By James Rowe
Originally published on Advocate.com July 22 2014 7:00 AM ET
On Monday, President Obama fulfilled his promise to protect employees of federal contractors and the federal government from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. President Obama’s executive order will affect 24,000 companies and approximately 28 million people, or one-fifth of the population of the United States.
As the director of Believe Out Loud, I represent Christians across the country who denounce discrimination as we heed the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. We stand firm in our Christian values as we strive to embody God’s unconditional love for all, especially those who have been deemed “unworthy” in a world broken by prejudice and hatred.
As a person of faith, I also celebrate President Obama’s refusal to include broad religious exemptions in his executive order. Last week we heard from Casey, a 22-year-old living in Lubbock, Texas, who was fired from his job when the president of his organization found out he was gay. Even the support of Casey's supervisor could not protect this exemplary employee from losing his job. When he reached out for assistance, legal advocacy organizations could not help him because he worked for a religious organization.
President Obama’s insistence on protecting all employees from discrimination, including those who work in religious institutions, is a victory for religious freedom in our country. Obama refused to cede protections to the small but vocal group of religious and civic leaders who urged him to include broad religious exemptions in his executive order. With the stroke of his pen, President Obama boldly pronounced that narrow interpretations of Christian theology cannot prevent an individual from working hard to earn a living in the United States.
Vivian Taylor, the executive director of Integrity USA, the national Episcopal LGBTQ organization, was present as President Obama signed this historic executive order. On our blog, Vivian recently described the pain she feels when she cannot protect the many hardworking employees she meets in her position from the impacts of discrimination. As she shares her Christian values of affirmation and inclusion, she grieves, “I am haunted by the frustration, anger, and outright fear of so many who are denied work simply because of who they are.”
Unfortunately, President Obama’s executive order only protects one-fifth of our country’s population. Without national legislation protecting all workers from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, individuals like Casey and the many hardworking employees Vivian meets across the country will continue to suffer the impacts of prejudice and discrimination. Currently, it is legal to fire or discriminate against hardworking employees based on their sexual orientation in 29 states. In 32 states, it is legal to fire or discriminate against hardworking employees based on their gender identity.
As Christians, we stand with LGBTQ organizations across the country as we oppose the broad religious exemptions included in the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Twenty years after it was first introduced in the United States Congress, ENDA has become a bill that protects religious employers more than it protects the employees who are most likely to experience discrimination.
In my role at Believe Out Loud, I have the good fortune of witnessing the positive effects Christianity can have on the lives of LGBTQ people. Currently, Believe Out Loud’s welcoming church map hosts 5,000 churches from a wide variety of Christian denominations. These churches and the Christians they represent dare to proclaim that LGBTQ people are made exactly the way God wanted us to be. With the launch of our campaigns feature this month, our members are pledging to put these Christian values into action by working to end discrimination against LGBT people.
As citizens of a country founded on the tenets of religious freedom, LGBTQ people deserve to be protected from the exclusive theologies that deny our identities as beloved children of God.
We reject these theologies of exclusion as we embrace the God-given diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. We no longer have to accept the word of the small but vocal minority who believe the LGBTQ community has no place in Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same God these individuals use to justify their discrimination against LGBTQ people is the same God who created us in all of our fabulousness.
From Methodists and Baptists to Lutherans and Catholics, Christians from all traditions are standing in solidarity as we advocate together the full equality of LGBTQ people across the United States. Join our chorus of Christians today as we proclaim: discrimination is not a Christian value.
JAMES ROWE is the director of Believe Out Loud, an online network that empowers Christians to work for LGBT equality.