Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation

Advancing justice for women and girls and promoting their spiritual growth

Leaping from Our Spheres

-- The Blog of UUWF's Affiliated Minister

UUWF Signs On to Interfaith Letters Opposing Supreme Court Nominee

Despite calls to delay hearings on this administration’s second chance to shape the Supreme Court for years to come until after the November elections, or at least until after Senators have had the chance to read through much delayed background documents on the current nominee, the hearings have begun.

Shortly before the beginning of the Senate Judiciary committee proceedings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) the New York Times published an analysis of how a Supreme Court shaped by Trump could restrict access to abortion. The just-departed Judge Anthony Kennedy was described in the article as a “cautious supporter of abortion rights.” Based on what is known about Kavanaugh, if confirmed “the Supreme Court would have a conservative, five member majority that would most likely sustain sharp restrictions on access to abortion in the United States,” the Times speculated.

Even if this court does not overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide as a constitutional right, this SCOTUS could (in its most extreme rulings and considered very unlikely) rule that fetuses are persons protected by the constitution. Therefore, abortion would be murder. Or the court could abolish the right to privacy, decided in a decision on the legality of contraceptives in 1965, eliminating the legal foundation for the right to abortion as well as birth control and same sex marriage.

Most likely, according to the New York Times analysts, a court with a conservative majority would allow states to impose new restrictions on abortion, reinterpreting what “undue burden” is in terms of access to safe legal abortions. It could “interpret that standard narrowly,” allowing states to impose more and more barriers to access and much more leeway to restrict abortions.

Reproductive rights would, in all likelihood, be under attack for the foreseeable future. Because of these harrowing possibilities, the UUWF has signed on to two letters calling for careful scrutiny of, and pointed questions to, Judge Kavanaugh in the course of Senate deliberations on his nomination to the SCOTUS. One letter focused on separation of church and government and the other, more specifically, on threats to reproductive choice including access to abortion nationwide.

We have joined with 36 other national, faith-based, nontheist, and religious liberty organizations to “share a commitment to individual freedom and the separation of religion and government.” In this letter to all U.S. Senators, we pointed to the dissent Judge Kavanaugh wrote in Priests for Life v U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He sided with a religious organization that argued that filling out a form to request a religious exemption from providing insurance coverage for birth control burdened its religious exercise. He was at odds with eight of the nine federal appeals courts that heard challenges on the same religious exemptions. In our letter, we expressed concerns that Judge Kavanaugh “could require the government to carve out religious exemptions even when they would cause real harm to other people.”

UUWF has signed a second interfaith letter, this one to the Senate Judiciary Committee, stating that “we are deeply troubled by Judge Kavanaugh’s record of statements and decisions on issues related to reproductive health and the right to make private decisions without impediment or imposition.”

“We fear that Judge Kavanaugh, if confirmed, will not uphold the right of each pregnant woman to make the choice for her circumstances—including the choice to seek an abortion—by her own conscience in consultation with her doctor, faith, and values… Judge Kavanaugh’s views on the civil right to choose abortion and the sacred right to bodily autonomy gives us great pause over his confirmation to the highest court of our land.”

“In light of President Trump’s explicit promise to nominate Justices who will overturn Roe, and of Judge Kavanaugh’s past statements and rulings, we urge the Committee to carefully scrutinize Judge Kavanaugh’s entire record and demand clear, direct, and substantive answers. We further hope the Senate will reject any nominee who will not safeguard individual moral agency or the fundamental principles of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution.”

Weeping for Hungry Families

When I was a new minister, I served a UU congregation in a small Southern town that, on the surface, was a popular weekend tourist destination: a place to go gold panning, visit the burgeoning wineries, grab a bite on the historic square.

But in the back “hollers,” the vestiges of hard scrabble Appalachia remained and remains, with children—I heard and came to know—who were more often than not too cold (because heating bills went unpaid) in the mountain winters to make it up for school. There were church charities and a community “helping place” to help fill the gap between inconsistent and low wage paychecks and need. But it was not enough in a reliable way to alleviate the suffering—or the pull up by your bootstraps shame—that dogged the lives of these poor rural households.

In the middle of farm country, it was the federal Farm Bill and the food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) contained within it that made significant difference in staving off hunger. Currently, 70 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children, children like those who lived too invisibly in Lumpkin County, Georgia.

This longstanding national commitment to what the organization Faith in Public Life declares is “a shared moral responsibility to ensure that no one in the United States goes hungry” is now under partisan attack, particularly devastating low income working families, and a high percentage of these single women with children.

The proposed bill cuts SNAP participants’ benefits by more than $17 million and diverts much of that money, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), to “a scheme of ineffective work programs and unforgiving penalties.” The legislation would take food away from households (for example, those with children over 6 years old) who don’t prove every month that they work enough hours or qualify for an underfunded program to help find jobs. This, in an economy where stable employment and regular hours are becoming less the norm. And of course, childcare assistance is not provided.

The CBPP estimates that this bill, if it becomes law, will take away or cut SNAP benefits (ie. food) from more than one million families with more than 2 million people. They project that the proposed Farm Bill cuts mean  there will be 13.1 billion fewer meals provided under SNAP in the next ten years.

This shift in policy and these cuts come on the heels of a $1.9 trillion tax cut bill, where safety net programs for poor people, disabled people, and elderly people are targeted as sources of Congressional budget cutting to cover the cost.

There is dignity in human work, but harsh and unsupported requirements that preference work over the essential human need to have access to food on the table are cruel. They are in direct conflict with our UU first principle of affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

For women, for their children, for all of our families no matter how they are  constructed, we must defeat this 2018 Farm Bill as it currently is written. The UUWF joins Faith in Public Life and other religious and secular groups in saying that these SNAP cuts and new requirements are dangerous and unacceptable.

To contact your House of Representatives member, Faith in Public Life’s phone line will connect you to their home district or their DC office: 1-844-390-0619. For more information on the effects of the bill, visit the CBPP website.

Equal Pay Day 2018 – What is the Wage Gap and Where Do We Go from Here?

This past Tuesday was Equal Pay Day – the date each year up to which American women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

We join with the National Women’s Law Center and other organizations in declaring that equal pay is crucial for all women, and that much greater pay disparities for women of color and women with disabilities must be addressed forcefully and intentionally in an ongoing way.

Last year our Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly passed a statement of conscience on  escalating economic inequality in this country, stating that “our principle of justice, equity and compassion in human relations drives us to work for healthier and more equitable economic systems.” We declared the imperative for a moral economic system that would include equal pay for equal work and elimination of racial, ethnic and gendered wage and wealth gaps.

Little progress has been made in the area of wage gaps as documented by the most recent available numbers. In fact, predictions are that the pay gap is not expected to close until 2119!

According to data provided by the National Women’s Law Center, women of all races who work full time year-round are typically paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to male counterparts. This gap in earnings amounts to $10,086 that women lose each year. Women of all education levels experience a wage gap. Women in nearly every occupation experience a wage gap. Women are paid less for the same work. Women are over-represented in low wage jobs and under-represented in high wage ones. Women’s work (work where women are dominant in a field) is devalued because women do it.

A recent Census Bureau report revealed that the so-called “baby window” following the birth of a first child doubles the pay gap between spouses and, for younger women between 25 and 35, their pay never recovers.

But as New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett pointed out “the more clear-cut (and stunning) figures come when you segment by race, as compared to white men:

  • 54 cents is the amount Latina women make to the white male dollar.
  • 57 cents for Native women
  • 63 cents for black women
  • 79 cents for white women
  • 89 cents for Asian women (differentiated by region).

The pay gap for black women means that they would have to work until August 7 of this year to earn what white men earned the previous year. For Latina women, it’s November 1.

Add to this: Transgender women make less after they transition. One study found that their average earnings fell by nearly one-third after transition. Women with disabilities are typically paid 73 cents for every dollar men without disabilities are paid and, compared with their male counterparts with disabilities, this figure is 76 cents.

It will take a focused, multi-pronged effort to achieve equal pay for all women. The National Women’s Law Center urges us to:

  • Strengthen our equal pay laws so that women are better able to fight back against pay discrimination.
  • Build ladders to better paying jobs for women by removing barriers to entry into male-dominated fields.
  • Lift up wages for women in low income jobs by raising the minimum wage and ensuring that tipped workers receive at least the regular minimum wage before tips.
  • Increase the availability of high quality, affordable childcare.
  • Help prevent and remedy caregiver discrimination and protect workers from pregnancy discrimination.
  • Establish fair scheduling practices that allow employees to meet their care-giving and other responsibilities.
  • Provide paid family and medical leave.
  • Ensure women’s access to affordable reproductive health care.
  • Protect workers’ ability to collectively bargain.

The UUWF joins the National Women’s Law Center and other intersectional justice seeking groups in declaring once again this year that:

Every Woman Matters
Every Dollar Matters
Equal Pay Matters

The “Secret” is Out. Now What?

Debra Greenwood

By Debra Greenwood

For those of us who have experienced the type of sexual harassment, abuse, or rape that is such a topic in the news today, there may be a mixture of feelings: relief that, finally, women are being believed and taken seriously about these assaults on us; anger that this type of abuse is so pervasive; and sadness that it continues to this day. Far too many girls and women have not experienced the human right of body integrity. Far too many (mainly men) have invaded us, disregarded us, and then discarded us.

There is a bittersweet irony to these allegations suddenly being taken seriously. This irony is not lost on those of us who are members of the “least of these” groups. Although it is definitely a good thing that women are finally being believed and action is being taken by corporations to minimize their legal exposure by purging their ranks of serial abusers, we all know that this type of behavior has gone on for a LONG time. From the time of American slavery, white, male slave owners have used their position of authority and power to rape enslaved women and children. In more recent times, housekeepers of color – who have worked for rich, white men – have been sexually victimized by their employers. Desperate to keep their jobs, there has been little or no recourse, save resignation, for these women.  In order to eat, they’ve had to endure the abuse. The fact that these women were victimized made no real impact on society. It wasn’t until white women were more widely abused that women were believed and action taken. Much like the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, it wasn’t until men revealed their abuse that the whole scandal blew up and became such a blight on the church.

The lack of concern for people of color and women is a social ill that will take a lot of work to correct. It will require all of us to do soul searching and the necessary work to rid ourselves and our society of this thinking. It is work that must be done. The courageous among us have already begun this work and we are grateful for what they are doing.

However, with regard to the prevention of sexual abuse, there is work that we, as women, must do now. We must seize the time and drive the narrative of how these egregious acts are prevented and punished. It is not enough to be satisfied that our secrets are being revealed and taken seriously. We must take responsibility for our own liberation from this social scourge. We have to be the leaders in retooling social thought on how women and men experience body integrity and respect for the body integrity of others.

Prevention of these heinous and life-altering acts is the gift we give to the countless girls and boys who might be future victims.

Fortunately, work on this issue has already begun. Parents are being discouraged to “offer up” their children to family friends and relatives for hugs and kisses. Let the child decide if they want to be touched. Discussion about body integrity must be taught from an early age regarding a person’s right to allow or reject touching – of any kind.

There are many issues for us to address in this current scandal:

  1. How do we regulate workplace behavior so that all workers are free of unwanted comments and behaviors?
  2. If more women were in positions of power and authority, would women still experience sexual harassment at current levels?
  3. What should the consequences be of violating the body integrity of others? Warnings? Treatment? Termination of employment? Arrest?
  4. Why are employers paying for the unethical/illegal behavior of their employees? Shouldn’t the offender be financially responsible for his/her behavior?
  5. Should our tax payer money be used to pay off victims of sexual harassment/abuse?
  6. How can women be assured a seat at the table when these issues are addressed?

My sisters, the time is NOW to come together for our common welfare. And when we come together, be mindful of who has a seat at your table. Is there diversity in age, color, sexual orientation, physical/mental ability, and class?  Do those at your table have a real voice or are they just there as window dressing? Our power and our wisdom are in our diversity.

We can do this. We must do this….

Debra Greenwood is still a 1960s activist in 2017. She is impressed by the way young people of today organize and learns a lot from them. Along the way she has earned an RN and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. She is married to her partner of 21 years, Ida Miller. She is happiest when working to improve the world in some small way.

Progressive Values and Scouting Today: Understanding the GSUSA and the BSA

By Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum

I’ve been involved with Girl Scouts USA for eight years as a troop leader and one year as a Juliette mentor – a guide for an independent Girl Scout. But when I first got involved with Girl Scouts, I was cautious.  Like many people, I didn’t fully understand that the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are two completely different and separate organizations. And like many progressives and Unitarian Universalists, I had significant differences with the Boy Scouts – who, at that time, did not include atheist scouts and gay, bisexual, and transgender scouts – and still don’t clearly include atheist scouts by national policy. So I looked into Girl Scouts carefully.

What I learned quickly about Girl Scouts was that they were already progressive and open in these areas. While not perfect in their inclusion, they go a long way. So, while the word “God” is included in the Girl Scout Promise, Girl Scouts has allowed girls to substitute wording appropriate to their beliefs for the word “God” since 1993.[i] Some atheists many find their language about faith still too confining, but as an agnostic Humanist, I have substituted words like “earth,” “love,” and “peace” while saying the Girl Scout Law.

Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum

On the issue of sexual orientation, Girl Scouts has no policy on sexual orientation. They say that sexual orientation shouldn’t be advocated for or promoted in Girl Scouts, but Scouts’ sexual orientation is only their own business and shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion.[ii] The issue of advocacy is also somewhat flexible. For example, many scouts have had independent silver and gold award projects on issues related to LGBT advocacy, particularly around bullying. An independent scout project, though, is different from a troop activity.

On gender identity, Girl Scouts is definitely a girl-based organization. But the Girl Scouts are clear that any child who lives as a girl and whose family recognizes her as a girl is welcome in Girl Scouts.[iii] In practice, I’ve also seen children who started in Girl Scouts as girl-identified and then identified as gender-queer as they aged continue to be welcomed in Girl Scouts, as well.

Part of the reason for this difference in levels of progressive policies is structural. Boy Scouts have the majority of their troops organized through religious organizations – 68.4%, of which more than half (36.7%) are chartered through Mormon churches.[iv] In contrast, most Girl Scout troops are held in schools. I would argue, however, that part of the reason this discrepancy between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts exists is built into the very conception of the organizations. Boy Scouts created an organization that wouldn’t admit girls. Girl Scouts created an organization designed to give girls the same opportunities that boys had. In its very creation, Girl Scouts was a feminist organization, and continues to be one, in that it is dedicated to teaching girls to be strong leaders, giving them valuable business skills and leadership skills, teaching girls about STEM careers and civic participation as well as the typical outdoor skills one expects from scouting organizations. It’s no wonder that so many female governors, senators, and U.S. representatives were once Girl Scouts.

