Fool me once… Indiana and discrimination

You know the adage “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…”? Well when it comes to the State of Indiana the fools are those who truly thought the Legislature would protect the rights of all GLBT. Wednesday January 27, 2016 there will be yet more legislation introduced to discriminate against  human rights  in the name of religion. Make no mistake- it is not binary. It is not religious rights vs. GLBT rights. It is the bigotry of certain legislators and organizations that are making their doctrinal views not only law, but some sort of skewed moral compass.

The sad thing is I could simply cut and paste any of my blogs and OP-Eds from the past decade and it would still be relevant.  THAT is how long my home state has been trying, and succeeding in discrimination. Though hundreds of faith leaders, myself included, have visited legislators, written letters, rallied, held prayer vigils, or testified in the General Assembly, it is to no avail as each year this bigotry and fear-mongering returns.

Last year RFRA was passed and then public outcry brought Indiana to the National Stage. Celebrities like George Takei  and Wilco took to social media to Boycott Indiana, GenCon threatened to  pull out of conventions, states banned travel to  our state. Major corporations such as Lilly, Cummins,  NBA and NCAA offered statements, even Disciples of Christ threatened to halt their conventions.

Then came the “fix”, and everyone disappeared.  Conventions returned. Boycott off.  Even some of the larger GLBT organizations claimed victory. Victory?? Seriously?  The “RFRA fix” only applied if you  lived in one of the  Indiana’s eleven municipalities with a Human Rights Ordinance regarding sexual orientation. And the majority of Hoosiers do not live with a HRO.

More importantly and virtually nonexistent in the RFRA discussion  is the discrimination of religious views on other aspects of life aside from sexual orientation. RFRA was passed on two prongs- GLBT human rights AND religious rights concerning the gamut of life.  The  RFRA fix didn’t touch on views of fertility, birth control, termination of pregnancy (for ANY reason- including ectopic pregnancies, rape, endangering the mother), vasectomy, vaccinations, end of life decisions..etc.

So here we are. In 2016. And new legislation is introduced. And it’s the same bigotry. The same binary thinking. That one’s religious views is equal to law. And it isn’t.

Respect religious views.  Our constitution doesn’t allow to mandate religious views.

But it’s Indiana. And if you are one of those surprised to see these bills being debated again—where did you go?  Have you not been paying attention?

 

 

 

Note to Gov. Pence- LGBT are also religious

Indiana and Gov. Pence- LGBT are also religious – its’ not mutually exclusive

ICON

Indiana Governor Mike Pence continued his delusional doublespeak during his State of the State address this week.  While there are many examples where he contradicted himself from one sentence to the next, I need to address not only his, but some in the media who insist on repeating “religious rights vs LGBT rights”. It is distressing to see headlines and hear politicians use terminology that separates religion from LGBT.

Stop it. Many good women and men of religion affirm those who are LGBT. Clergy and religious ARE LGBT. This is not new nor recent.  Even in Indiana. For almost two decades clergy and religious leaders have taken out newspaper ads, delivered petitions, sent letters to each legislator outlining their support for religious freedom. The freedom to practice their own denomination’s polity and doctrines to marry, bless, and affirm individuals and couples for who they are.

What Indiana wants to do is place religious rights not ahead of LGBT rights, but ahead of human rights.  Because that is what LGBT rights are. Human rights.

One of the first public acts I did as clergy was to sign my name, alone with over 150 other clergy and religious leaders in Indiana, to a clergy letter-a full page ad that outlined support for LGBT.  This original letter was signed by faith LEADERS throughout Indiana- seminary presidents and professors, Rabbis, Imams, Pastors, Conference Ministers representing over twenty- six faith denominations.  This was in 2001. That today, in 2016   Gov. Pence, politicians, and media perpetuate RFRA and other legislations as a religious vs LGBT right is ludicrous.  To be sure, it is the narrow view of some religions that attempt to dehumanize LGBT. Despite their right to practice these doctrines of faith they cannot trump human rights

Back home in Indiana, clergy and faith leaders have made their religious views affirming LGBT known to Governors and elected officials each year since 1998.  That means Governors, O’Bannon. Kernan. Daniels, and Pence.

