People of Faith as Allies: A Global Phenomenon with a Long History
Many People of Faith, LGBT and Straight, Are Working for Equality
by Peter van der Walt
Hardly a week goes by without some story of anti-LGBT religious activity making the news. Headlines like “Interfaith Clergy Coalition Opposes Gay Marriage Bill” and “Cardinal to Same-Sex Couples: Your Marriages are Fiction, Should Be Celibate” seems to cement the idea that “gay” and “religious” are two polar opposites.
Of course, in the real world there are quite a few religious people, LGBT and straight, who defy this oversimplified understanding of how religion –or sexuality, for that matter– actually functions.
It is true that the Religious Right, as a political movement, very often contributes to the injustices, discrimination and climate of fear suffered by LGBT individuals around the world. But it is not true that all religious people are represented by the most vocal opponents of equality.
Gay religious people have been instrumental in the development of civil rights initiatives since inception. Bayard Rustin was a gay African American Quaker who helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He helped organize the historic 1963 March on Washington and was a mentor to Martin Luther King.
Study early Pride marches, and you are bound to bump into some names that represent either LGBT or LGBT-friendly religious figures. Troy Perry, of the Metropolitan Community Church, performed the first same-sex marriage in the United States in 1969. In 1970, he filed the first lawsuit in the U.S. seeking legal recognition for LGBT marriages. So the fight for marriage equality was started by a person of faith! The LGBT Religious Archives Network profiles 230 leaders in LGBTQ religious communities, archives 175 document collections, and stores over 200 artefacts from LGBT religious history.
Today, thousands of Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Pagan, and Mormon people, of all orientations, find their faith to be central in their desire to create a more inclusive world and equality for LGBT people.
Affirmation serves the LGBT Mormon community. The Al-Fatiha Foundation is one of the Muslim organizations that advance the cause of LGBT Muslims. Dignity USA serves the Catholic community. RMN, the Methodists. Keshet, Nehirim, and others, the Jewish Community. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Hindus… all have one, or several, groups representing them. These organizations show that LGBT faith transcends coincidental or subjective personal stories. These organizations prove that larger social change is inevitable.
It goes beyond the examples of Bishops Gene Robinson and Mary Douglas Glasspool; or Rabbis Sharon Kleinbaum, Denise Eger, and Steven Greenberg; or Archbishop Desmond Tutu; or Bishops Jim Swilley and Yvette Flunder; or Reverends Peter Gomes, Malcolm Boyd, Jo Hudson, or Pastor Jimmy Creech, or Imam Daayiee Abdullah. Every single person of faith is now empowered to change, build bridges, or make a difference.
The lines of division between “us” and “them,” black and white, male and female, Mormon and non-Mormon, believer and atheist, gay and straight may be real and important; but at the end of the day, people are just people.
Affirmation welcomes reinvigorated interfaith cooperation and faith-based LGBT equality initiatives. We will strive to do our bit. Ultimately, it is up to the individual believer to clarify, through study and critical reasoning and prayer, how to best use their agency.