Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Friday, July 25, 2014

MI Love: City Girls Soap

If you've been following this blog, you know that sometimes I am frustrated to live in Michigan. Without full access to equal rights, I worry about my family, my career, and our future. Still, that's an incomplete picture. If we had really, truly hated everything about Michigan, we could have left by now.

What's keeping us here? For many years, it was our educations and the promise of in-state tuition rates. Our families are also here. But we wouldn't be so far from our families in the Chicago area or parts of Canada or Buffalo. And there are planes and trains and cars if we were farther.

The truth is that many Michiganders are simply amazing. The community here isn't something we're guaranteed to find if we move. And problematic as things are in Detroit, there is so much beauty there. We're loving Royal Oak as well - it has a small town feel with lots of young families, charming mixed architecture, and access to good grocery stores and a farmers market (in case you haven't noticed, we're kind of foodies).

One person I got to know when Rebecca and I were working to start Urban Agricultural Initiatives of Detroit (UAID), a now-defunct non-profit attempting to ease logistics of urban farming, starting with public health and financial issues related to goats, was Amy McIntire. She and her husband started City Girls Soap, a business that uses products from Detroit to make body soap, laundry soap, mosquito repellent, and lotion that cleanse and moisturize like these products should. Best of all, the ingredient list is simple and supports local non-profits.

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit Amy at their brand-spanking-new production facility in Pontiac. They wanted to work in Detroit, but the city told them that they would not be permitted to keep the goats that produce their goat milk on the premises, something they couldn't live with. City Girls now has a great relationship with Goldner Walsh at their beautiful nursery/florist/landscaping facility. I got to love on their goats - Winnie, Sophie, and Wren - and see where the magic happens. I also purchased a rosemary lemon soap, an orange calendula soap, and a Skeeter bar (the mosquito repellent I mentioned earlier) with their three for $15 deal. I'll be picking up some of their goat milk lotion as soon as it's back in stock. I didn't purchase any of their laundry detergent, only because I haven't run out yet. It's powerful enough to remove stains, but gentle enough that it doesn't irritate Rebecca's sensitive skin.

Amy and I discussed the urban agriculture gossip going around and I got a chance to hear more background about City Girls Soap.  We also discussed some of the issues on my blog - Amy is definitely an ally. It was great to chat about these issues again - Rebecca and I loved discussing ideas related to urban agriculture and meeting like-minded people, but when she started med school and I started grad school, we were suddenly far from Detroit and too busy to seek out those opportunities. We're back now, and I have enough free time to keep up with the happenings.

You can find City Girls Soap at Eastern Market in Detroit on Sundays, at a few other places, and at their website. I hope that my readers will support this business, which is also committed in the Mitten - to local business, to sustainable practices, to Detroit, to their family, and to their goats.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let [the LGBT community] come unto me

The sermon this Sunday at Genesis the Church in Royal Oak was about prayer, and the Scripture reading was on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. This launched me on thoughts of Jesus' last days and hours.

Jesus was betrayed and denied by his followers, and yet he did not cry out. He was beaten so fiercely that others have died from the pain and violence, and yet he endured. They crucified him and cast lots for his clothes, and yet he said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The most painful, unbearable moment came when Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself and God had to withdraw His presence. At this point, Jesus does cry out, saying, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

This is the greatest pain we can know. This is the pain of separation from God, from feeling distanced from His love. If we as Christians believe that we were created first and foremost to know God, then being separated from Him removes us from our true purpose and calling. This is the worst place we can be. This fact has been the impetus for many Christians to share their faith. They know what it is to be separated from God and what it is to be with Him, and they want others to know that joy, too.

I believe that the worst sin, the only sin that can keep us from God, is choosing to reject Him. For anything else, there is forgiveness. For anything else, we can seek grace. Only rejecting grace can damn us.

While I do not believe that there is a hierarchy of sins after that in terms of adultery being better or worse than gossip or lying being better or worse than jealousy, arguably not sharing our faith with those who don't know or making choices that actively push people to reject God is a terribly serious miss of the mark.

