Guest: Senators Romney and Lee: We Utahans need your help
As a Presbyterian Elder and Lay Pastor in Springville Community Presbyterian Church, Utah, I am looking to our two US senators to help find common ground to ensure fairness and equality for all Americans. For decades, Congress has failed in its responsibility to protect the LGBTQ community — but with both parties now proposing to add nondiscrimination protections to federal law, 2021 could finally change that. I look to Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to join in the effort to hammer out details of this crucial legislation.
After living most of my life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I moved here to Ogden in 2009 to be with my partner Mark, who I married at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Christmas Eve 2014. Mark passed away quite unexpectedly two years later. Grieving his loss, I needed a place to anchor myself. Mark and I had worshiped at Trinity for years, and I decided to do what I could to contribute to the congregation. I’ve always been the type of person who raises his hand when help is needed. Over the past five years, I have become a Ruling Elder as well as a Commissioned Lay Pastor within the Presbytery of Utah. I currently serve at Springville Community Presbyterian Church.
Growing up, I learned that boys who were different were often bullied, and I experienced some of that. But I was never really willing to be anyone other than myself. Throughout my work life I’ve always found a path to be accepted by my peers — but have never hesitated to make clear that discrimination toward me is unacceptable.
I’ve lived with HIV for 31 years, and for years while in Pennsylvania I served on the board of a healthcare agency. On one occasion, as the board was discussing outreach to HIV-positive folks, a colleague asked, “Why do we want more of those people?” I was rankled — he’d known me long enough to be aware of my HIV status. I stood up and walked out of the room.
I know from meeting young people who seek out our congregation or who visit our booth at the Ogden Pride Fest that not everyone has the strength that I’ve found through my faith to push back against discrimination. But I know that everyone deserves to be protected against discrimination because each of us has been made in God’s image and is, in effect, a jigsaw piece in the puzzle that is God. In my role in the Presbytery of Utah, I try to be an example of God’s inclusive love and let my life be a sermon.
I’m pleased that Utah has acted affirmatively to combat discrimination. But I see the resistance against fairness toward LGBTQ people mounted in many states and local communities. And I’ve learned that one in three LGBTQ Americans, according to a 2020 survey, experienced discrimination — in public spaces, on the job, in schools, and in their own neighborhoods — in just the previous year.
That number rises to 60% among transgender people, who endure exceptionally high levels of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. They are also stalked by violence, with a record 44 hate-motivated murders nationwide last year.
Black and Latino LGBTQ folks face greater poverty rates than communities of color generally. Less than half the states protect the community’s youth from bullying in school. Elders must often re-closet themselves, with nearly half of same-sex couples reporting discrimination in seeking senior housing.
Thankfully, there is now hope Congress might finally act. For the first time, both Democrats and Republicans have put forward measures that add LGBTQ protections to our nation’s civil rights laws. The major disagreement between the two parties involves balancing the urgent need to protect LGBTQ people with the religious freedom fundamental to American life.
Finding a path to getting that job done is what legislators do when committed to solving problems, and Senators Romney and Lee can look to the laws of 21 states that prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination without compromising religious freedoms.
Washington can follow suit, with senators reaching across the aisle to end the divisive pattern pitting religious liberties against the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Every major civil rights advance — from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Americans With Disabilities Act — has found the appropriate balance.
Senators Romney and Lee: One hundred thousand LGBTQ Utahans, their families, and their friends are counting on you.
Bobbie Ramer is a Presbyterian Elder and Lay Pastor at Springville Community Presbyterian Church.