October marks LGBTQ History Month – a month dedicated to celebrating icons of the LGBTQ community. This LGBTQ History Month and every month, Americans United is proud to stand with our LGBTQ neighbors and oppose discrimination in the name of religion.
“The LGBT community is the only community worldwide that is not taught its history at home, in public schools or in religious institutions,” reads a website maintained by Equality Forum. “LGBT History Month provides role models, builds community and makes the civil rights statement about our extraordinary national and international contributions.”
LGBTQ History Month is important because it shows that progress can triumph over hate. Each day of the month is dedicated a member of the LGBTQ community who has contributed and advocated for progress and inclusion. With National Coming Out Day coming up on October 11, it’s important to remember that not everybody feels safe coming out, and not everybody, especially young people, is getting the support they need. It makes a significant difference for members of the LGBTQ community to have role models to look up to or relate to.
It’s also an important time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation with LGBTQ rights – and how far we still have to go. The history of church-state separation has intersected with LGBTQ history often. For decades, the Religious Right has fought to restrict LGBTQ rights in the name of religion, while social justice activists and groups have fought back.
Recently, there have been many victories in the struggle to expand LGBTQ rights: Marriage equality is a reality nationwide, and there are a growing number of protections in place against LGBTQ discrimination.
Religious freedom is about fairness, not discrimination.
These changes came about only in the face of entrenched opposition from Religious Right groups, and they aren’t giving up. Attempts to use religion as an excuse to ignore anti-discrimination laws are a major threat to the progress we’ve achieved, and that’s why Americans United is so active in this area. Through our Protect Thy Neighbor (PTN) project, AU was recently involved in several cases that highlight how members of the LGBTQ community are fighting back against discrimination.
We were proud to file briefs in support of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender high-school senior fighting for the right to use the public school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. We also recently secured a legal settlement for Samantha Brookover and Amanda Abramovich of West Virginia, a lesbian couple who were harassed by a Gilmer County clerk while seeking a marriage license in 2016. The clerk called them an “abomination” and said that God will “deal” with them. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and bars this type of discrimination. (Brookover and Abramovich received national recognition for their efforts when USA TODAY featured them as one of their “Faces of Pride” for Pride Month in June.)
In 2017, it’s safe to say we’ve come so far, but the fight is definitely far from over. Remember, an important case that could have tremendous implications for religious freedom is pending before the Supreme Court. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involves a Colorado bakery that is using religion as an excuse to discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to serve them. Americans United will file a legal brief telling the Supreme Court that the First Amendment does not excuse businesses from their obligation to treat all customers equally – even when the desire to discriminate is motivated by religion.
Religious freedom is about fairness; we don’t use religion as a license to discriminate. Through PTN, AU will continue opposing any attempts to use religion to relegate members of the LGBTQ community, or anyone else, to second-class citizenship. We urge you to get involved.