On December 6, nearing the U.S. congressional winter recess and annual holidays, amid the clamor of impeachment, Republican lawmakers introduced the Fairness for All Americans Act into Congress. Despite the hectic atmosphere and timing, it's caught the attention of our community.
The bill represents support for anti-discrimination protections against LGBT Americans. It also represents a remarkable advance from voices of religious organizations that have now come to share the view that discrimination against any American in the workplace, in housing and in public spaces is wrong and that we all deserve the same protections under the law. I'm gratified to see this step forward.
However, while the Fairness Act bans some forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination it contains unacceptable carve-outs for religious exemptions that could allow discrimination in the name of religious beliefs.
Earlier this year the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance launched an unprecedented LGBT religious acceptance campaign to promote healing and reconciliation in the Asian-American community. This kind of cultural work has direct impact on policy change and voters' attitudes. When the Fairness for All Act was announced we reached out to many who had participated in those workshops to learn of their responses. We found that over 35 Asian religious leaders and laity leaders from Maine to California*, stand together with NQAPIA in a response to the bill:
"We are delighted that God's grace of enlightenment has come upon the backers of this bill. That they join us in recognizing that we are all God's children and deserve to be protected and receive the same dignity and respect that we all enjoy under the law. Too many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Asian Americans have suffered discrimination for simply being who they are. God, Shiva, Allah, the Buddha, and Jesus teaches us that we must strive for justice.
But the love of God, Shiva, Allah, and the Buddha does not have exceptions. Likewise, anti-discrimination laws should not either. While the bill is a commendable recognition, the more comprehensive LGBTQ Equality Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority, would ensure clear and equal protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people throughout daily life while expanding protections for communities of color, people of faith, and women. We look forward to a continuing dialogue to address these continuing issues and bring equal protections to all of our people."
No doubt there's work to be done and many questions that can put us at a standstill... if we let them. I want to be clear that there are provisions in the Fairness Bill that are far too broad in allowing discrimination against LGBT people. But now at least we know where leading conservative Christians stand. Like the Equality Act -- which passed the House earlier this year with a bipartisan vote, this bill lets everyone know what proponents of LGBT equality want. No one believes either measure has a chance of becoming law simply as they are now written.
So what do we do? Remain rigidly fixed in opposite corners hurling insults? That's a history our movement doesn't need to repeat. I do know this: we as a community can't stand frozen in the headlights. For the first time ever, Christian groups that have been previously vehemently opposed to any rights for our people have taken a step in our direction. What if we assume for now that they too are people genuinely motivated by their faith and take a step toward an honest dialogue? Perhaps one that starts with an interfaith prayer.
Lets move forward folks. It's getting to be winter, too cold to stand stock still in the snow. -Glenn Magtanpay, Executive Director, NQAPIA
*Statement On behalf of Clergy
Rev. Jeanelle N. Ablola, Pine United Methodist Church, San Francisco
Rev. Israel I. Alvaran, Reconciling Ministries Network, Oakland, Calif.
Rev. Paul Cho, First United Methodist Church of Tucson, Ariz.
Rev. Dr. Theresa Cho, St. John's Presbyterian Church, San Francisco
Rev. Danilo Cortez, Estuary Space, Los Angeles
Rev. Dr. Kevin Doi, American Baptist, Diamond Bar, Calif.
Rev. Vicki Flippin, Pastor, First & Summerfield United Methodist Church, New Haven, Conn.
Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, Senior Pastor (retired), Evergreen Baptist Church of LA, Rosemead, Calif.
Rev. Nestor S. Gerente, Wayside United Methodist Church, Lomita, Calif.
Rev. John Iwohara, Gardena Buddhist Church, Calif.
Rev. Jessica Kawamura, Wahiawa United Methodist Church, Wahiawa, Hawaii.