Overall, the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have faced very different pressures from society. Over the last decade and more, the Boy Scouts have been pressured by conservatives to stay conservative, and by progressives to become progressive. The pressure has been around changing policies that were conservative. In contrast, Girl Scouts has been pressured by conservatives to become conservative, and faced much less pressure from progressives who were fairly content with the policies. One example of pressure Girl Scouts has faced is around sexual education. Girl Scouts has careful policies in place that require parental consent for any programs, and doesn’t develop the programs themselves, but some conservative organizations point to ties that seem too close between the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, of which Girl Scouts is a member, and Planned Parenthood. There has been particular pressure on Girl Scouts about this from the Catholic Church.[v]

So given this history, what are we to make of the recent decision by Boy Scouts to allow girls into their organization?  I’m hopeful that it means that Boy Scouts is continuing on its path to becoming a more open and welcoming organization. However, the very language that the Boy Scouts use to explain its decision makes me skeptical. They point to research that shows that families already involved in Boy Scouts are interested in Boy Scouts for their girls as well.[vi] What this tells me is that they’re not doing this because they’re interested particularly in girls’ leadership and development, or about increasing opportunities for girls. And the very parents who are asking Boy Scouts to create opportunities for girls may be the same ones who are uncomfortable with Girl Scouts as an organization because of its inclusivity and progressive stances.

Personally, if I was looking for a scouting organization that I could send children of all genders to, I would look to one that’s been inclusive in its programming for much longer. Camp Fire, for example, says, “Camp Fire works to realize the dignity and worth of each individual and to eliminate human barriers based on all assumptions that prejudge individuals. Designed and implemented to reduce sexual, racial, religious, and cultural stereotypes and to foster positive intercultural relationships, in Camp Fire, everyone is welcome.”[vii] Navigators USA has inclusion built into their creed, “As a Navigator I promise to do my best to create a world free of prejudice and ignorance.”[viii]

But if I was looking for an organization that specifically focuses on building leadership skills in girls, the answer is definitely Girl Scouts.

Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum is a UU Minister who serves the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty in Clarklake, MI.  She has been a Girl Scout leader and is the mother of a Juliette Girl Scout, and received a Community Spirit Award from the Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan Council in 2014.


[i] “Girl Scouts of the USA,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA.

[ii] “Girl Scouts of the USA,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girl_Scouts_of_the_USA.

[iii] “Social Issues,” Girl Scouts USA, http://www.girlscouts.org/en/faq/faq/social-issues.html

[iv] “Chartered Organizations of the Boy Scouts of America,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartered_organizations_of_the_Boy_Scouts_of_America

[v] Teresa Donnellan, “A History of the Friction Between the Girl Scouts and the Catholic Church,” America: The Jesuit Review, https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/05/12/history-friction-between-girl-scouts-and-catholic-church

[vi] “The BSA Expands Programs to Welcome Girls from Cub Scouts to Highest Rank of Eagle Scouts,” Boy Scouts of America, http://www.scoutingnewsroom.org/press-releases/bsa-expands-programs-welcome-girls-cub-scouts-highest-rank-eagle-scout/

[vii] “Camp Fire Recognizes Dignity and Worth,” Camp Fire, http://campfire.org/experience/inclusion

[viii] Navigators USA, https://navigatorsusa.org/

Where Loss is Felt, Grief is Known

By Rev. Aaron Payson

Last spring, I was invited to share my thoughts on grief and reproductive loss as part of a new series developed by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice called Sacred Crossroads. This series involved both blog reflections and webcasts which interviewed an incredible group of advocates for reproductive health, rights and justice and an attempt to shift the conversation in order to begin to reclaim the idea that those of us in the “pro-choice” movement represented a more humane and just form of “pro-life” perspectives.

For me this means that one is “pro-life” when we understand the worth and integrity of the living and the complex and often complicated challenges that the living face. My experience of the “pro-life” movement, as it is popularly experienced, is that it is actually a “pro-birth” movement with little concern for the continuing health and well-being of children and women in our world. The work of women of color who challenged us to consider the inadequacies of the “pro-choice” frame, and who advocate for reproductive justice, has helped clarify for me that the operative ethic in our movement needs to be the desire, life-circumstance, and decision-making authority of women. We must put particular attention and focus on those who have been marginalized by race, sexual orientation, and gender expression, as the focus of any strategies moving forward in the reproductive health, rights and justice movement. What I wrote last April is, in part, my own attempt to broaden the dialogue to make room for a much wider expression and acceptance of the spectrum of human and humane responses to reproductive loss and decision-making.

He did not say: You will not be troubled,
you will not be belabored,
you will not be afflicted;
but he said: You will not be overcome.
~ Mother Julian of Norwich

Rev. Aaron Payson

My calling to ministry began more than 35 years ago, not with dreams of preaching to a full sanctuary but as a first responder working with ambulance companies. This ministry began in high school as a volunteer, and continued as a professional Emergency Medical Technician during college and seminary. The calling I distilled from this vocation was one of trained physical care and compassionate companionship with people during some of the most traumatic times of their lives. Such service encompassed the experience of the entire spectrum of human response to crisis:  moments of stress, pain, suffering, anxiety, fear, grief, gladness, humor and, in precious few moments, unbridled joy. As I reflect back, I recognize in each of these experiences expressions of human integrity and sacred moments, moments of awareness and awakening to the larger connections that sustain us and often permeate such critical life experiences.

As a parish minister I have maintained my connection to the first responder community as part of a community crisis response teams that companioned first responders and others through the initial aftermath of traumatic incidents, providing psychological, emotional and spiritual care. These experiences turned into primary lessons for ministry: the art of compassionate presence, the importance of individual integrity, the necessity of trust in others, faith in the human spirit and the spirit that transcends all, the call to create a more just world, the power of the human voice as well as both the strength and fragility of the web of existence which holds us all. But perhaps the most profound lesson from this service is the normalcy and necessity of grief as a basic human response to experiences of profound change, and the importance of recognizing and responding to the reality of grief by those who are grieving and those who support them. And I have carried this learning into all of the areas of my ministry to and with others.

One area of ministry where these lessons have been most profound, and in many ways most challenging, has been with women who face reproductive crises. I have been a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice for more than 17 years.  I have served this organization as an affiliate president, and as a member and treasurer of the national Board of Directors.  I have also served as an All Options counselor and trainer. All Options Counseling is a mode of spiritual companionship with women who face critical decisions regarding their reproductive capacity, often when the decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term or terminate a pregnancy has reached a point of crisis. It is a form of counseling that places, at its center, the unique circumstances and life reality of the one who faces a crisis and invites the exploration of the spectrum of options available her given such circumstances. It is a form of counseling that recognizes and honors the integrity and inherent moral capacity of women to choose that direction which she deems most responsible.  This too is a process that often encompasses the spectrum of human response to crisis.

Often, however, those of us in the reproductive health, rights and justice movement have been so focused on advocating for women’s right to choose, we have neglected to create space for them to grieve. Grief is a normal response to reproductive health decisions, especially as these relate to the decision to terminate a pregnancy. That a woman would decide upon terminating a pregnancy as the most responsible decision given her circumstances does not preclude the reality that grief and sorrow can be, and often is, a normal response.  That we in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement have too often ignored this reality simply stigmatizes those who experience this most human response to loss as illegitimate. And for those who oppose this decision, the presence of grief is often identified as a symptom that the decision was both wrong and harmful. Neither position has demonstrated the humane sensitivity that the presence of grief can be constitutive of any experience of human loss. Neglecting this human reality is a spiritual shortcoming and negates our responsibility as caring people to companion those who feel loss on their own terms — not dependent on those dictated by movements in support or opposition to the decision itself. It is our spiritual responsibility to journey with our sisters as they experience life crises and losses.

In his 26th year of ministry in Unitarian Universalism, Rev. Aaron Payson is Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, MA, where he has served for over 18 years. He has been active in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice since the early 2000s and is engaged in a variety of local rights and justice efforts. He lives in Worcester with his spouse, Kristen Payson, and their children, Morgaine and Charlie.


I am not and never have been a Time Magazine subscriber.

At one time in my much younger life someone paid for a year’s worth of Newsweek, which I enjoyed, but not enough to continue. But when I caught a morning talk show interview with editor-in-chief Nancy Gibbs previewing and promoting a Time special project— Firsts-women who are changing the world, I went in determined search of the September 18 issue.

I learned that if you are not a signed up paid reader, it was not easy to score a copy, at least not in a timely manner. It took several return trips to the Barnes and Noble periodical section, and an expedited delivery purchase on ebay (mailed carefully in do-not-bend packaging). I tore it open, eager to read about what Gibbs had described as the “experiences of women who were pioneers in their field,” hopefully in a positive way. The venture had taken more than a year, after having been proposed by Kira Pollack, the magazine’s director of photography and visual enterprise. What began as a series of portraits, in the words of the editor-in-chief, quickly evolved into a multimedia project including dozens of interviews and a book.

What were the “striking themes”?

“The importance of joy, the fierce motivational force of failure, the satisfaction of successes both achieved and shared.”

The section profiling 50 women who were firsts, starts on page 64. It follows articles on a U.S. commander’s year on the front line against ISIS; the new NFL season; and the prospect for civil war in Venezuela—all with male bylines. There is a feature on California Governor Jerry Brown titled “The Philosopher King,” written by a female reporter, Katy Steinmetz.

The women whose lives and accomplishments are described range in age from 16 to 87, and as Nancy Gibbs writes, with stories of success knitted with stories of setbacks.” Women talk about the people who tried to stop them as making them more determined, of the lack of role models, and the large roles played by the men in their lives: older brothers who were first competitors, and fathers who believed in them. And the “special place in hell,” as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says, “For women who do not help each other.”

Among those selected: Aretha Franklin, who was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Sylvia Earle, the first woman to become chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to pitch a shutout and win a game in the Little League World Series.

Among the women in color selected were Mae Jemison, the first in space; Issa Rae, first black woman to create and star in a premium cable series, Ursula Burns, first black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, and Rita Moreno, first Latina to win an Emmy, a Grammy, and Tony.

And of course Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to win a major party’s nomination for President of the United States who says, “being the first of any adventure or achievement does have added pressure. You want to be the first to open the door to others, and you hope you’re not the last.”

Nancy Gibbs’ legacy gift to Time Magazine may well be this special project, providing for younger woman, as she had set as a goal, “many other women of dramatically different backgrounds… and everyone gets to choose their own icons.” As the first woman-identified editor-in-chief of this venerable weekly, her name belongs in this pantheon.

Shortly after announcing its imminent arrival on newsstands, she submitted her resignation.

A Moral Economic System: Beyond Labor Day 2017

Labor Day has come and gone in 2017. What began as a nationwide day to recognize the contributions and trials of American workers has become, in most ways, the last three-day summer weekend consisting of cookouts and festivals and trips to school supply stores to fill carts with pencils, notebooks, and lunch boxes.

This year, Labor Day was also shadowed by the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey and the threat of an even more devastating category five storm making its way from Africa across the Atlantic, heading for the Caribbean, most likely Florida, and beyond. These climatic weather events — along with the news of a looming presidential announcement about the insecure future of thousands of young people in the DACA program — focused attention away from issues like the gender pay gap, family leave, and affordable childcare.

In the midst of the always-hyperactive news cycle there were, however, timely articles and op-ed pieces — notably in the New York Times — that lifted up the status of working women in this country. And the news is not favorable.

In the business section, in a story on economic trends, reporter Neil Irwin told of two female janitors at two major companies, then and now. He laid out, in great and grave detail, the differences between the work story of Gail Evans, who cleaned offices at Eastman Kodak’s campus in Rochester, New York in the 1980s, and Marta Ramos, who is employed to do the same work at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California today.

As Irwin reports, “The $16.60 that Ms. Ramos earns as a janitor at Apple works out to be about the same in inflation-adjusted terms as what Ms. Evans earned 35 years ago. But that’s where the similarities end.”

The difference results from what Irwin identifies as a new management theory that has been widely embraced, to focus on core competence and outsource the rest. While making companies possibly more productive and clearly more profitable to share holders, at the same time, he points out, it has fueled inequality and economic struggle for working class Americans, many of them women.

As a full-time employee of Kodak, Ms. Evans’ received generous paid vacation, a bonus payment every year, some cash assistance for college tuition and, when the campus she cleaned shut down, help in finding another job cutting film.

Ms. Ramos, on the other hand, is not an Apple employee. She works for a contractor that does not provide for vacation, so she hasn’t taken one in years because she can’t afford to lose wages. There are no bonuses, tuition assistance, or possibility of finding another position at Apple.

The Kodak employee was able to leverage her subsidized training and subsequent college degree to secure a professional-track job in information technology. The Apple employee may eventually become a janitorial team leader, which pays an extra 50 cents an hour.

For one woman, cleaning floors was a start. For the other, that work is also a ceiling.

This op-ed piece describes, in thoughtful detail, the consequences of a corporate structure and culture in which success are achieved by streamlining its direct workforce and bidding out the rest. The smaller the employee count, the bigger the profits. But also, the fewer benefits and opportunities for advancement.

Another piece published this Labor Day weekend in the New York Times, by Nation Magazine opinion writer Bryce Covert, proposed that participation of American women in the workforce peaked two decades ago at 60.3 percent in April 2000. Before World War II, he reminded us, women of color and single women “almost always worked,” with a large influx during the time when so many men were away on the battlefields.

In the decades following, Covert observed, the gender gap shrunk, education levels for women rose, and the availability of contraceptives allowed women more control over their reproductive lives and therefore their careers.

The rise of percentage of women in the job force came to a halt in the new millennia. Today, the number is just over 57 percent. For college educated women, having a degree has become less and less an advantage. Husbands’ wages grew faster than that of their wives in the 1990s, the gender gap discouraging more and more women from staying at work. For lower wage women, working conditions have gotten worse: erratic schedules, later hours, expensive or unavailable childcare, and lack of paid family leave.

The United States is now 17th in female labor force participation in the developed world, falling precipitously from ninth in 1990. There are 12.7 million more women without paying jobs than in 2000.

The countries whose women are in the workplace in higher percentages are gaining still, due in part to paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible work arrangements.

Last June at our UUA General Assembly, the latest statement of conscience on escalating economic equality was passed overwhelmingly. The statement recognized that women are especially vulnerable to economic inequity, with “a gender pay gap that has life-long financial effects and contributes directly to increased poverty levels for women of all ages, races, and cultural backgrounds.” It also identified access to paid family leave and other economic support for those who care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities —  and comprehensive reproductive health services — as key to a moral economic system.

The UUWF remains committed to intersectional economic justice and the collective and individual actions needed to make this a reality.

Sweet Honey of Celebration and Gratitude

Rev. Monica Dobbins

Last Friday, I thanked John McCain on Facebook for voting with Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins against the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, effectively killing the repeal effort. Soon after, I realized that many of my friends were posting outrage that the male senator was getting all the credit, while the two women who’ve been siding with Democrats for months were being ignored. Was I not also outraged about this blatant display of sexism?

