Thursday, July 30, 2009

California Marriage equality: 2010 or 2012 is not the question

I'm back in Los Angeles today after two days in Sacramento meeting with Unitarian Universalist leaders in the marriage equality movement. We're forming a steering committee to work with the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry on this topic.

On Tuesday we met with Samuel Chu, the interim executive director of California Faith for Equality, and with Harry Knox, who heads the faith-based program for the Human Rights Campaign. On Wednesday, just the Unitarian Universalist leaders met to create an action plan for our congregations. It was very clear from our conversation very early on that the question of whether marriage equality activists should place a constitutional amendment on the California ballot to restore marriage equality in 2010, or 2012 is the wrong question. In practical terms the answer is clear: we're not ready. But 2010 or 2012 isn't really the question.

2010 or 2012 focuses entirely on the ballot, which is only a piece of the necessary work. The larger goal is not 51% of the electorate relunctantly granting us marriage, the goal is a cultural shift that sees gay and lesbian persons as full respected citizens of the state. That goal is not achieved legislatively. It's achieved through public education and advocacy, through relationship building, and through normalizing gay and lesbian lives through visibility and time.

The other false frame of the 2010 or 2012 question is the implication that unless we act now we are agreeing to submit to injustice. But public education and advocacy and relationship building and living our lives openly and proudly is justice work. It's not waiting; it's working. And it's not submitting; it's persuading folks who have already voted against once not to confirm their vote but to change their minds and hearts.

That's the work we need to do in our churches and communities, not raising money for signature gathering and ads, and phone-banking. Rather than leaping unprepared into a political campaign as a reaction to our hurt and anger, let's time the political campaign to the point in the movement when we've already won the issue before the campaign even begins.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

California marriage equality can't wait.

I've been reading reports from a number of political analysts this week discussing whether marriage equality proponents in California should put the question back to voters in 2010, or wait until 2012. All of them agree that we should wait. I've been reading in preparation for a meeting I've been asked to attend with political strategists next week, and then a follow-up meeting with my own faith leaders to plan a coordinated action plan for our churches.

Because the proposition this time around would be "our" proposition, we can set the timing - we don't have to react to a proposition presented by the other side. Waiting allows us to raise more money, to educate the electorate, to finely craft our message, to build the organizational structure we need for the campaign, and, (every analyst mentions it) to allow more older voters to die and be replaced by younger, "what's the big deal?" voters.

In fact, that last issue may be the only real argument for waiting, because waiting also gives the other side more time to raise money, and craft their message and build their organization, and so on; it's not like we're going to catch them by surprise.

But if our real strength is in generational turnover, rather than education or organization or what have you, then there's also not much reason to wait. Older voters will continue to die off whether we fight and lose in 2010, or don't fight at all. So we haven't hurt our chances in 2012, and we might win.

And in my position as a faith leader, not a political operative, the question is clear. Justice deferred is justice denied. Californians are dying every day never having had the benefit of having their relationship recognized by the state they live in and pay taxes in. Gay kids are spending their formative years with the message that they are second class citizens. GLBT persons are being violently attacked by folks encouraged in their hate by a government that doesn't see us as real people. A political campaign, even a losing one, serves to illustrate that injustice and the real damage done to real human lives. It's not my role as a person of faith or an activist to say, "wait until later."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GLBT folks as full respected citizens

The Matthew Shepherd Act continues to work it's way through Congress as an amendment to a Department of Defense Bill. The bill has now been stripped of the fighter plane funding that Obama has said he would veto. But the bill still faces opposition from Republicans and a challenge from the ACLU which seeks broader free speech protection than in the current Senate version of the bill.

Hate Crimes legislation seems to have two goals. The first is to make sure that all people are protected by current criminal laws, regardless of their sexual orientation. Great idea, but we don't need Hate Crimes legislation to do that. We simply need to enforce existing laws equally. What's required for that is a cultural change that you can't mandate by law: society viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

The second goal is to punish crimes more severely when they are motivated by animus to an entire group of people. That sounds like thought crimes to me, and I don't buy the argument that all GLBT persons are victims whenever one of us is gay-bashed. In any case, increasing the punishment of a single criminal doesn't serve the underlying goal of increasing respect for GLBT persons. In fact the greater time in jail would likely have the opposite effect. Once again the underlying goal, impossible to mandate by law, is a cultural change viewing GLBT persons as full respected citizens.

