By James Foutz-Vega
Foutz-Vega is a pastor at Forest Park Church in Roanoke.
At Forest Park Church in Roanoke, our message is very simple: love one another. As Pastor of Outreach and Ministries at Forest Park, I believe this is the lesson Jesus left us with. It’s not an option, either. Love thy neighbor is a command, and we take it seriously.
So when our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors face discrimination and harassment in their daily lives, we are called to defend them. Excluding people or treating others as less than equal violates the Golden Rule and goes against God’s law. That’s why it is important for me to speak out now for the LGBT community, who currently lack any explicit protection from discrimination in our state. I’m proud to stand with the Virginia Values coalition alongside 150 of my fellow faith leaders to call for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Virginians in employment, housing, and public spaces.
Our congregation has a long history of answering this call and taking a stand. We were the first church in Roanoke Valley to move past segregation and become a racially diverse congregation. Our community’s inclusive history is important to us, and it continues to be strong today.
The need for these protections is something I understand personally, as both a pastor and a member of the LGBT community myself. It’s shocking to realize in this day that discrimination against the LGBT community is still a reality, but I know that it is a real and common issue. I have counseled LGBT individuals in my congregation who worry about where they will find a place to live or work if their true identity is discovered. As Pastor, when I meet individuals or families who are struggling with concern for themselves or their LGBT loved ones, I remind them that God is love and we are all God’s children, worthy of equal dignity and respect.
I know there are some who are surprised to find a gay man serving as pastor at a Baptist congregation. I feel blessed that I grew up in this congregation and found a home where my call to ministry would be welcomed. I know not every member of the LGBT community finds the acceptance and love that I have. Some folks who come to our church for the first time are shocked that they can be gay and a Christian, or gay and a pastor.
But the reality is, there are so many LGBT people who are also people of deep faith. Despite the pain that some LGBT people have experienced in church, I have experienced so much healing through my faith and the unconditional love I feel from my Creator. I feel called to share that unconditional love with my community — it truly opens doors. That’s why I am so motivated to speak out in support of laws that will protect everyone from harm, including the LGBT community.
LGBT people are our friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers. We are all God’s children, and we all deserve to go about our daily lives without the fear of discrimination. No one should be denied housing, refused a job, or refused service because of who they are or who they love. That’s why these common sense protections are so crucial — because they are a reflection of our shared values as Virginians.