There’s definitely truth to that. I am only one of millions of women who has had the experience of seeing a man get all the credit for something I’ve been doing for months. I’ve had my great ideas stolen by men, right before my eyes. I’ve felt the humiliation of not realizing what was happening until it was too late to advocate for myself. Sexism is real – it is not behind us, not by a long shot – and it hurts.

And I’m angry with McCain for the way he did this: setting himself up as the savior of the Senate, inviting journalists to “watch the show” rather than answer their questions. Watch the “show” – is it just a show to you, Senator? As if millions of lives didn’t depend on this decision?

And yet: this vote was a victory. One person joined with two other people, one person picked up their courage, to do the right thing. It was a victory! I am choosing to celebrate that.

There’s a story about a son who loses his way, takes all his money and runs off to waste it in wild living. When the money runs out, he crawls back home and asks his father to take him back. The father is overjoyed at the return of his precious child, and wines and dines the foolish young man. Meanwhile, the guy’s older brother seethes with resentment: I’ve been here the whole time, doing what I was supposed to do. I’ve never failed you; why is he getting all the credit?

The father replies: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this lost one has been found.”

I believe that, in that moment, the young man’s father made a decision, not so much in favor of one son or the other, but about what kind of life he wanted for himself. He decided he didn’t want to live a life of bitterness and anger. He chose joy, at the cost of the satisfaction of retribution.

No justice movement can survive in the long run fueled only by fury. The bitter herb of outrage must be followed by the sweet honey of celebration and gratitude. Otherwise, our hearts become corroded and hope trickles away through the rust-holes. We must cultivate gratitude, even when its recipient’s motives are cheap; not because the person always deserves our gratitude but because we deserve to live lives of gratitude. We deserve to live in gardens that grow wild with the fragrance of gratitude, tending even the smallest and roughest of blooms – believing, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that people can change, that they can do the right thing, if only just this once. Like forgiveness, gratitude is not just a gift I give to others – it is a gift I give to myself.

I’m not ignoring the sexism of the praise of John McCain in this moment. But as a former recipient of ACA health coverage, coverage that protected my family during a risky time in our lives, I’m choosing to celebrate and give thanks. It’s neither simple nor easy, but it’s what feels right for me. I have faith that the celebration will sustain me longer, for all the fights to come.

So: thank you, Senator McCain, for doing the right thing. Thank you, Senators Murkowski and Collins, for being steady in the face of sexist threats. Thank you, Democrats, for holding the position. Thank you, protesters, for sacrificing your time and resources to show up for justice. Thank you, thank you, thank you all.

Rev. Monica Dobbins is the Assistant Minister of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah.

All* Above All

A few years back, it was my privilege and pleasure to visit Washington D.C. during a stop on what All* Above All, a group of abortion rights advocates, called a Be Bold Road Trip. These advocates covered nearly 10,000 miles and 12 cities, taking their message across the country. They wanted legislators to lift bans on abortion coverage for low income women. Additionally, they would be asking members of Congress and others to sign a Be Bold Declaration in support of finally including insurance coverage for this legal medical procedure under Medicaid and other federal plans.

Medicare recipients would be affected, along with federal employees and their dependents; Peace Corps volunteers; Native American women; women in federal prisons and detention centers; immigration detainees; and low-income women in the District of Columbia.

All* Above All was formed to create united reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations, secular and faith-based, in a steadfast effort to make abortion economically accessible to all women. They particularly acknowledged hardships for poor women, immigrant women, young women, women of color, transgender people, and gender-nonconforming people.

The organization’s motivation is grounded in the basic values of autonomy—being able to make personal life decisions without interference from politicians—and improving women’s health and fair treatment.

The amount of money a woman has or doesn’t have, organizers declared, should not prohibit her from having an abortion. However we feel about abortion, they maintain, politicians shouldn’t be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage just because she’s poor. They observed that, in many cases, denying Medicaid and other federal plan coverage accomplishes the real agenda of anti-choice legislators—to make abortions unaffordable and therefore unattainable for large numbers of women.

The UU Women’s Federation signed on to All* Above All in 2014. This is a bold and brave group of people committed to not settling for just keeping abortion legal if the procedure becomes impossible to obtain due to access and economic reasons. Along with more than 50 other groups, we have signed a letter to the chair and ranking members of the House Committee on Appropriations asking them to reject policy riders (stipulations) in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations legislation that would withhold insurance coverage and funding for comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion.

I continue to applaud this tenacious, ambitious, “woke” coalition. As the letter reminds our elected officials, “These policies have harmed our families, our communities, and our health far too long.”

UUA Celebrates First Elected Woman President

As my colleague in ministry, Rev. Meg Barnhouse, declared last week, “Let the celebrations begin! We’re embarked on a chapter with our first elected woman president of the UUA.”

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Phoenix, Arizona congregation, will be our 9th president since the Unitarians and the Universalists joined together. She will serve as the leader of a progressive faith movement encompassing 1,000 congregations with 200,000 adults and children in the United States.

Immediately following the announcement of her victory on June 24, the last evening of our General Assembly in New Orleans, the UUWF posted on Facebook that “history was made tonight within Unitarian Universalism.”

As reported by the UU World, after having been named winner in a three-way race of woman-identified candidates Frederick-Gray said, “I want to be clear, right up front, I am not the first female president of the UUA.” She then turned to applaud the Rev. Sofia Betancourt, who had served three months as one of three co-presidents appointed to complete the term of President Peter Morales.

The UUWF conducted interviews with the presidential candidates and published the transcripts on our website prior to the election. Here are a few of the highlights of the conversation with Frederick-Gray:

How do you see the relationship between the UUA and the UUWF currently?
“I think the UUWF as a source of growing women’s leadership for the larger movement is really important … I think that one of the ways the Associate organizations can be in a stronger relationship with the UUA is through collaborative conversations about the future of our faith … How we imagine the next 25 years of Unitarian Universalism … needs to be informed by women’s voices. It needs to be informed by people of color. I think that’s a key thing.”

What do you feel is the most pressing issue for women within our denomination?
“I think we still have a lot of work to do in overcoming patriarchal structures. Overcoming patriarchy even in our own faith … [O]ne of the challenges is feeling like a perception (which has truth in it) … that half our ministry currently is women. That we have a long history of women’s leadership in our faith. But we haven’t really overcome all the obstacles to women and women’s voices shaping how we run our association. How we lead as a spiritual and moral faith community, and so probably one of the challenges is figuring out how to continue to move forward, to continue to encourage and push our association forward in collaborative and non-oppressive ways of being and leading.”

What are your pet projects or personal passions on behalf of UU women and girls?
“Healthcare for women and girls. Healthcare for mothers … [T]his is an issue where, across the board, whether it’s cuts to childcare stipends, cuts to food stamps, cuts to women’s health and reproductive care. These are all going to be incredibly damaging to families, to women, to their children.”

For our new president’s responses to questions about where gender fits within intersectionality within Unitarian Universalism; how she sees the UUA currently addressing issues surrounding women and girls and her leadership around them; the role of our movement in the future of trans women’s rights and safety, especially trans women of color; and how the UUA and UU congregations can improve the health and lives of women they employ; and more, see the entire interview on our website.


The Status Quo is Not Fair

Guest Blogger Becca Miller

Many of us have spent the past 100+ days grappling with our priorities in the strange new country revealed to us in November. Though of course this is not truly a brave new world — for many of our sisters November was not a dramatic reveal so much as a sickening confirmation of truths they have known in their bones and in their experiences nearly every day of their lives. They did their best to warn us, and we failed to hear.

On the religious left, we are confronting the reality of how the values of social and racial justice that we easily claim in Saturday afternoon marches and Sunday morning sermons play out in our daily lives. On the political left, recent dust-ups within the Democratic party have revived the ongoing discussion over the place of reproductive rights within the progressive movement. Are they a social wedge that distracts us from the critical need to address skyrocketing inequality and the outsize – indeed, obscene – influence of money on our political system? Or is reproductive justice too integral a part of any progressive social movement to be left behind in order to win voters who would otherwise be swayed by economic arguments? We are learning difficult lessons, and I believe that once again we fail to listen to our sisters at our own peril.

Our values call us to social justice and, as Unitarians, we pray with our feet and with our service. For me, this means never forgetting that our service must be with and to those at the margins. And it means that to work for true social justice we must not forget that for many of us the intersections of those margins can be a truly dangerous – and often lonely – place. For those of us who identify as both women and economic progressives, the intersection of those margins is painfully clear: There can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. The latter is not a distraction, it is a crucial stepping stone.

For those of us who can become pregnant, consistent access to affordable birth control is perhaps one of the single most important factors to support our careers and education. Winning the fight for a livable wage throughout our country will mean nothing if we cannot access those jobs because we are pinned to childbirth and childcare we do not want.

For those of us who do become pregnant, the choice of whether to continue a pregnancy is colored by many factors, but to imagine that economics are not among them smacks of privilege: in the United States, the current cost of raising a child is nearly a quarter of a million dollars and the government offers precious little in the way of financial or legal support to help us shoulder those burdens. Telling a woman that she must give birth to a child she cannot afford is not a social frivolity, it is an economic policy.

When we do choose to have children, our workplaces often penalize us with lost wages and lower salaries. If we are in a heterosexual partnership with a man, we often make less than our partners and work in lower prestige careers because our society consistently devalues jobs that are coded as ‘women’s work.’ In California, where I live, the annual cost of childcare for an infant is nearly $12,000: 20% of an average family’s income and out of reach for over two-thirds of the families in our state. And so, because we make less and our jobs are less ‘important,’ it is women who systematically leave our jobs to care for our children.

These issues, of course, are magnified for women of color whose lives are marginalized not only by economic and gender disparity, but by a system of white supremacy designed to help those of us who are white at the expense of our sisters of color. We cannot truly address economic justice if we ignore the intersections of these margins: Over 90% of health aides and childcare workers are women, and the majority in both occupations are women of color. While childcare is prohibitively expensive for many families, it is simultaneously radically undervalued. In 2016 the average hourly wage for childcare workers was $10.18 per hour. Many of us who are white and economically privileged are only able to afford care for our children and families because the wages we pay do not fairly value the work that women of color are doing to keep us in careers we love.

The call for a moral revival of the religious and the call for social revolution from political progressives come at the same time because we all recognize that something has gone deeply wrong in our society. We live in a country of rampant inequality, and in our hearts we know a basic truth: The status quo is not fair. It is not just. It requires a change. But no revolution that requires the sacrifice of our bodily autonomy for the sake of false economic justice will succeed, nor is it a revolution of which I want any part.

Rebecca Fielding-Miller is a public health social scientist who conducts research on the social drivers of HIV and gender based violence at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an elected assembly district delegate to the California Democratic party convention and a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego. Her work can be found at www.RebeccaFieldingMiller.com

Paychecks and Protections Get Less Fair

As UUs, we rightly focused inward last week (and moving forward) on our own associational practices of inequity and grievous lack of parity. At the same time, Trump is – in the words of Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville – steadily plugging away at a major piece of his agenda: undoing Obama and the progressive policies and reforms he put in place during his presidency.

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day – the day that marks how far into 2017 women employed full time, year-round in the U.S. have to work in order to catch up with what men were paid in 2016. At the start of April, sometimes also called the cruelest month, please pay attention to a cruel move Trump made on March 27 when he revoked the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Order, which ensured that companies with federal contacts comply with 14 labor and civil rights laws and which also rolled back protections and actions against contractors who were found guilty of wage discrimination and sexual harassment.

Trump’s  overturn – done with little notice – has eliminated the requirement put in place through an executive order by President Obama that companies with federal contracts be transparent in providing evidence that there was no gender discrimination in pay. The Order also banned forced arbitration clauses for claims of sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination. These protections are now gone.

While there is still a significant overall gap between the rate of pay for white women and white men (75% according to 2016 stats), for Hispanic or Latina (54%), Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, American Indian, and Alaska Native women (58%) and African American women (63%) the gap is much higher. With gratitude to persistent leaders inside and outside Congress, yesterday an effort was made to bring back for reconsideration  a bill that has been in the queue for passage since 1997.

In the words of Debra Ness, CEO of the National Partnership for Work and Family, “It is encouraging that champions for women and working families in Congress are reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act on Equal Pay Day. The day is always a painful reminder that the gender wage gap persists in all corners of the country, and that it has damaging consequences that ripple throughout our workplaces, families, communities and the economy.”

Ness explains that the Paycheck Fairness Act would combat the pay discrimination that contributes to the wage gap. Specifically, it would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for discussing their wages and limit the use of applicants’ salary history in the hiring process. It would also recognize employers with good pay practices, provide assistance to small businesses that need help adopting strong policies, create a negotiation skills training program, and enhance federal agencies’ ability to investigate and enforce pay discrimination laws.

34 Cents Resistance

A few shockingly raw chilly evenings ago, after our false spring, a small group of women in my town gathered after work at a local gastropub to hoist a few and to write postcards. Some of them were pre-made from the Women’s March, others picked out of personal stashes. Official USPS cards are 34 cents. Others require a 47 cent first class stamp.

By all accounts, despite the ill weather and despite their exhaustion, the women who came had a great time, both because of their socialization with others of the same general age and life situations, and because at the end of their time together they had produced an impressive pile of  protest: messages to policy makers. A scene of determination and resistance.

According to their Facebook page, organizers of a postcard blitz today (March 15) are urging Americans who oppose the policies of President Donald Trump to make their objections known  by flooding the White House with postcards. In an event dubbed the “Ides of Trump,” organizers hope to see delivery of a million or more cards indicating disapproval of Trump and his agenda to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The name is a twist on the expression “Ides of March,” which most people probably know from its use in the Shakespeare play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, in which a soothsayer ominously warns the doomed title character to “beware the Ides of March.”

While our Unitarian Universalist Association offices in Boston are closed due to blizzard conditions today, they have sent out a Facebook post predicting a “blizzard” of cards  written, as The Boston Globe reports, “in quiet coffee shops, bookstores, and Unitarian Universalist churches… armed with the antiquated tools of an emerging resistance: markers, cards and postage stamps.”

As the minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF), I am charged with mobilizing our members and large social media following (2,000+ on our email list and 1,500 on our Facebook page) to act on behalf of justice and equity for women and girls. So my personal card — or cards — to our 45th president will call him to account for the horrendous choices he made when he selected cabinet members, and for some of his early executive orders and policy initiatives. I will write that his pronouncements and actions in this arena alone are grounds for dismissal.

I will tell him that, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions — an intractable abortion opponent — the Justice Department is unlikely to defend reproductive rights, from contraceptive coverage under federal insurance plans to clinics asking for action against law-breaking protesters. I will tell him that Tom Price, now his Secretary of Health and Human Services, is also virulently anti-choice, that he will actively oppose a birth control provision under insurance plans, and that he refused to disavow a fellow legislator in Georgia (when he served in that state’s general assembly) when he said publicly that a raped woman could not get pregnant.

