In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a very long quest/journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith.  Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. (wikipedia.org)

Flying to Washington D.C. for the second of nine meetings with class 17 of the Humanist Institute currently has me reflecting on journeys, pilgrimages, and transitions.

I began the Humanist Institute as a way to deepen my knowledge in my religious identity as a Humanist and to increase my understanding of the Humanist movement in its broadest sense. My first session, held last August, felt like jumping into the deep end of the pool. I am meeting new people, devouring books as fast as possible, and trying to grasp the interconnections of a slew of newly learned about organizations, ideological groups, and national figures as well as all the ways these overlapped and intertwined.

This time around I feel a greater sense of taking the next step on a journey, reconnecting with new friends, and a sense of visiting an important site of one of my personal connections to humanism, the headquarters of the American Humanist Association (in fact the first humanist organization I joined when I began to shift my identity from atheism to humanism).

What began for me as a personal educational process augmented by interaction and discussion with others of similar but complementary viewpoints is becoming much more about building a new community that stretches from coast to coast. I am seeing the minutiae of the freethought/atheist/humanist spectrum and the ways that these differences both give this movement strength as well as challenge.

The other part of this time is one of personal transition. It is between the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas widely celebrated in the US and in my own families. It is also a time when I am leaving a position in a Unitarian Universalist church I have held for the past three years to take on a new position at a small private university. My relationship to the Unitarian Universalist movement is in flux, but it will grow into something different. My relationship to the humanist movement is also changing as I begin to connect to the local secular humanist organization Humanists of MN and deepen my connections to the Humanist Institute and related organizations.

While all of this is going on I have also been reflecting on my changing level of connection to national movements versus state level and local ones. In the past year I have started working with national LGBT organizations as well as national humanists organizations.  In both of these spheres I have observed the tension between the local organization and the national vision of what the movement should do and when (look for an article expanding on this soon).

I look forward to 2011 with continued study within the Humanist Institute, a new position in Alumni Relations, and shifting focus in my freelance work. Building connections seems to be the continued theme personally, professionally, and philosophically as I continue my journey through the Humanist Institute.

I Wanna Get Paid for This! 7 Step Plan Toward a Nonprofit Career

This past weekend I presented at the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference. I have close ties to the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance, the group that hosts the conference and many of the organizers were asking me about how I got involved with nonprofits and if I’d be willing to present to college and high school students about how to get engaged in the sector.

I hesitated at first, but the more I reflected on my process I realized that there were seven distinct steps I used in my process in getting engaged in the nonprofit sector.

Here they are:

1) Knowing You

What issues or topics get you most excited? What social issues are you most passionate about? When you think about solving those social problems, what kind of solutions get you so excited the hair on the back of your neck stands on end?

2) Campus Matters

What activities do I participate in on campus? How do they link with what I want to do? How do I leverage campus activities to gain experience in the area I want to work in?

3) Know who? : Your existing network

Who do you know that is leading a career in the sector you most admire? Who in your network can offer stories about their success? Who can you get together to ask questions about the field?

4) Knowing who? : Building your network

Who do you want to be in relationship with? Are there people that are leading careers that you admire but don’t necessarily know? Are there presenters, speakers, bloggers you want to have conversations with?

5) Volunteer

Get off campus. Get engaged with a nonprofit that is related to the work that really gets you passionate. The folks in #3 can probably help you find places to plug in. Once you’ve volunteered there for a while, ask for more responsibility to gain the skills you’d like to develop. Volunteer gigs can also help you meet the folks you thought of in #4.

6) Do your homework

This can include reading blogs and books, attending events or research topics relevant to your areas of interest. Doing your homework can also help you build your network and find places to plug into volunteer opportunities and internships.

7) Know Your Hang-ups

What are some of the things that stand in your way? What about this process makes you nervous or holds you back? Make a list of things that you feel may be holding you back, then map out some strategies. Knowing what holds you back can build your confidence.

If this is something a group you work with wants to explore more, send me an email FromOurPerspectiveBlog@gmail.com to schedule a workshop presentation of “I Wanna Get Paid for This! Building your Nonprofit Career”.

In the meantime, here’s a list of places to start with for “Doing Your Homework”

Buy the book, “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 5o Ways to Accelerate Your career” by Trista Harris and Rosetta Thurman. Click the image to the right and buy the book right now!

