By Kristy Milligan
A few weeks ago, I shared lunch with a close friend, who also happens to be a Citizens Project donor, volunteer, committee member, and former board member.
When it was my turn to give a work update, I droned on for several minutes on about our organizational priorities and calendar for the next few months. My friend paused, considered and asked the most simple, profound question.
“What does all that actually mean?”
Most cultures, ranging from ethnic to geographic to professional specialty, adopt a particular vernacular to describe the world around them. That specialized vernacular appears in the form of acronyms, jargon, and hollow, reverberating axioms that are utterly devoid of meaning outside of the shared cultural understanding.
We at Citizens Project are guilty.
It can be easy to speak and write without giving much thought to language, falling into familiar patterns, familiar vocabulary. But sometimes, our language can be limiting or limited, especially when there’s not a shared meaning between the speaker and the listener. Because we at Citizens Project strive to create shared understanding in all we do, this essay is a first step toward that lofty goal of inspiring, impactful language.
Words matter. Intention matters. I hope you’ll join us in this conversation by sharing your own words and your own meanings.
LGBT: This stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and is intended to be an all-encompassing representation of a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities. Although it has crept into our everyday vernacular with little fanfare, it’s one of our most interesting acronyms from a historical standpoint and it continues to evolve. Over the last decade or so, individuals who do not feel the standard acronym represents their unique identity have advocated for the integration of additional letters. An alternative, more comprehensive (though not exhaustive) acronym is LGBTQQIP2SAA: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous, and asexual. Occasionally, we’ll see a third a for ally, and sometimes it’s preceded by an s for straight ally. At Citizens Project, we aspire to include all people. For us, it’s not about using the perfect acronym, but it is about using language that implies respect for all people.
PPEC: This stands for the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition, the primary local collaboration between equality-loving organizations in the Pikes Peak region. Citizens Project has been a member since its inception in 2006.
GOTV: This stands for Get-Out-The-Vote and represents any activity aimed at galvanizing a group of people to vote. Some of Citizens Project’s GOTV efforts include: phone calls, door-knocking (personal visits), and postcards.
RLA: This stands for Religious Liberty Amendment. Is it a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would decriminalize discrimination against groups of people if that discrimination is rooted in theology (think of the recent flap with the bakery that refused service to a civil union couple). It also usually includes a provision that allows nonprofit organizations that discriminate on religious grounds to still be eligible for federal and state funding. Legislation of this ilk has been floated at the State Capitol for the last several years, and each year it is withdrawn. It’s characterized by alluring, deceptive language that makes it sound like it protects religious liberty, but its intended impact is anything but liberty-inducing.
CRFI: This is shorthand for our annual Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, a day-long symposium for educators and administrators on how to protect religious freedom in the schools.
Citizens Project Terminology-
When I’m introducing someone to Citizens Project for the first time, I often say the same thing: “We educate and empower people to promote and protect diversity, equality, religious freedom and civic engagement.” I’ve been using this particular turn of phrase for so long that I know that I can’t *only* say this. I have to continue on to clarify what this all means. For you longtime supporters, this may be superfluous, but I include it anyway, for our new friends.
Educate: When Citizens Project talks about education, we mean that we provide information and programs designed to illuminate key issues facing our community. Sometimes this education takes the form of an instructional article on our website (like this one), sometimes it manifests in interactive programs like our Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, and sometimes we educate through production of voter guides and forums, to give potential voters comprehensive information about candidates and ballot measures.
Empower: When Citizens Project says we empower people, we usually mean we provide people with information and tools to take action. One way we do this is through electronic Action Alerts, which alert subscribers to opportunities to get involved in decision-making. Sometimes the focus of these action alerts is on proposed legislation (with information about how to learn more and contact legislators), and other times the focus is on civic opportunities such as rallies, community-building events and more. Our GOTV work also falls into this category, as we strive to provide potential voters with the motivation and means to vote.
Diversity: The simplest definition of diversity is difference. Because they are comprised of individuals, our communities necessarily include people with differences in views, differences in habit and preference, and differences in ways of being and moving in the world. At Citizens Project, we honor each of these differences and we believe they contribute to a richness of life and society.
