Good afternoon.

I am the Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange, Co-Minister of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, speaking today for the 8 Unitarian Universalist congregations in the greater Houston area who are united as one Unitarian Universalist Voice for Justice. We, along with other members of the progressive religious community, are here today in response to tomorrow’s I Stand Sunday to affirm our continuing support for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. We want the people of Houston to know that there are religious people, good people of faith, who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  Those of us here today want Houstonians to know that those who oppose the Equal Rights Ordinance in the name of God do not speak for all religious people.

My faith affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Unitarian Universalists believe that all human beings are beloved of God.  Our faith calls us to work for justice and compassion for all people and teaches us that we should treat our neighbors according to that Golden Rule affirmed in all the world’s great religious traditions  – to treat all our neighbors with the same fairness and respect as we would want to be treated, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Many of the progressive religious clergy in Houston, myself included, spoke in support of the Equal Rights Ordinance at the hearings before the City Council.  We spoke as people of faith who stand on the side of love and justice for all people.  We spoke urging the City Council to ensure the safety and freedom all Houstonians need in order to live lives of wholeness and grace.  We spoke as pastors for the very real people to whom we have ministered – people who have suffered discrimination, harassment, even violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  We spoke of people in our congregations who even now feel they must hide their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of being harassed at work or fired, or kicked out of their home, some of whom live in constant anxiety they will be exposed.  And the clergy who testified in turn heard testimony from innumerable other Houstonians as they told the Council about the hurtful and injurious discrimination they had experienced because of some characteristic of their God-given personhood – such as race and ethnicity, as well as gender identity and sexual orientation.

Houston at its best is a place of fairness and acceptance. But, sadly, our experience as pastors and repeated testimony before the City Council show that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a continuing reality.  Just this past week we learned of a Baytown teenager who was apparently the victim of a violent assault because he is gay. No one should have to live a lie or with such crippling fear.  LGBTQ Houstonians need the protection of the Equal Rights ordinance.

As a person of faith, I believe that the ability to live peaceably without threat of violence or discrimination is a fundamental human right and that it is immoral to deprive anyone of the means to care for themselves and their families.   Each and every child of God deserves the right to live out their God-given identities as fully and freely as anyone else.

The God that those of us here today affirm is a god of universal love.  Love doesn’t erect barriers of hatred and exclusion between people.  Love reaches out across the arbitrary divisions between people with understanding and compassion. Love doesn’t care who you are, whom you love, where you come from, or what clothes you wear.  Love isn’t concerned whether you are gay or straight or male or female or transgender or questioning.   Love protects the vulnerable, empowers the marginalized.  Love insists on fairness and respect for all God’s children. That’s the kind of God we believe in – a god of all inclusive love. As philosopher Cornel West has said, justice is what love looks like in public.  And that is why we are here today – because as people of faith from various religious traditions we stand together on the side of love and justice for all people.

November 1, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange
Co-Minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church and a spokesperson for Unitarian Universalist Voice for Justice