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National LGBTQ Task Force conference examines religion, faith

Matthew Vines, who is one of the speakers at the annual meeting of the National LGBTQ Task Force taking place in Denver this week, talks about how debates over issues like gay marriage often pit champions of change against Americans of faith. Vines spoke Thursday in downtown Denver.

DENVER – Debates over gay marriage often seem to pit champions of change against Americans of faith, but it’s possible to be both, say activists gathered in Denver for the annual meeting of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the task force and an interfaith minister, said at a time when religious belief is increasingly cited as a reason to discriminate against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, it’s worth noting that LGBTQ people are “as much believers as anyone else.”

“I’m very out as a person of faith, as an African-American and as a lesbian,” Nipper said in an interview. “It’s important for faith communities to know that we’re here, too.”

The five-day conference bills itself as the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ activists and organizers, with more than 2,000 attendees checked in so far and organizers expecting total attendance to top 4,000. The agenda includes racial justice and AIDS.

Religion was a special focus Thursday, with workshops, for example, on training ministers to guide conversations in their churches that recognize that LGBTQ people are part of their community. Nipper hopes more accepting churches will become active in the political campaign for gay rights.

The conference venue sits just blocks from the gold-domed Colorado Capitol where Republican legislators have spoken of changing state public accommodation law after Colorado’s Civil Rights Division ordered a baker in suburban Denver to serve gay couples. The baker had argued it would violate his religious beliefs to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage cite religious beliefs and say that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Not long after the first bakery ruling, another Denver-area baker said she was approached by a customer who wanted her to ice an anti-gay message on a Bible-shaped cake. When she refused, he filed a complaint that is pending with the Civil Rights Division, which had said in the earlier bakery ruling that business owners can refuse a specific message, but not service.

Earlier this year, the family of a Denver-area lesbian said the pastor of a church they had rented for her funeral interrupted the service when he saw it included a display of photographs of her with her partner. The family moved the service to a funeral home.

The conservative attitudes that lead to such clashes need to change “because we are not loving people in the way that Jesus would,” said Matthew Vines, who has written about his experiences as a gay evangelical Christian and was among the speakers at meeting.

Vines, who grew up in a conservative church in Wichita, Kansas, argues in his God and the Gay Christian that as he reads the Bible, scriptures support same-sex relationships.

Vines came out in his 20s. He says his parents have supported him, but he, his parents and grandparents had to leave the church they had attended for decades. Yet, he said he’s found a silent minority of conservative Christians who question anti-gay rhetoric. He believes he can inspire more to speak out if they think about young people they know who are hiding their sexuality out of fear of being ostracized.

“We have to be willing to risk our own sense of comfort, our own status for people in great need, people who are suffering,” Vines said.

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