If the goal is affirming the full and respected citizen status of GLBT persons, Hate Crimes legislation is not only ineffective but hypocritical while DADT and DOMA are still on the books. The most effective way to enact the required cultural change of viewing GLBT folks as full respected citizens would be to start treating us as such under Federal law. Allow us to marry. Allow us to serve in the armed forces. Allow the public to see their GLBT neighbors as full citizens, with the Federal government modeling that attitude not undercutting it.

Sunday in Santa Paula

My church in Santa Clarita got kicked out of our usual worship space on Sunday. The Senior Center where we rent space is doing some remodeling which required knocking down the east wall of the room we use for worship. So we decided to join one of our neighboring churches for worship and Santa Paula, about 40 miles to the west was able to accomodate us. My sermon is here.

The Santa Paula conregation was very gracious. And their building was a treat for us. Dedicated in 1892 as a Universalist church the building is in a Gothic Romanesque style and boasts impressive stained glass windows.

I spoke to one of the church members about the layout of the church. The worship room is square with the entrance in one corner and the pulpit at the other corner with the center aisle running diagonally across the space. I told the church member I had seen that layout once before in a Methodist church in Mogadore, Ohio where my parents were born, and he told me that he had heard that the architecture was based on something called the "Akron Plan." So that made sense, Mogadore being an Akron suburb.

But I did a little research and it turns out the Akron Plan has nothing to do with the diagonal aisle. Instead, The Akron plan refers to a style of church architecture, first used by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Akron Ohio, where a large central room opens by means of sliding doors on to several smaller classrooms. This allows the Sunday School superintendent to monitor all the classes from a central location and to gather all the students together in the large room for school functions. The Santa Paula church has the one large worship room and two smaller spaces to the sides, one room now used as part of the worship space, the other separated behind a large sliding door they use for their coffee hour.

concert in the evening

Saturday night Peleg and I went downtown with a friend of ours and his young daughter to catch a free concert on California Plaza as part of a summer series called Grand Performances (on Grand Avenue in LA). The show was a Cuban singer named Albita. Great show. And I liked the music. But the songs did start to sound all the same to me eventually. If I spoke Spanish I would probably have discerned more variety. Or maybe not.

The summer free concert in the park series is such a staple of American culture. I remember walking with my parents up to the community college in Santa Monica to sit in their amphitheater and listen to music and have a picnic. It was great to do that again.

We ate burritos we bought at the Grand Central Market. And I sipped Jack Daniels from a plastic cup.

wedding in the afternoon

Saturday afternoon I officiated at the wedding of a young couple from my neighborhood. The wedding was held on the grounds of Greystone Mansion, in Beverly Hills. This is a beautiful old building that used to be owned by the Doheny family, a family with oil money.

There's a connection between the Doheny mansion and my own house in a circuitous way. Old man Doheny's business partner had a daughter named Daisy, who married an old silent film actor named Antonio Moreno. Moreno had been a successful leading man in silent films but was reduced to bit player status after talkies came in because his Spanish accent was too thick. So he married Daisy and then used her money to buy property in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles - then called Ivanhoe. He built a mansion for himself and Daisy on the top of the highest hill and then built several houses in the area, including mine, on Moreno Drive.

The wedding was beautiful. And a lovely location. But very hot, we're having a heat wave in Los Angeles. It was pretty to look out at the congregation and see dozens of pink and green parasols passed out by the wedding coordinator to protect the guests from the sun.

garden in the morning

First Unitarian Church Garden Celebration from Ricky Hoyt on Vimeo.

Saturday Peleg and I spent the morning at a little street fair on Francis Avenue, the street behind First Church, LA. The occasion was to celebrate a neighborhood garden that the church had helped start 13 years ago. One year ago the City of Los Angeles used money from a proposition approved by voters to create pocket parks in the city, to purchase the land that the church had been renting from the owners for $1 a year. The city then turned management of the garden over to an organization called the Neighborhood Land Trust. Saturday's street fair was a celebration of the first anniversary of the new arrangement.

The garden is a gem. Although the whole program was in place long before I arrived as the minister I'm really proud to have our church involved. It's exactly the kind of church and neighborhood partnership that I'm hoping we will have more of.

Here is the text of the speech I gave as an invocation at the street fair.

