Putting Faith in All Families

07/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Steve Ralls Communications Director, Public Justice Foundation

For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the mere words 'faith-based' can often cause alarm . . . especially coming from the federal government or elected officials. So many LGBT Americans have suffered rejection, discrimination and opposition from some corners of the faith community that it's understandable when they question or raise concerns about tax-payer funding for religious organizations. So it was no surprise, either, that the issue of faith-based initiatives has recently become a point of considerable debate among the community as we head into the '08 presidential election.

There is, certainly, evidence that faith-based funding has actually helped members of the LGBT community, and their families, before. Open and affirming church congregations have used faith-based dollars to provide assistance to people with HIV/AIDS, and to counsel the families of gay youth, in a positive way, who are coming out. And there's little doubt that soup kitchens, homeless shelters and medical facilities run by welcoming religious groups that received such funding have also ministered - and administered - to the gay community as well.

Concern about such funding, of course, is based on some actions, by some congregations, to push divisive and harmful issues that fly in the face of the reminder to 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' Chief among those actions are 'reparative therapy' - harmful attempts to 'cure' or 'pray away' a person's LGBT identity - and anti-gay proselytizing . The idea of federal funds, from American tax-payers, being used to promote such agendas is alarming to many Americans . . . as it should be. As a recent public demonstration by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at a 'reparative therapy' conference in Orlando proves, such programs and beliefs not only malign gay people, but have a very real, psychological impact on LGBT people and their families, and especially young people who are sent to such programs against their will.

So it was with welcome relief for many gay Americans and their loved ones that Senator Barack Obama clarified his position on the issue earlier today, confirming that his faith-based initiative plan would not allow for funding of reparative therapy or anti-gay proselytizing. . . but would make funds available to churches, organizations and congregations that do immensely important work that directly impacts the LGBT community.

"With these principles as a guide, my Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will strengthen faith-based groups by making sure they know the opportunities open to them to build on their good works," Obama said earlier. And those "good works" will include ministering to the sick, providing shelter for the homeless and warm food for the hungry, be they straight, gay or transgender. And that's good news, indeed.

The federal government should never use funding to promote an anti-gay social or political agenda. Instead, when our government spends taxpayer dollars, it should be helping unite families and keep them together--the very heart of what groups like PFLAG do every day. It is reassuring that Senator Obama says he will take the necessary steps to ensure that LGBT Americans and their families will not have their own tax dollars used against them as part of harmful campaigns that hurt our kids.

There are many good causes that will benefit from faith-based funding, and many of those will, in turn, benefit our community. And we should all take pride in the fact that, because of our collective work to get the word out about the harm of 'reparative therapy' and other anti-gay missions, public leaders are taking steps to ensure that, even in non-LGBT specific policies and programs, our families are being heard and remembered, too.

And that's something we all should take heart - and find faith - in.