HRC president launches national interfaith tour at first Black Episcopal church in Philadelphia

Alphonso David at Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Photo: HRC in Pennsylvania Twitter

“God is a lover of justice,” declared Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Alphonso David from the pulpit of the Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. In conjunction with the HRC Foundation, the educational arm of our nation’s largest LGBTQ organization, David kicked off his cross-country “Coming Home to Faith: A Search for Common Ground” tour in Philadelphia this Sunday morning. 

David shared the pulpit with the Very Reverend Canon Martini Shaw who extended a warm welcome to the HRC. “St. Thomas has a history of engaging in outreach to the community around us and ensuring that the welcoming love we see in the Gospels is felt by everyone we serve— including LGBTQ people,” preached the Very Reverend Shaw, “We encourage everyone to reflect on the ways in which people of faith can begin finding common ground with LGBTQ people in their communities.” 

For many, a conversation between LGBTQ+ people and those of faith is long overdue. David’s campaign aims to “explore and strengthen” the relationship between two communities with a history of friction.

The HRC Foundation’s mission hits on a raw nerve for many LGBTQ+ people whose stories include horrific encounters with religion-based conversion therapy, excommunication, exorcism, and even hate crimes. No one can forget all those colorful signs from the Westboro Baptist Church or the inevitable sign-toting posse who protest from the sidelines of Pride. In short, it is a difficult conversation to broach — and yet, a worthwhile one. 

The HRC states that there is no reason to believe “a person cannot be LGBTQ and also a person of faith, or vice versa”. In fact, the Public Religion Research Institution (PRRI) reported in 2019 that the majority of all major religious groups across America favor laws that prevent LGBTQ discrimination. This is a reassuring statistic to bolster David’s mission. 

“The cornerstones of religion and faith and the LGBTQ movement are the same: inclusion and justice. LGBTQ people are in every faith tradition, and LGBTQ people and people of faith have more similarities than they do differences,” said David, “I am excited to visit diverse houses of worship and strengthen HRC’s relationships with faith communities. Today’s visit to the Historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, the first African Episcopal church in the United States, with a strong legacy of humanitarianism and community outreach, is the perfect way to begin this series of conversations to advance dialogue and initiatives around LGBTQ equality.” That David, who identifies as a gay Black man, launched his tour at the first Black Episcopal church in Philadelphia is no subtle statement. 

In a 2016 report, The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) responded to rising “reports of racial tension and discrimination within Philadelphia’s LGBTQ population” citing issues of Black exclusion in the Gayborhood, “ad hoc policies [that] support discrimination”, and “questionable employment policies”. Nationally, PRRI reported in 2017 that 86 percent of Black Protestants believe that the Black LGBTQ community experiences a lot of discrimination. It is no wonder then, why Alphonso David is choosing to bring his message of inclusion, equity and justice to many historically Black churches across America. Yet, David’s mission is also broader in scope.

“In the course of the tour,” said HRC Foundation Religion & Faith Program Director Michael Vazquez, “Alphonso David will visit houses of worship across the country, including Historic Black Churches, evangelical churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious and faithful spaces.” 

It has long been a hallmark of the HRC to demand equality while creating space for individual freedom of expression. Volunteers with HRC’s Get Out The Vote (GOTV) gathered on Sunday to help St. Thomas’s congregation register, update information and pledge to encourage friends and family to come out and vote in upcoming elections.