Despite gains secured by the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, discrimination and violence continue to be real and pressing problems for many of its members in Florida. As a local faith leader, I frequently meet with LGBTQ+ people who have experienced discrimination while searching for a place to live—or even doing something as simple as shopping in a store. I’ve met with people who have been rejected by their own families and live in constant fear that harassment and mistreatment is right around the corner.
These challenges weigh heavily on my heart and mind, especially as the U.S. Supreme Court just heard three cases about LGBTQ+ employment discrimination—cases brought by individuals who were fired from their jobs because of who they are or who they love. Sometime in the coming months, the court will determine whether United States federal law will protect LGBTQ+ people.
I am one of many faith leaders across Florida who have met with lawmakers this year to highlight the significant harms of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and the urgent need for basic protections. The reality is that Florida is one of 29 states where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are left vulnerable to discrimination because of a lack of explicit protections at state and federal levels. As a person of faith, I know we cannot accept our state’s failure to protect some of the most vulnerable of God’s children. We are all called to work toward unity and peace in our communities, which means we must work to ensure that our LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters and siblings are protected from the dehumanizing harms of discrimination.
When I speak with lawmakers about LGBTQ+ dignity, my approach is the same regardless of that person’s political background, religious beliefs or personal familiarity with LGBTQ+ individuals. I try to find common ground and share what I believe in. I try to illustrate that we are all trying to do the right thing in this world. That means building community and treating all people with respect and kindness.
Faith communities in Florida and across the South have long been engaged in generative conversations about our LGBTQ+ community members. It wasn’t so long ago that clergy support for LGBTQ+ equality was rare. But people of faith, like all Americans, have been on a journey. That journey has made us stronger and more inclusive. A super-majority of Americans now supports stronger nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. Here in Florida, too, support for such protections only continues to grow.
That’s why it’s so critical that the Supreme Court affirm protections for LGBTQ+ people and that we pass a bill both in Florida and on the federal level that backs up those protections across the nation. It’s time to send an unequivocal message that we love all of our neighbors, including the many who identify as LGBTQ+.
Baber is a member of the Faith in Public Life movement.