Any Indiana Legislator from the past 15 years who states she or he has not heard from religious leaders who support LGBT rights specifically in matters of faith is simply not telling the truth.

As past president of Interfaith Coalition on Nondiscrimination(ICON) I know the work of the many faith leaders who gathered at the statehouse, held prayer rallies, met with Legislators, and testified when discriminatory bills came up year after year after year.  At the beginning of each session we delivered letters to every Legislator and asked for meetings.  The work has intensified in recent years as other coalitions have joined in the work of ICON and the grassroots organizations of the 90’s.

Do not insult us and all the people of faith who affirm the dignity and respect the religious freedoms of THESE denominations by perpetuating it is as religion vs LGBT.  Call it what it is – SOME narrow religious views vs Human rights.   Back to Gov. Pence- while he regularly meets with, and addresses certain clergy groups, he has continued to refuse to meet with clergy leaders who affirm LGBT rights to  marry.

In 2004 my denomination, the UCC, began the “Still Speaking Campaign”- never place a period where God has placed a comma. Their four words and a comma campaign is for human rights and affirms the dignity of each person. It is time the Governor and General Assembly of Indiana stop discriminating against people of faith- especially those of us who affirm LGBT.ICON

The joy of living is the joy of giving service to others.” Dolly Millender, 1920-2015

“The joy of living is the joy of giving service to others.” Dolly Millender, 1920-2015

Most everyone from the Region knows the name Dolly Millender. Then there are  those of  blessed with opportunities to have talked with her, read her works, and listen to the wisdom and encouragement she gave.

Called the historian of Gary, Dolly passed on Christmas at the age of 95. While some may automatically say “oh 95.. she lived such a long life.”, well yes, she did. And she was living it fully- in her nineties she was still very active in her city and her community. Dolly hosted a regular radio program on WLTH, she continued to meet with students and was a strong presence in the community. And she kept writing.

This blog cannot begin to give justice to the life and legacy of Dolly Millender . Our city and country has lost a powerful African American female voice- much needed today. Her motto, “The joy of living is the joy of giving service to others” is exemplified in her life. Among her accomplishments:

Indiana State University recently posted this bio and among her accomplishments:

City of Gary- Library board trustee (1960s and 1970s)

Gary City councilwoman (1980-1992)

Gary School board member (1992-2004)

Lutheran Church missionary team member (30 years)

Founder and CEO of the Gary Historical and Cultural Society, Inc. (GHCS) (1976-present)

Author of five books, 2 of which are on the history and culture of Gary, Indiana

Received her Master of Science degree in 1968 in Educational Media from Purdue University

Awards and Recognitions:

Gary Steel City Hall of Fame Award

The Governor’s Award (Governor Mitch Daniels) for Outstanding Historic Preservation in Indiana

I am sure there will be more tributes to come. Gary, IN has lost the presence of Dolly Millender, but her legacy lives on. Prayers to her family.

Wearing the Hijab- Solidarity or Insensitivity?

When I professed first vows I chose to wear a veil- it was blessed and part of the liturgy along with my order’s cross. Some of the Sisters expressed their disappointment in my decision, as they felt liberated when they could forgo the mandatory veil and traditional habit. My particular order then and now, allows for the autonomy in this regard. I was not making a judgement on them, but it was my personal choice.

Perhaps this is why I am disturbed to see #HijabSolidarity trending, along with encouragement for photo submissions of Non-Muslim women donning a Hijab veil. It seems insensitive actually. It follows along the lines of Michael Moore’s encouragement of selfies holding signs “I am Muslim”. I fail to see how this shows solidarity. To declare yourself Muslim for a day, or for  a Facebook post, denies your autonomy and makes religion , in my view, and either or. Can I not be who I am AND respect who you are without taking over your choice?

Solidarity, or being an ally, means support. Its’ not assimilation. It is a respect for diversity, for the other’s autonomy.

Well intentioned as wearing the hijab or declaring oneself Muslim for a photo might be, it can be detrimental.  For some women who are Muslim, the choice to wear a hijab is a sign of their faith, an identifier for all. Tragically it brings insults and abuse from those who stigmatize Muslims.

Yet for other women who are Muslim, the hijab is a sign of oppression. In many areas women are not permitted into mosques unless they are covered. There are those Muslims who firmly believe the Qu’ran is explicit that women must be covered. The personal choice of a woman not to wear a hijab may be influenced by this.

