Bishop Carlton Pearson (second from left), a leading authority of the modern Pentecostal church, speaks during a briefing on Capitol Hill in support of LGBT equality. With Pearson are Rev. Nancy Wilson (left), moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church, Peggy Campolo, renowned evangelical Christian leader, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, and Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate for parish life at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif.
Photo — Chris Kleponis/Zuma Press/HRC
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an historic showing of religious support for the passage of two major pieces of civil rights legislation, hundreds of clergy from a diverse reflection of America’s faith backgrounds gathered on Capitol Hill April 17 to lobby their respective members of Congress to end workplace discrimination against their fellow brothers and sisters and pass the much-needed hate crimes bill this year.
“I think it was really important that we be there,” said Rev. Donna Stroud, pastor of MCC of the Upstate in Duncan, S.C. “The Religious Right is taking a really hard stand on this issue and we were there to show that there was another voice from the clergy.”
Stroud and another clergyman from Columbia met with legislative assistants for U.S. House members James Clyburn (D-SC) and Jim Spratt (D-SC) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). They also met with Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) chief counsel.
“We had really good results from Clyburn and Pratt, who said they were in favor of hate crimes legislation, but Graham and DeMint will not support the legislation,” said Stroud.
“For too long, there has been a false perception in American politics that faith and religion stand diametrically opposed to equality for GLBT Americans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The hundreds of clergy joining us are here because they understand that we are all God’s children, and our differing sexual orientations and our differing gender identities are not shameful sins, but rather amazing gifts from God.”
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, called the Matthew Shepard Act in the Senate, adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law conferring authority on the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes. This authority already exists for crimes committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion and national origin and because they were attempting to exercise a federally protected right. The bill ensures a federal backstop to assist local law enforcement in those cases in which they request assistance or fail to adequately investigate or prosecute these serious crimes. The bill would also provide assistance to local law enforcement for investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated violent crimes.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee simply based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It would reinforce the principle that employment decisions should be based on a person’s qualifications and job performance.
“Congress once again has the opportunity, indeed the imperative, to add women; people with disabilities; and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to the existing federal hate crimes law by passing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” said Bishop Carlton Pearson, founder and senior pastor of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, Okla. “It is morally wrong to deprive anyone of the means to feed themselves and care for their families. Passage of this bill will help gay, lesbian and transgender people in 33 states where you can be fired for simply being gay.”
“Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to protect the rights of workers. There are many laws in our Torah that teach us of our obligations to be fair to workers. This legislation is about fairness and justice,” said Rabbi Denise Eger, Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif.
Days after clergy met with senators and representatives in D.C., an anti-gay contingent comprised of representatives from Exodus International, an “ex-gay” group, and a small group of conservative black Christians held a press conference to urge Congress to squash the legislation, claiming that “hate crimes” legislation is an affront to the African-American and religious communities.
According to the anti-gay activists, the legislation would pave the way to criminalize thoughts and religious beliefs contrary to politically correct ideology.
“We stand today with many in the African-American community who also recognize that one’s sexuality can be changed, but one’s skin color cannot,” said Alan Chambers, who self-identifies as a “former homosexual” and is the president of Exodus International. “We call upon Congress to promote legislation that affirms authentic equality and protects our religious freedoms.”
“That’s ridiculous,” says Stroud. “The Matthew Shepard Act is about hate crimes. And we know that it’s absolutely not true that people can change their sexual orientation.
“They’re totally ignoring the medical and psychological evidence available to us. They’re couching their own personal prejudices on their misinterpretation of religion. I call it the ostrich effect. They’re sticking their heads in the sand.”