francis DeBernardo, who is Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, which has been described as a “national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian and gay Catholics. I’ll confess that I have trouble understanding why anyone who identifies as LGBT would consider himself or herself Catholic, but that’s my issue. Obviously, not all Catholics (in the U.S. or elsewhere) follow every pronouncement from the Vatican, and many see the Church’s undeniable good works (social justice, again, at least for the poor and the sick) as reason enough to stay. Thinking of what’s going on at the very top of the Church hierarchy these days (do I really need a link here, people?), DeBernardo said that reform within the Church has come at precisely those times when the Vatican leadership seems most ossified and out of touch. Perhaps the Church can get out of the sucking vortex that’s pulling it down, but I doubt it.

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This post is a bit later than promised. I ended up attending the Tribute to Brian Sanders last night, staying out late, and then running from event to event today. The good news is that I’ve got tons to write about, and will be busy doing it well into next week.

BTW, the interview I did with David Boies earlier tonight will run on 365gay.com, not here — although of course I’ll provide a link and a summary when it posts.