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The Year in Review: Five LGBT religious advances in 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012
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There was a time, not so long ago, when religion was a unified front against LGBT equality. However, over the years, we have seen that paradigm change, and 2012 witnessed religious people and organizations at the forefront of LGBT advancement.

This past spring, GLAAD released “Missing Voices” which noted that pro-LGBT religious voices were largely missing in the media, despite significantly increased LGBT inclusion in religious communities. We publicly challenged the media to include more pro-LGBT voices of faith. By the end of the year, we saw several religious leaders stepping out and speaking up.

The support came from some pretty surprising places. Take a look:

State Marriage Equality Victories

Marriage equality won big in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment was defeated in Minnesota, and one major reason for our wins was the leadership of LGBT faith organizations.

Each state campaign included a faith director, and in many instances, national LGBT religious organizations dedicated resources and staff efforts to ensure marriage equality.

The playbook for marriage equality has been re-written with religious voices leading the way. Even as we close out the year, over 260 faith leaders in Illinois are making public their support for marriage equality.

Catholics Support LGBT Equality

In so many ways, this item is related to the post above it, but it has its own special twist. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was the staunchest and leading opponent to marriage equality.

Catholic Bishops required anti-gay prayers at mass, made outrageous statements, and even persecuted some of their most devout followers.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy poured tremendous money and energy into opposing LGBT equality, particularly in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota. And the Knights of Columbus donated $6.5 million to anti-gay causes.

However, despite the pressure from Roman Catholic hierarchy, Catholic political leaders passed marriage equality legislation and Catholic people voted overwhelmingly for LGBT equality. Some even suffered backlash from their leadership for being outspoken. However, GLAAD was able to lift up stories and examples of people like Barbara Johnson, Dominic Sheahan Stahl, Lenin Cihak, and the Equally Blessed Coalition of LGBT Catholic organizations.

LGBT Students at Conservative Religious Colleges

Often, conservative religious schools are known for squashing any dissenting voices, particularly involving LGBT concerns. This year, LGBT and allied students and alumni from conservative religious schools are finding each other and making their voices heard.

Students at Biola University formed Biola Queer Underground, sparking on-campus and off-campus conversation about how LGBT students are treated at the school. LGBT alumni of Bob Jones University formed BJUnity and marched in the New York City Pride Parade.

The blog “Queer at Patrick Henry College” shared the anonymous postings of LGBT students. The president of Patrick Henry College first threatened to sue the blog, but later stated that there could be no LGBT students at Patrick Henry, since every student signs an agreement, promising not to be gay.

Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University in New York City witnessed one of its faculty members transition, allowing Joy Ladin to continue teaching.

And students at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, as well as students at Catholic University of America, have been organizing to form LGBT student organizations, and encountering administration roadblocks.

Pro-LGBT Mormons

Mormons are probably still best known as the muscle behind California’s Proposition 8. Since then, many individual Mormons have been doing some soul searching.

Former Mormon Bishop Kevin Kloosterman shared why he started supporting LGBT equality, and it was the impact of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” LGBT and allied Mormons marched in Pride parades around the country.

These changes are prompting some soul searching within the Mormon hierarchy, who just created a new web site, www.mormonsandgays.org, as an attempt of the Mormon Church to reach out to LGBT Mormons. The web site indicates very little change in policy, but slight shifts in attitude are hinted. It states that the church no longer recommends gay and lesbian people to marry the opposite sex.

While the Mormon Church has a long way to go in fully accepting and affirming LGBT people, we will likely see more movement within the Mormon Church over the coming years, as more allied Mormons speak out.

The Episcopal Church

The Episcopal Church has been on a decade-long trajectory of LGBT inclusion, since electing its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Bishop Robinson had a very active year, which is more fully documented in our top pro-LGBT faith voices post.

The Episcopal Church went even further this year. The conventional wisdom is that advocacy groups can’t advocate for more than one LGBT issue at a time. The Episcopal Church broke that wisdom, successfully passing four resolutions addressing LGBT equality in church and society. They quickly showed support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and anti-bullying initiatives.

The church got the most attention for passing a rite of blessing for same-gender couples.

However, the most significant advancement that The Episcopal Church accomplished was a non-discrimination policy for transgender people. This policy ensures the inclusion of transgender people in their membership in the church, as well as their leadership, including ordained ministry.

The Episcopal Church is the largest denomination to have a specific protection for transgender people, making it easier for other similar denominations to follow suit. Episcopal support for LGBT people has caused some ecumenical friction, as when Bishop Marc Andrus was snubbed at the installation of San Francisco Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for his outspoken support of LGBT people.

The progress of 2012 will likely continue in 2013, as more and more people of faith are stepping out to speak to their own discriminatory denominational policies, as well as using their faith to advocate for LGBT equality in society. GLAAD will continue to lift pro-LGBT voices of faith in 2013, within these communities, as well as elsewhere.

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