Or do some poking around on any of these websites:

Blogs I love:

www.TristaHarris.org

www.RosettaThurman.com

www.allisonj.org

www.minnesotarising.org

All things nonprofit in Minnesota:

www.mncn.org

Places to search for jobs and internships:

www.jobs.change.org

www.idealist.org

Colonization, Liberation and our Queer Bodies

Let me start by saying this, my synopsis of last night’s keynote at the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference will not even be able to come close to capturing the power with which Coya Artichoker, Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz and Susan Raffo successfully wove together stories of colonization, movement building and a daring vision to liberate our queer bodies.

I sat in the center of the room wide-eyed as I listened to these three incredible women describe their journeys, their histories and how they came to understand how inextricably bound their liberations were, both with one another and with everyone in the room.

To call what these three shared with us last night a keynote would be doing it a disservice. It was story telling, it was movement building. Their story began by reminding us that this land we stand on has a bloodied and painful past. The ground Augsburg College was built on is Lakota and Anishinabe land. Before Minnesota was colonized, before the founding of the United States a whole history and culture was being shaped; since colonization it has been slowly and systematically chipped away at.

These three dared to dream with us about a bold vision for liberation. A bold vision that is rooted in the reality that we live our days on colonized land, a vision that refuses to exclude any body, regardless of how complex it may be.

They dreamed with us about a social justice movement based on universal design where those most marginalized with complex histories set our agendas. They shared that when we center those complex experiences, “all boats rise.” We all stand to benefit when we build a movement based on liberated bodies.

The story challenged us to think about what liberation looks like and how we can transform our LGBT movement into a broader based more inclusive struggle toward justice.

Coya, Lisa and Susan called us to return as a movement to community organizing and base building. We’ve lost sight of what it means to build a vibrant and mobile network of people that stand in solidarity with one another. Instead, we choose to be shortsighted focusing on narrow single-issue politics.

Like I started with, my words and reflections cannot even come near the powerful story telling these three did last night, but if you want to explore their work more, check out these links and join me in pondering these questions:

How can queer folks explore more deeply the implications that colonization has had on our LGBT movement?
In what ways can we create spaces to dream a bold vision for social justice based on collective liberation and interdependence?
How can we move our work back toward organizing and base building?

Lisa’s writing on Bilerico
Susan’s writing Bilerico
Coya’s writing on Bilerico

The 5th annual Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference kicked off last night with a fierce round of introductions that honored the history of the organization and made a clear statement about the organization’s politics of intersectionality.

The evening began with an inspiring welcome from board chair, Scott Anderson. Scott challenged this weekend’s attendees to push themselves not to leave this weekend and return to business as usual, but to use the weekend as a chance to build skills and new networks aimed at broadening our LGBT agenda to one that includes racial and economic justice, immigration and sovereignty as central to our queer work.

Scott described the work of the Minnesota Campus Alliance as, “transforming our state campus by campus throughout Minnesota and helping people to live their full and complete lives.” (The Minnesota Campus Alliance has trained 3,000 people from 50 campuses in three years, across the Midwest.)

He shared the successes of the organization and called for attendees to get involved and become leaders in the organization. Check out the Get Involved information here.

Following the welcome was the Minnesota premiere of the film, “Two Spirits.”

TWO SPIRITS interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.

Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. But the place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to live, and Fred became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at sixteen. Between tradition and controversy, sex and spirit, and freedom and fear, lives the truth—the bravest choice you can make is to be yourself.

A post-film Q&A was hosted by Two Spirit activist, Richard LaFortune. LaFortune appears in the film and travels the country telling the story of Fred Martinez and raising awareness of Two Spirit identities.

Richard LaFortune, also known as Anguksuar, or 'Little Man' Photo by Anne Hodson

He shared with the audience the origin of the term Two Spirit, a term that emerged in 1990 as a result of years of conversations and community building across North America. Prior to 1990 the term was not widely used across First Nations communities.

Two-Spirit People (also Two Spirit or Twospirit) — an English term that emerged in 1990 out of the third annual inter-tribal Native American/First Nations gay/lesbian American conference in Winnipeg — describes Indigenous North Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. The mixed gender roles encompassed by the term historically included wearing the clothing and performing the work associated with both men and women.

