Guest Column by Rabbi Peter Berg
Wednesday, June 15, I gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church with many of my fellow clergy to participate in a vigil for victims of mass shootings. In the wake of the Orlando massacre, many people of faith were looking for answers, for some sort of sanctuary or guidance in the face of an event that tested many of our personal faiths.
That sanctuary was full of people of different religions who had come together to make sense of the tragedy, and I posed this question to us all: What makes this shooting different from the others?
The answer to that question, I hope, will be that this time we will change our world into one where senseless acts of violence are not only condemned, but prevented by eradicating the hate that exists in our country.
Throughout the spring the Georgia legislature debated and ultimately passed legislation that would have encouraged discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. House Bill 757 was widely seen by members of the LGBT community, as well as people who have been the target of vitriol, as a step backward.
I am grateful that our governor stepped in and vetoed this bill that attempted to cloak discrimination in the disguise of religious freedom. It was this necessary action that saved our state from creating laws that would have damaged our state’s reputation.
But that action does not make up for the hurtful environment that LGBT Georgians still encounter every day.
Over the past six months, ore than 140 bills seeking to discriminate against the LGBT community were introduced in state legislatures across the country. And, sadly, many federal laws are not much better.
Too many people still do not realize that gay and transgender people can be fired based solely on who they are. There is real anger directed toward these communities that too often is completely ignored.
Even more troubling is that some of our houses of worship have allowed hateful rhetoric against the LGBT community to fester and spread. This is not acceptable.
True religion calls us not only to mourn and pray for victims of tragedies like the one in Orlando, but also to demand equal treatment under the law for all of G-d’s children. We have to do more than just speak out against senseless acts of violence.
The massacre in Orlando is just one more reminder of the long way that we have to go to show our LGBT brothers and sisters that we are doing more than just paying lip service to equality.
Georgia needs a civil rights bill in our state’s legislature that does not focus solely on the rights of religious people — a bill that protects all of us, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, nationality, and, yes, religion. Georgia is one of only five states that don’t have statewide laws that broadly protect civil rights.
The question that I asked from the pulpit on that Wednesday night still echoes in my mind: What makes the Orlando shooting different from all of the others?
Nothing — unless we make sure that we learn the right lessons from this tragedy and act to make our world better for our children.
We have work to do to make sure that Georgia is the best, most welcoming state it can be. Let us start by making sure that our laws no longer support the idea that the LGBT community is a target for hatred.
Peter Berg is the senior rabbi at The Temple.