Equality: Equality is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.” Equality does not mean that we’re not different: it simply means that all people are born with, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Religious Freedom: For Citizens Project, this means freedom of religion. The prerogative of anyone to exercise their individual religious rights without government interference provided their religious practices neither compel others to participate nor hinder anyone else’s individual freedoms.
Civic Engagement: Literally, engagement in the community. This could look like voting, participating in programs that create community, contact with legislators, or any activity that involves human beings with a desire to make a positive impact.
Social Justice: Social justice involves creating a more fair and equitable society by addressing injustice of any kind and valuing diversity. Organizations that self-identify as social justice organizations can address one or many of a broad range of social issues in which inequality exists: focus can range from criminal justice to employment to housing to education.
Discriminate: The literal meaning of discriminate is to make a distinction in favor or against something or someone. In the social justice arena, however, to discriminate usually means to deny someone an opportunity on the basis of their real or perceived group or individual demographic status: this could include race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, veteran status, political affiliation, and more.
Enumeration: Enumeration refers to the comprehensive listing of demographic identifiers, usually in an anti-discrimination policy (to identify vulnerable, and therefore protected, classes). A fully enumerated policy might look like this: “Bullying means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act that takes place on school property, bus or off-site location where school activities are taking place, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic…” Studies show that enumeration matters, in terms of a policy’s impact.
Advocacy: For Citizens Project, advocacy almost always involves a recommendation for or against a cause or proposal. Our advocacy is frequently aimed at representing or elevating voices that are traditionally overlooked in policy-setting arenas. Advocacy is an action. It’s standing up. It’s involving. It’s raising voices and awareness in support of underrepresented views.
Pluralism: Defined by Merriam-Webster as: a situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc., are together in a society but continue to have their different traditions and interests. Pluralism is distinct from the American concept of the “melting pot,” in which differences and traditions dissipate in the greater society, because pluralism is predicated on the retention of those unique traditions. At Citizens Project, we celebrate pluralism as a superior alternative to the dissolution of diversity.
Inclusive/Affirming: This language describes a space that is friendly toward all types of people. Historically synonymous with “tolerant,” this language gained traction with individuals and communities who felt merely “tolerating” other ways of being was an inadequate approach to building real community. Citizens Project strives to create an inclusive and affirming community for all people.
Privilege: Merriam Webster defines privilege as “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.” Personal characteristics, including age, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, economic status, ability status, immigration status, and others can influence access and opportunity, sometimes without the beneficiary even knowing the cause of his or her privilege. In a recent TED talk, Justin Ford describes privilege as “access to or enjoying rights or advantages simply by membership or belonging to a certain group or identity.”
Queer: For centuries, this term was a synonym for “odd,” until the 20th century, when it was first used as a pejorative term for gay. Still an offensive term for many, queer has recently been “reclaimed” by the academic community and young people who find “LGBT” to be too rigid and binary to encompass their sexual orientation and gender identity. When in doubt about someone’s preferred self-identification, we always ask.
Gender binary: The traditional division of genders into male or female. This term can also be extended to sexuality when describing one’s attraction as either same-sex or opposite-sex attraction. Many find that the presenting of only two options is not only limiting, but antagonistic to the fluidity of the human experience.
While researching, I googled “nonprofit jargon” and came up with this incredible tool for developing absolutely nonsensical phrases using buzz language from the sector. There’s an abundance of official-sounding nonprofit vernacular out there, and Citizens Project uses a few key “buzz phrases” to define who we are and what we do.
501 (c) 3: An IRS designation for a particular kind of nonprofit with an “exempt purpose.” 501 (c) 3 organizations are characterized by their social impact (versus profit) focus, and are tax exempt. Citizens Project is a 501 (c) 3, and as a result, we must remain nonpartisan in all our activities and adhere to IRS reporting regulations.
Nonpartisan: Most simply, this means unbiased, or not supporting or opposing any political party (or candidate) over another. Citizens Project goes to great lengths to remain nonpartisan in all our activities, and especially in our voter education programs.
All this language can be enough to leave you reeling. But the bottom line is this:
At Citizens Project, we have our sleeves rolled up and are creating (we think!) a better world. You are welcome here. We want to hear and understand your language, too! Always let us know if we are speaking in jargon, with acronyms…or in any way that makes our message less strong. We want you to hear. We want the world to hear. And we want to hear you! Please help us create a vocabulary that rings loudly and clearly from peak to shining peak.
