Black religious leaders from Baltimore and around the region will gather at Morgan State University next week for a panel discussion on issues surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identities in the church.
The event, titled "It's Time to Talk: Black Pastors Call for LGBTQ Justice," is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Morgan Interfaith Center.
"Wondering whether the Bible offers a positive word about sexuality? Asking can I be both Christian and LGBTQ?" organizing group Many Voices wrote on it's website. "Join the conversation as religious leaders share their journey to embracing God's LGBTQ children."
Many Voices, a Washington-based nonprofit, pegs itself as a "black church movement for gay and transgender justice."
Anika Simpson, an associate professor of philosophy and women's and gender studies at Morgan, confirmed the event.
"We are looking forward to an enriching and substantive dialogue that explores LGBTQ justice within African American religious communities," she said.
Simpson said the event was particularly timely "in light of the ongoing national debate concerning the nexus of religious freedom, sexual orientation, and the law."
In recent weeks, laws passed or proposed in several states that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples based on religious grounds have stoked tensions across the country over the issue of LGBT identities and how they fit within certain faith traditions.
Morgan has also had its own tensions around LGBT identity. In 2013, a student accused a local fraternity chapter on campus of discriminating against him for being day. The chapter was placed on probation, and the university expressed a desire to improve the campus atmosphere.
It has since promoted LGBT events and groups, including a Coming Out Group that offers "a non-judgmental environment to discuss challenges regarding your sexual orientation/gender identity and integration of your sexuality into other parts of your life."
Organizers of the event Thursday said the university is a perfect place to hold the discussion.
"From reinforcing cultural values to cultivating some of our nation's future leaders, the church and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) serve as institutional pillars in the African American community," said the Rev. Cedric Hamon, co-director of Many Voices, in a statement. "It couldn't be more fitting to have a talk about the intersections of LGBT justice and faith at Morgan State."
The Rev. Heber Brown III, of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore and a scheduled panelist at the event, said it will be a "wonderful opportunity to have various representatives from various perspectives speak with one another and not just at each other."
"Far too often, discussions around these things become too divisive and acrimonious," he said, and he wants to work instead "toward a constructive dialogue and a better community overall."
His church has always been welcome to all, he said -- regardless of race, economic status or other "self-identifiers" -- and will always be that way.
"It's a part of our tradition to be a welcoming community and to meditate on what it means to be a welcoming community to different groups," he said. "
Elsewhere in LGBT-related news:
- President Barack Obama has called for an end to so-called "conversion therapies" for LGBT youth, entering a debate that has been playing out in Maryland as well.
- ICYMI, the Maryland legislature approved new birth certificates for transgender people.
- The Washington Post had a front page story on a transgender soldier's battle to have his identity recognized by the U.S. military.