By Bryan Fulwider
“Are we committed to doing the right thing every day and not just in the heat of crisis?”
That’s the question Pastor James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, asked in an Orlando Sentinel guest column following the Pulse massacre last June.
Coffin was reacting to declarations of support for the LGBTQ community made by an array of local faith leaders during a press conference.
Specifically addressing his fellow clergy, Coffin wrote: “The LGBTQ community has faced insult and ostracism, discrimination and persecution. Yet … we as faith leaders openly and emphatically declared [at the press conference] that they deserve dignity, respect and fair treatment — because they are as much children of God as we are.
“If our actions are to match our declarations, we have no choice but to put Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., on notice that the Central Florida faith community — not in spite of, but because of, our deepest theological understandings — will not rest until we’ve secured justice and equality, even for those with whom we might disagree.”
Fortunately, right now we have the opportunity for both the faith and nonfaith communities to do just what Coffin called for.
Several regions in Florida — typically major metropolitan areas — have passed local ordinances protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people. But no such statutes exist statewide, meaning that numerous discriminatory practices are still legal in many regions.
In such areas, LGBTQ people can be fired simply if their orientation becomes known to their employers. And that’s just one of the ways many Floridians still can discriminate. To correct this situation, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act has been introduced in the state Legislature.
According to Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group, the legislation “prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
This bill would amend Chapter 760 of the Florida State Statues that currently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.
It’s worth noting the range of categories that are protected by legislation — categories in which we once saw widespread discrimination. The reality is, our nation has a truly tragic history of failure to demonstrate in practice our boldly declared “self-evident” truth that all humans are “created equal.” The Florida Competitive Workforce Act is a reminder that forward progress is still needed.
“But,” I hear some saying, “I believe that all things LGBTQ are sinful. And I don’t wish to aid and abet sin in any way. So I’m going to treat gays, lesbians and transgenders the way I believe they deserve to be treated.”
It’s a familiar — though misguided — refrain that has been around a long, long time.
Catholics once declared that non-Catholics had turned their backs on God and deserved to be persecuted. Protestants said the same about Catholics. Advocates of Jim Crow said that in “God’s order,” people of color were second-class. The Ku Klux Klan was founded on the religious premise that blacks, Catholics and Jews were inferior, unworthy of full integration into society. For the majority of our nation’s existence, women were denied the right to vote because it was deemed contrary to God’s plan.
Granted how wrong we’ve so often been, it would behoove us to consider the possibility that we’re equally misguided if we promote, justify or seek to turn a blind eye to discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The world’s great religions all advocate what we call the golden rule: Treat others as you’d want to be treated if the tables were turned. Letters, emails, faxes, phone calls and personal visits to legislators’ offices advocating passage of this act exemplify the golden rule and help to deliver on a faith-leader’s promise made in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, one of the Three Wise Guys on the WMFE (90.7 FM) radio program “Friends Talking Faith,” is chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.