Monday, June 6, 2011

Sermon - "Pride and the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person"

You may have noticed our rainbow flag was outside this morning. It’s been hiding in the back corner of the sanctuary for over a year. It’s nice to have in here, but I’m glad to tell you that the flag is coming out. It’s going to be out on the patio on Sundays now. The only reason it hasn’t been out there is that that slightest breeze would blow the thing over. You see that plastic base that it sits in was empty so it had no support. So just a couple of weeks ago, Brian figured out how to fill the base with some heavy clay to give it some weight.

And that’s exactly what I aim to do with today’s worship service, to give some weight to the idea of Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride. Because whether you know it or not, it’s about more than a parade or a picnic or a rainbow flag. Pride is about a community, struggling for survival, standing up for its rights, standing up to proclaim that they too are human beings with dignity and worth.
Most of us know of the Gay Pride Parade as a fun day, with colorful floats and costumes. There are amazing parties going on all month, it is non-stop dancing in the street. But, the Gay Pride Parade, is more than just a party. Every year in June, pride parades mark the anniversary of one very important night, forty three years ago. That night, June 28, 1968, at a gay bar in New York City, for the first time the queer community fought back, literally.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay bars in New York and SanFrancisco were regularly raided by the police. Once a month, police would come to take names and pictures of customers, arrest anyone in inappropriate clothing, meaning clothing of the wrong gender. And they would confiscate all the liquor and close the bar.

This particular night, around 1:30 in the morning, the gay bar call Stonewall Inn was full of people when the police began their raid. But things did not go as expected. From the very outset of the raid, there was a new level of tension. First all the male patrons were lined up and asked for identification. Meanwhile, customers dressed as women were taken to the restroom and ordered to prove their gender to a police officer present. For the first time, they began to resist the humiliation, for the first time some of them said no.

Later, outside the bar when the police were arresting a butch lesbian who was struggling, she was knocked in the head with a billy club. She yelled out to the crowd of hundreds, “Why don’t you do something?” The police threw her in the back of the wagon, and the crowd became a mob. … Years, decades, of humiliation and police brutality would be confronted that night. A series of nights of chaos in the Greenwich Village neighborhood where the bar stood became known as the Stonewall Riots, the seminal moment for the modern Gay Rights movement. Within weeks, two major organizations were formed, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance, organizations that continue on today under different names.

The next year, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots was clebrated by marches in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those marches became what we know of as, the Gay Pride Parade. Then, and now, there is a purpose to pride. It is not just a party, it is an anniversary to one of the most important moments of LGBT history, a moment of saying NO to humiliation and police brutality.

One important piece of this history, a piece that is often forgotten is that the moment that the Gay Pride Parade commemorates, the Stonewall riots, was not a well organized political event. It was not popular or comfortable. It was not funded by a national organization. It was not lead by wealthy white men. Quite the contrary, the beginning of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall rebellion, was the result of some fierce drag queens and butch lesbians. Those people most marginalized, were the ones with the guts to say, we’re not going to take this anymore. So as we pause to remember gay pride, we must also pause to remember the lesbian and transgender folks. Without them, who knows how long it would have taken to stand up. If pride is all about celebrating who we are, we must remember all of who we are, all of the brave men and women, the fierce drag queens, the butch lesbians, the sissies who were the first to say NO, to the humiliation.

Fortunately times have changed a bit. Gay bars are no longer raided by the police, at least not that I know of. And the Gay rights movement has moved far beyond using violence to get its message across. It is a well-funded and organized political movement, chugging along on the track to equality. But they still march every year, and not just in those three cities where it started. Gay Pride parades occur in every state, in pretty much every reasonably sized city.
In fact we will participate with other UU congregations in the Orange County Pride picnic in August. It’s a great time.
But why? Why have pride in 2011 some might ask? Why fly this silly rainbow flag here in Laguna Beach? The answer is, because it’s still necessary. Still today many, many people who would rather LGBT movement disappear. Many , many people think that everyone should be heterosexual, and if they are unable or unwilling to do so, they simply shouldn’t have the same rights. As long as that is the case, as long as some people try silence or hide our queer brothers and sisters, then Pride will be necessary. Because it’s not just about a party. It’s about pausing to celebrate progress and make the world pay attention, whether it wants to or not.

