Senate must pass legislation protecting LGBTQ
As a faith leader in Delaware, I am grateful for the commitment shown by our U.S. senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons, to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans. For decades, Congress has walked away from its responsibility to protect LGBTQ Americans - but with both parties now offering proposals to add nondiscrimination protections to the law, 2021 could finally be the year to get that job done. I look to Senators Carper and Coons to be out front in making sure this crucial legislation gets enacted.
The congregation I serve as pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rehoboth Beach, is open and affirming, welcoming LGBTQ people of faith into full membership in our church. Our embrace of the LGBTQ community is part of Westminster’s broader commitment to social and racial justice, and to ongoing reform of our mission.
LGBTQ elders have served on our Session governing board, and one of our late elders was a lesbian ordained minister who preached in our worship services. Having come into my role as pastor in 2020, I have seen how LGBTQ newcomers to Rehoboth Beach are drawn to Westminster because of our open and welcoming tradition.
As pastor, I am aware that not every congregant is the same regarding LGBTQ rights and visibility within the church. I’m mindful of my responsibility to meet each of our members where they are. Advancing the understanding of LGBTQ individuals and the challenges they face in life is often about encouraging our members to embrace a God who calls us to openness and expansiveness, and includes everybody. My pastoral teaching aims at providing the foundation that allows everyone to examine their beliefs without starting at a place that might keep them from engaging in the first place.
At the same time, from my experience as a newly ordained minister teaching undergraduates as well as seminary students, I know the eagerness of many young people to see the church move ahead more quickly in embracing its LGBTQ members - and understand that for some that eagerness includes a good measure of frustration.
I appreciate - in a personal way - the tensions that can arise at moments of cultural change. My father was pastor of a conservative nondenominational evangelical church, and I encountered painful resistance from my parents to the very idea of my becoming a minister as a woman. That experience reinforces my belief that unity and inclusiveness encourage the health and flourishing of everyone within a faith community. I may not understand the specifics of every person’s life, but I offer them the respect of believing them when they tell me about the discrimination and violence they’ve experienced - things that I would never want for myself.
I’ve come to learn that discrimination has profoundly damaging consequences for LGBTQ Americans nationwide.
One in three, according to a 2020 survey, experienced discrimination - in public spaces, on the job, in schools, and in their own neighborhoods - in just the previous year.
That number rises to 60 percent among transgender people, who experience exceptionally high levels of unemployment, poverty and homelessness. They are also stalked by violence, with a record 44 hate-motivated murders nationwide last year.
Black and Latino LGBTQ folks face greater poverty rates than communities of color generally. Less than half the states protect the community’s youth from bullying in school.
Elders must often re-closet themselves, with nearly half of same-sex couples reporting discrimination in seeking senior housing.
Thankfully, there is now hope Congress will finally act. For the first time, both Democrats and Republicans have put forward measures that add LGBTQ protections to our nation’s civil rights laws. The major disagreement between the two parties involves balancing the urgent need to protect LGBTQ people with the religious freedoms we cherish as Americans.
Finding a path to getting that job done is what legislators do when committed to solving problems. Senators Carper and Coons surely appreciate that Delaware and 20 other states have successfully enacted laws that prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination without compromising religious freedoms.
Washington can follow suit, with senators reaching across the aisle to end the divisive pattern that pits religious liberties against LGBTQ rights. Every major civil rights advance - from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act - has found the appropriate balance.
Senators Carper and Coons: Tens of thousands of LGBTQ Delawareans and their families and friends are counting on your continued leadership.