Sens. Portman and Brown, help Ohio lead on ending anti-LGBTQ discrimination

The Rev. Jason Alspaugh
The Rev. Jason Alspaugh

As a faith leader with deep roots here in Ohio, I hope that our U.S. senators — Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown — will work together to find common ground that ensures fairness and equality for all Americans. For decades, Congress has neglected its responsibility to protect LGBTQ Americans — but with both parties now offering proposals to add nondiscrimination protections to the law, 2021 could finally be the year to get that job done.

I look to Sens. Portman and Brown to help work out the details of this crucial legislation.

For the past 14 years, I’ve served as associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Dayton, a Welcoming and Affirming congregation that invites everyone, including LGBTQ individuals and their families, into the full life of our faith community. It was at First Baptist Church that I married my husband Kerby shortly after the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide in 2015.

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Our congregation has a long and proud tradition as a home to diverse members of the Dayton community, but it was the mass shooting at the LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016 that led us to officially identify as Welcoming and Affirming (W&A). That tragedy, for First Baptist Church, was a compelling moment to proclaim that — “in faithfulness to Jesus and the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves — we embrace and respect all people.”

Our decision came from more than a year of prayerful consideration by our leadership and membership. And while there were a few in the end who disagreed, we have maintained our fellowship and grown together in understanding what it means for us to be Welcoming & Affirming. I believe that healing and unity are paramount in weighing such questions because we all worship together, and I take very seriously my obligation to minister to all our members, regardless of their views on the LGBTQ community.

In my ministry, I am often humbled and honored to be the first faith leader that an LGBTQ person has felt safe enough to speak with about their experiences and challenges. Most of the time we talk about families and relationships where finding acceptance has been difficult. But there are also problems in the workplace where, for example, being transgender and visible was seen as detrimental to the work environment. That person eventually was made so uncomfortable they left their job.

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For other LGBTQ folks, the fear of discrimination, instilled by experience, carries a huge psychological and spiritual cost. That fear — of losing your home, healthcare, or job — is a killing of sorts by little cuts. And, it is not unfounded: LGBTQ Ohioans still enjoy no statewide nondiscrimination protections, and there is no law protecting youth from school bullying or harassment either.

I’ve also learned that discrimination has profoundly damaging consequences for LGBTQ Americans nationwide. One in three, according to a 2020 survey, experienced discrimination — in public spaces, on the job, in schools, and in their own neighborhoods — in just the previous year.

That number rises to 60 percent among transgender people, who experience exceptionally high levels of unemployment, poverty and homelessness. They are also stalked by violence, with a record 44 hate-motivated murders nationwide last year.

Black and Latino LGBTQ folks face greater poverty rates than communities of color generally. Less than half the states protect the community’s youth from bullying in school. Elders must often re-closet themselves, with nearly half of same-sex couples reporting discrimination in seeking senior housing.

Thankfully, there is now hope Congress might finally act. For the first time, both Democrats and Republicans have put forward measures that add LGBTQ protections to our nation’s civil rights laws. The major disagreement between the two parties involves balancing the urgent need to protect LGBTQ people with the religious freedoms we all cherish.

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I honor those freedoms, but in the public sphere religious liberty should not be used as a weapon to deny full protections for all if those living in America.

Finding a path to balancing what might seem like competing values is what legislators do when committed to solving problems, and Sens. Portman and Brown can look to the 21 states with laws that prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination without compromising religious freedoms.

Washington can follow suit, with senators reaching across the aisle to end the divisive pattern that pits religious liberties against LGBTQ rights. Every major civil rights advancement — from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Americans With Disabilities Act — has found the appropriate balance.

Sens. Portman and Brown: The nearly half million LGBTQ Ohioans and their families and friends are counting on you.

The Rev. Jason Alspaugh is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Dayton

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