by Bethany Lowe, Social Action Director & Youth Program Director at Concord’s First Parish Church
Members and friends at First parish believe that it is our religious duty to actively support more rights for all persons. Rev. Howard N. Dana, Senior Minister at First parish, says, “As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that making the world a more peaceful, just, equitable place is part of our religious duty. We join with people of faith all around the world who also seek to aid their fellow humans and who work to stop the environmental degradation of our planet.”
We have a history of showing our commitment to individual freedom and collective support. Open Table, a community supper which has been held at First parish on Thursday evenings since it was founded 20 years ago, is distinctive because it doesn’t ask questions of its guests, it simply offers a meal. While Open Table is not a Unitarian Universalist program, this philosophy of accepting all persons, no questions asked, is one expression of First parish’s commitment to not discriminate against persons based on their situation or identity.
Showing our public support for the rights of all people is another important part of our faith. In 2004, First parish was designated as a Welcoming Congregation by the Unitarian Universalist Association, indicating that the church had made a commitment to actively create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ persons and their families. Following this commitment, in 2012, members and friends of First parish flew rainbow flags outside their homes to show solidarity with a same-sex couple in Carlisle who had been the victims of harassment.
This spring we realized that our church facilities were not welcoming to people whose gender identities or expressions do not fit neatly into “female” or “male.” All of our restroom signs said either “women’s” or “men’s.” The signs for the single-stall bathrooms had silhouettes of one figure in a dress and another in a pantsuit. We realized that we needed to provide a safer space for those who don’t identity as either male or female. This fall, we put new signs on two of the bathrooms at our church which read, “All Gender Restroom: Anyone can use this restroom regardless of gender identity or expression.”
While this is a small step towards truly including people of diverse gender identities in our church community, it is a step forward. The new restroom signs have been the topic of coffee hour conversations. We’re talking with one another and helping each other broaden our understanding of gender expression. We’re seeing that having a safe space to express one’s gender, without persecution or discrimination, is a human right.