A direct translation of the Ojibwe term, Niizh manidoowag, “two-spirited” or “two-spirit” is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. The term can also be used more abstractly, to indicate presence of two contrasting human spirits (such as Warrior and Clan Mother) or two contrasting animal spirits (which, depending on the culture, might be Eagle and Coyote); however, these uses, while descriptive of some aboriginal cultural practices and beliefs, depart somewhat from the 1990 purposes of promoting the term.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_spirits

There are many terms to describe a spectrum of gender identities across First Nations languages. But, the term Two Spirit has been claimed by a wide variety of First Nations queer folks.

1988 marked the first international gathering of Two Spirit communities and that gathering just so happened to take place in our hometown of Minneapolis. 20 years later, the gathering was held in Minneapolis once again building on the rich history of Two Spirit organizing happening across the continent.

One inquisitive audience member asked LaFortune about Two Spirit individual’s relations within First Nations communities. At one point, he turned to Coya Artichoker. Coya spoke eloquently about her experiences navigating queer communities. She named racism within white queer communities as a larger and more prevalent issue than homophobia in First Nations communities in her life. Coya linked the startlingly high rates of domestic violence against women in native communities with the colonization of first nations peoples. Coya named colonization as a key issue for First Nations peoples to work through in order to reclaim the more free expressions of gender and sexuality that were originally core to native cultures. Coya also spoke to the startlingly high rates of domestic violence against women in native communities and how colonization not only contributed to but is believed to be the impetus of this violence. Stay tuned to FromOurPerspective for more posts, including a recap of the keynote where Coya will be speaking along with Susan Raffo and Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz later tonight!

Scott Anderson, Co-Chair of MN GLBTA Campus Alliance Photo By: Anne Hodson

Welcome! I’m Scott Anderson, chair of the board of the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance.

On behalf of the board, MOCC planning committee and all the volunteers thank you all very much for being here for our 5th annual Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference.

The Minnesota Campus Alliance seeks to create welcoming and inclusive campus communities through education, training, skills building and ally and leadership development. We’re transforming our state, campus by campus, providing communities with reframed definitions of gender and sexuality and tools to end all forms of oppression including sexism, racism, heterosexism, abilism and all other systems that keep us from being our free and complete selves every day.

Annually, MOCC has been one of our largest organizing tools, providing a space for hundreds of campus and community activists to hone their skills and build a statewide network aimed at transforming the experiences of folks living, learning and working at institutions of higher education in our state.

I can hardly believe it was five years ago that a small group of us were brainstorming in the library at Metro State University about what to name this conference and the potential impact this organization could have across the state of Minnesota. And now, look at this. More than 500 attendees, volunteers and presenters from 5 states and 40 different colleges registered for what is certain to be the greatest Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference to date.

Whether you’re a MOCC veteran or a first timer this weekend is sure to inspire you, challenge you and provide you with new skills and new networks to move your campus communities into action around a broad social justice agenda that recognizes racial justice, immigrant rights and economic justice are indeed queer issues.

The Minnesota Campus Alliance is a volunteer run organization and we have been lucky to have phenomenal volunteer leaders take up the challenge of running this organization during the past 5 years. This weekend, as is tradition at MOCC every year, we will seek new board members and new leaders to engage in our critical statewide work. The organization needs a range of skill sets from event planning and logistics to financial management and fundraising to training and facilitation. Please visit the information table or seek out anyone with a board member tag or volunteer tag to have a conversation about getting more involved. Inside your program booklets are board interest forms. Please take some time this weekend to review leadership opportunities with the MN Campus Alliance. As our organization grows it will require new leaders, fresh ideas and a variety of voices, identities and experiences to shape our strategy as we move into the next five years.

No welcome speech would be complete without a series of thank you’s. An innumerable amount of thanks go to Augsburg College and Mike Grewe for hosting us here this weekend. Let’s hear it for Augsburg! The team here at Augsburg has been phenomenal and the success of this weekend will be in no small part attributed to their outstanding work here on campus.

Also, a huge shout out to the MOCC planning committee and MN Campus Alliance board for their hard work, dedication and leadership in making this weekend possible. Thank you to all of our workshop presenters and caucus facilitators your skills and talents are truly reflective of the vibrant diversity of activism represented regionally and nationally.

And I personally want to thank Anne Phibbs for her visionary leadership. It was Anne’s vision that brought people together in 2006 in a basement classroom at the University of Minnesota which lead to the formation of the Minnesota Campus Alliance.

