I was among hundreds of faith leaders who recently visited the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Human Rights Campaign's Clergy Call for Equality and Justice. As a pastor and a mother, I told my story and the stories of people in my congregation.
I met with a staffer who works for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Our meeting was short, respectful, and to the point, but a few of the staff member's words continue to ring in my ears.
He said that although our issues are important, they "are not a priority" for Mr. Boehner. The federal budget, the staffer added, is his boss's priority.
I had just told the story of an 8-year-old boy who comes home after school each day and cries for hours because classmates call him "gay." That little boy, who is the same age as my son, will go to a new school next year because his school life became so unbearable.
I told the story of a young gay man in my church who tried to commit suicide several times during high school because he was bullied. Hateful attitudes in our community caused him to be homeless for much of the past year.
He has found hope in the community of our church. But his life remains hard because he has no legal protections.
I shared the story of a transgender person who works full time and pays taxes. But he is homeless because no one will rent to him.
A colleague talked about children, including hers, losing their fourth-grade teacher in the middle of the school year because he was outed as gay. He had been one of the most respected teachers in the school district.
We went to Washington to hold our political leaders accountable, and to call attention to "the least of these" in our world who are suffering. In Ohio and across the country, there is a sea change in public opinion on the issues we wanted to discuss.
Recent polling data show that most American Christians believe these issues are worth the time of our elected officials. Many members of Congress were elected on a platform that emphasizes the budget, and they have a responsibility to focus on that.
But how much do safe schools for all children cost? Wouldn't there be more tax revenue if all Americans could work without fear of being fired? What is the true cost of homelessness because equal access to housing is not a legal mandate?
In this country, we have torn down walls that divide us -- issues of racial, gender, and religious intolerance. As a pastor, a mother, and a citizen, I want my children to grow up in a world where there are no more walls.
Bullying must end. Unjust firings must end. Housing discrimination must end.
I call on Congress to make time both for the budget and for the people affected by it, because they cannot be separated. Lawmakers must understand that without laws that ban discrimination, there is a high cost if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
That cost can be your job, your housing -- and sometimes your life. Our leaders in Washington must pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and nondiscrimination legislation governing employment and housing.
The Rev. Cheri Holdridge is pastor of the Village Church in Toledo, a partnership of the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.
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