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United Methodist Bishops of PA Release New Letter of Support for Pennsylvania Nondiscrimination Laws

Bishops to Call for Nondiscrimination Laws to include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression

Harrisburg – Today, by unanimous consensus, all three bishops of The United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania released a new public letter calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to update the Human Relations Act to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination at work, in housing, and in business services.

The letter states, “As bishops of The United Methodist Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we urge our state leaders to pass the Pennsylvania Non-Discrimination Act.  …

It is long past time to acknowledge that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have experienced routine discrimination because of who they are. There are no federal or state laws to protect LGBT people from being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or refused services at a business because of who they are. We must act to protect them by updating the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  …

We encourage United Methodist business owners and landlords to treat LGBT employees, customers, and tenants with the same love, respect, and hospitality that Jesus offered to all he encountered.”  (See the full letter here.)

The letter is signed by Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference; Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, Susquehanna Conference; and Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Western Pennsylvania Conference.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, offered this statement about why she made the decision to issue the letter now, “Part of my role as bishop is to advance the teachings of The United Methodist Church. Our church teaches clearly that all persons are of sacred worth. We must not forget the strong teachings in the established Social Principles of our global church that LGBT people should be treated fairly in civil society as equals under the law. No matter what our beliefs are about the moral questions related to human sexuality, we should all be united in protecting LGBT people from being discriminated against.

We have fought hard as a church to protect minority groups from discrimination. The commandment of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves requires us to continue our Christian witness by actively advocating for just laws that affirm the full humanity and dignity of LGBT people.”

Rev. Yvette Davis, Pastor of the historic Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, opened the event with prayer.

Bishop Johnson was represented at the event by the Rev. James McIntire, Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Havertown. McIntire explained, “The United Methodist Church, with nearly 500,000 of it 11 million members here in Pennsylvania, in its long-standing Social Principles, makes it clear that ‘we affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God’ and that ‘We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection.’ Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is an act that falls far short of equality and is outside the scope of how we have come to know God.”

The Bishops of the The United Methodist Church join other Bishops who support protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination. All four Episcopal Bishops of Pennsylvania endorsed this legislation to update PA’s discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity in February.  (See the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania press release for the full letter here.) And The Rev. Kurt F. Kusserow, Bishop of Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released an open letter in favor of updating Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination laws in 2014. (More details on Rev. Kusserow’s letter here.)

Rabbi Carl Choper, President of  the Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania, highlighted the significant statewide network of people of faith working to protect LGBT people from discrimination, “There is a strong consensus in the official moral teachings of the great majority of faith traditions and religious denominations in Pennsylvania that discrimination against gay and transgender people is immoral. There are about 600 clergy and more than 1000 lay faith leaders from more than 31 denominations in our faith network who are clear on that and willing to speak up, including bishops and other regional denominational leaders. This level of statewide faith support for LGBT equality is unprecedented. In addition to raising awareness and taking action to end legal discrimination, they are organizing local interfaith coalitions to make lives better for LGBT people in their own community in practical ways.”

Joanne Carroll, President of TransCentral PA, talked about why updating the law is so important, “I hear the stories of how discrimination in work, housing, and business services holds people back every day from having the opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their families. I am thankful for the support from the United Methodist Bishops and from many faith communities including my own. I hope that together we can persuade our leaders in Harrisburg to end discrimination for all people.”

Ted Martin, Executive Director of Equality PA, talked about the current state of affairs with legislation to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, “Most Pennsylvanians are shocked to learn that it is still legal to discriminate against gay and transgender people at work, in housing, and business services. Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvania voters support protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination. We look forward to the State Legislature introducing and passing legislation this session to update our laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in discrimination protections.”

In the last legislative session two bills were introduced in the House and Senate that would update the Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the statutes related to discrimination at work, in housing, and public accommodations. The bills had bi-partisan Co-Prime Sponsors in both houses and record numbers of sponsors overall. New bills calling for discrimination protections for LGBT people are expected to be reintroduced in the coming weeks for the current session.

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