And to our keynotes and featured presenters this weekend, Coya Artichoker, Kenyon Farrow, Richard LaFortune, Susan Raffo and Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz we are humbled to have such incredible movement leaders gathered with us as we reflect on broadening the depth and breadth of our statewide campus work.

Our larger LGBT rights movement hasn’t always created a space where we can explore a truly intersectional, multi-issue agenda but your thoughts, actions and visions have pushed all of us to look more critically at what our movement priorities can be.

This is my call to action to all of us in the room: use this weekend to move beyond business as usual, to embrace the opportunity to shift our movement from a narrow definition of LGBT rights to a movement that centers the experiences of those most marginalized and one that leaves no body behind.

Thank you again for being with us this weekend and please welcome founding members of the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance.

FOP Note: Look for a post this weekend from one of the co-chairs of the 1st MOCC, FOP’s own Alfonso Wenker, about the history of the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference!

We are excited that FOP will be the official blog of the 2010 Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference.

MOCC is the annual conference of the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance.

MOCC is a conference for all students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members from around the state of Minnesota and surrounding region to discuss issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and ally (GLTBA) communities on college and university campuses and in the greater community. Attendees will have an opportunity to network and meet one another; talk about issues and topics that are being faced on campuses and the larger community; and be challenged and learn valuable skills around building coalitions, fostering activism, and developing leadership through a lens of social justice.

Kevin and I were both active with the organization during college and at this year’s conference he and I will be presenting a handful of workshops. We are both excited to debut collaborative projects with our friend Becky Saltzman. Becky and I will present a workshop we’ve developed on effective facilitation tools for cross-cultural leadership. Kevin and Becky will lead a conversation called “Beyond Welcoming Churches: Faith Organizing with non-Christian Identities. Additionally, I will be presenting a workshop called “I Wanna Get Paid for This! Building Toward a Nonprofit Career.”

We have also been asked to tweet the keynote and caucus sessions. You can follow the conversation on Twitter @campusalliance and #MOCC.

The conference has a fierce line-up of keynote speakers, all of whom I consider to be LGBT movement leaders, movers and shakers. The theme of MOCC this year is “Uniting for Justice: A Deeper Look into Race, Economics and Immigration in GLBTQ Communities”. I couldn’t think of a better team of folks to take these issues on in a real and powerful way.

Here’s the line up!

Coya Artichoker is a founding collective member of the 2-Spirit First Nations Collective. They are a Collective that are working towards building a stronger political presence for 2-Spirit folks within the national dialogue of queer rights. The Collective works with four other sister organizations to develop curriculum and training for the Racial and Economic Justice Institute day at the Creating Change Conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Coya has recently been featured as one of the “40 under 40” leaders making change in the Advocate magazine. She was also named one of the “20 Most Powerful Lesbians in American Politics” by David Mixner.

Kenyon Farrow has recently taken over as Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice—an organization dedicated to organizing, research, and advocacy for and with low-income and working-class lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. He has been honored as one of the “Movers and Shakers” in HIV/AIDS Activism in the African-American Community by The Body.com, was named as one of Out Magazine’s Out 100 for 2008, and is in this year’s Advocate Magazine’s “40 Under 40” LGBT Leaders in the United States.

Susan Raffo is particularly drawn to the interconnections of trauma and oppression in both our individual bodies and our collective bodies. As part of this, Susan cofacilitates with Heather Hackman a workshop called, “More than Skin Deep: Uprooting White Supremacy One Cell at a Time” that looks at the deeper implications of white supremacy for white people. Susan is the editor of Queerly Classed: Gay Men and Lesbians Write about Class(South End Press, 1995) and Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability (with Victoria Brownworth, Seal Press, 1995).

Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz is a co-founder of Intersections/Intersecciones Consulting with Lisbeth Melendez Rivera. From 2005-2010, she served as the director of capacity building for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. As the first staff person to be hired into this role, she actively embedded racial, economc and disability justice work into building stronger movement organizations. Weiner-Mahfuz’s writings can be found in Colonize This! Young Women of Color and Feminism (Seal Press, 2002), Fireweed Magazine’s “Mixed Race Issue” (Issue 75), and through on a Web-based project titled BustingBinaries, which she co-authors with Ana Maurine Lara.

I can’t wait to get tweeting and blogging for this incredible conference! I hope you’ll join me in the online conversation.

