Faith in Public Life
Faith leadership in Southern LGBTQ advocacy
Given the predominant role of faith, and especially Christianity, in the South, a central characteristic of Southern LGBTQ organizing is engaging with faith communities. Importantly, many LGBTQ people are themselves people of faith. In fact, LGBTQ Southerners are more likely to be people of faith than are LGBTQ people outside the South.
Faith in Public Life, for example, is a national network of nearly 50,000 clergy and faith leaders “united in the prophetic pursuit of justice, equality, and the common good” across an intentionally broad set of issues including economic justice, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, gun violence, and more. They work throughout the South and have been especially active on LGBTQ issues in recent years in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.
In Georgia, Faith in Public Life members worked closely with Georgia Equality against a religious exemption law in 2016, leading to a successful veto of the bill by the governor. In the years since, Faith in Public Life and other LGBTQ Georgians and allies have been working to change the narrative about faith and LGBTQ people, to support local clergy and faith communities in their journeys toward acceptance and advocacy for LGBTQ people, and to pass local nondiscrimination ordinances around the state.
In Florida, faith leaders have been a central part of advancing local nondiscrimination ordinances and in the broader fight for gun safety and anti-violence measures. In Jacksonville, an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance had previously failed before the city council, including no votes from Black Democrats. Faith leaders and LGBTQ advocates engaged in long term outreach and education in local communities of faith, and particularly in Black faith communities, as well as holding numerous public events led by local faith leaders in support of nondiscrimination protections. Ultimately in 2017, an LGBTQ-inclusive ordinance was successfully passed with twice as many votes in support as opposed. Faith leaders in Florida are now refocusing their efforts on passing LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections statewide.
Having clergy and faith leaders visibly and vocally involved in Southern LGBTQ advocacy is not only important for its potentially persuasive effect on non-LGBTQ people of faith and the broader Southern culture, but also for its potentially healing effect on LGBTQ people who witness faith leaders embracing and advocating for LGBTQ people.
Many LGBTQ people have been rejected or harmed by their faith tradition, and in the South this experience is especially prevalent, given both the higher rate of religious affiliation among LGBTQ Southerners and the fact that Southern religious traditions are generally more conservative and less supportive of LGBTQ people and issues. And, because conservative Christianity is an ever-present aspect of much of Southern life and politics, that religious rejection can also be an ever-present aspect of everyday life for LGBTQ Southerners, such as when elected officials or other Southern leaders use religious language and justification for anti-LGBTQ policies or beliefs. As one interviewee described, “discrimination having that religious stamp of approval taps into that trauma” that many LGBTQ people have experienced in faith settings.
As a result, centering LGBTQ-affirming faith leaders among those actively working toward LGBTQ equality makes a significant impact not only on the public conversation about faith and LGBTQ rights, but also on the spiritual wellbeing of LGBTQ Southerners.
- To learn more or to donate, visit www.faithinpubliclife.org.
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