Post submitted by Project One America Faith and Religion Associate Director Joseph Ward

Working with faith communities is a priority for our work in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. For several months, I've been traveling throughout the South meeting with faith leaders with incredibly diverse backgrounds, theology and opinions on LGBT justice issues.

Last night we had our first official religion and faith event in Birmingham, Alabama, as part of HRC’s new campaign, Project One America.   We heard from long-time activists who have spent decades paving the way for LGBT inclusion within their respective faith traditions. We were thrilled to partner with Beloved Community Church and the Greater Birmingham Ministries to host the gathering.  Rev. J.R. Finney, Rev. Emily Freeman Penfield and Rev. Kevin Higgs, three clergy in the Birmingham area, shared about their ministry and work building inclusive congregations and faith communities. The event was moderated by religion and faith program director Sharon Groves. We had over sixty folks present with some coming from as far as Tuscaloosa and Montgomery.  Invitations were sent far and wide to people of all faith traditions, including the welcoming and affirming congregations throughout the state.

A couple of incredible moments came from several stories shared by folks in the community. There was a young woman who got up with her Bible in hand, filled with pink sticky notes. She talked about her challenging experiences coming out to her mother and tasked herself to read what the Bible had to say about LGBT people. She shared that throughout her readings and read many stories about the mistreatment of women and the promotion of slavery, which are things she felt were troubling to ever practice in today's world. Another woman spoke about being an ally and working within the Catholic community to help create more loving and inclusive practices and beliefs within the Catholic Church. Rev. Higgs and Rev. Freeman Penfield also shared about the history of their work within the Methodist church to build stronger awareness and understanding about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identity. HRC Atlas fellow TJay Thirikwa also spoke briefly about her experiences with LGBT work in Kenya. The gathering was conversational with dedicated space to hear the stories and experiences of those present.

Before we launched Project of One America, we asked LGBT Alabamians to help us better understand their lived experiences as a way to inform our work. Almost 1,200 LGBT Alabamians responded to an HRC survey earlier this year. One of the priorities that rose to the top was finding ways to address experiences of harassment and violence throughout communities, especially challenges with some people of faith.

As we continue this work, we believe that if we can work closely with communities, organizations, families, houses of worship, and other concerned individuals across Alabama, then we can more quickly shift laws, institutions and the culture to be more LGBT inclusive. Last night’s gathering was a great kickoff event of our religion and faith work and we look forward to our ongoing partnership and work with faith communities throughout the state.


The journey continues into Mississippi and Arkansas.

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