HRC Clergy Call 2009 – Fighting for Equality

Fighting for Marriage Equality for Same Sex PartnersOn May 4th and 5th, the Human Rights Campaign held their 2nd Clergy Call symposium, gathering clergy from all across the U.S., in support of Marriage Equality, Hate Crimes Legislation, and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.  (ENDA)  When I performed Eden’s wedding, I met a wonderful young man, named Peter, who was working as an intern for the HRC, and he invited me to attend.  I had no idea what I would experience, but I knew that this was a cause that was near and dear to my heart, for several reasons, so without even a 2nd thought, I raced home, signed up to attend, and made my flight arrangements, in conjunction with Leigh’s wedding in NC.

So, on Sunday morning, after the wedding, I continued my trip into DC.  I specifically left myself an entire day to do some sightseeing, so you can only imagine my disappointment, when I realized it was cold and raining upon my arrival – and that’s the way it would stay – until the minute I headed home for Florida. But, having been pushed and squeezed to the limits with my schedule, it was actually a great thing that I was able to rest up beforehand, because the next 2 days would prove to be completely overwhelming.

On Monday morning, we all showed up for registration at the Calvary Baptist Church.  We were greeted by none other than the Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Minister from New Hampshire, that delivered the invocation to President Obama’s Inauguration weekend.  The speaker lineup of the day was incredibly moving, and though we sat on church pews from 8am until 5pm, the day flew by.  I have to admit, as a first timer at such a symposium, along with being one of the few “straight – ally’s” of the gay community, I was just a tiny bit intimidated at the beginning of the program.  I wasn’t sure if my presence would be misunderstood, or if I personally would be misunderstood, but I quickly learned – it didn’t matter, at all.  What mattered was that I was there – supporting a cause I believe strongly in, and my personal agenda – along with everyone else’s was left at the door.

At breakfast that morning, I had the exceptional experience of meeting Sarah.  Actually, Sarah and 2 other attendees and I shared a cab from the hotel to the church, but it was at breakfast that Sarah and I reconnected and we sat together, to introduce ourselves, and accompany each other for our first meal.  Sarah was incredibly open about her life, and my introduction to her opened a window to a population I really did not know so commonly existed in our world today.  Sarah is a transgender woman.  She opened up her life to me, and told me about her previous life, as a husband and father of 2 daughters, and her journey into the world of becoming a woman.  Her personal story was rich with adversity, achievement, perseverance, tenacity, compassion, despair, and joy.  I still can’t remember what was more overwhelming – the details of her story, or the fact that she was sharing them, so intimately, with me.  But, through the experience of the 2 days at the HRC program, I was glad that I got to know Sarah so personally, because I hadn’t realized that while the LGBT community had come so far in its legislation for equality, the transgender community was still stuck in the last century, trying desperately to catch up.

That night, the Schusterman Center, at Hillel, held a welcome reception for all the Jewish clergy attending.  In all, there were about 20 of us, and it was great to meet Rabbis, Cantors, and program directors from across the country – straight and gay – who came in support of this cause.  In fact, I met Rabbi Robert Saks, who is the Rabbi Emeritus for Cong. Mishpechah in DC, who was also the childhood Rabbi of Dan Feldman, the young man I just married this past weekend.  (blog to follow)

That night – we were honored by performances from some amazing speakers, singers, and poets, not to mention the Gospel Choir from Calvary Church, and I was completely blown away.  For those who know me intimately, you know that I was secretly born to sing Gospel, but have never quite had the chance.  It is the one “disappointment” I have about the Jewish faith, in that I see people so incredibly JAZZED and HAPPY and IMMERSED in the praise of the Lord, when they are singing Gospel, but in a synagogue, we don’t get to whoop and holler.  What a let down.  So, I get my worship high by going to Gospel churches, where I can safely raise my hands in the air, stomp my feet, and elevate myself, in my own personal form of worship.  It’s amazing!!  I was most drawn, however, to a young woman, a poet, named Saria Idana.  She was incredibly amazing.  She performs a work of poetry, song, and dance, and her movement was called “Jihad”.  She was born half Jewish, half Sufi, and I believe it was her personal account of her internal conflict, and it was simply amazing.  I cried through the whole performance, and wished I could watch it over and over again.

The next day, we gathered at the Baptist Church in the District, and were divided into our lobbying groups, where we planned our day to meet with aides for Sen. Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson.  I was also scheduled to speak with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s aid, but had the privilege of actually meeting Robert Wexler in person, and discussing the status and progress of the issues at hand.  Everyone we met, except for Mel Martinez was in favor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Legislation, and ENDA, but Sen. Martinez was against it.  He feels that the legislation created a special class, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Unfortunately, my blog post is already long enough, so I will just simply implore anyone reading this to research the issues, and recognize that we are all human beings, deserving of dignity and respect, and it is our responsibility as citizens to help those less fortunate – or different from ourselves.  We were not created as one nation under G-d as long as we’re “normal”.  We all have our differences, and are entitled to the safety and resources of our country, regardless of why we are being persecuted.  I encourage you to write your Senator, or Congressman/Congresswoman to let them know you support equality for ALL American citizens.  Why should anyone be left out?

So, on Tuesday night, the event came to a close.  It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life.  I have a sister who is gay, and though I completely support her, I realized I have only looked through the window into the gay community.  I live in a predominantly gay community, and though I am surrounded by the gay community every day, I am still looking through a window.  This past week, I was IN THE HOUSE.  I saw this community, of which I am not a part, but I stand proudly by, and joined them in their lives.  I experienced just a small moment of what they experience every day, and my life is richer for having had those moments.

We all deserve love.  We all deserve equality.  We all deserve protection of our most basic rights to live, work, and contribute to our communities.  As religious leaders, it was so amazing to come together, putting every difference aside, and celebrating our unity in support of the LGBT community.  My life, has changed..

Thank you Peter.  You will never know how much I appreciate being invited.  I hope I can honor you, and the LGBT community by supporting you, and continuing to lobby for equal rights for all citizens.  Thank You.

B’Shalom,

Debbi Ballard

Cantor Debbi brings warmth. passion, and an infectious smile to her ceremonies, serving Jewish-Interfaith couples and families for all of your Jewish lifecycle events in Florida, and around the world. For weddings, baby namings, Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs and spiritual worship needs, Cantor Debbi works personally with each family – no rules, just right!

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