The choice does belong to the woman. Whether a woman who is Muslim does or does not  wear a hijab, it  says nothing about her feminism, piety, voice, fears, etc. . It is her choice and she owes no explanation.

Which brings me back to the PhotoOps. The hijab is a religious practice, not to be taken lightly. The images are disconcerting to me. It reminds me of the many , well-intentioned, white congregations that uploaded group photos with caption: “ Hands up! Don’t Shoot!”  In almost every photo you would find several individuals smiling with their hands raised.

They don’t get it.

Being in solidarity with Muslims isn’t declaring yourself Muslim, isn’t dressing “like” a Muslim. It is learning and respecting and above all else, being vocal against the rhetoric and hate. Its being active for more than a set period of time.

I’ve found two insightful articles, pro and con for this. I leave you with them, and welcome dialog. One is from my own denomination, the United Church of Christ. The other is an Op-Ed from  the Washington Post.

“As a Muslim women we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the  name of interfaith solidarity “

“United Church of Christ- Chicago Seminary offers a visible statement of solidarity with Muslim Sisters”

 

 

This clergy stands- and weeps- with Planned Parenthood

I am aware that many of my fellow clergy are preaching  gratitude this Thanksgiving week. I also join with those standing in the streets of Chicago and NWI crying for justice for Laquan McDonald, the Chicago teen murdered and almost covered up by Police and those in authority.

Then today- Planned Parenthood. I stand , proudly, with Planned Parenthood. My heart weeps for those killed, those attacked, and those whose lives are forever changed simply because on Black Friday they chose to take care of their health.

Yet this domestic terrorist attack on the Colorado Planned Parenthood Clinic isn’t about me. Or is it?

Of course it is. Because like all terrorist acts- and this IS a terrorist act – repercussions are felt by us all. Fear is heightened, threats validated, and sadly media and politicians will begin to spin this event to their liking.

This is an act of violence against actual souls and individuals who were simply living their life- going to work- using a day off for a medical appointment- providing care.

 

I am sure I am not alone in condemning this attack. My prayers are with all of those victims today- and those seeking healthcare tomorrow and the day after. I wait for more of my fellow clergy to publicly cry out about this violence and demand safety for those seeking health care .

And I challenge those politicians who by their incessant verbal attacks on Planned Parenthood , repeating inaccurate and outlandish accusations,  have fostered the level of hate toward Planned Parenthood. I challenge them to stop this vitriol  and admit their culpability. Hell, I challenge them to say anything  about this tragedy that isn’t blaming the victim  or telling them they got what they deserve.

Those in Colorado  deserve better. They deserve compassion, support, and our promise to validate them, not victimize them again.

 

Blue Collar-White Collar-Clerical Collar- people of Gary and Region unite against ForProfit Prison

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Despite being in the works for months, the day after the elections the citizens of Gary found out their Mayor of Gary and one council member supported GEO Corporation  in their building and operating a ForProfit Detention Center in Gary. GEO operated as it always does- behind the scenes, financial contributions to local politicians,   and purchasing land when trying to fast-track re-zoning. Oh, and dangling the promise of jobs to a distressed urban area.

GEO has played this scenario over and over. In Texas, Colorado, IL, and in the past two years in Lake County IN. Hobart successfully stopped their plans so GEO snaked over to Gary, IN.  Purchased land near the airport, received support and then– they met  the good people of Gary.

Yes, good people of Gary, We are well aware of the jokes, the punchline our city has become. Mostly from folks who never have been to  Gary.  Or ones stuck in the hard, horrible times of the past.  But  we who still  live and work in Gary and surrounding Region know Gary IS on the move upward and beginning a resurgence in the Arts, historical education, and revitalization of her diverse culture. We have hope.  Its hard, but we are moving .

Which is why white collar , blue collar  and clergy  collar  folks- women and men joined together to rise up against the proposed ForProfit Detention Center, No doubt the detention center would target people of color and hispanics in the Region. Despite what media may portray, it was a unified coalition that made their voices heard when given less than a weeks notice of the hearing with GEO before Gary’s City Council .  MIGHT 219 -Mass Incarceration and GEO Halt team  (219 is area code of the Region) , Black Lives Matter NWI, Clergy of  numerous denominations: Lutheran, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ., and Interfaith Coalition members.  Black Lives Matter NWI, citizens from Hobart and Crete IL, and many more individuals came together. No GEO in Gary.

