Steven Hildebrand, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, has joined Faith in America as an adviser and strategist, the organization's executive director Brent Childers announced Thursday. The mission of the five-year-old non-profit is basically to stand in the breach and defend the LGBT community from the harm done by religious bigotry and to aggressively confront and challenge such judgmental oppression.
Faith In America founder Mitchell Gold said this about Hildebrand: "Steve's talent and experience -- his record of success -- in organizational development and strategic planning are tremendous assets as we position the organization to exert leadership within the movement for equality. We are very fortunate Steve has decided to assist us in meeting that goal."
Hildebrand said, "This work is what is going to have an impact. That is where I want to put significant energy to achieve equality. This organization is doing the best work with changing the hearts and minds of Americans."
I think it will be a good fit. And frankly, I'm excited about the prospect of possibly having a religious and fact-based organization with the political acumen to do some rapid response to the lies about LGBT people that are only going to intensify as the political season heats up. It's something I've been thinking about since philanthropist David Bohnett raised the point at a GLSEN event last year. Media Matters for America, thank heavens, has been really good about getting the facts out fast -- but GLAAD is often slow to respond, and blogs, including mine, respond from a particular point of view.
And I'm glad it's Hildebrand. I've had a few conversations with folks who were aghast at his candor in the recent Washington Post profile in which he talks about his struggles with depression. They seem convinced that such an admission ruined his career as a political consultant. In the Post piece, he seemed aware of that possibility. But living an authentic life far outweighed that possibility.
In his book Crisis, Mitchell Gold talks about how issues of mental health such as depression and thoughts of suicide affect our lives. I was unsure about Hildebrand when I met him as he tried to help the Courage Campaign promote the repeal of Prop 8 in 2010. (Later the campaign decided to endorse the repeal in 2012.) But having that personal knowledge about the impact of religion on one's personal life will surely serve Hildebrand as he helps Faith in America become a leader in the LGBT movement for equality.
Hildebrand talked about taking the job in an email exchange with me:
In the research I've seen and the experiences I've had in politics, I believe we will win more battles if we can beat back those who use religion as an excuse to keep us from achieving full equality. Politicians use religion to mask their support or opposition to key legislation. Voters use religion to say it's okay to deny marriage and adoption rights to gay people. And some religious leaders and conservative pundits use religion to attack LGBT folks as immoral. I believe we can reduce religion-based bigotry by taking this conversation of hate and discrimination directly to them, letting them know of the tremendous harm they are causing people, especially our youth.
Every time we try to get a voter who opposes marriage to switch their support our way, most use their religion or their fear that gay marriage will be taught to their children in schools. The opposition to teaching children in schools is most often based on their religious views. That has led me to believe that reducing religion-based bigotry towards gay people will help us win these important battles. Until we get beyond religion, we will continue to struggle.
The programs and dialogue developed by Faith in America are compelling. We will not change every mind. This is a war we have to win before we can win each of the battles.
I grew up the youngest of nine in a very Catholic family, attending Catholic schools and never missing Sunday mass. I had a great upbringing in a church that didn't preach hatred against gay people. But the Catholic Church has changed dramatically and is one of the worst abusers in their bigotry and discrimination towards gay people.
I don't belong to the church anymore -- not because of who I am, but because of who they are. I don't feel guilty. I feel right. I know that God is on my side and on the side of all people, no matter who they are. Because people are born with their sexuality, I firmly believe they are born in God's eyes with God's blessing for a good life. That is one of the things we need to convince more people of. And it's a big reason I joined Mitchell Gold at Faith in America.
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