Or a more succinct version thereof.

On another card, I will list out just some of the ways that the just released Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will harm women and their families:

  • The bill specifically blocks people with Medicaid coverage from accessing preventive health care at Planned Parenthood health centers, including birth control, cancer screenings, and STD testing and treatment.
  • The bill seeks to eliminate private insurance coverage of abortion by prohibiting financial assistance (tax credits) to be used to purchase a plan that covers abortion beyond life-endangerment, rape, and incest.
  • It prevents new states from expanding Medicaid starting in 2020 and implements an enrollment freeze that will drastically undermine Medicaid coverage;
  • It slashes funding for the Medicaid program, which low-income women and people of color disproportionately rely on for health care. And it ends in 2020, for the Medicaid Expansion population, the Essential Health Benefits requirement which requires most plans to cover basic health care, including maternity and newborn care.

Which in itself is enough to call for firing for gross discrimination and cruelty.

These are the issues that move me to write the President today.  The postcard campaign encourages us to choose our own concerns and passions, hand-write them, and send them to:

Donald Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC. 20500

If you are so moved, include #idesoftrump on your card. You are advised not to include your return address. It is not necessary.

Getting Harder to be a Woman

With the 2017 International Women’s Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women and People of Progressive Faiths coming up this weekend (Feb.16-18) in Asilomar, CA, the release of a new study on the Global Gender Gap from the World Economic Forum provides a timely and sobering backdrop.

As Washington Post reporter Amanda Erickson wrote in her summary article this past week: “It’s getting harder to be a woman.”

The annual international report looks at women’s standing in 142 countries, and bases its conclusions on four indexes: educational attainment, health, political empowerment and economic participation. Overall, if these statuses continue at their current rate, the study authors say, it will take another 170 years to reach gender equity, with one “bright” exception: access to education. Currently, men and female-identified women are going to school at about the same rate. And women’s health outcomes in general parallel men’s.

But other critical measures like political and economic participation are lagging. While more women than ever are working, we are falling behind because the burden of household chores and caregiving still falls overwhelmingly on us. The study notes that the gap between paid and unpaid work starts early, with girls worldwide spending around 30 percent of their time doing uncompensated labor, reducing the time and ability to earn as much money as men.

“Female-driven fields,” the authors tell us, tend to pay less than work dominated by men.

While we are still almost two centuries away from global parity for women and men, the World Economic Forum report indicates that, in some parts of the world, the gender gap is shrinking much faster. South Asia is set to close the gap in 46 years and Europe in 61 years, and Latin America in 71 years. Central and North America are making the least progress in catching up. In terms of ranking, out of 142 countries the U.S. ranks 45th, with poor showings in our political positions and flattening of improvement in numbers of women in the workplace due to lack of accessible and available childcare and spotty family leave.

In Africa, Rwanda has sustained progress. It is the one country in the world where more women than men hold elected office.

The January 2017 special edition of National Geographic on “The Gender Revolution” focused  on the shifting landscape of gender, and explored definitions of and stories about gender through the lenses of science and culture across a spectrum of gender identity. It looked at what determines the paths to womanhood and manhood in the 21st century in terms of social roles. The magazine also presented baseline statistics on education and protection of equal opportunities for the world’s 1.2 billion girls, using data from UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and other sources. Again, the headline and the conclusion was that it is still difficult to be female. Suicide is the leading cause of death for girls 10-19 globally; 700 million women and girls are married as child brides before their 18th birthday, with significant risk of domestic violence and higher maternal mortality; 120 million girls worldwide are forced into intercourse and other sexual acts. Girls and women who have endured such abuse, the article notes, are at higher risk of exploitation in the sex trade.

As UU women gather in convocations or small groups or across the Internet, there is much left to do to make more urgent progress in rescuing girls and women from danger. And at the same time to recognize and celebrate gender fluidity and a future, as one writer put it, where gender is neither an advantage nor an impediment.

Covering a Movement

Near the top of my list of must do errands this past weekend was a stop at the national chain bookstore where I was reasonably certain I could pick up a copy of Time magazine. I was looking forward to owning the issue with a single pink pussy hat on the front cover, and the headline: “The Resistance Rises: How a March Become a Movement.” A movement is what I hoped would happen as a result of both the conscientious organization and overflowing spontaneity that went into the DC gathering (not really a march, it turned out, due to the massive crowd) and the other marches – big and small – all over the country and the world. My perhaps overly optimistic expectation was that we would not just march for a few hours but mobilize for as long as it is going to take to overcome: the 60,000 people, including my husband, who turned out for the one in Atlanta which started at the entrance of the Civil and Human Rights Center; the 150,000 people, including my daughter-in-law and three year old granddaughter, in Boston; the 25,000 people, including my daughter, in San Jose, one of three in the San Francisco Bay area.  The small but courageous coterie of ex pats in Singapore, including my oldest son. The several million who showed up.

The Women’s March has quickly evolved from being just a single January Saturday event. The evidence is mounting. I saw it in the actual physical signs of continuing activism: the pussy-hat wearing protesters at airports, in front of the White House, and at other public places in response to the ban on Muslims entering this country and the welcoming of Syrian refugees. In the many specific appeals each day on social media in the name of the march to call, write, and in other ways resist the seemingly endless list of assaults on human rights in this infant administration. It can be seen in the loud and persistent objections to the ludicrous, reactionary cabinet nominations being rushed through with minimum vetting.

It turn out that I will have to wait for the Time documentation of all that is already happening. The March issue not is on the newsstands until February 8. And I will be there to grab one for herstory.

This was not the first time in recent weeks that I wanted to get hold of an actual print copy of a mainstream magazine for posterity. While others ventured out in the days after Christmas to take advantage of sales, I went in search of the January National Geographic for its special issue on the shifting landscape of gender. Like the Time cover featuring the pussy hat, the National Geographic general (vs. subscriber) cover was also previewed ahead of the publication date: a group portrait of transgender, bi-gender, intersex, and androgynous people along with a cisgender male.

The note from editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg on this topic – which was researched for more than two years – suggests the approach the content inside the covers. “All of us carry labels applied by others,” she wrote. “The most enduring label, and arguably the most influential, is the one most of us got. It’s a boy or it’s a girl. Today that, and other, beliefs about gender are shifting rapidly and radically.”

Inside the magazine there is a general overview of gender today, with the most current definitions; a piece on helping families talk about gender; profiles of nine-year-olds and how gender affects their lives; an essay on how science helps us rethink gender; and another on some of the dangers that still surround identified genders.

The actual design of the cover and the philosophical/ethical design of the coverage of gender in 2017 has not gone without pushback and critique from National Geographic’s readers, much of which has been thoughtfully addressed by the editors. Questions like why there are no cisgender females in the cover photo? (Many are featured inside.) Why was the focus on children? (Because they are keen and articulate observers who are candid in reflecting our world back at us.) Why was intersex called a disorder? (References to disorder were removed from online editions and the definition was corrected.)

On Feb. 9, the National Geographic Channel will air a two-hour program on “The Gender Revolution.” It will be hosted by Katie Couric, who had been called out as being insensitive three years ago during an interview with two transgender women – Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. For the upcoming special, Couric interviewed scientists, activists, and families, with an emphasis on personal stories.

Look for a blog review next week of both the television special and the print issue.

All Set?

UUWF members march on Washington in 1963

In April 1989, my then-14-year-old daughter, 65-year-old mother, and I flew from California to Washington, DC for the National Organization for Women’s March for Women’s Lives. I remember camping out with my sister-in-law and elderly aunt in my youngest brother’s finished basement in Takoma Park, MD. Only a couple of us had beds. The rest slept in borrowed sleeping bags on the carpeted floor.

I remember it was colder that April than I had expected. It always seemed colder in our nation’s capital than back home. I remember marching in slow motion, looking for restrooms, looking for pay phone booths. It was not, however, my first such large-scale march, coming from a liberal, religious Unitarian, and political family where going on a march (civil rights, anti-nuclear weapons, anti-Vietnam War) was nearly as common an activity as miniature golf or San Francisco Giants games. So I had been on quite a few justice and peace demonstrations before – though none as large, some half a million people – and there would be quite a few after: marches opposing other wars, annual Pride marches and parades.

But I have not chosen to go on other DC women’s pro-choice or other rights marches. Not until this coming Saturday, January 21, 2017. It was only a few days after the presidential election when I decided to attend what is simply called the Women’s March. I could not miss a chance to be in solidarity with – and feel the strength of – other women and their allies who were stunned as I was by the election outcome and scared for the future of reproductive justice and other human rights of women.

As a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF), this time I am flying in alone from Atlanta and meeting up with two friends. Fortunately, we have been warmly welcomed by my ministerial colleague Rev. Debra Haffner, the newly installed parish minister at the UU church in Reston, VA, to join her and a group of her congregants on the bus Saturday and at a potluck gathering the night before. So I will not be separated from my UU peeps.

As the former president of the Religious Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a multi-faith perspective on matters of human sexuality, she is a veteran marcher and organizer. Before the meal, she will be doing a training on what to expect as we join in the crowds walking the less-than-two-mile route to the White House, as will be other UU ministerial colleagues and lay leaders for groups on their way to DC. And of course groups that will be part of some 600 sister marches in all 50 states and around the world.

Rev. Kathy Schmitz, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, FL, traveled to DC for the same 1989 March for Women’s Lives as I did, so she is no stranger to the preparations or the experience. Her interest in holding one or more pre-march orientations was perked when she began seeing posts specifically about training aimed at ways to deal with potential counter-protestors, heckling, and other disruptive incidents. She had experienced being taunted herself while on a demonstration against the Iraq War. She knew there are resources particular to the UU, including a de-escalation video produced by Standing on the Side of Love.

She wanted a time to go over the most current information about the bus trip and the march itself, and she wanted also to build community by having a time to share whether people had been on marches before. If so, to hear their perspectives, expectations, and concerns. She wanted also to engage in a conversation about the societal location of those going on the march – about race, class and privilege.

There were over 30 participants for the bus-specific gatherings and over 50 for an open meeting last Sunday. About half of the total attendees were not members of the congregation and, among those going on marches, it was about evenly split between those traveling to DC and those headed to the Women’s Rally in Central Florida.

Surprises for Rev. Schmitz? That many had never been on a march or a rally before, and that many had not heard about the leadership controversies that went on in the early weeks of march planning. Heated discussions were held around a lack of diversity and the need for intersectionality of justice oppressions in the agenda, partners and speakers.

As a representative of one of the now-hundreds of partner organizations sponsoring the March for Women’s Lives, I was so impressed by the last call this week when the logistical details were shared and the attention to the needs of disabled persons – including those who will be rolling or scooting instead of walking, and those who will need sound amplification. The coordination of route limitations and navigating all the permits required, especially during an inaugural weekend, was amazing.

In this viral social media age, information sharing about bathrooms, places to warm up, and cellphone charging stations have been spread with lightning speed. But most of all I have been beyond impressed by the thoughtful, deep, and eloquent work that has gone into the heart of this Women’s March: its guiding vision and unifying principles.

Starting with the “basic and original tenet from which all our values stem… We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.”

Not one of us should leave our homes and join in the marches without taking these words to heart and grounding ourselves in the premise that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.”

Safe journeys all.

[share your photos on social media using the hashtag #uuwomenmarch]

What I’m Doing

Claire SextonBy Claire Sexton
UUWF Vice President/Funding Programs

I awoke on November 9 as if from a bad dream, my young son had made a mess that I wasn’t ready to deal with, and I’d stayed up late the night before trying to comprehend what was going on.

The nightmare has deepened as time goes by. Things that have helped me include SNL that week; I’m a big fan of Dave Chappelle and was so happy to see him back in the public eye. I played the cold open — Kate McKinnon dressed as Hilary and playing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on loop — for a few days, trying to get “Sister Suffragette” from Mary Poppins out of my head.

Since then I’ve made a document with all my legislators’ phone numbers for their DC/Austin and home offices, and called most of them about one piece of legislation or another. I did Paul Ryan’s survey about whether I support the ACA and left a detailed message about how I (a freelancer) and my husband (a student) would not have insurance if it were not for the ACA. That my husband was able to have surgery this summer only because of our subsidized plan. That only our young son would be covered by Medicaid if it were not for the ACA.

Since moving back to Texas, I’ve gotten to know my Texas rep a bit as he is a supporter of the arts and has been on hand to talk about arts advocacy. So I didn’t hesitate to call his office the week before Thanksgiving and talk about a law that has been pre-filed in the Texas House of Representatives, which requires hospitals to cremate or inter fetal tissue from miscarriages or abortions. I told the staffer how I thought it was an onerous thing to make people in overtaxed hospitals do, as well as for the woman (from whose body the fetal tissue came) in what is surely a difficult time of life.

She was super helpful, making sure I knew it was early to be registering opinions and that Doc Anderson usually does vote for “those kinds of things.” She shared that the Rep who introduced it was a bit of a surprise but that he’s a committee chair so it may have more legs this time around.

Yesterday, I learned that a version of this rule is definitely going to be enacted, although through some other process. I first heard via a Texas friend posting an article, and now it’s making the rounds among my pro-choice friends who are in other places. TERRIBLE. Will be doing more calling about that soon.

Another thing that helps is that I have a great family that lifts me up; I’m so thankful for them. My husband, young son, and I traveled to southeast Louisiana to meet up with my mom’s side of the family. That my grandfather couldn’t make it was a bit of a disappointment, but that did make it a much easier trip. That side of the family, with Grandad as the exception, is on the liberal end of the political spectrum. There wasn’t much talk of the president-elect over the holiday weekend, and when he came up in discussion we commiserated on our disappointment and moved on quickly. It was such a pleasure to be in the warm embrace of the family just then, and have an unspoken agreement that Ivanka’s dad was not worth our precious time together.

The group has never done a Thanksgiving together before. We’d had a couple Christmases and lots of summertime river trips. I have mixed feelings about the holiday, and it’s sure not cheap or easy to travel around that time, but as I posted early on that Thursday morning:

In Louisiana where we met up with the majority of my mom’s side of the family, from Florida, Georgia, California, and other parts of Texas. I am immensely grateful to be with all of them. Charlie got to play all evening with his second cousin Cliff, then he crashed out with his other second cousin Olivia. We’ve got a Turducken ready to go in the oven and I’m sitting on a porch overlooking a foggy bayou watching the birds while everyone else sleeps.  All is not right with the world, but my little world right now is pretty A-OK.

I’m back home in the “real world” again and it still feels surreal. Things have changed even since then. More disappointing news about cabinet appointees. Learning that a big group of veterans is arriving or on their way to stand with Standing Rock and be protectors of the water protectors, including a fond friend from high school. End-of-year fundraising appeals everywhere I turn, all for organizations I love but can’t afford to support on a nonprofit freelancer’s “salary.”

