100-percent equality means zero on religion-based bigotry index

Recent polling shows that history is moving in the direction of full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. Every day, more Americans are recognizing that anti-gay prejudice is destructive, mean-spirited, and especially damaging to young people. In light of this shifting climate, it is surprising that four corporations, all lauded as LGBT equality stalwarts, donated a total of almost $10,000 to Republican North Carolina lawmaker Mike Hager of Rutherford County during the 2012 election cycle, according to public campaign finance reports.

While there has been a surge in the number of Republican elected officials, party officials and others across the nation who are coming out in support of marriage equality, don't expect Rep. Hager to be among them.

In fact, Hager boasted on his web site that he introduced legislation to write religion-based bigotry against gay and lesbian people and their families into the state constitution last year. It reads: "Protecting the families that are so dear to us is a top priority! I sponsored legislation to Protect the Sanctity of Marriage between One Man and One Woman…"

Despite his unapologetic homophobia, Hager last year received $2,000 from Bank of America, $1,500 from Time Warner Cable and $1,250 from Wells Fargo. All three companies a few weeks ago were applauded as sponsors at the Human Rights Campaign's annual Carolinas Dinner in Charlotte.

Hager received one of his largest contributions in 2012 from AT&T in the amount of $5,000. AT&T for nine consecutive years has been listed in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s “Best Places to Work” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees. HRC's Corporate Equality Index (CEI) has scored AT&T at 100 percent.

While Hager receives money from those businesses that publicly endorse equality, he also accepts funds from the likes of Jane Whaley, pastor of Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Rutherford County. In October of last year, Faith In America asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate allegations of severe mistreatment of gay youth. A number of former church members have alleged youth who are gay or perceived gay are subjected to physical beatings, segregated for long periods of isolation and subjected to emotional, psychological and spiritual abuses.

The church web site states homosexuality is a form of "demonic oppression." That archaic language and thinking is an example of religious teaching being misused to justify and promote stigma and hostility toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Religion-based bigotry toward LGBT individuals has been the driving force behind opposition to full equality for LBGT Americans. There certainly is no question that it was the driving force behind the anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina last year and the grotesque display of hostility heard from some conservative pastors and others during the amendment campaign.

That's because religion-based bigotry doesn't just work against LGBT equality – it works against their human dignity and in a manner which is devastating to LGBT youth and their families. There have been 25 reported suicides of LGBT youth over the last four years, ages 11 to 19.

What would make an 11-year-old believe that ending his own life would be better than growing up gay? There is much evidence to show the primary reason is a societal climate in which groups and individuals – children’s own parents and churches many times – place a religious and moral stamp of disapproval on an LGBT youth’s very being.

Such a horrendous societal climate results from the type bigotry promoted by Pastor Jane Whaley's church and it is the same religion-based bigotry that Rep. Hager boasts he helped write into the North Carolina constitution.

A primary reason for the historic shift taking place in America is that individuals, elected officials and religious leaders are coming to understand the ugly extent of religion-based bigotry's harm to LGBT youth and families. Once there is an understanding of that harm, a person can no longer be on the fence.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T are certainly to be lauded for their tremendous support for LGBT equality. But they must realize that funding campaigns of anti-gay candidates is going to lower their score on the equality index – in our opinion drastically.

Contributing to candidates promoting a religious and moral stamp of rejection on the lives of LGBT youth also must score them on the religion-based bigotry index.

As those like our president and so many others have come to understand, you can't score on both and be 100 percent for LBGT human dignity and equality. And neither can you be 100 percent absolved from the harm inflicted on LGBT youth and families.

Faith in America is a nonprofit organization that nationally educates the public about the harm caused to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people when certain church teaching is used to promote and justify stigma and hostility toward that minority population. Brent Childers, an evangelical Christian who once aligned himself with the anti-gay religious industry, serves as executive director.