David and I were born in the same part of the country, the rural hills of Appalachian East Tennessee

. David was born 11 years before I was, but we still were born into pretty much the same culture.

The rules were pretty clear.

Go to church—even if you didn’t want to. You could be forced to go to church. It was good for you—even if you hated it.

Be neighborly. More so to people you know and of your “own kind”, but be neighborly to everyone.

Know the pecking order. Not that you could escape it. Wealthy whites. Poor whites. African-Americans, though that term wasn’t used much in East Tennessee in the 50s and 60s.

Most of us in East Tennessee belonged to the middle category. My grandmother once told me they were so poor that they didn’t know they were poor. But they did know the pecking order.

Most of us know something of the story of desegregation in Arkansas in 1957 following the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock 9, and the National Guard being brought in to help the African-American students make it safely through the school day.

What most of us don’t know is that this was the second high school to try desegregation in the South. The first was in Applachian East Tennessee in Clinton a year before in 1956. Before this, AfricanAmerican students had been bussed 45 minutes away from Clinton to Knoxville.

The Clinton 12, as they became to be known, were ridiculed, verbally abused, tormented and attacked in that year. Less than two years later Clinton High School was bombed in three different locations with dynamite.

David would have been entering first grade in a neighboring school west of Clinton when desegregation began. My mother was attending Norris High School, where she would play on the girls’ basketball team and

become homecoming queen, Norris is just east of Clinton, though Norris high school integrated after she graduated.

In 1969 we moved to Lexington, Kentucky. I would witness desegregation of the schools there like David and my mother had. Anyone has a lasting mark who lived through desegregation. It was a time of high anxiety, of knowing that the pecking order was no longer as clear. Life no longer seemed as easy for many Southern white folks.

In 1986, Kenny Rogers released a song entitled Twenty Years Ago with the line “Life was so much easier twenty years ago.” Most small towns in the American South hadn’t integrated in 1966. The pecking order was clear. The song rings of nostalgic hope to a simpler time. But for many people in the United States life was not easier in 1966. Women were clearly subordinates. African-Americans were at the bottom the pecking order. BGLT people were closeted, often married, often in pain. Those with disabilites were shut away, forgotten, and excluded from society. Interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states. And only 25% of the country thought interracial marriage was ok.

Like my mother, Sarah Palin, played on her basketball team. While not a homecoming queen, she was Miss Wasilla. The comparisons pretty much end there since my mother would never own a gun, much less shoot anything from a helicopter. Though given that I live 200 feet from the 49th parallel, I have been known to say, “I can see Canada from my house.”

But the continuing fascination around Sarah Palin reminds me of the Tennessee that David, myself, and my mother all knew.

If you’ve never been to Alaska, and Anchorage doesn’t really count, it’s like stepping into a time warp. I’ve been to Alaska 8 times. I have a good friend who lives in Palmer, Alaska which you can see from Wasilla. They border each other in the Matanuska Valley. Every time I go up there, I feel like I’ve stepped back in time, back to the 60s in the South, where there was a pecking order and where life to many—at least many white, straight, able-bodied folks--seemed simpler. I think that’s part of her appeal.

There is something about knowing where you stand (if in fact you are person who can stand) that is appealing to many people. Not knowing where you stand can make life feel complicated and hard.

This was true for David. He was supposed live a nice blue collar life in Tennessee. He would get married, raise kids, shoot deer and rabbits, and have a wife who provided a lot of support. He wouldn’t be on the bottom rung.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it turned out. Married 5 times, not able to hold a job, losing some of his food stamp allotment, David watched his adulthood speed by and slip away from him. Nothing turned out as it was supposed to and David probably felt people stepping all over him.

So he finally decided to take action. He blamed others.

As many of you know, on July 27th, Jim Adkisson, known as David, walked into the Tennessee Valley UU congregation in Knoxville, intending to take out some of the liberals he blamed. The liberals who

were spoke up for bglt people, the liberals who had worked against racism, the liberals who worked to change the pecking order and make it more liberal.

David Adkisson had at one time been married to a woman who was a member of the congregation. He had gone to the UU summer camp with her in Virginia, SUUSI.

I talked with a lesbian friend of mine who remembered him from SUUSI. She described him as creepy. I reflected how many people I have known and met who could be Jim David Adkisson, or at least shared his beliefs. Growing up in Tennessee and Kentucky, there were and are a lot of people who feel like they’ve lost their place in the pecking order and feel like there must be someone or someones to blame.

I also couldn’t help but know that he and I have the same Appalachian roots, saw desegregation happen, saw women have more opportunities, witnessed bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people coming out. We were both dragged against our will to church as children. He would

spend his lifetime having negative feelings against the institution of the church.

In contrast, I found a church home over 20 years ago when I walked into a UU congregation in Kentucky. I found a church that had a different pecking order; one that had my back. A faith.

Now this was not a faith that everything was right or everything was done right. But I did find, and now find more deeply, that Unitarian Universalism offers a place where we are willing to explore, examine, be self-aware, be imperfect, to try to better ourselves, our community, our world.