The list is long, and I keep adding items, checking them off slowly, and moving to the next thing I can do. I’m so glad to be a part of the UUWF Board. Knowing some of the members for only a few months and meeting them in person for the first time just this past October, and knowing others since I was a teenager. Being with the group is another kind of warm embrace. In person or in spirit or email — our discussions are inspiring, talking about how to best support women, how best to fight institutional, intersectional oppressions in the U.S. (and, let’s face it, in our Unitarian Universalist communities). I want to strengthen women and remind them, remind you, that it’s OK to be vulnerable and flawed too.

Abnormal as Normal

Julie Taylor, president of the UU Trauma Response Ministry

Julie Taylor, president of the UU Trauma Response Ministry

The night of the 2016 presidential election the results came in slowly, and for so many of us, shockingly. I excused myself from a small gathering and went home to bed, leaving it to my husband to keep watching—letting me know when the results were horribly clear. After that, and for days after, I slept very little; some nights not much at all.

The next morning I drove 50 miles to the monthly meeting of UU religious professionals, where I had been previously scheduled to lead a conversation of our post-election opportunities to bring our purposes and principles, our faith values, into intersectional public witness work. Values like inherent worth and dignity, justice and compassion, the right of conscience, the democratic process. Not unexpectedly, it was a somber gathering with more than a few tears and flashes of righteous anger.

That Thursday—only two days after the election—I participated in a Sistersong webinar that had been set up a few weeks earlier. Women of color (plus myself as a white ally) in leadership around reproductive justice could share their initial responses to the prospect of a presidency of a candidate who had built much of his campaign around anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-choice rhetoric. Whose voting record on public policy is zero. On the call, tuned into by hundreds of justice advocates and concerned citizens, these women expressed deep concern and fear about the safety of LGBTQ people, immigrants, communities of color, low income people. Decimation of the Affordable Care Act. Imprisonment. Deportation.

That next Sunday, like hundreds of UU clergy, I led worship in a congregation where most, if not all, of the congregants were stunned and raw, and again fearful. And where words seemed incredibly insufficient.

Then and only then I collapsed; giving into what trauma specialists call extreme distress, what Holocaust survivor and therapist Viktor Frankl described as, “An abnormal response to an abnormal situation… which is normal.” I still sleep poorly, am generally exhausted, irritable, my stomach hurts all the time.

Julie Taylor, president of the UU Trauma Response Ministry, has put together a most instructive and reassuring video that is very applicable for managing post-election stress response. In it, she reminds us that beyond ordinary stress, distress in the face of what happened November 8th is normal. It will take time, perhaps several weeks, to individually stabilize, to bounce back—or ahead—from the very real physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual reactions to such a disquieting and disorienting event.  We need to find at least a couple of specific ways to stay grounded, which will be different for each of us.

Like remembering to eat well. Like finding places and times of quiet. Like intentionally connecting with people who can listen to us and hold us accountable for unflagging self-care. As time passes, we will need to add a few more strategies for centering, for energizing, for replenishing. And then more still. It will perhaps seem self-indulgent, counter-productive, maybe even wrong. But it is essential if our call is to emphatically, collectively resist dangerous and unhealthy acts and to remain resilient for the challenges ahead—some known and many as yet unknown.

What’s Your Plan?

vote-countsI live in a county in a state where early voting opened October 17th in one location, and in multiple locations after Halloween. So I took advantage of casting my ballot the first day. I stood in a longish line with a diverse group of eligible adults, reflecting the changing racial and age demographics of my Southern metro area.

As soon as I finished voting, got my “I Voted” sticker, turned out of the parking lot of the building where we usually come to register cars in person, pay fines, or dispute water bills — I felt relieved. I had followed this presidential election nonstop for over a year, riveted to cable news political shows every evening and many Sunday mornings when I wasn’t preaching. I was experiencing much the same responses as when I watch hurricane and other natural disaster coverage nonstop over a period of days. I was overwrought, exhausted.

So I went (mostly) cold turkey on the election. I began streaming West Wing episodes as a television antidote for the current American state of affairs, along with the pilot for a new Amazon series called Good Girls Revolt, a retro look at some of the pioneering women in newsrooms.

And then I began to  hear about efforts to suppress voting, deliberate and perhaps not, including a local story about a mother of three who was told to leave because her toddler was having a meltdown. I wondered if there were still ways I could ensure that she and others could weigh in. Because there is much at stake in this year’s races and ballot initiatives, including for women in particular.

Affordable and comprehensive health care is at stake, reproductive and general. Access to safe, legal abortion and to birth control is at stake.  Equal wages are at stake. Workplace non-discrimination and prohibition of sexual harassment are at stake. The integrity of immigrant and refugee families is at stake, with women and children at risk for involuntary separation. Safe and sensible gun control is at stake — an estimated 46 percent fewer women will be shot by an intimate partner if background checks are strengthened and it becomes harder to buy a handgun.

So many reasons to vote, and zero reason to deny this right to the women of this country.

There is so much potential power in voter turnout by women. According to the Center for American Women in Politics (2011), in every presidential election since 1980 the proportion of eligible female voters who voted exceeded the proportion of eligible male adults who voted. Women have cast between four and seven million more votes than men in recent elections.

So I am exploring a way to offer child care to the mothers and grandmothers and other caregivers in my town who need time without distraction or harassment to go to the polls. I am considering showing up Tuesday Nov. 8th to be a calming clergy presence. And I have posted on my personal Facebook page a simple but powerful question: What is your plan for voting?

Dozens of my FB friends have responded by letting me know they have already voted early, or by absentee ballot, or have a definite time they will go to vote on Election Day. We are holding each other accountable and, if we need help, asking for what we need to make it happen.

What is your plan?

What’s At Stake for Women (Part 2)

A recent self-care Monday, during which I had all my moles and skin tags and dark spots checked out and this year’s flu shot injected, led to another preventive discovery. In the clinic waiting room, I came across the September 26, 2016 issue of Women’s Health magazine, chock full of the usual advice on how to deal with foot pain, master the podium for public speaking, and choose the latest shades of make-up (as well as an intro to eating paleo). Plus a well-timed article, put together by journalists and policy experts in the arena of women’s health and wellness, exploring “what if” the most dramatic gender-related proposals that have been put forth by candidates this election cycle actually came to pass. How might this figure in the choices women voters will make on women-immigrationor before Nov. 8th?

Last week’s blog laid out the consequences of completely repealing the Affordable Care Act or of declaring abortion to be illegal. There would be huge costs in terms of sicker women and dangerously unregulated medical procedures. This week let’s take a look, based on the opinions of dozens of experts who were interviewed, at what is at stake for women around immigration. Again, if the most extreme proposed measures were adopted, the financial and human costs would be high and the damages great.

If the federal government followed through on deporting even half of the undocumented immigrants in this country, some five million women would be forced to leave. Many of these women would be separated from their children, since 88 percent of the kids in immigrant families are U.S. born citizens. The cost in emotional upheaval would be unfathomable.

The median household earnings of citizen wives and children — left behind to make it alone after their spouses and fathers were deported — would fall by half, to less than $25,000 a year. Estimates are that this drastic reduction in income would “shave an average of 2.2 years off these women’s lives.”

The UU Women’s Federation has participated in work for common sense immigration reform. We do this work, along with dozens of other faith and secular groups, with a commitment to protecting rather than breaking up immigrant families, ensuring due process, and promoting immigration policies that empower women. We urge you to go to the polls with this intention.

Next Week: The Power of Women in Presidential Elections.

What If?

everyone deserves access to high quality health careLast week I scheduled two of my fall preventive health appointments: an all over skin cancer checkup and a flu shot. While I was stripped down to a thin blue paper cover-up, awaiting the dermatologist, I decided to skim through whatever magazine was lying around the exam room.

Given the choice between thumbing through “Seventeen” and the September issue of “Women’s Health,” I chose the latter,  figuring that I could waste a few idle ( and nearly naked ) moments, reading up yet again about how to achieve sexy abs, drop a size, sleep well, and slay stress. Instead, I came across a well-researched, thoughtful article titled “What If…” an investigative piece on what is at stake for women on November 9th, the end of this long Presidential election season.  It was researched and then written by four journalists, experts, we are told, in health care, abortion, immigration and gun control. They were asked to answer the question: Based on past research and the experience of other countries, what would be the possible consequences of the choices we make in the voting booth? 

The facts about policies under fire and at risk were provided by 32 thought leaders from schools of public health, think tanks, foundations, and other institutions.

I confess that when my visit was over and I was left to get dressed, the magazine left the cubicle along with me (and a prescription for face cream). There was too much relevant and sometimes surprising information crammed in that issue for me to read and digest in the short time I waited for my health care provider. I knew I wanted to share it in this blog.

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Missing from the Presidential Debate, Missing from the National Conversation

debateI had, obviously mistakenly, anticipated that the 2016 election season would offer an opportunity, especially during the presidential primary and general election debates, to both name and dive deeply into public policy matters of consequence to women. Not just because of the presence of the first female nominated candidate by a major political party, but because of the enormous sway held by women voters in determining the winner of this contest. Continue reading

No Bingo Win for First Presidential Debate

debate-bingo-thumbnail-card2Just before the first Presidential Debate 2016 on Monday night, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) produced a bingo card to fill out over the 90-minute program. This is something they have done previously in advance of major public forums or policy addresses such as the State of the Union.

For this occasion, the center of the playing card was the word “women,” surrounded by key gender justice issues such as violence against women, harassment, the equal rights amendment, and campus sexual assault. The object, as in all bingo games, was to score by filling a line down, across, or vertically—the prize being the satisfaction of attention being paid to the concerns of women-identified voters and their allies.

What little attention was paid to any of these concerns happened in the first moments of the debate during the segment on prosperity. In this context one of the candidates mentioned, in cursory order: equal pay, affordable childcare, and family leave, with no follow up conversation or questions from the moderator. There were not enough squares filled in to come close to being able to call “bingo,” or to come away with any sense that other significant issues, like access to affordable birth control and abortion, received or will receive airtime at all. If so, this will follow the pattern of the primary debates for both major political parties. Continue reading

Remembering the Rosies

rosieA story first posted last week on People.com, shared at last count by more than 58,000 readers, reported the rediscovery after seven decades of the real life inspiration of what the article called the “iconic” Rosie the Riveter poster. The image of a muscular female factory worker, blue-shirted, with a red bandana covering her permed hair, captured a whole cohort of women who entered the work force and took on traditional men’s jobs during World War II, especially in the defense industry and other essential trades. Continue reading

Advocacy Update

advocacy1As we move into the fall and the end of the 2016 election season, there will be new opportunities for UUWF public policy witness and education around justice for women:

The spread of the Zika virus this summer into the continental United States (it had already hit Puerto Rica) has brought even more urgency to the need to pressure Congress when it returns to session on September 6. They must provide the funding necessary to abate this mosquito born disease and provide the necessary range of reproductive health protections and interventions for impacted women. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there have already been more than 500 cases of Zika in pregnant people in the U.S. and at least 15 children have been born with Zika-related neurological damage. Now concentrated in Florida, health officials are predicting a spread to other Gulf Coast states over the next two years.

In the face of this, the majority party congressional leaders have stalled efforts to allocate adequate funds, and to use these funds effectively, by including restrictions in using these monies for contraception and by excluding Planned Parenthood from receiving any.

UUWF will be partnering with other religious and secular advocacy groups in asking Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to do what is required to combat Zika and protect the health of women and children.

Hyde Amendment Anniversary
On the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits funding abortions, to the annual federal budget, there have been briefings scheduled by two congresswomen on the proposed “Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance(EACH) Woman Act.” This proposed national legislation would once again ensure that — no matter her income, zip code, or insurance provider — every woman should have access to pregnancy-related care, including abortion.

As part of the All Above All campaign to restore and sustain abortion coverage for low-income women, UUWF will be participating in a week of action in late September, including Facebook and Twitter events.

Paid Family & Medical Leave Bill
We will be supporting the National Partnership for Women & Families in their “Expecting Better” initiative to adopt a federal paid family leave and medical leave bill, which would augment the Family and Medical Leave Act. This landmark legislation has been used more than 200 million times since its passage in 1993 to provide workers with unpaid time off to care for a new child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or to address one’s own serious health condition.

Look for a UUWF fact sheet and possible webinar on the Democratic and Republican platforms on women’s justice issues — and what is at stake in the 2016 election. Coming in the next few weeks.

End of Summer (feminist) Reads

summer-reading-006In our neck of the American woods (as a famous network meteorologist is want to say), it has been the hottest summer in at least 20 years, and dry to boot. The only consolation is that (1) my husband and I are off to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska for a week; (2) following this much anticipated and saved for vacation, I turn around for a long weekend at a high school reunion in Northern California, likely to be moderate, even cold in all that fog; and (3) school begins for the children in our town—and most of this Southern State—on August 1st, so we can pretend that fall is on its way rapidly.

So while some of you might be midway through the season, fall is around the corner in lots of ways where I live. Families with children are returning from beaches and mountain cottages. Summer camps are winding down. The summer reading campaign held annually by our local library ends in less than two weeks. Open to adults as well as kids, it encourages a variety of literary experiences, from conventional bound to audio books. There is always a common read.

Which reminded me that I had the intention of finally wading into the stack of books I have ordered or picked up through the year, and specifically the nonfiction ones that might inform and enrich the ministry I do on behalf of women and girls (and their male allies). Or fiction written by women, about the lives of women. That’s a mighty tall pile. Continue reading

Holding up the Mirror: Zika

squitoMy late father used to let mosquitoes feed on his arm. My brother remembers it was an uncharacteristically macho thing for our mild-mannered scientist parent to do. But, after all, he was a mosquito warrior, a microbiologist trained and ready to do battle with these insects that cause so much disease, misery, and death around the world.

As my father’s daughter, I have—metaphorically—mosquito-borne viruses in my blood. The consciousness of inequities around who has access to prevention and treatment is also a part of my legacy from him. With a special sensitivity because of my professional ministry with the UU Women’s Federation and also, more acutely, our recent UU statement of conscience to the intersection of race, class, and gender in reproductive rights and beyond to the full scope of reproductive justice. “Consciousness of inequity” is a term created by women of color in 1994 to, in their words, “center the experience of the most vulnerable… the inequality of opportunities they have to control their reproductive destiny.”

So I began following the growing stream of reports out of Brazil last year about a disease called Zika that has frankly preoccupied me—despite and perhaps especially in this most difficult year for defending access to basic reproductive health services. Continue reading

The Effect on Texas

Rev Daniel Kanter

Rev Daniel Kanter

By Daniel Kanter

A few weeks ago I was at my third PPFA national conference, representing Unitarian Universalism on the Clergy Advocacy Board. Our attempt to be the face of pro-reproductive rights and justice people of faith is an uphill climb.  But we are a small board with mighty diversity, representing everything from mainline Christianity to Sufism to Reform Judaism and beyond.