Francis Avenue Garden Speech
July 19, 2009

Good morning. My name is Ricky Hoyt. I am the minister of the big church around the corner on 8th Street, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. I am proud that it was members of my church, working with this community, who were able to get this garden started several years ago. And I am very pleased to see that the garden has lasted all these years, and the garden has thrived, and today the garden looks better than it ever has with the generosity of the City of Los Angeles, and the management of the Neighborhood Land Trust, and the partnership of all of you who come to the garden, and work for the garden and love the garden.

I am proud to know that my church has been a partner with this neighborhood in making this garden happen. I am proud to know that my church continues to be involved in this garden as a partner with all of you. I want you to know that my church wants to continue to be a partner with you in other ways as well. We will look for other projects that we can do together. And I want you to think of the First Unitarian Church on eighth street as a place that belongs to you, where you can come for your events, where you can come to find tutoring for your children, where you can come just to rest and to pray. I hope that you will visit us soon.

I’m proud that our church could help get this garden started because my faith tells me that in the midst of our lives we need places like this. In the midst of our city we need places like this. In the midst of a crowded neighborhood where there are so many people but it’s so hard to know our neighbors, we need places like this.

We need places where we can come together with our neighbors. We need places where we can sit in the cool of the evening. Where we can enjoy the sounds of children playing in safety. Where we can smell the earth and growing things. Where we can listen to the soft conversation of our friends.

We need places that are open to the sun and the sky and the rain. We need places that remind ourselves that our food doesn’t come from the store but it comes from the earth. We need places that remind us that there is dirt under our feet, not just concrete. We need places that remind us that we share the earth with other animals, like the chickens who enjoy our garden as much as we do. We need public places where we meet people who aren’t like ourselves: people from different cultures; people who were born in different countries; people who speak different languages; and where we learn more about what it really means to be human in all that ways that people live.

It is from places like this that a true neighborhood is born: a neighborhood where we can work together to achieve big goals; a neighborhood where we can know each other and surround ourselves with friends instead of strangers; a neighborhood where we help each other, giving what we have, and receiving what we need. It is from places like this that we go on together to create more beauty and more joy and more health.

With one place like this we then begin to look around us and see more opportunities to create another gathering place, and another; to plant a tree, or a whole street of trees; to clear space along the street to plant flowers or to set up a bench; to re-paint a building; and fix the broken windows; to pick up the trash when it accumulates; to paint a mural.
Inspired by the joy we feel in this one place that good feeling then starts to spread to other parts of our lives. We are happier in our homes. We are happier in our jobs. We do better in school. We smile at the strangers that we pass on the sidewalk. We find it easier to hold out our hands to help a friend in need.

Today we should be proud both of what we have already accomplished with this garden, and also eager to let this garden be only the beginning of a movement that will eventually transform this whole neighborhood into a kind of garden: neighborhood garden where instead of growing tomatoes we grow friendships; a neighborhood garden when instead of growing beautiful flowers we grow beautiful people; a neighborhood garden where today we have planted the seeds here in this one place, and years from now, when the seeds have grown into full maturity, we will have the rich harvest of joyful lives.

Thank you all, for being here today. Have a wonderful morning. Make a new friend today. And God bless.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cycling, broken wrist, where I have heard this before?

I couldn't help but cringe in sympathetic agony at this picture of Levi Leipheimer with a broken wrist, the same right wrist that I broke in a cycling accident a little more than a year ago.

Leipheimer had been fourth overall in the Tour de France until he fell just short of the finish line in the 13th Stage. Poor guy. He's one of the cyclists I've been watching as he's long been a teammate of Lance Armstrong's. Leipheimer has won the local Tour de California three time. I'll be curious to see how he recovers. My own wrist is probably as healthy as it's going to get but I have not regained the complete range of motion I had prior to the accident.

Lance Armstrong remains in third. I'm wearing his LiveSTRONG band on my left wrist. I think I'll switch it to my right wrist and see if it helps the healing.

Conflicted about Hate Crimes

It's hard not to be excited about the passage of Federal Hate Crimes legislation - or should I say the passage of an amendment to a Department of Defense bill that also funds F-22 fighters and that Obama has said he will veto, even though he supports the Hate Crimes legislation (talk about conflicted). I'm certainly pleased at the Federal expression of respect and concern for GLBT persons (we don't get a lot of that at the Federal level - and even this one had to be hidden inside an entirely different bill). And I appreciate the clear statement that GLBT persons have the right to live unmolested lives free from violent attacks.

