Isaiah Mojica ’26
Inside The Fight for Inclusivity in Religions for LGBTQ Individuals
Coming from a religious family, I have seen the hate that has been targeted towards people in the LGBTQ community from people of faith firsthand. It has always been apparent that some religious groups actively look for ways to discriminate against individuals who identify within the gay community. This is supported legally, most times, on the basis of religious freedom. This ostracization of gay people in some religions has caused a number of queer individuals to either hide their identities in the religion they practice to protect themselves or to just completely turn away from religion due to the lack of support. The issue of discrimination in religion only causes separation, because it makes it uncomfortable for gay people who feel a spiritual connection to be fully immersed in the religious practice they choose. This overall stifles a religion’s ability to grow as a whole. Religious spaces should not be used as a place of hate, but should have open arms towards people a part of the LGBTQ community.
One of the more common ways for a religious person to discriminate against queer folk and justify it is by claiming religious freedom. Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the U.C. Berkeley School of Law argues that “[t]here is inherently a tension between liberty and equality” due to the fact that some courts are prioritizing “protecting religious freedom even when it imposes harm on others.”
There was actually “a case about a baker who, because of his religious beliefs, refused to design a cake for a same-sex couple” (Chemerinsky), in which the court decided to rule in favor of the baker, even though this was a clear sign of discrimination. What harm is a cake that is made for loved ones to share with one another? Nothing is wrong with wanting a simple service that should be provided to you no matter how you identify. The harm done was that this couple had to experience this type of exclusion because of who they love.
This is just one of many situations where people in the LGBTQ community were refused service because of someone claiming religious freedom in regard to something that should be able to be universally obtained and experienced. Frank Ravitch, the Walter H. Stowers Chair in Law and Religion, even makes the claim that “…some religious freedom advocates have used religious freedom claims as a way to oppose LGBTQ rights in public accommodations….. without considering the impact and nature of such claims in their historical context,” insinuating that some people who claim religious freedom have little to no understanding of the significance of what they are even claiming.
Religious freedom should be used to protect a person from going against their religion’s ideals, which in some people’s eyes means to refuse service to a gay couple. However, the thing that some religious people are failing to take into consideration is the fact that this separation between people can only lead to disagreements and suffering. This type of discourse is not something that is even promoted by their religion as well, in fact it’s the complete opposite of what their religion is trying to achieve. This idea of discriminating against people to serve a religion is flawed, dangerously so, since it has the ability to create this opposition that rejects religion and is not productive at all. It really does turn into a lose-lose situation for everyone involved, considering the fact that it seems to be a constant back and forth between both sides.
As this back and forth continues, it only becomes harder for LGBTQ individuals who are actually religious to feel secure in their placement within their religion, considering some of the people they would interact with. Taking the steps to talk about this problem surrounding discrimination would open the doors for people who can make a positive impact in their religion as a whole. It would make it possible for queer believers to fully express their identity without fear of being made into an outcast by the people in their religion.
Denise L. Eger, an American Reform rabbi who has just become President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, makes the statement that she “knew that [she] was called to serve God and the Jewish people.”, but because of the fact that she was lesbian, she anticipated her fellow followers’ disapproval and decided to hide that part of her life. She essentially “was [forced]….. to live a lie” (Eger), so she was able to keep the peace with everybody. This mental battlefield is what a lot of gay religious people have to go through when trying to navigate their own spaces.
From my own experience being Christian, it was quite hard to differentiate between what others thought my religion stood for and my own personal, moral beliefs. For so long, I genuinely didn’t even think I was a “real Christian” because of the people at my church exclaiming that being gay is the sin of all sins and all of the gay people were going to Hell. Eger actually states in her article some believe that “one of the greatest crimes” is to be gay essentially, which is a statement that I can resonate with, only because I’ve heard it all my life. Ironically, once I stepped out of that church, I was more certain of myself spiritually, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t frustrated with the way I had to literally leave an area where people believed the same thing I did to understand where I stood. Eger was lucky enough to have a supportive family though, which is a blessing in itself and has “advocated for the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals into the CCAR and rabbinic schools.” This indicates that things are changing and have been changing. Eger is a prime example that “religious organizations could benefit from the participation of LGBTQ individuals who can bring the wealth of their experience and knowledge to faith-based movements” (Eger).