One concern we had, among many, was what would happen with the Texas laws to restrict access to abortion. As a clergyperson in Texas, today I can say that Texans breathe a little easier after the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of striking down the restrictions put on clinics performing abortions in Texas.  About the same size as France, Texas attempted to reduce the number of clinics to a handful scattered around the state. It accomplished creating a negative financial impact that will take years to recover from. I can tell you that this was never about safety and always about ideological wars on women, communities of color, and the poor.

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UUWF Advocacy Update: A Full Plate

advocacyThe UUWF issues survey, which was circulated last year, helps guide our social justice advocacy work on behalf of women and girls. We have continued to focus on reproductive justice, economic justice, ending domestic violence and sexual assault, and will be finding more ways to speak out on the impact of climate change. This is a full public policy plate.

Assaults on reproductive freedom have multiplied on the state level, including the most recent bill passed by the Oklahoma legislature that would have criminalized abortion providers. It was vetoed by the governor. But there is much to watch on the national front in this Presidential election year as well. Continue reading

Real Religious Freedom

harm-296x197In late March, almost exactly six years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law — as pointed out by Caroline Fredrickson from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy — the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Zubik v Burwell. This case was based on  a  number of separate law suits filed by a group of religious non-profits who believe that even filing paperwork to exempt them from  covering birth control under their insurance plans is a “sin.” They argue that, by doing so, they “trigger” alternative means of providing this to employees directly through the government and its preventive health care insurance mandate. Continue reading

Taxing Periods

tampon taxPagan Kelly, who has written a book about world changing inventions, observes that since ancient times women have tinkered with pads and tampons to better contain their menstrual flow. Everything from papyrus to absorbent mosses, to repurposed cellulose bandages. Early in the 20th century, Lillian Gilbreth, one of the first female Ph.D. engineers, questioned thousands of women in her effort to discover what an ideal sanitary napkin would look and feel like. Even still, corporate manufacturers of these products, including Proctor and Gamble, clung to “brick-like sanitary pads,” long after female consumers nixed this chafing, bulky model. Continue reading

Equal Pay for Equal Play (and all other kinds of work)

In the ecology of our marriage, my spouse can count on me to at least glance at the book review section of the paper—and the obituaries. I can count on him reading the sports section. And then we depend on each other to point out those articles and columns that might be of interest.

So it was not unexpected that he would hand me an essay by soccer player Carli Lloyd, published right before Equal Pay Day 2016. In it, she wrote that she has proudly worn a U.S. national wome528453647MW00148_USA_v_Japan’s team uniform for 12 years, and in this role had some of the greatest moments of her life—winning two Olympic gold medals and the 2015 Women’s World cup.

Which did not stop her, she wrote, from joining four teammates in filing a wage discrimination complaint against US soccer. Despite her love of the game, she was called to “do what’s right and what’s fair, and upholding a fundamental American concept: equal pay for equal play.” Continue reading

Raised by the 2nd Wave; Moving Forward With the 3rd Wave

Shaya French

Shaya French

I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t a feminist. I grew up surrounded by feminists: my mother, her friends, my father… Growing up I attended performances of That Takes Ovaries and read a constant supply of fiction books with powerful women and girl protagonists. My dad’s copy of Our Bodies Our Selves lived in my bedroom.

Growing Up Feminist
I grew up being conscious of how my experiences were affected by gendered power dynamics. I recognized how few women were held up as important historical figures in my elementary school classes and chose to study important women on every history project I could. Continue reading

On My Honor

girl scoutsOn International Women’s Day 2016, I was in our nation’s capital meeting with a group of faith leaders who gather live twice a year to share stories of efforts across the country to protect reproductive choice and achieve reproductive justice. We met, appropriately, at the headquarters of a human rights organization. At the desk where we checked in, there were two open boxes of cookies to welcome us – at 8:20 in the morning.

Girl Scout cookies. Also how appropriate. Continue reading

Women after Scalia

scaliaI got the news of the discovery of an elderly man found dead of natural causes in his room at a remote ranch in Texas the way so many of us do nowadays: from a news app on my smartphone. It happened to be while I was walking with my husband on a white sand beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

News that could change the course of gender justice for American women for years to come.

Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death at 79 years old has heated up an already volatile presidential campaign when, only hours after the announcement of his passing, Senate leaders and the candidates from one party declared their intention to block any attempt to allow President Obama—as is his constitutional duty—to nominate and have hearings held to vote on his choice to fill this vacancy. Continue reading

Under Those Capitol Domes

atlanta domeTwenty years ago I was spending most days under the gold dome of the state capitol in Atlanta. The dome is literally gold, mined in Dahlonega, Georgia, site of the first major gold rush in this country in 1839. Every morning I would don my dress for success—or at least gravitas—suit, my black pumps, my conservative jewelry purchased at a major department store counter. Took the rapid transit to a station directly across from the imposing building. Continue reading

After Roe, Who Leads?

SisterSong_webinarBy Shaya French

The anniversary of Roe v. Wade is right around the corner. UUs have played an important role in the struggle for reproductive rights. We continue to face a strong anti-reproductive health movement from the right. At the same time, we are called to be intersectional in the way we think about issues. How do we do that? We need to take our lead from women of color—leaders of the reproductive justice movement—who have a clear vision of the links between reproductive, race, environmental, class, LGBTQ and disability issues.

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A Force to Be Reckoned With

carrie fisherA female actor in her late fifties is offered a small part in what turns out to be potentially the biggest box office movie ever. She reprises the role that propelled her into stardom more than 30 years earlier: albeit much older, sadder and wiser. While her male co-star, also returning to a part that fast tracked him into Hollywood fame, is given a generous pass for his inevitable aging, she is not.

She is called old and unattractive. She is body shamed.

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Wherein Lies Some Hope

hopeColleague UU minister Meg Riley, who serves our Church of the Larger Fellowship, has been sending out morning conversation starters to her CLF Monthly Theme Discussion Group around this month’s theme of hope. Where are the sources for us, personally, and for an especially battered world in 2015? One of them was the hope she finds in teamwork, the strength of collective power—as she wrote—collective joy. Continue reading

The Social Sex

social sexA recent article in the science section of my daily newspaper examined the phenomenon of high tech artificial friends for the aging—the ranks, as the story noted, of older and frail adults who are alone and often lonely, still in their own homes. Many, if not most of them, female.


The University of Illinois has received a $1.5 million grant to at least explore the idea of creating small drones that will assist in simple household chores. These robots and innovative internet-connected technologies, such as programmed Skype connections, are being developed to meet both the crucial practical and social needs of a rapidly increasing population.

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Religion and Rage in Colorado

stand w ppSix days after his prolonged rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the man charged with murder in the first degree in the shooting of three people has been exposed for what he is: a virulently anti-abortion domestic terrorist.

Even at his arraignment, the police would not discuss his motive for opening fire on a police officer, an Iraq war vet, and a mother of two children ‒ the latter two accompanying friends who had appointments that day. The official line was that it remained “unclear” whether the accused ‒ Robert L. Dear ‒ had targeted Planned Parenthood because he was opposed to abortion. This even after a senior law enforcement officer, who asked to be anonymous, reported that following his arrest Dear had said “no more body parts.”

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Dr. Willie Parker Speaks

Rev. Barbara Prose

Rev. Barbara Prose

The women wept.
The women cheered.
The women clapped.

“I feel free, for the first time in my life. I’ve never felt so free,” she said as she hugged me and wouldn’t let me go.

And the men wept, cheered and clapped too. “It’s my story too,” the father told me as he hugged and thanked me for bringing Dr. Willie Parker to Tulsa. Continue reading

Female Heroes

Suffragette_posterThe headline on the Philadelphia Inquirer feature story by reporter Steven Rea says it all: “Female Heroes Fight for Change.”

His was not a piece about Super Girls or Wonder Women or any of the animated Disney princesses who are breaking welcome new ground in movies or television.

His interview with Carey Mulligan, star of Suffragette, focused on providing historical background for this lightly fictionalized account of the early 20th century movement to win the right to vote for women in Great Britain. The movie dramatizes the hard lives and extraordinary valor of the real women—rich and poor alike—that eventually led to universal franchise by 1928. Continue reading

Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Rev. Tracy Sprowls

By Rev. Tracy Sprowls

In 1893, several thousand people gathered together on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago for the first World’s Parliament of Religions. On the first day of this first Parliament, 4000 people watched as twelve representatives from different religious traditions walked into the great hall holding hands and, simultaneously, a bell tolled for each of the world’s great religions. While neither Unitarianism nor Universalism was represented in this parade, among the planners was Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a Unitarian and a supporter of the Iowa Sisterhood. At that Parliament so long ago, the major speakers included nineteen women, one of whom was the Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe; an unprecedented number for that day and age. Continue reading

Super Girl: Will She Right the Gender Wrongs?

supergirlBack Story: I am not, in general, a comic book fan or, more specifically, a fan of super heroes, male or female. As a child I favored Betty and Veronica, mostly unaware that for a half century there have been Supergirl comics and other DC and Marvel equivalents, including Wonder Woman. My historical perspective on comics is non-existent, as is any in-depth knowledge of the family trees and plot lines of these print and film stories in which, as writer Dave Itzkhoff has described them, women “wear capes, fly through the sky, and throw colossal punches.”

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Truthiness (ˈtro͞oTHēnis/)

truthinessComedian Stephen Colbert first appropriated and gave new life to this rarely used word during the 2005 pilot episode of his long-running Colbert Report.

While its original archaic meaning was “truthfulness, faithfulness,” as used in common vernacular truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

Since it reemerged and was redefined, Truthiness has been used to chastise fact-twisting journalists, reality-bending memoirists, and truthy politicians who have made up “data” to bolster their fame and fortune. Continue reading

The Pope Visits and We Practice Being Allies in our Interfaith Work

pope visitNot surprisingly, there has been a great deal of conversation among my Unitarian Universalist ministerial colleagues ‒ and other non-Catholic clergy and lay leaders ‒ about Pope Francis’s visit to the United States last week. How his beliefs and positions sit or don’t sit with our espoused positions and overall world view.

No question that this pope, who  passes up pomp and politics for cafeteria style meals with homeless people, and who has expressed over and over his policy preferences on behalf of the poor, has captured the hearts and interfaith imagination of many progressive people. Yet, an editorial in the weekly Jewish newspaper The Forward has cautioned that, with the exception of the Pope’s theological insistence on forgiveness in the form of accepted confession by women who have chosen to terminate a pregnancy, and some talk about dialing down the machismo in the world in general and perhaps the Catholic Church in particular, there is “no change in the church’s position against abortion, contraception, women’s rights and marriage equality ‒ at least not in the foreseeable future.”
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Death by a Thousand Cuts, a Thousand Lies

This is yet another blog about Planned Parenthood.

Full disclosure: When faced with my own need to makplannedparenthood65e a decision about an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 19, I did not choose the option of abortion. And I doubt if I ever would have elected termination.

But that did not prevent me from (another full disclosure) going to work for a Planned Parenthood affiliate in California, one that offered a range of counseling and medical services, including abortion. Continue reading

Following a Win for Human Rights

ireland gay rightsMy husband and I have just recently returned from our annual summer travels, this time to Ireland – both the Irish Republic and North Ireland. It is just as lovely and green as we had read about in guide books. It is also an interesting study in human rights contrasts: specifically the disconnect between having just passed a referendum in May legalizing same sex marriage – the first ever in the world – while at the same time Ireland still has one of the most restrictive abortion policies, limiting legal access only to when the life of the woman is in danger. Continue reading


charleston2The 21-year-old white man, clad in black despite the June swelter, entered Emanuel AME church in Charleston and sat for a while silently observing a small group of African American congregants holding Wednesday night bible study. And then, according to news reports, almost an hour after he arrived, he stood and pulled out a gun.

When he was asked — when he was begged — not to shoot, he said he had to. “You are raping our women and taking over our country.” And he proceeded to open fire, then fled. Continue reading

The Feminist ‘Him’: A Panel of Male Perspectives

guest blogger

By Rev. Jonathan Rogers

In college, I went to a Take Back the Night march with some of my friends (mostly female) from our Students for a Democratic Society chapter. There was solemnity and sharing, but also passion and speeches; by the end of it we found ourselves worked up and ready to keep moving. So I followed the organizers on a continued march around campus, holding signs and chanting slogans. We went to all the campus greens, and even into some dorms. In one of the dorms that many of the athletes lived in, a number of men came out into to hall to see what all the noise was. They had a range of reactions, but I remember someone asking “What the **** are the guys doing with them?”
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A 50th Anniversary Celebration and Quite Possibly a New One

contraceptionOn June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that the marital right to privacy was guaranteed in the Constitution, and therefore it was no longer legal to criminalize the acts of informing about and providing contraception to couples. The SCOTUS decision was made in the context of a law suit brought by Estelle Griswold, medical director for Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, who had been found guilty, along with a colleague, as accessory in providing what were then illegal birth control devices. Continue reading

Campus Injustices and Summer Homework

Living near three college campuses—and our town high school—I am always very aware at this time of year that graduation is upon us. The side streets are jammed with overflow parking, the sidewalks are full of proud families and cap and gown wearing students.

My own class of 1970 at the University of California was denied a real-time ceremony in the Greek Theater, the first and last time ever. The war in Southeast Asia, especially the Cambodia invasion, had caused too much tension on campus—or so argued the administration—to risk a public gathering. So many agitated young people might use the occasion to continue the spirited protests that had marked my entire undergraduate tenure. Instead, our diplomas were mailed. We waited 20 years before being invited back in 1990 for a mock ceremony, and were then urged to join and donate generously to the alumnae association.

mattressLast week, the Columbia University Class Day ceremony was the scene of a 2015-style protest; this time due to the school’s handling of sexual assault. Senior Emma Sulkowicz crossed the stage carrying a mattress. She has been hauling it around campus until the fellow student she had accused of rape was no longer permitted there. Instead of being disciplined, her alleged attacker, Paul Nungesser, had been cleared of charges and has filed a federal discrimination law suit against the school, citing harassment in the aftermath of the investigation. Continue reading

Standing Up: Planned Parenthood Style

Texas Planned ParenthoodSomeday I will have the time, or take the time, to write an essay or sermon about how everything I know about being in an effective empowering and “mattering” organization I learned in my time working as a director of government and community relations for Planned Parenthood. It is so true. Continue reading

Mama’s Day Justice (and Peace)

mamas dayA few weeks back, I had my husband put in an explicit request to my three grown children for this Mother’s Day. I asked for pictures of my three young grandchildren, not Facebook-posted ones or Flickr for a change: printed out ones in frames, no matter how simple. They will be added to the gallery on our dining room side table, a visual chronicle of a family that has gone from one ethnicity and faith tradition to a multi-cultural, interfaith one in two generations of Americans.

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No Choices

San Miguel De AllendeI returned a few days ago from 10 days in San Miguel De Allende Mexico, a town which was turned into an American and Canadian arts and culture tourist mecca and now a thriving ex pat community some years back, due to the opening of an art school. Nowadays there are Spanish-language academies, writers workshops, alternative healing centers and spas, and an all-year-round Unitarian Universalist fellowship that meets weekly in a gracious hotel.

