Guest Post: MLK Day Reflection for LGBT Justice in the Black Church

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I am proud to count myself among the many social justice advocates who stand on the shoulders of Dr. King.

Too many people think King's statements regarding justice are only about race and the African-American community and exclude the LGBT community from those messages. 

But King said, “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place. Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.” 

Members of King's family embrace his words, extending them to the LGBT community. For example, in 1998, Coretta Scott King addressed the LGBT group Lambda Legal in Chicago. In her speech, she supported the inclusion of LGBT people and said, “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”  

Like her parents, their eldest daughter Yolanda’s faith in the Civil Rights Movement drove her passion for LGBT equality.

“If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you do not have the same rights as other Americans,” she said at Chicago's Out & Equal Workplace Summit in 2006. “You cannot marry. You still face discrimination in the workplace, and in our armed forces. For a nation that prides itself on liberty, justice and equality for all, this is totally unacceptable.”

As an openly queer African American minister, I have pastored churches and worked alongside some black ministers and parishioners who have not been inclusive and welcoming of their LGBT brothers and sisters. While King would undoubtedly shake his head in disbelief concerning these brethren, he would applaud the strides we have made as a community, for example, the stance the NAACP took on marriage equality.

Despite dissenting voices, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., stated the following concerning marriage for same-sex couples:

“It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the fight to marry the person of their choice.”

But if King was with us today, he would be disappointed with how anti-gay attitudes continue within some faith communities, having a profound impact on the mistreatment of LGBT people, and its inattentiveness to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community.

King’s teachings taught me how religion plays a profound role in the work of justice. Its Latin root "religio" means "to bind," and that’s exactly the purpose it should serve. As a religion columnist, I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against LGBT people. By reporting religion in the news, I aim to highlight how religious intolerance not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.

I miss the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I miss the choir that resounded within him when he spoke.  In keeping his dream alive we must continue to lift our own voices.  We must speak our truth to power. And for those of us who live on the margin, we must speak out because our survival depends on it.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday by reexamining King’s teachings, remembering that my longing for LGBT justice is inextricably tied to my work toward religious tolerance in the Black Church.

And this is why I continue to speak up.

- Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe lives in Cambridge and is a Huffington Post blogger, and a syndicated religion columnist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Irene Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as Ford Fellow. As a syndicated queer religion columnist, Monroe's columns appear in 43 cities across the country and in the U.K.