There has been so much said about the massacre in Orlando, it seems a person can’t say much more. I am a minister in a faith tradition which calls for the embracing of all kinds of diversity, but Unitarian Universalism can lay no unique claim to outrage. All religions — Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Pagans — are heartbroken and outraged at yet another horrific event in our American life. As are the thousands of American “nones,” who claim no religion, but claim ethics and morality as their heritage.
Closer to home, we Idahoans grieve the death of openly gay Steven Nelson, lured to his death by four thugs who apparently felt it was within moral limits to beat a homosexual man to death.
What on earth, we ask ourselves, can we do to help mend this broken part of our country’s values?
The lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community has made astonishing strides in the past couple of decades. I never thought I would live to see the day where I could conduct legal gay marriages. Popular TV shows feature gay people in their righteous societal place: carrying on their lives pretty much the same way that straight people do. The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life finds 55 percent of Americans supporting gay marriage, with 37 percent opposed, an almost exact reversal from 2001.
But still, how can massacres and murders of LGBT people happen here in our enlightened country? Is there anything we can do?
There has been a long-standing — and highly frustrating — project in our state called Add the Words, Idaho. Those of us who support and work for this outcome simply want the Idaho Legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the existing Idaho Human Rights Act. To do so would offer LGBT persons legal protection in workplaces, housing, public accommodations and education disputes. Even though gay marriage is legal, a same-sex couple in our state may still be legally discriminated against, with no recourse.
Words matter. They matter a lot — what we say, in the documents expressing our values, matters a great deal. Adding the words may not deter the mad and evil people bent on bigotry-driven slaughter, but it lets the world know that we intend our state to be a safe place for all of its citizens.
We can express our highest religious, family and social values by getting out there and working very hard to make Add the Words a reality. We can go to the excellent Add the Words, Idaho website and click the “Get Involved” tab. There, we can get advice on what we can do, and we can find places to help us have the skills and courage to speak up.
People’s minds can be changed, and they can be changed by folks like us speaking up publicly, by having conversations with lawmakers and other influential people, by speaking out civilly about decency and love.
The Idaho Press-Tribune News, a Canyon County newspaper, reported the extremely successful, fun and diverse Pridefest. They spoke of an Idaho citizen who has changed his views about the LGBT community. Sixty-two-year-old Bob Solomon, who lives near Middleton, is a straight, evangelical Christian and LGBT ally who said his views on the importance of Pride have evolved over the years. Mr. Solomon has been influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concept of eliminating all forms of discrimination. The 62-year-old Middleton resident, in speaking of the Orlando massacre, says, “The wrong that has been done to them has been done to all of us in a violation of a beloved community.”
I honor Mr. Solomon and hope that he will be working for Add the Words, Idaho. I will be spending significant time and energy on it this time around. I hope that you will, too.
Rev. Elizabeth Greene is minister emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.