The UUA’s Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns
In 1987 the Unitarian Universalist Association established the Common Vision Planning Committee. This committee found many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance about bisexual, gay, and lesbian people, which resulted in the exclusion of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people from their churches. As a result of these findings, the delegates of the 1989 UUA General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to initiate the Welcoming Congregation program to educate its members. Each congregation adapts the program to best meet its goals and each unique situation can bring positive changes to individuals and congregations.
The Welcoming Congregation Program is a completely volunteer program for congregations that see a need to become more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people. It consists of a series of workshops developed by the UUA. The goal of the workshops is to reduce prejudice by increasing understanding and acceptance among people of different sexual orientations. Some of the workshop titles include: How Homophobia Hurts Heterosexuals; Connections to Other Forms of Oppression; Gender Socialization and Homophobia; and Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality. Many congregations offer the workshop series several consecutive times as an adult religious education curriculum open to all members and friends. In some congregations the workshop series (and later the entire program) is sponsored by a Welcoming Congregation Task Force/Committee created for just this purpose, while other congregations sponsor the workshop series through their Interweave chapters. In either case, the workshops are best facilitated by those that have experienced the curriculum.
Unitarian Universalists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns
The mission statement for Interweave reads as follows: “Interweave is a membership organization affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is dedicated to the spiritual, political, and social well-being of Unitarian Universalists who are confronting oppression as lesbians, gay men, bisexual persons, transgender persons, and heterosexual allies. It celebrates the culture and lives of its members.” Interweave membership is open to all interested UUs of any sexual or affectional orientation. It has chapters in many Unitarian Universalist congregations and districts, as well as a Continental chapter. Membership in Interweave involves two primary goals:
the creation of local groups for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender Unitarian Universalists for support, socializing, and sharing life issues, and
outreach to the larger bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender community to publicize the religious alternative offered by Unitarian Universalism.
WHY JUST BISEXUAL, GAY, LESBIAN, AND/OR TRANSGENDER?
Why single out bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people? The Rev. Douglas Morgan Strong probably states it best in the Welcoming Congregation manual: “For centuries, the church has been a leading force against sexual minorities. It is not surprising that gay people are reluctant to reach out to the very institution that oppresses them. Yet, gay, lesbian, [transgender], and bisexual people have no less need for warmth, caring, and affirmation than anyone else who calls the liberal church their religious home. In fact, as a subculture in society gay, lesbian, [transgender], and bisexual people may need our support more than the general population.”
BEING A WELCOMING CONGREGATION
Congregations who publicly and successfully welcome bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people have the following qualities:
Includes and address the needs of b/g/l/t persons at every level of congregational life—in worship, in programs, in social occasions, and in rites of passage—welcoming not only their presence, but the gifts and particularities of their lives as well.
Assumes the presence of b/g/l/t people and celebrates this diversity by having inclusive language and content in their worship.
Fully incorporates the experiences of b/g/l/t persons throughout all programs, including religious education.
Includes an affirmation and nondiscrimination clause in our by-laws and other official documents affecting all dimensions of congregational life, including membership, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals.
Engages in outreach into the b/g/l/t community in its advertising and by actively supporting b/g/l/t affirmative groups.
Offers congregational and ministerial support for union and memorial services for b/g/l/t persons, and for celebrations of...family definitions.
Celebrates the lives of all people and welcomes same-sex couples, recognizing their committed relationships, and equally affirms displays of caring and affections without regard to sexual orientation.
Seeks to nurture ongoing dialogue between bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and heterosexual persons and to create deeper trust and sharing.
Encourages the presence of a chapter of Interweave.
Affirms and celebrates b/g/l/t issues and history during the church year.
Attends to legislative developments and works to promote justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society.
Speaks out when the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are at stake.
Celebrates the lives of all people and their ways of expressing their love for each other.
AREN’T WE ALREADY A WELCOMING CONGREGATION?
Is it true that our church probably meets most of the qualifications for a Welcoming Congregation? Our church by-laws state that we do “not discriminate on the basis of age, race, occupation, gender, past religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.” Our membership already includes bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons who are active members, willing to give of themselves and share their experiences with us. However, official recognition as a Welcoming Congregation allows us to open our church as safe space for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons; to take positions on oppression in our larger communities; and to accomplish outreach.
WELCOMING CONGREGATION BENEFITS
Confronting our prejudices in a non-judgmental, non-threatening group allows us to explore their origins and offers an opportunity to replace those prejudices with knowledge. Understanding our prejudices leads to individual spiritual growth and congregational unity.
Our vision goes beyond the Welcoming Congregation Program. By taking this first step, we hope to explore more issues than those presented here—like sexism, racism, ableism, to name just a few. Becoming a Welcoming Congregation will act as a catalyst to learning more about ourselves and to ending exclusion. Only when we are truly open to the wealth of diversity in our world will the inherent worth and dignity of every person be affirmed with a large voice.
Last updated October 8, 2007
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