Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Fort Worth’s Brite Divinity School Makes Top 20 List of Most Sexually Healthy and Responsible Seminaries

Fort Worth, Texas – According to the prestigious Religious Institute, Brite Divinity School has won a berth among the Top 20 “Most Sexually Healthy and Responsible Seminaries” in the United States.  Brite, a non-sectarian progressive divinity school on the campus of Texas Christian University, is the only institution of theological higher education in the Southwestern United States to make the cut by fulfilling the criteria set out by the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, based in Westport, Connecticut.  The rest of the Top 20 honorees are located in the North, on the Eastern Seaboard, and in California.  For the full list, click here.

This achievement puts Brite and the other 19 seminaries and divinity schools in the front ranks of addressing sexuality issues in the formation of religious professionals, according to the Religious Institute’s website.  Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Executive Director of the Religious Institute, said that the seminary list represents hard work and commitment on the part of each school in partnership with the Institute.  Though seminary education in the past offered virtually no help or instruction to prospective religious professionals in sexuality and sexual diversity, the landscape has changed in less than two years.  Haffner said, “These twenty seminaries are the vanguard in ensuring that tomorrow’s clergy are prepared to minister to their congregants, and to be effective advocates for sexual health and justice.” 

Brite was cited for instituting “a full-semester course on sexuality and pastoral care issues; has revised their community inclusion statement to be inclusive of sex, gender identity, and orientation; and requires all field education supervisors, students, and lay committees to address sexuality-related training needs.” In addition, the Fort Worth school has created a model for seminary-wide dialogue with Christian denominations on the ordination and authorization of LGBTQ people for religious leadership.

The Carpenter Initiative on Gender, Sexuality and Justice was inaugurated at Brite in October 2011, and named openly lesbian Rev. Dr. Joretta Marshall as its first director.  A grant of $250,000 over five years will advance teaching, dialogue and programming on sexuality and diversity.  Speaking at the Inaugural Service on October 4, Dr. Marshall, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling at Brite, said to a packed chapel, “For justice work to be carefully done, we must listen most clearly and closely to those whose very souls are at risk by the spirit of hate and rejection they experience in their churches.”  Dr. Marshall said that matters of sexuality and justice at Brite flow from “the recognition that God loves all people.”  She went on to say, “Being disruptive agents on behalf of justice requires support, both individual and collective, and the Carpenter Foundation and Brite are reminders that institutions can shape change.”

Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, an openly gay member of Brite’s faculty, is the 18-year Director of the Field Education and Supervised Ministry program that teaches practical ministry to all Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Arts in Christian Service (MACS) students on the Fort Worth campus.  Reflecting on this milestone in sexuality education and ministry, Dr. Sprinkle said, “While much more remains to be done in the areas of diversity and sexual justice at Brite, this honor gives us a moment to pause and thankfully remember the courageous LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff, who worked so hard for equality and sexual wholeness in what many would consider a difficult part of the country.”  

“Brite stands in sharp contrast to the world’s largest Southern Baptist seminary, just down the street from us, where reparative therapy for homosexuality is still thought to be appropriately Christian,” continued Sprinkle, who founded and directs the Unfinished Lives Project to combat anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. “Given the unique way Bible, church, and theology have been misused in American religion to justify anti-gay discrimination and physical violence, the work of all these top seminaries to break the link between religious-based sexual bigotry and faith leadership is one of the most important things they do.”

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court

Tracey Cooper-Harris, highly decorated Army veteran, denied spousal benefits because she is lesbian

Los Angeles, California – A highly decorated lesbian veteran of the U.S. Army is being denied disability benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed an important lawsuit to challenge DOMA on her behalf. Tracey Cooper-Harris served with honor in the U.S. Army for 12 years, and received an honorable discharge in 2003 after having received more than two dozen medals and commendations.  But because she married a person of her own sex in California, a perfectly legal marriage still in force, the United States government is denying her and her spouse Maggie equal disability benefits to those heterosexual spouses are receiving.

Cooper-Harris, who achieved the rank of Sergeant for her service in Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was diagnosed in 2010 with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disabling disease of the brain and central nervous system for which there is no known cure. Government doctors determined that Cooper-Harris contracted MS as a result of her military service. Faced with a daunting future, she is trying to get her affairs in order as any responsible spouse would. Cooper-Harris received individual disability benefits, but since DOMA is still federal law, the government says that she and her spouse are not eligible for the spousal benefits her service truly entitles them too–all because of anti-gay discrimination, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

Cooper-Harris said, “I dedicated 12 years of my life to serving the country I love. I’m asking only for the same benefits the brave men and women who served beside me enjoy. By refusing to recognize our marriage, the federal government has deprived Maggie and me of the peace of mind that such benefits are meant to provide to veterans and their families.”

The federal lawsuit, Cooper-Harris vs. United States, filed February 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the laws governing the Veterans Affairs policy that denies equal treatment before the law for Cooper-Harris and other married same-sex persons in the nation. Christine P. Sun, Deputy Legal Director of the SPLC, said, “The government’s refusal to grant these benefits is a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian service members who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our freedoms. Especially given the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s shocking that the federal government continues to demean Tracey’s years of service and the service of many others in this way.”  The case is being litigated on Cooper-Harris’s behalf pro bono (at no charge) by the SPLC.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, California, DADT, DOMA, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Social Justice Advocacy, Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DOMA Discrimination Against Lesbian Army Veteran Challenged in Court


%d bloggers like this: