On “10 Things You can’t Buy With Food Stamps”

Think about which personal care items you could live without. Could you pick? Would it be deodorant? Toothpaste? Toothbrush? Soap? Shampoo? What about laundry detergent? These are just some of the things that cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits, aka food stamps. [1] I’ve been experimenting with baking soda and vinegar for my hair and baking soda for my teeth, for environmental, as well as money reasons. Last year, I bought them in large quantities for cleaning, along with a large supply of laundry detergent and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. Next is homemade deodorant.

Yet, try to get a teenager to forego shampoo or deodorant. Imagine trying to brush a toddler’s teeth with something other than toothpaste. What do you substitute for diapers and powder. Diapers, tampons and pads are also not covered. Thus, mothers are penalized more heavily. Make-up would be out, of course, but so, too, are lip balm and lotion.

This has become the reality for more and more of households suffering from food insecurity. Plus, the amount awarded is not enough if 90% of the funds are used by the third week. The fourth week is made up, for some, by local food banks. Others wait must it out.[2] There is the added indignity of not having, or being able to buy those items essential for being in public, let alone looking for employment.

Interestingly, a disproportionate number of gay and lesbian households receive food stamps. Lesbian couples also receive more cash aid, in all likelihood due to the diminished earning potential of women. “Some 14.1 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared with 6.5 percent of different-sex married couples. Moreover, 2.2 percent of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared with 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples.”[3] We cannot ignore the Transgender community who have double the unemployment rate, doubling once again to 28% for African American transgender individuals.[4] No wonder so many tragically end up homeless.

Those in poverty continue to be vilified by politicians. A climate of resentment has been cultivated by those in power, so much so that people forget teachings by their religion that tells to remember the poor. Worse the working poor earn just enough money to be unqualified for help. It is the rich that feel entitled. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the dignity of of each person. What are we called to do for the poor who walk among us?

[1] What You Can’t Buy

[2] SNAP Myths & Realities

[3] Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Poverty Update

[4] Transgender Face Uphill Battle

If It Doesn't Get Better, Then What?

Today was National Coming Out Day, and all through the day my social media feeds were filled with references to it - some funny, some touching, and some inspiring.  But along with the stories of coming out, there were also the obligatory critiques.  (At least in progressive circles it seems like critique is always obligatory.)  In particular, there were criticisms of the "It Get's Better" campaign. 

As someone who identifies as a straight ally, my personal reactions to the "It Gets Better" campaign have run the gamut.  I found the first few videos to be extremely touching.  Then the criticisms startted coming in, raising valid points that I had not considered.  It gets better if you're cis- but not necessarily if you're trans.  It gets better if you're middle-to-upper class, but not necessarily if you're poor.  It gets better if you're white but not necessarily if you're a queer person of color.  It gets better if you're attractive, but not necessarily if you don't conform to the normative standards of attractiveness.  "It gets better" glosses over a whole lot of stuff.  The criticisms are valid, and important to make.  They opened my eyes at the time when I first heard them and I think they're still important now. 

But today, when I saw yet more critiques of "It Gets Better," I remembered something.  The campaign was created in the context of teen suicides.  LGBTQ teens commit suicide at a rate three times higher than for straight teens, and the point of the campaign was to give queer teens hope so that they could hold on.  So that they might choose to live long enough to get help, long enough to get through.  That is the reason why the campaign, with all its flaws, exists. 

So my question is, if "It Gets Better" is not the right message, then what is? 

I'm talking about this issue as it pertains to the LGBTQ community but really this is relevant to a larger issue among progressives in general.  There are any number of campaigns created by liberals trying to address important issues.  And for most all of these campaigns, there are progressives pointing out what is wrong with them.  The campaigns often don't go far enough, aren't inclusive enough, lack a systemic frame, and ultimately buy into the same mindset that we are trying to dismantle.  Oft times what is presented is a "kinder, gentler" version of something that is still at its root oppressive.  I get that.  I'm not trying to defend that.  But the question still remains, what do you tell the kids who are being bullied right now?  If it doesn't get better, then what?  What kind of hope do you offer to encourage them to hang on while at the same time working to address the systemic violence that is driving them to suicide in the first place?  After all, if we are encouring LGBTQ folks, including teens, to come out, then we are encouraging them to risk abuse. 

And on a more general level, when we offer our critiques, what postive alternatives to we also offer?

My Coming Out Story (2012)

I am coming out to love again. As most of us in the LGBTQ community know, coming out is a continual process. I first came out at the end of a short marriage to a man. I could no longer live the straight life. I was almost thirty and was deep in the abyss of depression.

