In 1978, California Proposition 6 sought to ban gay and lesbian people from working in public schools. Harvey Milk the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, launched a campaign against the initiative. On November 7, after the definitive defeat of Proposition 6, Milk said:

“Gay brothers and sisters, what are you going to do about it? You must come out. Come out to your parents…. Come out to your friends. If indeed, they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your co-workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are being terrified by the votes coming from Dade County to Eugene.”

Outside Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL

Since 1988, National Coming Out Day has been celebrated on October to encourage and support anyone coming out as a gender or sexual minority. Thirty five years after its founding, the day is still an important one for many people bearing witness to the truth about themselves and their families. All people, regardless of their identities, “bear witness” to the LGBTQ+ community in the ways that we speak about our neighbors. 

Throughout his time in public service, Milk consistently refuted the myths about gay and lesbian people, particularly myths about child molestation. In 1977, Anita Bryant founded the “Save Our Children” campaign in response to a county ordinance in Miami, FL that banned housing discrimination against gay and lesbian people. Her coalition defended this position by claiming a widespread threat of child molestation from sexual minorities. 

Exodus 20:16 commands us not to “bear false witness” against our neighbors. When we speak of our neighbors marginalized for their sexual or gender identities, are we spreading accurate information? As our churches discuss topics relevant to LGBTQ+ people, are we reading from updated sources and hearing the voices of openly LGBTQ+ people? When a member of our family or church repeats a myth or stereotype, how do we respond?

Nearly half a century after Bryant’s campaign in Miami, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill to prohibit acknowledgment of sexual or gender minorities in schools. Many other states have followed with similar laws and fights over whether school libraries should allow any books with any LGBTQ+ representation. Local governments are defunding charities that help LGBTQ+ people receiving housing or health services. Like Bryant, politicians have defended this legislation by claiming that they are protecting children. How can churches protect and bear faithful witness to the humanity of LGBTQ+ people? 

At Sunday’s Northminster Missions fair, Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, IN shared about their partnership with the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

While this task may seem enormous, a church library could easily carry a copy of a book like A Church for All. Published in 2018, this book celebrates inclusive spiritual communities that embrace people of all ages, races, classes, gender identities, and sexual orientations. When kids can’t find themselves represented in the classroom, they may see themselves in the church.

As LGBTQ+ mental health and community programs lose public funding, even a small amount of financial support from the church communicates the broader message that Christians truly seek to love all children of God.

By joining the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, churches send a message of welcome and good news in their communities. Our map of CNP churches helps connect seekers with inclusive churches. Those living in places where they cannot safely come out in other public spaces may find refuge in affirming church homes.

There are so many other ways a church can bear witness to the truth about LGBTQ+ people. CNP offers a number of creative ways to welcome all God’s children on our Resources page for Becoming a Welcoming Church.

Romans 8:16-16 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” As discriminatory legislation emerged in the states where I’ve lived, my churches have signaled welcome to sexual and gender minorities in the community. When I came out, I did not feel a spirit of fear, but a spirit of adoption, knowing that I would still belong in my church. Anyone—straight or gay, cisgender or transgender—can offer that sense of certainty to their neighbors in the pews by bearing witness to God’s love for all people.

The Rev. Robert Keefer leading “What Can I Say?: Theological and Biblical Reflection about LGBTQIA+ issues” at Covenant Conversation: Nebraska

Not all people can come out safely. Harvey Milk’s words are still relevant for many youth today “who are being terrified by the votes coming from Dade County to Eugene,” especially for youth who do not conform to their gender assigned at birth. When people can safely come and discuss their life experiences, they can build more authentic relationships. Coming out allows people to live into the fullness of the person that God created and pursue meaningful relationships built from a foundation of honesty. 

All people, including those marginalized for their sexual or gender identity, can experience true belonging in the family of Christ. On National Coming Out Day, we can pray especially that the spirit of adoption can replace the spirit of fear that so many people feel as they prepare to come out. By bearing faithful witness to LGBTQ+ people, the Church can help people come out into a safer world.