So you like your current job, but don’t see yourself there in five years? No problem. The thing you need to think about is what you WANT to be doing in five years. Look online for job descriptions that you want and focus on the Experience/Qualifications Sections of the jobs. If the position doesn’t exist in your current organization you can create it. The biggest thing you need to do is demonstrate why the position is worth while to have in your current organization. The biggest roadblock will be money, your organization likely won’t be able to promote your or change your position from what you were hired for and make your dream job.

The way to do it is to take on more. I know, in non-profits that is always what happens. The “other duties as assigned” or ODA is really a second or third position when it comes down to it. What I am advocating is embracing the ODA but adding these other duties to your job description. Create categories in your job description. Each annual review propose an updated job description. The things you add should start to look like the job you want in a few years. Of course, at each review advocate for pay increases based on these increased responsibilities but the other goal here is to increase your proficiencies in a paid position. You may already have these skills or be developing them on the job. You may volunteer for organizations and do these things which are great, but there is a world of difference to employers between the “volunteer” and “work experience” sections of your resume. (Side note: if you CAN’T work what you want to do into your current paid position/positions, having it in your volunteer section is a great step in the right direction).

Another thing to advocate for after increased pay and updated job descriptions is a new title. Even if you don’t get that raise, you can get a “promotion” and this looks great to future employers. If you go from Publication Assistant to Communications Coordinator to Director of Outreach and Marketing for the same organization in a number of years and don’t make a cent more this is bad for you, but worse for your employer. The next job you apply for shouldn’t be an assistant position, it should be a director. Your raise may not happen within the place you learned and developed the skills, your raise happens with the next interview process. Think of the current job as a job/paid internship. You are being paid for the level you came into the organization and while you may be frustrated at the lack of “corporate ladder” movement, you can focus on the next job which will be a big jump.

Finally, develop those leadership and management skills. The easiest way to do this within an entry level position is to manage volunteers. Even if you position doesn’t currently do so, you can find some way to involve volunteers in your position. If you do front office work, try to organize front desk volunteers. If you manage mailings, start a mailing group to help collate, organize, and do the various steps to get the mailing ready. If you are involved in development organize the group that does calls or door knocking. Anything to show that you can manage people, help lead a group to success, and show that you would be able to do so with paid employees that would manage in a higher up position in the next organization you are employed by.

So the steps:

  1. Find you dream job and list the qualifications.
  2. Take on the tasks in your current organization that will give you said qualifications.
  3. Move these new skills from other duties as assigned to documented parts of your job.
  4. Advocate for increased pay based on these new proficiencies, updates to your job description, and a new title.

Once you have the skills, the title, the job description as close to what you want to be doing, apply for your dream/next step job. One last thing I would do is before you transition out of the organization try to have the demonstrated new position created within your current work environment. Some organizations might see the added value and want you focusing on that full-time. If your current employer can’t make that happen it is okay, be thankful for the chance to develop the skills and move on. The reality is that Millennials/Gen-Yers are showing increase job shifts than previous generations. We also want our jobs to be not only profitable and pay our bills but meaningful and “going somewhere.” The idea of having the same static position for five, ten, or even longer is not what the up and coming workforce is looking for. Embrace this and still be loyal and open about your process. If your applications result in a job offer this can be discussed with your manager. You can always show that you have a competing offer, explain that you love the place you work, and if they can meet it that is awesome. If they can’t you’ve got your dream job, and can start to think about where you want to be in the NEXT five years.

Our Analysis Needs More Complexity

A couple of weeks back a good friend of mine sent me this article.

The article essentially argues that LGBT folks shouldn’t be lumped together because there is nothing linking us. My friend knew the article would spark my interest, not because I agree, but because I definitely have a strong opinion about the lack in analysis our communities have around gender.

My whole point of view is this: LGBT people are lumped together for a lot of reasons. The major reason for me centers on the fact that what we do with our bodies challenges societal norms. That is to say, when folks are born we’re labeled as male or female and with those labels come a whole set of expectations and demands. Lots of these expectations are around things like what we wear, who we are affectionate with and how we present our bodies. As LGBT people we push the boundaries around how we use our bodies. Even a simple act like two men holding hands challenges societal norms about how a “man” is expected to use his body.

The article is frustrating for me to read, but not surprising. I think there are a lot of folks that fall into the LGBT spectrum that don’t understand why we’re lumped together. For a lot of my gay and lesbian friends their sexual orientation is really simply about whom they love. For me, it’s more complex; it’s about being a person whose body has been policed his entire life, it’s about for most of my adolescence trying to force myself to try to act like a regular boy, it’s about consistently being punished by teenage boys for how I carried my body, pronounced my words and showed affection.

