Some fundamentalist Christians just can’t accept the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are good and decent folks.
They call our community “sinners,” which causes serious spiritual and emotional harm, particularly to LGBT youth, who hear this and start feeling like they are broken. Some conservative faith leaders, like Pastor Kevin Swanson, have even been so reckless as to suggest that LGBT people are “worthy of death.” This violent rhetoric is disgusting and has no place in or outside of our faith communities. The LGBT community is entitled to full legal and spiritual rights, which is something my nonprofit, Faith in America, works to advance.
LGBT rights have come further than I would have ever imagined as a young, closeted, scared 15-year-old. So many people are fully accepting now (and many more are becoming accepting) as they understand who LGBT people are.
We have seen people evolve: from President Barack Obama; to candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders; to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who has a gay son; to evangelical clergy such as Rev. David Gushee, Rev. Tony Campolo, and Rev. Stan Mitchell, who are among the growing number of evangelical faith leaders who have become affirming. Not only are we seeing these shifts in our political and conservative religious communities, but polling continues to show increased acceptance and support from the general public. The problem is that the legislation and court battles that have resulted in significant strides toward equality are not on a strong foundation. Our house of equality has cracks that are bigger than many realize.
And those cracks are due, in large part, to the problem we have within some religious communities that continue to slow down and stop progress.
Anti-LGBT thinking still exists today in too many communities in America. These communities wield an undue influence in many state and community legislatures. I’ve felt for more than a dozen years that we cannot ignore these folks. Doing so is at our own peril, and just this past week we witnessed draconian legislation passed in North Carolina that restricts cities from passing nondiscrimination laws and prevents trans people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. It was done in a devious, carefully planned "last minute" legislative maneuver. Who made this happen?
There are four legislators who seem to always be at the forefront of all things anti-LGBT in N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Representatives Dan Bishop, and Paul Stam. All four belong to churches that teach the harmful message "homosexuality is a sin," and consequently are deeply committed to not allowing LGBT people to have equal protection under the law, or to live in simple dignity. Their constituents don’t hate us, but they fear that if we have our full place in society then they risk having their kids see us as happy and healthy — and well, then their kids will become gay. Yes, that is really what they fear. And they fear it so much that they will stop at nothing to make sure we are marginalized.
How can we stop this backlash? Under the new leadership of Eliel Cruz, the organization I co-founded a decade ago, Faith in America, is renewing efforts to educate people about the harm they cause to innocent LGBT people with outdated, ill-informed, and misguided religious teachings. It’s not easy, but we must do it. We have no choice if we want to achieve full legal and spiritual equality that will last for generations to come.
We have to challenge the media to talk about the heinous act of using religion to justify discrimination. We have to remind everyone that religious bigotry was used to justify the horrors of slavery. No one should ever forget this. Remind everyone that religious bigotry was used to subjugate women — and still is. Religion is used to deny minority religious groups like Jews and Catholics various rights. The media and our advocacy groups are afraid to talk about religion. They don’t want to be perceived as anti-religion. They have to get over it. Too many people, especially vulnerable youth, are being harmed.
What I find particularly scary about the N.C. legislation is that it really singles out perhaps the most vulnerable of our community at this time: trans people. This needs to be the line in the sand. A giant wake up call. Forty percent of trans people between 18 and 24 attempt suicide. That is simply despicable in a civilized society. It is outrageous that bigoted legislators refuse to give my trans brothers and sisters their dignity. The bathroom battle cry is not new. It’s been wrong in the past and remains so today.
We all have to dig deep and consider a new bold strategy. Talk about how wrong it is to use religious teachings to harm people. Wrong before, wrong now. Learn and talk about why being LGBT is not a sin or sinful. Our adversaries must change their understanding of who and what LGBT people are. If we don’t do it, it won’t happen.
FaithinAmerica.org and Faithandequality.org sites are undergoing an update but there is still great, effective information of how to talk about religion. Whether you are a person of faith or not, we all must be able to change the hearts and minds of people who currently seek to do us harm.