If you love Colorado Springs (and we know you do) join Citizens Project and the Pikes Peak Equality Coalition to spread the love today in our city:
- Follow the action on Twitter and use #IHeartCOS to share your own reasons for loving this city
- Change your own profile picture to the image at the right
- Take a selfie and share with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers why you ♥ Colorado Springs
- Finally check out this Buzzfeed article to see why others love Colorado Springs and maybe get some inspiration yourself!
We believe in the transformative power of language. By changing the conversation about our community, we can change our community. Help us as we shift the conversation from one of scarcity to one of abundance.
By Anya Arndt
***Disclaimer: It’s “War on Christmas”-time again, and I’m sick of it. So if you think the “War on Christmas” is a real thing, you should probably stop reading here, because I’m about to take on “Happy Holidays” as well, and explain to you why that too should be removed from casual conversation with strangers.
It’s the “Holiday Season,” and as we grow accustomed to the inundation of society with red and green, it’s sometimes easy to forget how uninclusive even a wish of “Happy Holidays” can be. The “Christmas Spirit” permeates society, and in the back corner at Target, we see a small Hanukkah section that reminds us not everyone appreciates a wish of “Merry Christmas.” But “Happy Holidays” doesn’t do the trick either. While you may be hard pressed to find someone who outwardly takes offense to “Happy Holidays,” the term still illustrates a relative lack of understanding of religious diversity in this country and of the variety of holidays celebrated throughout the entire year.
While ranking holidays in order of most important to least important in a given religion seems pretty arbitrary, if one were to go about that, he or she would find that December is actually home to only two high-ranking holidays: Christmas and Winter Solstice (Christian and Pagan, respectively). While Judaism is represented in December with Hanukkah, the eight-day festival doesn’t compare in significance to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover. Additionally, because the scheduling of Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew calendar and not the commercially used Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah doesn’t always even take place entirely in the month of December (this year, Hanukkah is from November 27th to December 5th). December is also home to Bodhi Day (on the 8th), celebrated by some Buddhists, but again, once that day has passed, “Happy Holidays” really isn’t a very inclusive greeting. While Kwanzaa is also celebrated in December, it is not associated with any one particular religious or spiritual tradition, and is not widely celebrated as a result. So if you wish someone “Happy Holidays” in late December, you are basically assuming that he or she could only be either Christian or Pagan.
To emphasize my point, I’d like to offer a brief, and by no means exhaustive, list of religions that do not have holidays during the month of December: Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam (though Ramadan occasionally falls during December depending on the lunar calendar), Baha’ism, Jainism, Shintoism, Native American religions, atheism, Zoroastrianism, etc. All of these faith traditions are present in the United States, and all of them are essentially excluded by the greeting, “Happy Holidays.”
To be fair, I will probably inappropriately wish many people “Happy Holidays” for the entirety of the month of December, seeing as it tends to be rude to not return the greeting in our society. But I do believe that it is important to acknowledge that the wishing of “Happy Holidays” is just as Christian-centric as “Merry Christmas,” albeit a bit more discreetly.
So if you really want to be inclusive, try wishing your Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak” on Eid al-Adha (In 2014, this will be October 4-5). Or maybe wish someone Jewish “L’shanah Tova” on Rosh Hashanah (September 24-26, 2014). If you have Buddhist friends, you can wish them a Happy Vesak Day (May 13th in 2014). I could go on with this list and I acknowledge that in not doing so, I’m excluding a whole host of religious traditions (but I don’t want to bore you, so I welcome you do some googling yourself to wish your friends well on their most important holidays or visit the BBC’s interfaith calendar).
My point is, it is important to understand that while the “Holiday Season” can be incredibly stressful for families celebrating Christmas, it can be incredible alienating for families who don’t. So let this serve as a reminder to be respectful of everyone you come across in the month of December, and maybe just wish them a good day, with a smile, like we all should on every day of the year.
 November 26th is thus “Thanksgivikkah,” if you will.
 I do not mean to offend by devoting little time to Kwanzaa in this piece, as it is a legitimate celebration of African heritage in African-American culture, but since it is not associated with any particular religion, it is not a “holiday” in the traditional religious sense of the word.