Most religious organizations as a collective are actually getting on the right track to becoming more inclusive to LGBT people. It really just comes down to some individuals not wanting to broaden their mindset when it comes to acceptance. The Human Right’s Campaign [HRC], the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the U.S., actually claims that “[m]any religious organizations….have taken supportive stands on the issues that affect LGBTQ people in America,” which is further justified when it makes references to a couple of religions that are either becoming more progressive or have been inclusive already. For example, Buddhism includes little to no discrimination when it comes to “same-sex relations” due to “the scriptural texts that hold the Buddha’s original teachings…. not target[ing] LGBTQ people specifically’. Hinduism is also one of the more progressive religions, since “Hinduism does not provide a fundamental spiritual reason to reject or ostracize LGBTQ individuals” (HRC). According to Michael Ruth, editor of “Catholic Leadership Should Stop Discriminating Against Gay People,” research from a March 2011 study by Public Religion Research Institute found out that “71 percent of Catholics supported civil marriage for same-sex couples, and only 39 percent said homosexual behavior was morally wrong.”
So overall, religions are becoming more progressive. However, an issue that must be addressed is the way some non-religious queer people tend to treat issues revolving around religion. A lot of the time as I was personally talking with people about religion, there seemed to be some individuals in the LGBTQ community who believe it appropriate to bash a certain religion without thinking of the way that it might affect someone who is living by that religion. Ravitch had a pretty interesting take on this issue as well, expressing how “arguing that for-profit entities and some government officials should not be protected by religious freedom principles is deeply troubling” which is something that I completely agree with. Religious freedom, though sometimes used incorrectly, is something that should be able to be used in situations that warrant it. It is something that allows people to refuse something that goes against their religion, so to suggest not having that is similar to asking for religious rights to not be respected. There cannot be a situation where one side is having the upper hand or feels entitled to take someone else’s liberties away. This should not be viewed as the religious side’s issue to fix only, but as something that should be fixed gradually with time, and can be fixed with time together as a unit.
The fight for inclusivity is here, now, and there is no reason to stop when there is still a long way to go for queer people, specifically queer religious people. We are generally able to claim space with our communion, but as long as there are people who are actively trying to prevent gay people from receiving services that should to be received, the fight will never end. It is time to fully become accepting of LGBTQ people overall, not just the religious ones, so we can all learn from one another and grow with each other.
Chemerinsky, Erwin. “Op-Ed: Giving people a license to discriminate because of their religious beliefs”. Los Angeles Times, JUNE 17, 2021 2:46 PM PT. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-06-17/discrimination-religion-free-exercise-supreme-court-gay-rights
Eger, Denise L. “Op-ed: Religions Must Open Their Doors to LGBT Members” Advocate, 17 March 2015. https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2015/03/17/op-ed-religions-must-open-their-doors-lgbt-members
Human Rights Campaign, https://www.hrc.org/resources/faith-positions , hrc.org, 15 October 2022.
Ravitch, Frank S. “Competing Freedoms: Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Sexual and Reproductive Liberty in Pluralistic Societies.” Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, vol. 9, no. 2, July 2017, pp. 191+. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A519075074/OVIC?u=central&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=e552346c.
Ruth, Michael. “Catholic Leadership Should Stop Discriminating Against Gay People.” The Catholic Church, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale In Context: OpposingViewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/EJ3010384272/OVIC?u=central&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=75663dbc. Accessed 11 Oct. 2022. Originally published as “Catholic Church Unfriendly to LGBT People? No—Living a Split Reality,” dignityusa.org, 17 June 2013.