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National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable says, “The language of civil rights is open to all who seek equality.”

On January 12, 2005, the Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan) reported on a speech given by Reverend Eugene Rivers of Boston stating that the gay rights movement had co-opted the language of the civil rights movement for its own benefit. The following is a response from the National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

“On January 12, the Reverend Eugene Rivers made several ill-informed and offensive statements about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, particularly about the struggle for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. Reverend Rivers called the gay rights movement’s use of the language of civil rights, ‘an exercise in marketing and merchandising,’ and suggested gay advocates were ‘playing the race card’ to gain societal sympathy. It is unfortunate that Reverend Rivers has aligned himself with leaders of the religious right who attempt to pit people of color against gay people. These individuals argue, incorrectly, that laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are ‘special rights’ that threaten the civil rights of other minorities.

As Reverend Rivers’ colleagues, we condemn his abuse of power as a faith leader. As religious leaders, our sacred texts and traditions call us to make connections among all people who experience discrimination, and to expand the community of love to seek greater justice.

Oppressed people have always learned from the struggles of other oppressed people. Dr. King responded to racism in America based on the efforts of Gandhi to resist colonialism, and the experiences of nonviolent resistance of Quakers like his openly-gay friend and collaborator, Bayard Rustin. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people do not equate their oppression to that of people of color. But to suggest that gay people have no access to civil rights language in their fight for equality is patently absurd.

Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Equal Partners in Faith says, ‘We are disappointed in Reverend Rivers’ crusade of deliberate misinformation and outright malevolence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, a community which is comprised of all colors, races, and ethnic groups. Mr. Rivers knows this and he pretends that it is not true.’

Furthermore, Rivers’ statement, ‘Same-sex couples wanting to marry are white lesbians who seek the accouterments of family life,’ reflects his misunderstanding about the makeup of his community. According to a report published by the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, based on the 2000 Census, black same-sex households make up 14% of the same-sex households in the United States, greater than the 13% of the general population that is African-American. Black lesbian couple households are almost as likely as Black married opposite-sex couple households to include a child of one or both of the adults (69%). Nearly half of Black male same-sex couple households (46%) include a child of one or both of the partners. As Bishop John Selders, Presider of The Inter-Denominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries observes, laws discriminating against same-sex couples cut across racial lines: ‘There are significant numbers of people of color, African Americans in particular, who are equally discriminated against because of unjust laws.’ Bishop Selders adds, ‘I’m disappointed again by the shameful rhetoric espoused by brothers and sisters of color regarding same gender loving marriage.’

As people of faith, we call on Reverend Rivers and other faith leaders to support the families of same-sex couples that are living in their congregations and communities. We ask them to lift up as examples of selfless love same-sex couples of all races who have dedicated themselves to each other and their children, despite, in many cases, receiving no legal benefits or protections for their commitment. And we call on all people of faith to join together to resist the attempts of the enemies of equality to divide along lines of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”


First convened in 1998, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is an interfaith collaboration of more than forty denominations and faith-related organizations. The Roundtable seeks to reframe the public religious dialogue on issues involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community by amplifying the voices of LGBT-affirming people of faith, countering religious voices of bigotry and intolerance, and working to advance full equality for all.

Founded in 1973, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was the first national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights and advocacy organization and remains the movement's leading voice for freedom, justice, and equality. We work to build the grassroots political strength of our community by training state and local activists and leaders and organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation. Our Policy Institute, the community's premiere think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a world that respects and makes visible the diversity of human expression and identity where all people may fully participate in society. Headquartered in Washington, DC, we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Cambridge.

DignityUSA members and supporters:

We are a member of the Religious Leadership Roundtable and happy to have been a part of this release. It was decided by the members of this Religious Roundtable that we would not list each organization, but rather speak as one on issues such as this. This is why you will not see DignityUSA or any other member organization listed.

Your support allows us to participate on this and other joint efforts with like-minded organizations. Thank you for your support and interest.


Matthew J. Gallagher Executive Director, DignityUSA