UUA’s sexuality work gets mixed report

The Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization formed to advocate for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society, shared her organization’s new report, “Toward a Sexually Healthy and Responsible Unitarian Universalist Association,” with General Assembly participants Friday afternoon.

The report is the result of a year-long review of all of the UUA’s sexuality-related policies, programs, and advocacy work. It makes several recommendations. Among them are these:

  • That the UUA create a new staff position, Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice;
  • That it “reinvest and recommit” to the Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education program as well as the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns; and
  • That it improve “how the UUA understands, defines, and responds to sexual harassment and misconduct.”

Haffner, who is also the endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, Ct., presented her report first on Tuesday to the UUA Board of Trustees. Friday was the first time the report, released in May, was explored in depth.

In a nutshell, Haffner said that the best work the UUA does around sexuality issues is its OWL program for middle schoolers, the fully inclusive way it embraces gays and lesbians, and its work on marriage equality.

On the downside, OWL curricula for other segments of the UU population, including adults, should be improved, said Haffner, and the UUA needs to greatly improve its sexual harassment prevention and response programs and increase the amount of sexuality education required of candidates for ministry. She said it also needs to be more inclusive of transgender people and other people who identify not as gay or lesbian, but along a scale of gender identity and sexual orientation.

She said that different groups within the UUA have different guidelines as to what constitutes harassment and how to respond to it, and how to deal with allegations.

In other findings, she noted that about 70 percent of our congregations do not have a “safe congregation” committee. About one-third don’t have a written safety policy. Most congregations—78 percent—have no policy as to what to do if a sex offender joins the congregation.

A third of congregations don’t screen their staff, and 84 percent don’t screen babysitters, even though older teens often prey on younger children. “You cannot let people work with children if you do not really know who they are,” she said.

One interesting finding: Smaller congregations are doing some of the best work on GLBT issues. “If you think about it, in places like Minneapolis there might be six places that queer kids can go for support,” she noted. “But if you’re in the middle of Iowa then you’re the only game in town.”

Haffner’s study was funded by a grant from the UU Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. The institute recently received a second Veatch grant which it hopes to use to publicize and promote its study within the UU universe.

One Comment on “UUA’s sexuality work gets mixed report

  1. Thanks for covering this Don. One correction — it is not the OWL curricula I'm concerned about — I think it's the gold standard (although it could be updated.) It's that by in large congregations are only teaching at the middle and high school level. Very few congregations use the K-1, young adult, adult, or parent curricula, and only a minority use 4 -6. I'm preparing the report for online publication, and it will be ready soon!