The view from the hall is stunning, and there are sounds of children playing, Catholic church bells ringing and bustling street noises. Continue reading

What We Don’t Yet Know For Sure (in the name of religious freedom)

religious_freedom_us_map_990_150330This past week, the state legislatures in two states, Indiana and Arkansas, approved so-called “religious objections” laws. These types of legislation (previously passed by 18 states) are ostensibly based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was the effort of a coalition of groups, many of them progressive, to ensure that individuals and their faith traditions were protected from inadvertent discrimination, especially religious minorities.

The federal law was in play last year when the US Supreme Court ruled on the so-called Hobby Lobby case argued before it, that “closely held” corporations have the same basic rights of religious belief, allowing businesses to assert their faith positions by opting out, for example, of providing free contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act if they found it objectionable.
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How 1965 turned out to be a landmark year (and an embarrassing discovery)

boston-girl-9781439199350_lgIn The Boston Girl, the latest novel by Anita Diamant (author of The Red Tent), in a chapter titled “I figure God created Margaret Sanger, too,” the lead character Addie Baum’s friend Filomena attempts a self-induced abortion by using bleach. A French-Canadian nurse in their neighborhood saves her from dying and completes the procedure. In the parlance of the 1900’s in America, she has “lost” a baby, the stuff of cruel rumors and threats that, because she had terminated the pregnancy, she would be denied burial in the Jewish cemetery upon her own passing.

One of the women who gather around the weak but recovering young woman reveals that her own mother “had five babies in six years and died giving birth to the last one, who died too.”

There’s a way to keep this from happening, she declares. She has a pamphlet about it and she is going to loan it out.
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Why Male Allies?

Harold McNaron

Harold McNaron

Many thanks to Rev. Marti for granting me access to this space. I’m Portland, OR-based cisgender white male UU in pursuit of solidarity with folks of other genders, races and target identities. In her invitation, Rev. Marti asked me to write about the need for or usefulness of male allies. My working definition for a male ally is a male-identified person intentionally working in partnership with women and folks of other genders to challenge sexism and interlocking systems of oppression.

One caveat: depending on the situation, maybe a male ally isn’t needed. For real. Regardless of our positive intent, sometimes, as Amanda Hess says, we’re the worst. Even when we’re not the worst, sometimes we’re not what’s needed. For instance, when the Portland-based Men Engaging Now produced a white paper documenting challenges and opportunities related to engaging men in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault response work, they noted that “men have earned women’s skepticism and distrust” and while “many female abuse survivors do not experience generalized fear of men,” it is essential that male allies honor the boundaries set by survivors. Thus male allyship can only work when it’s done in partnership with women and folks of other genders. Continue reading

“Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.”

From Glory by John Legend and Common

UUA photo - reproductive justiceThis Oscar-winning song from the movie “Selma” was used to frame the many conversations that took place at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) council meeting I attended in Washington DC this week. The focus of much of this was how we could most effectively and respectfully be faith-based allies with the groups of women of color across the country that have been pursuing reproductive justice for many years now.  Reproductive Justice, it has come to be understood, is work that fights against all of the cultural, political, economic and structural restraints, that limit women’s access to healthcare and full reproductive choice. To seek comprehensive social justice for women and girls; and in doing so, secure the right of all women to have children, not to have children, and to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment.

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You Don’t Own Us

You Don't Own MeConfession: one of my favorite pop music genres is the girl groove, those all- female groups and soloists that hit their peak in the 1960’s.  On one of those public television pledge nights a while back, we were treated to dozens of fading video tapes of those Detroit , New York, and Nashville female vocalists who I had stayed up listening to on the bubble gum AM radio stations of my California pre-teen years.

Some of them were minor stars, even one hit wonders, and others like The Supremes dominated the charts for many years with their songs of one way love and rejection.  Their stories of leaders of the pack and soldier boys.  Their advice to those of us who dreamed of being Bobby’s girl:  that just to see his smile made our life worthwhile.
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A Mixed Oscar Moment


Patricia Arquette

For me, the high point of the overall tedious Academy Awards show this year was Lady Gaga channeling Julie Andrews in her 50th anniversary tribute to the release of The Sound of Music. She was nothing short of amazing, demonstrating her classical voice training and her love of American musical theater. It was pure entertainment, soaring and joyous.

Using this hugely viewed ceremony as a platform to draw attention to issues, Oscar winners talked about ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and government invasion into the private lives of citizens and the status of Mexicans in their own country and as immigrants in the United States.

And there was Best Supporting Actress recipient Patricia Arquette, who read from prepared thank you remarks, which in addition to the usual shout outs to family and fellow cast members, included a plea for “wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” At the moment she finished this sentence, the cameras panned on actresses Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, who nearly leapt from their seats in support of her statement. Continue reading

Oscars and Monochrome

I spent the first half of my adult vocational life as a professional arts and culture reporter and columnist. As such, I got much of my understanding of our American society and the world at large from live actors on stages and from movie screens in darkened theaters.

Director Ava DuVernay

Director Ava DuVernay

My academic preparation and experience spending so much of my time in these places made for an almost entirely white male underpinning, from Shakespeare and O’Neil to Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola. As a thirtysomething, I organized one Sunday afternoon gathering for women in local theater at my home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Over chardonnay and pepper jack cheese, we plotted not so much a complete overthrow but at least a modest incursion into this one gender club: a revolution that lasted as long as the wine and crackers. We all went back into the tedium of just trying to keep our toehold as female actors, not directors; critics for small weeklies, not the union dailies.

That was more than three decades ago.

Sunday night is the Academy Awards: the last in this season of trophy nights for movie makers. One of my Facebook — and actual — colleagues wrote a post the other day asking what her online friends were going to do in lieu of watching this “boring” three hour red carpet extravaganza and celeb fest. Continue reading

Standing Our Ground: Reproductive Justice for Marissa Alexander

Guest Blog by Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong.

“The over-policing and over-criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is becoming a major issue in this country, and the safety of mothers is at stake.” Read Monica’s Message…

This week’s UUWF justice and equity blog, usually written by affiliated minister Rev. Marti Keller, was written last April by Monica Simpson, the executive director of our partner organization, SisterSong. Continue reading

False Victory

Keep_Abortion_LegalAs a former daily reporter and columnist, I was quite used to having to pull and rewrite stories on tight deadlines because the situation had changed. An arrest had been made, a source had been located, new facts had appeared. I am old enough to have been a journalist, albeit a young college student, when newspapers were still put together in linotype: copy written on half sheets of cheap brown paper and metal characters used to prepare the final edition for print. It was a cumbersome process, and when changes were made in the hours before deadline, our cranky machine operators were known to swear mightily at whatever editor let them know to hold the presses.

These days of course, and for many years, we have composed on computers and it has been much easier to recompose our work and rework a piece that would be wrong if published the way it was originally submitted. Continue reading

The Good and Bad News about Female Employment

Where-Women-Are-WorkingThe end of the year 2014 federal numbers showed unemployment being 5.3 percent, which normalizes this figure after years of recovery from the most recent Great Recession. Which is a good thing.

Further analysis of the non-employed, compiled by David Leonhardt in the January 6 “Upshot,” a New York Times special feature, reveals real variances between men and women in the nature of their responses to the loss of work, and the distinct geography of female employment. Some of the differences are good, some disturbing, some inexplicable. Continue reading

Focusing On the Good

JusticePhoto2The end of every year brings with it lists. Lists of the best movies, best albums, best books, and best television series.

My blog is not a “best of,” but rather an ongoing attempt to capture the good, bad, and mixed developments in the status of women and girls. To what extent do we see more justice and equity? To what degree have we lost ground?

This is not a comprehensive inventory, rather the gleanings from a practice I learned in theology school called findings. Taken from a daily practice developed by African American minister Howard Thurman, spiritual adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and beloved by Unitarian Universalists, it involves sitting with the morning papers, scissors in hand, in search of articles and columns that speak to us. Does it further our compassion? Does it illuminate our longings?

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It’s about Violence (and injustice)

sexualviolenceAs the Unitarian Universalist organization whose mission it is to promote equity for women and girls, we keep a vigilant eye on the many issues impacting what is now commonly called reproductive justice. Conceptualized by a powerful group of women of color in 1994, reproductive justice is defined as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement of and protection of women’s human rights. As another blogger this past week observed, the slaying of unarmed black men – with no consequence—is a reproductive justice issue, as mothers and would be mothers justifiably fear for the health and safety of their male children. How chilling a prospect.

The Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City exonerating police officers in the shooting deaths of two African American men: one a teenage son of a bereaved mother, the other a husband and father, were horrifying acts of injustice against the women in their lives. Continue reading

Another Mother’s Son

There is unfortunately always some breaking news to report – or more accurately, old news AntiRacismthat is finally getting some print and air time – about sexual violence against women and girls. This week was no exception, from collegiate football players who are apparently being shielded from rape charges in the midst of a winning season; to an esteemed comedian who had been accused for years of drugging and assault; to a gang rape just exposed in a University of Virginia fraternity which has brought to light years of inaction and cover ups of previous known incidents. Continue reading

Great Giving

generosityThis week in municipalities and states around the country, in a run up to Thanksgiving and what is arguably the annual season of conspicuous charity, “Give” days are being held. Citizens are urged to contribute financially to local nonprofits and schools, with incentives of matching gifts, Golden Ticket random money prizes, and other incentives, including free metro passes in some areas. In my town, the neighborhood email chat is buzzing with pitches for daycare centers for homeless children and urban wilderness preserves. In Minneapolis, there’s a running tally of the “votes” for Habitat for Humanity, a Twin Cities Dance company, an emergency assistance program – and the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

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While We are Celebrating

CelebrationThe refusal of the US Supreme Court to hear appeals of favorable lower federal court rulings overturning bans on same sex marriage, opening up legal marriage for gays and lesbians in five more states, is being rightfully celebrated. Change of public opinion and change of legal status have come with great and gratifying speed.

However, while the SCOTUS decision not to hear any cases opposing legalizing these marriages protected and advanced prior actions in a number of states, their choice to stay out of the fray leaves another 20 states without such advancements – at least for now. Following the announcement, attorney generals and governors of some of our most socially conservative states wasted no time announcing they were determined to continue to staunchly defend their constitutional amendments prohibiting same sex union.

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Message Toolkit for Bold Reproductive Justice

FlamingChaliceThe gathering a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. of nearly 200 reproductive justice advocates from all over the country under the auspices of the All Above All coalition to restore and sustain abortion coverage for low-income women, was not only high spirited but also grounded in solid messaging.

The role-plays we observed or participated in the day before we descended on Capitol Hill were based on the most recent qualitative and quantitative research. We were briefed, not only on the issue we were there to get some attention for (the last week before a Congressional break for elections), but also immersed in the underlying values that serve as touchstones to remind us why we so persistently support keeping abortion “legal, available, and affordable.”

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The Beat Goes On


UUWF affiliated minister Rev. Marti Keller – third from left – with three of her UU colleagues at the “All Above All” reproductive justice day on Capitol Hill.

They were law students, English students, clinic workers, community organizers, exchanging their piercings and bright colored sneakers for conservative business suits and sensible pumps. Only a few had gray hair, or were alive when the Roe V. Wade came down from the Supreme Court legalizing abortion nationwide – or when only a few years later the Hyde Amendment eliminated federal Medicaid funding for these procedures.

One hundred seventy women, most of them young (and a few men) had come to Washington, DC last week, in the last few days that Congress was in session prior to the mid-term elections break, under the auspices of a national reproductive justice campaign All Above All. Organizational supporters included the Unitarian Universalist Association (under whose auspices I was invited), Law Students for Reproductive Justice, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and dozens of other groups.

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By Mail

In a letter to President Obama, the UUWF has joined a broad-based coalition of leading domestic and global organizations spanning women’s rights, health, human rights, reproductive justice, young people, the LGBTQ community, faith, and development calling for an end to the incorrect implementation of the Helms Amendment in order to save women’s lives and protect their well being.

The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds “to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning.” For more than 40 years, the law has been incorrectly implemented as a complete ban on all abortion-related services. The letter urges swift action to allow support for abortion care for women who have been raped, who are victims of incest, or who face a life-endangering pregnancy in countries where those services are legally available. Continue reading

The New Suffragettes

A quaint term, for sure, Suffragettes, used to describe women seeking the right to vote for females, especially British women who mounted militant protests in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century.

That old-fashioned word somehow came up for me this past week as we remembered the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th constitutional amendment granting the right to vote to American women in 1920. A victory that was long in coming and not without marginalizing many African Americans.

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This past week has been heart-wrenching for those of us seeking dignity, justice and equity for all people. The African American men, women and children in Ferguson, Missouri, have been subject to and have born painful witness that we are far from living in a post-racial society. Across the country and the world, the social media postings have multiplied each day with expressions of sorrow and righteous anger for the senseless killing of another mother’s son.

We Unitarian Universalist women care about and worry about and respond faithfully to violations of the human spirit and human rights. So we can feel pulled in so many directions on a daily basis as cyberspace communications provide more and more ways to find out what’s happening on an almost momentary basis.

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Time to Talk

We Unitarian Universalists are often encouraged to come up with and get comfortable delivering so-called elevator speeches. Those pithy, direct, persuasive sentences that summarize just exactly what our faith tradition is (rather than what it is not).

Or slap on bumper strips, of which we have had many over recent years. My car is papered over with different versions, including my personal favorites: Affirming the Worth and Dignity of All People and Deeds Because Actions Speak Louder than Words.

Speeches and stickers that might at least buy us some respect in the religious marketplace, let alone a few visitors, even members.

In the years I worked as a spokesperson – and trainer of spokespeople – for Planned Parenthood, we also created and refined and then re-created our elevator speeches, our bumper stickers for similar reasons: to give some heft to our stands, to gain sympathy, even active support. Perhaps the most familiar would be Keep Abortion Safe and Legal. Not far behind might be Pro-Child, Pro-Choice: Every Child a Wanted Child; or My Body, My Choice. Continue reading

(Some) Good News for Summer

Whether it is news around gun violence or violence in the Middle East it is entirely possible to feel that nothing ever changes, that no progress is ever made.

In the arena of justice and equity for women and girls this can be equally true, with a recent Facebook posting by a male UU ministerial colleague mine this past week bleakly reminding all of his “friends” on social media that in 2013 alone there were 624 bills introduced in states and on the federal level intended to regulate women’s bodies — vs. none in the entire history of men. As a former journalist, I would have liked to have fact checked this statement, but intuitively I believe this is in the ballpark of accuracy. Which can make the dog days of August even more disconsolate for me than ever, with gratitude only that our elected bodies are mostly on summer break, with at least a respite from further inroads into our human dignity — privacy and sovereignty over our own lives. Continue reading

Dark Monday with Darker Days Ahead

handing out condoms at Hobby Lobby in Aurora IL

Clergy handing out condoms at a Hobby Lobby store in Illinois.