Of course all these organizations and individuals want jobs for the area! But we can see through the smokescreen.  And our voices were heard. The day after the council meeting where the GEO project was tabled, Wilson withdrew her support.  Her statement can be found here.

It’s not over.  The city council can still approve the project. Next steps:

1. SIGN the online petition to stop this endeavor.
2.Attend the Tuesday Nov. 17th Gary City Council Meeting. 5Pm Prayer vigil, 6 PM meeting.
3. Attend the Gary Zoning Board Monday Nov. 23 at 1PM
4. Educate yourself on the facts- not the smokescreen:

There are two main reasons why such a facility would be detrimental to Gary. (and anywhere)

1.While the  promise of jobs to a distressed region such as Gary is enticing. GEO cannot promise , in writing, 200-300 jobs. The jobs would be based on the inmate population. There is no contract in place with ICE or Department of Justice that guarantees the number of inmates GEO is proclaiming, Recently Texas and other states have pulled out of contracts with GEO as the city has become responsible for paying the remainder of the note on the prison. Property tax increases, utility increases, all have decimated many towns in Texas.

GEO already operates the New Castle facility in Indiana. They cite the number of jobs there as proof they fulfill promises. Except  GEO merely took over the operations and maintained 90% of the workforce.

2. Aside from the empty promises of jobs and tax incentives, GEO has been successfully prosecuted for sexual harassment charges as we as human rights violations. Currently at least 3 GEO facilities have hunger strikes due to inhumane conditions, The EEOC as recent as September 2015 is again filing suit against GEO

The citizens of Gary will not condone such practices in our backyard. We will not house nor be complicit in treatment of human beings in this manner.
And if these atrocities are not enough, consider this. Detention Centers are exempt from Freedom of Information Acts.  (See page 16 of the  Citizens for Ethics report.  Obtaining actual practices – staffing levels, training, etc. are difficult to ascertain. While they may say detainees are only held 10-14 days, the reality is there are indefinite holds ( months to years) then release with NO CHARGES being filed.

Finally, GEO has lobbyists and has donated heavily in Indiana. In the past 10 years, over $83,000 has been donated to various political candidates- mostly Governors Daniel and Pence. Over $9,000 was donated to Rep. Saunders, who coincidently represents the district where the New Castle facility was awarded a GEO contract.)
This is only a brief synopsis of why GEO is bad for Gary. It is equally detrimental elsewhere, as outlined in citizen journalist Northwest Indiana Gazette.

GEO will not stop. They still own land. They still contribute to politicians. They know the distressed cities in the area and in the US.   But love has won  this far. As a local activist says, it IS Gary’s time. The citizens of Gary come from immigrant stock, from displaced peoples, that proverbial melting pot. And we are called Region Rats for a reason- we stay till the end, we don’t give up, we scrap, and  we remember.

 

National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day. wedding 009 how many people see meIm gay. I’m also married , ordained UCC,serve as a hospital Chaplain.I’m an exnun w/Catholic spine and Gary, IN girl. Fiercely protective of individual beliefs and rights-Including Cubs fans. My song is The Impossible Dream and I am forever assessing windmills and advocating for the marginalized- -And most of you know this.

But I do it because in the words of Bob Lawrence “I remember the speech I heard Harvey Milk give, after which I began the process of coming out myself. Harvey basically reminded us that we needed to come out because, until people realize that “we” are their brothers, their sisters, their sons, their daughters, their mothers and fathers…. until people realize that “we” are their letter carriers, their doctors, their teachers, their neighbors and (yes), even their ministers, people will continue to believe the stereotypes rather than the realities. So, “come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Media must get back to being a profession- not hype i.e Gliniewicz

The media must regain its’ professionalism, and soon. “Clickbait” headlines sensationalize every story, articles are filled with inaccuracies, TV hosts and commentators allow politicians and guests to spew blatant lies, without so much as a raised eyebrow. And in our Social media world, these damaging words are tweeted and shared with wild abandon.

