Clergy Call 2009: Rev. Dr. Traci West
June 28, 2009
Continuing our series of speakers from HRC’s Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, Rev. Dr. Traci West speaks movingly of how our current work for justice stands in the august tradition of the early twentieth century reformer, Ida B. Wells, who advocated from her Christian faith for anti-lynching legislation. Her biography and transcript follow.
Rev. Dr. Traci C. West Rev. West is Professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School in New Jersey. She is a clergy member of the United Methodist Church, the author of Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (2006) and editor of Our Family Values: Same-sex Marriage and Religion.
My name is Traci West. I am a United Methodist clergy and I teach Christian ethics and African American Studies at a Protestant seminary, Drew Theological School. I stand here in the tradition of Ida B. Welles, the early twentieth century Christian fervent advocate against hate crimes, who relentlessly called for anti-lynching federal laws to prosecute racist white mobs who singled out blacks for torture and murder. It is the Ida B. Wells tradition of unwavering Christian faith and bold political action in the face of overwhelming odds that reminds us of why we stand here urging Congress to support the Mathew Shepard Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, critical legislation that would make it illegal to fire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people simply because of who they are. Ida B. Wells’ legacy reminds us that we must never give up on demanding lawful protections of the lives and equality of marginalized minorities. I have come here to Washington from my home in northern New Jersey where a few miles away in the city of Newark a fifteen year old African American lesbian, Sakia Gunn, was stabbed to death on the street by an adult male attacker yelling homophobic slurs after she rebuffed his sexual advances and let him know she and her friends were not interested in men. Like Matthew Shepherd, the life of this vibrant young black lesbian teenager, Sakia, must not be forgotten, nor the nature of her brutal murder. Homophobic crimes like these must be recognized and investigated as the heinous hate crimes that they are. I have come here as a follower of Jesus Christ. As the divine incarnation of Love, the Word of God that became flesh and dwells among us, Jesus embodies the antithesis of hate. Christ’s empowering love is the moral foundation on which I stand calling upon the Congress to pass this legislation, so critical to the lives and wellbeing of LGBT people. An opponent of this hate crimes legislation recently told me “it’s only a small homosexual minority that are victims of those crimes”. But I say today in the tradition of Ida B. Wells’ persevering Christian faith and hope, the life of every member of our community has sacred worth and must be equally protected by the law. Behavior ranging from hateful violent crimes to discrimination on the job must not be tolerated on any street corner or in any workplace in this land called the United States of America.