On a very recent dark Monday in June, by a narrow majority (5-4), five male Supreme Court justices ruled in favor of the national crafting store Hobby Lobby and a small furniture making business that sued the federal government for the right to opt out of the no-cost contraception coverage provision of the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA). They had specifically objected to four kinds of birth control they regard as inducing an abortion. What they got was at first touted by those signing the ruling as a narrowly crafted exemption, with even a suggestion to the administration that it figure out a way to pay for this preventive healthcare so as not to deny coverage completely for those females working for companies with faith-based objections. Continue reading

Crashing Waves

DeCrowKarenA week ago, feminist activist and civil rights lawyer Karen DeCrow, who led the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1970s, died. She was 76 years old.

A longtime friend described her as the “perfect model for the women’s movement.” In addition to her unflagging advocacy work, DeCrow had been a journalist and prolific writer. While a law student at Syracuse University she ran for mayor of the town, a first in the state of New York.

DeCrow campaigned for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, but eventually falling short of the necessary legislative approval at the state level. There were crushing disappointments which she saw as backward turning losses. Continue reading

UUWF: Biting Back

newspaperI spent just as much if not more time in the newsroom of the campus newspaper as I did attending classes at the University of California in Berkeley. Having discovered it in the first few weeks of my freshman year: an activity, a purpose, a refuge, a community, a training ground for a vocation I have never really given up. The clunky typewriters (yes that ages me), the scarred oak desks, the stacks of cheap brown half sheets we were expected to compose our stories on: stories of Black Power protests, ROTC protests, anti-war protests, People’s Park protests — a lot of unrest — and also the rich cultural offerings of that day, “The Day.”

In the midst of all the tumult and the tear gas volleys, I got to see and write about Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills and Nash, French noir films, Ingrid Bergman movie festivals, the early third wave women poets. Continue reading

A week in the life of women



This past week, a disturbed young man in California stabbed and shot both women and men — killing six, wounding 13 — and then committed suicide. Left behind in social media were his plans, especially a YouTube posting documenting his intentions to murder three people in his apartment building and then attack a sorority house in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara. It is the same college community where my own daughter lived during the time she attended nearby Santa Barbara City College. Once his rampage began, he settled on attacking passersby, including two female students.

In his video and an online manifesto he published just before what one journalist has called his “spasm of violence,” the killer talked about his War on Women. “I will punish all females for the crime of depriving me of sex,” he announced. While he could not “kill every single female on earth,” he said, he could “deliver a devastating blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.”

His writings — his rantings — also declared that women are like a plague, needing to be contained in concentration camps, starved to death. Continue reading

Emily’s Genius

Emily Dickenson - from Wikipedia

From the daguerreotype taken at Mount Holyoke, December 1846 or early 1847. The only authenticated portrait of Emily Dickinson later than childhood, the original is held by the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College.[1] – Wikipedia

Last Saturday, I checked off an experience on my ever-changing bucket list: attending a One Day University. This “extraordinary day of learning” which I had long read about in full page ads in the New York Times features popular college and university professors: shrinking a semester’s worth of lecturing into 75 minute sessions. It had finally come to my neck of the woods. I didn’t have to spring for an airline ticket and hotel room to register for and enjoy the four presentations I selected. And as the introduction to the program reminded me — there was no homework, no exams, and “best of all, no stress.”

Well not exactly. I had ended up picking classes taught by male professors (there were a couple led by women, with topics not as compelling to me). And as engaging and personable as they all were, they couldn’t seem to come up with examples of women as objects (the biology and psychology of resilience) or women as subjects (Geniuses). The latter session was led by Craig Wright, a professor of music at Yale University, where he teaches a course on The Nature of Genius: scanning Western History for figures like Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein.

The definition of Genius: Continue reading

Mamas and Diapers

Baby sleepingIt looked like a pantry. It was the size of a double closet, with lots of shelves, kept locked day and night. The key to it was held by the director of this emergency shelter for women and their children, a very temporary home for families who had been referred to us by the umbrella task force on homelessness, or through local churches or social workers. It was not a domestic violence safe space: nonetheless the former youth hostel had no identifying signage, nothing to indicate who was living there, or indeed if anyone was living there at all on a street with a number of law offices and other businesses.

The residents arrived often with only what they could fit in large plastic garbage bags, or loose, crammed in the trunks of their aging cars. They came to us with children of all ages; in fact we were the only shelter in the entire metro area that allowed more than four minors in a family unit and older boys. We provided them with the basics: a cold breakfast, a volunteer provided dinner; bedding, towels, toiletries. Continue reading

War on Poor: War on Women

grocery shoppingLast week the focus was on a new law in Tennessee calling for felony penalties against pregnant women who test positive for illegal narcotics. Just this week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill requiring drug testing — at their own expense — of some applicants for food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). An applicant would be forced to be tested on the basis of either missed appointments or her “demeanor “as determined by a state worker, a vague and dangerous version of profiling.

Georgia would be the first state to require this of food stamp (SNAP) seekers, something currently not permitted under federal law. While the Georgia law can’t go into effect until a change in federal law, the House has already passed a measure to lift the ban on states adding their own conditions to food stamp eligibility. If the Senate passes its own version, then it opens the door more quickly for states to jump on board. Continue reading


baby's feetThe passage of the study action initiative on reproductive justice a couple of years back by the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) — of which we are an associate organization — challenged us to look at issues of human sexuality, pregnancy, and gender identity in different ways than our prior focus on legal rights and access to care. The four-year period dedicated to education and discernment allows us to ponder and respond to questions such as:

  • How do power structures limit individuals’ access to reproductive justice?
  • How do sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse contribute to unintended pregnancies later in life?
  • How can eliminating racism, classism and sexism reduce the need for abortion and enable families to care for the children they do have?
  • How are pregnant women who use drugs stigmatized, and what are the real dangers and solutions? Continue reading

Equal Pay at the Altar? (and the war of statistics)


(thanks to NOWNYC.org)

My thoughtful feminist husband first told me about it: the latest salvo in the defensive battle being waged against equal pay for equal work by women. It was the grenade tossed by Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the so-called “pro family” organization Eagle Forum. As she wrote in a Christian Post op-ed published earlier this week and reported on ironically in Huff Post, it is her opinion that “providing women with equal pay for equal work would deter their chances for finding a suitable mate.”

Schlafly argued that since women prefer to marry men who make more money than they do, decreasing the gender gap would leave a woman tragically unable to snag a husband. She names this “fact” hypergamy, which she says means that not only do women instinctively prefer higher paying mates but that men also generally prefer being the higher earner in a relationship.

So if somehow the pay gap between men and women ever is eliminated, she reasons, using what she admits is simple arithmetic, half of all women would be unable to find a husband. Which is a very bad thing, worse than being poorer and less valued. Continue reading

Dallas Women’s Alliance Still in the Thick of Reproductive Justice Movement

Texas Freedom Network - Lifting Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice

Texas Freedom Network – Lifting Faith Voices for Reproductive Justice

As the UU Women’s Federation representative to the national Religious Council on Reproductive Choice (RCRC), I recently had the experience of joining other faith leaders in Washington DC for the council meeting and to stand with them on the steps of the US Supreme Court to protest the Hobby Lobby case asking for a corporate religious exemption from covering birth control under the Affordable Care Act(ACA).

This morning I rejoined this group by conference call to hear breaking news about an RCRC event in Dallas Texas last night (Monday April 7) held at the First Dallas UU Church with a goal of rebooting choice activities in that much beleaguered state. Especially on the heels of the recent passage of a law calling for new requirements of practitioners which effectively has shut down multiple abortion providing clinics. Continue reading

Minimum Wage Is a Women’s Issue

I was a recent graduate in journalism from a prestigious state university, having been living temporarily in my teenage bedroom in my mother’s house with my then husband, a college drop-out at a time when the expectation and assumption was that if we were over 18, we were no longer literally part of our parents’ households. We moved into a modest apartment with thin walls, erratic heat, and monthly rent and utility bills.

He was working low wage swing shift in the credit department of a major furniture dealer 30 miles away, after having done some time at an even lower paying job in a canned food warehouse. I had given up looking for a position even vaguely related to my major and the field I had been trained for, landing a very part-time job as a counter girl (and girl it was) in an ice cream store, handing out samples of apple strudel and rocky road (chocolate and walnuts) ice cream and scooping cones from the bottom of cardboard containers. After only a few days, my hands and arms were cramped and sore and my fingers burned from spending so much time in frost and ice. To this day I cannot imagine tasting, let alone relishing any of the dozens of rotating flavors.

Continue reading

Snowy Protest Outside Supreme Court

… and the Face of Pro-Choice 2014   This past Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to stand with hundreds of others in a freak late March full out snowstorm (wet cold and pelting) in Washington DC to protest the casebrought by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of c Continue reading

A Real Scandal

A confession: my husband and I (after reading so many rave postings on Facebook by a well-respected UU sister in ministry), have just finished binge watching 40 episodes of the TV program “Scandal” in less than two weeks. This popular series, set in Washington D.C., is a dark and often violent picture of shadow government, White House assignations, torture, assassinations, and monumental corruption. It is engaging and well-acted. It is also cynical and horrifying.

It is a scandalous depiction of our democracy in action. And it is fictional.

In the real Washington D.C. of 2014 next Tuesday (March 25), the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing two cases challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance companies provide contraception, a preventive health care service, at no cost. The constitutional right to birth control was argued and won decades ago: it is financial access that is at issue here.

UUs rally for social justice

More than 40 for profit companies have sued the federal government because they claim their corporations must follow certain religious laws which in fact trump the health care decision making ability of their female employees. If they work for these companies, contraceptive coverage should not be an option. The cases under consideration by the Court have been brought by Hobby Lobby Inc. (that national chain which sells crafting supplies) and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

This is a real scandal, a situation that should be causing great public outrage as yet another effort to turn back the clock on reproductive justice. This effort to give corporations greater voice in health care decisions than the women who work for them would do just this.

The UU Women’s Federation has been un-wavering and unremitting in its support for contraception — both available and accessible — as a basic human right. We join the Unitarian Universalist Association and other allies in urging the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of women to choose preventive birth control services without economic barriers, and in the process to maintain religious liberty, equality, and economic security.
I will be in D.C. for the hearing: for the rally that morning and to witness the proceedings.

I urge UUWF members and friends to speak out in the ways available to us, and to be with me in body or spirit. To end this scandal.

Law and Order for Special Victims Becomes Real

Hargitay-and-Kym-L-Worthy_Detroit-NewsA recent Associated Press story about the fact that possibly hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country may finally be processed reminded me of the many episodes on the long lived television series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” where the lack of this evidence leads to dead ends in solving these crimes, most often against women and girls. And how frustrated and indignant the small screen detectives get, including Officer Olivia Benson, played by veteran actress Mariska Hargitay. Continue reading

International Women’s Day and Half the Sky

Half the Sky

Half the Sky

It was during the millennial celebrations at Agnes Scott College, the small all women’s college near our home, that I purchased a bright red t-shirt with black Chinese lettering and underneath it that ancient proverb: “Women are Half the Sky,” made popular by Mao Tse-tung. I loved the sentiment: its bold simplicity. The president of the college then was a China scholar, in fact she returned to China after her time there. This t-shirt and this campaign to lift up women’s power and rights was a natural for her, and for this college that has so much diversity and quite a few international students and scholars.

Over the years of wearing it, often to the gym, I occasionally have been given withering looks for wearing a communist quote on my chest, or comments about how out of reach equality is for women in China, even today. It may not be great, admits Zhang Yue, host of a popular women’s talk show there for many years, but, she reminds us, of the five goals laid out for women a hundred years ago: “Abolish foot binding, educate girls, free marriage, a job, and equality with men, we got the first four. But not the last one.”

This is a good deal more than the women who are half the sky in so many other countries around the world.
Continue reading

She’s Going Places

A full page advertisement in our daily newspaper by a major Japanese car manufacturer features a young girl in the passenger seat. This girl, the ad predicts, will grow five inches, letter in volleyball, major in economics, marry a man with freckles, have a career she loves, have two girls “ she loves way, way more,” and smile more than frown.

A girl who is going places and who this automaker would like to help get there safely. Presumably because the car in which she is now belted securely in the back seat and someday may drive is well made and equipped to sustain any fender bender or even more serious collision that comes her way. Continue reading

The State of the Union and Reproductive Justice

Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong

Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong

The conversation I had with SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson recently was wide-ranging, focusing first on the intersection between the work of her organization in promoting reproductive justice, especially for women of color, and the Moral Monday movement. This was just before the Moral March in Raleigh last Saturday which attracted somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 participants, including around 1,000 UUs, many of them in the bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love colors. The policy agenda in that stat e— and now beyond — is multi-faceted, including access to healthcare for low income women and women’s rights in general. We agreed that the focus on these issues, in addition to dismantling highly discriminatory voter ID laws, enhances and augments our mutual work. Continue reading

A Conversation with SisterSong’s Monica Simpson

I first met Monica Simpson a year ago for lunch at a Panera Bread Company café in Atlanta, over black bean soup and salads. I was excited to be with her as we planned for a Sunday morning sermon she would be delivering at my then congregation. Her appearance would be especially timely following the selection of Reproductive Justice as the Congregational Study/Action issue over the next several years and the role her organization Sistersong (based in Atlanta) had played and will play in redefining and expanding our work in this arena. She is the executive director, having come to work there following years of working in non- profit social change organizations.




The Sistersong Collective was formed in 1997 and initially funded by the Ford Foundation to educate women of color and policy makers on reproductive and sexual health and rights, and to work towards the access of health services, information and resources that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Continue reading

A Visit to the National Archives

marti-keller-300x400January 15th is the actual birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., officially celebrated the third Monday of January in many communities and congregations in a variety of ways: some focusing on his legacy of work in securing civil rights for African Americans; others on his nonviolent approach to acts of disobedience; others on his opposition to unjust war, or his later life interest in economic justice issues. King was preparing for a Poor People’s March on Washington DC when he was gunned down in Memphis, the site of a sanitation worker’s march for better pay and other labor issues.

There was some critique during his living years of the lack of visible (or acknowledged) leadership of women in these initiatives. The particular concerns of women around human rights have been viewed as being overlooked then, and not particularly the focus of observances honoring his legacy in the years that have followed.

Not so in 2014.

A recent family visit to the National Archives in Washington DC included our first time seeing the new more expansive and nuanced permanent exhibit displaying the “Records of Rights”, highlighting the parallel and intersecting civil rights struggles of African Americans, women, and immigrants. Continue reading

Leaping From Our Spheres

Rev. Marti KellerDon’t miss the “little gems full of both passion and facts” in the Blog of UUWF’s Affiliated Minister, Rev. Marti Keller.

UUWF’s Affiliated Ministry