Fighting for the Equality Act called ‘an issue of faith’

LGBTQIA protections championed in PC(USA) webinar

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Equality Act was the focus of a webinar this week by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness. The webinar featured (clockwise from top left) Christian Brooks, representative for domestic issues at OPW, who served as moderator; Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress; Kelsey Herbert, campaigns director for Faith in Public Life; and Dr. Sabrina Dent, senior faith advisor for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians and other people of faith are being called upon to support the passage of the Equality Act to thwart discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s important for us as people of faith to use our voices and to raise awareness about this issue, to make sure that we’re prioritizing the lives of the people that we say we love, that we support and we value who sit in the pews with us, who worship with us, who gather with us, who call us friends, who call us family,” said Dr. Sabrina Dent, senior faith advisor for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Dent was one of three speakers during an hourlong webinar (watch here) put on Tuesday by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) to explain the Equality Act and ways to advocate for its passage.

Other featured speakers during the Pride Month discussion, moderated by OPW’s Christian Brooks, included Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, and Kelsey Herbert, campaigns director for Faith in Public Life.

The U.S. Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Witness)

The Equality Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year but still needs Senate approval. Herbert explained several steps that supporters can take, such as emailing, calling and meeting with their senators, to drum up support.

“Our message to Congress is to legislate justice,” Herbert said. “This is a matter and an issue of faith. This is an invitation for all of us to continue this work beyond Pride Month.”

Among other things, “the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit and jury service,” Graves-Fitzsimmons said.

If you’re surprised that such protections aren’t already in place, you’re not alone.

“When I talk to people about the Equality Act, people are surprised to learn that we actually don’t have federal nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community,” said Graves-Fitzsimmons, author of “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity.” “We know that we have marriage equality and increasing cultural affirmation in so many different areas of our public life. But some of that has masked this reality that we still don’t have formal, clear and consistent civil rights protections for all LGBTQ Americans.”

President Joe Biden, an Equality Act supporter, said last week that it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on his desk.

LGBTQ+ Americans lack full nondiscrimination protections in 29 states, according to a White House fact sheet.

“The lack of federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people means that millions of Americans can be denied housing, education, credit and more just because of who they are or whom they love,” according to that document. “In states across the country, LGBTQ+ Americans can get married on Sunday and denied a rental lease on Monday.”

However, “this bill doesn’t just protect LGBTQ+ people,” Biden noted in his June 25 remarks. “It’s also going to strengthen existing civil rights protections for people of faith, people of color, people with disabilities, women — in public accommodations, like doctors’ offices, parks and gyms.”

More than 120 faith-based organizations have endorsed the Equality Act, Graves-Fitzsimmons noted. But the legislation faces opposition from conservatives, including some Senate Republicans who think “the legislation could infringe upon religious liberty, or lead to inequality in athletic competitions if transgender women compete against cisgender women,” according to USA Today.

Some African American pastors also have opposed the Equality Act, “but at the end of the day, we have to value the human dignity of everyone,” Dent said. “We cannot allow any type of discrimination to happen in this country that then marginalizes another group of people, and so we have to be able to speak up and speak out when we see moral injuries happen.”

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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