Naive folks see the name of CNN or MSNBC, etc. and assume it is truth or at the very least verified by a few sources.

But what is often reported is not verified. And it is damaging by creating fear and suspicion.

I’m not talking the GOP debate. Look at the tragic death of Fox Lake IL Lt. Joseph Gliniewicz, who was shot and died September 1st. As of this writing, there is no determination of the circumstances on how he was shot- homicide-suicide/accident. None. But the media has plastered and spun such a web of inaccuracies that the truth will be hard to find.

One can always expect exaggeration and distortion on twitter and FB- where everyone and their cat has an account and an opinion. Of bigger concern is the Mainstream media—the professional anchors/reporters/ hosts. They continue to inflame the public with inaccurate headlines- even 2 weeks after the true facts are known.

I’m betting most people don’t know the facts but still think the death of this policeman was the result of an active foot pursuit of 3 men, one of whom shot the officer in cold blood and took his weapon. After all, the FBI and agencies came in for a manhunt for days.

But here are the facts, without the hype. At 7:52 AM Officer Glineiewicz radioed in that he was “checking on two male white, male black, uh, by the equipment south of Honing.”

Dispatch asked if he wanted back up and he responded “negative.”

Three minutes later he radioed in “They took off for the swamp”.

When asked if he wants a second Unit he says :”Yeah, now go ahead and start somebody”

The radio transmission, found here, is hardly the frantic call for backup during an active foot pursuit the media reported.

And for some reason, I will say emotion, the first officers who arrived and then found his body after 8 minutes and sent out false information.

There was this dispatch “ Officer safety man with a gun. Area 128 Honing in Fox Lake. ..107 There is a male white and male black that fled from the scene taking the officer’s side arm and pepper spray”

And that was known to be false within hours. The gun and pepper spray were there, and no other officer has reported seeing any suspects.

The spin was in, the headlines flew, and no-one bothered to check. Even when within days when the radio transmission came public. Listen to the calls and you will hear there was no active foot pursuit , no frantic call for backup. Yes, he was going to follow the suspects he described, and he agreed for backup. There is a huge difference between an active foot pursuit and a call for backup by the officer, and what was radioed here.

Why does this matter? Because the media continues to run with this, and that spawned stories of targeting police, memes galore using photos of murdered black lives at the hands of police, manhunts and theories.

It matters because we used to be able to trust what was reported by media. Major news anchors and networks had credibility. Not only were there reports accurate, but news anchors would not remain silent when their guests or politicians spewed lies.

They need to remain professional, not political, Allowing politicians to yammer on with baseless rumors regarding Planned Parenthood, religious freedom violations, and racism has become common– professionals would challenge blatant lies. Silence is acceptance.

It matters because when media reports erroneous details, or blindly retweets and quotes another source without verification, it creates fear and mistrust and division. The deaths are tragic enough. They do not need to be sensationalized embellished by media hungry for more viewers.

Mourn our fallen police- without officers taunting those they have sworn to protect

A year ago in Indianapolis, Officer Perry Renn was responding to a call when he encountered and subsequently questioned two individuals. This ended with Officer Renn being  mortally wounded. The suspect  was wounded and since has been charged with murder. Officers and others have taken to social media to encourage us not only to remember  Officer Renn, but  that many officers have made the pledge “I will always get out of my car.”

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Strong words. Yet words fueled by an inflammatory quote attributed to a member of the suspect’s family  which insinuated Renn would be alive had he stayed in his car.

Except this quote was from the reporter’s notes, it wasn’t in any of the hours of video footage. (Footage and interview taken, by the way, within 12 hours of the shooting.) And the family has denied this.

It was soundbyte journalism. News director himself agreed it would have been better to actually have footage of the family saying it, rather than the reporter. Ya think?

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Please view the entire background  including the  newscast and  explanation here.  It fueled a movement which is being renewed  again.  Indiana seems to thrive with this. When the Notre Dame women wore  “I can’t breathe” shirts in solidarity with Eric Gardner, a SB police officer created the “Breathe Easy” line. (yes, an entire line).

It is possible to respect and honor the sacrifice police officers make each day. It is becoming common place to intimidate the very folks officers are sworn to protect.

 

 

Thoughts from a Region Gal