As a North Carolina Pastor, I believe it is past time for the federal government to ensure LGBTQ Americans protection from discrimination that the vast majority of our fellow citizens agree is wrong. Our U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, can play a pivotal role in making sure Congress acts in 2022.

I am Pastor of Greensboro’s Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, whose tradition of inclusiveness dates back decades. The congregation’s earliest efforts at diversity focused on racial inclusiveness. Our work today as a More Light Congregation — welcoming full participation by LGBTQ folks in our faith community — is a natural outgrowth of our commitment to social justice.

I became publicly outspoken in my advocacy of LGBTQ rights in 2012 when a North Carolina pastor proposed a terrifying — and ludicrous — proposal for separately fencing in all gay men and lesbians until they die out, unable to reproduce. As a faith leader in this state, I could not remain silent as the Bible was misused to deny Jesus’ teaching that we are all children of God.

Over the past several years, the issue of LGBTQ rights became very personal for me. My eldest son, 25, is now completing his transition to his male gender identity. As a young child, Kayden was outgoing and confident, but later became withdrawn with obvious signs of depression. As he came to recognize his authentic gender identity, I was grateful I had the understanding and tools to be the parent he deserved to have. Kayden is now happier and more confident than I have ever known him to be.

The conservative family I came from was resistant to accepting the LGBTQ community. Watching Kayden go through his transition, however, changed them —  I now understand just how critical personal relationships are in swaying hearts and minds. 

Our community, home to Greensboro College and UNC Greensboro, is a welcoming place for the LGBTQ community — this past July 1, the city’s fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance went into effect. 

Still, I know of cases of discrimination, especially in the outlying rural areas of Guilford County. One unfortunate incident I recall in particular detail involved a man aggressively harassing a lesbian couple as “sinners” simply because they were holding hands. A bartender I know from the LGBTQ community was recently verbally harassed on the street outside his establishment by a man who then sprayed lighter fluid on the building before being arrested for attempted arson. 

Despite such incidents, North Carolina has no state laws protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination or hate crimes. And the hurdles facing LGBTQ folks in the Piedmont Triad are not unique. A 2020 survey makes clear that LGBTQ Americans — as many as one third in the previous year — experience concrete incidents of discrimination in their daily lives. Discrimination places especially harsh burdens on transgender people, Black and Latino LGBTQ communities, youth, and seniors.

I’m heartened to see that members of both parties are now voicing support for federal nondiscrimination legislation to protect the rights of our LGBTQ family members, friends, and neighbors. Senators Burr and Tillis have the opportunity to help lead the effort to get this job done. Nearly 400,000 LGBTQ North Carolinians — and many more who love them — are counting on them.

Reverend Mark Sandlin is Pastor of Greensboro Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.