 While some atheists celebrate Christmas as a cultural tradition in the U.S., many do not. I am also not making any claims on whether or not atheists see themselves as part of a faith tradition by placing them in this list, seeing as some do and some do not, I am simply pointing out that atheism traditionally does not include a celebration of the birth of Christ as a spiritually significant celebration.
By Kristen R. Downs
Having moved from Washington D.C. to Colorado Springs more than 12 years ago, my husband and I had envisioned a ‘life-style’ change, from the hustle and bustle of traffic congestion and work-stress, to one of the most beautiful locations in the United States. Colorado Springs, a tourist destination, with an ideal climate for year-round recreational activities and less commute-time seemed like the perfect community. Having lived in Chicago and Washington D.C. prior to moving to Colorado, we were accustomed to diversity; the local grocery store was an eclectic mix of language and culture, and work colleagues represented diverse religious and sexual orientations. In retrospect, it seems as if we took tolerance for granted.
Now our home for over 12 years, we realize that Colorado Springs has a reputation for lack of community investment and a civic intolerance for funding programs that do not have a tangible direct personal benefit to the taxpayer. Whether parks and recreation budget cuts, lack of investment in diverse social programs, or slashes to education and public safety; all have a direct effect on the economic vitality and building of sustainable community in Colorado Springs.
If Colorado Springs is to attract young entrepreneurs and families, it needs to seize the opportunity to ‘create community’ now. Exposure, civic involvement and embracing diversity are fundamental to community investment. Passivism will not suffice. The creation of community and the celebration of diversity in Colorado Springs are dependent on us. Each of us can build the kind of community we dream of. In our families, our organizations, institutions, and neighborhoods, we can insist that we won’t remain isolated from those who are different from ourselves. We can transform our neighborhoods, institutions, and local government into equitable, tolerant, and diverse communities.
Four years ago ‘community’ was celebrated every Wednesday night in America the Beautiful Park, at the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Hundreds of families of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds gathered during dinnertime, listening and dancing to hours of free outdoor live music while children played in the Julie Penrose Fountain and on the playground. Families became acquainted in a celebration of diversity under the shadow of America’s mountain, Pikes Peak. Those weekly concerts provided exposure to the heart of community, the beauty of our city, and displayed community investment, civic engagement and volunteerism. Concert attendance grew until the program ended in 2009. As concerts are rekindled in Acacia Park on Saturday evenings this summer, Colorado Springs has the opportunity to expose citizens to affordable outdoor activities which enhance its quality of life. You can affect change; bring your family, invite your neighbors and invest in thriving cultural activities essential to a vibrant, sustainable community. Let’s learn from cities like Austin, TX, one of the fastest growing cities for young professionals, celebrated by its community as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and proud of its eclectic and diverse lifestyle.
Young professionals want to locate to communities that embrace social justice and respect for diversity. Colorado Springs must recognize differences in religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic backgrounds to help create a climate that welcomes differences and inclusivity. Each group has a unique strength and perspective that the larger community can benefit from, and by bringing diversity into the center of civic activity, new creative ideas can be used to solve tough problems. We need to make national headlines celebrating diversity and culture in Colorado Springs, while developing community leaders who are representative of our entire population.
How can we involve our children and create a sustainable, growing, culturally diverse and prolific community? Recently, my 10 year old asked why our downtown church is open and affirming of all people, yet other churches and organizations are not accepting of gays and lesbians. As a family, we discuss how all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders and families deserve equal protections and rights. Our four children attend a public Montessori school and the Hillside Community Center because there is a fervent respect for diversity, individual equality, deep-rooted community spirit, and a representation of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Our family celebrates a diverse community by attending local concerts and pride parades, participating in community service, and volunteering to raise funds for local civic minded causes that give back to our community. We want to instill a sense of community, civic responsibility and cultural respect in our children for a lifetime. We believe Colorado Springs is worth the investment and we can all make an impact to ‘create community’, one family at a time. What will be your contribution to the sustainability and vitality of our community?
“In Good Faith” addresses questions about beliefs, family and culture
Starting in May, leaders within the faith community of Colorado Springs will be contributing to a new column in the Colorado Springs Independent.
