Stonewall At 50 Pride Month

Revelers carry a Rainbow Flag along Fifth Avenue during the New York City Pride Parade in New York on June 24, 2018. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which fueled the fire for a global LGBTQ movement. From symposiums to movie screenings, walking tours to art exhibits, even an opera, a slew of institutions and organizations are filling June with events that commemorate that moment and its impact through the last five decades.

For the past few years, North Carolina has been on a long, exhausting journey when it comes to supporting our state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. We have the dark distinction of being the last state to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting the freedom to marry. A few years later, we doubled down on other states’ flirtations with anti-transgender discrimination by passing the unfathomably cruel “House Bill 2,” restricting transgender people’s access to the restroom. Our legislature’s attempts to undo the damage of HB2 the next year managed to make things even worse by shackling municipalities from passing pro-LGBTQ measures.

But this year has been a hopeful one for LGBTQ-supportive North Carolinians. A slate of proactive legislation was introduced in the General Assembly, acquiring more co-sponsors than ever before. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are meeting with faith leaders like me to hear about our support for ending anti-LGBTQ discrimination. And in everyday conversations with my congregation and community members, I’m seeing more and more people becoming more supportive of LGBTQ people.

It’s good timing: Right now, momentum is building for a national conversation regarding discrimination that LGBTQ people face every day. The sad truth is that at the federal level and in a majority of states, including North Carolina, LGBTQ people are not sufficiently protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces and other areas.

One thing you can bet on here in the Bible Belt: The minute you talk about the need for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, someone will interrupt with a loud comment on “religious freedom,” claiming to speak on behalf of all people of faith. I’ve heard that more than a few times this year alone.

As a minister, I understand the critical importance of religious freedom. It’s something our country was founded on. That’s why it’s already protected, right there in the United States Constitution. A small but vocal contingent of people of faith has tried to equate this freedom to worship with the freedom to discriminate. That conviction is misguided and contradictory to the righteous teachings of Christianity.

Time and again, Jesus made it clear that we should not put ourselves in the place of playing God, that God loves us all equally and that all are welcome in God’s kingdom. The message of Jesus was really all about love and equality and justice. As Christians, it’s vital that we include all people rather than exclude.

I’ve had many conversations with members of my congregation about treating LGBTQ people with dignity and respect.

I’ve often challenged people to reach into their hearts, reread the text of the Bible and remember the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

The conversations have sometimes resulted in tremendous transformations, with parishioners seeking to build or repair relationships with LGBTQ people. I’m happy for these individuals because the change of heart usually alleviates some of the angst in their life. I’m hopeful that we can see more people move in that direction so our society can be more rooted in equality and justice. It is up to us to make this a more just nation.

We can’t be as just of a society as possible if our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors are left vulnerable to discrimination in so many spheres of their lives. Our country’s lack of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections is holding us back.

As a nation, we say, “we hold these truths to be self-evident” — that all people are created equal. But we don’t treat all people equally, and we certainly don’t treat the LGBTQ community equally. It’s time for North Carolina — and the entire country — to continue our journey of support and understanding for LGBTQ people. It’s time to ensure that no one in our state faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love.

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The Rev. Mark Sandlin is a minister at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro.