I don't know if many of you watch the game show "Jeopardy". Martha, my lovely wife, and I have made a habit of watching the show when we are able. The present reigning "Jeopardy!" champ is Amy Schneider. Schneider is making history as the first transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions on the quiz show, although she is not the first transgender champion. That was Kat Freeman in 2020. Amy is also making history in other ways with her winning streak, the longest for a woman on "Jeopardy", how much money she has won, and how many times she has gotten half or more the answers correct during the show. Schneider boasts an 85 percent rate of runaway games. Her success and the representation her appearances offer on such a popular and public platform, on "Jeopardy" are to be celebrated. What I think is even more profound is that Amy’s historic winning streak will no doubt open the doors for future transgender contestants. However, the reigning "Jeopardy!" champion wants fans of the show to know that there is more to who she is, in addition to being a trans woman, recently tweeting: “I wanted to make it clear that [being a trans woman] is secondary to being on Jeopardy! and being good at it, that’s what I want to be known for … but once I had been on for a few episodes, [I wore a trans flag pin because] I felt the need to acknowledge it in some way, because … I didn’t want it to seem like something that was secret or shameful or anything, that I was aware of the significance of it.”
I want to start today with Amy because I believe there are some real victories to celebrate in the LGBTQ+ community, victories that should be cause for celebration in all our communities. I think most times the messages you hear from this pulpit and other Unitarian Universalist pulpits focus on the prejudice, the abuse, the difficulty securing rights and equality for the LGBTQ+ community. And rightly so; continuing this social justice work is critical. But today I also want us to recognize, affirm and celebrate when a positive cultural shift has happened.
I don't know if you know this: July 7, 2021"a group of leading advocacy organizations including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Giffords, United We Dream, and LGBTQ Task Force joined forces to launch a new initiative, Guiding Principles for Inclusive, Accurate, and Unbiased Coverage. As issues such as abortion, immigration, gun violence, and LGBTQ equality are prominently in the national media spotlight, the organizations are equipping reporters and newsrooms with recommendations for including critical perspectives of impacted communities; avoiding amplifying disinformation; and contextualizing sources and important public opinion information." This is amazing progress. I am also seeing all these groups supporting one another at rallies. At the last prochoice rally I attended in Miami, there were LGBTQ+ groups actively supporting the prochoice movement. This is also something to celebrate.
And I personally celebrated when a Catholic friend of mine had a change of heart in his attitudes about our LGBTQ+ community. He is someone I worked with for years in Interfaith and Peace work, Tom Cordaro, who was the Justice & Outreach Minister at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church and Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace for 40 years. He shared this post on his Facebook page this week: "Tonight my daughter (she is eight years old) asked me, 'What does LGBTQ mean?' And before I could answer her mom said, "she doesn't need to know that." I told my daughter, 'the L is for Lesbian which is romantic love between two women, the G is for gay, which is romantic love between two men, the B is for Bi which is when someone has romantic love for both men and women, the Q is for questioning or queer which is when someone understands that they are not hetero, and the T is for when someone transitions from one gender to another so they are living in their true form and true to their heart. All this is about love, how people find love in the world and how people love themselves for who they are.' Aurora [my daughter] said, 'I understand, that's really beautiful.' Part of breaking unhealthy cycles in family structure is talking to your children and teaching them love, understanding, [acceptance], and breaking old stigmas, [old biases], and misinformation. I understand that some people of older generations think that it's about sex, but the questions my daughter asked wasn't about sex, it was about love."
I know there is still so much to do to work for true justice and equity for the LGBTQ+ community. We're nowhere near "done" yet. But, acknowledging, affirming, and celebrating along the way fills me with some of the emotional resources I need to keep going for the long haul. Still when a Lesbian friend of mine tells me how difficult it has been getting health insurance for her partner because they have to prove they are a married couple, or a gay friend tells me how much difficulty they are having processing their adoption due to some religious restriction that an agency has imposed, or a trans friend sits with me at a coffee shop and tells me the hardships in getting the medical treatment they need for their transition because so many doctors refuse to support their decision. Those are difficult and painful conversations tell me how slow real systemic change can be. And is. Sadly, I hear these stories and more over and over again, and I need something to keep my hope alive, to keep my heart for this work strong as I and countless others live and work intentionally toward a world where systemic oppressions are the exceptions and not the rule.
I know that across the country right now conservative groups are pressing legislatures to pass laws further restricting LGBTQ+ acknowledgment and rights. I know I still need fight for the equitable use of bathrooms and locker rooms—seemingly one school district at a time. And I know the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a new rule that would remove hard-won protections that currently prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to individuals and organizations that discriminate. This rule will be particularly harmful to LGBTQ+ people of color, people with no-and-low-incomes, and queer and trans youth in the foster care system. I know I must keep my attention on lawmakers and school districts, and I will. I must still assess laws and policies in the process of being passed or enacted, and I will. I must not let LGBTQ+ rights and equity be rolled back. I cannot rest on the many accomplishments that have been made and focus only on celebrating. I actively seek out and gather tools to help me to ground my intentions as I continue to work for justice and equity, because I cannot refuse to do the good work that I find before me. I may be active locally, but I am thinking globally.
