I would like to take the opportunity this week to share some news from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington. After a several-year process of study and reflection, we are pleased to announce that the Fellowship has recently been recognized as a Welcoming Congregation by the Unitarian Universalist Association, meaning that we welcome the presence and participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people in our congregation.
Our inspiration to take this step of formalizing our welcome of GLBT people comes from our principles as Unitarian Universalists. As a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we "covenant to affirm and promote," among other things, "the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; [and] acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations." This language comes from the Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which describes this covenant among UU congregations.
Affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person means that we seek to honor and celebrate the uniqueness of every individual human being. There are many ways we do this in our Fellowship. Welcoming and including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks in our congregation is one way to live out this Principle. GLBT people often face dehumanizing messages in our society, GLBT youth often report bullying, and GLBT people experience many kinds of harassment. As a Fellowship, we hope to counter these messages of hate with our affirmation of the worth and dignity of GLBT people as GLBT people in the fullness of that identity.
GLBT people also face many forms of institutionalized discrimination. While Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York (the states from which our membership is drawn) all recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, to date only 12 states do so, and these marriages are still not recognized by the federal government. Some 26 states allow employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 30 allow employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity. These are just a few of the many areas of discrimination which affect the lives of GLBT people.
As a Fellowship, our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion in human relations calls us to work against such discrimination and to work for a world in which GLBT people -- as all people -- are treated fairly and compassionately by the structures and systems under which we live.
I find it interesting that our third Principle brings together acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. To me, this means that we believe that in order to grow spiritually, we must first feel accepted and loved as we are.
It also means that we seek to give people ways to deepen their personal faith journeys, faith journeys which grow out of our own experiences and identities as unique human beings, even as we support and learn from each other in the community of faith. Becoming a Welcoming Congregation means realizing that the unique faith journeys of GLBT people are, in part, shaped by the experience of being GLBT people. We welcome among us the perspectives that GLBT people bring to the questions of spirituality and faith, which arise out of their experiences as GLBT people.
As a Fellowship, we are proud to formalize our welcome of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of our congregation. We are proud of our designation as a Welcoming Congregation, recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Rev. Erica Baron, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington.