Forum, January 2016

Editors: Given the strong response from readers around getting involved in the movement to end mass incarceration (covered in FJ Dec. 2015), we want to bring your attention to the review of Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow by Daniel Hunter on p. 34. As reviewer Patience A. Schenk writes, “If you are wondering what to do after reading Alexander’s book, this one will help you get moving.”


Friends respond to refugees

In response to the plight of the mother and children refugees from Central America described in “Convergence” (FJ Oct. 2015), readers have sent close to $10,000 in donations.  The RAICES Bond Fund has been able to bring freedom and hope to many families held in detention in Texas. On their behalf, we are deeply grateful.

Friends Meeting of San Antonio (Tex.)


Ways to peace

In his article “A Quaker Meme Project” (FJ Nov. 2015), Keith Helmuth attributed the saying “There is no way to peace; peace is the way” to A.J. Muste. Many years ago someone attributed it to Gandhi, and I at that time thought it was A.J. Muste. However since, Catherine Whitmire in her book Practicing Peace attributes it to Emily Green Balch, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. She comments in an endnote as follows: “Lawrence S. Apsey remembers A.J. Muste attributing these words to Emily Green Balch in Following the Light for Peace.”

Rich Van Dellen
Rochester, Minn.


There are two errors in my article, “A Quaker Meme Project. I wrote that American Friends Service Committee created and displayed the banners with the A.J. Muste quote. This was, in fact, a project of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I also said that A.J. Muste was not a Quaker but was a “friend of Friends.” I have now discovered he joined the Religious Society of Friends in March of 1918 and became an enrolled Quaker minister at Providence (R.I.) Meeting.

Keith Helmuth
Woodstock, N.B.


Religiously neutral

I don’t think use of the terms “First Day, Second Day, Third Day,” etc. are necessarily anti-pagan, though they may be used that way (“Allow Me to Introduce You, Witches and Friends,” FJ May 2015). I think of them as religiously neutral language but also as plain, unornate language. I’m thinking the principles of Quakerism that are applied to Christianity can be applied to any faith tradition. Like, isn’t Sunday whenever the sun manifests itself most gloriously? Why do we have to set aside a “holiday” for the sun?

Daniel Ballow
Indianapolis, Ind.


Population and family planning

Thank you for the issue on Reproduction and Family Planning (FJ Sept. 2015). I ask Friends to think outside U.S. boundaries. Uncontrolled population growth is in the Global South.

I work as a volunteer in the public health clinic one day a week here in rural Honduras. Our poor women want to control their fertility. They do not want to bear 8 to 14 children as their mothers did.

When the public health clinic does not receive Depo (three-month injection) or birth control pills from the government, the Monastery buys them from Planned Parenthood: Wholesale prices are $2.50 for three months of either method. This year we had pills but no Depo. We could buy 50 in one month when the demand was for 200 a month.  It’s all about money. We were so strapped that we were unwilling to buy birth control at retail prices ($4 per shot). A woman’s co-pay at the clinic is 50 cents.

Friends, put your money where your mouth is. Yes, write minutes. But if a minute is not accompanied by a hefty donation, it is just empty words. This is a problem that is 75 percent about maldistribution of resources. Throw money at this problem; you will make a difference. Act outside of your national borders.

Hermana Alegría del Señor
Limon, Colon, Honduras


Quaker readers


I appreciate the Friends that like to read the Quaker saints, but lately, I have enjoyed reading other books that affirm my faith. Reading the history of western philosophy, or books titled How Jesus Became God and The God Theory, helped me see this faith is not as an aberration of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but the Light’s continued emergence through time. As much as I loath to say this, many Quakers’ narrow focus on Quaker authors doesn’t serve the body well. Thanks for reading, if so led.

William Hendricks
Minneapolis, Minn.


I ask Friends to read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, beginning with the prose introduction and focusing particularly, but not exclusively, on “Song of Myself,” a hymn to humanity at its best. This work is my gospel (my psalmist being Emily Dickinson and my prophet being Adrienne Rich). The poems in Whitman’s work, the dark and the light, offer beauty, hope, love, and fulfillment. The older I get, the more true and sustaining the words become. He’s “the poet of the body, the poet of the soul.” He had a Quaker mother, and a family friend was Elias Hicks; Quakerism pervades the work.

Nancy Whitt
Birmingham, Ala.


Debate over tone in review


Su Penn, the author of the review “Beyond Goodness Sex” (FJ Nov. 2015), raises some important considerations regarding inclusivity and the marginalization of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. However, these important insights are clouded by the reviewer’s gratuitous personal attack on Al Vernacchio himself, and his qualifications to author For Goodness Sex. The review contains a number of unfortunate, inaccurate, and even maligning assumptions about Vernacchio.

These are personal, unwarranted attacks that go well beyond a critical examination of the book, and seek to explore the psyche of the author. As a journal editor myself, I am surprised that the editor of Friends Journal allowed this review to be published. It should have been stripped first of its negative tone and unsubstantiated assumptions about Vernacchio. Then, the reader could examine some serious and important questions that the review author raised, such as whether or not conventional terms like “boy” and “girl” should be abandoned. As someone who often travels in the same professional circles as Vernacchio, I have seen him use this more inclusive language in his keynotes.

One moment that sticks with me in particular is seeing him use inclusive terms repeatedly at a teen conference, and then be admonished by a transgender student for the one time he failed to do so in his hour-long talk. Vernacchio thanked the student graciously, recognizing the courage it took to stand up and criticize the speaker, and to out oneself in the process.

Again, the author has raised some important observations, and stripped of its negative tone and personal attacks, this review provides some food for thought.

Bill Taverner
Easton, Pa.


The frustration with how education (including sexuality education) isn’t adequately including, supporting, and protecting kids on the full spectrum of sexual and gender identities is well founded. The rates of suicides and attempted suicides are staggering among nonconforming teenagers. We have been at a crisis point for some time; Penn’s harsh and personal criticism of Al Vernacchio, however, is misplaced.

Without Al’s work, including his brilliant book, the content of sexuality education in schools would have stayed as limited as their titles convey: “Puberty Education,” “Health,” or “Knowing Our Bodies.” Most sexuality education programs barely address sex, much less discuss gender and sexual identities the way Al regularly does in his classroom. He inspires the boldest teachers to take it to the next level, and has inspired many parents like me to be more open and direct with our kids.

In the world of public and private schools, Al is personally responsible for thousands of teachers revamping the sexuality education curriculum to be significantly more inclusive and comprehensive. These teachers know we need to keep stretching and do so despite being pummeled with threats and questions from parents, department heads, community members, and boards of trustees who think sexuality education programs are far too radical. It is a battle to reach kids with the messages they need, as well as provide support for and protection of the most vulnerable. We will work to improve and reach higher, but personal bashing of people like Al will divide us and set progress back.

Cindy Pierce
Etna, N.H.


As a 72-year-old cisgender woman (I admit to this being a new word in my vocabulary), I take strong exception to the tone of Su Penn in her criticism of Al Vernacchio’s book For Goodness Sex. I personally purchased many copies of the book and have given them as gifts to friends and family members. I understand certain points that Penn seeks to make, but I am not sure that she has an understanding of the difficulty that people of my generation have in learning new language and new ways of approaching issues of sex and sexuality. When I’ve given the book as a gift, I’ve told people that it will help all of us at every age to speak more openly to one another about these important issues.

That this book doesn’t present every conceivable gendered type person does not diminish the fine research and writing. Furthermore, safety that students feel in Vernacchio’s classroom is quite unprecedented. Finally, a critique of the book is one thing, but the personal attack on the writer seemed inappropriate at best and unquakerly at worst. Surely Friends Journal can do better.

Marguerite Sexton
Jenkintown, Pa.


I am not unfamiliar with Penn’s type of critique; the intellectual atmosphere at my alma mater cultivates exactly the same type of take-down based on somebody or something being “well-intentioned but not radical enough.” While I got sucked into it while at college, I have to question what this sort of approach accomplishes. Is Vernacchio’s book perfect? Absolutely not. But taking into account the position it occupies in our current sexuality education landscape, its intended audience, and the very real challenges of publishing radical work for wide distribution, I believe For Goodness Sex is a great resource. So let’s critique the book’s gaps and figure out how to fill them, absolutely. But tearing down a fantastic educator as a person, with unfounded and incorrect attacks on his message, feels like destroying a potential alliance. Instead, and in the face of such adversity as gender and sexual minorities, shouldn’t we be calling each other in and building each other up?

Eric McMorris
Washington, D.C.


If we are to truly “call in” one another, I see it worth noting that the author of this review is part of a community of trans* folks and their families, and they clearly feel that this book utilizes exclusive and harmful rhetoric and definitions. Yes, the review of a book that is supposed to speak to your community but instead excludes it will not read as a traditional academic book review. Unfortunately, speaking against the tacit violence of exclusion often reads as identity politics, either non-academic or hyper-academic. So, I hope that whatever stylistic or rhetorical critiques readers have of Su Penn’s review do pale in comparison to its serious consideration.

What Penn gets at here to me is important: some types of rhetoric are simply unwelcome in a trans-inclusive/affirming space in this day and age. Speaking personally, the type of language and rhetoric Penn advocates for is, according to the queer communities I roll with, really standard.

Eugene, Ore.


Several commenters refer to Penn’s “personal attack” on Vernacchio. I can’t find it.

I quote from the review: “Vernacchio is big-hearted, thoughtful, well-intentioned, and full of genuine love and respect for his students. His approach to sex education is refreshing compared to most.” To say, even to say repeatedly as Penn does, that someone is wrong is not a personal attack. Nor does saying that someone should do something better is not an assertion that they do not do it at all.

Some years ago a Friends Journal article by John Calvi listed several important, healing sayings and recommended frequent use of them. “That’s not good enough” was one of those, and that’s how I read Penn’s response.

Neil Fullagar
Alameda, Calif.


I want to ask some of the commenters to consider lightening up on the tone checking of Su Penn’s remarks. I ask this for two reasons. First, if your experience and those of your family have been left out of an analysis, and you sense chronic social hostility to something core to whom you are, then anger is really an appropriate response. Second, we Friends often try to calm a situation down, so we can talk about it or, too often, not talk about it (or not talk about it enough).

It’s important to hear Su’s anger, mild though I think it is, to understand that a person doing sex education better than most can still miss important stuff that has life and death consequences for some, and that he has an opportunity to grow. I think the conversation is being engaged.

Bradley Laird
South Bend, Ind.


When I first read Su Penn’s article, I was struck by the author’s ability to speak a painful and brutal truth with matter-of-fact honesty, while saying nothing negative at all about Al Vernacchio’s intent or about him personally.

I came to the web comments to find many people attacking Su Penn personally for saying bluntly that Vernacchio’s book doesn’t meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable people. As allies, it’s our job to listen to the people we’re trying to ally with. It is not ally behavior to tell minorities they’re “too angry” or to try to get them to “tone it down.” It is not ally behavior to try to shut them up when they tell us we didn’t do a good enough job in our attempts to help.

I understand Penn’s review may have hurt Vernacchio’s professional pride. This is clearly reflected in who’s defending him: of the 11 comments already posted on this article, six are from people who are personally or professionally associated with Vernacchio.

Many of those comments are also from people who are sexuality educators. I find that fact particularly disturbing: sexuality educators attacking a member of gender and sexual minority groups for clearly stating those groups’ needs, and pushing back against oppression. Vernacchio’s pride may be on the line, but our lives are on the line.

United Kingdom and United States


I do not know Vernacchio or Penn personally, but I think I would like both of them. I know, as Friends, we can love them both. My guess is that if they met, they’d find much to talk about, and would do so with as much love and courage as they both could muster. My guess is that they both have known the pain of being excluded and judged for their sexual identities, and that commonality would give them a deep well of compassion on which to draw.

What I’d like to ask for in this discussion is a moment of silence to hold Al, Su, and all of us working for better mutual understanding and clearness in the Light.

Virginia Herrick
Bellingham, Wash.



In a photo caption for Madeline Schaefer’s “Mass Incarceration and #BlackLivesMatter” (FJ Dec. 2015), we misidentified Keith Harvey (p. 9). We apologize for this error.

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