The minister of the UU church and the gay and lesbian group at church were enormously supportive. With the church group I worked on the No on 22 campaign. Unfortunately, California voted to pass proposition 22, to define marriage between a man and a woman.

After a couple of years I met my beloved. We were classmates then friends and our relationship evolved into an abiding love. We entered into a domestic partnership and had a commitment ceremony in 2002. Her mother and sister attended. Mine did not, not wanting to condone my lifestyle. At the time, I was not out to my father.

In 2007, I decided to heed the call to ministry. While waiting for the following fall semester, marriage equality resurfaced. Prop 22 was struck down, allowing a window of time to legally marry. My beloved and I worked for marriage equality, I with the faith community and she with the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

The week marriage became legal, my beloved and I were in line the first day licenses were available. We were mentioned in UU World, pictured on the front page of the local paper, interviewed for another paper, and filmed for a documentary show in the Philippines. We joyously married that Saturday with our UU congregation in attendance. My mother and sister, once again, did not attend. My father, however, was happily in attendance.

The passage of proposition 8 did not nullify our marriage. The significance of that became real when my beloved had an aneurism in January of 2010. The weeks of surgery, coma, recriminations, familial homophobia, friends’ internalized homophobia, and need for blame landed squarely on me, especially when I made the impossibly difficult decision to take her off life support after hesitating in fear of her family. Three major strokes after an aneurism had to be enough. The loss was devastating.


This past month I have started a ministry for LGBTQ folks in Los Angeles, starting small with a twitter feed and a meet-up, to honor her, and the relationship we had. There needs to be a safe place for people to go when something so devastating happens and other LGBTQ people will understand as the regular church may not be able to. Conversely, the LGBTQ community can come together with the regular church community in celebration.

So I am coming out to love again. I have begun to trust that love is possible with a wonderful woman I began dating this summer. I am honoring my beloved with a ministry to bring together the LGBTQ folks in LA to get to know one another, and build community.

Feeling Battered

battered heart

Tweets of the day by @TPEquality (Think Progress)

MT @thinkprogress: BREAKING: Following Obama's lead, Sen. Reed announces his support for same-sex marriage 

RT @NancyPelosi: A great day in our fight for civil rights-President Obama adds his support for marriage #equality. #BeautifulDay

@LogCabinGOP: Obama Announcing Support For Marriage Equality Is 'Offensive And Callous' -

OBAMA: "I think same sex couples should be able to get married"

I feel battered. I do not say this lightly, having been in a marriage with domestic violence, a straight marriage. I should be grateful that Obama has finally come around to support marriage equality. Yet, I understand where the Log Cabin Republicans come from. Marriage equality continues to be a wedge issue in electoral politics. The collective holding of breaths in anticipation of Obama's announcement came from the straight mainstream media and straight folk who have nothing to lose in this fight.

The congratulations, and requests that we thank Obama for "evolving" on this "issue" do not feel right on a day after 61% of North Carolina voters enshrined bigotry in their constitution for the second time. There will be no legally recognized same-sex relationships. The congratulations and requests do not feel right in a calendar week when Methodists voted to uphold same-sex relationships as incompatible with their dogma. Nor do they feel right in a week where Colorado Republicans filibustered so as not to address same-sex marriage in their legislature.

I think that I am supposed to be happy that democrats will start coming out in favor of marriage equality. Well, pardon me if it feels like too little, too late. The GLBT folks in North Carolina will not see marriage equality unless there is a drastic turn of events.I met a wonderful couple there. The female half of the couple is in a ecclesiastical limbo, having been a Methodist clergy person who supported marriage equality.

Yesterday a video went viral about a young gay man who was devastated by the death of his partner and the homophobia of the partner's family. It hit a bit too close too home having lived that just two years ago. Fortunately, I was legally married because it could have been a whole lot worse, hard as it is to imagine. Just months after my beloved and I were married, California voters were able to vote on marriage equality. We continued to be married, but I was devastated for those who had that chance snatched away. I feel sad for LGBT folks, especially UU's, for whom the democratic process was not used for right of conscience, or liberty and justice for all; for whom justice, equity and compassion are mere words; for whom wedding cake is used to celebrate taking away the inherent worth, dignity, and humanity of a single group of people. Our UU principles and hearts have been battered.

Having no need to be politically savvy in this moment, I will acknowledge the hurt, and the broken hearts. I wish I could wrap each and every one of you in the softest cotton batting with rainbows and sparkle, and lift you up to the universe and declare that you are loved beyond measure. I may not be able to wrap and lift you up, but I do declare, you are loved beyond measure.  We'll move forward, and our battered hearts will heal again.

How Will Social Media Impact LGBTQI Muslims?