But there also is the problem with Hate Crimes legislation: the violent acts that are subject to Hate Crimes are already criminal acts. Hate Crime circumstances add further punishment only because of the particular motivation of the criminal: additional punishment not for what they did but for why they did it. That moves into the realm of punishing thoughts, which is a disturbing idea to me.

It certainly bothers me to have a car-full of thugs yell "faggot" at me on the sidewalk as they drive by in their car. But that's their freedom of speech, which I support even when repugnant speech. It may even frighten me if the same incident happens late at night as I'm walking away from a gay bar. But still the speech shouldn't be a crime unless there's some evidence of an actual threat of violence. And if the guys do get out of the car and attack me with baseball bats I want them arrested and tried and punished for the attack not for the words they're yelling or what they're thinking but not saying. I can't imagine that I would be any more hurt or frightened if they were yelling "faggot" than if they were yelling "Unitarian" or "Dodger-fan" or saying nothing at all. So why punish them more severely for one word than for other words or no words?

The argument I've heard to support Hate Crimes legislation, is that because the attack is directed at a class of persons (all faggots) rather than a particular person, that the crime is different from an attack motivated by robbery or choosing a victim at random. All GLBT persons are victims of a hate crime, not just the person being beaten, and therefore the punishment needs to be harsher.

But the argument that when a gay bashing occurs across town I'm somehow a victim while I'm sitting comfortably at home, makes no sense. The attacker is targeting that gay person, not all gay persons (although any gay person could have been the victim). A robber is targeting that person's wallet, not all people with wallets (although anyone would do). A psycho bent on random violence is targeting that random person, not all people (although it might have been anyone).

The Hate Crimes designation affords special protection but it also comes with the implication that GLBT persons are special victims and it is time for our community to reject that roll not to further embrace it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Yesterday I had a miserable headache. I had spent the day on the computer. A long day at the First Church office working through a variety of meetings and issues. Lunch at my desk. Not really any dinner. Then a class in the evening. The headache came on while I was in the class and lingered as a came home. I went straight to bed and fell right asleep at 10:30 but at 1:19 I was awoken by a barking dog and realized that the headache hadn't gone away and now I couldn't fall asleep again.

I got up and took two Advils. That's usually enough for me but after lying down and trying to get comfortable the pain still hadn't gone away a half hour later. I got up again, really tired but unable to sleep, and took two more pills. I felt pressure behind my right eye, and stiffness in my neck also on the right side. The light from the digital clock beside the bed was painful for me to look at so I covered it up with a magazine. It felt a little better if i stood and tried stretching my hands over my head, and rolling my head from side to side. Finally I got back in bed and tried to lay as still as possible. And sometime around 2:30 I fell asleep again.

And woke up this morning feeling fine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

sales tax hike

The sales tax in Los Angeles County is now 9.75%. It went up a half a cent yesterday due to a voter approved measure to support local transportation projects. I voted for it. I'm happy to pay it. Well, not happy, but you know.

9.75% is higher than San Diego (8.75), or San Francisco (9.5), or Santa Barbara (8.75). Alameda County (East Bay) has the same rate as Los Angeles County.

Local cities can add their own taxes on top of the county rate. Several small poorer communities in LA County to the south and east of the city have rates of 10.25% (Inglewood, El Monte, Pico Rivera).

Santa Monica and Beverly Hills to the west are both at the county rate, 9.75.

planting today

Peleg and I wanted a fountain in our front yard and some friends who had recently bought a house had a fountain in their yard that they didn't want. So they gave it to us, and I set it up. It took some doing as it's very heavy, and I had to figure out how the pump works and how to connect it. Eventually I got it going and it worked fine and looked good.

But it was never really satisfactory for more than a day or two. It required regular maintenance to clear out leaves and so own, and adding new water periodically, and now and then even with the fountain running I would find mosquito larvae in the big bowl at the bottom and have to drain the whole thing.

So earlier this week I decided on a new plan. Yesterday I removed all of the upper portion of the fountain (three bowls that pour into each other) and took out the frame they're attached to and the pump, leaving just the big lower bowl. Today I'm going to buy some dirt and turn it into a planter.