Religious Leaders Come Together in Faith to Value Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality at Task Force Creating Change
Largest LGBT and Allies Activist Conference Draws 2,500 Participants
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, November 12, 2004 — Faith leaders and activists gathered Thursday for an unprecedented day of organizing to incorporate religion into the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. They took part in the "Organizing With and Among Communities of Faith" pre-conference institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 17th Annual Creating Change Conference. The group of nearly thirty-five clergy and laity from across the United States included representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, spiritual, and Unitarian/Universalist faith traditions. Through presentations and strategy sessions, the attendees expressed a desire to reclaim religious language for progressive causes. Ninety percent of those present were new to the Creating Change Conference, suggesting that many felt the need to transform personal faith into public action following the recent election.
Although speakers criticized the media and certain politicians for giving too much credit to conservative "values voters" for Republican successes in the 2004 elections, they also stressed that progressives must learn to use language of values and faith in order to appeal to a highly religious electorate.
"People of faith are angry that the anti-gay conservative right has co-opted the faith community and insisted on imposing their conservative values on the rest of the country," said Rea Carey, Deputy Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The faith leaders at the Creating Change conference, as well as the Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable, will not stand for their voices being drowned out. They are organizing to ensure that a wide range of values are allowed in this country, like teaching our children love and acceptance of the diversity of people in America."
"Every social justice movement in American history has been fueled by and led by religious people, for religious reasons," said speaker Reverend Jay Johnson, Programming and Development Director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. Dr. Johnson went on to cite religious motivations of figures involved in the American Revolution, the abolition movement, the women's suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Johnson stressed the need for progressives to address the faith of their fellow Americans "positively, not just critically." Johnson added, "We can't abandon the language of religion and values to the religious right."
Other speakers reported recent successful examples of mobilizing of religious forces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. Ted Jackson was field organizer for the "Yes on 3" ballot initiative, which overturned Cincinnati's city charter amendment twelve, the only law in the country that banned legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation. "There is no way we could have won in Cincinnati this year without a faith-based coalition," Jackson said. Jackson gave examples of Jewish congregations organizing four canvasses for the campaign, and Roman Catholic and evangelical leaders who came out in favor of the initiative because of the depth of relationships the activists formed with them. He stressed that educating clergy and faith communities made the campaign's broadcast advertising and direct mailings more effective. "The education campaign worked better because it was supported by fieldwork."
In addition to grassroots organizing, participants agreed on the need for a greater media presence from pro-gay religious voices. The Institute included discussions of developing contacts in the media and the formation of simple, clear messages to advocate for progressive issues in ways that appeal to American faith and values.
Other presenters at the Institute included Task Force Research Director Jason Cianciotto; Reverend Steven Baines from People for the American Way; and Roberta Sklar, Task Force Press Secretary. Dr. Johnson and Reverend Baines are members of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leaders Roundtable, an interfaith coalition of clergy working to change the public religious dialogue on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
All participants agreed on the necessity of appealing to Americans' sense of values in order to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens. "Religious communities are such a part of the fabric of America that to reach voters you have to reach out to their faith communities," Jackson said. "If someone makes a commitment to get up every Sunday morning to attend church, or to go to Shabbat every Friday night, or to pray five times a day, they're going to make a commitment to vote."
This year's conference follows the 2004 Presidential Election by eight days, as intensely watched an election as most of us will ever experience. LGBT equality leaders have gathered at the Creating Change conference to chart future resistance to four more years of the most anti-gay administration in history.
The conference runs Nov. 10-14, 2004. Still to come are the Skills Academy for Leadership and Training on Friday and Saturday; more than 120 workshop sessions and presentations, caucuses, film screenings, a keynote speech from Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman and the closing plenary session on Sunday Nov. 14.
Creating Change is the nation's largest and most unique annual skills building and strategy conference of activist and organizers who work in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement. More information at http://www.creatingchange.org
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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