Our intentions are good. We continue to work on our karma.

But it takes even us time.

How do those lyrics go? You know. From the Sound of Music? Ah, yes. How do you solve a problem like Maria?

It’s not every day history comes knocking at your door.

However in our Universalist history it did. Maria was a woman named Maria Cook who was the first woman ever offered ordination into the ministry. The year was 1811. The location was upstate New York. Maria was an excellent preacher, though her gender, both made people come and listen and give pause. She was treated as anomaly and she knew it. People could never see her as a gifted preacher. They saw her as a woman doing something that had never been done before. Sure, she was good, but this was not proper.

Maria was burdened by sexism, hardly a surprise in 1811. She believed the ordination offer was hardly unanimous and clearly not sincere. She tore it up. The Universalists really didn’t have her back.

Later her preaching led her to be arrested for vagrancy. Once in jail, she did what she did best. She preached to her fellow prisoners. She died some 28 years before the Universalists ordained Olympia Brown to our ministry. But she never stopped being a Universalist. She never

gave up. She, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, helped the world spin forward.

Now nearly 2 centuries later, we have more women than men in our ministry, though we still have a bit of a glass ceiling. But we’re working on it. Maria would be impressed by our karma, and, I suspect, give a really great sermon on how we’re not done yet. She’d probably preach that we haven’t solved a problem like Maria, but we’ve made a difference.

We’re a pretty cool faith.

Charlie would agree. When Charlie was in his young 20s, a gay man, he discovered the UU congregation in Bangor, Maine. Unlike much of the rest of his life, Unitarian Universalism was a sanctuary from fear. He could show up in church and be Charlie and not worry.

This was just over 25 years ago where life was not so much easier.

Walking home from church one night, several teenagers saw Charlie, jumped out of their car, called him names and chased him. Charlie tripped and his asthma kicked in. The teenagers caught up with him on a bridge and grabbed him. Intent on teaching him a lesson, they decided to throw him over the bridge into the 10 foot deep stream that runs through the middle of Bangor. Charlie couldn’t swim and drowned in the river. A service was held at the Unitarian Church and then a march to the bridge where a rose was dropped into the stream at the request of Charlie’s mother.

Hecklers heckled the marchers. A week later at the point of the bridge where Charlie was thrown over the bridge, someone had spray painted on the sidewalk, “Faggots jump here.” Clearly some people were trying to maintain a pecking order.

Charlie Howard would be my age, 48, if he were alive today. I’ve often wondered what he might have accomplished had not died.

While Charlie was my age, I feel more of a connection to Matthew Shepard. This last October marked the 11 year anniversary of Matthew

Shepard’s death. In case you’ve forgotten, Matthew was the gay University of Wyoming student who was left to die in a meadow far from anything by two men who thought they they would teach him a lesson.

They tied him to a fencerow, where he begged for his life, beat him up, took his shoes, and left. He would be found barely alive but would later die in the hospital.

I was in Golden, Colorado, 2 hours of South of Laramie, when Matthew was beaten. I went to Wyoming the next weekend, spending time with UUs and bglt people in Cheyenne, Laramie, and Casper. I stood by the fence and led a memorial service for Matthew. I listened.

And I told the story of Matthew to others. For many, including many UUs, Matthew was our teacher. At the time, I would repeatedly hear from UU congregations, “We don’t need to do Welcoming Congregation. We’re already welcoming enough.”

No one incident spurred more congregations into becoming Welcoming Congregation than the death of Matthew Shepard. I’m sorry Matthew had to be our teacher. But his death moved many congregations from intent to action and to making a difference.

I remember vividly at the time leaders of the far right, including the far religious right being asked about this, and several said they had made statements against the violence and issued press releases.

The Yes on 8 campaign in California last year raised 35.8 million dollars to pass Proposition 8. More has been raised for today’s votes in Maine and Washington.

Here’s where, as a gay man, I have hard time. The far right raised millions of dollars to keep two gay men from getting married and raised nothing to prevent them from being murdered after Matthew was killed.

No one ever asks the far right what that says about their values.

And more often than not, I don’t hear a conversation about the toll that these millions of dollars takes.

I remember about 20 years ago a friend of mine, a different David, and I had gone dancing. We liked to do it. But that night coming out of the bar, someone flashed a knife at us. Fortunately, he was far enough away and we were fast enough to make it to my car safely.

What I’ve been pondering, because part of my job is to ponder such things, is why the toll of losing on Prop 8 or possibly in WA or ME today bothers me more than being threatened with a knife and feels just as bad as losing Matthew and Charlie.

The answer I keep coming back to is this: One person with a knife feels like a given. As a gay man you always know someone has a knife or a gun. But Six million eight hundred thirty eight thousand one hundred seven (6,838,107) Californians voting against your equality is hard to take.