And my LGBT identity, my desire to find queer family and my slightly left of left politics stem from a life experience that has shown me a need for LGBT folks to build collective voice, shown me a need to recognize how experiences of marginality are linked and begin to demand for collective liberation and a time when we can all begin to understand the gravity with which MLK said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere”. My ability to be my whole and complete self rests on my recognizing that so long as women are raped, so long as genocides continue, so long as young queer boys keep killing themselves I am not fully free.

This brings me to my analysis of the recent media coverage of LGBT teen suicides.

The thread that’s tying these acts of violence (bullying) and acts of desperation (suicide) are deeply rooted in a culture that rewards and punishes folks around how they use their bodies. From day one our bodies are policed, coded as male or female, and forever forced to conform to what folks expect of a male-bodied or female-bodied person. Transgressions to these expectations are punished. As young boys we are taught to police other boys so as not to have our masculinity threatened. We are taught over time that violence, both physical and mental, is the appropriate reaction when someone is using their body in a way that threatens what it means to be male or female.

The narrative is older than any one of us can imagine. A power dynamic has been created where we have given agency to violent policing of the body. It’s engrained in us.

Until we learn new shared meanings around how folks are allowed to use our bodies, until we disrupt a deep rooted historical narrative, until we stop expecting effeminate 12 year olds to “be strong and power through”, people will continue to die.

I cannot accept the fact that bullying just happens. It’s taught. And has real and devastating implications. We need to work toward new meaning about our bodies and demand that we all have the power of self-determination around how we carry our bodies.

I don’t give to charity.

Well, I suppose I do in the technical sense. I give gifts to nonprofit organizations and receive a tax-deduction for it. But that’s not why I give. I give for really specific reasons, to really specific causes.

I like to think of my personal giving not so much as charity but as social change philanthropy. I think more young people; especially those of us that work in nonprofits should begin to frame our personal giving as social change philanthropy.

We all have causes we care about. We all have things we want to see changed in the world – so why aren’t we giving our money to those causes? There are a few specific social justice causes near and dear to my heart – LGBT justice, reproductive rights, racial justice and HIV/AIDS. It is important to me to give to social justice and social change efforts because these groups are often the most underfunded and under-resourced.

I am very careful about where I give my money though. I want to make gifts that are both significant to me as well as have an impact. However tempting it may be to throw $20 at every sob story I hear or every flashy brochure that comes to me in the mail, I don’t – I have a plan.

When I was serving on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation, I prioritized my giving to them. I set aside a portion of my monthly income and had that deducted from my paycheck once a month. If you’re serving on a board, they should be your giving priority. I gave to them because they are organizing local communities every day to protect a woman’s right to choose, they are educating folks about reproductive justice issues and they are changing hearts and minds each and every day.

I give to the foundation I work for because I believe in their mission. I am fully invested in the work we do and I feel strongly that nonprofit staff should make gifts to the groups they work for as often as they can.

I am hesitant to give to national groups, but I do give to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, because they are working to build an LGBT movement that’s inclusive of racial and economic justice and they work in local communities to build our power to win.

And lastly, I ride in and give gifts to the Red Ribbon Ride because this ride supports both direct-service and education/advocacy organizations in the state of Minnesota that work to end social stigma around HIV and ultimately end HIV/AIDS in our state.

I have a giving plan. I know how much of my annual income I can give to nonprofits and I have a list of the nonprofits/causes I want to give to. I also have a “reserve” so I can attend events that friends are hosting for their favorite nonprofits as well as give to the occasional well-played pitch story that comes my way.

Do you have a giving plan? Do you have clear reasons why you give to the groups you give to? If not, why?

It only takes a few minutes to plan your giving. Think about your income for the year and how much of it you can donate. Make a list of causes dear to your heart or nonprofits whose work is making the changes you want to see in the world. Decide how you’ll split the amount you can afford among these groups and stick to it. Nonprofits will appreciate your consistent giving and at the end of each year you’ll have a better sense of what your gifts are accomplishing. Start your personal social change philanthropy plan today.

