Mixed Feelings–Part 1, Mostly the Facts

ChaliceChick did some live blogging of the confusion around two resolutions: an Action of Immediate Witness calling for support of the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) with full transgender inclusion, and a responsive resolution called “Confronting Gender Identity Discrimination.” Both passed. But that’s only part of the story.

Before I tell the rest of it, I want to explain why I’m writing this. It’s not because I want you to flood me with sympathetic or empathetic comments. It’s because I hope people will begin to think more deeply about the way we Unitarian Universalists deal with discomfort, oppression, and issues. I’m hopeful that by hearing the story behind the process people might begin to think about what more needs to be done.

So, just before General Assembly I received the text of the original Action of Immediate Witness (AIW) proposed by Revs. Abhi Janamanchi and Manish Mishra. It read:

Confronting Gender Identity Discrimination

Whereas, Largo, Florida City Manager Steve/Susan Stanton’s gender identity transition was publicly revealed in February of 2007; and,

Whereas, that revelation led to the City Commission of Largo, Florida making the immediate decision to fire him/her; and,

Whereas, voices of religious bigotry contributed to this decision, so much as claiming that “even Jesus would fire Steve Stanton”; and,

Whereas, our Unitarian Univeralist communities in Clearwater and St. Petersburg played leadership roles in organizing the liberal religious response to this grave injustice; and,

Whereas, there are current efforts, at the federal level, to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which includes protection against employment discrimination for transgender individuals; and,

Whereas, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has not previously made explicit its commitment to gender identity diversity and diversity of gender expression,

Therefore, we, the delegates of the 2007 General Assembly, condemn the Largo City Commission’s decision to terminate Steven/Susan Ashley Stanton as City Manager, an action instigated exclusively because of issues of gender identity.

We urge member congregations and the UUA to make explicit that diversity of gender identity and gender expression are part of our religious, ethical, and social commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.

We likewise urge the UUA to promote this value in all aspects of its work, including, among others, our public witness, and in the ongoing development of our gender and sexuality education programs.

This was great stuff, and even greater because it did not come from me or from any of my transgender or genderqueer colleagues. I’ve known for years that the General Assembly had never addressed transgender issues or transphobia, that gender identity is not included in the non-discrimination clause of our by-laws, and that while the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns (OBGLTC) had created several resources on transgender issues, there has been no real institutional support to date. I was asked for my opinion on the text, which I gave, and explained to the sponsors that I would support the AIW in every way except I would not personally collect signatures. (The thought of collecting signatures on an issue that supported my own identity made me uncomfortable.)

The AIW process went smoothly and all the required signatures were gathered and submitted for the Gender Identity AIW, along with many others. Every year, far more AIW’s are submitted than can come to the floor of the Assembly. The Commission on Social Witness (CSW) narrows the field, often by combining resolutions on similar topics, sometimes by choosing the six that best meet the criteria of “relevance and actionability.”In this case, the CSW made a decision to fold the Gender Identity resolution into the AIW concerning ENDA. I understand the connection they made–the Gender Identity resolution was based on an act of employment discrimination. However, I think the CSW made a serious mistake. Rather than folding the specific (employment discrimination) into the the general (gender identity discrimination,) they decided against a “specifically transgender” AIW for the one that applied to all forms of sexual orientation and gender identity.

I understand the impulse, but the situation is further complicated by one other fact: in 1994 the General Assembly passed a resolution supporting ENDA. We passed it before transgender protection was removed to make it more “palatable.” So, the ENDA AIW was redundant, while we have nothing specifically about transgender issues. In addition, the ENDA AIW urges action on a specific piece of legislation, but did nothing to, as Chalice Chick put it, “require UNITARIANS to be nice to them or anything.” In other words, the ENDA AIW does not hold us accountable to anything beyond supporting the legislation. That’s a lot to lose.

That’s what led to debate about the ENDA AIW, where the proposers of the Gender Identity statement spoke in opposition to the ENDA statement, saying it was redundant and did not go far enough. That’s what led to the bizarre moment when the moderator asked the UUA staff if they would continue to work on behalf of ENDA even if the AIW failed. (They replied with a very enthusiastic and loud “YES!”) So, even if the General Assembly said “no” to the AIW, the staff said “yes.” That makes sense, since we have 20 or more resolutions in support of equal rights for gay and lesbian (and some of them say “bisexual and transgender”) people. It was an odd moment and quite self-contradictory, since the reason given for going with the ENDA AIW was that it had been 13 years and the General Assembly needed to recommit so the work could go on.

All this played out on Saturday and many of us were saddened by the CSW’s decision. The ENDA AIW passed easily. There were a few nays and I and a few others abstained. Revs. Janamanchi and Mishra then began the process of submitting a “responsive resolution”–a process for responding to Officers’ Reports that until last year was rarely used. (This year there were 5 or 6 responsive resolutions–way too many.)

On Sunday, Rev. Mishra put forth this resolution:

“Confronting Gender Identity Discrimination”

Whereas, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations noted in his June 21st report to the General Assembly the work of our west Florida congregations on the issue of employment discrimination against transgendered individuals; and,

Whereas, there has been no prior statement by the General Assembly on the issue of transgenderism, diversity of gender identity, or diversity of gender expression;

Be it resolved that the 2007 General Assembly affirms its commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, including transgendered individuals.We resolve to express this spiritual value through our employment practices, our congregational life, and our public witness.

Be it further resolved that congregations explore with their communities the important differences between sexual orientation and transgender identity.

This resolution also passed easily, so now we have our first official resolution supporting transgender people in our association. And that’s good. Next post: Mixed Feelings–Part 2, Mostly the Feelings.