Most bglt people find ways to live sheltered lives. In some ways, there is something very Unitarian Universalist about that. In fact, I suspect it is a human response. We create our own version of a tribe—a haven of close people who share similar values, who find it easier to be with people in their own group. When all of a sudden your life goes on display—like on a ballot initiative, your shelter gets exposed, and people vote on your life, it takes a toll. The psychological toll, win or lose but especially if you lose—is severe.

Yet apathy and indifference are harder to deal with in anti-oppression work than any kind of obvious hate. It was harder to hear the voices of Californians who said they wished they had voted differently after Prop 8 because they didn’t know how significant the vote was and what it meant.

In some ways, the work Elizabeth Cady Stanton had to do, is much easier than the work on sexism needed today. Sarah Palin has called herself a feminist and I believe she means it. She wouldn’t have been governor of Alaska if it weren’t for the hard work Elizabeth Cady

Stanton and so many others. Yet, when Sarah Palin said she was a feminist it made me cringe—in a big way.

It really makes me cringe when I wonder if she thinks of all of the women who have gone before her who made it possible for her to be a religiously conservative female governor.

I could be wrong but I suspect she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time giving thanks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan B Anthony, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Germaine Greer, Billie Jean King, Oprah Winfrey, Joan of Arc, Gloria Steinem, Amelia Bloomer, Abigail Adams, and so many others who paved the way for her.

I wonder if she would be indifferent to the hard work that many of these women did and has any idea of the toll these women paid.

It’s not easy to talk about. Most of us who bglt would rather not. It’s one thing when someone you don’t know comes at you with a knife. It’s

another when you wonder whether the people you work with support you or even care. Especially when you can’t avoid them. It’s just hard.

There is some significant research that points to the psychological and spiritual toll that having your life put on a vote takes. There is a also some research that says this is true for also for allies.

But well intentioned allies can sometimes make things worse. Let me give you an example. The movie Milk is about the life of Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco Supervisor in the 70s, who helped lead the fight against the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6, in 1978.

Now as a teenager in Kentucky in the late 70s, I knew not only who Harvey Milk was, but he was an incredible source of hope for me. He was one of those folks who definitely paved the way.

Someone asked me if I had seen the film and I told them of my knowing of Harvey as teenager, how the film had been important to see, about being disappointed in the parts were not covered in ways that I remembered. And in particular seeing a picture of the real Harvey

Milk along with hearing his voice at the end of the movie had brought up a lot of emotion for me.

Having risked sharing all that, I got a response from the person who said, “What a powerful film…. for you.”

In all candor and honesty, I wanted to hit the person who said this. The condescending tone was every bit as infuriating as the person on the far right who says I want special rights.

I was worried that in California many bglt people would get the same sort of distancing attempts at support. “I’m sorry you lost.” This might also happen today.

I think we all lost on Proposition 8. This has happened before. People didn’t realize what we lost before women had the right to vote, or own property or get credit. Everyone loses when we don’t have equal access for people with disabilities. Interracial marriage being denied the right to marry, people of color not able to buy land—this list goes on.

Though we must not forget that from all of these things, some people reaped benefits at the expense of those denied equality.

Yet, I wonder what Charlie Howard and Matthew Shepard might have done with their lives had they not been killed. But I also wonder what Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Sojourner Truth might have accomplished if they had had equal rights. Or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, or Cesar Chavez. How might the poor, the African-American, the disabled people in New Orleans be spending their time now if they hadn’t had to deal with being seen as less than, treated unequally, forgotten. Harvey Milk referred to these folks as “the Us-es”.

You can’t help but wonder how your life wouldn’t be different if you knew your life wasn’t being voted on, if you knew who had your back, if you knew who was there with you and not at a distance.

Progress does happen. It’s a good thing. If you had told me twenty years ago that 5 states would have equal marriage and that over six million Californians voted for it, I would have thought you were

dreaming. Twenty years ago people tried to get me fired while teaching elementary school because they believed I was gay. Of course, that’s still the truth in Kentucky. I still don’t know of any out teachers there.

But like Maria Cook, we need to keep on preaching. My Unitarian Universalist faith calls on me to be a part of creating a world where we take care of the Uses—all those who have been seen as less than— whether they be women, a person of color, the poor, a person with a disability of some kind, the elderly, the young, bglt people, immigrants, and many more. Not only in my intentions, but also in my actions and in what results.

We must continue to change the pecking order. Don’t count on magic or it being easy. But count on the work being worthwhile. Freedom is coming, We’re not there yet but it’s coming.

Jim David Adkisson saw so much change happening, he blamed the allies for his perceived loss of stature, for the life he was supposed to have. I wonder if he had felt like if someone had had his back, would he have walked into the church.

Knowing someone has your back makes a difference. Having someone’s back is good karma.

I actually think I would like Sarah Palin. I just don’t think I could trust her with my back. My faith is with Unitarian Universalism.

Let’s make the world better for those who follow. Let’s make the world so much easier for those who will follow twenty years from now. Have faith. We all will win on marriage equality, immigration, ending the glass ceiling and racial justice. Freedom is coming.