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Faith leaders convene in Puerto Rico to support LGBT equality

May 13, 2010
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NRLR members, along with House Minority Leader Hector Ferrer (center, seated), speak at a press conference in Puerto Rico.

The National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR), convened by the Task Force, is holding its semi-annual meeting in Puerto Rico to support the local struggle for LGBT equality. The NRLR is an interfaith network of leaders from pro-LGBT faith, spiritual and religious organizations.

“Religion is often used to demonize and persecute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, just as religion has and continues to be used to justify oppression of other communities,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “But as the countless welcoming and affirming churches in Puerto Rico testify, there are faith voices that welcome LGBT people with open arms. As pro-LGBT faith and spiritual leaders, we come to Puerto Rico to offer our support and prayers to the Puerto Rican LGBT community in hopes of fostering a continuing dialogue as we march toward full equality.”

Too often, work for justice for LGBT people is seen as disconnected or separate from other justice work. However, many LGBT people live in poverty and face pervasive discrimination, economic injustice and the threat of violence.

Recognizing this interconnection of justice issues, and, with the help of Beth Zemsky, a consultant specializing in multicultural organizational development, the NRLR met in Puerto Rico to gain a better understanding how to highlight these connections and work more deeply at the intersections of oppression and justice.

“A core value in Jewish tradition is working towards tikkun olam, repair of the world,” said Zemsky. “The world’s brokenness is not just around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, it is also about enough for everyone to eat, good health care for all, achieving social justice in Puerto Rico and the world. Justice isn’t just about one group of people — it is about the fabric of life.”

Violence against LGBT people has increased in Puerto Rico of late, with the killings of five LGBT individuals in the past five months. In preparation for the commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia on May 17, the NRLR held a town hall meeting with pro-LGBT people of faith to discuss the importance of combating religious-based bigotry. NRLR members visited local lawmakers at the Capitol to discuss the importance of religious voices speaking out in favor of LGBT equality.

“This visit from the National Religious Leadership Roundtable is as historic as it is inspiring,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, communications manager of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “The town hall meeting with NRLR members and local faith leaders opens lines of communication to continue to counter religious-based bigotry. These voices of pro-LGBT faith leaders are critical in the struggle to achieve full equality. We welcome them to Puerto Rico.”

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