Thirty years ago on a warm summer evening at Livingstone College in Salisbury, a student came to my office and told me that he was planning to end his life.
I had counseled many students in my time as campus minister for Livingstone – a historically Black college affiliated with the AME Zion denomination – but this conversation was different. The young man before me was struggling deeply with what he felt was a conflict between his sexual orientation and his faith. The discrimination and condemnation he had experienced meant that he couldn’t see a place for himself in the world anymore. As I listened to his story, it struck me that my response could mean the difference between this bright young student living or dying. What he needed was acceptance.
The moral clarity of that moment taught me about the true meaning of God’s love. In the years since, I have dedicated myself to advocating for the ability of LGBTQ people to live free from discrimination. This work has become central to my life’s calling as a faith leader and a civil rights leader in North Carolina.
Today, I write to urge Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to publicly support federal nondiscrimination protections to ensure that all LGBTQ Americans can live, work, and access public spaces free from discrimination, no matter what state they call home. The Equality Act has passed the House with bipartisan support, had its first Senate hearing and stands before Congress.
Excluding people from civil protections based on who they are or whom they love hurts us all. All Americans should be free to go about their daily lives – go into a store, check in to a hotel, eat a meal at a restaurant, apply for a job, and rent or own a home – without fear of harassment or discrimination. A recent survey found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. More than half of LGBTQ people said they experienced harassment or discrimination in a public place such as a store, transportation or a restroom.
Supporting fundamental protections for all Americans is important to people of faith like me because LGBTQ Americans are our friends, our neighbors, our family members and our coworkers. For many Americans, values like treating others fairly, equally and with respect are rooted in faith and religious teachings – and many of us support comprehensive nondiscrimination protections because of our faith, not in spite of it.
In fact, substantial majorities in every major religious group support nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people, ranging from 62% among white evangelical Protestants to 82% among religiously unaffiliated Americans.
As a supporter of comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for all Americans, I am moved by the foundational principle behind Christian ethics – God’s love and God as love. When our faith is centered on that foundation, it cannot then co-exist as justification for division, marginalization, bullying or harm.
In that spirit, I ask that Sens. Burr and Tillis listen to their constituents, show moral leadership, and publicly support the Equality Act, . This is a priority. All Americans, including LGBTQ people, should be able to go about their daily lives without fear of harassment or discrimination.
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman is an ordained minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church denomination (A.M.E. Zion) and president of the North Carolina NAACP