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Welcome. Welcome to this service marking our twenty years as a welcoming congregation. Welcome to this community that affirms the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of our faith and their full rights in society at large. Welcome to the members of the original Rainbow Task Force and all those who have worked with this congregation over the years to promote adult and youth education about sexual and gender identity and orientation, organized Pride days, marched as members of the Rainbow Task Force in Memorial Day parades, gone to Hartford to lobby, and met with community agencies. Welcome to all of you who have told your own stories about being an openly gay or lesbian or transgender person or being a parent of an LGBT son or daughter. Welcome to those of you who struggled with your own questions as we called first one gay associate minister and then another and who have come to understand how important welcoming work is. Welcome in the fullest sense of the word to all of you today, in our glorious diversity. You are welcome here.
Just the other day, as those of you who friend me on Facebook know, I saw wedding cards labeled “For the Grooms” and “For Same Sex Couples” at my local CVS. It’s easy in today’s world, here in CT, a state that recognizes marriage equality, to forget how far we have come in such a short time. It was only thirty years ago that the UUA first had an openly gay minister in a congregation – in the 1960’s and before, UU ministers who were found to be gay were fired from their congregations. It’s been less than 10 years that marriage equality became first a reality in Massachusetts and then Connecticut. It was only 7 years ago that the UUA passed its first resolution promoting the full inclusion of transgender people and clergy in our denomination. It’s been only one year since the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned and two years that gay people have been able to openly serve in the military. We are living in a time of great historical change when it comes to the recognition and understanding that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender should not only be accepted but be embraced in their full humanity for who they are.
As I meet with diverse congregations across the country, I am sometimes asked “Why do we need to go through a welcoming process? We welcome everyone here.” I explain to them that although theoretically that is true, for too long people who are sexual minorities have been made to feel that they don’t belong in church, that their sexual orientation is wrong, that the 4 to 7 isolated clobber texts in the Bible condemn the people they are and the people they love. I have had too many discussions over the years with people who were told that they were sinful: a man whose parents kidnapped him at college to put him in a therapy program to undo his gayness; a lesbian woman, who asked me on her death bed if God ever loved her; progressive parents who wonder why they are having such a hard time accepting a daughter or a son who has just come out; some of you who struggle to reconcile those early hard wired religious messages that told you that only acceptable adulthood is heterosexual monogamous lifelong marriage. Being a formal welcoming congregation turns all that on its head: it says to LGBT people we want you here. We are committed to loving you and embracing you just the way you are.
Our welcome and our work on LGBT issues are out of our commitment to civil rights but it is also based in our theology. Our theological commitment to our first principle — the affirmation of the dignity and worth of all persons — and our understanding that sexual and gender diversity is part of God’s blessing, means that we must stand up for full inclusion of LGBT persons and speak out for LGBT youth. We must articulate that the sin is never sex but sexual exploitation. The sin is not homosexuality but homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, the denigration of our neighbors because they are physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same sex or because their gender identity doesn’t conform to their natal sex. The sin is heterosexism, the presumption that heterosexuality is normative for all people and thus morally superior. The sin is forcing people to deny their God-given gift of their sexuality and to suffer to try to live their lives in a way that is antithetical to who they really are. The sin is violence and discrimination against women and LGBT persons and denial of their civil rights. The sin is when any of us, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, violate our commitments to our partner and hurt our families.
We can be proud as a congregation of the work we have done – and we need to recognize that we can still do more to be welcoming and affirming. It is past time for us to renew our official commitment as a welcoming congregation: most of us were not even here 20 years ago when this vote was held. We need to ask ourselves do we know what LGBTQQIA means and what’s distinct about the needs of each of the groups that are part of those initials. (Think for a moment…that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual.) We need to ask ourselves why there are so few people in our congregation who self identify as out bisexuals or why there are so few people of transgender experience in our congregation. We need to look at our physical space, here and in the youth group room, through the eyes of an LGB or T person and ask would they see us as welcoming. We need to recognize that our not having a gender neutral bathroom or a prominently displayed rainbow flag may be keeping people from finding us as welcome as we say we are. We need to ask ourselves what additional education do we need so that a transman or a transwoman or someone who was gender queer would feel welcome during coffee hour. And for those of us who are heterosexual, cisgender (that’s people whose gender identity matches their natal sex), are we good at being the other A? That A stands for allies or advocates. Do we stand up for the rights of LGBT people here and around the world – like in Uganda and Nigeria, where gay people can receive life time prison sentences for loving someone of the same sex? Or even in our own homes when a relative or neighbor says “that’s so gay” or offers jokes based on stereotypes about LGBT people?
These issues are central to me because I believe in the words of Martin Luther King, Junior, that “Injustice anywhere is Injustice everywhere.” I know that if your sexual rights aren’t’ assured, mine aren’t either. I also stand here as the mother of an out gay son, the friend and colleague of many, many LGBT people, a minister committed to helping congregations and clergy welcome and minister to LGBT people. I hope today we can celebrate all that we have done – and that we can commit ourselves to being even more welcoming, more inclusive, more active, and more just. May it be so.