Faith Leaders in Michigan Speak Out for LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Protections

By Adam Polaski • October 26, 2018 • 1:45 pm

On Friday, October 19 in Clawson, Michigan, in the sanctuary of MCC Detroit, faith leaders from across Michigan stood behind Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow as he spoke to supporters and journalists: “Today, as clergy members, we want to make it clear and speak with one voice: We support LGBT people in Michigan, and we support strong, comprehensive protections from anti-LGBT discrimination. It’s time for our elected officials to do the same.”

The speech marked the launch of The Umoja Project’s new initiative in Michigan. The initiative will connect clergy and people of faith with federal lawmakers in the Great Lakes State. The goal is to impress upon these elected officials the importance of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination and the harms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In Michigan and at the federal level, there are no explicit protections for LGBTQ people.

The event followed a day-long interfaith conference, where people of faith shared their experiences and discussed how allies in the faith community and LGBTQ people of faith could work together to create more welcoming spaces. The conference was sponsored by Inclusive Justice, an interfaith group dedicated to LGBTQ equality in Michigan.

Rev. Stringfellow kicked off the event with a rousing talk about the rapidly approaching midterm elections. “People across Michigan and around the country are buzzing about the many issues they care about,” he said. “As Americans nationwide head to the polls and decide how to cast their ballots, they’re having rich conversations with their elected officials about the issues they care about – and one of those issues is basic dignity and fairness for their LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and family members. U.S. Representatives and Senators must represent all constituents, including LGBTQ constituents.”

“One thing that cuts across all faith traditions is some version of the Golden Rule,” said Judy Lewis, who is Jewish. “That’s the one that says that we must treat others the way we want to be treated. I know that I don’t want to be treated with anything less than respect. People of faith across the country like me support protections for LGBT people because of our faith – not in spite of it.”

Rev. Edwin Rowe, who served for years as the senior pastor for the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit, reminded the crowd that the faith community has been on a journey for many years when it comes to acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people. Now, he said, it’s time for the state of Michigan and the entire country to complete their journeys and fully embrace LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination nationwide.

Next up was Alicia Skillman, Executive Director of the City of Detroit Board of Ethics and the principal attorney at AJ Skillman and Associates. Throughout her work Alicia has met with and heard stories from so many LGBTQ people who have directly experienced discrimination. “I’ve been hearing intense stories of discrimination that has derailed LGBTQ lives for more than a decade now,” she said. “Hearing even one more story like those would be too many.”

Next to speak was Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek, who several years ago experienced employment discrimination after coming out as transgender while working at Spring Arbor University. University staff told her she was not to discuss her transition with anyone affiliated with the institution, which at the time included Julie’s brother, sister-in-law, and child. Her pay was docked by 20%. And ultimately, Julie needed to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to combat the mistreatment and stand up for herself. Watch video of her remarks below:

Rev. Joe Summers, pastor of The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation and the co-chair of Inclusive Justice, wrapped up the event by sharing his hopes for the future and quoting the Declaration of Independence.

“What we hear in our nation’s Declaration of Independence is that our country is based on the principle of recognizing the basic dignity of every human being through respecting certain unalienable human rights. Now ironically and paradoxically, in the name of religious liberty, a group of religious Christian nationalists are in the process of saying that they should have the right to demean and discriminate against people, deny public service to people on the basis of religious liberty. The founding principle of our country is recognizing the fundamental dignity of every human being.”

Over the coming months, faith leaders like the ones who spoke at this event on Friday will meet with elected officials and share their stories, highlighting why their faith compels them to support comprehensive LGBTQ protections – and why no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love.

Follow along with the yearlong campaign by liking Inclusive Justice on Facebook and following along on Twitter. 

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