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People of Faith Gather to Support Ending Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender People

Equality Pennsylvania, Clergy, and Leaders of the Faith Community Join in a Prayer Breakfast in Pittsburgh

Allison Park, PA – Today Equality PA, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality organization, hosted a prayer breakfast with diverse faith community leaders and clergy to raise awareness that discrimination is still a legal reality in Pennsylvania.

Faith leaders from all over the state have declared that no one should live in fear of losing a job, being evicted from a home, or turned away from a business because of who they are. Recently, all four Episcopal Bishops of Pennsylvania endorsed legislation to update PA’s discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Father Scott Russell represented the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to read the letter of support for ending discrimination against LGBT people. (See the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania press release for the full letter here.)

Today’s gathering is the first of many this year to launch a coordinated faith community effort to educate their congregations and advocate for the end of discrimination against LGBT people.

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, Moderator of the Pittsburgh Faith Consortium and Pastor of JUDAH Fellowship Christian Church, summed up why the gathering was necessary today, “Despite recent victories around the country and here in Pennsylvania for same-sex couples who want to marry, there remains a patchwork of laws leaving many families vulnerable to one of their loved ones being fired from a job, turned away from a business, or evicted from a home just for being gay or transgender. Most people in Pennsylvania are shocked to learn that all people are not always protected from discrimination in the commonwealth. I am proud to work with a consortium of clergy and lay faith leaders who are committed to changing this by raising awareness and taking action — because of our faith commitments.”

The Rev. Patrice Fowler-Searcy, Director of Mission Ministries, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, opened the event with a prayer for equality.

The Rev. Dr. Steven Tuell, James A. Kelso Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, headlined the event and explained the faith based motivation to support nondiscrimination, “In Leviticus 19:18, a verse recognized by Jews and Christians alike as the heart of the Torah, we read, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Loving my neighbor doesn’t mean affirming everything my neighbor does—particularly if my neighbor is acting with injustice and cruelty. It doesn’t even mean, necessarily, ‘liking’ my neighbor. But it does mean willing my neighbor’s good, and granting to my neighbor equal dignity with my own self.”

Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Senior Rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, issued a call to action, “For Jews, the most salient, essential, significant verse in all of Scripture is the one which declares that we have an obligation to one another – to Love our Neighbor as we love Ourselves – for we have each been created in the Image of the Holy One. What do we learn from this teaching? That we have a religious, an ethical, indeed a moral mandate to see in every person one who is of unique, infinite and equal worth to each of us – and therefore we must behave in a way that respects both their inherent dignity as well as their inherent divinity! … Our silence is an open invitation—it is a permission slip, an excuse, a get out of jail free card – that allows this inequality, this endless bullying, this oppression and violence to live on forever. Many people wait for the leaders in a community to make change. Few changes in history have happened that way. We cannot simply wait for change to occur.”

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-023, Co-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, discussed how important it was for faith communities to raise awareness about the injustice of discrimination and shared how his own Jewish faith is foundational for his work, “My faith – like many other faiths – tells me that all people deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness. It is that simple but true belief that guides the work I do on nondiscrimination every day.”

Ammon Ripple, Faith Organizer for Equality Pennsylvania, highlighted the significant statewide network of people of faith working to protect LGBT people from discrimination, “There is a strong consensus in the official moral teachings of the great majority of religious denominations in Pennsylvania that discrimination against gay and transgender people is immoral. There are about 600 clergy and more than 1000 lay faith leaders from more than 25 denominations in the Equality PA faith network who are clear on that and willing to speak up, including bishops and other regional denominational leaders. This level of statewide faith support for LGBT equality is unprecedented. In addition to raising awareness and taking action to end legal discrimination, they are organizing local interfaith coalitions to make lives better for LGBT people in their own community in practical ways.”

Equality Pennsylvania, alongside 43 statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups from Georgia Equality to Basic Rights Oregon and beyond, recently launched #DiscriminationExists, a campaign to highlight the fact that despite recent victories for the freedom to marry, many states still need to update their laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination. In Pennsylvania, the educational events included a campaign launch in Philadelphia, a business networking breakfast in Harrisburg sponsored by The Dow Chemical Company that was attended by Gov. Wolf, and a small business press conference in Scranton.

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With 60,000 members across the commonwealth, Equality Pennsylvania is the leading organization advancing equality and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians.

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