About 5 years ago, a friend of mine, Unitarian Universalist Rev. Dr. Myriam Renaud started working for the Parliament of World Religions. Her focus was on special projects, and in particular she focused on an addition to the "Toward a Global Ethic" document put out by the Parliament in 1993. I had heard of the document, but really didn't give it much notice, considering it a bunch of paper that didn't really do anything. But when she brought it back to my attention and discussed the changes they were making—adding an ecological component, caring for our planet in light of climate change--I wondered if this document might be a tool to help me live more intentionally for justice and equity, particularly for the many marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. The Global Ethic declared universal values and principles shared by the world's religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. It is a statement of basic ethical commitments shared by people [across] the globe, religious or not. " The Global Ethic responds to an urgent practical need as well as a deep spiritual hunger for clear moral guidance on the most fundamental issues of human life and conduct…It recognizes that beyond legislated laws and conventions there must be changes in people's minds, hearts, and ways of life." (Parliament of World Religions Website). The question for me is "how might this Global Ethic help me live a life expressing universal human rights, human justice, human equality?" The Parliament of the World's Religions calls all people, religious or not, to commit themselves to the values and principles of a Global Ethic and asks us not only to sign Global Ethic document, but to act on its precepts.
I didn't sign this document mindlessly. Being a Unitarian Universalist, I affirm and promote justice, equity, compassion, peace, treating everyone with worth and dignity, and I wondered, isn't that enough? As I read the Global Ethic, I saw it affirms the golden rule, non-violence, peace and justice, truthfulness and equal rights and partnership. It affirms treating others as family, stating "We must strive to be kind and generous. We must not live for ourselves alone, but should also serve others, never forgetting the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees, and the lonely. No person should ever be considered or treated as a second-class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever…We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse…every human being must be treated humanely." Reading this document and signing it, refocused my consideration of how I will live my values intentionally. And it encourages me to ask myself questions like: How can I recognize when I treat others as second-class citizens and what steps will I take to stop that? How can I be more kind and generous? What actions can I take so that I remember the children, aged, poor, suffering, disabled, refugees and the lonely when I make decisions? The Global Ethic is a robust document. I encourage you read it and consider if it be a useful tool for you as you try to discern the ethics by which you will live and how you will do that. I think of this as a tool to help me in my justice and equity work, to ground me as I look at laws and policies.
I have one more thing I have been reflecting on, something else to help me in working for LGBTQ+ justice and equity. I was reading Parabola Magazine(Summer 2007). Think of this as a Multifaith magazine that considers various topics and issues. I came across an article about sex from a Buddhist perspective, called Thunder follow Lightening. The author wrote about how easy it is for people to think in dichotomies, active passive, affirming denying, masculine feminine. This article suggests that these dichotomies don't aid humans in truly being in authentic relationship with another person or with themselves. The author, Tracy Cochran, suggested people need to treat themselves and each person they come into contact with as unique, always changing, different each and every time they come into contact. The author offers an example of when this became tangible for him when "At a Santeria ceremony, I remember[ed] my own true nature. I could feel the dense ignorance of my body compared to the dancers. I was aware of my tension, my frightened ego. But I was also aware of a light in the darkness. There was a willingness to drop everything I was clinging to, everything I thought I knew, like a fist unclenching. There was a yearning to extend myself like empty hands, to be useful to the world." At that point "only love and the yearning to connect is constant. It [seeks to fill] the emptiness that penetrates everything [humans] do, and all that is." He is suggesting people let go of their egos, their preconceptions about who they are and who the person they are in relationship with is, engaging with them openly without expectation. I thought "What would change if I were to do that?" My belief is that I would be more effective in developing relationships, allies, connections, for the work of justice and equity, and that I would be more useful to the world.
I believe that there has been measurable progress in work for justice and equity for the LGBTQ+ community and of course there is still work to be done, both in holding the line on the progress that's been made and in continuing to make the world more equitable and just, and in acknowledging, affirming and celebrating when positive change happens. I continue to use the tools available to me to be effective in this work, putting aside my ego to assess what is before me and to connect more authentically with others. My questions for you are: "How are you nurturing your soul, so that you won't find yourself one day on empty, unable to continue this work?" "What tools do you need to continue your work for LGBTQ+ justice and equity?" As you reflect on these questions, I leave you with these words by Unitarian Universalist Rev. Hannah Roberts Villnave.
Rejoice as we resist
Dance as we demand change
Celebrate as we create community that delights in
All of who we are?
Bring your policy demands
Bring your glitter
Bring your supreme court broken heart
Bring your rainbow socks
Bring the emptiness you feel
For our siblings gone too soon.
Bring your Gloria Estefan remix
Bring your tender hope for change
Bring your most garish eyeshadow
Bring your spirit, tattered and battered
By a world that seems insistent on
Choosing fear and hate.
Gather up all these things
And bring them here
To a place where we don’t
Have to shoulder these burdens
Or celebrate these joys