June is Pride month, and over the weekend Washington, D.C.’s annual Capital Pride festival took place. Americans United was well represented.
Things got started on Saturday afternoon with a parade through the streets of the city. AU’s delegation consisted of staff members, family, friends, allies and members who live in this area. Led by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser, the AU team marched behind a giant banner reading “Keep Your Dogma Off My Rights!” The crowd watching the parade loved them.
On Sunday the Pride Festival kicked off along Pennsylvania Avenue. Americans United had a booth where we distributed stickers, buttons, literature and other items to attendees. Visitors could also sign up to receive AU’s email alerts. (You can too – just go here.) It was also an opportunity to meet people face to face and talk about the issues were work on and how they affect the LGBTQ community. I worked the last shift from 4-7 p.m., and we had a steady stream of visitors right up until the end.
As I talked to attendees, I could sense their uneasiness about these times. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are hardly friends of the LGBTQ community. Eager to please his allies in the Religious Right, Trump has pursued policies that would allow religious believers to deny goods and services to LGBTQ people and even threaten their access to health care.
But I could also sense a desire among attendees to fight back. During my time at the booth, I noticed a common scenario playing out: People would stroll by, see our large banner proclaiming Americans United’s name and walk up to the table to say, “I’m all for this. I want to be involved!”
The energy is definitely there, and we intend to tap into it. If you follow the issue of separation of church and state, it becomes readily apparent that the Religious Right, a well-organized, well-funded political force, hates two things: the church-state wall and the LGBTQ community.
I know that some Religious Right groups bristle at the use of the term “hate.” They don’t like to be thought of that way. But having observed their antics over three decades. I don’t know how else to describe what these groups are doing. They have demonized members of the LGBTQ community. They have sought to take away their rights. They have told lies about them. (Remember when Religious Right groups tried to scare America by insisting that if marriage equality became the law of the land, clergy who refused to perform such unions would go to prison? As Americans United has pointed out several times, that has never happened.)
The simple fact is, the Religious Right doesn’t like members of the LGBTQ community because of the way leaders and members of these theocratic groups interpret the Book of Leviticus or some other religious scripture. We can argue over and over about whether these groups have correctly interpreted the passages in question, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter: In America, we don’t base our laws on someone’s interpretation of the Bible or any other religious text. We base our laws on our secular Constitution.
As I told several people at the festival, AU strives for an America that respects the rights of all people to worship, or not, as you see fit but with the understanding that our laws must not be based on dogma. Nor must religion be used as a weapon to harm others or take away their rights.
While many religious communities welcome members of the LGBTQ community and celebrate inclusion – and I was pleased to see many of these houses of worship represented at the festival – others have gone down a different road and use their faith as an instrument to oppress others.
Under the First Amendment, religious groups have the right to say ugly and unpleasant things about the LGBTQ community and criticize them from the pulpit. But they have no right to enlist the power of the government to force us all to live under their misguided and exclusionary theology. The church-state wall prevents that from happening, and this weekend, I was reminded that a lot of people are ready to stand up and fight for that protective barrier.