Reformation Day: Protestant Christians Embrace LGBTQ Diversity 500 Years after Martin Luther

Protestant Christians — and especially Lutherans — have come a long way on LGBTQ issues since their founder and namesake, Martin Luther, is said to have nailed his 95 theses (“On the Power of Indulgences”) on the door of a Roman Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago. His theses publicly challenged the Catholic Church, spawning protest movements that formed the Lutheran, Baptist, and Calvinist traditions that nearly half of Americans affiliate with today.

While Luther’s Reformation questioned the repressive and ecclesiastical policies of the Catholic Church that lead to the flowering of Protestantism, his denunciation of LGB people remained embedded in the teachings of the church.

But today, there are more than 5,000 Protestant churches in the U.S. that are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran church body in the U.S. that traces its theological foundation to Luther himself, consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2013 and allows clergy to perform same-sex marriages. Other major mainline protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA), have also opened their doors to LGBTQ people and advocate for LGBTQ equality.

These reforms have been driven because the LGBTQ faithful are Coming Home to Faith, to Spirit and to Self. They are the fruits of the prophetic work being done by faith-based LGBTQ organizations and their allies, including DignityUSA, the Reformation Project, Gay Christian Network, Soulforce, the Metropolitical Community Churches and and HRC’s Religion and Faith Program. LGBTQ people are engaging the church in the same spirit of Luther — the original Protestant — whose intention was not to break away from the church, but rather reform it for the better from within.

The New Testament calls on Christians to be as one. Toward that goal, years of dialogue led to Pope Francis last year to formally apologize for Catholic slaughters of Protestants, and the Catholic Church and various Protestant denominations have signed agreements recognizing each other’s baptisms.

One lesson we can learn from Catholic-Protestant rapprochement during this time of shifting understanding on faith and LGBTQ issues, is that it has never been more important to engage in dialogue with respect and love, and with the goal of deepening the understanding between the faith and LGBTQ communities so we can truly be as one, as God’s children. It is not always easy but critical to the LGBTQ movement’s goal — to save lives.

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Betsy DeVos’ Actions on Title IX are Part of a Broader Attack on LGBTQ Students

Last Friday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era Title IX guidance related to schools’ obligations to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence–a move that will disproportionately impact LGBTQ people. Studies suggest that nearly half of bisexual women have been raped and half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey of high school students, lesbian and bisexual women and gay and bisexual men experienced higher rates of sexual assault than their straight counterparts.

On Friday, the Department of Education also released a new Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct, which replaced the 2014 Obama-era Q&A on Title IX and sexual violence that was rescinded. Unlike the Obama-era Q&A, which explicitly mentioned LGBTQ students and that the “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties [involved in an incident of sexual misconduct] does not change a school’s obligations,” the new Q&A erases all mentions of LGBTQ students and schools’ obligations to students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Unfortunately, these actions are part of a wider pattern by the Department of Education to undermine the rights of LGBTQ students. In February, DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew important guidance that clarified schools’ obligations to protect transgender students from discrimination under Title IX.  While students are still entitled to the legal protections guaranteed by Title IX, this action obfuscated schools’ obligations to transgender youth and sent a dangerous message that the current administration will not enforce inclusive policies or stand up for them at school. This was borne out when in hearings in both May and June, DeVos refused to commit to LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in in a potential federal voucher program.

When DeVos was being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, HRC opposed her nomination.

“LGBTQ students need a leader at the Department of Education who will defend their right to a safe environment where they can learn without compromising who they are,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Mrs. DeVos has not shown that she is able or willing to truly rise to this challenge and ensure all LGBTQ students — especially transgender students whose rights are being targeted by our opponents in Washington and across the country.”

Unfortunately, Winterhof’s prediction has proven true over the past half a year. DeVos’ action on Friday is only the latest example that she is both unable and unwilling to defend the rights of LGBTQ students and ensure their right to learning in a safe environment.

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