55 WV Faith Leaders Come Together for LGBTQ+ Rights

CONTACT: BILLY WOLFE | 304.543.0858 | billy@fairnesswv.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A coalition of 55 West Virginia religious leaders and experts have come together to declare that their faith is not only inclusive of LGBTQ rights, but that they are required to defend marginalized groups from discrimination.

As part of Fairness West Virginia’s Faith is Fairness project, each faith leader sat down for a video interview to discuss why their faith requires fair treatment of the LGBTQ community.

Project participants came from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Native American faiths, and from liberal, moderate, and conservative perspectives. The interviews will be shared on social media, with faith congregations around the state, and with local and state officials who are considering nondiscrimination measures.

Fairness West Virginia Executive Director Andrew Schneider said the LGBTQ civil rights organization was happy that so many faith leaders decided to speak out.

“We had to cut off the interviews because we were approaching a deadline,” he said. “I’m sure we could have easily recorded 100 interviews if we kept going, possibly more.”

Although religion has been hijacked by the opponents of equality to promote messages of hate, Schneider said the universal religious commandment known as The Golden Rule is actually one of the strongest arguments for nondiscrimination.

“You can’t say that you should love your neighbor as yourself and then turn around and intentionally exclude people or discriminate against them,” he said.

The project isn’t just dispelling misconceptions about the world of faith, Schneider said.

“I think this takes the unfair stereotype of the backward, small-minded religious West Virginian and turns that stereotype on its head,” he said. “We didn’t have to look hard to find 55 faith leaders who wanted to state — on camera — that God loves LGBTQ people and doesn’t want them to face unfair treatment.

“This only goes to show how fair-minded so many people in West Virginia truly are.”

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Retired Lutheran Bishop Ralph Dunkin of Wheeling said, “In the gay community we have the issue of two people loving one another. Why should that be a sin? Why should that be something that we discriminate against just because we don’t understand it? I think we should celebrate the love people have for each other, not discriminate against people for it.”

Republican state Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, who is also a youth pastor, said, “I have friends and family in the LGBTQ community. I don’t want to see them discriminated against. I don’t want them to go through what generations of the past had to go through. What is the point in hating people? What is the point in discriminating against them? There is none. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Rev. Valerie Gittings of Fairmont First Baptist Church said, “It breaks my heart that so many people now equate Christianity with against-ness: that the Christians are against gay people, they are against women in ministry, they are against Muslims. That’s not the Gospel. The Gospel is a wonderful and astonishing message of love and acceptance from a God who created all of us and would never, ever want to see someone cast out and separated from the community.”

“I guess you can go cherry-picking through the bible if you want to find ways to hate someone,” said Rev. Bonnie Boyce, a retired Presbyterian minister from Huntington. “But if you’re going to just pick one thing, maybe you should listen to the words of Jesus who said you should love your neighbor as yourself, and if you don’t know love, you don’t know God.”

The Rev. Thomas Hartshorn of Christ Reformed United Church of Christ in Martinsburg said, “I had a very good friend in high school who was bullied for being gay and he ended up committing suicide. I suppose that was my first introduction to the consequences of not loving our neighbors as ourselves. He was such a bright and talented person whose only crime was that his sexuality was simply expressed in a different way.”

The Rev. Larryetta Ellis of Edgewood Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg recalled experiences of discrimination while growing up as an African-American in rural Georgia in the 1960s. “I can remember being called the N-word as if it was Larryetta,” she said. “What doing unto others means to me is that I will never, ever make someone feel less-than the way I was.”

Fairness West Virginia has condensed some 50 hours of footage into a seven-minute preview film that can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFrxogVR2RA&t=1s.