Days after President Donald Trump tear-gassed peaceful American citizens so he could disingenuously hold a Bible up outside a church that did not invite him, more than 100 faith leaders, including clergy from the LGBTQ community as well as the president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), are joining together to tell the administration that it has failed the Black community and people of color in this country.
“On behalf of faith communities across the United States, we are writing in response to your failure to condemn the plague of white supremacy and anti-Blackness that has been woven into the fabric of this country since its inception,” read the letter, which was specifically delivered to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other top officials in the administration.
The letter was delivered on June 5 in the midst of ongoing nationwide and international protests that have targeted racial injustice and police abuse of Black Americans, including George Floyd, who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month after the cop laid his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until he became unconscious and died.
Many Black queer individuals have also died at the hands of law enforcement, including transgender man Tony McDade in Tallahassee last month and gay man Kawaski Trawick in the Bronx last year. The letter was sent almost one year to the day after a transgender woman, Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, was found dead in her restrictive housing cell at Rikers Island, prompting her family to file a federal civil rights lawsuit. (Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, also on June 5, issued a letter stating that her office has concluded that no criminal behavior on the part of Rikers offficials was involved in Cubilette-Polanco’s death.)
Those who signed on to the letter included the Reverend Cedric A. Harmon, the executive director of Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice; the Reverend Michelle Higgins of the Movement for Black Lives and Faith for Justice; the Reverend Jonathan Williams, lead pastor of Forefront Church NYC; Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami; and Alphonso David, HRC’s president.
“Speaking specifically to President Trump: While your continued inaction on the work of justice for the oppressed and disinherited — a core tenant of the Christian faith you claim to hold, and of all faith traditions — is deeply disappointing, it is unfortunately not surprising,” the letter read. “Your vicious, hateful rhetoric and actions against Black and Brown communities are not new. And though you claim to be a person of faith, your actions betray the values held by people of faith across the world: tolerance, love, inclusivity, and justice.”
The letter also chides the president for his “abuse of sacred symbols,” pointing to his photo op with the Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington’s Lafayette Square and describing that scene as “an assault on the fundamental ethics of justice that those sites represent, and the human dignity they strive to defend.”
In a written statement issued concurrently with the letter, HRC’s David stressed that Trump’s photo-op at the church was only the latest example of the “offensive and authoritarian actions” that have been on display throughout the Trump administration.
“We condemn your ongoing support for white supremacy and anti-Blackness and find your actions an anathema to the communities of faith that we represent. We call on you to repent, turn away from evil and injustice, and move to enacting comprehensive justice for the Black community,” David said.
The religious leaders’ letter coincides with an effort led by David, who formerly served as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top counsel, to bridge the gap between queer and faith-based communities. In March, he announced he was embarking on a cross-country tour during which he would engage with interfaith leaders and establish dialogue around queer issues.
“The cornerstones of religion and faith and the LGBTQ movement are the same: inclusion and justice,” David said at the time. “LGBTQ people are in every faith tradition, and LGBTQ people and people of faith have more similarities than they do differences.”