And yet, churches continue to take positions that push the LGBT community away from the Gospel. Of course, this seems to be the intention of churches like Westboro Baptist. Many churches, however, believe that they can continue to use rhetoric condemning gays to Hell or claiming that they are sinners while believing that these populations will hear the message, attend the church, and be "fixed," redeemed, or saved. Here's the thing: whether or not you believe that the LGBT community is sinning (I don't believe that same-sex marriage is a sin, but I know many sincere Christians who do), you do not ask other sinners to clean up before they get in the shower. Very few churches refuse membership or the fullness of pastoral care to people they perceive to have habitual sins: use of addictive substances, gossip, lying, overeating, etc. I rarely see people in the process of getting a divorce, or in some cases co-habiting with a person of the opposite sex, warned that they may/should feel uncomfortable during passages interpreted by the warner to judge them, but this has happened to me. The position of many churches, that homosexuality is the worst of the sexual sins, and sexual sins are worst of all, hypersexualizes the LGBT community until only what happens between the sheets matters to their soul. While many churches are more accepting of the LGBT community than people would expect, even some of these seem not to know how to handle members of this community who visit their church. They may say things like, "It's not our place to judge" (implying that someone should be judging), that "it's not a worse sin than any other sin" (but their examples are usually murder, adultery, or alcoholism - never sins they themselves commit), or that they "love the sinner, but hate the sin" ( a statement I have never heard applied to anything other than LGBT issues). They mean well, but these are cliches that continue to judge the LGBT community and create an "us" versus "them." They otherize people who are already taking a huge step to show up at an institution that has historically discriminated against them.

I will leave you with Jesus' attitude when people push others away from Him.

Luke 18:15-17 

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

I do not believe this refers specifically to people under a certain age. Jesus wants all to come to Him. He wants His church to create an atmosphere where all can feel safe as they draw close to Him. He rejects the attitude that people must be "good enough" before they come to Him or that we should withhold privileges from people we deem sinners or unclean or inconvenient.

Put another way, let the LGBT community come unto Me, and forbid them not. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It Happened

I was on my way home from work when I saw them. The red and blue flashing lights behind me made my heart sink. No one likes being stopped by the police, but I will be particularly fearful until we can get our documents corrected.

I pulled over into a parking lot, rolled down my window, gathered my license, insurance, and registration, and waited for the officer. Here's the thing. The address on my license is wrong because we moved six weeks ago and I haven't changed it. I won't, because I just can't deal with the Michigan Secretary of State right now. I guess if it comes down to it closer to election day and this hasn't been resolved, I'll have to decide whether to bite the bullet or get an absentee ballot. My name with the insurance company is Busk-Sutton, I think. My name on my license and registration is Sutton. I've been told it doesn't matter if the names don't match because it's fine if someone else pays for my insurance. The thing is that someone else doesn't pay for it. I do. That seems confusing, and that can't possibly make a traffic stop easier.

It turned out that the officer believed that I may have gone through a red light getting off the expressway. I told him that I didn't believe that I had, but that I was sorry if I had, and that obviously it is wrong to go through red lights. I had a few things on my side. I'm white, for starters. I'm also a reasonably attractive young female. It doesn't hurt either that I'm polite (when the situation calls for it) and that I have no prior moving violations.

In the end, he reviewed the video from the intersection and said that it was actually green and it was fine. I was let off with not even a warning.

I recognize my privilege. He didn't have to review that video. The light was probably yellow, it was a judgment call, and there wouldn't have been much I could do if he had written a ticket. I had a lot of things on my side.

I also recognize my lack of privilege. Before I was out, before I was married, before my relationship was regarded as legal limbo, I didn't have this fear. I didn't wonder how much to say or how suspicious it would look. Soon, we will have enough money to get a passport card or updated passport, and I can use that for everything - except for what happened today. I've been telling myself that I don't get stopped, that I'm a careful driver, that it will be okay.

It was today. I guess I should be thankful.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Choices Have Consequences: Choosing Love

I was recently the matron of honor in my twin sister's wedding. I pondered whether I wanted to take on this responsibility for a number of reasons: it required travel to Dallas, helping plan weddings is stressful, and money has been tight. These are reasons that everyone considers in that situation. There were other reasons, though - I was concerned that my sister and her intended had bought in too much to the wedding industrial complex and were being a little zilla-ish sometimes as a result (disclaimer: Megan and Alex are super nice people with no Godzilla tendencies - I blame the wedding industrial complex that tried to swallow them up, not them personally). Additionally, things are strained with my family and I was concerned that it would be too much closeness. And finally, part of me is still hurt that no one in my family came to either of my weddings, and not going to my sister's wedding seemed like a reasonable consequence for them.

Here's the thing: I also knew that not going would mean missing an important day with my sister. She's my only remaining sibling, so I would likely never have this chance again. I ended up deciding to go. My wife and I discussed before I left that if I decided to go, I had to give up being bitter and show my sister and her (now) husband as much love as I could muster, whether or not I agreed with her past decisions and whether or not I was still hurt. In other words, I could choose love or bitterness, but I couldn't have both.