I found the article, "How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?" of interest because it was highly critical of social media in the Muslim context. Dr. Guessom referenced an article, "Twenty five reasons why Twitter is Spiritual," that was a list of spiritual practices from different faith traditions. As a Unitarian Universalist(UU), I appreciated the breadth, and what amounted to a vision of twitter's potential. Guessom dismissed the list entirely. I will acknowledge that the list does not fit within the aims of Islam. 

Still, just in the past several days I have been witness to, and peripherally involved in one such transformative experience that the author Frederic A. Brussat wrote of in the "Twenty Five Reasons..." article. The conversations, facilitated by Twitter and a blog were poignant and beautiful.

A young Muslim is opening dialogue about different aspects of Islam on her blog. She posted interviews with a number of  LGBT Muslims. The comments section includes the usual comparisons of LGBT people with pedophiles, practicers of bestiality, rapists and serial killers. These arguments were not original by any stretch. What I did find original was an interview with a UU that I've met on Twitter. He wants to convert to Islam. 

After at least a year of reading his tweets, I have observed that he truly loves Allah. He loves Arabic music. He loves to  give thanks and praise. It's genuine, not forced or fake. I remember when he was utterly heartbroken several months ago, after he was rejected by yet another imam for being gay.

There was such an outpouring of love from the blogger and numerous other Muslims who signed on to the love letter she wrote. A
n imam in his area would like to meet with him. My Twitter acquaintance was brought to tears. In a side conversation, the blogger told the imam she wished she were local to study under him, and the imam responded that they teach each other. I watched this unfold over the past couple of days with awe. A gay man finally found an online community, and has a real possibility of finding an embodied community with which he can worship in the way he desires. A brave young woman was affirmed for her own contributions to her religion.

The Internet has been revolutionary for LGBTQI folks since the advent of the World Wide Web in  the 1990's, because people who were isolated and alone have been able to find others like themselves. Whereas moving to a city had been the main strategy in the past, LGBTQI folks could find one another and become a part of online communities. The explosion of the social media onto the scene should enable more folks to find their voices and find each other. 

I suspect that there are individuals who have been isolated and by social pressure forced to work within the dominant culture of Islam. LGBTQI Muslims may be just such a group. Social media may prove to be a Godsend to LGBTQI Muslims.

How Low Can We Go?

It's sad enough that Heath Ledger was found dead on Tuesday. By all accounts he was a talented actor and a good guy. I was particularly touched by an article in CNN that consisted of comments from everyday people who had had encounters with Ledger. The shock and loss felt reminds me very much of when River Phoenix died. From the perspective of someone who would never be more than a fan, I thought I had many years of wonderful movies to look forward to, movies in which I could appreciate his beauty and talent. It's sad enough that Heath Ledger died.

How much sadder is it then - what does it say about the state of our society - that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning on protesting Ledger's funeral. The WBC is the same group of people who started off protesting the funerals of gay victims of hate crimes and then "graduated" to protesting the funerals of U.S. soldiers, based on the "logic" that their deaths are God punishing us for our tolerance of homosexuality. So what is the "logic" of protesting the funeral of straight actor, Heath Ledger? Apparently it's because he portrayed a gay man with sympathy and humanity in the movie, Brokeback Mountain.

But even the WBC's response is to be expected. What else would we expect from organization that exists based solely on hate? What really shocked me to new lows was hearing of FOX radio host, John Gibson mocking Ledger's death on his show. Starting his show off with funeral music, Gibson played snippets of Ledger's lines from Brokeback and made snide comments about his death. Protest and hatred almost seem respectful in comparison to mocking. At least that took his life seriously, as having meaning. In contrast, Gibson showed a level of callousness that is beyond my comprehension.

Not that I am defending Don Imus in any way, but Imus made some racist, sexist comments without malice, just stupidity, and he was fired for it. Gibson otoh displayed a cruel disdain for the life of Ledger for no other reason than he portrayed a gay man sympathetically. How in this world is that ok?

excluded from ENDA

Today, the House passed their version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). It should be a time of rejoicing but it's not. The act passed without transgender inclusion, meaning that even if this bill becomes law, transgender people will not be protected from discrimination in the workplace. The people who are most marginalized, most at risk are not protected. The UUA is one of the only non-BGLT exclusive groups that opposed a non transgender inclusive bill, and for that I am very proud of us.

But I am baffled by our partners who did support non-inclusivity, particularly groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) whose stated mission it is to advocate on behalf of LGB and T. The bill is unlikely to move in the Senate this year and President Bush has already promised veto it. There was no real hope of getting it signed into law. I could understand the temptation to sell-out one group in order to move others ahead. I don't approve of such tactics, mind you, but I can understand them. But in this particular case what's happened is that transgender people have been hurt and betrayed by the people who are supposed to represent them. And for nothing. For a symbolic gain.

Making God in Their Image

A federal jury in Baltimore yesterday decided that the disruption of the funeral of a marine and the emotional harm that caused was worth close to $11 million.

While I am sensitive to how vulnerable people are when grieving for their loved ones, especially when they are taken violently and in their prime, I would normally think that $11 million is unreasonably excessive.

But this is Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist church that we're talking about here. The people who are so convinced that "God hates fags" that it's the name of their website. The people who think that our war dead is God punishing America for our tolerance of homosexuality. The people who, for months after Matthew Shepard's death, kept a running count of the "number of days Matthew has been burning in hell," accompanied by a picture of his head bobbing in animated flames and a soundtrack of anguished screams.

I visited their site more than once, repeatedly needing to convince myself of the reality of their existence. I could not (and still cannot) fathom the level of hatred that would motivate such behavior. How much time did it take to put that animation and sound together? How much energy does it take to be out there disrupting funerals day in and day out? I barely have the time and energy to pursue the things that I believe in, the things that I affirm. How could anyone sustain that much hatred/rejection/negation for that long? Is there space for anything else inside of them?

And I am flummoxed now by their response to the verdict. Phelps says, "It was a bunch of silly heads passing judgment on God." His daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper (most of the "church members" are family) said, "You guys think you can change God?" How are they so certain that God is obsessed with sex as much as they obviously are? How are they so certain that God is so spiteful and petty? Even if I had proof of the existence of such a creature, I would not recognize it as "God."

Ann Lamott said, "You can be certain that you've created God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do." And I can think of no better illustration of this than Fred Phelps and his clan.

Dumbledore Outed

J.K. Rowling has just informed us that one of the most beloved fictional characters of our time is gay.  I'm sure that the whackos who already hate the Potter books because they teach tolerance towards witches are having proper conniptions.

Well, Rowling did describe Grindelwald as very handsome and said that their friendship was very close.  As one character put it, they "got on like a caldron on fire."  Perhaps I shoulda seen it. Tongue Out

What I really appreciated about all this is how casually Rowling stated it. No big announcement (tho we are making it big now).  Simply as an answer to a question.  Clearly she knew his sexual orientation and it influenced the story she wove, even if she didn't think it necessary to spell it out for us. It makes me wonder how many layers of complexity the other characters have as well that we'll never know.

I had never given much thought to Albus' sexual orientation. I had passingly wondered about McGonigal's personal life because I really like her and want her to be happy.  And from her I generalized to the other professors.  Did they hang out in the faculty lounge?  Talk smack about each other?  Engage in secret and ultimately failed romances?  Experience awkward moments afterwards in the faculty lounge?  Inquiring minds want to know!!  Since such information was not forthcoming, I had to content myself with the rationalization that the story is told (mostly) from Harry's point of view, and students don't care about the personal lives of their teachers.

But while I had wondered about the other faculty, I never thought about Dumbledore's personal life.  He was in another league.  And I guess I kinda thought he had no personal life.  I guess I kinda thought he was functionally asexual.  But we all know that sexual orientation is independent of sexual activity.  And what bothers me about myself in all this is realizing... in not giving much thought to it I had essentially assumed he was straight.


Hooray for Iowa!!

(CNN) An Iowa district court ruled Thursday that same-sex couples can marry based on the state constitution's guarantee of equal treatment, court documents show.

The ruling was in response to a December 2005 lawsuit brought by six same-sex couples seeking to wed. They were denied marriage licenses and claimed such treatment violates equal-protection and due-process clauses in the Iowa constitution.

The court also struck down a state law declaring valid marriages are only between a man and woman.

The 63-page ruling, written by Judge Robert Hanson states: "Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 595 by reason of the fact that both persons compromising such a couple are of the same sex."

The law describing marriage as between a man and a woman, "constitutes the most intrusive means by the state to regulate marriage. This statute is an absolute prohibition on the ability of gay and lesbian individuals to marry a person of their choosing," Hanson wrote.

Kudos to Judge Hanson. To read his entire ruling, click here.

First Massachusetts. Now Iowa. Laughing As a UU, I must give a nod to the "mother land."

And as a Californian, I have to say that this is the second time that the state of Iowa has put me to shame. The first was when I was interviewing for a postdoc at the University of Iowa and Cali had just passed that heinous Proposition 187. And several people in Iowa were asking me what the deal was with California. How could we do something so shameful? What could/can I say?



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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative