Standing for Protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians

Lutheran advocates stood with lawmakers and supporters of protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in the Capitol on Feb. 3 as members of the LGBTQ community and their families shared stories of continued discrimination in housing and employment in Pennsylvania.

“I was saddened by all of the heart-rending stories,” said the Rev. Michael Allwein of St. James, Gettysburg, a Reconciling in Christ congregation. “I guess Michael’s story hit me the hardest because I know the Shippensburg community,” he said, referring to Michael Bugby’s account of being denied housing because he is married to a man.

Senator Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, and Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks committed to working for protections found in Senate Bill 224 during a press conference with advocates in the main rotunda. Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeastern U.S. where it is still legal for landlords, employers and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ persons.

“Leaving behind talented individuals because of sexual orientation or gender identity is surely going to fail Pennsylvania,” Bartolotta said. “It’s time that we change some of those antiquated, ancient rules and thought processes and bring Pennsylvania into 2020.”

“Hearing the stories of discrimination in housing and employment that were shared at the press conference revealed the importance of SB 224 to me,” said the Rev. Matthew Lenahan of Lititz. “I suspect, like me, many Pennsylvanians are unaware that this legal discrimination against our LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and family members persists in the 21st century. This legislation must protect the rights and dignity of all Pennsylvanians and especially those in the LGBTQ community who continue to suffer injustice and mistreatment. Called to do justice, people of faith must stand with the oppressed, marginalized, and mistreated until thier rights and dignity and protections are secured.”

Clergy presented lawmakers with statements of support from United Methodist, Episcopal and ELCA Lutheran bishops. Read the statement from Pennsylvania’s seven ELCA Lutheran bishops here. Rostered leaders may click here to add their names to a letter in support of the legislation.

The Rev. Joel Folkemer of Union Lutheran in York, another Reconciling in Christ congregation, was present to deliver the statement on behalf of the Lutheran bishops.

“Union Lutheran Church has recognized the important ministry of working for peace, justice, and equity for all people, especially for the communities that are too often marginalized by our culture and by the church,” said Folkemer, expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to be present. “It is important to take a stand when it comes to working for justice and providing much needed protections for the people of these marginalized communities, and in this case, our siblings in the LGBTQIA+ community. Jesus Christ continually lifts up and empowers the marginalized throughout his ministry, and it is our calling to continue to do the same. These basic human rights, to protect people from discrimination and prejudice, is one way in which we follow Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors. “

After the press conference, advocates visited lawmakers to urge their support for the legislation. Some accompanied people they just met.

It’s a common practice for the Rev. Timothy Seitz-Brown of Spring Grove, who can often be found in the Capitol, accompanying and speaking up for vulnerable neighbors.

“When I read Matthew 25:31-46, when I pray ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ and when I study Luther’s Small Catechism, I see that nations are judged based upon whether every person receives what is needed for a full life or not, including LGBTQ persons,” Seitz-Brown said. “Therefore I visit with and write to my legislators asking them to provide “equal protection under the law” for everyone, including sexual minorities.

Allwein and LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale accompanied Bugby to the office of his senator, Doug Mastriano, where he shared his story with a member of the senator’s staff. All three spoke of the need for protections found in SB224. In the hallway later, they talked about efforts to end housing discrimination at the municipal level, a proposal being considered in Shippensburg and other communities around the Commonwealth.

DePasquale acknowledged that despite the growing bipartisan support for such legislation, which is sponsored by Republican Senator Pat Browne, there will be work to do to convince more lawmakers that these protections are overdue. Just a few days after the press conference, some in his caucus stopped a “Love is Love” resolution.

Although the stories of discrimination and the current vitriol in our public spaces can be discouraging, standing together with neighbors we’ve never met was a good place to be, said DePasquale.

“I loved the spirit and determination that were present!” Allwein said. “There is where I found the hope!”

In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has announced a new initiative entitled Total Inclusion!: Widening the Welcome at ELCA Outdoor Ministries. The new program is designed to equip and empower outdoor ministry organizations as they move toward more intentional welcome of people who historically have been marginalized in the church — especially people of color, people with disabilities and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Total Inclusion! is a collaborative effort between the ELCA churchwide organization and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (LOM), the association of camps and retreat centers affiliated with the ELCA. Learn more. 

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