The bi-monthly advice column, “In Good Faith,” will debut on May 1st and will feature a candid but civil exchange between the Rev. Ahriana Platten, minister at Unity in the Rockies and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. The Rev. Benjamin Broadbent, senior minister at First Congregational Church, will engage Daly later in the month. Continue reading
by Ken Burrows
Reflections on How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom by Jacques Berlinerblau
“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance. Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” — James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, 1822
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” — John F. Kennedy, speech in Houston, 1960
“The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” — Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, dissenting in Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985
“Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion.” — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, interviewed in Hamodia magazine, 2009
As the quotes above suggest, something has happened over the last couple of centuries, and even in the last half-century, to the concept of church-state separation as seen by America’s leading voices. How did this come about and what might it mean for the future? If it’s a trend, is it inexorable?
This past year Jacques Berlinerblau attempted to answer such questions in his book How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. One of its main theses is that secularism—defined by him as a philosophy wherein the state does not establish a religion or embrace an official preference for any—is in peril, and this peril is owed to extremism on both the right and the left, to both the fundamentally religious and the aggressively irreligious. In fact, in what may sound contradictory, he contends it is religious moderates that offer one of the best hopes of saving the secular state from demise.
On Saturday, April 6, 2013, Citizens Project proudly presented the fourth annual Citizens’ Religious Freedom Institute, a one day seminar on how the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects religious freedom in public schools. More than 40 teachers, students, parents, administrators, staff, and school board members joined us for a day of learning.
Photos courtesy of Glenn: Continue reading
by Ken Burrows
For many months now, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for employers’ insurance policies to cover contraceptive drugs and services, the Catholic Church has taken vehement exception to this requirement. Churches themselves are exempt from the mandate, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) insists the requirement forces certain Catholic-affiliated entities (e.g., hospitals, universities, social service agencies) to violate their conscience, apparently on the assumption such entities share (or should share) the same religious objection as the church to contraception.
A February 2012 pastoral letter from Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the topic spoke of concern for “the reverence for conscience.” The following month another letter from Cardinal Dolan referred to the right “of any faith to define its own teaching” and the right of every person of faith to not be forced to “violate their conscience.” The April Statement on Religious Liberty issued by the USCCB asserted that religious freedom goes beyond freedom to worship and must also guarantee “respect for freedom of conscience.” The day after the presidential election, Cardinal Dolan wrote a letter to President Obama congratulating him on his victory while also reminding him, “We will continue to stand in defense of … our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom [emphasis in original],” which presumably also includes, as the USCCB said, freedom of conscience.
So it’s clear that the Catholic hierarchy, in pressing this issue, is claiming a deep and enduring moral certitude in its opposition to contraception. That’s what it means to say something is a matter of conscience. It seems equally clear the church is insisting there is both a personal and an institutional conscience to be safeguarded. For even though the church’s language frequently refers to the contraception mandate violating a person’s conscience, the Affordable Care Act certainly does not mandate any contraception usage by an individual. It merely requires only that contraceptives be made generally available by an institution. Yet this is what the church adamantly opposes, thereby ascribing conscience to the institution as well. One might even interpret that to mean the church believes institutional conscience overrides personal conscience, because the church’s position makes no exception to allow for contraception insurance to be provided to individuals in these institutions whose personal consciences would not be violated by it.
On the basis of claiming this institutional, conscientious opposition to contraception, the church now seeks to withhold contraceptive insurance coverage to persons who live beyond its own congregation walls. That’s an extraordinary contraction of individual freedom for the church to try to impose, so it is fair to ask: Is the church’s position here substantive and genuine enough to warrant that? Just how deeply conscientious is the church’s opposition to contraception? How morally urgent is it? Or to ask it in a more pointed way: Is this opposition more about conscience or about control?
A walk through history serves to confirm these are valid questions to ask. Continue reading
Wednesday, February 27
6:30pm – registration & networking
7:00pm – program
Colorado College, Armstrong Hall – 14 E. Cache la Poudre
Tickets: $10 for adults and $5 for students (kids are free but must have tickets), may be purchased online at: http://rdf-ticketing.myshopify.com or in person at the Colorado College Worner Center or in person at EvolveFISH – 5744 N Academy Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO 80918 Continue reading