By Catherine Woodiwiss 12-09-2016

Faith leaders gathered today at the National Press Club to share their support for LGBTQ-affirming policies in Trump’s administration and Congress in 2017 and beyond.

The move comes a time of significantly heightened anxiety around LGBTQ rights and safety in America. While Trump himself has not targeted LGBTQ communities with the same level of sustained intensity he has shown for immigrants and Muslims, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, was the author of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana, a law that could allow for widespread discrimination against LGBT individuals, and previously advocated for redirecting funds for HIV/AIDS treatment into ex-gay therapies.

To date, no single cabinet appointee to the incoming administration has a record of pro-LGBTQ policy.

The gathering Friday, convened by Union Theological Seminary, highlighted five of concern: LGBTQ rights, LGBTQ homeless youth, LGBTQ senior citizens, the transgender community, and global antidiscrimination.

Following the meeting, faith leaders plan to meet with public officials on the Hill to express their support for the Equality Act, introduced to the House in 2015, that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of “discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation.”

Rev. Adam Phillips, pastor of Christ Church: Portland, encouraged evangelical leaders to be bold in their support for LGBTQ people in their churches and communities.

“We are here in D.C. today to deepen the rights of all of us,” he said.

“When I think about those in the Baptist world in Texas, or megachurch leaders I know who are on the cusp of making that leap forward — we’re going to find a tipping point in the next few years. I think it’s time to reclaim ideas of good news.”

While the leaders gathered were all openly affirming, they made it clear they were coming to D.C. for conversation.

“We’ve reached out to [President-elect Trump’s] transition team for a meeting, which we will do anytime, anywhere, in any place,” Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice President of Union Theological Seminary, said.

Panelists spoke on a range of issues, from a range of perspectives. Barbara Satin, an 82-year-old trans activist and Assistant Faith Work Director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, highlighted the particular vulnerability of trans people in communities of faith struggling to understand and acknowledge the reality of transgender lives. 

“The growth in religious institutions that now proclaim some semblance of affirmation and acceptance to the LGBT community has been surprising and welcome. But too often that affirmation has ignored the 'T' factor — some of it to do ignorance, some of it to do with fear.”

Yet Satin, among others, also credited the church as a source of positive change.

“More than 135 million Americans, or 42 percent of the population, live in jurisdictions with nondiscrimination protections for transgender Americans,” Satin said.

“I believe the major reason for the lack of acceptance and affirmation comes from most of you, and the bulk of congregations, not knowing us as individuals. Let me suggest as a starting point for your faith communities a recasting of the Hippocratic Oath: Learn as much as you can; and then do no harm; and do good.”

Others echoed Satin’s call.

“As a black lesbian growing up in the South, being in a room filled with Christians excited and ready to engage with the powers that be at all levels of government is something I could only have dreamed would exist,” Victoria Kirby York, National Campaigns Director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said.

“We must love our neighbor as ourself. And it is radical, and it is broad, and it is all-encompassing.”

Those in the room stressed that LGBTQ concerns are directly in line with concern for human rights broadly. In addition to voicing support of the Equality Act, the faith leaders gathered also highlighted the fact that 33 states are currently without any protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.

“When they come for one of us we’ve got to be clear that they are coming for all of us. We have an incredible opportunity now to really be intersectional,” Satin said.

Or as Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister for Middle Collegiate Church said, “Loving your neighbor means having your neighbor’s back.”

Catherine Woodiwiss (@chwoodiwiss) is Deputy Web Editor at Sojourners.

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