My wife was right. As I fought to love and serve, I realized the joy that this choice held for me. By the time I was in the airport on the way home, I recognized how much my family had missed out on by choosing judgment, misunderstanding, politics, and punishment over love and support. They had argued that it was my choice to be gay, or at least my choice to marry a woman, and therefore I chose for them not to come because I knew how I felt. I have concluded that it was, certainly, my choice to marry my wife - one I am proud of. However, it was their choice not to come. Their attitude that there was no alternative and that their disagreement with me had to determine their actions ignores reality. I had a choice to go to my sister's wedding, in spite of the straight privilege belief that immediate family is required to attend.

I chose to go. I chose to love my sister. I choose to love her new husband. I chose to clean her house for her, throw her a spa party, and make the bridesmaid jewelry. I chose to hold her dress while she went to the bathroom. I chose to smile for the pictures, to love on the flower girl, to sing during the ceremony and let the joy of worship fill my heart. I chose to have great conversations with other members of the wedding parties and guests. I chose to dance when people invited me to.

I got to have a great conversation with the minister who performed the ceremony. He is relatively conservative, but wanted to know my story, particularly related to my church-seeking experiences. He's genuinely interested in loving the LGBT community and welcoming them to his faith community. We may disagree on some things, but we both agreed on the most important one: that Jesus loves LGBT people and Christians should too.

Did it hurt to see my family there and realize that my wedding was missing them? Yes. I won't lie. It was incredibly difficult. Was it difficult to see the couple's own pastor perform the ceremony when mine wouldn't do mine? Of course. Would it have fixed that for me not to go? No. Do I sometimes get tired of being a model minority? Absolutely.

But when we choose to love, we are blessed. I don't mean that our circumstances magically change, necessarily. They won't always. Mine haven't really, and I don't expect them to.  But I have been blessed internally with joy, happy memories, and closer relationships, despite my initial misgivings.

For my straight friends who may have been invited to a same-sex wedding (or any other wedding they have misgivings about): I hope you will consider choosing love and support. You might be surprised to find that you're the one who is blessed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Love, Terrorism, and Flight

I cannot claim to have always had great experiences with TSA. In high school, I was randomly selected for extra searching, and I have definitely lost things out of my bag because I didn't realize they were in there and could not remain in a carry-on. I've been separated from other members of my party by well-meaning agents. And I've never enjoyed the overall process. However, this is a feeling shared with pretty much everyone who flies.

On the other hand, I have never experienced a flight when I felt like my documents were not in order. I have never really feared that if I were stopped and my paperwork were more carefully examined, I might be prevented from taking my trip. I have never felt that I needed to be extra polite to TSA agents not just because they are people doing their job, usually the best they can, and deserve respect, but because if I said or did the wrong thing, I might be delayed, detained, or prevented from flying.

I was fortunate today. I am fortunate generally. I'm White, young, pretty, regularly pass for straight, and have flown enough to generally know how things go. I also thought ahead on this issue to create the best conditions for slipping through, and I was extra careful not to pack contraband in my carry-on.

It sounds as though I am undocumented, perhaps, that my citizenship is in question. Or perhaps it sounds as though I am smuggling drugs or other contraband. Maybe you are thinking that I am trying to fly to Cuba without proper authorization. Perhaps you even think that I deserve to feel nervous.

Those are not the reasons I was worried and now feel fortunate. I feel fortunate because the only picture ID I possess has my maiden name on it. I can't afford to have my passport changed yet (soon, I hope), and the Michigan Secretary of State refuses to do it in the form of either a regular or enhanced driver's license. I've already asked about what effects this has for interstate or international travel, and was basically told that it isn't the Secretary of State's problem if I get stuck somewhere.

Here's the thing: TSA is a federal agency. Federally, I can file a joint tax return, change my Social Security card, and do most other things that married women do. So I imagine that TSA would expect my documentation to match. Theoretically, the state of Texas, my destination, should also be more interested in this information than in what the state of Michigan thinks. However, as a member of a same-sex couple, my ID is issued by the state, and Rick Snyder and Bill Schuette insist that it must be wrong. It must use the wrong name. It must ignore my legal documentation, in spite of what California says my name is, what the federal government says it is, what I believe God says it is, what my university says it is, and what my employer says it is.