I debated about brining this up, but I can’t let it pass by. Not this week. I think it is too important for you to know. Last month, Laguna Presbyterian Church made the bold move to publicly stand in opposition to it’s national body. Last month, Laguna Presbyterian Church made a clear and public statement that it stands in opposition to allowing faithful gay and lesbian individuals into ordained ministry.

The largest and most prominent church in our town feels compelled to publicly declare that faithful gay and lesbian people are not fit for ordained ministry in their church.

This is why we have a pride flag out front, and will continue to fly it. Because as a religious community, we have a specially calling to celebrate the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person.

I feel deeply for the members of Laguna Presbyterian Church who have lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family members and friends. Perhaps most of all I feel for the young queer people growing up in that church, young people who should be finding a source of comfort in their faith, not condemnation. Many of you in this room have felt the pain of not fitting the mold of a religious tradition.

We celebrate LGBT Pride in the month of June because it is still necessary to stand up and say everyone has inherent worth and dignity, including our Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sister. Everyone, every single person has inherent worth and dignity.

All this Summer we are going to focus on the Seven Principles and Six Sources of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Today, I’m especially concerned about the first Principle. You can read it on the back of your order of service or on the poster on the back wall of the sanctuary, or in any Unitarian Universalist church across the country. “We the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

If you’re a member here, you have no doubt heard this bit about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It’s a pretty strong and important theological statement. The inherent worth and dignity of every person. But you may not be as familiar with the introductory language. We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote.

You see the seven principles is often misunderstood as a list of things that we as individual UUs believe in. While the Principles do help point in that direction, that’s not what the document is about. The Seven Principles is a covenant between congregations. It is a public commitment, sort of like a mission statement. It is a commitment to affirm and promote these concepts that we hold dear, and to do so as a community. “We covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

We don’t just believe people are good. That’s just the very beginning, the very surface layer of this statement. Don’t get me wrong, we do, I do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But also, we believe it is our job as a religious community to affirm, to call out, to bear witness to that goodness. And it is our job to promote it. It is our job to create a community and a world where people can grow into their best selves, where inherent worth and dignity of every person can blossom into its full glory.

I’m occasionally asked about our message of love and tolerance. This support for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, does that mean that anyone can say or do what they want and we support them in it? Do we support unjust behaviors or things that break down community? The answer is no, we do not.

As Unitarian Universalists our faith calls to love and acceptance, not to being doormats. While we do believe that people are inherently good, we also recognize the crucial religious work of building community. Every person has inherent worth and dignity, not a right to act irresponsibly or hurtfully. Every person has inherent worth and dignity, not a right to be destructive to others.

That’s why it is important that we embrace the full statement of our first principles, and all of our principles for that matter. Our principles are only meaningful when are analyze them, challenge them, give them context and depth. Otherwise they are nothing more than a poster on the wall. It’s not about reading them, it’s about living them in our real complex lives. It’s not just a list of the things that we believe about the world, but a list of the ways in which we will act toward creating a better world. Unitarian Universalism is a religion of action, not belief. One of the actions that we hold most dear is creating a world where people are safe to flourish into their fully beautiful selves. Sometimes creating that world, where everyone is safe to flourish means saying “no” to destructive people and to intolerance.

The song that we are about to sing as our closing song is called “We are a Gentle Angry People.” It was written in 1978 to be performed at the memorial for Harvey Milk. Thanks to the recent film about his life, many more of us know his story. Harvey Milk was a fiery politician who was the first openly gay man elected to public office. After serving for just 11 months Milk was assassinated, along with the mayor by a disgruntled former City Council Member.
His assassination left an entire community devastated. It was bad enough that Harvey Milk the man had died. But that bullet also struck the heart of an entire community’s hopes and dreams. In that moment of deep, deep loss, this song was written. “We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing for our lives.”

This song was written by and for the Gay and lesbian community in their struggle. But I think it speaks to us as Unitarain Universalists and as human beings. There is reason to be angry when our inherent worth and dignity is challenged by the world. But that’s not something that happened with one shot in 1978. It’s not something that happens only to the LGBT community.
It’s something that happens to every single one of us. Each and every one of us feels the affect of being ignored, being told we are somehow less than. Whether because of the way we look, the way we talk, how old we are, who we love, how much money we make. Each one of us has at one time or another had our dignity challenged.
So as we sing this closing hymn together, I want you to join me, in celebration of gay pride, and in affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Let us sing for our lives, and the lives of others.


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