By Steve Spreitzer
Throughout our 75 year history, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion has stood with those being mistreated because of race, religion, gender, diverse ability, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnicity. Our first response to the tragedy in Orlando was to weep with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender neighbors, their families and all allied with them. Moving beyond Orlando we plan to continue listening for how we might be helpful in stopping harm being done to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning. While it is not clear if Omar Mateen was acting out of his own internalized homophobia, fueled by pervasive negative messages about people who are gay in his local community, we know far too many people have received similar messages, contributing to self-harm and hurtful words and actions toward others.
I can only imagine the emotional roller coaster ride these past few days have been for my friends who are gay. While I was in contact with many after the killing in Orlando, I have not had a chance to discuss reflections on the one-year anniversary of marriage equality and this weekend’s news of Pope Francis calling upon Christians and the Roman Catholic Church to seek forgiveness from gays for the way they had treated them.We believe that this is a time for those who have not been supportive to move beyond their temporary amnesia brought about by the assault on our human family. This is a time to work with the dissonance resulting from Orlando, with many in the faith community who may oppose marriage equality, being open to relationships marked by caring and a new interest in understanding.
This past year, with continued support from the Carpenter Foundation and the First Foundation of First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, we have been discerning how we might be helpful in the wake of the historic U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality decision. Mindful of the push back from some sectors of the faith community, we turned to four of our area PFLAG chapters to hear the stories of how one’s religious participation had been both helpful and unintentionally hurtful. We also heard presentations from allies in the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian community, offering participants very helpful insights. In the upcoming year, we plan to work with Inclusive Justice in sharing these anonymous and intentional stories with religious leaders, helping them understand the harmful consequences of their, at times, harsh rhetoric.
While the past seven years of aligning with the LGBTQ community have cost us some support, we have been true to our history and our work to make sure the places we work and live become places where all people are welcome and treated fairly. At the same time, we also remain committed to religious freedom and support the right of faith traditions to follow their teachings, while encouraging them to exhibit greater care of those who they don’t agree with in the public square where a multitude of beliefs and practices have equal footing. Our framework for change is based upon a number of core principles, including understanding history, being transformed by personal stories and examining privilege. We look forward to continuing to listen, lessen any new harm being done and celebrate the rich diversity that makes up our community.