Ironically, this trip is to attend the straight, normal wedding of a person who will get married in Texas but then move to another state and never experience any of this. She probably has no idea that this is even a concern. I'm going to the wedding. Hopefully I will not get stuck in Texas if a TSA agent on the other end of this trip decides to do a little digging.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

In Wedding Season, A List of Straight Privilege

This list is compiled from a number of comments I have heard from straight people about upcoming weddings or things that I have seen at straight weddings in the past. They are NOT a reference to all straight weddings NOR are they taken from one specific straight wedding. Certainly, straight weddings are not without their difficulties, and to straight couples getting married, these are real issues. I do not mean to claim that having a straight wedding constitutes a stress-free experience. Nevertheless, LGBT couples face unique challenges that I hope will be highlighted in this list.

For most straight couples:

Getting a marriage license does not require them to wait until a court makes a decision about the status of their relationship.

Getting a marriage license does not require going to another state.

Finding an officiant doesn't involve finding someone who doesn't object to their relationship on moral grounds.

Finding a venue doesn't involve finding a place of worship or hall that doesn't object to their relationship on moral grounds.

Venues, caterers, bakers, clothing salespeople, etc, don't assume that a member of the couple to be married is actually a member of the bridal party.

Guests do not attend the wedding to see what "a straight wedding" is like or so that they can claim that they are tolerant/venturesome.

RSVPs do not include judgmental notes about the morality of the upcoming nuptials.

Parents, siblings, and close friends can be assumed to come and the bride is allowed to at least occasionally be a "bride-zilla" to them without reflecting poorly on the entire sexual orientation community she belongs to.

If people choose not to come, the explanation is generally financial or reflects prior obligations.

If people choose not to come, the decision is rarely blamed on the couple's "choice" to belong to the LGBT community, fall in love, and commit to each other.

Parents may want to add additional people to the guest list.

The couple will not feel obligated to ask for permission to invite certain family members or family friends for fear of offending them or the parents with an invitation.

Once the wedding is completed, straight couples can assume the following:

The Secretary of State or equivalent will accept their marriage certificate for a name change.

State accrediting or licensing boards will accept their marriage certificate and other documentation for name change and issuing purposes.

They will automatically qualify for spousal benefits if their employer offers them.

They can tell people about their marriage/spouse without fear of reprisal in the form of employment or housing discrimination.

If they have or adopt children together, no matter what state, the children will belong to both of them.

They will not have to be concerned about how future court decisions could affect the status of their marriage.

Their family and friends will not pray for them to get divorced.

Their family and friends will invite both spouses to family gatherings and holidays.

Have another to add? Comment below!

Monday, May 12, 2014

I Can't Help Thinking that Rick Snyder and Bill Schuette Have Made a Tactical Error

On my second anniversary, I feel it's worthwhile to comment on the state of LGBT equality in Michigan.

That is to say, there really isn't any, at the state level, at least.

Marriages have been suspended while the state government spends tens of thousands of dollars on an appeal to "protect voters' rights" that in the end everyone knows will not prevail. (These same voters, if given the vote again tomorrow, would vote for equality.)

Rebecca and I have changed our names federally with the Social Security administration. We also managed to convince the bank to let us change our name, but not without sharing our story with three credit union employees, some of whom were under the impression that we had full equality. We clearly included Rick and Bill's involvement in our lack of equality. Rebecca was turned away from the Secretary of State; the state is refusing to issue driver's licenses based on our Social Security status or using our marriage certificate. In our case, this would mean going through the courts, something not available to us because we haven't been the residents of our county for more than a year. We'd have to wait until June of 2015 to pursue that, and it would be far more expensive and time consuming.

Many places want our driver's licenses to be changed to do the other changes. In some cases, a passport would do, but we don't have the money to change our passports yet. The university changed Rebecca's name based on her marriage certificate but refused to do so for me. They said they will do it when my social security card comes. I made sure to explain there too why I didn't have the driver's license they wanted, again including Rick and Bill.

Because of our story, many more Michiganders know about the oppressive beliefs and behaviors of Rick Snyder's administration in a year when he cannot take re-election for granted. The funny thing is that allowing us to change our name would not cost the state anything, or really even confer us benefits. It creates headaches for our employers who want all paperwork to match for payroll purposes - employers that Rick supposedly values and wants to help.

A song from the musical "Once Upon a Mattress" comes to mind:

It won't be long, it won't be long, it won't because it can't be long
Before our dreams come true.
I know I mustn't worry, Harry,
Still, I wish you'd hurry, Harry,
Harry, marry me.

I truly believe that by the end of 2016, and probably sooner, we'll see marriage equality in Michigan. However, just because the legislation changes doesn't mean that hearts and minds have. If Michigan is this oppressive, I question whether it is the right place for us, and eventually for our children.