Statement celebrating the 10th anniversary of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable

Statement celebrating the 10th anniversary of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable at the opening plenary of the 21 National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in
Denver, Colo., Jan. 29, 2009

We all know that the largest share of hatred and bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people comes from passages taken from the Bible that have been misused by organized religious traditions. These institutions have rejected and demonized LGBT people and injured many of us with the rhetoric and vitriol that they have spewed. Too many of us bear the scars of attacks from the pulpit of hateful speech. And yet, there have always been LGBT people within the church, the synagogue, the mosque and sangha, for generations! People of faith who were also gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex. Some were silent and others were not. Some worked to change their institutions from within and others were just living out their faith’s tradition and let the aspect of their sexual orientation or gender identity lay quiescent to the strong power of faith.

However, in recent years, starting 10 years ago, 20 years ago and even 30 years ago, those LGBT people of faith had the strength to begin to integrate their faith and their sexual orientation and gender identity. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has honored some of those pioneers in recent years like Barbara Satin and Bishops Yvette Flunder and Gene Robinson. Yet, saying that you are LGBT and religious has often been treated like a dirty secret. It was yet another coming out and one that was not well received in the broader LGBT community. How can you participate in a church that oppresses us, our friends asked. Because our very identities are woven as queer and religious, we answered. And we have been given the gift to help heal our religious communities of their hatred and remind our LGBT communities of their deep capacity for spirituality.

Ten years ago, Urvashi Vaid, then director of the Policy Institute of the Task Force and Laura Montgomery Rutt, national organizer of Equal Partners in Faith felt that it was time to give voice to those religious and LGBT leaders working for change, so they organized the first National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR).

Vaid said, “In recent years, people of faith have served on the front line against homophobia and paid severe consequences for their support of LGBT equality. From Reverend Jimmy Creech to Sister Jeannine Gramick to the 68 ministers of the United Methodist Church facing trial for holding marriage ceremonies, the civil rights movement and the faith movement are intimately linked. The truth is that a vigorous, pro-LGBT, faith-based movement exists and is growing stronger.”

One of the first public events of the NRLR was entitled “Spirituality and Sexuality, In the Image of God.” It attracted a crowd of over two hundred. Also, beginning the tradition of serving witness when we gather, a public request was sent to James Dobson of Focus on the Family “to hear our case, and together to begin a process of seeking truth about homosexuality and homosexuals,” and was signed by representatives from the original twenty-two participating organizations which has later grown to over seventy. The meeting was covered by the New York Times, Associated Press, and CNN.

This tradition of lifting up truth and speaking with the voice of LGBT spirituality as a gift cannot be denied. From confronting James Dobson to phone banking on anti-LGBT legislation to being arrested on the streets in protest, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable continues to speak truth to power.

Today, we are celebrating 10 years of the Roundtable, honoring those founding members and organizations who participated at the beginning. Their names appear behind me. We want to thank them and honor them by continuing the work that they have started. And, as we have seen with Prop 8, when conservative religious voices are lifted in oppression, our pro-LGBT religious voices must be lifted in liberation.

As Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirke Avot or The Ethic of our Fathers, “It is not for you to finish the task, yet you are not free to desist from it.”

We return thanks to God for the work and witness of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable. Would all the current and members of the Roundtable please stand? These are our spiritual leaders and colleagues in our pro-LGBT work. We invite you to work with us and, if you are so led, come out as queer and religious.

Happy 10th Birthday, National Religious Leadership Roundtable!

Original member organizations:

  • Affirmation (Methodist)
  • Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
  • AIDS National Interfaith Network
  • Al-Fatiha, LGBTQ Muslims
  • All Saints Episcopal Church
  • American Friends Service Committee (Quaker)
  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum
  • Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns
  • Christian Lesbians OUT
  • Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (Jewish)
  • Dignity/USA (Catholic)
  • Disciples Justice Action Network
  • Ecumenical Catholic Church Equal Partners in Faith
  • Evangelicals Concerned
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples (GLAD)
  • Human Rights Campaign
  • Integrity (Episcopal)
  • Interfaith Alliance
  • Interfaith Assembly
  • Interfaith Working Group
  • Interweave (Unitarian Universalist)
  • Lutherans Concerned
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action
  • More Light Presbyterians
  • National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
  • New Ways Ministry
  • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
  • People for the American Way
  • Q Spirit
  • Reconciling Congregation Program
  • Soulforce, Inc (Rev. Mel White’s Initiative)
  • That All May Freely Serve
  • Unitarian Universalist Association
  • United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns
  • United Methodist Covenant Relationships Network (CORNET)
  • Unity Fellowship Church
  • Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches
  • U.S. Urban Rural Mission of the World Council of Churches
  • Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
  • World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Jewish Organizations