If you’re looking for more resources on making a giving plan, check out Tracy Gary, her work is terrific! www.inspiredphilanthropy.org

Around the age of fourteen I began to realize the way I viewed the world was quite different from most of my peers. It was around this age that I started to think of myself as gay. I didn’t come out until I was eighteen but I had a clear sense of my sexuality by this age. I also knew my sexuality could cause problems for myself, so I chose to keep that part of my identity largely hidden through my secondary school years. It was also at this age that my sexual identity and my involvement within a conservative Christian faith became irreconcilable. Once, in confirmation class, I joined two friends in questioning what we were being taught that it provoked the pastor into storming out the room. It was around this point that I saw my perspective simply was no longer compatible with the faith system of my family. I was confirmed about a year later, and the next day I left the church for good.

After that point I have spent quite a few years trying to figure out what I believed, not what I should believe. I landed on atheism fairly quickly. I continued to read about other faith systems, but I didn’t find anything that really appealed to me. Some areas of study that fascinated me included earth-based spirituality, the old mythologies, the new/redeux Wiccan movement, and others. Such studies intrigued me intellectually but didn’t work as a belief system.

Along with my religious studies I found organizations to participate in within the LGBT community. Community organizing and working within non-profits that were helping to strengthen the LGBT community were a way for me to pair my values and my identity with finding a rewarding career path.

After college I also began to revisit my religious viewpoints, and I found them wanting. I had formulated a strong identity around my sexuality, yet there still lacked a compatibility between my sexual and religious identities. I would never identify my sexuality by what I was not (I do not identify as “not-straight” for instance) so why must the religious component of my life be based on a negative identity — that I didn’t believe in god?

I did some research and reading to find something that worked while being honest to my worldview. What I found was humanism. Humanism, as defined by the American Humanist Association, is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. As a humanist I was also looking for community and a place to continue to learn and grow. I was looking for a religious community; just one without god.

You might be wondering “if there isn’t a belief in god, why have a religious community?” or “isn’t god really the point of religion and religious communities?” I would answer that while god or gods are oftentimes a crucial part of the religious service that a belief in god isn’t the only reason why religious communities happen. The real driving factor in religious life comes down to an ability to connect with other people; not god. Many faiths have ways for the individual believer to connect to their deity, so why travel to a building to be with others who share your beliefs? It comes down to that very human craving for community – to have people to come to when you experience both crisis and joy. I may not believe that people praying for me will help solve my problems, but I still want other people to be with when I am in need. It truly makes me feel better to know they care, and people help others in very real ways when something goes wrong.

Not only is there opportunity to help when an individual is having a problem, but through community there can big an impact on larger issues: homelessness, natural disasters, or environmental issues. Religious community also creates a way to raise children in a particular ethical environment. All of these things have very little to do with a deity and everything to do with human beings interacting with each other, trying to work together through a world where things sometimes go awry.

The religious home I found was a Unitarian Universalist congregation that specifically identifies itself as both Humanist and Unitarian Universalist (UU). This particular flavor of UU community (First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis) meets all of my needs. It is a place where theological questions can be studied and discussed, yet it isn’t there to tell you what to believe. It is also an open and affirming place to LGBT individuals and families and works for change in the Minneapolis area on a variety of social justice issues.

Beyond finding a place to connect with people around what I believe, I found a place to make friendships and support causes that I believe in. During this process I also found the Humanist Institute, a national graduate program working to create leaders within the humanist movement. Through this program I am deepening my knowledge of humanism, theology, philosophy, and developing leadership skills.

What amazes me today is how more and more people are finding the spiritual path that works for them; not the one that worked or didn’t work for their parents and grandparents. A tremendous number of people in the United States now change their religious affiliation at least once in their lifetime. For more information about this and a good introduction to current Humanism, I invite you to read Good Without God by Greg Epstein. I hope this means that people are working to find what works for them, and I hope more LGBT people are doing this as well. For too long we have been a community that works for change in secular society, often shutting down conversation around the theological areas of our lives. I believe this comes from the poor treatment many of us have received from religious communities and the very loud religious right. I must continue to remind myself that there also exists a religious left. They are our allies and they are members of our community and our movement.

I hope that our LGBT communities can embrace the secular and religious sides of people’s identity. I hope we come to recognize the great contributions both secular and religious organizations have been making to promote our causes. Because while I believe we are more powerful when we embrace who we truly are when we come out as LGBT, I believe we are even more powerful when we can be honest about what we believe in and where we find our community of faith.