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More than Pride: Raising a Voice of Faith Against LGBT Discrimination

More than Pride: Raising a Voice of Faith Against LGBT Discrimination

Yesterday, we reflected on the pride our Reform Jewish community should have for the great advocacy work we have done on behalf of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) rights over the past several decades. While we should take pride in our previous advocacy efforts, there are still many more steps that need to be taken in order to achieve LGBT equality. Today, we want to highlight one of the most important battles for LGBT rights in the coming years: the fight for explicit, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory protections for LGBT people.

In yesterday's piece, we highlighted the Religious Actions Center's (RAC) work on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would have banned employment discrimination based on someone's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The RAC played an important role organizing the faith community's support for the bill and winning support for the bill in the Senate, where it passed in 2013 during the previous Congress. (It was never brought to a vote in the House during the last Congress.)

However, employment isn't the only area where LGBT people face discrimination. Despite federal laws banning discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion and disability, there is no federal law explicitly protecting LGBT people from discrimination in a wide range of areas, from public accommodations to housing and credit. That is why Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have both announced that they will be introducing a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill this Congress.

A report by the Human Rights Campaign identifies seven areas in which LGBT people need explicit federal non-discrimination protections: credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service and public accommodations. While some states have taken the initiative to pass LGBT non-discrimination laws, most often covering areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, the majority of states do not have guaranteed protections banning discrimination based on people's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our tradition teaches us that all human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are created b'tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27), and are therefore deserving of equality and respect. Furthermore, as a people who have suffered a history of discrimination and persecution ourselves, we have an even higher obligation to raise a moral, faithful voice for LGBT equality.

We know the task to get this legislation passed will not be easy, and we will need the voices of 1.5 million Reform Jews and 2,000 Reform rabbis in North America to secure the passage of this important and just bill. And, we are glad to know that the majority of Americans stand behind us as well; recent polls have shown majority support for a federal law explicitly banning LGBT discrimination. It is clear that the time is now to ensure that LGBT Americans have the same federal protections as other historically marginalized groups.

It is important to note, however, that a federal non-discrimination law will not solve all the problems facing LGBT people in America. LGBT youth will likely still face high rates of bullying in schools and will continue to constitute a disproportionate amount of homeless youth. Transgender Americans will continue to face high rates of violence and difficultly obtaining documents that reflect their gender and preferred name. While we look forward to advocating for this new comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill, we will also continue our efforts to combat all forms of inequality affecting LGBT individuals by supporting a wide range of LGBT rights legislation.

However, if there is one thing we have learned from other civil rights movements, it is that legal equality does not equal lived equality. And that is why as a Movement we are dedicated to not only fighting for nondiscrimination protections in the halls of Congress, but also working for the full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in our communities. As we continue to see more victories for the LGBT movement in our laws, it is important that we not become complacent; as we continue to strengthen our legislative advocacy on behalf of LGBT equality we must also dedicate ourselves to strengthening our advocacy in our communities to ensure that LGBT people are fully accepted and embraced as who they are and can achieve true lived equality in our communities.

Jordan Dashow also contributed to this piece. He is a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner represents the Reform Movement to Congress and the administration as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He also serves as the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America, he has been an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
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