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Build LGBTQ inclusion in nation’s family

As a faith leader at an Indiana Presbyterian congregation, I am hoping Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun will help find common ground to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans.

For decades, Congress has neglected its responsibility to protect the LGBTQ community. But, with both parties now offering proposals to add nondiscrimination protections to the law, 202s could finally be the year to change that. I look to Sens. Young and Braun to help hammer out the details of this crucial legislation.

During the 25 years of my ministry, I have served small congregations in Indiana and Kentucky. Since November 2019, I’ve been interim pastor of Corydon Presbyterian Church, a More Light congregation that welcomes LGBTQ individuals and their families into the full life of our faith community. Lesbian and gay congregants have assumed leadership positions at Corydon Presbyterian for many years — dating to before the time it formally embraced the More Light philosophy — and, more recently, we have welcomed transgender members, as well.

As the only open and affirming Presbyterian congregation in Harrison County, we have become more intentional in our outreach to LGBTQ people in the local community.

I was in seminary in the 1990s, a period of heated debate within the Presbyterian Church USA about the role of LGBTQ people. In 1996, after my ordination, I attended the Presbyterian General Assembly in Albuquerque, N.M., where ordination of LGBTQ ministers and elders was voted down. I struggled within my conscience about my ability to be ordained knowing my fellow seminary students who were LGBTQ were denied that opportunity. I’m grateful the Church has made so much progress in the years since, and I’m also grateful that our middle daughter, who came out two years ago at 19, is able to grow up in a more inclusive world.

None of my earlier pastoral calls was at More Light congregations, though some were welcoming to LGBTQ members on an unofficial basis. Others were not. In ministering to those congregations, I encouraged a climate of openness and inclusion focused on Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

As I provide pastoral care to our LGBTQ congregants, I often hear stories about the challenges they have faced, particularly regarding acceptance and love from their families. During those discussions, I recognize the vital role Corydon Presbyterian Church plays in offering a spiritual home to many who have not previously been able to find one.

To me, it is just so basic that everybody — in our Church and in our nation — should have an equitable opportunity to be protected from discrimination. Yet, LGBTQ Hoosiers still enjoy no statewide nondiscrimination protections, and there is no law protecting youth from school bullying or harassment either.

Unfortunately, Indiana is not unique on that score. One in three LGBTQ Americans, according to a 2020 survey, experienced discrimination — in public spaces, on the job, in schools and in their own neighborhoods — in just the previous year.

That number rises to 60% among transgender people, who endure exceptionally high levels of unemployment, poverty and homelessness. They are also stalked by violence, with a record 44 hate-motivated murders nationwide last year.

Black and Latino LGBTQ folks face greater poverty rates than communities of color generally. Less than half the states protect the community’s youth from bullying in school and even fewer offer nondiscrimination protections. Elders often find themselves having to re-closet themselves, with nearly half of same-sex couples reporting discrimination in seeking senior housing.

Thankfully, there is now hope that Congress might finally act. For the first time, both Democrats and Republicans have put forward measures that add LGBTQ protections to our nation’s civil rights laws. The major disagreement between the two parties involves balancing the urgent need to protect LGBTQ people with the religious freedoms so many Americans, including me, cherish.

Finding a path to getting that job done is what legislators do when committed to solving problems, and Sens. Young and Braun can look to the 21 states, including our neighbor Illinois, with laws prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination without compromising religious freedoms.

Washington can follow suit, with senators reaching across the aisle to end the divisive pattern that pits religious liberties against the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Every major civil rights advance — from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Americans With Disabilities Act — has found the appropriate balance.

Sens. Young and Braun, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ Hoosiers, their families and their friends are counting on you.

Editor’s note: The Rev. Cindy Cushman serves as interim pastor at Corydon Presbyterian Church.